I've had this on my to-do list ever since seeing the fantastic Hindi film Haider (an adaptation of Hamlet that is set in mid-nineties Kashmir.) BasharI've had this on my to-do list ever since seeing the fantastic Hindi film Haider (an adaptation of Hamlet that is set in mid-nineties Kashmir.) Basharat Peer wrote the script and the movie made me want to learn even more about the time period explored in it.
This book fulfills a category in the Read Harder Challenge. Actually I could slot it into several categories, but ultimately I'm going to put it into "a book by a person whose gender is different from your own." This is a deliberate decision on my part. This memoir really drives home how life in Kashmir is an incredibly gendered experience. As one reads, one gets the sense of an entire generation of men who have had battle and war imposed on them, whether they wanted to become "militarized" or not. At one point, Peer goes through a bunch of his friends and acquaintances, talking about how they chose to respond. Some left, some joined militant groups and died, some joined these groups and then reintegrated back into Kashmiri towns and villages after years of danger and trauma. Being male in Kashmir seems to mean being viewed as an enemy of the state as soon as you're able to walk.
There are also tons of men who have been flat out "disappeared" by the state. These portions of the book haunted me the most because of my own personal interest in missing persons cases (I am working on a criminology degree because these cases effect me so deeply.) Having a missing loved one sounds like the worst kind of personal hell to me. You can't grieve, you can't give up hope, you feel stupid for having hope. Law enforcement can often be apathetic during these cases, but in Kashmir the government is often complicit in these losses. It's really hard to imagine the psychological toll this must take, but this book gets me a bit closer to imagining it.
Which isn't to say women didn't suffer in Kashmir, because they absolutely did (and still do.) In Kashmir, there's that age old tactic of rape as a weapon of war, and support from the community can be very hit or miss after. Although, on a happier note, I was fascinated by the passages on Islam in Kashmir, and how it generally supports women.
I think the biggest strength of this book (other than its gorgeous writing) is its ability to make me understand. I see this book get criticized for having no "arc" per se, but I'm not sure if Peer is even trying to tell something definitive here. What this book does do remarkably well is to put you in the shoes of everyone he interviews. He makes you feel their fear, and he makes you feel why some people retreat deep inside their personal lives, while others want to lash out. I come from a town that a highly publicized and infamous school shooting a few years back. Even today, you still see how it impacts people's psyches. That was one incident, in one day. As I read I tried to apply that kind of uncertainty and fear in an entire state, for well over a decade. Unexpected violence changes you, and its even worse when it's built into the system, when there's no real recourse. We have problems with that here in America, too. You only have to turn on the news to see it. The circumstances might be the same, but a lot of surface level, primal fears and hopes do not change. This is the kind of book that leaves me feeling like I'll forever see the world different after having read this. ...more
Good god, this was a perfectly gut-wrenching read. I just wrote out a bunch of nonsensical, glowing paragraphs and then deleted them because; nonsensiGood god, this was a perfectly gut-wrenching read. I just wrote out a bunch of nonsensical, glowing paragraphs and then deleted them because; nonsensical. But this is one of those novels that is a fucking experience. So much emotional verisimilitude, three-dimensional characters, extensive research, social justice-conscious but steering clear of condescendingly saccharine stereotypes. I'm from Virginia and the gorgeous, gorgeous scenery and setting depictions struck me as deeply true. This is the kind of work I'm always hoping for in historical fiction and so rarely get.
This book was extremely satisfying. That's pretty much the best word for it; satisfying. I wasn't expecting that reaction for so many reasons. First oThis book was extremely satisfying. That's pretty much the best word for it; satisfying. I wasn't expecting that reaction for so many reasons. First of all, it's about a case where we can't have definitive answers until someone invents a time machine. Second, it's about an unsolved case that's become very internet famous in the anglosphere (to the point where people on forums like reddit start groaning in a very hipster sort of way; not the Dyatlov Pass again. Tell us about something we haven't heard.) And such internet famous cases bring out a lot crackpot theorizing and people quick to make a buck.
So I started it with some trepidation. But all my doubts were quickly assuaged. The author means business. He's very earnest and genuine in his research analysis, going above and beyond what a lot of people do. He pours over journals, and photos. He meets with as many witnesses as he can, and makes the fairly grueling hike to the very place the hikers died. He does research on Soviet history, weather phenomena, biological weapons and so on. He goes out of his way to meet experts in these fields. He pieces together a timeline of the hikers, the recovery team, and his own movements almost to the minute. And by doing so he pieces together a theory that seems incredibly plausible and simple. Again, we can't know for sure, but I still came away content that this is the most plausible theory I've ever heard on this case. No other conspiracy theory or skeptics debunking has come close. Seriously, I can't stress enough how much effort Eichar put into his research, and how much its paid off.
I also want to laud the style of this book. It jumps between three different periods in time; the hikers' journey, the recovery efforts, and then his own research efforts. This choice gives the book a lot of forward momentum and even suspense, in a story that has a lot of foregone conclusions. The author's also pretty good at including his own personal history and opinions without letting it bog down the narrative (a common fault in a lot of non-fiction books where the author is a "character.")
