Nampally Road

Alexander, Meena. Nampally Road. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1991.

Reason read: In honor of the International Flower Festival, held in the month of May.

While barely one hundred pages long, Nampally Road shouts a clear message of India. Protagonist and poet, Mira Kannadical returns to Hyderabad, India after four years studying in England. She has come home to teach poetry, but finds her neighborhood in a constant state of civil unrest; a battle field where violence and tear gas clouds are everyday occurrences. Police brutality and political corruption hold the community in paralyzed fear, especially after a woman is gang-raped by police officers and left for dead in a prison cell. Not many are willing to rock the boat after a group of orange sellers are attacked for protesting taxes. Mira is dating an activist who thinks differently. This suspends Mira in conflict as she tries to reconcile her beliefs with the changes of modern India.

Quotes to quote, “It was if the bloodshed in the afternoon already belonged in another country” (p 9) “I suffered from dislocation” (p 29), and “He died a safe death, in another country, under the gentle shade of the tamarind tree” (p 96).

Author fact: Alexander has written a great deal of poetry, but Nampally Road was her first novel. She died in 2018.

Book trivia: Illustrations are by Pablo Haz.

Nancy said: Pearl included Nampally Road as a book “by Indian writers (many of whom now live in England, Canada, or the United States” (p 127).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “India: A Reader’s Itinerary (Fiction)” (p 125).


Rage of the Vulture

Unsworth, Barry. Rage of the Vulture. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982.

Reason read: March is (or was) a good time to visit Turkey. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “good time to visit” reasons, but I guess there was one straggler. Oh well.

As an aside, I am always daunted by books with lists of characters. It’s as if the author is warning the reader, “I have included so many people you won’t be able to keep up.” One character I could not wrap my empathy around was Captain Robert Markham. He’s not very lovable as the main protagonist. He doesn’t connect with his ten year old son except to see him as a rival for his wife’s affections. It’s as if he doesn’t know what to do with his boy, Henry. This fact is not lost on the kid. Meanwhile, Robert treats his wife as an ornamental yet extremely fragile vase he parades out and places front and center during social occasions. His saves his sexual appetite for Henry’s governess. He all but rapes this poor girl because he has told her his truth; his Armenian fiance was raped and murdered twelve years earlier at their engagement party. What happens when all these secrets are revealed and Markham’s world starts to unravel? It’s an interesting dilemma.

Lines that got me (and there were a lot of them so I will try to keep this to a minimum), “He seemed to live behind some contrived fence, as ill or afflicted people do” (p 22), and “He would silence this voice of consolation which sought to make his apostasy trivial” (p 231).

Author fact: Unsworth also wrote Sacred Hunger which is also on my list.

Book trivia: I could picture this as a movie.

Nancy said: In Book Lust To Go Pearl recommended Rage of the Vulture as a book written by a non-Turkish writer. In More Book Lust Pearl mentions Rage of the Vulture as a historical novel and describes the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Turkish Delights: Fiction” (p 239). Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction (p 79).


Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba

Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long fight for Cuba: the Biography of a Cause. New York: Viking Press, 2008.

Reason read: January 1st is Triumph of the Revolution Day in Cuba.

Think about this for a second. The Bacardi business started in 1862. When you think “rum” what brand comes to mind first? Exactly.
My favorite takeaway from Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba is how brilliant the Bacardi Moreau family has been at business marketing and self promotion. Early on they knew how to tap into supply and demand during Prohibition. They understood the importance of moral advertising in Puerto Rico, removing women from their posters, for example They knew when to exploit the World’s Fairs happening around the world in places such as Charleston, St. Louis and as far away as Paris. They were involved in any major event that would draw attention. [As an aside, I just finished watching the Tim Burton movie, “Big Eyes” and I couldn’t help but think of mastermind Walter Keane as he exploited his wife’s artwork anyway that he could.] Bacardi treated their employees well with profit sharing as early as 1916. When they couldn’t go to the marketing, the marketing came to them in the form of public figures, such as Ernest Hemingway who put the name Bacardi in his book, Islands in the Stream.
Deeply tied to the Cuban cause, as patriots the Bacardi struggled to make a real difference, but as producers of high quality libations, they flourished. Their drink, the daiquiri was a nod to Cuba Libre. But Cuba was not its own. In 1898 it was either Spain or U.S. flags that were flown. When Spain was no longer in control it was like making deals with devil. The U.S. swoops in and changes everything. Infrastructure is improved but the locals are confused. Then along comes Castro…even he cannot ignore the Bacardi name which causes major trouble for the Bacardi name. Let me stop there. Read the rest of this biography of a beverage.

