Guibert, Emmanuel, Didier Lefleve, and Frederic Lemercier. The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. New York: First Second, 2009.
Reason read: Afghanistan gained its independence from British rule in July 1919.
I didn’t know what to expect when I read a review of The Photographer, calling it a “photographic graphic novel.” It is quite unique and simply put, amazing. In three parts, The Photographer tells the story of how the aid workers of Medecins Sans Frontieres, smuggled across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan disguised as women in chadri, provided medical support to small communities during conflict. Didier Lefleve, a French photojournalist, traveled with the group to Zaragandara during the Afghan-Soviet War of 1986. In this district of Yaftali Sufla MSF establishes a field hospital while staffing a second one. The final part is Didier Lefleve’s nearly disastrous solo departure from Afghanistan. As the tagline for MSF reads, “We go where we are needed most,” The photographs and journal of Lefleve tell the entire story in intimate detail. It is a powerful print documentary.
It seems impossible for there to be humor in The Photographer, especially when you read of children with their eyes apparently glued shut and paralyzed by shrapnel, but it exists. One word: peaches. I confess. I giggled. That’s all I can say about that.
Most amazing fact: despite the reality they are fighting the Russians, Afghan doctors are able to obtain x-rays for patients, disguised as English speaking colleagues. they send men who are too old to be conscripted. No one suspects the men of being part of the resistance.
As an aside, I have supported MWF (known by the American subsidiary as Doctors Without Borders), for years. I first learned of the organization when Natalie would invite members to speak about their work during a set break in her concerts. I shared Natalie’s pride when they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. I appreciated learning about Juliette Fournot, the woman who started the US arm of Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Author facts: Emmanuel Guibert is an accomplished graphic novelist. I am only reading one of his works. Didier Lefleve died way too young at only 49 years of age. Frederic Lemercier was the mastermind behind the layout and coloring of The Photographer.
Book trivia: The English translation of The Photographer was publisher in 2009. Lefleve didn’t live long enough to see it. He passed from a heart attack in 2007.
Playlist: Michel Jonasz
Nancy said: Pearl called The Photographer “one of the best books” she read in 2009.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires” (p 3).
Brittain, Vera. Testament of Experience: An Autobiographical Story of the Years 1925 -1950. Wide View Books, 1981.
Reason read: to continue the series started in May in honor of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. As an aside, Vera watched the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
At the start of Testament of Experience Vera is newly married and trying to juggle a relationship with a man she has only known for two years and a career as a writer and journalist. From her style of writing the reader can find evidence of Brittain maturing her focus since Testament of Youth. She no longer speaks of an entire generation experiencing war. On the brink of World War II and focusing on herself personally, she repeatedly feels the strain of inequality as she watches her husband enjoy a balance of employment and home life while she is expected to chose between relationships, motherhood, and a career. This only fuels her feminist fire as she hungers for a life she can put into words. She needs to experience life in order to have something to convey to the world. What does she write about if she cannot experience extraordinary things? As time goes by the threat of war becomes reality and as Brittain starts traveling, her life grows increasingly imbalanced. Living more often apart than together, her marriage to “G.” is a series of rendezvous when their careers allow. As an author she experiences the threat of rejection at the same time as the thrill of success as Testament of Youth becomes a best seller. Motherhood is a confusing conflict with her pacifist endeavors lecturing around the globe. As an aside, Vera’s advocacy for peace through her fortnightly Peace Letters attracts the attention of the Gestapo and as a result Testament of Youth was banned in Germany.
Author fact: Brittain wrote a fourth “Testament” book called Testament of a Generation which is not on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Testament of Experience is the sequel to Testament of Youth even though Testament of Friendship was published in between Youth and Experience.
Playlist: “Old Man Noah,” “The Bells of Hell,” and “Sweet Adeline,”
Nancy said: Pearl only called Testament of Experience a continuation of Testament of Youth. Nothing more specific.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Through War” (p 054).
Sides, Hampton. Ghost Soldiers. Anchor Books, New York: 2001.
Reason read: I read somewhere that March has a “Hug a G.I. Day” so I put this on the list. Even though I already had two books for this category, I am also reading Ghost Soldiers for the Portland Public Library’s Reading Challenge for the category of a book where a group works toward one goal. In this case, a group of 121 soldiers work towards rescuing 513 prisoners of war.
