There was nothing I didn't enjoy about this: It was comprehensive, compelling, and fascinatingly vivid, though not airbrushed, to the point at which iThere was nothing I didn't enjoy about this: It was comprehensive, compelling, and fascinatingly vivid, though not airbrushed, to the point at which it was difficult to believe that these were politicians in charge of running some of the most sprawling and powerful hegemonies in the world. A forever-student of Japanese history, a Japan-ophile at points, this was a great reminder of the convoluted concepts that exist in other cultures - the idea of face, and that is something that can be lost. Having two countries in which this was a consideration in politics is no trite thing. This filled in many tiny, or not so, caverns in the overarching decades of politics since the end of WWII, and gave better insight into China's ups and downs that I've personally previously researched. This was a thorough account of the political and economic relationships between three powers, and the delicate scale to avoiding intense conflict into the future. It gave me a point at which to start researching more. ...more
I can't resist a novel (and make no bones about it, this is a novel and not a "book") that beckons you down the path, turns corners quickly so it's alI can't resist a novel (and make no bones about it, this is a novel and not a "book") that beckons you down the path, turns corners quickly so it's always just out of your reach, spurring you on to learn more. This novel is making sure that I set a date for some classic Russian history, because there were things that perhaps, aided by the context of a little more knowledge, would have hit home in a wounded but charming way. Still, Towles managed to do that anyway at every quick turn.
The Gentleman is out of his element, his historical place, his time period. He resists in small ways but ultimately bides his time to truly be the master of his circumstances, lest they master him. The detail with which the author writes the characters in here is sharp in profile, gentle in explanation; you know Andrey, you know Opis. There was an odd obscurity over what exactly the Count was "sentenced" to the hotel for, exactly, which reveals my ignorance on the ideas of aristocracy vs. proletariat and what was changing in the Russian government at that time. The story, though, is about the Count mastering his circumstances, which is a story of nothing and everything at the same time as his life is taken in many different directions. I think it illustrates the fluidity and interference that a time period can have on a life, while in modern time we have trouble imagining this type of upheaval inserting itself into our lives now. It's a recap of his musings and his trials, and the life he creates for himself while somehow being confined in a hotel. It's a summary of the friends he makes as well as the useful relationships he cultivates.
I'm not sure if the end is foreshadowed or expected. The first time I realized something was about to go on, parts of a larger plan and thoughts we were not privy to, it was frustrating, and when Sofia went along with the choices, my first gut reaction was that the Count was selfish to expect her to do it. Still, the element of tension throughout the novel, the forced smiles to accept the circumstances they were in ... it's difficult to swallow the idea of working in the same place, but watching the entire country and world completely twist and turn and unfold into something imagined. It's truly a new reality. It's believable, though. There are individuals who live extraordinary lives for reasons well beyond what we can discern. ...more
This is a tense, slow burn and broad character portrait, with people that are anything but still life. The author writes a tale of a planned, idyllicThis is a tense, slow burn and broad character portrait, with people that are anything but still life. The author writes a tale of a planned, idyllic suburban place, which simultaneously is a place you want to live, and a place in which the fake, thick veneer painted over it is galling and angering. The concept of the "other," with themes of gentrification and the pity from the privileged to those perceived with less, and the ideas that are often stereotypes, are played out quite well in this novel. The characters are more than believable - they are people I have met.
Admittedly, no one earns much sympathy for most of the book, except maybe the small infant caught in the middle of people with too little to do but nose around and cause problems for others. All of the children are at one point or another insufferable in their own way. Lexie is a user and manipulative, Moody is his namesake (particularly in his dramatic explosion near the end of the book), Trip's just tripping on dreams and girls, Pearl is lovably naive, and Izzy is a tight ball of resentment. I waffle between giving the adult characters the benefit of the doubt, particularly Bebe and Elena, or being frustrated at their shortsightedness and childishness. The characters with insight hover on the periphery, one-shots in the character's lives. I suppose that's the point. Instead I'm angry with, and in love with, the characters that are being focused on as you watch everything come to a head and feel powerless to stop it. That's a good novel.
Mia's parents were people I recognized - grandparents, people of another era, caught up in a fast-moving generational change and terrified of what that meant because it was unprecedented. It doesn't excuse their behavior, and it also doesn't excuse Mia's, whose shortcomings were a bit understated in stark contrast. Maybe it's because I recently came off of "The Glass Castle," but her languishing journey that she drags her daughter along for in the name of art is gutting, and I still don't know how I feel about it. At the same time, Elena's projected ideas that her friend "deserves" a child because she's a good person, she's tried so many times, she has love in her heart, mmm, I couldn't relate or get on board with that and it smacked of self-righteousness and desperation. Overall, it was a compelling novel because at every point I wanted to uncover a new rock, while at the same time holding the characters at arm's length to better observe them and waiting for their inevitable crash....more
I'm fairly disappointed, since I was excited to put myself on the waiting list to read this, and now I'm glad I didn't cave and purchase it. The charaI'm fairly disappointed, since I was excited to put myself on the waiting list to read this, and now I'm glad I didn't cave and purchase it. The characters were washed out, like their stories were trying to be vivid but everything had a sheet over it, rounding everything out and making it, frankly, boring. Had hard time deciphering the women all from one another. The urge to skip ahead to figure out more about what was actually going on was strong. There many point of views that did not build bonds with parts of the story quickly enough for my liking, and normally I am in no way averse to a slow burn. Definitely was spoiled by The Girl on the Train, and the other issue is that a second novel, like a second season to a television show, is the most difficult as it has to follow up a dazzling debut.