Last comment: my favorite trivia is the fact that Emilio and Elvira wanted to bring back a mummy from Egypt for the Bacardi museum. It needed to be taxed as “dried meat” in order to make the journey back to Cuba.

Line I liked, “Then he would be left alone with his own soul” (p 79), “the people of Santiago had never before seen a Cuban flag flying over their own city hall” (p 91).

Author fact: Gjelten, at the time of Book Lust To Go’s publication was a reporter for NPR. According to NPR’s website, he’s still there.

Book trivia: I always love it when an author can include the pictures they describe in the text. Gjelten does this a few times and it is always wonderful to see what he captures his attention, to see the pictures through his eyes. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba includes a good number of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba “fascinating.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean” (p 52).


Catastrophist

Bennett, Ronan. The Catastrophist: a Novel. New york: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Reason read: Bennett celebrates a birthday in January.

The underlying theme of this political thriller is the mistiming of love. One is already more ready than the other to give into the insecurities of love…until they are not. Compared over and over to Graham Greene, Bennett’s Catastrophist is character driven and full of political intrigue. Irish novelist James Gillespie tells the story of his journey to the Belgian Congo to follow his Italian girlfriend, Ines. As an ambitious journalist, she is covering the Congolese struggle for independence. Once the passion of her life, now she has little time or patience for James. Meanwhile, his romantic pendulum has swung in the other direction, clinging to a newfound adoration obsession for Ines. I found their relationship to be shallow and self-serving. But, no matter. James gets caught up in the politics and befriends all the wrong people, pushing Ines further away. When she takes up with another man, it appears all hope is lost for reconciliation with James…and yet, James is blindly willing to go to unbelievably remarkable lengths to show his devotion.

Line I really, really liked and just had to quote, “The apartment reeked of our estrangement” (p 160). One more, “He was too absorbed in disguising his own failure, from me, from himself” (p 206).

Author fact: Bennett has written a plethora of other books, but I am only reading The Catastrophist for the Challenge. Additionally, I read somewhere that Bennett had trouble with the law throughout his life, including accusations of murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy.

Book trivia: this should be a movie. There is certainly enough sex and violence to make it a thriller. There was talk of making a movie, but I’m not sure it ever got off the ground.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Catastrophist a “political thriller” and suggested it should be read with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African Colonialism (fiction)” (p 15).


December Ends

December was the whirlwind it always is. Exams, hiring, and personnel evaluations at work. Christmas cards and wrapping gifts at home. Celebrations with families and friends. The bestie and I had a great time on the last weekend before Christmas shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. We braved the stores on the Sunday before Christmas and had a blast. Kisa and I traveled to South Deerfield, Peaks Island, and Rockland for the holidays. Rockland was an unexpected twist, but it gave us more time with the mom. I didn’t get to all the books on my list. I couldn’t get a hold of the Seuss book to save my life. I should have known better. And, I wasn’t in the mood for Milne. Imagine that. The November Early Review never arrived. No big surprise there. That makes three for the year that didn’t show up. Here are the other books:

Fiction:
Aguero Sisters  by Cristina Garcia
Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Long Way from Home by Connie Briscoe


Nonfiction:
Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (AB)
Before the Deluge: a portrait of Berlin in the 1920s  by Otto Friedrich
People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons
Saddest Pleasure: a journey on two rivers by Moritz Thomsen
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (AB)

Series Continuations:
The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset
Without Fail by Lee Child


Without Fail

Child, Lee. Without Fail. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2002

Reason read: to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state…never mind the connection. Just go with it.