A group of 121 personally picked soldiers are called into action. Their mission: to march thirty miles to rescue 513 prisoners of war; survivors of the Bataan Death March. Sides is thorough in his storytelling. Side by side narratives of the rescued and the rescuers. One minute the reader is with the Rangers, planning the daring rescue; the next getting to know the prisoners of war. All the while the Japanese are launching deadly attacks and no one can predict their next erratic move. Using reliable documentation to recreate the drama, diaries, scrapbooks, oral recollections, interviews, correspondence to loved ones, and autobiographies make for an intimate feels-like-you-are-there narrative.
For me, the most moving exploit of the Rangers was when they had the villagers assist them in building an airstrip in one night (a mere five hours) to evacuate a critically wounded doctor. It brought me to tears to think of every man, woman, and child working their hardest in the dead of night to create an airstrip in the jungle for a complete stranger.
An interesting side story is the one of Claire Phillips, aka “High Pockets” working as a spy disguised as a cabaret owner. After she is exposed as a traitor, Sides seemingly ends her story but there is a postscript to her tale.
As an aside, I had to laugh when the deaf soldier was in the latrine during the raid. He missed the entire event; never heard Rangers calling for him; never noticed how quiet the camp was once everyone left.
Quotes I enjoyed, “But you would be amazed at what you can take if you have to” (p 306). Spoken by Robert Body about the march to freedom.
Playlist: Amazing Grace, Home on the Range, Don’t Fence Me In.
Author fact: Sides wrote many other books but I’m not reading any of them.
Book trivia: Ghost Soldiers has a decent collection of photographs including a group of the surviving Prisoners of War and Rangers fifty-five years later. Sides also lists every man held as a prisoner of the Cabanatuan camp. It’s pretty sobering to see all the names compiled on two pages.
Nancy said: Pearl calls Ghost Soldiers a “dramatic story.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Nonfiction” (p 253).
Halberstam, David. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. New York: Hyperion, 2007.
Reason read: the Korean War officially ended in July.
The interesting thing about the Korean War is that most were reluctant to call it an actual war. Those that admitted to it being a conflict were convinced it would be over in no time. What started in June of 1950 as a “clash” between North Korea and South Korea turned into a war of attrition when China and the Soviet Union came to the aid of North Korea and the UN and United States joined the South. Despite a treaty being signed in July of 1953, to this day, technically the conflict has not been recognized as over.
While Halberstam portrays the well-researched historical events with accuracy and thorough detail, his portrayals of key U.S. figures such as Generals MacArthur and Bradley, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and President Truman read like a fast paced political thriller. The larger than life personalities practically jump off the page.
As an aside: I suppose it would make sense if I thought about it more, but the Korean War was the first time air-to-air combat was conducted. Before then planes were mostly used to drop bombs and transport men and supplies.
Best line to quote, “Sometimes it is the fate of a given unit to get in that way of something so large it seems to have stepped into history’s own path” (p 258).
Author fact: Halberstam was born in April and died in April.
Book trivia: The Coldest Winter was published after Halberstam’s death.
Nancy said: Pearl called Coldest Winter the “best book for the nonhistorian on the Korean War” (Book Lust To Go p 127).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Korea – North and South” (p 125). I am willing to bet Coldest Winter would have been in More Book Lust’s chapter “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 112) if it had been published in time. MBL was published in 2005 and Coldest Winter came two years later in 2007. It would appear Pearl is a fan and has read everything Halberstam has ever written.
Oren, Michael B. Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Reason read: the Six Day War took place in June.
Oren’s challenge was to weave together an accurate account of the Six Day War that covered many different perspectives from a myriad of sources. All sides of the conflict needed to be represented and not just from the perspective of battles and conflict. He needed to produce an account that was not only balanced and unbiased, but thorough in its investigation and analysis. This was accomplished through meticulous and extensive research.
Author fact: Oren is a former ambassador to the United States
Book trivia: Six Days of War includes a fair collection of black and white photographs as well as maps to orientate you.
Nancy said: Six Days of War is “massively thorough and equally readable” (Book Lust, p 154).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Middle East” (p 154).
I have a prediction for July. I will read a crap load of books. Actually, I am cheating. It’s not a prediction because I already know I will. Case in point – yesterday my husband and I spent seven hours on the water. He fished. I read. Yesterday was July 1st so I was already knee-deep in the July Challenge list and thanks to an iPad I had five books with me. I made a decent dent in the “Boat” books:
- Jackie by Josie by Caroline Preston – in honor of Jacqueline O. Kennedy’s birth month.
- The Coldest Day: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam – in honor of July being the month the Korean War ended.
- The Book of Mediterranean Cooking by Elizabeth David – in honor of July being picnic month.
