Pleasure meter: 3.75 stars. How do the police operate in Japan? A so-called police procedural looks vastly different from author Hideo Yokoyama than iPleasure meter: 3.75 stars. How do the police operate in Japan? A so-called police procedural looks vastly different from author Hideo Yokoyama than it would, say, from Richard Price or Elmore Leonard. The human failings are on full display—avarice, incompetence, careerism, ambition, etc—but they are played out in a social context that is utterly alien to the Western reader. That's part of what makes this novel so very interesting to this particular reader. We are familiar with the police procedural format, but we do not know how the culture and mores of the Japan will impinge upon its development. That to me is the real attraction of this book.
Anyone who's suffered the petty humiliations of office politics will feel this book deep in their vitals. Now add to that loathsome banality the following enticements: (1) the setting in a Japanese prefectural police HQ where mistakes covered up 14 years ago in a famous kidnapping of a 7-year-old girl are only now coming to light; (2) an arrogant press corps who wants the head of the HQ's media director on a pike for abstruse reasons of journalistic disclosure; and (3) the media director himself, one Mikami, recently exiled from the investigative side—at heart he's really a detective—whose teenage daughter ran away three months ago leaving his wife distraught; and we have the novel's basic propulsive means.
Mikami has many questions and no one is providing answers so he must work inductively. Slowly, painstakingly, he pieces the scandal together. The plotting is exquisite. The reader moves through the logical progression of his thoughts, reservations, doubts and discoveries. For 566 pages his is the sole point of view. I admire how Mikami queries facial expressions and body language, someone's absence or abrupt appearance, an overheard word or phrase. Each clue is puzzled over it until he has a logical option or two or nine. Then he must run around eliminating false leads. All the while the writing is flat and unadorned. This isn't literary fiction. It's a conventional if captivating thriller depicting police culture in Japan and it's dysfunctional relationship with the press. Nothing gets in the way of the storytelling. In that sense, the tale has a certain purity. One is reminded of Georges Simenon and Leonardo Sciascia at their best.
In the end the book is about storytelling. It's about who controls the narrative, how it's presented to the public through the Fourth Estate, and who can or can't be trusted with the facts. The police tell a deliberately false narrative to protect themselves. Director Mikami is caught between their closed ranks and the overweening arrogance of the media. In Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep Philip Marlowe controls the narrative that will be presented to the newspapers. At several points it becomes necessary to determine precisely what the public narrative will be. Consulted by the police, Marlowe decides what details are to be included, which left out, which modified. Like Mikami he is a man with his own moral code and he works outside the system; true, technically Mikami's part of the HQ administrative team, but this allegiance has little meaning as he plays the lone wolf hunting down the truth. Moreover, Mikami does not have the good fortune of working in media-comatose 1930s San Francisco. This is modern Japan where the technical capacity for storytelling long ago outstripped available content. Thus the shrill, almost rabid manner of the journalists. The journalists here are pissed off, loudmouthed, insulting and self-righteousness in the extreme. That is the procedural level on which the book functions. There is not a lot of cloak and dagger, nor much cutting up of corpses, blood-spatter analysis, long stakeouts, prisoner confessions, deathbed clues or romance. It's mostly about office politics and the relationship between the press and the police surrounding the blown kidnapping case. Moreover, it has a wonderful final twist. Enough for now. Do read it....more
...There was a feeling that technologically, economically and politically, as well as culturally, the British had nothing to learn from India and much to teach; it did not take long for imperial arrogance to set in. This arrogance, when combined with the rise of Evangelical Christianity, slowly came to affect all aspects of relations between the British and the Indians. (p. 68)
So a cautionary tale. And I had thought that Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost gave a chilling look at Brussel's genocidal intervention in Congo. Alas, Britain is very much in the same Rogues Gallery.
