I loved this book. I really knew next to nothing about North Korea before I read it, and it was a great introduction. Basically the North Korean regimI loved this book. I really knew next to nothing about North Korea before I read it, and it was a great introduction. Basically the North Korean regime is like one of those psychos who's kidnapped a bunch of little kids and keeps them chained in the basement their whole lives so they never know anything of the outside world, only unlike when psychos do this everyone else in the global neighborhood basically knows what's going on in that creepy house.
Demick's book relies on extensive interviews with defectors, and tells the story of six North Koreans' lives in the northern industrial city of Chongjin and of their defections to South Korea. The thing that's so great about Nothing to Envy is that it presents its subjects as so easy to relate to and to care about, that it avoids the compassion fatigue, detachment, and defensive lack of empathy that can accompany reading about such horrors. There are portions of this book that are harrowing to read and difficult to imagine, but we can process the idea of witnessing a nation starve to death because we see it through the eyes and the reactions of people we've come to feel we know and understand. The book seems very well-researched and is certainly not a fluff piece by anyone's standards, but for me it was this triumph of the human interest angle that made it so effective. I felt that Demick really got to know her subjects and that she presented them as interesting and complex people, without shying away from an acknowledgment -- familiar from stories of Holocaust survivors -- of how those individuals with the wits, strength, and courage to survive and defect often differ from the general population in sometimes unattractive ways. I was hugely moved by their stories and impressed by their bravery, but also saw them as real human beings with both good and bad traits, which is part of what made the book work so well.
In short, this book is interesting and engaging and I'd recommend it to pretty much anyone with even a casual interest in North Korea up to 2009, when it was published....more
Man, you know, I love him to death but it really must be said: Elmore Leonard is (was) a hopeless cheeseball. It's a feature of all his books, but theMan, you know, I love him to death but it really must be said: Elmore Leonard is (was) a hopeless cheeseball. It's a feature of all his books, but the corniness of the love scenes in Glitz was almost too much to take. Ditto the romantic heroism of its paragon of perfect manhood, the scruffy but inimitable -- and universally irresistible -- off-duty cop Vincent Mora. I've always thought of Leonard's crime fiction as sappy romances with a rough, bloody veneer that's supposed to make them okay for boys. In Glitz, the sappy sweet fantasy elements get even more intense than I feel they usually do, though that may just be me and a weakening of my tolerance.
It is worth noting, though, that without the sugary love stories and fuzzy sex scenes, Leonard's novels might be unrelentingly bleak. When we're not following our dashing vigilante detective, we're often trapped in the mind of a terrifying granny-rapist and murderer, or reading descriptions of highly disturbing crimes. Despite the huge variety of characters with all their different degrees of scumminess and law-following/breaking, Leonard's world isn't one of moral ambiguity: there are good guys and bad guys, and the good guys are very, very good while the bad guys are just awful (the women, regardless of moral fiber, tend to be very, very hot). Leonard's genius here, as elsewhere, is to rove around through the brains of everyone on the spectrum, not giving shorter shrift or flattening out even the most demented psychos. So we see the thought process of the granny-raper presented with just as much detail and legitimacy as that of our hero, and it's the contrast between the books' simple good v. evil divide and this exercise in authorial empathy that's much of what makes Leonard's books so fascinating and unique.
Yeah, then factor in vacations to mid-eighties Miami Beach, Puerto Rico, and Atlantic City, and you'll see why this book is such a great time. With his usual unusual cast of characters -- unsavory criminals, savory women (unfortunately including the inexplicably bland and recurring musician Linda Moon, probably the lamest Leonard character of all time), wise cops, wealthy businessmen, cool black guys, ex-beauty queens, and seedy/flamboyant/extralegal/ridiculous figures -- sprinkled liberally as needed.
You can't do much better than eighties Leonard in these dog days of summer, and I enjoyed this so much I'll forgive him for my near-fatal overdose of sap. Honestly, to an extent that hokey sparkle stuff is part of the Leonard magic formula. Probably if the love interest here were more appealing, I could have even enjoyed it; I did like Vincent, shining halo of virtuous testosterone and all. I do enjoy over-the-top sugar rushes as much as the next girl, and, like a ridiculous rum drink one might order in the bar of an upscale Puerto Rican casino, this book did have plenty of them....more
This book is 326 pages of rabid, unrelenting misanthropy that is all ONE PARAGRAPH, from the perspective of a hateful, very rich Austrian expatriate wThis book is 326 pages of rabid, unrelenting misanthropy that is all ONE PARAGRAPH, from the perspective of a hateful, very rich Austrian expatriate who despises his family, Austria, and everything else.
It is totally impossible for me to explain why I loved reading this, but it had an intoxicating, addictive quality and I really could not put it down. However, I wouldn't in good conscience recommend it to my worst enemy.
Looking forward to reading something else by Bernhard (suggestions, Dieter?), though I'll need to wait awhile to let these toxic levels of bile clear out of my system first....more
Patrick Melrose's gothic New Age Mrs. Jellyby of a mother has finally died and in At Last we attend her funeral, presumably (and for this reader, hopePatrick Melrose's gothic New Age Mrs. Jellyby of a mother has finally died and in At Last we attend her funeral, presumably (and for this reader, hopefully) ending the cycle.
