America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges – Book

Chris Hedge’s book America: The Farewell Tour begins with a chapter entitled “Decay”:

“I walked down a long service road into the remains of an abandoned lace factory. The road was pocked with holes filled with fetid water. There were saplings and weeds poking up from the cracks in the asphalt. Wooden crates, rusty machinery, broken glass, hulks of old filing cabinets and trash covered the grounds.”

His prose is personal and relatable. He is a well-respected journalist and does not ride a desk. He goes out to meet the world and provides plenty of anecdotal backup for the points he makes. He also recognizes that anecdotes need to be backed up by overviews that offer data collected by organizations who study these issues. Everything is footnoted and properly attributed as you would expect from someone who attended Colgate and Harvard (Divinity School). He has bona fides; he knows how to do research. Other chapters include: Heroin, Work, Sadism, Hate, Gambling, Freedom. However Hedges also had a thesis in mind when he began, and so the material in this book is not scientific in that sense. If you know what you want to find in advance it can affect what you observe.

The city that is home to the abandoned lace factory is Scranton, PA which leads into the challenges faced by the city leaders who find their city on the edge of bankruptcy. His point is that the lace factory  is emblematic, “is America”, as is the city of Scranton.

Chris Hedges tells us, in his tale of American decay, that he is a socialist. He quotes Karl Marx, a Communist. He says Karl Marx knew:

“that the reigning ideologies—think corporate capitalism with its belief in deindustrialization, deregulation, privatization of public assets, austerity, slashing of social service programs, and huge reductions in government spending—were created to serve the interests of the economic elites.”

However, he adds

“The acceleration of deindustrialization by the 1970’s created a crisis that forced the ruling class to devise a new political paradigm…This paradigm, trumpeted by a compliant media shifted its focus from the common good to race, crime, and law and order. It told those undergoing profound economic and political change that their suffering stemmed not from corporate greed, but from a threat to national integrity. The old consensus that buttressed the programs of the New Deal and the welfare state was attacked as enabling criminal black youth, welfare queens, and social parasites. The parasites were to blame. This opened the door to authoritarian populism.”

Hedges believes we are “witness-[ing] the denouement of capitalism”. He goes on to paint a pretty grim picture of America, a snapshot of our less than stellar moment in time here at the beginning of the 21stcentury. Addiction destroys individuals but it also is a symptom of rot in a culture. The kinds of work and the way work in America has changed has caused a decline in worker’s pride in their work, in their prosperity, and is turning us into corporate serfs. Lots of evidence is offered for these contentions.

Sadism is real, but, thankfully does not crop up often in my little world but Hedges goes to speak with the people who provide such experiences, and with other sex workers. This information is very graphic and I confess that I sometimes had to skip the details and seek out the conclusions Hedges arrived at. We need to understand the male domination in our culture and the abuse of women and if just reading about this aspect of American culture takes you to a dark place, you can imagine what it does to women (and exploited men) who feel this is the only way they can make a living. Hate and Gambling are further signs of the decay we see all around us in America. The chapter on Freedom begins with a discussion of incarceration as a tool of the capitalist elite to control populations with the most reason to resist or revolt. Also included is the Native American movement to block tar sand pipelines in South Dakota and the use of military might against people who were peacefully protesting.

I never read Chris Hedges before except for an old article in the Christian Science Monitorbecause I believed that our politics were very different but after reading this book I think we have more in common than not. However, I cannot blame problems on “isms”. The ways we organize economies are neither inherently good nor bad. Capitalism is not bad, but capitalists certainly can be. We have seen enough of unregulated capitalism to know that it gives full scope to the greediest, meanest impulses that reside in all of us very flawed humans.

Clearly though, the same weaknesses can be found in Communism and Socialism, because the defects are in us. We know that our natures are full of paradoxes. We all have a best self and a worst self and lots of degrees in between. We can rationalize that our worst behavior is beneficial with shocking ease. Communism, which lifted up those who had been oppressed, did solve the problems of inequality for a tiny minute (everyone was poor), except the Soviet Union got hung up on issues of purity and they began to purge anyone whose ideology was not pure enough. This is a trend we are finding in America right now, without the gulags (or, are our prisons our gulags).