A fascinating book about the "fierce people." The Yanomamö—a "demographically pristine" stone age population occupying a remote expanse of the OrinocoA fascinating book about the "fierce people." The Yanomamö—a "demographically pristine" stone age population occupying a remote expanse of the Orinoco straddling Brazil and Venezuela. The author spent 30 years with them and came back with robust comparative data that will never be equaled, since, the Yamamanö are now acculturated. That is, their violent but pristine way of life is now mixed irrevocably with that of our world.
Three quarters of the book is about the tribes themselves. Chagnon had to spend years in the field. He started by learning the Yamamanö language from scratch. Eventually, he would discover that it was without precedent. That is, without marked similarities to nearby languages. This suggests the Yamamanö are an exceedingly ancient people, having lived in considerable isolation, perhaps for millennia. Along with the New Guinea Highlanders, they were perhaps the last such pre-contact stone age people to survive into the twentieth century. And Chagnon worked with groups that had never before seen a white man.
There exists among the Yanomamö—a name taboo. Not only is it considered offensive to use the name of someone who has recently died, but even to call a living person by their name out loud is unseemly. Now try to imagine how this affected Chagnon, one of whose tasks was to gather genealogies and censuses. It makes for quite a story, especially when the tribe, the Bisassi-teri, which loved a good scatological joke, deceived him for months on end about the names he was collecting. Naturally, he was furious, but what could he do?
• "On one trip, again with Rerebawä as my guide, we were followed all the way from our canoe to the edge of the village by a jaguar, a walking distance of four hours"; • "The Yanomamö express distance by the number of 'sleeps' it takes to get somewhere"; • The Yanomamö technique of asphyxiating armadillo in their burrows and digging precisely where their quarry has fallen is an astonishing thing to read about; • "The most vile and vulgar insult you can utter in Yamamanö is 'Wa bei kä he shami!' ('Your forehead is filthy!') Any allusion to blemishes, warts, pimples, etc., on someone's skin, especially on or near the forehead, is potentially insulting."
Then there's the time when a monk from the Salesian Mission asks Chagnon—an atheist—to murder one of the mission's fellows, who, it has been discovered, has sired several children with a Yanomamö woman. Now get this, the proposed murder was seen by the monk, Padre Cocco, as a means of saving the Church from further embarrassment. The Salesians were evil, but Chagnon had to remain on good terms with them if he was to get his work done. The monks would take Yanomamö children downstream to mission encampments "...where they were put into dormitories, taught Spanish, and discouraged from using their own language. They were away from their parents and their villages for months at a time." Moreover, in the ongoing struggle to out perform the Protestant missionaries, the Salesians began giving the Yanomamö—a war-making people previously limited to bows and arrows—shotguns.
Noble Savages is also a book of searing, irrefutable truths, of reputations regained. A book by an author who underwent decades of smears. Here is the bottom line: Chagnon determined empirically that of the men in the many tribes he studied over decades, those who killed one or more enemies on raids, had almost three times greater reproductive success (more wives, more offspring) than those who did not kill. See the fascinating tables on pages 275 and 276.
This, Chagnon's biggest finding, connecting Yanomomö war-making with reproductive success started an academic war. For empirical proof that the Yanomamö went to war over women completely upset the anthropological orthodoxy of the day. That orthodoxy said that the "...theory of human behavior had no room for ideas from biology, reproductive competition, and evolutionary theory." That's right, the cultural anthropologists were anti-science! War in primitive societies, they decreed, had to be due to competition over scarce material resources or a reaction to the repression of the western colonial powers. To say otherwise was "contrary to the prevailing anthropological wisdom derived from Marxism."
Now imagine poor Prof. Chagnon. He was 28 at the time the first of his findings were published, and he faced a backlash from the "purists" who smeared him baselessly and who argued without evidence that he was wrong. But he was not wrong. He was correct. The Yanomomö did indeed go to war over women. Thus, the vast edifice of Cultural Anthropology as it was then defined went to war with itself.
