I would have liked to have awarded this book 3.5 stars, so I have erred on the generous side and given it 4.
Ifemelu and her friend Obinze were intimat...moreI would have liked to have awarded this book 3.5 stars, so I have erred on the generous side and given it 4.
Ifemelu and her friend Obinze were intimate college sweethearts in Nigeria. They became separated when Ifemelu went to the USA and Obinze to the UK.
Obinze does not fare well in the UK. He is deported to Nigeria, where he becomes a successful businessman in Lagos. He gets married, and lives the life of a wealthy Nigerian, rubbing shoulders with a series of dubious characters.
Meanwhile, Ifemelu settles down in the USA. She has a number of jobs and a number of lovers, both black and white. She begins a blog inn which she, a black African, comments on the lives of American Blacks and their white fellow citizens. She writes a series of articles mainly about how she perceives racism in the USA. One does not need to be a black African from Africa to make the observations and comments that Ifemelu writes in her blog. One has merely to regard the USA dispassionnately to realise that the true problems of racism have been under the carpet of 'political correctness'. White liberalism exists, as Ifemelu hints strongly, mostly as a balm to soothe the ever-present feeling of white guilt about the disadvantages still experienced by the black citizens of the USA. Ifemelu and her creator have taken the trouble to express this well and effectively. They deserve praise for this.
Ifemelu's blog, extracts of which are included in the text of the novel, attracts many readers. She becomes a celebrity, is invited to lecture and broadcast, and is awarded a fellowship at a prestigious US university.
Eventually, for reasons not unrelated to a failing relationship with Blaine, an earnest fellow who is obsessed with eating healthy food, Ifemelu returns to Nigeria.
Back in Lagos, Ifemelu avoids trying to see Obinze, but inevitably they meet. Their old attraction for each other is rekindled. I will not reveal what follows; that would ruin the story for future readers.
I enjoyed the book. It is lengthy but filled with incisive observations about a range of subjects: racism; class; the problems faced by emigrants in the countries which they adopt; and the problems faced by those who return to their native lands after a long spell away. I particularly enjoyed the author's portrayal of her native Nigeria. While she points out some of its defects, she also paints an affectionate picture of the place.
The book is written in the 3rd person, which allows the author the luxury of looking at things from different vantage points. However, when I was reading the things that she wrote about about Ifemelu, I felt as if she was writing in the first rather than the third person. The author put herself into Ifemelu's shoes far more effectively than those of the other main character, Obinze. Maybe I should not be surprised about this as the author is female.
All in all, this is a fascinating book with a good story-line that helps propel the reader through almost 500 pages of prose(less)
I would have liked to have given this tragicomedy or comic tragedy 4.5 stars. But not 5 stars, as it does not quite reach that level of excellence. I...moreI would have liked to have given this tragicomedy or comic tragedy 4.5 stars. But not 5 stars, as it does not quite reach that level of excellence. I enjoyed it, and was unable to put it down.
Henderson Dores, a British art-historian works for an art gallery in Manhattan. He wants to remarry his ex-wife, but is also reluctant to give up his relationship with his lover, Irene. His ex-wife will take him back but only when her two adolescent children from another marriage are prepared to accept him. For most people, this set of relationships would be sufficiently troublesome to trouble.
Henderson's life enters even more troubled waters when he is sent by his gallery to view a remarkably fine collections owned by a man in one of the southern states of the USA. Unwillingly, he has to be accompanied by his future step-daughter, a 14 year old obnoxious adolescent. They arrive at the house where the paintings are kept, and his problems begin to increase exponentially. The family that live in the house are, to put it mildly, dysfunctional. And, most of them are not at all pleased when he arrives.
This out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fireplace-story is British humour at its best, but in an American setting.(less)
This enjoyable and somewhat bizarre book is un-put-downable and probably could easily be read in under two hours, but I read it a few pages at a time...moreThis enjoyable and somewhat bizarre book is un-put-downable and probably could easily be read in under two hours, but I read it a few pages at a time in order to prolong the suspense and the enjoyable story it offers.