I think this would be an interesting mini-series or film, I just wasn't engaged or impressed. ...more
If you are interested in nuclear accidents, history, and the hilariously, devastatingly, short-sighted actions of people despite working with some theIf you are interested in nuclear accidents, history, and the hilariously, devastatingly, short-sighted actions of people despite working with some the most technically and politically-charged projects in the world, this is your book. It's so terrifying you have to laugh to yourself in that nervous way you do when witnesses a couples argument in a restaurant, trying to desperately clear the air while you shake inside. It's a thorough account, and despite it being incredibly detailed and very high-level reading as far as the science is concerned, it's worth it. Yes, I truly think so. It's worth every tab you'll open on Wikipedia and every article you'll pore over trying to make heads or tails of mind-boggling concepts (unless you're an expert already; I'm not!), and every image you end up pulling up on Google. I find the very astute inclusions of image results and current YouTube footage a nice touch for those of us who are stalling on resources to devour.
The author is passionate about the subject matter; that makes this fun to read. Again, fun in that offhandedly laughing way as he meanders through history and ideas and subjects you nearly cannot believe people came up with. The egos and social, so very human interactions and choices make this book wonder why people are involved in any process of building anything nuclear, running it, being responsible for it, etc. On another level, human intervention was also a saving grace in several of the mishaps, as the programmed components are only as decent and intelligent as the human operator could make them. Chemistry, physics, this is all truly an art, a delicate balance, and easy to ruin.
While I'm familiar with the most famous accidents (Chernobyl, Three Mile, Fukushima) this was nearly an encyclopedia of relatively frightening situations that happened in other time periods, in countries, that were fleetingly similar to the accidents we know, but unique in other things we don't know. The accounts of the Canadian and U.K. projects and reactors were not only technical, but provided the broader sociopolitical context of the goals they wanted to meet, and the America they wanted to court with their nuclear toys. There is a repetitive tone but only in the sense that it serves to demonstrate the mistakes of the human factor, and it's clear we make them over and over again throughout the entirety of nuclear history. Leaps forward in technology and science cannot erase or control the split-second, sometimes infuriatingly dumb (from our perspective) decisions made. We forget the limited insight they have on the process, including the simple fact that you cannot see every part of the reactor, and that even aspects like poor tube design or shape can contribute to a runaway chain reaction of events that only get to be dissected later.
Despite all the technicalities, there's a driving narrative, reminiscent of dramatic acts in an epic: It starts with the men who find shiny shards in a haunted cave, continues with painted radium on watches, and the beat goes on with an unpredictable tsunami and ends carefully, optimistically, with the conclusions of the state of the industry today.
It's one of the few things I would read all over again. For now, it's time for the fun easter eggs he left in the footnotes - about to give Google a workout....more
Rarely is a non-fiction book written in a poetic way, about a subject that doesn't lend itself necessarily to that cadence. It's a fantastic blend ofRarely is a non-fiction book written in a poetic way, about a subject that doesn't lend itself necessarily to that cadence. It's a fantastic blend of pop culture, social sciences, data, and facets of online communities. It's well-researched and incredibly in-depth, the theories are sound, but at many junctions the author continues to remind you about luck and the nice part about being in the "right place at the right time." Everything has context. Working in social, media, social sciences and often being at the intersections of all of these things, exploring the idea of, well, ideas spreading, as mentioned in the book, mimics the spread of viruses and biological phenomenon. Fantastic, well-written, pulling seemingly disparate topics into puzzle pieces that fit together. ...more
If you're fan of WWII history, the Pacific theatre, culture, and epic sagas, that solidifies your next novel choice: Read this. For a hefty 500-page tIf you're fan of WWII history, the Pacific theatre, culture, and epic sagas, that solidifies your next novel choice: Read this. For a hefty 500-page tome, I didn't want to put it down as it followed several generations of Korean and Japanese family, how they intertwined, and their cultural struggles against the backdrop of the war. While at points it slows down, most of the novel is breakneck speed, punctuated with small moments of intricate detail to capture the particular scene. A portrait is painted, and you continue to race. At the crux of it all is the journey of a family to a land they haven't visited before, that does not accept them despite all the times they try. The cultural weight, the historical heavy lifting causes stress and strife in these characters in a realistic way that not everyone can understand and truth be told, many of us will not ever come close to having this situation happen to us.
What would be good to remember is that these types of situations were not uncommon and this struggle of identity on a large scale effects them to this day. Not merely these fictional characters, but people living in Japan who are not originally Japanese. That's the question: What makes someone a member of their country? Where are the lines of race, ethnicity, culture, and citizenship? Some of the reviews left on this book fail to remember that this is a situation going on now, still, in many countries. Given the current political state of the world, immigration, refugees, civil war, it stands to reason that this has lessons to teach us about those lines, how we should draw them, and how we "otherize" another group of people based on values, skin color, and war-drawn lines of sovereignty that can't capture a person's personality or spirit....more