Elegant Examination Of One Character's Descent Into Madness
Noted Brooklyn, New York-based novelist Paul Auster is in fine form in his novel "Leviathan...moreElegant Examination Of One Character's Descent Into Madness
Noted Brooklyn, New York-based novelist Paul Auster is in fine form in his novel "Leviathan", which can be regarded as an interesting, highly literate, example of crime fiction which ought to resonate with anyone interested in seeing a character's descent into madness. In this early 1990s novel, Auster has cast himself as a fictional doppelganger, the novelist Peter Aaron, who witnesses the gradual descent into madness by his best friend - and fellow writer - Benjamin Sachs. Aaron sees much in Sachs' complex personality which he - and so via his comments the reader too - that he found admirable, and quite enviable, ranging from Sach's own brilliant intelligence to having a marriage to a most beautiful woman that appeared to be a match made in heaven. Auster uses his elegant gifts for tight plotting, memorable characters and terse, yet lyrical, prose in an engrossing exploration of both Sachs' and Aaron's minds. This terse, rather quirky, novel may seem odd at first to a reader accustomed with a more traditional crime thriller, but there are ample rewards in store that awaits anyone interested in reading Auster's work.
A Fantastic Short Story Collection Brimming with American Fantastic
“The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags And Other Stories” is a remarkable short story...moreA Fantastic Short Story Collection Brimming with American Fantastic
“The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags And Other Stories” is a remarkable short story collection from debut author Melanie Lamaga, and one worthy of comparison not only with Karen Russell’s “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” but also with Brian Evenson’s “Windeye”, especially with regards to her great storytelling and prose. Earning lavish praise from Elizabeth Hand for writing “….beautiful, eerie stories that hover on the cusp between nightmare and sunlit dreaming, the everyday and the never was…”, and from Andy Duncan for writing stories that are “…weird, wry, startling and passionate….”, Lamaga’s writing is hauntingly beautiful, poignant and lyrical, possessed with the uncanny ability of rendering what seems to be ordinary into the fantastical, jumping easily between realism, fantasy, and horror. Her writing excels regardless of the story’s length, though her two finest are among the longest in this ten story collection; “Mr. Happy The Sharpshooter”, in which a Korean war veteran stalks his doppelganger, the affable host of a children’s television program, and “The Seduction of Forgotten Things”, an especially poignant, incredible love story between a rebellious high school senior and a homeless man who isn’t what he seems to be. The title story is brimming with wit, making some wry observations about merchandise marketing. She delves into mythology, writing memorable stories about a modern day Medusa (“Medusa”), and how a pair of women struggle for survival in cold, wind-swept, post-apocalyptic Iowa (“Black Crater, White Snow”), and an inside-job of a bank heist (“Invisible Heist”), the collection’s concluding tale, that is especially remarkable given its brevity, but one that demonstrates the exceptional qualities of Lamaga’s storytelling, imagination and prose. “The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags And Other Stories” is one of the most impressive recently published short story collections I have read, and one especially noteworthy as the debut of someone who should be viewed as an important new talent in American speculative fiction; one who bears favorable comparisons not only with Russell, but especially with Catherynne Valente and Erin Morgenstern. (less)
Splendid Fictional Exploration of a Geisha's life in 1930s and 1940s Japan
Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" certainly deserves all the hype and pr...moreSplendid Fictional Exploration of a Geisha's life in 1930s and 1940s Japan
Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" certainly deserves all the hype and praise it has earned from critics and fans alike. I finally read it recently, and found it impossible to put down, concurring with those who regard this huge novel as one of the best literary debuts of the last decade. Golden has done an admirable job in conveying his knowledge and interest in Japanese culture and history in telling a spellbinding tale about a young Japanese geisha living in Kyoto, Japan in the 1930s and 1940s. Virtually every word he has written has a tremendous air of authenicity to it, as if he himself had been an insider looking on the sequestered lives of Japanese geisha in Kyoto's Gion district. Moreover, Golden's crisp, poetic prose is replete with Japanese metaphors and nuances, which is truly unexpected from a Western writer who is spinning a tale set in the Imperial Japan of the first half of the 20th Century.