Set, as most of Hiassen's books are, in Florida this fast-paced thriller begins with the discovery of a number of murder victims. Each of these apparently unconnected victims have been 'done in' in one of a number of bizarre ways. It emerges that they are all victims of a terrorist gang that calls itself 'Noches de Diciembre'. Its aim, which I will not reveal, is unusual. It is not connected with anti - Castroist Cuba activities but with ecology.
According to the brief biography on Hiaasen's own website ( http://www.carlhiaasen.com/index.shtml ), he has been a journalist and still writes a column for a Miami newspaper. I wonder whether one of the main characters in Tourist Season, Skip Wiley, is not at least a little bit autobiographical. Well not too much ... I hope!
In any case, Hiaasens' rich experience of things and events, which he has reported in Florida, must be an important source of inspiration for his stories.
If Hiaasen's stories are based on true life, then his books have done little to attract me to visit Florida. Maybe, this is what he wants. In everything that I have read by him there is more than a little bit of evidence of his love of wildlife and its preservation. And, from what I can gather he is definitely concerned about the erosion of native Florida by the encroachment of settlers from the rest of the USA.
I recommend reading Tourist Season; it is fast paced, fascinating, and takes many unexpected twists and turns before reaching its surprising conclusion.(less)
This novel is aimed at a young audience, early teens I guess. Nevertheless, it should appeal to children of any age over 21. Set in Florida, as many o...moreThis novel is aimed at a young audience, early teens I guess. Nevertheless, it should appeal to children of any age over 21. Set in Florida, as many of Hiassen's novels are, this is a fine example of exciting story-telling, a tale well told. Each page introduces a new twist to the well-constructed plot. So, I will not spoil your fun by revealing any of it. It is difficult to fault this tale about juvenile misbehaviour and wildlife conservation. (less)
This is the 7th and final part of Gore Vidal's series, "The American Chronicle". The book covers the period of US history that extends from just befor...moreThis is the 7th and final part of Gore Vidal's series, "The American Chronicle". The book covers the period of US history that extends from just before the entry of the States into WW2, which was possibly encouraged by President FR Roosevelt, until just after the start of the year 2000.
Vidal skilfully and wittily recounts the history of this period during which the USA became an important world power. He does this by interweaving the words and deeds of real persons with those of fictional characters, who interact with them as well as provide the reader with an often critical analysis of the times.
Though lengthy and filled with a huge cast of characters, both real and imagined, this historical novel, or novel history, gallops along; it never palls. (less)
What a pity! I've just come to the end of another thoroughly enjoyable book by Gore Vidal.
It is 1876, the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the...moreWhat a pity! I've just come to the end of another thoroughly enjoyable book by Gore Vidal.
It is 1876, the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the USA. The widowed Charlie Schuyler returns to New York with his widowed daughter, who was born in France during the 40 years that he was living there. Charlie, the narrator of Vidal's novel Burr, wants to see how his native land has changed since he last lived there. He also hopes that Emma, his glamorous daughter, will find a new husband.
1876 is written in the form of a personal memoir. Schuyler records life in a New York City where money counts more than does good taste and culture. He attends the Centennial Celebrations in Philadelphia, and then writes newspaper reports on the campaigning that led to the presidential election late in 1876, a close one that was decided by factors which cannot be considered entirely democratic.
Vidal, through Schuyler, takes us on an amusing as well as critical romp through the saloons of hotels and the houses of the wealthy in New York before exposing us to the shenanigans of America's leading politicians of the time.
This book, which is a delight to read, reveals the corrupt nature of politics in 19th century USA but does not leave one feeling bereft of hope for the country. It is a tribute to the ideals of the USA that books such as Vidal wrote, which re-write history in a critical way, are not banned in the same way as they are in other countries.
I cannot wait to begin reading my next Vidal!(less)
Has Solomon Kugel* got problems? Sure, he has, and not ones that you would want to be lumbered with.
When he and his family move into a new home, he di...more Has Solomon Kugel* got problems? Sure, he has, and not ones that you would want to be lumbered with.
When he and his family move into a new home, he discovers that Anne Frank (yes, she of the diary), far from being dead, has survived the Holocaust and is living in his attic. What to do? Can he, a good Jew, evict her, a Holocaust survivor? Should he tell anyone that she's there? These are only a few of his problems already. And what happens when his mother, who lives in the house and fears the coming of a second Holocaust any day now, learns of Anne's presence? Oy, it doesn't bear thinking about...
