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03/06/08

  01:24:00 am, by Airycat   , 451 words  
Categories: Book Reviews, Biography, General Non-fiction

The Translator by Daoud Hari

In another time I would never have heard of Daoud Hari, but he likely would be known in his own village as an educated man who knows many stories from other lands. It isn't another time, though, and Hari's book, The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur, is in my hands. What I find remarkable, beautifully so, is that Hari is a friendly, kind, gentle and loving man. The tribesman, potential tribal elder (looked up to, if not officially a leader) comes shining through. It is the saddest (a woefully insufficient word) thing that none of this is what Hari wants to show. The story he must tell, what makes him so remarkable to me, is painful and devastating (more insufficient words).

Hari has seen things no one should have to see, heard stories no one should have to hear, much less endure. He is from Darfur, a part of Sudan, where the "powers that be" are trying to eradicate those who have lived there for generations. He has seen his own village, and many others, wiped out. He has lost family members and friends

Hari is representative of his people. He is the way he was taught to be. His gentleness and faith in people are part of his culture. In The Translator, Hari gives us a glimpse of this culture and his youth. Then he tells the story of how he became, and his experiences as, a translator, mainly for journalists covering Darfur. The stories themselves made me want to put down this book. What is happening there is beyond horrible, but Hari's gentleness, his ability to find humor in the darkest situation, without belittling or destroying the genuine pathos of that situation, is what kept me reading.

Two lines in particular struck me. This first was in Chapter 10 Sticks for Shade: When noting the limited and often inappropriate aid the people of Darfur are receiving he stated "Perhaps the wealthy nations had finally blown themselves away and were no longer available to send their token remedies for the problems that their thirst for resources has always brought to such people as these." (pp. 73-74) A kind, gentle man, yes, but not blind or ignorant of the world. The second was something to think about. "The proof of a democracy is surely whether or not a government represents the hearts of its people." (p 85)

Where do we stand? Can we, as humans, afford to lose a people whose sense of hospitality interferes with their ability to torture others?

I knew something bad was happening in Darfur. I didn't really know what. It is far away and doesn't affect me personally. Daoud Hari has told me what is happening and made it personal.

The Translator

02/09/08

  02:39:00 am, by Airycat   , 202 words  
Categories: Book Reviews, General Non-fiction

Red Zone Blues by Pepe Escobar

I was expecting Red Zone Blues, by Pepe Escobar, to be something like a dry political discussion and found instead the, often conflicting, heart of the people. This book reads to me like Escobar's notes as he traveled. It has a choppy unconnected feel to it. There are some sloppy grammatical errors. I could nitpick the writing, but find any flaws are minor and outweighed by the content.*

Many might find the author to be anti-American, but, whether or not he is, he nonetheless provides an accurate picture of how America is seen by Iraqis. This is the value of the book. It should be required reading for all Americans. If Americans refuse to look at how others see us and/or demand they see us as we see ourselves, we are doomed. While we should not compromise on who and what we are, knowing how others see us should help us to make sure our actions are in line with who we really are (and hopefully not point out that we aren't who we think we are).

*This was an advanced reading copy, which is not the final, edited copy, something I was not aware of when I first began doing these reviews.

Red Zone Blues

  02:31:00 am, by Airycat   , 204 words  
Categories: Book Reviews, Fiction

The Sex Club by L. J. Sellers

The Sex Club, by L. J. Sellers, starts out with a sense that it's going to be preachy about pro choice, but it doesn't take long for it become a very compelling mystery. Detective Wade Jackson is a thoroughly real and likable guy. [In my mind he appeared as Greg Grunberg (Matt Parkman from Heroes).] Wade, Kera and the policemen were all likable characters. Even the Mayor had something likable about him. The mystery was complicated enough to keep me interested and, although I had an idea, I didn't solve it before it was revealed. Sellers has an easy reading style that kept the story moving.

The only part of the story that bothered me, though it may not bother everyone, was the depiction of the Christian characters. Most of them seemed one sided and I don't recall any but the victims being given a likable trait. Sellers needs the kind of character she painted to tell her story, but I wish she had also shown that there are some fundamental Christians who are caring and forgiving, and not merely of their brethren. The stereotypes do exist or there wouldn't be stereotypes, but not everyone is a stereotype in the reality of my experience.

The Sex Club

  02:13:00 am, by Airycat   , 252 words  
Categories: Book Reviews, Fiction

Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

I liked Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell. Agnes Shanklin is as real as any living, breathing person I've met.

The plot of the story is simple. Agnes, an "old maid" (this is about 1921) schoolteacher, takes a trip to Egypt after recovering from the war and the influenza epidemic of 1919. While there, she meets some of the famous statesmen and military men who were "solving" the middle east problem. She also falls in love while there.

The plot is not what held my interest. As Agnes tells her story, you know that she lived through what she is telling. Reading it, I sensed that some of the gaps in my knowledge of the period were being filled without the drudgery of history lectures. I found myself fascinated by a topic that had not particularly interested me before.

I was delighted to read in the acknowledgments at the end, that Ms. Russell had done her homework and invented only Agnes's story. Where it crossed the well known individuals, she kept them true to reality.

While I didn't hate it, I felt the final chapter was added on to express some opinions of the author that didn't naturally fit into the story. The naturalness, and reality, that I loved about the rest of the book fell away here. Though Russell gave hints early on, it just didn't work for me. Nonetheless, the book was a good read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in love stories and/or the early twentieth century.

Dreamers of the Day

01/13/07

  02:52:00 am, by Airycat   , 334 words  
Categories: Book Reviews, Fiction

How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan

What a disappointment! I must have missed something in all the hype about it when it came out. I knew what the premise of the book was. The disappointment is that there is nothing beyond the premise that I can see.

McMillan writes in a very conversational, run-on sentence way. At first this annoyed me, but as I continued to read, I began to appreciate it. It drew me in and created the familiarity I needed to finish the book

McMillan creates good characters. By the end of the book you feel like you know these people, and generally like them. That's a good thing. My favorite character was Stella's son Quincy. There was no one to hate in this novel.

The books fulfills the requirement that a character must change. Stella has changed quite a bit by the end of the book. The whole book is about her obsessing about whether or not she should be falling for Winston, who's half her age. If you like romances and very light reading, I guess it works. I found it boring.

I take it back. There is a little more to it. McMillan also briefly talks about women taking charge of their lives, giving up the "role" they've made for themselves for practical reasons. Had she developed this more, it could have been more interesting. But McMillan doesn't really develop this aspect. Stella was an investment analyst and learned from the job and a mentor, and she was very comfortable financially. She could afford time to figure out where her heart was professionally as well as romantically.

The best part of the book for me was when she first arrives in Jamaica (maybe the second day) and is going through the books she took with her, trying to decide what to read. She comments on all of them -- including Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale.

On a five point scale I'd give it a three. It's ok, but I didn't find anything to think about, really.

How Stella Got Her Groove BackHow Stella Got Her Groove Back

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