This is where I differ from Mr. Hedges. I don’t think simply switching to socialism will magically save our democracy from decay and ruin. I do agree that what we have in America right now is nothing like the democracy/republic our forefathers foresaw.

“Our capitalist elites have used propaganda, money, and the marginalizing of their critics to erase the first three of philosopher John Locke’s elements of the perfect state: liberty, equality, and freedom.”…”Liberty and freedom in the corporate state mean the liberty and freedom of corporations and the rich to exploit and pillage without government interference or regulatory oversight.”

Hedges finds Republicans and Democrats equally guilty of turning America into a corporate state. I see the Democrats as more likely to feel some shame about this, and I also think that Democrats have not had many opportunities to introduce meaningful reforms because their power has been limited by a pretty successful Republican power grab. Hedges has some recommendations for strategies that we the people can employ to wrest back power from the corporations and the elite but he admits it will not be easy.

“All of the movements that opened up the democratic space in America—the abolitionists, the suffragists, the labor movement, the communists, the socialists, the anarchists, and the civil rights movement—developed a critical mass that forced the centers of power to respond. The platitudes about justice, equality, and democracy are just that. Only when ruling elites become worried about survival do they react. Appealing to the better nature of the powerful is useless. They don’t have one.”

I can agree with many of the progressive policies that Hedges supports although I do not call these programs socialist. The elites label these ideas as socialist to stigmatize them.

“…mechanisms that could ameliorate this crisis—affordable housing; well-paying jobs; safe, well-staffed, and well-funded schools and colleges that do not charge tuition; expanded mental health facilities; good public transportation; the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure; demilitarized police forces; universal government-funded health care; an end to predatory loans and practices of big banks; and a campaign to pay reparations to African Americans and end racial segregation.”

In a democracy we the people are meant to determine how our tax dollars are divvied up. If we want the federal government to manage utilities because it is fairer and more convenient and offers greater equality of access, then that is a democratic decision to use a socialist strategy for economic reasons. In other areas we might find that regulated capitalism works best, or it might make sense to make room for communal arrangements, or to even employ bartering if that suits the situation.

It is impossible to cover all that is in this book in a short commentary, but it is a deep dive into the maladies affecting America, which the Trump presidency did not cause, although the transparent looting of America by the Trump family and friends makes the direction we are headed much easier to predict. In America: The Farewell Tour, Chris Hedges focuses on capitalism as the real culprit in the decline of the quality most of us find in our lives in modern America and it is not just about money, but much, much more. This one is well worth reading and you should not let political prejudices stop you.

The Other Woman by Daniel Silva – Book

Gabriel Allon, our green-eyed agent for Israeli Intelligence has finally agreed to become the Chief of “the Office”. Gabriel is not in Israel though. He’s in Vienna, waiting to welcome a man, code name Heathcliff, who has been a Russian courier for years, now defecting to the West. This compromised Russian spy, real name Konstantin Kirov, is shot by an assassin on a motorcycle before he can get to the safe house where Gabriel and his team are waiting. Obviously Gabriel’s op was not as secret as he thought it was, but why?

It was my quest this summer to read all of the Gabriel Allon books that Daniel Silva has written (so far). The Other Woman (Bk. # 18) is Silva’s most recent book so my quest is done, but it is no longer summer; it is December. No matter, it is satisfying to reach a goal, and reading a number of good stories is a pretty painless path to pursue.

This particular Silva book takes us back to Moscow. Why? Some of the best classic spy thrillers were written during the Cold War between Russia and the West. When the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain fell, novels set in Russia lost their cachet. Many call these days at the beginning of the 21st century a new Cold War. Traditional spy craft is pertinent again (Moscow rules), although enhanced by cyber-warfare techniques. Silva’s books tend to follow hot spots of violence that threaten Israel (and its allies). This choice for his new plot perhaps reflects the heating-up of threats from a new Russia that is acting an awful lot like the old USSR.

