30 August 2009

59. S.

S. : A Novel About the Balkans - Slavenka Drakulic

This is a very interesting novel about events that took place during the war in Bosnia. It has nothing to do with Americans or American involvement. This book is written to expose the mass rape and torture of women by occupying forces.

I work with a man that is from Bosnia. He and his family were refugees and came to America. They are Muslim, and were the target of the genocide taking place at the time. He has told me stories of when he was in Sarajevo trying to escape with his family. Those stories of having no food or water while seeing the city was surrounded by tanks in the hills will always stay with me. He witnessed many horrifying events. I will never forget him or his stories about that time.

He is the reason I picked up this book. Slavenka Drakulic picked up where my friends stories left off. He would not have the first hand knowledge of what happened to women after they were taken away from the villages and put into camps. Drakulic wrote about that aspect of the war.

The story was just graphic enough to give you a thorough sense of the humiliation these people underwent. The purpose of what was happening to them was not about the pleasure for the men or to hurt the women. It was entirely about humiliating them and killing their souls. The Muslim women would be shunned for being raped. They would no longer be welcome in their own society. Public humiliation and mass rape made it clear to all who had been raped and who had not. I can only hope that the Muslim community in Bosnia has not shunned these women as Milosevic's army expected.

The characters in the book do not have names. They are called by either a title or by an initial. S. K. N. H. The Captain. Soldier. etc etc. No names for anyone. I think this is done to emphasize how the women become something other than the person whom they used to be. Once a captive, Jane Smith the school teacher from everytown USA would just be J. Why? Because she is not free. She owns nothing. She controls nothing. She can not control even her own body. She would become the property of, well, not even a person or a government. She would be the property of all the men who wish to do their bidding. Perhaps she lives. Perhaps she dies. It makes no difference because there are plenty of other "playthings" to choose from next time. It is very very sad.

One interesting aspect of this book was that S. got pregnant. She spent a lot of time reflecting on whether to give the child up for adoption or to raise it herself. For her whole pregnancy she looked at the life growing within her as a parasite or a tumor. Once the child was born she did not want anything to do with him...and at this time there was a lot of insight to her thought process.

Was it better for this boy to be raised by an adoptive family and have no idea who he was or how he was conceived? Was it better to raise him herself and make up a story about a father despite not knowing which one of many men it could have been? Was it better to raise him and tell him the truth about the rape and how she hated him while he was inside her?

There was no good solution to this problem. Lying to the child would probably make things seem better, but cause problems for him in other ways. To tell the truth might cause him to hate people he otherwise would not have...and I believe this is what influenced her decision. If he hated the Serbian people then perhaps he would seek revenge.

This book is very sad and made me angry at points. It is about war. It is about the evil things people can do to other people. I think all groups of people are capable of doing these things. Even here in America, where we like to pretend we are so noble. I think if there was an enemy right here doing some stuff to us we did not like that we would do evil things right back to them. I do not think our government would set up a situation like in Bosnia. I do think that the citizens would do many things beyond the control of our government. Maybe not to the extent of this book, but it could get pretty ugly real fast.

I am rambling now. Bed time. :-)

26 August 2009

58. Baa Baa Black Sheep

Baa Baa Black Sheep - Gregory "Pappy" Boyington

This is the autobiography of a Medal of Honor recipient, the Commanding Officer of the Black Sheep Squadron (VMA-214), a member of the Flying Tigers and a World War II ace fighter pilot.

I knew a little bit about this man due to the old 1970's television show starring Robert Conrad. That was about all I had to reference concerning the life of this man. I had heard the television show was based on this book. It probably was, but I would consider it a pretty loose interpretation of actual events. Typical Hollywood.

The book on the other hand went into so much more than a misfit squadron of fighter pilots lead by a hard-nosed Marine Major.

This book told of his days with the Flying Tigers as a member of the AVG (American Volunteer Group) in Burma and China. This was before the attack on Pearl Harbor. This group was made up of "civilians". They were actually military men who had "resigned commissions" to take part in the group. It was pretty interesting to learn of this group. I had heard the name and seen the aircraft. They are the ones with the shark teeth painted on the nose. I had no idea what the real deal was. It was fascinating.

From there it lead to the Black Sheep Squadron in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific and the fight against the Japanese. This was also very interesting, but not for the reasons I expected. I thought there would be a lot more of the defiance of authority and doing things outside of regulations. What I found was more of a man that was on the fringe of cracking up due to his admitted alcoholism. He was a problem child...who had an awesome talent to fly a fighter plane and to lead other people.

What I did not know was that Pappy Boyington was shot down and ended up a POW for almost two years. During this time he was pronounced dead and was buried. Our country was not informed of his being alive or in captivity. He was not classified as a POW, but as a "captive". Semantics can make a HUGE difference. POWs were treated better.

I really enjoyed reading this man's story. Don't go reading it for the prose. He is not a literary genius by any means, but the events that are taking place and the insights of a man who has been there are worth the read.

21 August 2009

The Firstborn

The Firstborn - Conlan Brown

I am not counting this book. I read about 50 of the 311 pages, but I won't go any further.

I picked this book because the cover looked cool. Later I read the blurbs on the back and decided to give it a shot. Then I saw that it was Christian fiction.

Well, with that in mind I would expect it to be at least biblical. It was not.

So, just because some guy wrote a story and decided to make the characters pray and have faith does not make it Christian.

Maybe the story was good. I will never know.
Lesson learned...y0u can't judge a book by it's cover...literally. :-)
Dude, I have hit a dry spell. I hope the next one does not suck.

19 August 2009

57. Notes From Underground

Notes From Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky

Uhhhh...A friend described this book as "insanity on paper". That seems about right.

