The Tsar of Love and Techno is a collection of linked stories, and the work reads more like a novel than traditional short stories. The action takes pThe Tsar of Love and Techno is a collection of linked stories, and the work reads more like a novel than traditional short stories. The action takes place in Russia and Chechyna, starting in the 1930s and ending in the future. The writing is brilliant. The stories tangentially take a look at the Soviet Union and it's breakup, at the gulag where prisoners disappear and the societal stresses of glasnost. The prose is rich and beautiful; I love this work for the simple delight of words, of good writing. The book is powerful and emotionally jarring. I could feel the frustration of the relentless bureaucracy, the stark realities of prison camps, the consequences of polluting the environment to the extreme. Anthony Marra is a very special writer, and this work provides an outstanding reading experience....more
This novel is about a Florida family in crisis against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1952. The story is pretty good, but what mThis novel is about a Florida family in crisis against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1952. The story is pretty good, but what made this book for me is the historical detail. I was 9 years old in 1962, and I have memories of the great fear surrounding those days. There were the "duck and cover" school drills, and the growing emergence of family bomb shelters. The book is excellent as far as providing the right atmosphere and background. The story of the Avery family--parents Wes and Sarah, 16 year old daughter Charlotte-is interesting and the characters are well-drawn. I just didn't care for the ending. That makes this a 3-star rather than 4-star book for me....more
At the opening of this novel, there is an explosion in San Fransisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed. The cause is unknown, but there are manAt the opening of this novel, there is an explosion in San Fransisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed. The cause is unknown, but there are many theories, from Islamic terror with a dirty bomb to extraterrestrial terror. We meet Skyler Wakefield, a 19 year old girl who is babysitting in San Fransisco at the time of the attack.
Fast forward to 2038. We are fighting Gulf War III. The center of the United States is now called the "territories." There is widespread desolation and radiation contamination. Many Muslims have been rounded up into camps. Karim Hassad is a young man who grew up in a detention camp, and the main story revolves around him. He is adopted by an older gentleman, Will Banfield. Will lives next door to Syler's parents; Dorian Wakefield, a teenage younger brother of Skyler, becomes involved with Karim.
But there are strange things going on. There is no mention of Skyler in the family, no evidence that she ever existed. The story then goes on to explore time, space, and parallel worlds. There is some science involved, and the author includes equations to explain his theories. This part of the novel just did not work for me.
The novel explores terrorism and what it is like to live under constant threat. In these days, the mind is poised always on a kind of ledge above fearful assumptions. You see a backpack on a bench or you hear a siren in the offing and your mind curls about an inner trigger. The future world as presented is dark and horrible.
I liked this book because of the characters and plot. Although some of the science and equations presented are slow-moving, it's such a small portion of the book it ended up being no big deal. The future as presented is stark and depressing, but I can see very easily how we could end up in such a world. An interesting and provocative reading experience....more
Brent is an Indian man who emigrated to California when his family was young. At the onset of the story, Brent is in a coma, and his wife and 3 daughtBrent is an Indian man who emigrated to California when his family was young. At the onset of the story, Brent is in a coma, and his wife and 3 daughters have gathered. As events proceed, we come to understand that Brent was a violent and abusive man, and his family is struggling to cope with his condition and the way he affected their lives. The novel is told from the perspectives of his wife and daughters in turn.
The book gives an intimate look at domestic violence and what it's like to live in constant fear. Brent abuses 2 of the sisters, but the middle daughter escapes the violence. The price she pays for this is revealed near the end of the book.
The constraints placed on women in Indian culture are vividly portrayed. Women have few, if any, rights. The wife and daughters are under the husband's complete control. Obedience seems to be the only option. It also becomes important to all of the women that no one else can know that they are being abused.
This book is very well-written, and the characters are deeply crafted. The story the book tells is compelling, and I was drawn in from the beginning. My only complaint is the ending--I felt it was a little too pat, a little contrived. In spite of that, this is definitely a novel worth reading....more
Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the United States. He is widely seen now as a "failed president," but I strongly disagree with this assessment.Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the United States. He is widely seen now as a "failed president," but I strongly disagree with this assessment. This book illustrates why I feel that way.
