I had the good fortune to get to read a pre-publication copy of this book. I packed it as airplane reading, and honestly, I'm not sure that was a goodI had the good fortune to get to read a pre-publication copy of this book. I packed it as airplane reading, and honestly, I'm not sure that was a good idea: I personally found that the reverse chronology format took some getting used to, so the first couple chapters weren't the kind of light entertainment I normally choose when I'm sitting miserably in steerage. But once I got to a quiet hotel room and could focus a bit more, it consumed my attention until I finished it all up.
In general, I think that experience encapsulates my feelings about this book. It isn't an *easy* book -- it's worth the work, more than worth it, but it isn't a beach read. This is a piece of art. It's a word version of a delicate Asian ink-painting, a few strokes of dilute black on pure white, suggesting trees and lakes and mountains that aren't quite there, or maybe they are. Radke is more than familiar with the culture about which he writes, having studied, lived, and worked in it for years. His love for the culture is the delicately spreading ink; his knowledge of the history is the tool with which he paints; and the backwards morsels with which he feeds the reader this tale are the suggestive strokes that give us the final image.
I never like to summarize plots in reviews, but it's even less important here than usual. On the surface that's surprising, because this story involves emperors, rats, immortality, revolutions, mahjong, and treasure. You wouldn't think so many big plot points could end up completely secondary to the tone and style of the telling, but they really do, and not in a bad way. They simply dissipate into the bigger mood of the tale and leave behind a general satisfaction that doesn't require cerebral analysis. So: there are emperors, and rats, and immortality, and revolutions. There's love and loss and art and delicious food. None of it matters, because it all does.
In the end, I don't know, maybe this *is* a beach read, if it's a lovely abandoned and tranquil beach and your goal is a kind of zen meditation. But it won't be one of the beach paperbacks you leave behind in the hotel room for the next guest. Levon A demands re-reading, a revisitation to a story that is already a return to itself, and personally, I can't wait to get started....more
I'm giving this book five stars because it is a stellar (heh) example of exactly what it is. And that would be: a compilation of short stories writtenI'm giving this book five stars because it is a stellar (heh) example of exactly what it is. And that would be: a compilation of short stories written and published for a generation of young women who were very, very different from me. Wealthy and privileged in all sorts of ways, but limited and handicapped in so many others.
I've been trying to think of a 1960s sitcom to which I could compare this book, and I'm struck by how difficult that is. I wouldn't dare compare it to, say, the Mary Tyler Moore show, because the book lacks even the tiniest hint of a feminist, or even proto-feminist, intent. Nonetheless, the book centers a young lady, which I suppose is better than nothing. Penny's trials and tribulations usually start with Barney's wandering eyes -- but not always: occasionally the wandering eyes are hers, and I suppose that too is better than nothing. But each and every story ends with the satisfying (?) reconciliation and reassurance of true love -- if true love can develop between teenagers who have never really dated anybody else.
I don't know much about where or why these stories were written, but I assume the awful narrative is a product of that time and place (weekly columns in a local paper in an affluent suburb, perhaps?). And if you set aside the plots entirely, the stories are quite well written, snappy and quick and punny, occasionally putting Penny in a light that indicates she might have been interesting as a character in a totally different book. It makes one wonder what Ms. Curtis could have written in an entirely different context....more
I hope that every single one of my friends reads this book, period. It is so many things. It is proof that graphic novels are for adults. It is proofI hope that every single one of my friends reads this book, period. It is so many things. It is proof that graphic novels are for adults. It is proof that words are not always necessary -- and you know I'm a word person, so you know it hurts me to say that. It is an indictment of racism, xenophobia, isolationism, and authoritarianism, without using any of those phrases. It is an encapsulation of the experience of any traveler who has found herself in a foreign country with no language skills and no clue and feeling so tired and so lost, and then suddenly stumbles upon the truth that people are people and good-hearted people can translate without words. It is aesthetically beautiful and creative and strong and deep and it can be re-read in a single casual sitting (although you should read it very slowly the first time and wallow in it!). Go get this book, people....more
Boy, can Ms. Betancourt write. I read this immediately after finishing Clara Rojas's account and several years after reading the version shared by theBoy, can Ms. Betancourt write. I read this immediately after finishing Clara Rojas's account and several years after reading the version shared by the 3 Americans in captivity with them. No more than one chapter in, I thought, THIS is what I wanted. Not the self-consciously inspirational anecdote of the Americans or the vague, disorganized, and poorly written version Rojas provides. Betancourt is a natural storyteller with an eye for detail, a fondness for introspection, and a feel for her audience.
