Onrereading this book I rediscovered why I loved it so much in my youth and on reading it in my mid-thirties it had new meaning for me. This book cauOnrereading this book I rediscovered why I loved it so much in my youth and on reading it in my mid-thirties it had new meaning for me. This book caused me to reflect on my life with joy and respect for the many experiences I have lived through. This book inspires me not to look on the past with regret or with shame or with pride but to accept my past for what it was, the past that I have lived. This book caused me to look to the future not with despair or anxiety or fear, but to look at the future for what it is, an opportunity to be open to the many beauties and joys presented to one who is open to life and what it offers.
“I learned through my body and soul that it was necessary for me to sin, that I needed lust, that I had to strive for property and experience nausea and the depths of despair in order to learn not to resist them, in order to learn to love the world and no longer compare it to some kind of desired imaginary world, some imaginary vision of perfection, but to leave it as it is, to love it and to be glad to belong to it.” (144)...more
Though not as compelling as The Armies, The Good Offices is a chilling little book worth attention. All of the events elapse in just one day and are fThough not as compelling as The Armies, The Good Offices is a chilling little book worth attention. All of the events elapse in just one day and are focused on the hunchback named Tancredo, who is lives as an indentured servant in a Catholic Church in Bogota, Columbia. From the opening line we learn that Tancredo, “has a terrible fear of being an animal,” yet as the narrative unfolds we witness that it is not only Tancredo who is subject to primal instincts.
The little church that is home to Tancredo is a pillar to the community, providing daily meals to the city’s prostitutes, orphans, single women, and the aged. However, the pillar’s weakness are revealed when the priest, Father Almida must find a substitute to perform the Thursday evening mass because Almida and the sacristan are tied to the mob and must pray tribute to the mob boss that finances the churches elaborate expenses. Almida’s substitute, Father Matamoras is an alcoholic that replaces the holy water with anisette during the mass but transgresses this fault by blessing the churchgoer’s ears with his heavenly singing voice. All inhibitions are released in Matamoras’s presence and there are some devilishly good scenes that take place between Tancredo and his secret-lover (his child-hood friend and the sexton’s god-daughter) at the altar of the church. The presence of Matamoras causes all sorts of pandemonium to unfold, including a very macabre scene involving three nuns (each named Lilia) and a mischievous cat named after Father Almida.
I noted above that this is a little book, but it is just the right length to explore its themes of guilt hypocrisy, and redemption. Rosero’s translators have sprinkled the text with some lovely language that cause this little book to sparkle with conceit. Take for example this description of the three nuns that are so ensconced in each others hypocrisy that they seem to appear as one person that has forfeited her redemption to the drunken priest’s seductions, “To Tancredo they seemed like strangers. Other women; three demented old ladies five hundred years ago, alive, but reconstituted from scraps, cobwebs: talking corpses” (94). It is such language that gives this odd little story a chilling and fun background worthy of attention....more
Without giving away the plot I’ll admit that I had figured out where this novel was going far too early and therefore despite a strong initial hook IWithout giving away the plot I’ll admit that I had figured out where this novel was going far too early and therefore despite a strong initial hook I quickly lost interest because the plot direction was formulaic and therefore predictable. There is a long period of detective work that the main character, Daniel, embarks on that dragged on for over 250 pages with little action. During this overextended interlude Daniel discovers many false leads, but a careful reader can see how the narrative hints the correct fittings of the misplaced puzzle pieces. I will say that the last 150 pages or so picked up with a lot of action with a swift change in narrative voice that provided the historical backdrop of the conflict that Daniel discovers. The ending is a story of redemption, and yet what could have been a dark and tragic book turns into a happy tale in which all the pieces fall into place a little too nicely to fully satisfy.