The book roams over Carter's entire life. We learn about his upbringing on a peanut farm. He was a hard worker from the start. He learned about farming and woodworking. When he took over the family farm, he sought out education about agriculture. Carter joined the navy, and he was instrumental in the development of the first nuclear submarines. After discharge from the service, he returned to Plains, Georgia. In addition to the farm, he was active in his church and often taught Sunday school. He was a member of the Board of Education during the time schools were being desegregated. Carter was comfortable with African Americans from an early age. He worked side-by-side with them on the farm. His parents were far ahead of their time in their acceptance of African Americans. He entered politics as a state senator and went on to become governor.
Jimmy Carter served as president from 1977-1981. The book discusses his experiences in this role. His main goals as president were to keep the peace and expand human rights. (Carter has continued to work tirelessly for these same issues in his post-presidency with the Carter Center.) It was quite interesting to read his reactions to many of the things he had to handle as president, from the Panama Canal to the Iranian hostage crisis, from race relations to the Mideast peace process.
Jimmy Carter was truly a Renaissance man. His knowledge covers an amazing scope. In addition to all his political, agriculture, and religious work, Carter paints and writes poems. Some of these are included in the book, and it was truly a highlight to see these.
You may know that Carter has recently been diagnosed with cancer at 90 years old. His amazing strength and positive outlook have been displayed for all to see. He has written more than 24 books. He still teaches Sunday school. Rosalynn, his wife and partner, remains a huge source of support for him. This book is an excellent coda to a meaningful and productive live. Jimmy Carter will always be a hero to me, and this book is an excellent collection of reasons why I feel that way. A wonderful, beautiful reading experience....more
**spoiler alert** Climate change has devastated the world. The cities are falling apart, gangs rove the streets, and Stan and Charmaine are living in**spoiler alert** Climate change has devastated the world. The cities are falling apart, gangs rove the streets, and Stan and Charmaine are living in their car. Surveillance is ubiquitous. The press is the enemy. Robots are being designed for many uses, including sex.
There is only so much manpower and tax revenue that can be devoted to riot control, to social surveillance, to chasing fast youths down dark alleyways, to fire-hosing and pepper-spraying suspicious-looking gatherings. Too many once-bustling cities are stagnant, or derelict, especially in the northeast, but other states are being hard hit, especially where long droughts have taken their toll. Too many of the disenfranchised are living in abandoned cars or subway tunnels or even in culverts. There's an epidemic of drugging and boozing: suicide-grade alcohol, skin-blistering drugs that kill you in under a year. Oblivion is increasingly attractive to the young, and even to the middle-aged, since why retain your brain when no amount of thinking can even begin to solve the problem? It isn't even a problem, it's beyond a problem. It's more like a looming collapse. Is their once-beautiful region, their once-beautiful country, doomed to be a wasteland of poverty and debris?
They hear about a rescue--the Positron Project--which has a plan to feed, clothe, house and employ them, and not everyone can qualify. After a rigorous screening process, Stan and Charmaine sign up--an irrevocable decision.
The Positron Project solution to the dismal life so many are leading is to divide the population in half. One-half resides in the community, the other resides in prison (though not a traditional prison). Then, after a month, they change places. The prisons are, of course, operated for profit, and things spiral wildly out of control.
You don't honestly believe this whole operation is being run simply to rejuvenate the rust belt and create jobs? That was the original ides, but once you've got a controlled population with a wall around it and no oversight, you can do anything you want. You start to see the possibilities. And some of those got very profitable, very fast.
One of the reasons I like this book so much is that it portrays a world in which contemporary problems have evolved in a sinister way. The absolute power of the corporations is shown, the profit motive gone extreme. This kind of world is very believable to me.
Margaret Atwood is a master at creating dystopian worlds. In that way, this book is similar to The Handmaid's Tale. Though I liked this book quite a bit, it did not reach the same level as that one did for me. That said, The Heart Goes Last is a unique and thoughtful reading experience....more
Lori Ostlund is gay and she's a writer, but she's not a "gay writer" as such. The sexuality of the women portrayed in her stories is simply one aspectLori Ostlund is gay and she's a writer, but she's not a "gay writer" as such. The sexuality of the women portrayed in her stories is simply one aspect of their character. I appreciate this--it's much closer to real world experiences.