Shalom Auslander's amusing tale is about angst and its consequences. He also uses it to explore some interesting aspects of the 'Jewish experience', but it should appeal to gentile readers as well as Jewish, particularly if they live in the USA.
Hope: A Tragedy is a blend of humour and philosophy with an added dash of psychology. Each ingredient is satisfyingly treated, yet somehow they did not gel to make an entirely satisfying whole. All of the characters were potentially interesting, but the author did not flesh them out adequately; I could not visualise them as well as I would have liked.
In brief, the book was not as satisfying as some glowing reviews in the press had led me to hope.
Harry Smith (1787-1860)has to be rated amongst the greatest of British soldiers including Wellington, alongside whom he fought at the Battle of Waterl...moreHarry Smith (1787-1860)has to be rated amongst the greatest of British soldiers including Wellington, alongside whom he fought at the Battle of Waterloo.
Having already fought in campaigns in both North and South America, Harry became a hero during the Peninsular War (1807-08). Soon after the successful storming of Badajoz, he married the much younger Juana who was the daughter of a noble family dispossessed by the sacking of Badajoz. He and this feisty young woman were rarely separated, even in battle. Their romance is described in a novel by Georgette Heyer,The Spanish Bride, which I have yet to read.
After the Battle of Waterloo, Harry served in South Africa, where he battled against the Xhosas (mainly) during various wars fought over the possession of Kaffraria in the Eastern Cape.
From Africa, he was sent to India, where after a long period of frustrating inactivity he was allowed to take part in the First Anglo-Sikh War. His victory at Aliwal in 1846 was decisive in bringing this war to a conclusion, the British being the victors.
After his stint in India, he returned to South Africa in 1847, having been appointed the Governor of the colony. A number of towns in South Africa were named in his and Juana's honour: Aliwal North, Harrismith, and Ladysmith...to name but a few.
South Africa was beset with problems for him to deal with. He fought a military campaign against Boers hostile to British aims. He had to deal with the colonists, who in 1849 prevented Irish political convicts from Britain being landed in Cape Town instead of Australia. And then in 1850, he had to fight the native African tribes who were threatening the Colony's future existence. Criticism of his handling of this grew back in the UK where liberal political ideas were gaining an upper hand. Earl Grey, the Colonial Secretary, asked him to resign as Governor despite the aged Wellington's approval of the way that Harry was dealing with the difficult military situation in his colony.
Harry Smith returned to the UK where he lived the last few years of his life with his faithful and affectionate Juana. He was not only brave and well-versed in the theory and practice of warfare (both conventional and guerilla), but much loved by those whom he commanded.
Joseph Lehmann's biography of Harry Smith is detailed, interesting and informative, but not nearly as colourful as the life of his subject.(less)
This is the third novel by Tom Robbins that I have read, and by far the most enjoyable.
Switters, a CIA agent, is about to be sent on assignment in Sou...moreThis is the third novel by Tom Robbins that I have read, and by far the most enjoyable.
Switters, a CIA agent, is about to be sent on assignment in South America. Hearing that, his elderly computer-hacking grandmother in Seattle asks, or rather orders, him to take her aged pet parrot back to the Peruvian jungle so that it could spend its dotage with fellow parrots rather than in a cage. Switters meets a shaman in the jungle. This fellow meets Switters and takes an interest in the parrot's unusually shaped cage. After the meeting, Switters becomes confined to a wheelchair unwilling to let his feet make even the slightest contact with the earth.
Confined to his wheelchair, Switters lands up in the Syrian desert, where he is sheltered by an unusual order of nuns. It would spoil the reader's enjoyment if I reveal any more of the plot of this highly entertaining novel.
Zany as usual, the author takes the reader on numerous philosophical detours, but none of these detract from the plot or its suspense. Although I did put this book down from time to time, it is truly 'un-put-down-able'.(less)
I read this many years ago as a schoolboy. All that I can remember about it is that it was a great read, and that the author was able to tug on my hea...moreI read this many years ago as a schoolboy. All that I can remember about it is that it was a great read, and that the author was able to tug on my heartstrings most effectively.(less)
The narrator is an academic who writes historical novels. His wife, Utch, was born in Austria soon before the Soviet Union marched in at the end of WW2. Severin, also born in Austria, teaches German and coaches wrestling at the same university as the narrator. His wife, Edith, is an aspiring novelist.
