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Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, A Journey through Yugoslavia
Rebecca West, Penguin Books, 1994, isbn: 0-14-01-8847-0
originally published in two volumes by The Viking Press 1941.
I find it difficult to express the magnitude of fondness, enlightenment and utter delight granted me by the discovery this book all but hidden in the stacks of the Santa Barbara Public Library.

In this immense work, over 1100 pages (of fine print, slim margins), West attempts to shine light on a dark area. She is an Englishwoman traveling with her husband to a land she had visited as a solo traveler. Orthodox, Catholic, Moslems lorded over for centuries by the Turkish Ottoman Empire and then the Austria-Hungry (Hapsburg) dynasty has formented a people used to suffering and fighting but not with much experience in governing or being responsible other than individual and community survival. Much of the recent references are of World War I which of course generally is thought of beginning in the Balkans (Sarajevo) with the assasination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (wife Countess Sophie Chotek) by the Serbian youth, Gavrilo Princip (Chabrinovitch was co-conspirator who made the first (failed) attempt at the Archduke then threw himself in the river in hopes of killing himself (?) but failed. He was convicted. During the trials he was most gracious, matter of fact, and discussed the real victims and who were the real killers (meaning the occupying forces)). In Yaitse (Jajce) the traveling party meet the sister of Chabrinovitch for a most enlightening and satisfying evening in their home. West notes that the family photos not only have images from weddings but also of deathbed scene with the mother. West finds it noble and intelligent that these people would do such a thing which would be strongly resisted by people in the West.

Princip was fifth (or sixth) in the staging of amateur assassins. All the prior failed or deserted their task.

Within the 80 page Epilogue West writes, “This experience made me say to myself, ‘If a Roman woman had, some years before the sack of Rome, realized why it was going to be sacked and what motives inspired the barbarians and the Romans, and had written down all she knew and felt about it, the record would have been of value to historians. My situation, though probably not so fatal, is as interesting.’ Without doubt it was my duty to keep a record of it. So I resolved to put on paper what a typical Englishwoman felt and thought in the late nineteen-thirties when, already convinced of the inevitability of the second Anglo-German war, she had been able to follow the dark waters of that event back to its source. That committed me to what was in effect some years of a retreat spent among fundamentals. I was obliged to write a long and complicated history, and to swell that with an account of myself and the people who went with me on my travels, since it was my aim to show the past side by side with the present it created. And while grappling with the mass of my material during several years, it imposed certain ideas on me. I became newly doubtful of empires. Since my childhood I had been consciously and unconsciously debating their value, because I was born a citizen of one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen, and grew up as its exasperated critic...”

Also in the Epilogue she revisits the slavic jewish reaction to current developments in Nazi Germany. They were hard pressed to select between Germany and Russia. Russia was communist and therefore not pleasing. Nazi’s were horrific in their hate, but the jews seemed to be able to forgive this in exchange for what they perceived as their roots and culture which had been pressed upon them by the occupancy of the Austria-Hungry empire and their Germany benefactors.

All this and as they say, “so much more.”

1956; To Leave a Sign.
Text: Zsolt Bayer, Edited by Zsuzsanna Kormedy; XX Century Institute, 2000;
isbn 963-9302-47-3
Dramatic photos and moving verse of the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviet domination and their local handmaidens. I purchased this book on a visit to the Terror Museum on Andrassy Boulevard. I shall write more of this later but for now, know that this is an extremely powerful work. Many a tear was shed while processing it all.

The Troubles; Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace
Tim Pat Coogan; Roberts Rinehart Publishers; 1996; isbn 1-57098-092-6
This somewhat academic chronical outlines the 30-year period of The Troubles including the historical context where it seems necessary to set the stage. Coogan is a journalist with access to a broad section of the players in this tragic struggle. I had selected this book thinking it would be able to shed light on how the peace (as it stands in 2007) came to be. The peace process was underway with more possibility of success than at any time previous but even when the Epilogue was written in 1995-96 as many signs of failure seemed in play as possibilities for success. Throughout the struggle there is plenty of blame to put on all factions, along with more than a few heroes to us give hope. By the Epilogue the British government and military seem to take front stage as the villians. Lost and unable to move towards a condition which could bring about livable conditions for those caught up in and enduring the madness. I am sure there are hundreds of books written on this topic but I cannot imagine anything more complete and balanced. Coogan has his own viewpoints, heroes and trusted sources but he seems to identify his perspective and have respect for the fact that no writer, politician, soldier, freedom fighter can have all the facts. I was also impressed and sickened by the power that the British government and institutions have/had over the media which often meant that most people were shut out from any significant analysis of the situation. Too many of the “lessons” seem to be never learned as we fall into these traps. I guess it is not that people like Bush, Cheney, et al, do not care or read, but that we all have our filters that prevent breakthroughs in behavior.

