"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Dystopian Literature

So many people and publications come up with booklists. Best Books of the Year. 100 Works of Literature Everyone Should Read. How Many of these Classics Have You Read? Etc. I enjoy them, generally, but this list of Best Dystopian Books is right up my alley. And I've read the following from the list:

Erewhon by Butler
We by Zamyatin (I read this for a college course on Utopian and Dystopian lit, but it was an earlier translation. I have a later, better translation -- it was written in Russian -- that I hope to read someday.)
Brave New World by Huxley
1984 by Orwell
Lord of the Flies by Golding
The Stars My Destination by Bester (I didn't think of this as a dystopian novel when I read it.)
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Miller
Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut (Currently reading this!)
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Wilhelm
Neuromancer by Gibson
The Postman by Brin
Moxyland by Beukes
The Hunger Games by Collins
Bitch Planet by DeConnick (Yeah, graphic novels/comic books are on the list! This one is ongoing.)

That's not a large percentage, but I do have a lot of others from the list sitting on my shelves, waiting patiently for me to get to them. I'll be adding some others from the list, too. But I wish Roth's The Plot Against America had been included.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

City of Secrets

TITLE: City of Secrets
AUTHOR: Stewart O'Nan

Brand is a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, now working as a cab driver in Palestine and using the name Jossi. Haunted by his time as a Nazi prisoner and feeling guilt as a survivor when everyone he loved had been killed in the Holocaust, Jossi is also part of a cell working for an independent Israeli state, committing terror acts against the British Mandate, and in love, perhaps, with a woman prostituting herself for the cause. As the missions grow more explosive, Brand's conflict grows, too.

I haven't read much about this historic time and place -- it's been decades since I read Leon Uris' Exodus -- and I was quickly drawn into the story, thanks to Brand's conflicted point of view and O'Nan's clear, precise prose. O'Nan is one of those authors who says so much with few words. This is a short novel, under 200 pages in trade paperback, but it packs an emotional punch.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Mission to Paris

TITLE: Mission to Paris
AUTHOR: Alan Furst

I'm addicted to Alan Furst's Europe-in-World War II novels.They're all connected, even if the protagonists and other main characters are different, and this book has many references to characters and incidents in other of his novels. The setting, as it often is in his books, is Paris in 1938-39, on the brink of war. An American movie star, but European by birth, is in Paris to film a movie, where he becomes a subject of interest to influential members of a group advocating for peace and cooperation with Germany, aka appeasement. If they can get the American actor, Fredric Stahl, to appear to be a friend of Germany and an advocate for peace, it will be quite a coup for the Nazi propaganda machine. And those attempts bring Stahl to the American embassy in Paris, where he becomes an informal spy, one of many, being run out of the embassy to spy on Germans. Stahl's role is mostly as a courier, but it is a dangerous one.

At so many points in this novel, it felt like more than the usual work of historical fiction. It felt like a primer for today, especially when a journalist explains to him how the Nazis are trying to use him and how they manipulate the media, behind the scenes, to shape the public's perceptions and influence their opinions. How smear campaigns were used to destroy anyone trying to warn France of the Nazi danger and the need to re-arm France for war. So much of what Hitler's minions and wealthy and influential French people did echoes what is going on today. Control the media, control the message, and you can control enough of the population. And as we now know, it mostly worked for Germany, because when they did invade France, they met with weak military resistance. Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but the invasion these days doesn't necessarily come from without, but from within to slowly erode democracy.

I read a lot of historical fiction and a lot of science fiction and I realized they have one thing in common: They both point out human behavior, with lessons for us to learn, lessons too many people never learn, and so, we keep making the same mistakes. This book is one of Furst's best, a good blend of intrigue, suspense, characters to root for, and a history lesson that shouldn't be ignored.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Fatal Flame

TITLE: The Fatal Flame
AUTHOR: Lyndsay Faye

The third, and last, because this is a trilogy, not an ongoing series, Timothy Wilde mystery. I'm going to miss spending time with these characters. It's now 1848 in a still-young but already grimy and gritty New York City. Tammany Hall's corruption touches everything, and women are expected to fill the roles men allow and nothing more. A police detective before the word "detective" was in use, Tim is assigned the case of an arsonist torching the properties owned by a corrupt alderman, Richard Symmes, the same Richard Symmes Tim's brother Valentine decides to oppose in an upcoming election. Throw in immigrant women forced to work for low or barely any wages as seamstresses and their attempt to gain more rights through a strike, and you end up with a powder keg waiting to be set off. Then Tim's personal life gets complicated by the return of Mercy Underhill, the woman who he first adored when they were growing up together as friends. And, fittingly, Tim is forced to face his biggest fear: fire. Because a fire killed his parents when he was young, and a later fire almost claimed him, leaving him scarred.

Faye balances all the story and character elements of this complex plot with skill. Her research seems topnotch, and has inspired me to read up on this time period in New York City. The narrative voice is Tim's as he writes of the events, and of his own heart, from the distance of time. An epilogue puts a satisfying cap on the trilogy. I'm going to miss Tim and his way of looking at his world.