The two couples decide to become a foursome'. By mutual agreement Severin spends occasional nights sleeping with Utch, whilst Edith and the narrator sleep together. It is an arrangement that appears to be working, but from the beginning of the book I suspected that things turn sour. It is clear from the outset that the narrator is wary of Severin, but the reverse is not true. Severin turns out to be a colourful character full of mystery, some of which is gradually revealed as the tale unfolds. Inevitably, things end badly, but I will not reveal any details.
I knew next to nothing about US history when I began reading Gore Vidal's Burr. So, I was, and still am, in no position to assess the historical accur...moreI knew next to nothing about US history when I began reading Gore Vidal's Burr. So, I was, and still am, in no position to assess the historical accuracy of the numerous events recorded in his fictional biography of Colonel Aaron Burr (1756-1836).
During the American Revolutionary War, Aaron Burr was involved in an expedition to attack the British forces in Quebec. Although this was not a success, it was during this campaign that Burr became known a military hero. He rubbed shoulders with George Washington, for whom Vidal has a low regard, and with Thomas Jefferson, also much disliked by Vidal, who was to become his greatest foe.
Burr, who was favoured by many to become the President of the USA, stepped aside to allow Thomas Jefferson to take the 'throne'. He became Jefferson's vice-president.
General Alexander Hamilton, another Revolutionary War hero and an important US politician, was antagonistic to Burr for a number of reasons. When Burr learnt that he had been slandered by Hamilton, he demanded an apology. Hamilton denied all knowledge of this. The situation worsened, and Hamilton challenged Burr to a duel in 1804. This took place in Weehawken, New Jersey. Burr was a far better shot than his opponent. Hamilton died of his wounds a few days later.
Following Hamilton's death, Burr moved out of New York and went westwards to the Mississippi, where he began collaborating with others in plotting the conquest of Mexico. Thomas Jefferson, learning of this, deliberately misinterpreted Burr's planning as evidence of plotting treason against the United States. Jefferson, keen to eliminate Burr, his rival and critic, arrested him and staged a show trial. Unlike those that Stalin was to stage manage years later in the USSR, Burr was acquitted. For the rest of Burr's life, he worked in his law practice in New York City.
The above is a very sketchy summary of Burr's life, but provides the background to Vidal's book.
Vidal uses two narrators in Burr. One of them is Charlie Schuyler, a young lawyer and an aspiring writer. Schuyler works in Burr's law office. The other is Burr himself.
Schuyler wants to write a biography of Burr, and is encouraged to do so by his subject. Burr supplies Schuyler with substantial sections of his unpublished, unedited memoirs. Excerpts from these memoirs alternate with Schuyler's own accounts of his daily life in New York during the election campaign the brought Martin Van Buren to the White House in 1837.
Enemies of Van Buren pay Schuyler to dig up the dirt on him during his candidacy. They are particularly keen to try to prove that Burr was Van Buren's father. Schuyler is torn between the money they offer him and his high regard for Burr.
Vidal uses the excerpts from Burr's (fictional) unpublished memoirs to write his idiosyncratic version of the history of the American Revolution. The result is a delightful riot of iconoclastic ideas and cynical views of the ideals of the founders of the USA.
I look forward to reading more of Vidal's historical novels, despite their great length!
PS Throughout the book, there is talk of the rights of states to secede from the union, and also there are numerous references to the continuing arguments between the slave-holders and abolitionists. The USA was far from being as united as its name suggests.
This is the most entertaining book that I have read for years.
*Who will be the new mayor of Duluth? *What's inside the alien space-ship that has landed...moreThis is the most entertaining book that I have read for years.
*Who will be the new mayor of Duluth? *What's inside the alien space-ship that has landed in the city? *Who is Big John? *And, will Chloris Craig, the author who cannot read or write, ever discover who killed Betty Grable? *And whose baby is Darlene Eck carrying? *Can the Marchioness of Skye get the secret plans, which she has stolen, to Napoleon in Moscow?
