Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I heard about this book from a local friend  almost a year ago; her grand daughter had passed it along to her. First published in 2005, Knopf released the paperback, 550 pages in September, 2007. Because the movie is now underway,  touted for December release, and I prefer to read a book before I see a movie, I picked it up and read it in a few evening in November.  It is a different book, told by Death personified, set in Germany WWII era, it begins in 1939, and traces the experiences of a young girl, Liesel Meminger who is adopted by her foster family after her brother dies and  her mother can not care for her.  It is one of those books known as a crossover, because it was written for  younger readers, adolescents, juniors but is being avidly read by adults, the genre of books I have found to be clearly and well written with good information and emotionally moving.  It takes a  bit of perseverance to get used to Death as a narrator in what could be a gloomy tale but what becomes historically illuminating.  Reviews compare it to Anne Frank.   This era is of great personal interst to me and having just been through a series of Holocaust lectures at the University of Wisconsin, my interest was reignited.

Leisel's foster family shelters a Jew, Max, who was previously known to her father in their basement.   Leisel who is definitely "slow" learns to read through her nightmares as her father begins to spend evenings and nights with her to soothe her when she awakens screaming. Books are not readily available and Leisel begins to still books, odd ones, those she can save from the incineration piles of the gestapo.  

Listen to Death on pg. 491, "It's probably fair to say that in all the years of Hitler's reign, no person was able to serve the Fuhrer as loyally as me.  A human doesn't  have a heart like mine.  The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time.  The consequence of this is that I'm always finding humans at their best and worst.  I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.  Still, they have one thing I envy.  Humans if nothing else have the good sense to die."

I give this a solid 4 ****

The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur

At a book sale, I stumbled across this enlightening non-fiction, investigative report of a book, published in 2013 by Pantheon Books of New York, hard back, 272 pages.  It's why I like to browse these book sales, especially when the types of books I enjoy most are often discarded and priced very cheap by those whose reading are limited.  This was very unfamiliar to me, but at $1 how could I go wrong?  Well, it was a treasure to read and a book from which I learned a great deal.  I have always wondered just a how the rag tag group of so called pirates of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden could capture merchant ships,  Jay Bahadur, a journalist answers all such questions and more in this book which   I read in September but did not get to post here. The serendipity of  finding "Pirates.." is matched by current interest generated from the recent Tom Hanks movie, about American Captain Richard Philips, captured aboard the vessel, Maersk Alabama in April 2009  by the Somalis.  Today Somalia 's Puntland  is home to 1.3 million people living below squalor primarily  and straddles the shipping bottleneck of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

To attach the word "country" to Somalia, founded in 1998 as a sanctuary for the hundreds of  thousands of Darod clans peoples fleeing massacres in the south,  is beyond a stretch for the word; there is not really a government, it is run by varying tribes at best, and has rampant illiteracy, no employment, no transit,  nomadic paths suffice as roads in most parts, a land of nothing. Pg 10..."contrary to the oft-recycled one-liners found in most news reports, Somalia is not a country in anarchy.  Indeed to even speak of Somalia as a uniform entity is a mis-characterization, because in  the wake of the civil war the country has broken down into a number of autonomous enclaves."  We have a significant population of Somalis settled by our US government in St Paul and Rochester, MN; it is a troubled people who do not assimilate well and the boys and  young men are readily recruited by Islamic jihadists today and repatriated to fight "infidels" in Somalia or elsewhere.  Pg. 5...."Somalia is like a country out of a twisted fairy tale, an ethereal land given substance only by the stories we are told of it."  

His flight to Somalia from Chicago took 45 hours and  connecting through five airports, of sorts.  The map in the front of the book  was an excellent reference for me about the geographic area, central to being understood to appreciate the revelations in the book.  I referred to that map repeatedly while reading to distinguish between Somalia and Somaliland, something I never before understood and the locations of Mogadishu, Puntland, Bosasso, and Galkayo.   It was an intriguing read. Most of the commercial vessels do not employ security guards which are expensive.  The vessels travel slowly and the pirates can easily overtake them.

The author traces the history of the clans  and details how piracy is more a business than an organized crime. Reading about the Somali coast guard (pgs.74-76) reveals the circuitous nature of the Somalis who might begin serving in their rag tag coast guard, then move on to employment as guards on foreign vessels and then as greed overcomes their senses, they hijack the very vessels they were hired to protect and link up with pirates only to later on become employed as guards or even service men  in the coast guard.  The author debunks the myth perpetuated by liberal leaning columnists of how the native fishermen have been driven into piracy while reporting that indeed the waters are being stripped of fish, lobster by the commercial vessels  from China and Korea, Taiwan.    Corruption is rampant but not deemed bad in Somalia but just how the clans operate politically.  International efforts have achieved little to nothing.  The foreign lines captured  have determined it preferable  to  pay the sums demanded by the pirates  to avoid capturing and then what to do with the pirates.  They are not wanted in any of the affected countries.  The piracy profits are not all that much because proceeds must be shared amongst many foot soldiers in the piracy and all their families as well as the backers, or investors.