- The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason – to continue the series started in June.
- Midnight in Ruby Bayou by Elizabeth Lowell – to continue the series started in April.
Others on the list:
- Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken – in honor of July being Kids Month.
- Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart – in honor of July being Job Fair month (odd choice, I know).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Into the Storm: Two Ships, a Deadly Hurricane, and an Epic Battle for Survival by Tristam Koten.
If there is time:
- Gardens of Kyoko by Kate Walbert – in honor of Japan’s Tanabata Festival.
- Animals by Alice Mattison – in honor of Mattison’s birth month.
- Miss Lizzie by Walter Satterthwait – in honor of Lizzie Borden’s birth month.
- Cop Hater by Ed McBain – to honor McBain’s passing in the month of July.
So June went by lightning fast, as I expected. Had good shows with Imagine Dragons and Dead and Company. Spent quality time with family and friends. Ran next to nothing for miles. But, the books! Thanks to not running (still) and all the travel I was able to get a lot of reading done…
- Confessing a Murder by Nicholas Drayson (EB & print)
- Stories of Alice Adams by Alice Adams (EB & print)
- Afterlife by Paul Monette (EB & print)
- Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason (AB)
- Six Days of War by Michael Oren (print) – confessional: did not finish
- Cactus Eaters by Dan White (print)
- I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman (print)
- Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn (AB)
- Pearl Cove by Elizabeth Lowell (EB & print)
- Envoy From Mirror City by Janet Frame (EB & print)
- “Xingu” by Edith Wharton (EB)
- “Verlie I Say Unto You” by Alice Adams (EB)
- “Roses, Rhododendrons” by Alice Adams (EB)
- Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously YOU by Julie Foudy
June is going to go by lightning fast. For starters, there is a concert in Bangor, Maine that I cannot wait for! Then, a concert at home. After that, a week later, an art show reception for my talented sister’s work. Then, a vacation with my best friend (Maine for the third weekend in a row). I will have many opportunities to read. Hence, the huge list:
- Confessing a Murder by Nicholas Drayson – in honor of the first month of boating weather (EB & print).
- Stories of Alice Adams by Alice Adams – June is short story month (EB & print).
- Afterlife by Paul Monette – in honor of gay and lesbian pride month (EB & print).
- Jar City by Arnaldur Andridason – National Icelandic Day is in June (AB).
- Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Middle East by Michael B. Oren – the Six Day War started in June.
- Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself by Dan White – June is national hiking month.
- I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman – in honor of Gallman’s birth month.
- Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn – in honor of Zinn’s birth month.
- Pearl Cove by Elizabeth Lowell – to continue the series started in April in honor of Lowell’s birth month.
- Envoy From Mirror City by Janet Frame – to finish the series started in April in honor of New Zealand’s Anzac Day.
This is the first month since September that I don’t have some kind of race looming. It feels weird to not worry about the run. I guess I can concentrate on the books:
- Landfall: a Channel Story by Nevil Shute – in honor of the month the movie was released.
- Main Street by Sinclair Lewis – in honor of Minnesota becoming a state in May (AB).
- Bruised Hibiscus by Elizabeth Nunez – on honor of the Pan Ramjay festival held in May.
- Adrian Mole: the Cappuccino Years by Sue Townsend – in honor of Mother’s Day.
- Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – in honor of the failed Mount Everest climb in May 1994.
- Jade Island by Elizabeth Lowell – to continue the series started in April in honor of Lowell’s birth month.
- Warding of Witch World by Andre Norton – to continue the series started in March to honor the month of Norton’s passing.
Something new! I just discovered archive dot org! They are brilliant! I have been able to find a bunch of the books I have on my Challenge list, including two for this month. That means I will be able to leave the print at home and still read on my lunch break!
Jal, Emmanuel. War Child: a Child Soldier’s Story. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009.
Reason read: Sudan’s civil war ended in January.
Jal is a typical boy, revering the warriors in uniform who stand before him and looking up to the fighter pilots who banish the enemy from the sky. As a small child he dreams of joining the military to fight the good fight. What is different about Jal is that he is not a pampered American boy playing with G.I. Joe dolls in the backyard in suburbia. Jal is a seven year old boy in war-torn, desert arid Sudan; his family is always on the run from the guns and violence. As he witnesses the deaths of family and friends, Jal’s reverence and admiration for the military grows until, from a place of hatred, comes the desire for violent tortuous revenge. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, a commander in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Jal hungers to go to school to be a soldier. His singular focus is to kill the enemy; and kill them, he does.