Kurt Vonnegut Trilogy
Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, A Man Without a Country
With Kurt Vonnegut’s passing in 2007 I was moved to catch up on some important work. Crosby and I were formulating my visit with her in Berlin and were planning side trips. Dresden is two hours by train from Berlin so it made the list. The first two books are classics and most worthy of that status. A Man Without a Country seemed a perfect book of meaningful reflection. Plenty of harsh criticism or judgement of those who abuse power or ignore even their own intelligence, yet, to me, it never felt strident. Perhaps because he wasn’t taking shots at me, and indeed took shots at those I feel are deserving. A short, easy read it is one of those works that one considers worth reading many times as they travel on our life journey. I absolutely admire it and feel its message important.

An Unexpected Light; Travels in Afghanistan
Jason Elliot; Picador, 1999; isbn 0-312-27459-9
Ten years after sneaking into the Soviet version of Afghanistan Jason returns to this conflicted land seeking to learn and experience more. Takes place as the Taliban seem to be possible victors in the struggle but the state of flux and competing power centers make any predictions appear foolish. Elliot ventures pretty far from the so-called secure areas and shares his experiences and reflections.

The Accidental Empire; Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977
Gershom Gorenberg; Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2006
isbn-13: 978-0-8050-7564-9
Israel’s shockingly brief and “successful” 1967 Six-Day War created the dilemma of how to handle the occupied lands. Returning straight forward was considered a poor choice as they hoped to use the land as bargaining chips in the ultimate goal of security and form of lasting recognition of right to exist. Of course there were influential people who saw these lands as rightfully part of the Greater Israel all along. “Why settle for the compromised boundaries ‘artifically’ drawn in 1948 (1949?) as modern-day Israel was created.” Annexing the entire lands, besides earning international condemnation, would create an Israel with a jewish minority. Conflicting opinions within the government and populus lead to a no decision, but played into the hand of some in the greater Israel camp. Settlements official and unofficial were made often with the viewpoint that the lands were unoccupied and unowned. Other times local Arab populations were removed under the umbrella of security. Some of the stronger voices felt took on the look, feel and spirit of colonialism. Arabs could govern their own day to day affairs under the benevolent military oversight of Israel. Settlements were rationalized by many as one component of security, that is, creating a buffer from hostile Syria, Egypt and to a lesser extent Jordan. The 1973 Yom Kippur War was a shock to Israel. They felt militarily superior to their adversaries and engaged in their internal debates and struggles with the issues of the territories with only a hint of international consideration and precious little to their neighbors chafing under their humilitating defeat in 1967. After initially reeling from the dual-pronged invasions from Syria and Egypt they did recover to reclaim most of the land before a cease fire took hold. But this was at a terrible cost. Israel lost 2,656 soldiers in nineteen days, equivalent to the United States losing 165,000 in this frenzied burst of mayhem. Besides the grief of families suffering lost loved ones, the nation suffered the realization that even a powerful military would not ensure their survival without some hard work and probably consessions on the negotiation front. The settlements that were thought of as buffers turned out to be totally inadequate in a modern war even against the relatively dated technology of the Syrians and Egyptians. Soldiers found themselves actually put at high risk trying to save settlements which were naively thought as a measure of help.

Some settlements have recently been abandoned but the perception of the long-dominant Labor Party as being ineffectual has brought more right-wing groups to power along with their believe that military might will solve the problems of managing their embittered neighbors. It is pretty much impossible to claim what strategy or path is the best or right one. But to deny the power of nationalistic feelings in this age sure seems to guarantee a dreadful violent burden on all parties.