I have to say that while the first three Melrose novels are unquestionably among the best books I've read in years, I wasn't so crazy about the last two. The repetitive analytic musings just get to be a bit much, and the wise little moppets dispensing adorable yogi-like aphorisms just go way too far in sugaring up the acrid sourness I'd loved so much in the beginning.
Still, I wolfed this volume down with an enthusiasm I haven't felt for reading in awhile, because Edward St. Aubyn is a fabulous fucking writer. While I don't think this book or the one preceding it measured up to the ones that came before, they're still a million times better than most other books out there. And so St. Aubyn can commit whatever the authorial equivalent is to wrecking our marriage with his nihilistic substance abuse and cynical affairs, and I will continue to stand faithfully by him! If his next novel is a saccharine children's book about a precocious little boy philosophizing cutely about the nature of evil and man, I'll complain a bit but I'll still suck it up with the famished and unquenchable greed of an addict....more
So far, reads like Alan Hollinghurst's excruciatingly fucked up and much richer second cousin, in the best possible way. Seems to explore the unstatedSo far, reads like Alan Hollinghurst's excruciatingly fucked up and much richer second cousin, in the best possible way. Seems to explore the unstated hypothesis that having to earn a living is what distracts most people from destroying their children, themselves, and everyone around them. Also definitively answers the question of whether the most lurid and cliched subjects can be not just salvaged but made new, relevant, and moving through brilliant English prose. (Spoiler: yes.)...more
First thing I've read by Cormac McCarthy and it was pretty great. This book takes place in the same space as Grimms' fairy tales: a timeless and permaFirst thing I've read by Cormac McCarthy and it was pretty great. This book takes place in the same space as Grimms' fairy tales: a timeless and permanent dark landscape where the devil lurks casually, that in this age we all strain to forget exists. It's about being human in a way that predated the Internet and television by centuries, that might outlast all this shit and keep going on.
Hopefully though, McCarthy's works will survive whatever happens along with a sturdy Oxford English Dictionary. Otherwise whoever's left will not be able to read him, which is maybe fine; he's kind of a downer....more
Very well-written, vivid novel about the sixties, centering around Kenneth Anger, The Rolling Stones, and the Manson murders. I felt like there was soVery well-written, vivid novel about the sixties, centering around Kenneth Anger, The Rolling Stones, and the Manson murders. I felt like there was sort of a momentum problem, maybe just one that's inherent to historical novels -- you know where things are going and so you're sort of just waiting for Altamont and aren't in too much of a hurry to get there. The result, for me, was that it took me awhile to get through this book: it wasn't a page turner and I wasn't in a huge rush to get through it.
That said, the writing is excellent and while I actually had it open I was very much under its spell. The familiar characters and their era were described in a new way that felt fresh and very convincing. I can't say with authority that Lazar describes these figures and events accurately, since I never personally hung around doing drugs with the Stones in Marrakech, but now I feel like I have which speaks highly of him as a writer.
Not gonna bother book-reviewing this one properly, and why should I when Donald's already done a much better job than I could? Instead, I'll just recommend his review:
This book is WAY TOO LONG. I picked it up from the library today and it's really freaking me out. I might have to put it in the closet, like how I oncThis book is WAY TOO LONG. I picked it up from the library today and it's really freaking me out. I might have to put it in the closet, like how I once made my parents do with the Snow White book that had the really scary witch picture in it.
Philip Short must have some weird complex about his name that he should be working on in therapy. Instead, he's completely freaking me out....more
I feel this book is sort of misleadingly packaged: it's not much of a biography, presumably because there's not a lot known about Pol Pot the man. OrI feel this book is sort of misleadingly packaged: it's not much of a biography, presumably because there's not a lot known about Pol Pot the man. Or maybe it is known but there's still just not that much to say: Short does dutifully record biographical details, but they never seem to add up to any fleshed-out understanding of a human being... And maybe that's the point. Maybe the dark emptiness at the root of the Khmer Rouge's ideology and actions is exactly that: a lack not just of humanity, but of any comprehensible substance at all.
Anyway, while this book kind of sucks as biography, it's good as a highly thorough political history of Cambodia in the second half of the twentieth century. I thought Short had a "just the facts ma'am" approach that worked well for this material. He assumes that his readers have some familiarity with accounts of Cambodians' suffering under the Khmer Rouge so doesn't dwell too much on cataloging these and highlighting the horrors, instead reporting them within the context of everything else. I felt he did a good job throughout of contrasting the excesses of the Khmer Rouge to those of other regimes and noting in which ways they did or did not surpass what has occurred elsewhere. He also seemed to be fairly even-handed in his evaluation of all involved parties, including the United States, leaving the reader feeling justifiably bleak and shitty about basically everyone in the world.
The most depressing -- though, I suppose, unsurprising -- thing about this book was learning about how while the Khmer Rouge's reign in the late seventies was particularly horrific in scope and degree, life and politics in Cambodia weren't that great either before, or since.
To be honest, this was not the breeziest or most fun summer read. Just between the two of us, this book was kind of a downer....more