These and many other important questions can only be answered by reading Gore Vidal's eccentric Duluth
The sub-plots that criss-cross and interweave, often overlapping and merging, are brilliantly original. The characters, who even when dead reappear in different guises, are well-portrayed and behave outrageously.
Vidal's humour is vibrant, radioactive, penetrating, and cutting.
This is a book that I cannot recommend highly enough.(less)
Gore Vidal's enjoyable and masterly fictional biography of Abraham Lincoln is, according to the author, largely based on fact.
Until I read Lincoln I h...moreGore Vidal's enjoyable and masterly fictional biography of Abraham Lincoln is, according to the author, largely based on fact.
Until I read Lincoln I had a naive belief that he was a modern saint. That he was not. He is portrayed as being a brilliant politician: persistent, both ruthless as well as humane, and pragmatic.
We are introduced to him as the USA was in the process of becoming disunited and was plunging into a deadly civil war. Not only was his country disunited, but also was his Republican party, many of whose senior members had little faith in his ability to win the Civil War. Yet, he pulled it off. Despite mammoth losses of life on the battlefields, incompetent military commanders, and numerous attempts to sabotage his work, Lincoln managed to defeat the Confederates and to prevent the unity of the young USA from becoming permanently disrupted.
I was surprised to learn that 'Honest Abe' was not always in favour of liberating the Black slaves and ending slavery in the USA. It was almost, it seemed to me, for pragmatic reasons that he was gradually won over to these things. The integrity of the USA was in the forefront of his mind. If allowing slavery in states that would have otherwise become disloyal to the union permitted him to keep them as allies, he allowed that even though many of his closest colleagues were in favour of abolishing slavery.
The novel contains a plethora of interesting and well-portrayed characters, all of whom contribute to the suspense that is maintained throughout its more than 600 pages of tiny font.(less)
Set in Turner, Virginia (USA) in 1959 and 1960, this tale is told through the eyes of Willie, a black girl, the 12 year o...moreWell, this was an eye-opener!
Set in Turner, Virginia (USA) in 1959 and 1960, this tale is told through the eyes of Willie, a black girl, the 12 year old daughter of one of the town's teachers.
The town operates an unwritten apartheid, almost as bad as anything that South Africa could boast. Moves are afoot to 'integrate' the 'black' and 'white' schools, but very little comes of this except the installation of three white observers in Willie's class-room, one of whom is probably a Ku Klux Klan sympathiser.
Willie charts the development and activities of a 'black' citizens' group, which at first is concerned with the school integration plans, but later with a wider range of issues including marshalling the 'black' people to register their votes.
What emerges from this tale is that although the 'black' people want equal rights with their 'white' neighbours, they don't necessarily want to live like 'white' people. They want to maintain their traditional ways, but on equal terms with the 'whites'.
Thulani Davis has written a very powerful book, a literary recreation of an important part of the history of the modern USA. It contains moving dramatic scenes and many descriptive passages, which brought to life for me a part of the world of which I am unfamiliar. In addition, she gently weaves the development of Willie's sexual awakening in between the political events she is keen to witness.
Let's hope that Hyman Kaplan never masters English. For if he does, he will have to leave his English class. Leo Rosten, author of the excellent "Joys...moreLet's hope that Hyman Kaplan never masters English. For if he does, he will have to leave his English class. Leo Rosten, author of the excellent "Joys of Yiddish", describes the delightful mistakes that Hyman Kaplan makes in the language classes that he must attend in order to learn sufficient English to become a US citizen.(less)
A clever (maybe too clever) tale of adventure involving the relationship between an experienced librarian and his wealthy dilettante employer. Marred,...moreA clever (maybe too clever) tale of adventure involving the relationship between an experienced librarian and his wealthy dilettante employer. Marred, as many novels often are, by a less than satisfactory conclusion... a bit too far-fetched in my opinion.(less)
I had already seen and enjoyed a number of plays written by Arthur Miller when I came across a copy of “Focus”. I opened it thinking that it would be...moreI had already seen and enjoyed a number of plays written by Arthur Miller when I came across a copy of “Focus”. I opened it thinking that it would be another of his plays, but was surprised to find that it is a full-length novel. It was first published during the Second World War in 1945. My copy (Penguin Modern Classics edition, 1986) contained an interesting introduction that Miller wrote over 40 years later, containing his explanation of Anti-Semitism.