Ostlund is a fine writer. Her prose dips and sings, and she has a sense of humor. Her characters are brilliantly developed. An excellent collection of short stories....more
It's December, and Aaron Englund has just left his partner of over 20 years to start life over in San Fransisco. The story follows him until June of tIt's December, and Aaron Englund has just left his partner of over 20 years to start life over in San Fransisco. The story follows him until June of the next year, and it's a combination of current events and his reflections on his parents and upbringing in a small town in Minnesota.
Aaron has a difficult childhood. His father is a policeman, and he is abusive and mean to Aaron. He wants Aaron to be a man's man, but Aaron knows he's different, though it takes him some time to realize he's gay. His mother is no walk-in-the-park either, and Aaron has a lonely and difficult childhood. How he is able to cope with his life and become a fully functioning adult is the gist of this book.
Lori Ostlund is an incredible writer. She writes of Aaron and his experiences with deep compassion and insight. There are interesting and quirky characters throughout the novel. The abiding themes of what is family, what responsibilities do we have for one another, and for ourselves, affected me deeply. A great reading experience. 4.5 stars....more
A thriller about a crime writer who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and can't distinguish things he wrote from reality. An interesting premise,A thriller about a crime writer who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and can't distinguish things he wrote from reality. An interesting premise, and it was an okay read until the end. I can't even describe how much I hated the ending....more
Todd Aaron is a 54 year-old man with autism, living in a community called Payton Living Center. The community if for the developmentally disabled andTodd Aaron is a 54 year-old man with autism, living in a community called Payton Living Center. The community if for the developmentally disabled and those with brain injury. Todd has a lot of independence, and his life is a settled routine. Then a man named Mike Hinton is hired to work at the center, and Todd feels threatened from the beginning. This book tells the story of what happens next. The book is very fast-moving and easy to read in a single day. The story is good--Todd's observations are timely and often funny. I just somehow wanted more. A nice story....more
Let me confess at the outset, I have a passionate interest in primatology, and have since I took anthropology classes in high school and college. JaneLet me confess at the outset, I have a passionate interest in primatology, and have since I took anthropology classes in high school and college. Jane Goodall was one of my heroes as a young woman. That said, this was a deeply satisfying book on every level.
Pollock's book concentrates on field narratives written by scientists studying nonhuman primates. This is more a book about field narratives, their development, and their appeal, than about specific primate behavior, though there is much of that. Pollock quotes Ian McEwan in The Literary Animal to show the appeal of these narravies:
If one reads accounts of the systematic nonintrusive observations of troops of bonobo, one sees rehearsed all the major themes of the English nineteenth-century novel: alliances made and broken, individuals rising while others fall, plots hatched, revenge, gratitude, injured pride, successful and unsuccessful courtship, bereavement and mourning.
Pollock starts with Charles Darwin and evolution to give a solid foundation for the relationships between nonhuman primates and man. This book delivers on the scientific end, but never in a ponderous or intrusive way. She writes about the works of early primatologists; many, like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, well-known in popular culture. Goodall is credited with showing that her chimpanzees were "complicated individuals with rich emotional and mental lives."
Pollock discusses the work of the most prominent 20th century primatologists and their field narratives. There are gorillas and chimpanzees, spider monkeys and baboons, orangutans and lemurs. A fascinating overview of these animals and the scientists who study them.
Woven throughout the narrative is a deep concern for the diminishing natural habitat for these animals, and the problems from climate change already being seen. There soon will be no place for a primatologist trying to study these populations in the wild; they simply won't exist there anymore.
Mary Sanders Pollock has written a brilliant book. Her premise that primate field narratives are a form of literature that combines scientific study with the romance and character of a novel really appeals to me. She makes a strong case, and I had great fun following her along the way....more
I chose to read this volume because all the stories were written in the year 1976, the year I got married. (I'm in the process of reading anthologiesI chose to read this volume because all the stories were written in the year 1976, the year I got married. (I'm in the process of reading anthologies from years that are significant to me.) The stories really evoked the era. There are stories about hippies and Vietnam, marriage and feminism, American traditional values and the "new" morality. The stories are satisfying in many ways. I can remember when these topics were consuming issues. The fact that it seems dated now is inevitable. I did enjoy reading this collection. My favorite story was Look at a Teacup, by Patricia Hampl, a story about mothers and daughters. Many well-known writers of the time are represented: John Cheever, Anne Tyler, Tim O'Brien, Tom Robbins. 3.5 stars....more
Extraordinary Renditions is a collection of 3 long, interconnected stories taking place in Budapest, Hungary. I'm intensely interested in the recent hExtraordinary Renditions is a collection of 3 long, interconnected stories taking place in Budapest, Hungary. I'm intensely interested in the recent history of the Balkans, and that's one of the reasons I like this book so much.