When we catch up to Jack Reacher this time, he is in Atlantic City. But, not for very long. He somehow finds himself in Washington D.C., approached by a Secret Service agent who needs his help. Another damsel in distress. This one has ties to his dead brother, so how can he say no? Agent M.E. Froelich wants, errr no, needs to test the holes in her security detail guarding the newly elected vice-president, Brook Armstrong. She tells Reacher she’s just a girl playing in a competitive man’s world and those resentful men? They’re all out to get her; prove she’s horrible at her job. What Reacher doesn’t know is this isn’t really a test. No one is bitter about Froelich’s position. Instead, Vice President Armstrong has been receiving very real death threats. Now Reacher is in it deep and he can’t back out. He needs to figure out who is behind the threats before the vice president is assassinated. The clock is ticking…

A few annoyances. This is the first time I have to agree with Pearl. She said you didn’t need to read the Reacher series in order. I agree because in Without Fail Reacher asserts he has never owned anything. Not true. In Echo Burning he unloaded a house previously left to him by a military mentor. In truth he owned that.
Second annoyance. Froelich. She is Joe Reacher’s former lover. She is definitely not over the breakup (as he left her) and even less over Joe’s death. She talks a tough talk but every other second she’s bringing up Joe. She weirdly blames Jack for everything. As a member of the secret service I thought she would be a little tougher than that.

Author fact: Did I ever mention that, according to Child’s website, he also is 6’4″ just like his character, Jack Reacher? Hmmmm…

Book trivia: Without Fail is the sixth book in the Reacher series.

Nancy said: Nothing specific about Without Fail.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 42).


December’s Comfort

December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:

Fiction:

  • The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
  • A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.

Nonfiction:

  • A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
  • Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
  • Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.

Series Continuations:

  • Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
  • The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.

September Psycho

I don’t even know where to begin with September. It was the month from hell in more ways than one. The only good news is that I was able to run twice as many miles as last month. That counts for something as it saves my sanity just a little bit more than if I didn’t do anything at all.

Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • In the City of Fear by Ward Just
  • Jim, The Boy by Tony Earley
  • The Shining by Stephen King

Nonfiction:

  • Thank You and OK! by David Chadwick
  • Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks
  • Ayatollah Begs to Differ by Madj Hoomin
  • Agony and Ecstasy by Irving Stone

Series continuations:

  • Tripwire by Lee Child
  • Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • My Life on the Line by Ryan O’Callaghan

In the City of Fear

Just, Ward. In the City of Fear. New York: Viking Press, 1982.

Reason read: Ward Just’s birth month is in September. Read in his honor.

The political arena of Washington D.C. sets the stage for Ward Just’s In the City of Fear. Amidst the unwinnable war in Vietnam those in charge are growing more and more afraid. Politicians, military personnel, newspaper bigwigs, even rich housewives are caught up in the confusion and distrust. Their public society has turned into one of late night secret meetings and closed door whisperings. At the center of the story is confusion and distrust of another kind: a love triangle. Congressman Piatt Warden turns a blind eye to what really matters around him while Sam Joyce, an army colonel stays faithful to a woman he can’t have, Piatt’s wife, Marina.
For me, the most profound scene was the funeral at the end. The scene laid bare all the harsh realities of saying goodbye to the deceased; each mourner trying to stake a claim as the widow, the father, the sibling, the best friend, or colleague. Who knew the departed best? Who loved him most?

Admittedly, I had a crush on Sam Joyce. Was it the last name, so close to an Irish author named James? Was it the fact he was so steadfastly faithful to a married woman? It certainly wasn’t because it signed up for five consecutive tours of duty in Vietnam.

Quotes to quote, “It’s the unnaturalness of your condition that you cling to” (p 171), and “Well, it was before they knew that the war was impossible to win” (p 158).

Author fact: this is going to be a super trivial fact, but the author photo on the back cover of In the City of Fear states Just is 46 years old. If that is the case, he is a very old looking 46 with a lot of worry in his face. Maybe it’s the cigarette clenched between his lips and the drawn in eyebrows, frowning above hooded eyes?

Book trivia: this is Ward Just’s 7th novel. Additionally, In the City of Fear is a popular title. Hewson, Burke, Enmon and Wilson have all used it.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about In the City of Fear.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ward Just: Too Good To Miss” (p 136).