The novel is primarily written in the first person voice of Daniel with some unexplained interludes written in italics that are sometimes a third person narrative and sometimes the voice of a character writing a letter to another character or a character telling a story to Daniel. These interludes were annoying to me – I’m not sure if this was due to a poor translation, but they always seemed abrupt and unnecessary to the progression of the plot from Daniel’s perspective. As I noted above, towards the end of the novel there is a long section that is from another narrative voice in the form of a letter/manuscript written by a woman who knew the young Julian Carax, author of the novel within this novel. This section is written well and takes the form of Daniel reading the manuscript, however once again there is a long third person italicized interlude that really doesn’t belong within the text of a manuscript written by a character within Zafon’s novel using one of Zafon’s narrative devices. Throughout the book there is a lot of lovely language giving homage to reading and literature, such as the one below, but in my reading I wished that Zafon gave more credit to his readers by tightening up the structure of the book.
“Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming scarce by the day.” (484)
Despite this reader’s criticism, this was a fun book. It is light summer reading fare. I didn’t learn anything profound nor was I moved by the narrative. Despite it taking place during civil war and post war Spain, I learned very little about Spain or Barcelona. It is a simple book meant to be enjoyed for the sake of reading....more
This is not a book that leaves one inspired or hopeful. It is a sad book.
In many ways, there is a lot of valuable stuff here. Hedges does provide someThis is not a book that leaves one inspired or hopeful. It is a sad book.
In many ways, there is a lot of valuable stuff here. Hedges does provide some concrete explanations that illuminate how America’s social structure underwent a fundamental shift once the US entered the first World War and journalism morphed from a system of balanced truth into a propagandizing system that like a puppet-master, pulled on emotional strings that influence human behavior rather than provide balanced truth that fosters rational judgement. “Print-based culture, in which fact and assertion could be traced and distinguished, has ceded to a culture of emotionally driven narratives where facts and opinions are interchangeable,” (207).
Much of what Hedges is right and true. However, the way that he expresses these thoughts are problematic. Hedges frequently uses the term “liberal class” but he denies the opportunity to define the constituents of this class. From page one he launches into a vindictive diatribe about the failure of the liberal class as the source of all of America’s cultural depravity, however Hedges rarely acknowledges that he, himself is a member of this class. Only until the final paragraph does he begin to use the term “we” to promote change and influence, but it is to little to late. This is a very sad book and one that only frustrates with little hope for inspiration.
I feel that the book would have had a better premise if it was titled the ‘Decline of the Liberal Class’ and that Hedges provided a chronological thesis that demonstrated how the effectiveness of the liberal moral movement has declined as the corporate power and war state has risen in power. However that is not the book that Hedges wrote. His book is highly disorganized and often comes off as a rant full of demonstrative and emotionally charged adjectives to describe the liberal class as anemic, ossified, and of course dead. Although he professes that liberalism, or rather the class of liberalism is dead, Hedges is inconsistent in illuminating the actual moment when the liberal class died. He says it happens the day Woodrow Wilson entered the US into ‘the war to end all wars’, he says it arose when fascist hatred turned toward communist hatred and fear-mongering during the forties, he says that the death arose when arts subjected themselves to pithy worship of self and celebrity through the beats, the sixties, and the seventies avaunt-garde, he says that the liberal class died when the likes of Howard Zinn, Raplh Nader, I.F. Stone were followed by the FBI and silenced, he says the liberal class died when journalism subjected objective truth for propaganda and sensationalism. Over and over again Hedges provides concrete examples for the decline of the liberal class, but his writing is so streaked with contempt and anger that he fails to put it altogether into a concise argument and he is so convinced that the liberal class is dead that he fails to acknowledge that through the 20th century there has been a movement that has persisted and continues to thrive. True, the movement lacks the unification of the socialist union movement prior to the first World War, but the world changed and the movement has had to change with the changing world....more
In ‘Why the West Rules – For Now’ Ian Morris has crafted a phenomenal historical reference that provides an enlightened but cautionary perspective ofIn ‘Why the West Rules – For Now’ Ian Morris has crafted a phenomenal historical reference that provides an enlightened but cautionary perspective of the patterns of human history. As noted by the title, this book explores the distinctions that separate Eastern and Western global power in the present age and how the world came to be the way that it is today. Morris does this remarkably through a comprehensive and multidisciplinary exploration of long-term historical trends that utilizes many analytical tools including biology, sociology, linguistics, archaeology, anthropology, geography, climatology, geology, economics, and of course history. He juggles these myriad scholastic disciplines adeptly and with humor, often including references to his favorite science fiction and popular novels to better illuminate his intentions behind this massive book. Most notably he gives credit to Issac Asimov and his stories ‘Nightfall’ and ‘Foundation’ as examples of great societies subject to collapse and backwardness. As alluded to by the title’s subtext “For Now,” Morris explains that his intention in exploring the patterns of history in reference to the current global dominance of western power is to better prepare humanity for the imminent and unpreventable changes of power and social structure in the coming century.