It is fitting that an old spy, Kim Philby (real person) turns out to have fathered a new spy. Gabriel and his crew, while investigating how their Kirov op got blown, also manage to solve the mystery of Kim Philby’s offspring and prevent the successful installation of a mole at the head of MI6. Will Graham Seymour, current head of MI6 survive the scandal? Will Gabriel be able to save his once-close rapport with Seymour and British intelligence? The Other Woman by Daniel Silva is classic stuff, but it might make you wish that the bad old days did not seem to be returning.

The Black Widow by Daniel Silva – Book

The Black Widow (Bk. #16) by Daniel Silva opens with the violent death of another venerable Jewish person intent on preventing a reoccurrence of the atrocities of Hitler’s Germany. Hannah Weinberg created the Isaac Weinberg center for the Study of Anti-Semitism in France (fictional) at the end of Silva’s novel, The Messenger  (Bk. #6) She also owns a (fictitious) van Gogh painting, Marguerite Gachet at Her Dressing Table, used to call attention to real events in French history – Jeudi Noir and the Paris Roundup of 1942.

Who is responsible for this bombing and assassination that kills Hannah and other prominent invitees to a conference at the center in Paris? Why are so many Jews leaving France to go to Israel in the midst of Palestinian rocket launches into Israel?

This particular book seemed to touch on issues that are not settled territory for me, perhaps because it brings us to a time that is more contemporary than previous books in the Allon series. For one thing I cannot help having some sympathy for Palestinians, although I think their militant approach to what they see as Israeli imperialism made it impossible to take a diplomatic stance that could have led to shared ownership and peace, instead of eliciting a corresponding violence in the Jewish people. Having just learned of the annihilation of 6 million Jews in Europe, the Jewish people found themselves homeless until they were granted a toehold in Israel, and the lesson they had learned, that they could not afford to trust any nation, had just been driven home so tragically. They were more than ready to defend their new nation.

The second part of this particular Gabriel Allon op was about Syria, and refugees, and ISIS, and the radicalization of Arabic people displaced by war (and others). ISIS appears to promise the vulnerable and dispossessed a new nation – a caliphate – a chance to restore pride and offer them a return to their homeland. (There is no place like home.) There is no instant fix to the whole issue of how Muslims and Christians can learn to live in closer proximity than we did before the Iraq war; it requires an investment of time and tolerance. I cannot help but feel sorrow for people who were forced to empty out their country because of Bashar al Assad’s unwillingness to be humane. But I also find myself fearful at the idea of a regimented caliphate that exhibits a violent missionary zeal. Fighting terrorism seems an appropriate action for nations to undertake.

Does it trivialize the rise of ISIS to put it at the center of a thriller. Perhaps, a little. But it also allows readers who don’t pay much attention to news to get some insight into the genesis of ISIS, its history, its rationale, and its modus operandi. This time Gabriel turns a secretary/administrative assistant into The Black Widow who can join ISIS and perhaps track down the identity and location of Saladin, the illusive man directing recent terrorists activities in Europe and hoping to do so in America.

We know Gabriel does not have a problem using females in spy ops and we also know they often end up in great physical peril, as does Gabriel. How does his black widow fare? The issues I encountered with The Black Widow were personal, so see what feelings this interesting thriller, full of all your favorite Silva characters, engenders in you. I did like the perspectives it gave on the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS.

The Heist by Daniel Silva – Book

Daniel Silva’s 14th book featuring his reader’s favorite Israeli spy is The Heist. Gabriel Allon kills the people who do evil in the world (Europe and the Middle East for the most part). Gabriel is an unlikely hero, slight of build, not very tall, with a full head of dark hair graying at the temples. He has aged some through the years and is somewhere in his fifties but he has a new young wife, Chiara, who also works for “the Office”. Gabriel feels regret for the killing he does but he doesn’t let that govern him because these are villains, exhibiting some serious anti-social behaviors.

Gabriel is an unusual spy because he is a great art restorer (who perhaps would have been a great artist except for his mentor, Ari Shamron). Shamron recruited him and he wants Allon to agree to become the head of Israeli Intelligence. Gabriel has resisted this role but has recently promised that he will do that when Uzi Navot’s term ends.