I really have no idea what it was about. I do know how it made me feel. I felt despair and confusion and loneliness and anger as I read the words.

So, since I am clueless, but definitely moved I guess this book is OK.

Maybe some day I will understand what the heck I just read. LOL

17 August 2009

56. The Awakening

The Awakening - Kate Chopin

I did not like this book very much.
I feel like I wasted a few days reading a predecessor to a Harlequin romance novel or something like that. Maybe it felt like reading a soap opera.

Yes, I am sure there is something to the parts where a woman is no longer being subservient to a man, but it just didn't do much for me while I was reading it.


15 August 2009

55. Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses - Per Petterson

This book was recommended by a friend a while ago. I decided to read it because it almost fell off the shelf and landed on my foot.

I have never read a book written by a Norwegian before.

This book was quite good for the descriptiveness of the writing. It describes the Norwegian countryside beautifully. I could picture the cottages and the rivers set amongst the trees. It must be a beautiful place.

Another thing I liked about the book was that it really never went anywhere. I have so many unanswered questions. What happened to John's father after he broke his leg? Did Trond and Lars ever discuss the past? Did Trond and his daughter ever see each other again? Did Trond's father and Jon's mother end up together? What happened between them during the war? Why did Lars's just walk away and leave the farm with Jon when he came home? Why did Trond not tell his daughters where he was going when he moved away? A million questions.....and I like that there are no answers.

Why? I will make a feeble attempt to explain.

This book is not about the story. The "plot" as I see it is within the old man himself. He has lived to be 67 years old, has lost his wife and mother, and has gone to a remote cabin to seek solitude. He finds that solitude, and the thoughts on his life that come along with looking inward when one is alone.

This book is about the old man coping with his new surroundings while reflecting on the memories of his youth. He did not have all the answers. He only had the knowledge from his own experiences and the book did not go beyond that knowledge. This book was about the man, and not the story.

After I read Falkner's book my sister-in-law said something to the effect of letting the words wash over you rather than reading for the story. I tried to do that with this book. I let the words move me and got into the man's world rather than wondering what would happen next. It worked very well and was quite enjoyable. This was easy to do with this book because even when the past was "reenacted" it was done within the framework of Trond, the old man, remembering the events rather than zipping the reader back to that time and living through it again. The old dude's recollection of the events as they unfolded even had gaps because he did not understand some things. He was only fifteen years old during the events being recalled. He also only had his own perspective to draw upon.

It was quite interesting to read and a very well written book. I am glad someone took the time to translate and publish it in English.

08 August 2009

54. Dirty White Boys

Dirty White Boys - Stephen Hunter

What can I say other than this book was a waste of my time? I will give you a few reasons.

1. This book had one of the most predictable plot line I have ever read. No surprises. I hate that.

2. The characters were not believable to me. They all had flaws that didn't seem to fit my image of who they were.

3. Odell, a cousin of the antagonist and fellow criminal, was retarded. He reminded me of Benjy from The Sound and the Fury. He could not speak or think for himself in almost every situation...yet he was in a maximum security federal prison in the general population. He was even the room mate with his cousin, his criminal accomplice. Right! A man this retarded would not be in that prison. It was ridiculous.

4. These types of books are supposed to get you hating the bad guys, loving the good guys despite their being the underdogs due to the situation, etc. This book never did it for me.
Yes, the bad guys were bad. I did not like them all that much. I also felt like they could have been a lot badder. This guy Lamar was supposed to be the baddest dude in the prison. He tried to act like it, but it fell short for me.
Then there were the good guys. The protagonist was a State Trooper named Bud. He had a wife and two sons and was an all around super guy that everyone loved. This is the dude that is supposed to get us rooting for him. He is also the guy who was having an affair with the wife of a rookie officer he had trained. That rookie happened to be assigned as his partner. Still knocking boots with his wife. That rookie then got killed by the bad guys and Bud had these recurring nightmares and visions about it forever...but still banged the guys wife as often as he could lie to his family and slip away or meet her in some far away town.
Sorry, but this is not the guy I see as a hero. He is just some sneaky piece of shit who happens to be lucky a LOT in this book.

5. The coincidences are ridiculous. Nobody can find Lamar and his gang for months. So, how does Bud Pewtie repeatedly stumble upon him and keep getting into gun fights? Bud and Lamar must have some kind of attraction or something that wills them to being in the same place at the same time. It was stupid.

6. The first line of the book set up the tone. I knew immediately I was in for some writing that was supposed to act tough but actually be crappy. The opening paragraph is as follows:

"Three men at McAlester State penitentiary had larger penises than Lamar Pye, but all were black and therefore, by Lamar's own figuring, hardly human at all. His was the largest penis ever seen on a white man in that prison or any of the others in which Lamar had spent so much of his adult life. It was a monster, a snake, a ropey, veiny thing that hardly looked at all like what it was but rather like some form of rubber tubing."

It went down hill from there.

03 August 2009

53. Nineteen Eighty-four

Nineteen Eighty-four - George Orwell

I have finally read this book. I liked it very much, though it was not exactly what I expected. I kept waiting for a twist. There never was one like I expected. How sad.

I am amazed that someone was able to organize their thoughts enough to write this book. The explanations for how and why the world was the way it was is beyond my ability to imagine. I get it when it is explained, but to make it up, to be the one to think it all through and tie it together...not me.

The guys at work saw me reading this and were making all kinds of analogies to the US government today. Sorry, I think it is a real stretch to say we are anything like the government of Big Brother.

Should be read by everyone at some point in their lives.

I am not going to write any more because everyone has already read it. Who cares. I am going to read Dirty White Boys (something where I don't have to think for a few days).