Gorenberg develops his highly-research story with interviews and clips from government figures, power- and land-hungry settlement leaders and to great effect many “ordinary” soldiers, settlers and citizens. He weaves this story in a compelling and highly readable style. The sad part besides the victims of war, religion and colonialism, is that those of us who dread the use of state or personal violence to control or solve problems will be those who read this outstanding work. Those who could really benefit from the lessons will either ignore or find conclusions to fit their existing beliefs. Too bad.

The Worst Hard Time;
the Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
Timothy Egan, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006,
isbn-13: 978-0-618-34697-4
Egan feels that most of the great dust bowl stories have focused on those attempting escape and their journey. His stories follow a collection of survivors or those who hung on for a long time before departing this earthly journey while holding out. The story begins with the youngest members of that era who were the offspring of the farmers and cowboys fighting to hold onto their dream, “a piece of land that is their’s.” The homesteaders of southwestern, Oklahoma and northern Texas were grasping onto the last chance to claim open land and make a new life. Plowing up the centuries-old prairie grass, so essential to holding the soil to this dry, windy land gave them a few glory years as wheat prices soared with the demand during the first World War and the short-lived speculative bubble immediately after. Then over-production created plummeting pricing. The only way they saw out was to plow under more and more prairie grasslands to generate the income needed to pay off loans taken on during the boom years to purchase automated equipment and luxuries such as clothing and above ground frame housing. This lead to the inevitable more production than markets could asorb at any price, and subsequent grain piling up year after year. As dought conditions became even more extreme the infamous dust storms overtook the land.
The German-Russian immigrant Ehrlich family was one of the stories followed in the narrative. In Germany they “were known as tough-nutted pacifists, a migratory people whose defining characteristic was draft-dogging. The German Mennonites from near the Black Sea, conscientious objectors from the beginning, certainly were against war on principle. But many of the other Germans from Russia would kill without flinching, showing their warrior skills in American uniforms when they shot their own former countrymen during the two world wars,” but they were particular about who and when they served. In Germany they were chafing under the harrassment of taxes and conscription. Catherine the Great of Russia, in 1763, looking to create a buffer in the Volga region between Russia and the Mongols, Turks and Kirghiz who roamed the steppe territory to her southern flanks. She felt that the Germans would be valuable as they were harder working and more resourseful than Russian peasants. So in her manifesto she granted them land, no taxes for thirty years and no conscription. What allowed these farmers to succeed in the harsh land also made possible growing a crop in the drought-inclined Great Plains of the United States, turkey red, a hard winter wheat, short-stemmed and resistant to cold and drought. Along with these precious seeds they also carried in hidden in their clothing and possessions was a thistle, in the old world called perekati-pole, meaning “roll-across-the-field.” In America it became known as tumbleweed. One hundred years after Catherine the Great’s manifesto, Czar Alexander II revoked the manifesto as his other citizens resented the German’s special status. Rather than fight in Russia’s wars and paying oppressive taxes large numbers of these Germans and their winter wheat came to America. These obsessively clean, hard working pacifists were specifically recruited by the railroads. Brochures were distributed in Europe, written in German (not Italian or French). The rest and much, much more is a compelling history well-told.

Incoherent Empire
Michael Mann, Verso, 2003, isbn: 1-84467-528-9
Mann attempt to differentiate between international and national terrorism and thus to identify the “real” threats to the United States. .......

I is for Infidel; from Holy War to Holy Terror: 18 years Inside Afghanistan
Kathy Gannon, 2005 Public Affairs, a member of the Perseus Books Group
isbn: 13 978-1-58648-312-8

One of the greatest mistakes the United States made in both Afghanistan and Pakistan was to believe that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” That philosophy has had consequences that might be thought hilarious, were they not so catastrophic.

Angry Wind through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel
Jeffrey Tayler, Houghton Mifflin company, 2005, isbn: 0-618-33467-x
A journey/quest through West Africa seeking to learn how local relations between religious groups differ by country and attempt to identity the roots for those differences. The common conflicts are between Muslims and Christians. Christian evangelical movements are growing at a rapid rate in Africa freshing animosities between groups and regions. While being an observer, Tayler did engage and at times “argue” religion-based cultural practices such as female circumcision and slavery. He felt at quite a disadvantage in those “discussions” as his “enlightened, intellectual” morality lacks the fevor of self-righteousness found in predominate Muslim and Christian groups. We also see how the region’s experience with European imperialism affected their current culture.