Non-chronological story set for the most part in Ghent, Belgium, and jumping to selected periods between the birth of the narrator's grandfather in thNon-chronological story set for the most part in Ghent, Belgium, and jumping to selected periods between the birth of the narrator's grandfather in the late 1890s up to the recent past. The unnamed narrator loves his grandfather, whose impoverished childhood and time in the trenches of World War 1 have marked his 90 years on earth irrevocably. A painter, he took his grandson, with whom he was close, everywhere.
The novel reminds me in the early going of Thomas Bernhard's phenomenal Gathering Evidence. Bernhard's grandfather was also a big influence on his world view. Like it, War and Turpentine is beautifully written, though the tone is gentler and more broadly observant of the fleeting world, whereas Bernhart's memoir is a collection of grievances against all the fools he's suffered. The two points of view couldn't be more dissimilar, yet both have at their core this adoration of a beloved grandfather.
As a child the narrator's grandfather had the good fortune to watch his own father—the great-grandfather—at work in his profession as a painter of Church murals. Naturally, the colors he used were highly toxic. This was a time before safety regulations in the same Belgium that created a living hell in Congo. Naturally, the painter-father's health suffers. Later, as a very young man, hardly out of his teens, the grandfather works in horrendous industrial conditions himself. In an iron foundry without winches, he pours molten iron from a crucible he holds in his hands. Hideous accidents are commonplace.
Hertman's writing runs along a pleasant median between summary and passages of extraordinarily vivid detail. He uses photos of things he mentions in the text in a fashion reminiscent of W.G. Sebald. (See The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants, Austerlitz, etc.) But somehow the practice seems less essential here. Perhaps it is just a matter of tone. I have to think more about the matter.
Then we arrive in August 1914. The Germans have invaded Belgium. Urbain, the beloved grandfather, along with his fellow soldiers, are fantastically outgunned. The pounding of the gargantuan German howitzer Big Bertha feels like an earthquake underfoot. Everywhere they go, they march, and their destinations are invariably littered with the dead and the dying for there are no medical corpsmen. Logistical supply, too, is almost nonexistent. Urbain and his soldiers— he's in charge of a squad by this time—are starving. They're dropping like flies. Some men are so thirsty that they drink from a canal which has dead bodies in it: they end up with dysentery. Within a week the Brussels army is reduced to half its former size.
The novel until now has been deliciously rich, spilling over with vivid imagery, descriptions of architecture, town markets, neighborhoods, strange people, mother's cooking, poverty, the harsh labor of primitive industry, the work of the great-grandfather's mural painting. Then in Part 2 we are in the middle of a rather commonplace war story. The fact that it's action packed and harrowing in my view does not make up for the cliches of the genre which begin to appear. All the novelty of this part lies in its setting—Brussels—which closely follows the course of the actual war there. But the bright freshness of Part 1 is conspicuous in its absence. The narrator is now entirely Urbain, who we've only heard speak previously through letters or other writings. The grandson has stepped aside. The artifice of the fiction, to my mind, becomes more apparent. The playful non-chronological approach is abandoned for linear storytelling. This is Hertman's little structural risk. Most readers will no doubt follow him enthusiastically.
Late in Part 2 and spilling over into Part 3 is the tale of Urbain, just back from the war, and his newfound love for a neighborhood beauty. This relationship compasses the final tragedy of his life, which truly is a vale of tears most stoically borne. Quite moving and warmly recommend....more
How far could Chinese patriarchy go in the early twentieth century to make the lives of women sheer humiliation and misery? Here in Wild Swans we haveHow far could Chinese patriarchy go in the early twentieth century to make the lives of women sheer humiliation and misery? Here in Wild Swans we have that question tidily answered. This is a tale of the lives of three generations of Chinese women: the author, her mother and her grandmother. Author Jung Chang's grandmother had her feet bound—a hideously painful process undertaken solely so that some man might one day find her lustworthy enough to take as a concubine. The years-long process of foot binding—of smashing the toes with a rock and binding them under the sole of the foot—is thoroughly explained.