Don’t let the simplicity of Jal’s language fool you. His story is tragic and harsh. His manner might be sparse but it is straight an arrow, truth-telling writing. Consider this phrase, “gulping down pain like hot knives…” (p 86).
Quotes I had to quote, “Fear will always win against pain, and all I had to do was run” (p 32), “I knew I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees and beg a jallaba for mercy” (p 136), and “I had lived with hatred for so long that it was part of me, bleached into my bones and scarred onto my heart” (p 212).
Author fact: Jal becomes an accomplished rapper. He mentions War Child in this video for Amnesty International (around the 3:20 mark). The fact Natalie Merchant is also in this video is purely coincidental! 😉
Book trivia: Don’t expect photographs of young Jal toting an uzi or an AK47. His words are description enough. As an aside, Jal’s story prompted me to see the documentary about him and seek out his music.
Nancy said: Nancy said she could go on for pages “about the terrifyingly sad political accounts of bravery, pain, atrocities, and, unaccountably, hope, as they appear in recent nonfiction about Africa” (p 8) and mentions Jal’s book as an example.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa the Greenest Continent” (p 7).
This year, more than ever, I am struck by time’s marching; the relentless footfalls of days and weeks passing by. I know that is mortality speaking, but it rings eerie in my mind nonetheless. Not helping the doom and gloom is the first book on my list, On The Beach by Nevil Shute. I wanted a different book from Shute but there isn’t a library local enough to loan it to me.
Here are the planned books for January 2018:
- On The Beach (AB) by Nevil Shute (previously mentioned) – in honor of Shute’s birth month.
- Clara Callan by Richard Wright – in honor of Sisters Week being in January.
- Tea From an Empty Cup by Pat Cadigan – in honor of January being Science Fiction Month.
- Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals by David Laskin – in honor of January 26th being Spouses’s Day.
- War Child: a Child Soldier’s Story by Emmanuel Jal – in honor of the end of the Sudan civil war.
- Travellers’ Prelude: Autobiography 1893-1927 by Freya Stark – in honor of Freya Stark’s birth month.
- Practicing History by Barbara Tuchman (AB) – in honor of Tuchman’s birth month.
- Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle by Dorothy Gilman – started in September in honor of Grandparents’ Day.
For the Early Review program for LibraryThing:
- Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi, PhD (finishing).
- Pep Talk for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo by Grant Faulkner (also finishing).
Shute, Nevil. On the Beach. Read by Simon Prebble. New York: Recorded Books, 1991.
Reason read: Nevil Shute was born and died in January; read in his honor.
Preoccupation with The Bomb. Nuclear war. Alphaville wrote Forever Young thinking about the bomb. Randy Newman sneered about dropping the bomb…boom goes London. Shute takes it one step further. The nuclear bombs of World War III have been dropped and as far as anyone knows, the entire northern hemisphere has been completely wiped out. There’s not a soul alive above the equator. It’s only a matter of time before winds blow the deadly radioactive fallout to New Zealand and Australia. For naval officers Peter Holmes and Dwight Towers stationed in Melbourne it is their job to pilot a submarine to the northern hemisphere to seek out survivors and make predictions about their own mortality. Will the deadly dust reach them in a year? A month? A week? No matter the time frame for surely they will all die. It’s a bleak read, there’s no doubt about that, but the characters are worth it. For Dwight Towers, originally from Connecticut, knowing he will never see his wife and children again is a hard pill to swallow. For young and beautiful Moira Davidson drinking her denial is the best policy. Others seek solace in the suicide pill or carrying on as if nothing tragic is going to happen. I found myself asking what would I do in this situation?
Author fact: Shute has his own fan webpage here.
Book trivia: When On the Beach was first published in 1957 it was met with sour reviews. Too depressing they all said.
Nancy said: Nevil is “probably best known for On the Beach” (p 198).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obviously called “Nevil Shute: Too Good To Miss” (p 198).
What happened in November? I finished physical therapy. But really, PT is not finished with me. I signed up for a 5k in order to keep the running alive. As soon as I did that I needed x-rays for the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my hip and groin. Like stabbing, electrocuting pains. Diagnosis? More sclerosis and fusing. Yay, me! In defiance of that diagnosis I then signed up for a 21k. I am officially crazy.
Here are the books finished for the month of November:
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (AB/print)
- The Edge of the Crazies by Jamie Harrison
- Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
- Beaufort by Ron Leshem
- Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
- No Villain Need Be by Vardis Fisher (finally finished!)