Art heists have become common in Europe. Security in museums is often fairly lax or spread a bit thin. Art thieves have many ways to trick museums, but one of the safest is to employ a great forger. Empty spaces tend to attract attention, but it often takes time to identify a really good forgery as a fake. One painting, missing for a long time, is a Caravaggio painting of a mother and child. Gabriel may be Jewish but he specializes in restoring Renaissance religious art. He hopes to find that Caravaggio, but the painting seems to have fallen into the hands of a dictator who gases his own people.

So, there is a Syrian connection in this story, and Silva provides an informative backstory of the origins of the regime of Bashar al Assad, which is now in Gabriel’s sights. Gabriel cannot assassinate Assad, but he can try to make some of his ill-gotten fortune turn up in other bank accounts. There is a woman involved who works for a Saudi man who hides Assad’s fortune in lots of places where banking secrets are seen as sacred, and where laws can’t reach, such as the Cayman Islands. Gabriel doesn’t let women off the hook as sources and allies in matters of conscience. He has only lost one of the women he enlisted to help so far, although she was already ill and dying. Does the woman he recruits this time live through this op?

Does Gabriel Allon get Assad’s money? Does he find the Caravaggio? Does Chiara lose the twins she is carrying? Fourteen books later, still good stuff.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search, NewsOK

November 2018 Book List

November 2018 Book List

What I noticed about the books published in October (which are on this November book list) is that there are many enticing biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies just in time for finding a lamp, a chair, and a blanket this winter and getting lost in someone else’s life. Here’s a list of some of the people’s lives you can immerse yourself in: Marie Colvin, Johnny Rosselli, John Marshall, Edward Gorey, the Beastie Boys, Churchill, Henry Worsley, Michelle Obama, Sally Fields, Ghandi, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Babe Ruth, John Williams, Chopin, Bing Crosby, Philip Johnson, Saul Bellow, Benjamin Rush, Andrew Johnson, and John Kerry. That is quite a list. Surely almost anyone can find a great read for November, or way too many great reads for November. Stay toasty.

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

My Sister, the Serial Killer: A Novel by Oyinkan Braithwaite

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim

A Ladder to the Sky: A Novel by John Boyne

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer

Insurrecto by Gina Apostol

Wolves of Eden: A Novel by Kevin McCarthy

Tony’s Wife: A Novel by Adriana Trigani

Those Who Knew by Idra Novey

Mystery and Thrillers

The Best Bad Things: A Novel by Katrina Carrasco

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Night Town (A Junior Bender Mystery) by Timothy Hallinan

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

Dark Sacred Heart by Michael Connelly

Wolves of Eden by Kevin McCarthy

Past Tense (A Jack Reacher Novel) by Lee Child

Debris Line (Gibson Vaughn) by Matthew Fitzsimmons

Seventeen: A Novel by Hideo Yokoyama, Louise Heal Kawai

A Ladder to the Sky: A Novel by John Boyne

The Shadows We Hide by Allen Eskens

Someone Like Me by M R Carey

Nonfiction

The White Darkness by David Grann

Nashville: Scenes from the New American South by Ann Patchett, Heidi Ross

Heirs of the Founders (The Epic Rivalry of Henry, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants) by H W Brands

Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond, Adam Horowitz

Einstein’s Monsters: The Life and Times of Black Holes by Chris Impey

The End of the End of the Earth by Jonathan Franzen (Essays)

Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome by Venki Ramakrishnan

The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success by Albert-LászlóBarabási

Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World by Neil Gaiman, Chris Riddell

Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’ Hollywood by Karina Longworth

Biographies and Memoirs

In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum

Handsome Johnny: The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli; Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, Assassin by Lee Server

John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court by Richard Brookhiser

Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery

Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz

Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts

Why Religion: A Personal Story by Elaine Pagels

The White Darkness by David Grann (Henry Worsley)

Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Fire and Blood: 300 Years Before a Game of Thrones by George R R Martin, Doug Wheatley

Someone Like Me by M R Carey

The Winter Road by Adrian Selby

Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal by Forthright

Vita Nostra: A Novel by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko

New York Times Book Review

Oct 7

Nonfiction

American Prison by Shane Bauer

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre

Farsighted by Steven Johnson

Attention: Dispatches From a Land of Distraction by Joshua Cohen (essays)

