...and this is where the otherwise amazing comic book/graphic novel series, Fables took the EPIC storyline it left off with in March Of The Wooden Sol...more...and this is where the otherwise amazing comic book/graphic novel series, Fables took the EPIC storyline it left off with in March Of The Wooden Soldiers and crashed and burned...by harking back to some tough guy's old war stories, sending the strongest female character in the series flying back to sexist-barefoot-pregnant-confinement-times, and introducing us to the cutest-yet-worst characters in the entire series... the cubs. sigh... fail, fail, a thousand-times fail.(less)
Summary: "Moving Pictures is the story of the awkward and dangerous relationship between curator Ila Gardner and officer Rolf Hauptmann...set in World...more Summary: "Moving Pictures is the story of the awkward and dangerous relationship between curator Ila Gardner and officer Rolf Hauptmann...set in World War II while the Nazis were pillaging much of Europe's great art collections."
Thematically, this is a work about art that has gone missing. It is also a work about people who have gone missing. And it is a work about a lot of things that are left unsaid between the story's two main players. I cannot think of a better use of all the heavy, negative space in Immonen's artwork. It's amazing. The artwork is sharp and angular - and at the same time sparse and controlled - just like the dialogue!
This work was really well done! What an amazing team Kathryn & Stuart Immonen are. This was a mature, literary, striking book.
It lost a star for a rather abrupt ending. And the fact that it is difficult to tell the characters apart (which left many readers confused...)(less)
I never thought that at the end of a 900-ish page novel, I would be so sad to close the book. Sure, this book is so big that it made my bus rides ridi...moreI never thought that at the end of a 900-ish page novel, I would be so sad to close the book. Sure, this book is so big that it made my bus rides ridiculous for the better part of two weeks, so heavy that I would knock myself in the forehead with it while I was reading in bed. But, these magicians have been my BFFs for weeks! I already miss their bro-mance.
I absolutely adored this book, and would recommend it to just about anyone, as long as they are fond of one thing: simply amazing storytelling. Run and get yourself a copy. Buy it, because you will be sad when you have to give it back to the library (or your friend). Don't be daunted by the length! Don't be daunted by the British-ness! Or the time period (1806-1817)! Or the magic! This book was written for you, I promise.
Come back, Jonathan and Gilbert. I miss you already!(less)
I think if you asked me, I would tell you that 'war stories' are not my thing. Reading Josh Ritter's debut novel, Bright's Passage reminded me that I...moreI think if you asked me, I would tell you that 'war stories' are not my thing. Reading Josh Ritter's debut novel, Bright's Passage reminded me that I would be lying to you. Some of the most beautiful stories come out of terrible wars, and I cannot deny their effect on me: surprise at my reaction toward them ("But, I don't like war stories!"), sadness for the tragedy and horror, too... But, they are also books that stay with me. You know, the good kind of literature that follows you around and doesn't let you forget it. And, why, so often are they so lyrically beautiful?
When I was younger, my relatives undoubtedly viewed me some kind of book-reading-anomoly-child. Having never read books themselves, they didn't ask what kind of books I liked or wanted to read, but they bought me books just the same: they just bought me books that they found in dollar stores and at Walmart for 2/$1.00. I appreciated the effort, but rarely read those things. At one point, I had three copies of The Red Badge Of Courage. But, I said..."Blah, blah, blah, a young soldier? Ew. I read about baby-sitters with dangling parrot earrings!"
So, I didn't read RBoC until I was twenty-six. And when I did... I was floored. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous teeny tiny book. Stephen Crane, who was so young when he wrote RBoC, was also an accomplished painter. And I could tell: RBoC was f*cking artwork. It was a beautiful pile of saturated descriptions and well-turned phrases on a goddamn canvas. I shook my head, thinking of all the copies of RBoC that sat in my bedroom as a kid, collecting dust. Well, whatever, I was an idiot.
The entire time that I was reading Bright's Passage, I was reminded of The Red Badge of Courage. Like RBoC, Bright's Passage is a teeny book (barely 200 pages). Bright's Passage is a book about WWI, RBoC is a book about The Civil War - but, they are both books about naive, wide-eyed American country boys who are given guns and told to kill for their country, and then left dumbfounded by the chaotic, frightening din of actual battle. Like the protagonist of RBoC, Ritter's main character is named Henry, and he is a mere nineteen or twenty years old after he returns from The First World War. And like RBoC, Bright's protagonist undergoes a somewhat frightening spiritual awakening.