The scope of this work is breathtaking and spans all the way back to the evolutionary migration of Homo sapiens from Africa outward in the past 180-100,000 years to the present state of globalization and the fragile interconnected dependence of markets and society. Although he largely focuses on the current period that spawned with the development of agriculture after the last ice age from 14,000-10,000 BCE to present, Morris goes all the way back to the dawn of human evolution and global migration to demonstrate that the paradigms of East and West are largely new in the grand scope of human history. Despite the differences in race and culture that are prevalent in the East/West dichotomy, all societies are motivated by a common human ambition that knows no distinction of East or West. Although individuals may be dramatically different from one another, humans are generally the same and in large groups behave according to the same laws of motivations. Morris argues with tongue-in-cheek using his self-professed Morris Theorem that throughout history long-lasting changes have been caused not by great men or bumbling fools but by the massive tides of lazy, greedy, and frightened people who rarely know what they are doing. From the gathering in caves for collective warmth to the development of the steam engine and even the internet you are using to read this, these changes came about through the ingenuity of people following the great ideas of the time in order to make life easier, safer, and more beneficial. These motivations are human traits that know no regional boundaries.
The distinctions of East and West first came about through the benefits of geography as agriculture techniques were first developed in Western region around 10,000 BCE and separately around 8,500-8000 BCE in the East. The West got a two thousand year head start not because of a special western ingenuity or creative superiority but simply because the Western regions near the Mediterranean were home to much higher proportion of potentially domesticated crops and animal species compared to the proportion available in the eastern core that would develop into China. Despite the head-start in the west the eastern region (as well as Australia, Central America, and the South American Andes regions much later due to even fewer opportunities for domesticated crops) demonstrated equal capacity to develop agriculture, religious practices, and social organization entirely independent of the west.
As Morris travels through history from the dawn of agriculture he clearly demonstrates over and over again that the difference in the west’s lead is the benefit of geography, not some innate superiority. If this sounds like Jared Diamond‘s theory from Guns, Germs, and Steel, well it is. Morris gives plenty of credit to Diamond, however where Morris’s book differs from and excels beyond Diamond’s is that in his historical analysis he utilizes a system to measure social development to compare the West and East throughout history. His system is basically a Measure of how societies get things done through four measurable traits: energy capture, organization/urbanization, war making, and information technology, and though not perfect (Morris admits this) it is a simple tool that provides a functional point of reference to compare the east and west throughout the past 14 millennium.