September Summer

It feels like it’s still summer. Never mind the nights are getting somewhat cooler. Never mind that we are back in school. Never mind there is a seasonal hurricane ripping its way up the eastern seaboard. Never mind all that. I’m still in summer mode. I started the month off by a good 3.24 run. Yes!
Here are the books planned for the month:

Fiction:

  • The Shining by Stephen King – in honor of King’s birth month.
  • In the City of Fear by Ward Just – in honor of Just’s birth month.

Nonfiction:

  • Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan by David Chadwick – in honor of September being Respect for the Aged month.
  • Foreign Correspondence: a Pen Pal’s Journey From Down Under to All Over by Geraldine Brooks – in honor of International Reading Day.
  • The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: the Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd – in memory of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980.

Series continuation:

  • Tripwire by Lee Child – to continue the series started in July
  • Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov – to continue finish the series started in January.

Early Review:

  • My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life by Ryan O’Callaghan. If you have been keeping score, I started this last month.

For fun:

  • The Miracle on Monhegan Island by Elizabeth Kelly – because of the title.

Soldiers of God

Kaplan, Robert D. Soldiers of God: with Islamic Warriors on Afghanistan and Pakistan. New York: Random House, 2001.

Reason read: Khomeini died in the month of June.

Soldiers of God provides the historical context for the emergence of the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network. Given the devastation of September 11th, 2001 the republishing of this book was timely and smart on Kaplan’s part. Robert Kaplan first traveled to Afghanistan and lived among the mujahidin (soldiers of God) back in the mid 1980s. It was on this journey that Kaplan came to witness the rise of the Taliban. More than that, he acquired the colors to paint a vivid picture of a society few Americans see: refugee camps, harsh drought, pervasive illiteracy, militant indoctrination, fierce piety, and ethnic battle lines. In the unity of prayer was practically the only form of democracy; all whispering the name of God one hundred times.
Kaplan digs deep to uncover the hidden side effects of the Soviet invasion – malaria outbreaks, for example. Thanks to stagnant pools of mosquito infested water caused by pervasive destruction of irrigation systems.

Quotes to quote, “The idea of fighting for political freedom is an easy one to grasp until you see in the flesh what the cost is” (p 143) and “After twenty four hours in Querta, my instinct told me that if a man possessed no furniture, he also possessed no useful information” (p 200).

Author fact: According to the back cover of his book, Kaplan is a “world affairs expert.”

Book trivia: Soldiers of God was first published in 1990. Pearl mentioned a newer edition with a updated introduction and final chapter.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Soldiers of God as a good book about militant Islam.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Islamic World” (p 126).


Best and the Brightest

Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Random House, 1972.

Reason read: the United States pulled out of Vietnam in the month of March.

Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest is a deep dive into the origins of the Vietnam War. It is a scrutiny of the policies and procedures crafted during the Kennedy administration that led to the consequences in Vietnam. The meat of the book takes place between the years of 1960 and 1965 but flows back and forth to earlier and later times to give substance to the timeline. What really helps the narrative is that Halberstam was a reporter during this time. He was at the heart of the perfect storm: the fall of China, the rise of McCarthy and the outbreak of the Korean War. This trifecta of events had a profound and lasting effect on the White House and domestic politics of the time.

A single line I really liked, “In government it is always easier to go forward with a program that doesn’t work than to stop it all together and admit failure” (p 212). Isn’t that human nature in a nutshell?

Author fact: I cannot help but wonder what books Halberstam would have written had he not been killed in a car accident at the age of 73.

Book trivia: I always love the photographs Halberstam chooses for his books. The photos in The Best and the Brightest are no different.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Best and the Brightest “hefty, riveting and definitive” (p 238). Agreed, agreed, and agreed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust and More Book Lust. In Book Lust in the chapter called “Vietnam” (p 238) and in More Book Lust in the super obvious chapter called “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 112).