Like Stephen Crane, Josh Ritter was/is a primarily different type of artist (songwriter), and the writing reflects, at times, a lyrical poetic style. It's just pretty, you know? Some really beautiful writing. So, it reads a little more gimmicky than RBoC. But, I felt Ritter's language and story unfold just as wonderfully as Crane's.
I mean - I'm comparing Bright's Passage to one of the greatest works of American Literature, here. And, for the most part, I really mean it! Josh Ritter, that indie-songwriter-guy, is not just a novelist - he is a great writer!
The plot of the story unfolds (fairly) masterfully. The narration moves from the novel's present-day (West Virginia, 1918/19), back in time through the trenches in France and the yucky-pretty tales of the battlefield, and it traces the protagonist through his homecoming from WWI to the birth of his child, and the flight to save him from some evil creepy-Appalachia-style in-laws.
Through all of this, Henry Bright is being led by his talking horse, who is possessed by a presence he calls Angel. Whether Angel is an angel, sent to protect Henry and his son, or a serious form of shell-shock (ahem, PTSD), the author does not say. But, Ritter has done a remarkable job of capturing the desperate sense of urgency and displacement that our protagonist soldier feels.
The rating: (BTW - disclosure: I got this for free from a Goodreads giveaway.). However, this did not affect my review in the slightest. I decided to give this book four stars. I thought about giving it five, at first. But, I think the surprise of Ritter being so talented at novel-writing wore off enough for me to give it a well-deserved four. I mean, this could be someone's five-star book, for sure. But, the only books I give five stars to are the books that I personally want to marry and have babies with. So, you know... I'll go with four.(less)
Helen Benedict's Sand Queen is an important book for a couple of reasons. First, (and to the best of my knowledge) Benedict's topic - the treatment of...moreHelen Benedict's Sand Queen is an important book for a couple of reasons. First, (and to the best of my knowledge) Benedict's topic - the treatment of female soldiers in the United States Army - is not sufficiently explored by very many contemporary fiction writers. Even the nonfiction works (including Benedict's own The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq) are not not given enough exposure to warrant the kind of attention that this topic demands (I'm sure some people would disagree with this - thinking there's too MUCH coverage, but I disagree - if you ask a normal-walking-down-the-street guy or lady about sexual abuse in the military, s/he likely doesn't know the fucking half of it).
Benedict's work with female soldiers fighting in our current War(s) On Terror have given way to many first-hand accounts what female soldiers are subject to: an almost methodical and ever-present pattern of harassment, sexual and otherwise. But, mostly... sexual.
Secondly, Benedict makes it clear through her work that there are (or were, as of 2003 when this story takes place) no safe arenas for the reporting of incidents, for recourse, justice, appeal, or aid for women in the military who have been sexually assaulted.
And finally, Sand Queen also highlights the treatment of veterans (male or female) who experience post-traumatic difficulties relating to their time in combat.
According to Benedict, the women in Iraq are being assaulted on-the-daily, but only a small amount of these incidents get reported. And when they do get reported, the victim is often scrutinized and marginalized further by her admission. Boy, that fucking sucks.
According to a report by Salon: "Comprehensive statistics on the sexual assault of female soldiers in Iraq have not been collected, but early numbers revealed a problem so bad that former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered a task force in 2004 to investigate. As a result, the Defense Department put up a Web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal and to help women report it. It also initiated required classes on sexual assault and harassment."
Wow, Rumsfeld was forced to address the issue publicly? That's when you know its fucking bad out there!
So, how does Sand Queen treat Benedict's topics? I think that Benedict is, for the most part, effective in reaching her goals of highlighting the occurrences of sexual abuse, and detailing the trouble with reporting assault, and the heartbreaking symptoms of PTSD experienced by veterans. That's why I gave this book three stars. But. Both as a work of fiction and as a social-problem novel, Sand Queen is lacking in some respects, to be sure. Here's why...
Benedict tells the story of two women: Kate, a naive 19-year-old Middle-American, and Naema, an educated Iraqi medical-student-plus-war-refugee. Kate spends most of her time doing her duties and being ignored by her commanders, unless they want to harass her. Naema spends most of her time holed up in her grandmother's house, decrying the war and everything about it: senseless deaths, the misrepresentation of her people, and on and on. I mean, honestly, this character breaks into narratives that are like Shakespearean-soliloquies of anti-war jibber-jabber which pull you away from the story thinking, "Sorry, nobody first-person-narrates that way..."