The hero, Lawrence Newman, lives in a row of houses in the Borough of Queens in New York State. Every working day, he takes the subway into Manhattan, where he works in a large company, supervising a typing pool. One evening, he enters the subway carriage as usual and spots a man, whose appearance convinces him that he is looking at a Jew. At that moment, his neighbour, Fred, spots him and taps him on the shoulder. Very soon, Fred begins telling Newman, within earshot of the passenger who Newman suspects is a Jew, how it was time to ‘clean up’ the neighbourhood in which they lived. Newman is puzzled, but Fred quickly explains that he means that the Jews should be scared off, beginning with Mr Finkelstein who runs a newsagent shop at the corner of their street. Lawrence learns that this can be achieved with the help of the ‘Christian Front’, an actual (not a fictional) anti-Semitic organisation, which flourished in the USA in the 1940s.
One evening, Newman picks up a new pair of spectacles from his optician, and takes them home. In the seclusion of his bathroom, he tries them on, begins to see things more clearly, and then notices his face. To his horror, he discovers that he now looks like a Jew. He sees his face, and thinks that it is his idea of a Jewish face. Even when his elderly mother first sees him in his glasses, she says, “Why, you look almost like a Jew.” This is only the beginning of his troubles, for everywhere he goes, he senses that people are guessing that he is a Jew, and then causing difficulties for him. The more he tries to dislike Jews, the more that people around him, including the Christian Front rowdies, consider him to be Jewish.
Is there really such thing as a Jewish appearance? Even a neo-Nazi website, Der Stuermer, is uncertain about this. It says: “White gentiles should hopefully be able to recognize Jewish people based upon their physical appearance, but granted, this is not always possible” (my underlining). I don’t think that there is a typical Jewish appearance. This only exists in the mind of anti-Semites. I would challenge anyone to accurately pick out the Jews from a group of Arabs and (Jewish) Israelis wearing Western clothing. However, Newman, who has anti-Semitic leanings and, as we learn, can produce his baptismal certificate, thinks that he looks like a Jew, as do his neighbours and work colleagues.
This feeling that he is unjustifiably regarded as a Jew poisons his enjoyment of life and almost wrecks his first serious love affair. Newman reminded me of Christmas, an important character in William Faulkner’s Light in August (published in 1931). Christmas, a young man who believes, as do all the other characters in the story, that he has some Negro ancestry, does not look like a Negro, but is treated as one with tragic consequences. Both Miller and Faulkner, in their novels, have successfully made use of this fear of feeling that you are, or might be, someone that you inwardly despise.
In summary, I heartily recommend Miller’s well-constructed novel. It is as gripping and dramatic as his (better known) plays, and you don’t need to sit in an uncomfortable theatre seat to enjoy it!
PS I am looking forward to comparing this book with "Gentleman's Agreement" by Laura Hobson.(less)
The Alabama was a Confederate warship that single-handedly harassed the fleet of Yankee ships trading all over the world during the American Civil War...moreThe Alabama was a Confederate warship that single-handedly harassed the fleet of Yankee ships trading all over the world during the American Civil War, sinking many of them.
In 1863, she docked in Cape Town, and her crew was feted by the city's inhabitants. This visit made such an impact that a song, still sung today in Afrikaans, was composed by the 'Cape Coloureds'.
This small volume, available only from second-hand dealers, describes the visit of the Alabama, and her fate subsequently.
This book is one of the reasons that I have become fascinated in reading about the American South after the Civil War, and South Africa after the 2nd Boer War. In both cases, a white population was forced to react to a defeat, which sought to challenge their deluded feelings of racial supremacy. (less)
Not the easiest book that I have ever read, but enjoyable nevertheless.
Mrs Maurier invites a number of artistic New Orleans folk to join her and some...moreNot the easiest book that I have ever read, but enjoyable nevertheless.
Mrs Maurier invites a number of artistic New Orleans folk to join her and some others on a cruise on her private yacht. Thus confined, numerous conversations, many of an elevated nature, occur along with much flirtation. Serious conversations in which the author explores the meaning of art are interspersed with sensuous descriptions of frustrated amorous adventures.
Though not an easy read, it made me want to read more of Faulkner's novels.(less)