p 91 now in the desert oasis of Faya Largeau
The conclusions one might draw are obvious: the more education spreads in the Islamic world, the more hostility toward the West will increase and the more Muslims will perceive (and find infuriating) the discrepancies between ideals the West proclaims and the real-politik deals and policies by which it survives. If democracy takes root in the Islamic world, educated Muslim voters will choose candidates opposing the West and regimes will change, but to the detriment of the West.

p. 212 celebrating Feast of Tabaski with a Taureg tribe
Swaying, enraptured, by Muhammad’s moves and this is how people were meant to live, glorying in their strength and beauty, shouting their joy into the wild night sky! Envirez-vous! (Get drunk!) There is no tomorrow! There is no hell, only the much-disparaged paradise our senses can grant us here and now! Taureg of all ages took part, found release, enjoyed the transcendental intoxication that comes from sharing passion. That passion is what we need – to loose our spirits and share passion!

The Taureg danced and sang to youth  the gift we lose to never recover. Youth is a treasure, is a wonder, and for this we worship it. Reveling in youth’s ephemeral splendor is the most genuine pleasure we can know. For what do we really want but to live forever, and be beautiful and strong always! This dance was life, a riposte to the deadly desert around us!
I felt as though I had been waiting all my days for this moment, on these dunes, with these Tuareg. Hours later, the moon sank into the acacias, the dancing ceased, the revelers dispersed. Ibrahim and I returned to our camp. I wrapped myself in my blanket and stretched out on the cool sand.

p. 249 (end)
To be sure, slavery did exist in Africa before the Europeans touched down. This bondage was akin to the vassalage prevalent in Europe during feudal centuries. Western slavery, however, was of the chattel kind, bestial and unprecedented in Africa, and engendered strife among tribes seeking to capture one another for sale to the Europeans; sparked an arms race for European weapons necessary for self-defense and the enslavement of others; rendered agriculture unprofitable and crippled nascent manufacturing industries and deprived the continent of its most able-bodied men, women and children, whom it dispatched to a terrestrial purgatory from which death was the only escape. Slavery halted Africa’s development; the systems the colonial powers imposed dealt the Sahel in particular blows from which it has not recovered.

The subjugation of Africa goes on still, though it is effected now not with muskets and barracoons but by economic subterfuge, or, trade barriers, and the West wields both while spouting rhetoric about the developmental benefits of free trade. The farm subsidies, grants from Western governments to their agricultural sectors, currently total $360 billion a year, or $30 billion more than Africa’s GNP. They make, for example, cotton farming for export absurdly unprofitable in West Africa: a pound of cotton costs 23 cents to grow in West Africa but 60 to 80 cents in the United States. However, grants of $3.5 billion a year to American cotton farmers allow them to undersell their African competitors. Trade barriers keep other Africa textiles and produce out of Europe and the United States. Western companies continue to control African export markets, fixing the prices they pay Africans for the commodities they take from their shores. These impersonal facts and figures add up to a bleak but human truth; Sahelians will suffer in the future more than they do now, and die more than ever.
Their imams will tell the survivors whom to blame.

A Nation of Enemies
Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela, W. W. Norton & Co., 1991, isbn 0-393-03011-3
Sets the stage for Chile’s September 11, 1973 military coup and rise to power by General Agusto Pinochet Ugarte. The Pinochet years are chronicled by in a macro view and anecdotally. In an attempt to give a balanced view; as in most stories of power there are winners and losers, brave and timid, touched and oblivious; the story is rather dispassionate. Maybe like real life, except for those caught up in the whirlwind or dramatically involved, many are just trying to survive and provide for and protect their families. Pinochet and his crowd are not portrayed as a good guys but Allende and his followers are taken to task for the fearful and traumatic conditions their policies created for ordinary people, not just those who feared confiscation of major assets. Constable and Valenzuela present a good overview and insight into Chile of the late 20th century and provide a balance for further reading from more passionate viewpoints.