Finally, I absolutely loved his attention to the hikers as people. He includes tons of pictures of them, quotes from their journals, etc. You get a clear sense of their personalities, and youthful optimism. They weren't just sidenotes in an internet creepypasta. They were once living, breathing people with aspirations, families, friends. The Dyatlov Pass story isn't just a mystery, it's also a tragedy. And I think Eichar does honor to their memory and bravery. ...more
I picked this one up because the descriptions sounded like... I wouldn't be bored, at least. In the end it actually veers away from the sort of 'knockI picked this one up because the descriptions sounded like... I wouldn't be bored, at least. In the end it actually veers away from the sort of 'knockoff of the lord of the flies!! with girls!! in the forest!!!!" scenario that the dust jacket promised. But I didn't mind; this book wound up being pretty profound, and speaking to things I've struggled with all of my life. I always like a story that paints capacity to change and reach self-fulfillment as worth striving for, even if one stumbles along the way. And this book does honor to that basic principle....more
As other reviewers have noted, the writing style starts off a bit self-conscious and over the top. However, the book quickly grows into its stylisticAs other reviewers have noted, the writing style starts off a bit self-conscious and over the top. However, the book quickly grows into its stylistic choices. This is actually one of the most unique reading experiences I have ever had. Although this is a book full of stories-within-stories, and although these mimic the dark and cruel aspects of the original versions of fairy tales and myths, Valente also manages to get at the heart of each of her narrators. While this was a satisfying read in terms of the use of language, it was also an emotional one. I'm glad I got this book on a whim from the library....more
Came away from this one with unexpected amusememt and affection for James A. Garfield. He preferred reading to working! Let's just say I understand yoCame away from this one with unexpected amusememt and affection for James A. Garfield. He preferred reading to working! Let's just say I understand you, President Garfield. I understand....more
This book was simultaneously a page-turner and hard as hell to read. I had trouble falling asleep last night because of it, and when I did I had someThis book was simultaneously a page-turner and hard as hell to read. I had trouble falling asleep last night because of it, and when I did I had some unsettling nightmares. This isn't a book I can read, write an "oh that's nice, that definitely added to my life" type of review and go about my day. This is some seriously skillful nonfiction. It calls to mind being fourteen and reading Wild Swans. There's a similar structure to both works; history of a country to get the big picture, and memoirs of individual experiences to personalize statistics and news bulletins. And, this is harder to quantify or describe, both books gave me a sick, horrified feeling, even as I felt like parts of my brain were lighting up with brand new information. Some of the best non-fiction makes a reader feel like they can connect seemingly disparate facts together, and history makes a little more sense, and you can't remain distant any longer.
Straight off, I need to say that this is not tragedy porn. That's not why I felt so overwhelmed by this. Demick is respectful of the North Korean defectors that she interviews, and never ventures into the realm of the maudlin. The individual lives take center stage, illuminated by what we know of North Korean history. The reader isn't allowed to rest on their laurels. Capitalism doesn't make their lives 100% better when they escape, and pretty much right off the bat Demick clarifies that Nothing To Envy is not about "oh those wacky North Koreans!" Much of this book demonstrates how to brainwash an entire country into an entire ideology... as well as how, and when, the North Koreans discussed here realized they had been deceived. I was astonished by the ingenuity of every single one of the people profiled, both when it came to surviving the famine and when they had to escape. This book bring back individuality to a nation that's so often reduced to a horror story or a joke.
And, yeah, to circle back to my opening paragraph... The sense of individuality in this book will stick with me. I'm completely overwhelmed by just how many lives have been snuffed out in the North Korean famine. So many people with stories akin to those featured in Nothing To Envy. Gone....more
I was enthralled by this book immediately. I tore through it only stopping when I had to catch some sleep before an early day the next morning. TWow.
I was enthralled by this book immediately. I tore through it only stopping when I had to catch some sleep before an early day the next morning. This book is leisurely, the sentences dense, but somehow this washed over me like poetry. This was a captivating world and I really, really cared about the main character.
Deerskin is a re-telling of the fairy tale Doneyskin, bringing into focus the aspects of the story that have always disturbed me. This is ultimately a novel about recovery from trauma and abuse. It's a grueling read; not because the scenes in question are graphic, but because McKinley evokes Lissar's reactions so well. So much in this book hit me on a visceral level.
The author also shines in the depiction of fairly mundane, every day tasks. Lissar draws power and comfort from herb lore, hunting, and raising puppies. Paragraphs and paragraphs are spent on these pursuits and it was never boring to me. Mckinley is adept at showing the ways in which responsibilities and activity can help one find their strength.
If this novel fails in any aspect, it's in the last few pages. The climactic scene feels rushed and there's barely a denouement to speak of. But that doesn't diminish all that came before and this is still one of the best novels I've read this year....more