Since the two women's stories are too dissimilar to be properly (properly in this sense means "good-fiction-ally") correlated, I can only think that Benedict hoped that the juxtaposition of the daily lives of two women on opposite sides of the war would elicit some sympathy from the reader concerning one idea, and only one idea... WAR SUCKS.
Hmmm, yes. War certainly does suck. And I am lucky that I can only imagine that suckage, or read about in fiction. But, I don't think that Benedict can give her topics (mentioned above) the treatment they need in a novel constantly proclaiming that WAR SUCKS from the point of view of an Iraqi civilian.
In my point of view, Naema's story - because it often becomes a polemic, a mouthpiece for the author to voice an anti-war stance - smudges up an otherwise shiny piece of topical fiction. It makes the reader frame her questions like this "Gah! Why are we even in this war. Why are these women subjecting themselves to a war with no cause or purpose when it means getting assaulted in the process?!" instead of like this "Why are these women being singled out by male soldiers for abuse when they are serving their country in a time of war?"
Maybe I'm off the mark, but in the first frame of response - the soldier appears to victimized by both war - theory and practice - and men. I think that the women of the military would take issue with this notion. At least, I hope they would... they joined the military because they believed in war in the first place.
Now, war is not for everyone. (It's probably for almost no one). But, when you support the military - including our military women - you also support their belief that war is necessary. I think that if you want to support your ladies-in-combat in providing a voice to their silence, by shedding light on their issues - you don't do it by saying: "They have no need to be there in the first place. War turns everyone into a psychological-ball-of-goo, especially women. Get the fuck out." That's a different story altogether. That's an anti-war story. That's an anti-military story.
If you chucked the constant anti-war rhetoric, and focus on the topics at hand, the response of the reader might be more along the lines of seeing women victimized by assault: which is the more practical, rather than theoretical problem here. By glazing your entire text over in anti-war rhetoric, you may be losing the necessary attention of your readers.
If your focus is all the rape and none of the glory - your audience begins to question the "purpose" of women in the military at all - and I don't think that's the debate anyone is trying to have here!
For the record, I think that anti-military narratives, and anti-war narratives, are completely and wonderfully valid. They are also important works. They make us question conflict, nationalism, humanity. All the biggies. But, should Sand Queenbe this type of narrative? Not, I think, if it was intended to make the impact that it needs to. It could easily stand to trivialize the issue of the abuses of women who have joined the military because they have chosen to be there, and because they want to be there.
Kate, our protagonist, is sexually assaulted. She is victimized by superior officers; humiliated in her attempts to report her abuse; silenced by her circumstances. Dishonorably discharged. Suffering from PTSD. Hating the notion that she was a ever soldier to begin with, she is happy to leave the military and glad she is no longer a part of it... Okay, as a reader, I can be moved by her story. Truly.
But, I have to ask - are you writing an anti-war story, Helen? Because I thought you were looking for equal treatment and status for our female military officers.
And when you focus too long on multiple-states-of-victimhood, your character suffers. You can't do both - pro-female-military/anti-military - it's just too clunky. That's a 3-star book. Or worse.
Now, that lady is kind of mad about the constant association of "female military" and "sexual abuse" - but I think what she is more afraid of is the notion that female soldiers are being perceived as "weak." This is where the ground on which Benedict's topics stand begins to shift under our feet...
Some military women don't want to be portrayed in certain ways, by certain tropes (see above), having fought hard for their rights to be first-and-foremost a soldier, no gender qualifier necessary.
What do we (civilians, book-readers) see? Helen Benedict's book shows how sexual abuse wears female soldiers thin, makes them less alert and on the ball, emotionally-stretched. While this might be the case, there is arguable evidence here that women appear weaker as a result of their portrayal by journalists like Benedict. This probably makes many pro-military women (and men)'s blood run cold. If there's one adjective a soldier does not want to be identified with, it's weak.
I do not, personally, feel that "victim" should be equated with "weakness," but that correlation is something that is difficult for some readers to discern. Not to mention, the equation of "victim" and "weakness" is definitely difficult for some writers to successfully avoid. So, Helen Benedict had the opportunity to make a strong case against the of issue sexual assault in the military, possibly by ditching the anti-war rhetoric, but she threw the wrench of her own agenda into the gears and kinda fucked it up.
This book left me conflicted at best. But, I guess one thing is for sure... Naema's story sucked.
BTW - I got this book free from a Goodreads Giveaway. So happy I did - it introduced a new, enraging, and controversial topic into my very limited knowledge of world. Party.(less)