Paris to the Moon
Adam Gopnik, Random House, Inc., 2000, isbn 0-679-44492-0
Adam, wife, Martha and son Luke Auden make the move to Paris while Luke is a toddler on a five year plan. A vague sense that Luke (and they) would be enriched by being out of their NYC comfort and routine zone. Along the way Adam has plenty of time to compare French culture, attitudes and functionality with those found in the USA and specifically New York City. I am alway a sucker for the stories of dads spending quality time with their children one on one. The little adventures and routines shape the learning and development of self. One of Adam’s humorous observations is the notion of “Fact Checking” being quite foreign to French writers and their subjects. He would explain to an interview subject that they would be contacted by his publisher to check the “facts.” This would be met with blankness or as an insult as if they would be questioning the subject’s truthfulness. He would explain it was really to check on the writer’s portrayal of the interview. And also perhaps to be sure dates and such “provable” realities were accurate. Adam decided that the French would be more likely to use a “Theory Checker” to be sure the subjects thought process was valid or based upon known philosophers or schools of thought. We all make up facts to suit or needs, but a theory is worth discussing, at length of course. A different culture, a different outlook. A wonderful way to become familiar with a place and a sense of life perhaps different than ours.

Jan Morris, original Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964
new edition, Prentice Hall Press, 1988, isbn 0-13-824152-X
[from the dust jacket] “Captures the essence of the country and its people,. History, legend, landscape, architecture, religion, character, and anecdote are brilliantly woven together to build up a fascinating picture. Here, in the new illustrated edition, her words are evocatvely enhanced by the watercolors of Cecilia Eales and contemporary paintings.” An absolutely striking book which has a very light feel [very large margins and copious and delicate illustrations] yet full of the good stuff.

The Basque History of the World
Mark Kurlansky, Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 1999, isbn: 0-8027-1349-1
The Basque people, culture and goals are perceived by most outsiders from very limited news items, often negative or at best as victims. While developing an extensive history of the Basque people, Kurlansky makes a number of important points or distinctions. By his studies no solid evidence has been found to connect the Basques to any other peoples in Europe (or elsewhere). They may very well be the first Europeans. Rather unique to groups that have found themselves within and under the control of larger or stronger people the Basques have been very world conscious. So while attempting to retain their own culture they are not an inward looking people. The Basques supplied the ships, leaders and crews for the age of exploration. The lands inhabited by the Basques (in Spain and France) were very poor and rugged which allowed them to maintain their homeland with periods of success in having a large degree of autonomy. A richer land would have attracted other people and those who would desire to control them. After the disastrous Spanish Civil War and over three decades of Franco control (and subsequent power held by his gang), Kurlansky ends on a positive note in Spain’s entry into the European Union. A more borderless society offers hope that these people who have been subjected to borders and those who control them will flourish in this new order. One of the few people’s on this earth who have never conquered others peoples or lands have had centuries to develop their ownness within broader contexts. [While never conquering other lands, the Basques were rather involved in Spain’s ability to subjugate people’s of the New World and elsewhere through their seamanship and vessels. But I guess there is a difference.]

The Divided Ground,
Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution
Alan Taylor, a Borzoi Book published by Alfred S. Knopf, 2006; isbn: 0-679-45471-3
A rather detailed story of the native American’s loss of their lands in western New York and neighboring areas. The threads follow two individuals, Joseph Brand, a sophisticated and educated Mohawk, and Samuel Kirland, a missionary turned landowner. New to me was the impact of Indian culture on these issues and the range of native attitudes, abilities and conflicts. Also of interest was the various competing factions among the settlers and governments vying for control and profits. Not many good guys in this story. Pretty interesting reading though difficult emotionally at times as we know the ending. The “good guys” in the narrative are the ones that are advocating a slower demise of the native American’s control of their lands and destiny. While the “bad guys” want it all now and at maximum profit.

Interesting to me was the recurring significance of the native American’s view on how murders should be handled. Both when their people were responsible for the death of white settlers and when whites murdered natives. Traditionally murders between tribes (and families) were handled in two ways. One was the family or tribe was responsible to revenge. This was often favored by warriors and the young. Insolation this worked for them, but obvious a continuous cycle of vengence was not very satisfying and was very distruptive to their survival. So a second alternative was “covering the ground.” This meant that the victim’s surviving family or tribe was made “whole” by apologies and compensation of gifts. The concept of jury and punishment by an unbiased and uninvolved party (the government) was a very foreign to them. And scary as the native cultures were always leery of concentration of powers. A complex social structure of checks and balances was woven into their lives. Should a leader manage to concentrate too much power it was assume that they would be assasinated if more subtle methods did not work. The more enlightened white leaders played to the custom of “covering of the ground” by giving gifts and apologies when whites were deemed quility of killing a native. Similarly natives were allowed to make retribution when their tribal members were guilty of killing whites. Whites had a hard time accepting that while natives would become very indignant when one of their own was killed by a white, the natives insisted that the perp not be hanged. Hanging they saw as “savage” and inappropriate especially as it was done by a third party. For a while this sort of worked, but in time both the state and federal governments wanted to make their legal structure apply to all living in the region.