Young Chiyo is the daughter of an impoverished Japanese fisherman who is forced by circumstances to sell her and older sister Satsu to the mysterious wealthy Mr. Tanaka into involuntary servitude. Both sisters are sent to the old Japanese imperial capital of Kyoto, destined to earn their livelihoods as apprentice geisha (Chiyo) and prostitutes (her sister). In Kyoto, Chiyo endures unspeakable hardship, including wanton episodes of excessive cruelty from the two elderly women running Nitta okiya (Chiyo's newly adopted geisha "family"), and especially from Hatsumomo, Nitta's senior, most successful, geisha. Chiyo finds salvation unexpectedly in the form of Mameha - Hatsumomo's bitter rival - and Kyoto's most famous geisha - who successfully mentors Chiyo in the subtle nuances of geisha sisterhood. Taking on the geisha name of Sayuri, she will become Mameha's successor as Kyoto's most celebrated geisha in the late 1930s through the 1940s, eventually realizing a new life for herself, in - of all places - New York City. Hers is a most memorable path for a Kyoto geisha to take, and it is that path which makes "Memoirs of a Geisha" such an engrossing, delightful novel for anyone fortunate to read Golden's fine literary debut.
David McCullough's "1776" is not only an important addition to the historical literature devoted to the American Revolution, but may be the definitive...moreDavid McCullough's "1776" is not only an important addition to the historical literature devoted to the American Revolution, but may be the definitive account of how crucial the events of this year were to the eventual success of the American Revolution itself. McCullough's relatively terse tome is a gripping account of this pivotal year, told mainly from the viewpoint of the average soldiers in the Continental Army. However, its most moving portraits are those of the two Georges who are - figuratively speaking - polar opposites representing both sides of this bloody contest; King George III and of course, George Washington. McCullough's portrait of the Hanoverian British king is more flattering than I have encountered in previous histories devoted to the American Revolution; a far more impressive, three-dimensional portrait of King George as an astute patron of the arts and as someone who had fervently wished that this war would not be fought, but nonetheless failed to acknowledge the serious grievances of his "petulant children" - those of the rebelling Americans. Furthermore, McCullough's portrait of the king includes a fascinating glimpse into the internal politics within the prime ministership of Frederick, Lord North, and his relations with Parliament, especially with the House of Commons. McCullough's portrayal of George Washington is also of ample interest, depicting a commander-in-chief beset by doubt regarding the success of the American Revolution, yet still valiantly trying to project a positive outlook to both his subordinates and the Continental Congress.
McCullough begins his saga with Washington, newly arrived from Philadelphia, surveying his disorganized rabble of an army, soon after the Battle of Bunker Hill (Part I The Siege). McCullough observes that Washington's best trait was as an astute judge of men, by choosing two superb officers, Brigadier General Nathaniel Greene, and Colonel - later, Brigadier General - Henry Knox, as members of his immediate staff (Both Greene and Knox would be the only generals, along with Washington, who would serve in the Continental Army during the entire American Revolution.). McCullough's gripping yarn continues with the Continental Army laying siege to British-occupied Boston. Not only are we introduced to the tactical geniuses of Greene and Knox, but we are given vivid portraits of the other senior American military leaders, most notably General Israel Putnam. He also excels in describing the daily lives of the besieged British troops and American Loyalists in Boston, offering among the most sympathetic portrayals of them which I've come across.
The second part of "1776" (Part II: Fateful Summer) revolves around the Continental Army's ineffective - and ultimately disastrous - defense of New York City in the face of invading British and German (Hessian) troops commanded by Major General Sir William Howe, soon after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. McCullough notes that this invading force was the largest ever mounted by the British Empire against North America, and through eyewitness accounts, describes the disastrous Battle of Long Island (Known later as the Battle of Brooklyn, since this is where it was fought primarily; this is the name McCullough uses herein.), as seen from the perspective of both the Americans and British. One of the most moving passages describes General Lord Stirling's heroic defense of the Continental Army's outermost perimeter near Gowanus Creek, in which his Marylanders fought a tenacious delaying action that held up the British advance through westernmost Long Island (now the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Caroll Gardens, Red Hook and Park Slope) towards the Continental Army's fortifications (in Brooklyn Heights). Most of the men - including Lord Stirling - were captured, wounded or killed, with only a handful returning safely to the American lines. He also poignantly depicts the miraculous evacuation of Washington's army across the East River in a successful tactical retreat back to York (Manhattan) Island.