Page 245 summarizes the progress of  Somali piracy over the last five years despite international efforts; it has become more lucrative with higher ransoms demanded and paid,  the gangs of pirates are slightly more organized and the encounters are becoming bloodier, more violent.  The epilogue proposes some solutions including keep on paying.  "If there is one thing on which every commentator on Somali piracy agrees, it is that the problem must be solved on land, not merely at sea." page 247.  Page 248, "the problem with getting tough with the pirates is that just one misstep could occasion a monumental financial or even ecological disaster, to say nothing of the potential loss of life.  ...In short, for pirates, coming home empty handed might prove as lethal as facing a team of Navy SEALS.  They are scared, desperate and unpredictable, and only one jittery finger on a grenade launcher would be needed to detonate an oil tanker and send a few hundred million dollars--more than the total of all ransoms paid to date--straight to the bottom of the ocean..."

I give this book 4 1/2 ****; and recommend it  to people who want to learn more than the news  reporting which is often exaggerated as well as slanted.  It is just one more example of why I am amused when people tout the breadth of their knowledge and yet base their opinions on what they hear in the news... Here is the back cover:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

I knew it was imminent yet said I would not buy it right away, that I have so many books on the shelf to read that I could wait, but I was wrong, I kept wondering and so one day as Jerry was on his way to Sam's I said, "pick it up for me."  He did and I read it in 2.5 evenings, all 281 pages including the Acknowledgements, sources post script and afterword.  Published in 2013 by Henry Holt and Company it is another best seller hit for O'Reilly and Dugard, another historical perspective on events, this time people are mightily confused because they think it will change their faith their Christianity.  If it does, they are not very deeply grounded, they are easily dissuaded and they need to learn.  It does not even approach the beliefs of Christians in the Master, that is no where in the purpose of this book.   

Not since my  high school Latin courses have I read so much about Caesar, back then we read Caesar's Gallic wars in Latin of which I took 3 years, which gave me an excellent foundation in language, and history.  As with  the other "Killing" books by O'Reilly, I learned things I never knew, some of which I am not so sure I needed to know as an example, pages 12-13 descriptions of Herod's illnesses and that Nazi's borrowed tactics from the Romans who also had local officials as puppet rulers (pg. 59.) Despite all my religious studies and academic courses in religions, I  did not realize that the Temple in Jerusalem  was twice as big as Rome's forum, pg. 73.  I never knew about the  Roman crucifixion death squads, four men per squad, i.e. quaternio., pg. 216.  Also on pg. 216 the intricate descriptions of the parts of the cross, the upright, vertical part, staticula  was in the ground awaiting the sentenced who carried  the cross bar, patibulum,  on his back. I believe that   every depiction of Jesus on his way to Calvary shows him carrying the cross in entirety.  Pg 223 clarifies that the temple guards who come with Judas  into the Garden are not Romans but Jews.  Page 272 mentions that Islam began in AD610 by Muhammed, 300 years after the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire which was in AD 313.  The historical account is  very readable and enlightening.   

There was dissension in my local book club when we chose this book for our November read.  Two of us were reading it; others agreed to it's selection.  But those who did not attend the meeting began an anti email campaign, one excuse and another how they could not get the book from the library, oh tah da, tah da, ta dah.  One who did not attend vociferously complained she did not want to read it, go figure, she's Catholic and that's her excuse? .  I reminded her that O'Reilly is a devout practicing Catholic.  No way to reason with that nonsense so long story short,  those who were not there had their triumph, another blah blah blah book was selected.  I have no tolerance for such adolescent behavior  and I will not be participating in this nonsense. One thing I cannot abide is wasting my time, so no more.   The  group has disintegrated into a ladies chat time, busy bee where thoughtful discussions do not occur. There is no criteria for book selections and as I know all to well, without guidelines, without purpose, whatever happens along is the chosen, good enough.  When absentees carry  more weight than those who show up, there's nothing to be done.  The facilitator recently had knee surgery and  is recovering   so she does not inject any voice of reason. This is not for me.  I am never at a loss of suggestions on books to read, and subscribe to several online services such as Random Reads,  Amazon, Good Reads where reviews are shared as well as thoughtful opinions.   

I give this book a full five stars and recommend it to anyone.  It joins the others as permanent  members in my  home library.