I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It traces three families in Burma, India and Malaya from 1885 to a brief stint in the mid-1990s. I have little knowled...moreI thoroughly enjoyed this book. It traces three families in Burma, India and Malaya from 1885 to a brief stint in the mid-1990s. I have little knowledge of these countries' histories and found it fascinating to read about the British Empire from this perspective. I don't know that I'd ever read about Japanese invasion during WWII from this perspective.
The author for the audiobook did a fine job keeping up with the story, but did not do enough for this listener to differentiate the different characters. I sometimes found myself confused for a bit about which storyline I was hearing. But maybe that's the fault of the listener rather than the reader.(less)
This book tells an important and heartbreaking story of the Khamer Rouge takeover of Cambodia and the effect on one small girl and her family. The nar...moreThis book tells an important and heartbreaking story of the Khamer Rouge takeover of Cambodia and the effect on one small girl and her family. The narrative style made me feel quite distant from the characters throughout much of the book. On the one hand, this made the horrors more bearable; on the other hand, I never connected with these characters the way I felt I should have. The narrator for the audiobook version was unmemorable. Not horrible, but also not particularly noteworthy. Perhaps I'd have enjoyed what seemed to be elegant writing more if I'd read this in print.(less)
This reader is woefully unknowledgeable about Latin American history or politics. Thus, I could have benefitted from 20-30 pages more explanation of t...moreThis reader is woefully unknowledgeable about Latin American history or politics. Thus, I could have benefitted from 20-30 pages more explanation of the players here. But even without that, I was completely sucked into the story of the planning and execution of the assassination of Somoza. Part of what amazed me about this tale is that the revolutionaries who carried out this plan were Argentinians, not Nicaraguans. They were enlisted because of their solidarity with the revolutionary Sandanistas in Nicaragua and had planned to come to help with the fight, then decided to extract justice for Somoza's crimes. The epilogue in which one of the group describes their dedication to the cause is one of the most moving pieces of nonfiction I have read in quite some time. I'm really glad to have stumbled onto this book.(less)
I'm glad this book was recommended to me by one of my Goodreads Groups because I don't think I ever would have picked it up otherwise. The story moved...moreI'm glad this book was recommended to me by one of my Goodreads Groups because I don't think I ever would have picked it up otherwise. The story moved along simply enough, with the protagonist remembering earlier episodes from his life and recounting bits to others. I enjoyed the rise and fall of the main character as he moved from a poor person scraping together a life as a tour guide at a railway station to a rich and influential person to a prisoner to, finally, a Swami. I never felt wholly connected to the main character and never fully believed in his motivations and transitions, but I quite enjoyed the story anyway and am glad to have read a bit of Indian literature that is neither depressingly bleak nor overly mystical.(less)
A fascinating telling of the tale of Chaka, Zulu king and mass murderer. At first, it seems like a history of a great leader and ambitious creator of...moreA fascinating telling of the tale of Chaka, Zulu king and mass murderer. At first, it seems like a history of a great leader and ambitious creator of the Zulu people. Then, the story becomes increasingly horrific as Chaka devolves from a strong and charismatic young warrior to a vengeful and evil murderer. Even as he obtains the kingships he wishes for, his bloodlust becomes more and more uncontrolled, leading him to execute broad swaths of his own people as well as waging war against all neighboring peoples. Throughout, I was compelled to keep reading to see where the story would lead even though it was clear early on that the tale could only end in tremendous violence and horror. Extremely powerful writing.(less)
I really like listening to Murakami's books. With a good reader, I find myself involved in the emotional pull of the book much more quickly and easily...moreI really like listening to Murakami's books. With a good reader, I find myself involved in the emotional pull of the book much more quickly and easily in audio book format. The readers here were fantastic and really brought this book to life. I would still recommend that new readers of Murakami's work start with one of the more classic choices like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle instead of jumping in here. But for Murakami fans this book absolutely delivers and is highly recommended. The story lines are just strange enough (and impossible to describe) to put you into a bizarre magical universe, but hold together well enough that, at least for me, I was able to suspend disbelief throughout.