The final section of "1776" (Part III: The Long Retreat) opens with the British landing at Kips Bay, just as the Continental Army evacuates New York City, heading north to the vicinity of White Plains (Although a substantial force is left behind on York Island, stationed at Fort Washington, overlooking the Hudson, in northern Manhattan, now the site of Fort Tryon Park.). In the first of the final two chapters, the events leading to the disastrous loss of Fort Washington and the surrender of over three thousand men are recounted via McCullough's vivid prose. Miraculously, the British Army opts not to pursue the ragtag remnants of Washington's army - the largest remaining contingent of the Continental Army - allowing it to evacuate safely across the Hudson to New Jersey. This, in turn, sets the stage for the surprising victories at Trenton on December 26th and at Princeton on January 2nd, which help turn the tide of the conflict in favor of Washington and his Continental Army.
McCullough has made a persuasive argument for the survival of Washington and the Continental Army as the main reason why the United States ultimately won its independence from the British Empire. This is a compelling case made through Washington's correspondence, that of some of his generals and other senior aides, and commentary by the average soldier which McCullough cites repeatedly. Once more McCullough has demonstrated that he is the master of narrative history told via eyewitness accounts, rendered via his superb, descriptive prose. (less)
This wonderful book will be remembered as one of the most important books of the 1990's, and perhaps, the entire 20th Century. Distinguished ecologist...moreThis wonderful book will be remembered as one of the most important books of the 1990's, and perhaps, the entire 20th Century. Distinguished ecologist and physiologist Jared Diamond presents a novel synthesis of ecology with history; one which should be required reading for all historians. Without a doubt, "Guns, Germs and Steel" offers a unique perspective on the rise of Western civilization. Diamond urges historians to pay more attention as to how humanity's interactions with its local ecologies have shaped the course of history, offering persuasive evidence that Western Civilization's success is an accident due to its origins in the Near East's Fertile Crescent, which had a rich assemblage of animals and plants that were easy to domesticate. Other regions in the Americas and Asia were considerably poorer with regards to potentially domesticated animals and plants than the Fertile Crescent. He notes how the spread of the Fertile Crescent's domesticated animals across the globe, along with their associated diseases, made Western civilization's economic and political success almost inevitable. Much to his credit, Diamond concludes by offering suggestions as to how his elegant hypothesis can be tested by historians as well as scientists. He makes his compelling case with vivid, often eloquent, prose. This is one magnificent tome truly worthy of all the honors and awards it has earned so far. (less)
David McCullough has once more done a superlative job restoring the tarnished reputation of a splendid politician who should be regarded as one of our...moreDavid McCullough has once more done a superlative job restoring the tarnished reputation of a splendid politician who should be regarded as one of our country's finest Presidents. While many will still contend that John Adams' presidency was a failure domestically, McCullough has made an excellent case showing why John Adams' single term was at least a qualified success. Surely Adams' crowning achievement was averting all out war with Revolutionary France, when such a conflict would have been politically and economically disastrous to the United States. Yet I had also forgotten how important a role Adams played in creating the United States Navy; an achievement as notable as averting war with France. McCullough paints a vivid, mesmerizing portrait of Adams whose personal intergrity was second to none. Indeed, I hadn't realized how much a Renaissance man John Adams was, someone whose wide ranging interests included natural history, mathematics, classical Greek and Roman literature, English literature, as well as law. Adams comes across as a person blessed not only with high moral principles, but also an insatiable thirst for knowledge; traits which he successfully passed to his son John Quincy Adams.
David McCullough does have an agenda here in elevating Adams' stature, yet he brilliantly pulls it off without diminishing the character and achievements of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson (The only major "Founding Father" who is depicted in a negative light is Alexander Hamilton.). While McCullough stresses Adams' virtues, he is not afraid to note Adams' flaws. Indeed, he correctly observes that Adam's signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 was by far Adams' worst error of judgement during his presidency, even as McCullough goes to great lengths to explain Adams' support.
This is yet another splendid biography which ranks along McCullough's earlier tomes on the Roeblings - the engineers who designed and oversaw the Brooklyn Bridge's construction - ("The Great Bridge") and Major General George Goethals - the engineer who completed the Panama Canal - ("The Path Between The Seas") and President Truman ("Truman") as splendid examples of scholarship and excellent prose. Those in search of a definitive biography of John Adams need look no further.