Author Chang's grandmother was thus encrippled and eventually traded off to a general of one of the factions vying for control of the country in 1920. All this so her wretch of a great-grandfather—Yang—could raise his own material status, buy land and accumulate concubines. I have read of stories purdah, the seraglio and Morman four-wiving, but never have I come across such a harrowing description of the degradation of women that I have found here.
Mind-numbing are the cruel stratagems of the concubines back at the family home to degrade Yang's first wife (Chang's great-grandmother) and freeze her out of her own home. I was aware of this social structure before through works by the writers Jonathan Spence, Anchee Min, Nien Cheng, Harry Wu and others, but never have I had such a vivid picture of how the first wife/concubine pecking order played out in the daily life of a Chinese family as I've had here. It is beyond belief.
Then in 1930, released from her bond of concubinage on the death of the general, the grandmother—whose name Yu fang translates as jade fragrant flowers—falls in love with a Manchu doctor, who is determined to marry her as his wife. This sends his large family into conniptions since it means Jade will have to be accorded reverence in line with the doctor 's strict Manchu standards of filial respect. And at 65 he is almost three times her age. Perhaps if it weren't for his wealth there would be less of a fuss, but a new wife has implications for the eventual distribution of his estate's assets. In protest one of his sons shoots himself dead. This act of greed—for the family is worried only about its own dispossession, nothing more—drives Dr Xia to divide his possessions among his sons and move to a shack on the outskirts of Jinzhou which is a cholera epidemic waiting to happen. Yet there, he and Jade and the author's mother find some happiness despite the fact that the doctor is penniless and must start at the bottom. And all of the above in the book's first 44 pages!
Next we learn of the horrors committed during the Second Sino-Japanese War—the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, in which Jinzhou is located. Dr & Mrs Xia are able to save a friend from the Japanese by befriending the prison garroter, Dong, who promises them not to strangle the man fatally, only partially, so he'll look dead enough to be transported to the foul-smelling communal grave at the end of town. There, the Xias extract him from a tangle of bodies—he's still breathing—take him home and nurse him back to health. This man, Han-Chen, later goes to work for Kuomintang intelligence where he procures a membership ID for Mrs Xia's son which allows him to avoid military service and keep working in the doctor's medicine shop where he's most needed. He even gets Dong a job. After the war there were so many saved by Dong from the Japanese reaper in this way that survivors pooled their monies and bought the former executioner a little house for his retirement. Heroism takes strange forms.
The Japanese were defeated in 1945 and the second and concluding portion of the Chinese Civil War resumed. The author's mother now turns out to be this capable community organizer on the Communist side. She distributes propaganda. The Nationalist bigwigs are seen as corrupt and lacking discipline. The Communists were promising the populace things they would never deliver on, such as the retention of personal property. In Jinzhou, the author says, the Communists were perceived as innovators who would make the lives of the people better. Another sneaky thing the Communists did, while the Nationalists were busy fighting the Japanese, they intensified their propaganda and brought the people over to their side. Anyway, as you may know, neither side comes out smelling like a rose.