What this measure of social development reveals is that not only did the east surpass the west for over a thousand years from approximately 500 CE to about 1700 CE, what is really interesting is that history’s social development has stalled many times due to a ceiling on development that limits the scope of a society’s ability to continue developing with unmeasured growth in energy capture, organization/urbanization, war making, or information technology. Both the west and east have bumped into this ceiling multiple times due to common events such as climate change, migration, disease, famine, and state failure. What allows a society to break beyond the limits of development is the changing meaning of geography such as when China’s grand canal connected the Yellow and Yangtze rivers during Europe’s dark ages, and when the west expanded trade across the Atlantic. Of course I have only listed a few brief examples here and Morris explains the many factors that have occurred throughout human history succinctly and with artful craft far beyond what I could beg to achieve in a brief synopsis here. I’ll just say that he is convincing and provides a renewed historical perspective that is a must read for any curious mind....more
I wish that this book was set up for location rather than by activity. Frequently during our trip I found myself having to flip to the index to find oI wish that this book was set up for location rather than by activity. Frequently during our trip I found myself having to flip to the index to find out the many sections that referenced the particular location of the island that we found ourselves. This got to be a little annoying because the book was organized in a format for planning activities while off island, but not really helpful for use while on the island and wanting to quickly flip to a section. Other than that, the book was helpful in giving good directions and the pictures were very inviting to help us choose which activities we wanted to do. ...more
John Keay’s China, A History, provides a nice introduction for those curious about the world’s most populous nation and the rising economic superpowerJohn Keay’s China, A History, provides a nice introduction for those curious about the world’s most populous nation and the rising economic superpower that we refer to as China. Prior to this reading I had scant knowledge of the nearly continuous 3-6ooo year history of the region that spans from Mongolia to the Himalayas and from Afghanistan to the China Sea. Granted, although China celebrates its dynastic chain of succession of “All Under Heaven,” the broad scoping historical reference of Keay’s book reveals that China has hardly been so blessed to celebrate a continuous rule of everlasting peace. As is true of all history, there is much bloodshed, civil strife, exchange of power and successive sequences of turmoil and eventual collapse. There have been several periods of warring states and divided kingdoms, as well as colonial expansion and isolationist retraction. In short, China’s history is subject to a cyclical pattern of unification, growth and development that transitions into steady decline, turmoil, collapse, dispersal, and ultimately reunification. Even the current communist/socialist republic falls into this pattern with Mao being the unifier after a period of 50 years of civil war and the current capitalistic expansion mirroring past dynastic periods of growth and innovation.
Keay starts the book well, with keen awareness that he is writing for a western reader unfamiliar with the geography of the Chinese region and he provides many maps to provide perspective and reference. His introduction did a great job of orienting this reader to a region I know little about and he also clearly acknowledges that the novice reader will struggle with the Chinese names that are often repetitious (dynastic emperors will recycle names just like European rulers would) and without turning the book into a linguistic orientation he does provide some clarification of the meaning of some words (such as Bejing literally meaning northern capital).
Keay provides much acknowledgement to the richness of China’s historical record with written texts spanning at least 3000 years of history and he also provides welcome explanation of the influences of classical Confucianism, the import of Buddhism, and eventually Islam and Christianity upon the Chinese mindset. Through the historical transitions Keay adeptly illuminates that despite the influence of the imported religions, ultimately Confucianism provides the core of “Eastern” thought just as Socratic examination provides the core of “Western” thought. Keay’s insight into the social thought during historical periods is definitely the strongest element his work.
However, despite these strong points, where China, A History faults is that it is far too heavily a history told from the good-old-boy mentality. Keay relies too heavily upon the historical documents written by the learned class for the ruling class and much of his book is a catalog of emperors, generals, with much discussion of development of great cities and epic battles. Granted this is how much of world history is cataloged, from the perspective of those in power and not from the perspective of their subjects. I would have liked to have a little more knowledge of the social and anthropological context of the Chinese history. Despite some vague reference to three classical dynasties Keay pays little merit to archaeological data to support his historical thesis. Furthermore, he does not go far enough into the history to satisfy my curiosities. I wanted to know a little about the prehistorical migration into the region and the development of agriculture, but Keay skips all of this with blunt acceptance that there were a peoples in the region that developed into the dynastic empire. Although this work lacked these elements, it is still a great introduction into Chinese history. Keay does a great job of providing equal attention to every period in the Chinese history, each 1000 years or so is approximately 140 pages and the devotion to present day is just as focused as the devotion to the events occurring 500 years prior. I finished this book with a sense that I had learned a great deal and I’d put it on any list of works deserving credit as valuable for historical perspective....more