Chasing the Sea, Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia
Tom Bissell, Vintage Books of Random House, Inc., 2003, isbn 0-375-72754-X
Bissell returns to Uzbekistan five years after a disastrous, short-lived Peace Corps experience to seek the sad tale of the disappearing Aral Sea. Adventure, humor, historical perspective and environmental observations make this a compelling, enlightening and sad read. Bissell is a great story-teller and by shining light on this far away land helps us understand how distant, yet close our neighbors of planet Earth are.

Journey to Portugal, In Pursuit of Portugal’s History and Culture
José Saramago, Harcourt, Inc., 1990, isbn 0-15-100587-7
Writing in the third person, “traveler,” I found to be very detached and non-engaging. The narrative begins outside Portugal’s border to setup the “to” in “journey to” José devotes most of the book to visits to churches, museums, castles and town squares with some interactions with those in charge of each edifice. Much is devoted to passing judgement on the wonder or disgrace of these places and to some extent the areas being passed through on the way to another church/museum. Setting historical context seemed minimal but may have slowly woven a larger story...if I had finished the book. Just too tedious and awkward and detached given all the other wonderful books and stories waiting for me. A sticker on the cover declares, "Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature." Apparantly there is an enthusiastic audience for this book.

Neither Here nor There, Travels in Europe
Bill Bryson, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1992, isbn 0-688-10311-1
Writing in his very personal, opinionated style Bryson shares a season of travels throughout Europe. Fun insight into quirks and styles of various cultures as well as the reactions of a midwestern American to these observations. At the time of writing this book Bryson had been living in London for 15 years. Bryson offers a fun and fitting way to look at travel without knowing the local language(s). He claims it makes the journey more childlike. I like it. Also see A Short History of Everything published in 2003 by Broadway Books. Crosby and I shared reading that book while traveling in Italy, Spring 2005 after her year in Dusseldorf. A much more ambitious book. Easy to read, popular science and natural history but with selected depth. Highly recommended.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
Bill Bryson, 1999
A planned trek along the entire Appalacian Trail from Georgia to Main with his childhood buddy, Katz, is significantly altered as the journey unwinds. Very funny as usual, but sort of empty calories. I used it for air travel entertainment while going to Belize.

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America
Bill Bryson, 1990
While a UK resident Bill returns to America to revisit the vacations of his childhood. Again, funny remembrances of travels with dad and siblings (and mom) and how things have changed or not across the land. Easy reading, some laughs, but I think I’m done with Bryson for a while.

Elie Wiesel, a new translation from the French by Marion Wiesel
Hill and Wang, 2006, isbn 0-374-39997-2
Originally published in 1958 by Les Editions de Minuit, France.
A short work of Wiesel’s recollections of the journey from the little Transylvania town of Sighet through the Nazi concentration camps and to the point of liberation for the survivors. His memoirs, All Rivers Run to the Sea, has a fuller account of life leading up to that time and then subsequent journeys.

All Rivers Run to the Sea
Memoirs of Elie Wiesel, Alfred A. Knopf, 1995, isbn 0-679-43916-1

Sands of Empire
Robert W. Merry, Simon & Schuster, 2005, isbn 0-7432-6667-6
Despite sharp denials of being interested in promoting an imperial United States foreign policy the actions have proven tragically opposite of that claim. Merry illustrates our ignorance of cultures which create dangerous actions and policy leading to a more threatened United States rather than a safer one. Well written and developed it will probably play well with the converts and be ignored by those the lessons are intended to instruct.