I was particularly taken with the idea of Johnnie Walker and Col. Sanders coming to life as the embodiment chosen by a mental construct. Without reading the book of course, I'm sure this makes no sense to readers of this review. But that's the nature of reviewing Murakami.(less)
First, a complaint about the recording of the audiobook version. The narrator does a fine job of rendering the accents of different people. But throug...moreFirst, a complaint about the recording of the audiobook version. The narrator does a fine job of rendering the accents of different people. But throughout the recording, the narrator spoke so quietly that even with the volume cranked way up on my player, I often felt like I could barely hear him. Combine his low speech level with his African-accented reading and I found it really hard to listen to this. I wish I'd read the book instead.
That said, I really enjoyed the book. The writing felt alive and fresh. There were a few chapters that seemed out of place - maybe they were pieces of other writing the author had done that he basically just included. For example, the book went on a tangent about the World Cup in Togo and the style of the writing abruptly shifted. Still, overall I really liked the pacing and the switching from one memory to another.
I'm having a hard time describing exactly what it was about the book that made it so compelling, but I definitely felt an almost science-fiction like transportation into someone else's mind. The style felt both intimate and distant within a single paragraph. The images are vivid and fascinating.(less)
I listened to the audiobook version of this fantastic book. The narrator did an excellent job; and had excellent material to work from. Boo does a rem...moreI listened to the audiobook version of this fantastic book. The narrator did an excellent job; and had excellent material to work from. Boo does a remarkable thing -- she gets close enough to the lives of these people to be able to write their stories as complete, deep, emotional individuals without inserting too much of herself into the story. This book could so easily have taken the unfortunate turn of so many similar efforts and been half-memoir of her research and half story of her subjects. What Boo does here is much more difficult and much more impressive.
I haven't read anything else that gives such a clear perspective on the day to day lives of the slum-dwellers living on the edges of society.
The narrator for the audiobook version did a passable job conveying the text. More emotion from the reader in the angrier passages of the book would h...moreThe narrator for the audiobook version did a passable job conveying the text. More emotion from the reader in the angrier passages of the book would have improved the listening experience, but it's basically a small quibble (and perhaps not a universally held opinion--the one review on audible complains that the narrator sounded angry enough throughout the book to make that reviewer dislike the recording). Also, the narrator seemed to have some trouble with Arab names and conveying an accent for certain quotes and speakers.
Narrator quality aside, the book carries an important message. The author has made a conscious choice to seek peace and coexistance between Israelis and Palestinians despite his own personal tragedy. And his personal tragedy is enormous: three of his daughters and his niece were killed when his apartment in Gaza was shelled by Israeli troops. While he's never received a complete apology or a full disclosure about what happened, it seems almost certain that the shelling was a terrible mistake rather than a proper military action.
Overall, the writing was a bit scattered and repetitive, but perfectly readable for a personal memoir. I'm glad that this book was published and that it's getting attention internationally. I'm glad that there is someone speaking for peace and giving a personal story from the Palestinian side. I think there are better books if one wants to learn about the political conflict. But this book provides an important human story.(less)
These stories are so powerful that I could only read this book in short bits interspersed with other reading. It's almost impossible to believe that t...moreThese stories are so powerful that I could only read this book in short bits interspersed with other reading. It's almost impossible to believe that this is a debut collection. All of the stories in this book are told from the perspective of children, mostly in the seven to thirteen age range. The horror of the stories is revealed slowly as the child begins to realize (at least in part) what is happening. His shorter works are actually much better than the two novella-length pieces in this collection, and I'd recommend starting with those and only moving on to the longer ones if you still want more of these stories. All of the stories are rich in the small details that bring the events to life--descriptions of how hungry children sniff glue to ward off hunger pains, the reverance given to a motorcycle, the reaction of a Muslim boy to TV images. Generally, the narrators were somewhat cold and detached from the tales being told. This helped to make the horrific topics readable, but also made the longer stories less effective. In a short story, the detached voice seemed to work to contain the power of the story, but in a novella-length work, it left this reader too distanced to develop emotional attachment to the characters.
Overall, the book is definitely a way to feel the emotional and human reality of some of the tragedy and violence in Africa, but it's hard to say that I exactly recommend this book as I found it so troubling.(less)