The first story is about Lajos Harkályi. Harkályi is a successful composer of music near the end of his life. His is about to debut his final opera, The Golden Lotus, in his native Hungary. As a young boy, Harkályi was sent to Terezin, a "model" concentration camp set up to fool the Red Cross. Harkályi calls it "the anteroom to hell itself." The concert is being held on one of Hungary's many Independence Day celebrations, so Budapest is crowded with revelers. While traveling around the city, Harkályi comes across an African American U.S. soldier being beaten up by a gang of skinheads.
Jonathan "Brutus" Gibson is an army private being blackmailed by Sullivan, his commanding officer. He is stationed at one of the "black sites"-- infamous prisons outside the bounds of law. Ervin describes these:
With an hour yet before he had to depart for Buda, he sat on the plush hotel sofa to watch television. There was no news, only reenactments of previous events, the cyclical return of war and famine and genocide, war and famine and genocide, interrupted by equally crude commercial advertisements. Only the longitudes changed, and now it was the Americans who put men in concentration camps. Harkályi, to his regret, will not live long enough to hear the music composed in Guantánamo, or in these secretive black sites speckled like cancerous moles on Europe's backside.
Brutus entered the army in an attempt to escape racism; he found it entrenched just as deeply in the army.
Independent thought, on the other hand--that was the biggest sin of them all. The only sin in the army. And independent thought from a black man was even worse. So Sullivan decided to use him as a scapegoat. He ran the base like an old Southern cracker running his plantation. He has his field niggers, like Brutus, who did the hard work--digging holes and lugging bags of concrete and shit. Then there were the house niggers, like that marine punk Doornail and the M.P.s, the adopted love children of the gay union of Uncle Sam and Uncle Tom.
Melanie Scholes is a violinist preparing to play in Harkályi's opera. She is in Budapest with her photographer friend, Nanette. Melanie is at a crossroads: is she ready to end her relationship with Nan, and return to the U.S. and get a job with a real orchestra?
One thing I particularly liked in this book was the interplay of music with the thoughts and themes. Two of the main characters are musicians, and this was a great part of the story. I'm married to a musician, and I truly believe they see the world differently. During some of the scenes with Brutus, Billie Holiday's famous song Strange Fruit was part of the background. Very moving.
Extraordinary Renditions weaves the stories of these three characters into a beautiful tapestry. The writing is subtle and lyrical. The underlying themes are deep and sometimes sharp. The place of things like fascism and racism in the 21st century is probed with great insight. An extraordinary read. 4.5 stars...more
The novel Speak is told in 5 voices from different times periods. There is Stephen R. Chinn, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, in prison in 2040 for theThe novel Speak is told in 5 voices from different times periods. There is Stephen R. Chinn, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, in prison in 2040 for the "knowing creation of mechanical life." He is in the process of writing a memoir to explain how he got where he is. Gaby White is a young girl who got too attached to her "baby bot", a robot companion, and now is ill, her main contact with an intelligent computer program. Karl Dettman is a computer scientist circa 1968, and is in the forefront of the exploration of artificial intelligence. His wife, Ruth, becomes upset with him when he refuses to program the kind of computer she wants. Alan Turing, scientist, mathematician, pioneer in artificial intelligence--a real historical figure--is also one of the voices. And finally Mary Bradford, a young Puritan woman, represented by her diary of crossing the ocean to America.
Louisa Hall skillfully weaves these voices into a compelling tale about the limits of computer science, the nature of life and memory, and how to find a way to live in a world of devastating climate change. The story is lively and interesting. A very positive reading experience. 3.5 stars....more