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.
Zsolt Bayer, Edited by Zsuzsanna Kormedy; XX Century Institute, 2000;
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.
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
Kurt Vonnegut Trilogy
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
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,
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
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
“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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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.]
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
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.
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
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.
Empire; Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977
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,
Chasing the Sea, Lost Among the Ghosts of
Empire in Central Asia.
A Nation of Enemies.
Constable and Valenzuela, 1991.
Age of Anxiety.
Haynes Johnson, 2005.
Michael Mann, 2003.
I is for Infidel; from Holy War to Holy
Terror: 18 years Inside Afghanistan
Sands of Empire.
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.
Jan Morris, 1964.
The Basque History of the World. Kurlansky, 1999.
Charles Bowden, 1995.
Bill Bryson medley.
Journey to Portugal, In Pursuit of Portugal’s
History and Culture.
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.