- Mrs. Pollifax on Safari by Dorothy Gilman
- Henry James: the Master by Leon Edel
- I Will Bear Witness: the Nazi Years, 1942 – 1945 by Victor Klemperer
Early Review for LibraryThing: nothing. I jinxed myself by mentioning the book I was supposed to receive. Needless to say, it never arrived. So I never finished it. Ugh.
Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933 – 1941. Translated by Martin Chalmers. New York: Random House, 1998.
Reason read: Klemperer was born on October 9th in 1881. He started keeping a diary at 17 years of age. I Will Bear Witness was read in his honor.
No matter how you dress it up, this is a hard book to read. Mainly because hindsight is 20/20 and we know what a travesty the Nazi years truly were to the German-Jewish people. Today, more than ever, reading Klemperer’s journals are valuable lessons in fortitude, courage, and grace. Despite everything he remained committed to documenting his world around him…even as it slowly fell apart. I see similarities to modern day America. At first the indignity was small, a blip: the loss of admittance to his library’s reading room. No Jews allowed. Then, the indignities became too big to ignore – the loss of his teaching position at the university, then use of the beloved automobile, then they had to move from their new dream house. Every creature comfort was slowly stripped away. His typewriter, tobacco, even new socks. Can you imagine smoking blackberry tea or filling an application for used socks? What is so admirable is, in the face of all this humility, Klemperer still recognized and drew attention to the civility his enemy occasionally displayed.
From the very beginning, although he was only 52 years of age at the start of I Will Bear Witness, Klemperer was convinced he had not long to live. He made comments like, “I no longer think about tomorrow” (p 15), and “My heart cannot bear all this misery much longer” (p 17). He was sure his heart would give out any day. It was if each passing birthday came as a shock to him because he could see the future of Germany’s political landscape. How would he survive it? Yet, every day he strove to improve his life and that of his wife of 45 years. Buying land, building a house, learning to drive a car, taking Eva to her beloved flower shows, keeping a diary and continuing to write throughout it all. These are the little triumphs of Klemperer’s life.
Confessional: Because his sentences were so choppy, it took me some time to get into the rhythm of his words.
Favorite line, “The man is a blinkered fanatic” (p 41). One guess who he was talking about! Another line I have to mention, “I do not know whether history is racing ahead or standing still” (p 79). This, after Hindenburg’s death. The magnitude of the implications! One last quote to quote, “It cannot be helped, one cannot live normally in an abnormal time” (p 227).
Author fact: In the end Klemperer’s heart did betray him. He died of a heart attack in 1960 when he was 79 years old.
Book trivia: This is truly trivia, but I love, love, love the photograph of Eva and Victor Klemperer on the spine of I Will Bear Witness. Both are standing behind their beloved automobile with smiles on their faces. Victor is hunched in such a way he actually appears to be laughing. He has an impish look on his face.
Nancy said: Klemperer was “one of the best observers whose records we have of those terrible, and ordinary, years inside Germany” (p 131).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 130).
Hardy, Justine. In the Valley of Mist: Kashmir: One Family in a Changing World. New York: Free Press, 2009.
Reason read: the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 happened in October.
Just to orientate you: Kashmir separates India and Pakistan. Both areas had been warring over this beautiful area for decades. Meanwhile, a separatist insurgent group within Kashmir also sought independence. By 1989 rising tensions finally gave way to major conflict. Justine Hardy wanted to tell the story of the innocent families living within the conflict. With their blessing, via In the Valley of Mist, she attempts to expose the corruption and controversy caught between three very different worlds. Everything, from manner of dress to religious convictions, are examined.
As an aside, I tend to count things when I get annoyed by something. This time it was how often Hardy referred to the region’s beauty, calling it pretty or sweet or beautiful. I think she wanted to emphasize it’s attraction to starkly contrast it with the ugliness of war and the utter destruction after the 2005 earthquake.
Author fact: Hardy was a British journalist of over twenty years who has written six books. I am reading just this one.
Book trivia: In the Valley of Mist has a great collection of photographs, most of them include the author’s handsome face.
Nancy said: In the Valley of Mist “takes place against a backdrop of Calcutta and a sea voyage” (p 213). I think Pearl was reading an entirely different book. For starters, Calcutta is nowhere near Kashmir (Calcutta is south of Kashmir by nearly 1,700 kilometers) and I didn’t see any “sea voyage” as a focal point. The jihad, the insurgency, the oppression of women. Those were the main points of In the Valley of Mist in my mind. True, the family Hardy spent time with lived on houseboats, but they were on the Dal lake, not the ocean.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: India” (p 213).