No Match for March

What can I say about the previous month? Career-wise it was a busy month. I’m short staffed, budgets were due, accreditation teams loomed large, and my hockey team was breaking new records left and right. On the personal front friends were going through personal crisis after personal crisis (Just so you know, bad things are more than capable of arriving in multiples of five and six, not just three), I’m hip deep in planning a southwest trip with my sister and her sons, my mom’s dog is on Viagra, and! And. And, there was a little road race I always obsess about way too much. Somewhere in there I had a little time to read:

Fiction:

  • Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais
  • Topper by Thorne Smith
  • Giant by Edna Ferber
  • ADDED: Flashback by Nevada Barr – in honor of Barr’s birth month. (AB)
  • ADDED: White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones – on honor of Alaska.

Nonfiction:

  • Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
  • Cherry by Sara Wheeler

Series continuations:

  • Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett – I admit, I did not finish this one.
  • Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • The Moor by Laurie R. King

Fun:

  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – still reading
  • Sharp by Michelle Dean – finally finished
  • Calypso by David Sedaris (AB)
  • Living with the Little Devil Man by Lina Lisetta
  • Hidden Southwest by Ray Riegert
  • 1,000 Places to See Before You Die edited by Patricia Schultz
  • Exploring the Southwest by Tammy Gagne
  • Arizona, New Mexico and Grand Canyon Trips by Becca Blond

Early Review for Librarything:

  • Nothing. The book did not arrive in time to be reviewed in March.

March to a Different Drummer

I will make a return to racing in two weeks. My last public run was in July. I’m not ready. Simply not. March is also two Natalie Merchant concerts. A return to my favorite voice. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais – in honor of March being a rainy month. Dumb, I know.
  • Topper by Thorne Smith – in honor of Smith’s birth month being in March.
  • Giant by Edna Ferber – in honor of Texas becoming a state in March.

Nonfiction

  • Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam – in honor of March being the month the U.S. finally pulled out of Vietnam.
  • Cherry: a Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard by Sara Wheeler in honor of March being the month Apsley ended his depot journey.

Series Continuation:

  • Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett – to finally finish the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
  • Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza – to finish the series started in February in honor of the Carnival festival in Brazil.
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
  • The Moor by Laurie R. King – to continue the series started in January in honor of Mystery Month.

For fun:

  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – still reading
  • Sharp by Michelle Dean – still reading
  • Calypso by David Sedaris – needed for the Portland Public Library reading challenge.
  • Living with the Little Devil Man by Lina Lisetta – written by a faculty member.
  • Hidden Southwest edited by Ray Riegert – for my May trip.
  • 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz – for my May trip…and the 2020 Italy trip.

Renunciation

Rodriguez Julia, Edgardo. The Renunciation: a Novel. Translated by Andrew Hurley. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1997.

Reason read: Puerto Rico’s Hostos Day is in January; to celebrate the birthday of Eugenio María de Hostos.

The year is 1753 in colonial Puerto Rico. Bishop Larra, desperate to bring calm to a slave population on the verge of revolt, arranges a marriage between Baltasar Montanez, a poor slave leader and Josefina Prats, the wealthy and white daughter of the secretary of state. The idea is to make the destitute population believe they can too can marry their way into wealth and equality; to calm black indignation and for a while it seems to work. There is peace in the community because if Baltasar can marry up…. Until Montanez’s true personality comes to light. He is not the hero everyone thinks he is. [As an aside, I tracked all of the different words and phrases used to describe Baltasar: enigma, hero, declasse, upstart, benefactor, traitor, puppet, emancipated slave, peacemaker, verbsoe, rhetorical, slightly pompous, of great intelligence, well-pleased, cynical, intruder, black, cane-cutter, handsome, a figure of profound historical significance…I could go on.] Here is a commentary on not only Puerto Rico’s political climate in the eighteenth century, but a study in human nature. Was the marriage orchestrated by Bishop Larra? Was the bride’s father involved from the beginning? Who holds the lie and who lives the truth?
A word of warning. Obviously, as most arranged marriages go, Baltasar and Josefina’s marriage is not a sexual one. Her enjoyment comes from peeping through the keyhole to spy on Baltasar’s legendary yet unimaginative orgies.

Author fact: Julia has received a Guggenheim fellowship.

Book trivia: The Renunciation is Edgardo Rodriguez Julia’s first English-translated work.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Renunciation “difficult but exhilarating” and if you are interested in colonial Puerto Rico you shouldn’t miss it (Book Lust To Go p 57).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Puerto Rico” (p 52).