Age of Anxiety
Haynes Johnson, Harcourt, Inc, a James H. Silberman Book, 2005, isbn 0-15-101062-5
McCarthyism was not an isolated or unique era in American history but rather a “recurrent manifestation of a basic element of the American condition and character that keeps reappearing during time of national stress and crisis.” Johnson identifies three previous periods displaying similar abuses of personal freedom by those driven to protect America. During the French Revolution, fears of radicalism from the early stages of the Russian Revolution, and the despair of the Great Depression and reactions to policy attempting to improve the lot of those impacted the greatest. Johnson explores the nature of these eras and then narrates the rise, reign of terror and ultimate fall from grace of Joseph McCarthy. Then he explores the current condition in the United States following the events of 9-11 and subsequent “War on Terror” and invasion of Iraq. Reminded me of the evening we spend with actor John Randolph at an Access Theater event. He had been blacklisted during the height of McCarthyism. For fifteen years he had been unable to appear in films or television but did work regularly on Broadway shows. At the time Ronald Reagan was president. Randolph claimed that the bunch in control now were just as bad as in the mid-fifties but a bit more elegant with their PR skills. He remained politically active and interested until his death at age 88. I believe the Access Theater event was to celebrate their tenth anniversary. At the Lobero Theater Anthony Edwards showed clips from his documentary which followed STORM READINGS on tour. Afterwards there was a reception in a tent with lovely food and desserts. Somehow we were introduced to (or maybe introduced ourselves) Mr. Randolph. For the next hour plus we talked (mostly listened!) politics past and present. A memorable evening. The part that always stuck with me is his insistence that today has more in common with the past than differences. And he did not mean that as a compliment. Full of fight, life, energy and more than a touch of bitterness.

Under the Banner of Heaven; A Story of Violent Faith
Jon Krakauer; Doubleday, 2003; isbn: 0-385-50951-0
[Krakauer also wrote Into Thin Air]
A disturbing history of the Mormons and the state of Utah. Their early days of suffering and persecution a they move or are chased from town to town (from Nauvoo Illinois from Jackson Couinty Missouri and before that Palmyra Ohio) is depicted. As well as the suffering perpetuated by follows on their own and others. The path of much of this book is guided by the killings of Brenda and Erica Lafferty by Dan and Ron Lafferty. Telling that story brings in sagas old and recent and some projections of the nature of this secretive religion. Out of context much of value seems to flow from their beliefs, but when looking at an overview it is difficult to feel comfortable with the organization, its people and consequences. [This observation is made from a person who has difficulty seeing a balance between negative and positive in most organized religion.]

Journey Without Maps
Graham Greene, The Viking Press, 1936, isbn 0-670-40974-X
As Europe is preparing to plummet into another devasting war, Graham embarks upon a journey from Freetown, Sierra Leone into the Liberian backcountry and ultimately to the coastal city of Bassa. Libera, the country formed by released North American slaves, at the time was not welcoming of whites as they were attempting to find their way and identity. Graham and his cousin, Barbara Strachwitz, travel mostly by foot (or being carried) by their hired porters (from Sierra Leon) who themselves were in totally unfamiliar county. Their route was made as they went along, day at a time. Generally, they stayed at villages encountered, which customarily took travelers. Some in finer style than the locals endured, other times in conditions intended to discourage visitors. As novelties, Graham and his cousin were typically treated better than their porters who were considered competitors or something less than real people by the hosts. Life in Africa at this time was quite perilous with the odds of becoming fatally ill quite high.

Dash is making a monetary gift in exchange for a favor, service or for recognition. Graham struggles with being strong towards those attempting to milk his dwindling reserves. Yet, realizing that he is absurdly wealthy compared to life on the edge of subsistence and existence experienced by those who hosted and connected with him on his travels.

Missing the comforts and familiar conflicted with the primal honesty experienced in the bush. Life in the bush is exceedingly harsh, yet has its beauty.

Blood Orchid
Charles Bowden, Random House, Inc., 1995, isbn: 0-679-43336-8
p. xvi: We’ve been in a long war and we’ve lost that war and the war has poisoned us and our ground. If we admit these facts, we might be able to survive. If we don’t, it really won’t matter if we survive because we will be functionally dead. Bowden takes us on a rambling, introspective journey of wars and battles seeminly won, but in hindsight should be seen as terrible defeats. The narrative; not for the faint of heart with graphic language, images, drug abuses and violence; will bounce paragraph to paragraph between Viet Nam, to the Cold War testing where our nuclear testing inflicted more damage to the land and citizens of the United States than the evil empire of the Soviet Union, to use of torture in Argentina and elsewhere, to strangulation of domestic regulations all in the name of protecting ourselves, to imperialistic oil wars and so much more. Much of Bowden’s thesis is developed by his relationship with Sundance, a Lakota Sioux, a reformed alcholic living and working in Los Angeles’ skid row to assist others fighting demons he is all to familiar with. Through Sundance as well as his own life in the deserts of the American southwest and northern Mexico gives ample opportunity to reflect on the treatment and fate of the American Indians and their lives especially as it revolved around the decimated herds of buffalo. Not at all a fun read, and quite a rant, but the rant is not a tedious one, just very unsettling and more than a little difficult to process.