Fascinating in the early going here with regard to Empress Maria Theresa and her machinations once named monarch to restore provinces snatched away byFascinating in the early going here with regard to Empress Maria Theresa and her machinations once named monarch to restore provinces snatched away by greedy usurpers. How dare Austria name a woman to lead their country. Well, Maria Theresa in time regained Bohemia, Moravia and part of Silesia after hard bargaining with the Hungarians for military support. Quite a story. This is the first I've read of this monarch's exploits and its proving entertaining. Maria Theresa, or some farsighted advisors, saw the importance of crushing some feudal institutions such as the robot, which gave the nobility control over the working lives of the peasantry, and the tax-free status of the nobles themselves. So, as the authors of Why Nations Fail would say, she decreased the "extractive" burden on the peasantry, believing they and the state would be far better off if they were left to promote their own self-interests. This "began to undermine the very logic behind traditional social hierarchies," i.e. feudalism. Moreover, after the loss of her most commercially active region, Silesia, to Prussia during the War of the Austrian Succession, she made Triest, Fiume and Brody all tax-free zones as a means of spurring trade. ...more
This is a spritely survey text. I admit that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it is so. Granted, the book becomes something of a slog aroundThis is a spritely survey text. I admit that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it is so. Granted, the book becomes something of a slog around the Middle Ages. But as a wise old historian once said to me, "It's hard to make the Middle Ages sing." So I give the author a pass there. I'm sure I knew most of this stuff thirty years ago, but with disuse it has fled from my memory. This is a stylish refresher. I was in thrall to the early Roman narrative with its Celts already on site, its Angles and Saxons and the subsequent overrunning of the island by Danes and Norwegians. (See clarifying note from Pete: "Us Celts were ensconced upon this sceptred isle long before Julius arrived c55 bc. What is more we remain the dominant dna & the popular white anglo-saxon protestant is a very rare find, more Vikinga dna than Saxon or Angle or Jute.") The story of the Norman Conquest was the first one I'd come across that did not induce torpor. Everything about the Angevin Empire was news to me. I had no idea that England had held such extensive possessions in France. Great Scot, the holes in my Anglophilia! Also very interesting has been the story of the nasty Puritans, Bloody Mary, wise Elizabeth and her court—perhaps England's greatest monarch, according to the author—Mary Queen of Scots and all the murdering and mayhem leading up to the so-called Glorious Revolution. I learned how Magna Carta, the first instrument between crown and the commons with regard to tenancy rights, eventually expanded to become the foundational document which made the idea of parliament possible. The burning of both Catholics and protestants was news to me, I had not known it was so extensive, as was the long, detailed back and forth between parliament (protestant) and crown (Catholic) with regard to religious questions. England did not entirely escape the madness of the Thirty Years War; it had it's share of bedlam, for the most part inspired by monarchs—Charles I (beheaded), James I and James II (permanently incapacitating nervous breakdown)—who wanted to take the largest protestant population in Europe and return it to Catholism. How's that for hubris?
To think it took just two days in 1959 to record this masterwork. Most of the players get a mini-biography. These are fine in the case of Miles Davis,To think it took just two days in 1959 to record this masterwork. Most of the players get a mini-biography. These are fine in the case of Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and Cannonball Adderley, but too meager in the case of John Coltrane and all but nonexistent for bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. The most interesting part of the book for me was the discussion of George Russell's "Lydian Chromatic Concept for Tonal Organization," a sophisticated modal theory of music which greatly influenced Miles, Coltrane's post-Miles work, Charles Mingus and much of the post-bop generation. With that single exception, though, I think the writing about the music itself is rather thin. But isn't this true of all music writing? Sure, one can convey something of the music's emotional effect, something of its reception and historical importance, even an idea of the labors involved in making it, but in the end it's all simulacra. One is reminded of sex in novels. Nor does the writing itself rise to a level of achievement consonant with its subject matter. That said, the book is a wonderful adjunct to the recording....more
What I most remember about this book is how it came out just before the Fall of the Berlin Wall and showed, by going through the Soviet Union's books,What I most remember about this book is how it came out just before the Fall of the Berlin Wall and showed, by going through the Soviet Union's books, that the empire was vastly underfunded and on the brink of collapse. President Reagan's role in all this was to dramatically increase the U.S. defense budget knowing full well the Soviets could not match him. Shortly before the crash, I remember the truest sign of that Empire's dissolution showing itself in the form of a coup d'état—supposedly in reaction to Gorbachev's reforms while he was on vacation in Crimea. It was led, if we can use that word, by small group of elderly, white-haired Red Army generals sitting at a table. A pathetic display. But author Shelton saw it all coming, making this volume one of the few bits of journalistic clairvoyance it has ever been my pleasure to come across. Before you knew, it was 1991 and the USSR was belly up. May we never see its like again....more