On the other hand, the book is quite long, and does fall into some of the same traps seen in Rojas's non-linear storytelling. It occasionally is not clear when a given event occurs -- whether it is a sort of flashback or a repeat event. Betancourt's skills with self-analysis may lead her to a bit of unfair attribution of motives to her fellow captives. And, of course, it is limited by the fact that it is one person's memoir. Although she is freely willing to admit that she regrets much of her own behavior as she and the others slowly went crazy, many of her recollections are obviously limited perspectives.
My favorite of these half-stories is a passing reference to the fact that it had "immediately become understood" that Betancourt must win at all card games, and how it upset the group when new captives failed to let her win games. I'd love to know more about how it had "become understood," and how the others felt about that. You can tell there's a story there and it probably doesn't make Betancourt sound good. The question is whether her avoidance of the story is conscious.
That said, this is a fantastic read, and if you only read one of the three it should be this one. Betancourt paints a detailed, colorful picture that left me feeling like I'd gone through it all with her, and wondering if I would have handled it half as well. Reading between the lines of all 3 books, I suspect Betancourt can be "difficult to love" at times, but she owns it, and I think many reactions to her have more to do with her discomfort and struggle being a strong, empowered woman in a very macho culture. Her book shows what a strong, empowered woman can survive, and makes the other issues seem unimportant....more
I know some of this must be the translation, but the writing is poor. And it isn't ALL translation : the editorial decision to use a vaguely thematicI know some of this must be the translation, but the writing is poor. And it isn't ALL translation : the editorial decision to use a vaguely thematic organizational scheme instead of a chronological narrative really weakens the book, although it does heighten the sense that this is the scattered narrative of someone deeply traumatized. Even aside from the fact that Ms. Rojas declines to tell us anything about the conception of her son -- which, let's be honest, has to be what most of us wanted to know about -- this book is distractingly thin on details. I am sorry for Ms. Rojas and I hope she has the future she desires, but this book is only worth a reader's time if you are deeply interested in the subject of these particular captives....more
I just ordered this after a conversation with friends about great childhood books. It is still excellent and still makes me smile. It also makes me waI just ordered this after a conversation with friends about great childhood books. It is still excellent and still makes me smile. It also makes me want to work in a museum. Something to think about for the second half of my life!...more
I like the concept. If I stumbled upon the second book I'd probably read it. But... as a teen I would have felt like this was written with too heavy hI like the concept. If I stumbled upon the second book I'd probably read it. But... as a teen I would have felt like this was written with too heavy handed an Intent, and as an adult it's a little silly. The steampunk is distracting rather than world-building. And the world-building is tenuous: characters gloss over things like "I contacted the authorities" at really key moments that shouldn't be physically possible in the world as built. So. Beach read if you love YA mysteries, I guess....more
This was a solidly good read if you like this kind of historical mystery-solving. Toward the end, it became clear that a large part of the provenanceThis was a solidly good read if you like this kind of historical mystery-solving. Toward the end, it became clear that a large part of the provenance mystery wasn't going to be solvable, and the author's continued Reality TV Cliffhanger Drama writing about it got a little old. But the best mysteries were solved and I learned a lot along the way....more
Once upon a time I thought Nora Roberts was innocently fun reading, if relatively devoid of intellectual weight. I know I have changed since that poinOnce upon a time I thought Nora Roberts was innocently fun reading, if relatively devoid of intellectual weight. I know I have changed since that point in my life, but I honestly believe the quality of her books (if she's even the one writing the books) has decreased too. This is a compilation of one bad book with no particular plot and no compelling characters, followed by an even worse book that not only throws all historical accuracy out the window but comes very close to the bodice-ripping rapey genre of romance novels I avoid. I am in fact not a follower of the MacGregor series, but I don't care: even if you have read the other books in the series and desperately want more about beloved characters, I can't believe you'd want "more" of this. Blehhhh....more
The premise is strained, the heroine is ill-defined and vaguely unlikable, and the plot is nonexistent. It feels like a good idea that would have doneThe premise is strained, the heroine is ill-defined and vaguely unlikable, and the plot is nonexistent. It feels like a good idea that would have done well with a different author, or more time spent developing it. It's a sorry romance that can't sweep me off my feet, and if a romance about P&P can't do it, you know something is wrong....more