The Twilight Years; Paris in the 1930s
William Wiser; Carroll & Graf Publishers; 2000; isbn 0-7867-0786-0
A social history of the decade that took Paris, and celebrated expatriates to the brink of the second world war. A sampler which follows the likes of Henry Miller, James Joyce, Anais Nin, Coco Chanel, Josephine Baker, Pablo Picasso, Salvidor Dali, Sylvia Beach and others as their experiences reflect the city and the era. The book ends with the exodus, or determination to stick with it as was the case of Sylvia Beach proprietor of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, as the Nazi rolled into the City of Lights.

Tigres of the Night
As told to Robert W. Howe and Justin R. Howe
Xlibris Corporation, 2003, isbn: 1-4134-1503-2 (hardcover)
The story of Juan and Amalia Arcos’ sixty year life as lay missionaries to the Shuar in Ecuador. We get an upclose view of the life and customs of the Shuar, known as the “head-skrinkers of the Amazon.” Juan grew up amidst the Shaur culture so was one of a small group who spoke their language as “young learners” which gave him much stronger insights and credibility with them. He began his education planning to become a priest but after several years he realized that he wanted a family but to continue working in education and outreach. He married Amalia, a Shuar woman, Together they created a number of missions in increasingly remote regions. They would edcuate “internos,” boarding students, as well as day students from nearby Shuar’s. Shaur’s are very independent people who lived in separate farms, rather than villages. This independent streak was both a strength and a hinderance as they had to deal with outsider’s, especially white folk. Juan felt that education would diminish the liklihood of them being taken advantage of by outsiders seeking land and resources. The indepdent streak provided many challenges as the Arcos were for the most part beloved, but often jealousy would rear its ugly head and seriously jeapordize their lives and mission. Even close friends could be moved to unspeakable acts when moved by voices. Over the years Juan had many unpleasant interactions with the Salecians (sp?) as they harbored a deep grudge that he gave up his priestly ambitions after being groomed. But they seemed quite willing to use his abilities when it suited them. Juan was superficially resentful and hurt, but continued to mostly do “their” work, but in his hown manner and style.




Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, A Journey through Yugoslavia. Rebecca West, 1941.

1956; To Leave a Sign.
Text: Zsolt Bayer, 2000.

The Accidental Empire; Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977
Gershom Gorenberg

The Troubles; Ireland’s Ordeal. Tim Pat Coogan, 1996.

Angry Wind through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel. Jeffrey Tayler, 2005

The Worst Hard Time;
the Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
Timothy Egan, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.

Kurt Vonnegut Trilogy.

Elie Wiesel collection of works.

The Divided Ground,
Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution. Taylor, 1999.

Chasing the Sea, Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia. Bissell, 2003.

A Nation of Enemies.
Constable and Valenzuela, 1991.

Age of Anxiety. Haynes Johnson, 2005.

Incoherent Empire.
Michael Mann, 2003.

I is for Infidel; from Holy War to Holy Terror: 18 years Inside Afghanistan
Kathy Gannon.

Sands of Empire. Merry, 1990.

Paris to the Moon. Adam Gopnik, 2000.

Under the Banner of Heaven; A Story of Violent Faith. Jon Krakauer, 2003

An Unexpected Light; Travels in Afghanistan. Jason Elliot, 1999.

Spain. Jan Morris, 1964.

The Basque History of the World. Kurlansky, 1999.

Blood Orchid. Charles Bowden, 1995.

Bill Bryson medley.

Journey to Portugal, In Pursuit of Portugal’s History and Culture. Saramago, 1990.

Tigres of the Night.
As told to Howe and Howe, 2003.

Journey Without Maps.
Graham Greene, 1936.

The Twilight Years; Paris in the 1930s. Wiser, 2000.


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