The Dinosaur Artist by Paige Williams

Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain

The Imposter: A True Story (Enric Marco) by Frank Wayne

The Shortlist

Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean’s Greatest Predator by Jason M Colby

Spying on Whales by Nick Pyenson

The Last Lobster: Boom or Bust for Maine’s Greatest Fishery? by Christopher White

Eye of the Shoal: A Fisherman’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything by Helen Scales

Fiction

Crime

Wrecked by Joe Ide

Holy Ghost by John Sanford

Dark Tide Rising by Anne Perry

Death of a Rainmaker by Laurie Loewenstein

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Boomer1 by Daniel Torday

The End of the Moment We Had by Toshiki Okada

Crudo by Kathy Acker

Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman

Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Best New Fantasy Novels

Witchmark by C L Polk

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Half Witch by John Schoffstall

Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael K Jones

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix (YA)

Oct. 14

Fiction

The Witch Elm by Tana French

Patient X by David Peace

Deviation by Luce D’Eramo

Nonfiction

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister

Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly

In Pieces by Sally Field

Looking for Lorraine by Imani Perry

If You Love Me by Maureen Cavanaugh

Ghandi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948 by Ramachandra Guha

You’ve Been so Lucky Already by Alethea Black

The Arab of the Future 3: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1985-1987 by Riad Sattouf, trans. from the French by Sam Taylor

Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple

Unwanted: Stories of Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (YA)

Oct. 21

Nonfiction

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Poison Squad by Deborah Blum

Mind Unraveled by Kurt Eichenwald

No Property Man by Sean Wilentz

Grand Improvisation by Derek Leebaert

Every Day is Extra by John Kerry

Fiction

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Children of God by Lars Petter Sveen

Jean Harley Was Here by Heather Taylor-Johnson

One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan (Tamil)

CoDex 1962 by Sion

Crime Novels

Shell Game (V I Warshawski) by Sara Paretsky

The Stranger Game by Peter Godol

The Darkness by Victoria Cribb

The Midnight Witness (Louise Rich) by Sara Blaedel trans. from the Danish by Mark Kline

Oct. 28

Thrillers

The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran

The Lies We Told by Camilla Way

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Find Me Gone by Sarah Meuleman

Horror Fiction

Melmoth by Sarah Perry

Little by Edward Carey

I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley

True Crime

Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present by Peter Vronsky

The Kill Jar: Obsession, Descent, and a Hunt for Detroit’s Most Notorious Serial Killer by J Reuben Appelman

In the Name of the Children: An FBI Agent’s Relentless Pursuit of the Nation’s Worst Predators by Jeffry L Rinek

A Tale of Two Murders: Guilt, Innocence, and the Execution of Edith Thompson by Laura Thompson

The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman

Blood and Ivy: The 1849 Murder that Scandalized Harvard by Paul Collins

Fiction

City of Crows by Chris Womersley

In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt

Shortlist (Crossover YA Novels)

A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos

A Heart in the Body of the World by Deb Caletti

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

Nonfiction

The Sky is Falling by Peter Biskind

Kafka’s Last Trial by Benjamin Balint

Daemon Voices by Philip Pullman (Essays)

University of Nike by Joshua Hunt

Nov. 2

Fiction

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lake on Fire by Rosellen Brown

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

The Shortlist (Family Sagas)

In Your Hands by Inês Pedrosa

The Hope Fault by Tracy Farr

News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt

Transgender Literature

Freshwater by Akwaeki Emezi

Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Chen Thom

Nonfiction

On Sunset by Kathryn Harrison

American Dialogue by Joseph J Ellis

The King and the Catholics by Antonia Fraser

She Wants It by Jill Soloway

Melting Pot or Civil War by Reihan Salam *

Capitalism in America by Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge *

Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Jane Sherron DeHart *

The Corrosion of Conservatism by Max Boot *

Never Ran, Never Will by Albert Samaha

We Are the Nerds by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin

Publisher’s Weekly

 

Oct. 8

What if it’s Us? By Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (YA)

Open Your Eyes by Paula Daly – Thriller

The Witch Elm by Tana French – Mystery

99 Ways to Die by Ed Lin – F

Death of a Rainmaker: A Dust Bowl Mystery by Laurie Loewenstein – Mystery

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – F

One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan trans. from the Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan – F

Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return by Martin Riker – F

The Souls of Yellow Folk by Wesley Yang – Essays

Bridge City by Markus Zusak – YA

Oct 15

Unfurled by Michelle Bailat-Jones – F

A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese-Anne Fowler – F

Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl by Uwe Johnson, trans, from the German by Damion Searls – F

The Darkness by Ragnor Jonasson – Thriller

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver – F

Heavy – An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon – Memoir

The Big Fella by Jan Leavy (Babe Ruth) – Biography

The Library Book by Susan Orlean – NF

Melmoth by Sarah Perry – F

Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror by W Scott-Poole – NF

The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel: John Williams, ‘Stoner’, and the Writing Life by Charles J Shields – Biography

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar – Fantasy

Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times by Alan Walker – Bio

The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of US Primacy by Stephen M Wait – NF *

Oct. 22

Of Love and War by Lynsey Addario – Photos

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah – Short stories

Little by Edward Carey – F

The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay – F

18 Miles: The Epic Drama of Our Atmosphere and its Weather by Christopher Dewdney – NF

Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz – Illus. Bio

The Fox by Frederick Forsyth – Thriller

Rush: Revolution, Madness, and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father by Stephen Fried – Bio

The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics by David S Heidler and Jeanne T Heidler – Bio

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson – F

The Line by Martin Limón -Mystery

Astounding: John W Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A Heinlein, L Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee – NF *

An Empire for Ravens: A John the Lord Chamberlain Mystery by Mary Reid and Eric Mayer – Mystery

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E Weymouth – YA Fantasy

Oct. 29

Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly – F

Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin – NF

Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star – The War Years, 1940-1946 by Gary Giddens – Bio

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris – Fantasy Thriller

Marooned: Jamestown, Shipwreck and a New History of America’s Origin by Joseph Kelly – NF

Elevation by Stephen King – F

Bastard by Max Radiguès – Graphic Novel

The Hole by Jose Revueltas, trans. from the Spanish by Amanda Hopkinson and Sophie Hughes – F

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol. 2 1956-1963, Edited by Peter K Steinberg and Karen V Kukil – NF

Family Trust by Kathy Wang – F

Nov. 5

The Day that Went Missing by Richard Beard – F

Evening in Paradise: More Stories by Lucia Berlin (pub. Posthumously) – short stories

An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere by Mikita Brottman – True crime

Past Tense: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child – F

An Agent of Utopia by Andy Duncan – Short Stories

The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century by Mark Lamster – Bio

The Life of Saul Bellow: Love and Strife, 1965-2005 by Zackary Leader – Biography

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – Thriller

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – Fantasy

Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts – Bio *

We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress by Craig Morgan Teicher – NF

Beyoncéin Formation: Remixing Black Feminism by Omise’eke Tinsley – NF

A Shot in the Dark: A Constable Twitten Mystery by Lynn Truss – Mystery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The English Girl by Daniel Silva – Book

The English Girl by Daniel Silva stands out as a Gabriel Allon book that sort of breaks the mold. It has all the characters we expect to find, but they don’t show up for quite a while. Instead Gabriel teams up with a character who has enticed our interest from time to time, Christopher Keller.

Christopher Keller is a dead man. On the record he died as a British soldier. In actual fact he was the only survivor of a deadly attack. Since his parents in London have already mourned his death, and since he has no official identity he took a job as an assassin in the service of Don Orsati, the “Don” of Corsica. Don Orsati pays well and he treat Chris Keller like a son.

Up to now Silva has used Christopher sparingly in his books, perhaps because he does not always “fight for the right”. But in The English Girl he teams up with Gabriel and we see a social, “bro”-style side to Gabriel that we rarely if ever see. The two men seem relaxed with each other. This may also be because the details of this particular spy tale are a bit unusual.

Gabriel is supposed to be permanently retired but when a young English woman on a Corsican vacation is kidnapped, Graham Seymour of MI5 (soon to be MI6) asks Gabriel for some hush-hush help. Why is this girl more important than your average British subject? Perhaps because she holds the Prime Minister’s career in her hands. Since Gabriel’s trail starts on Corsica, Christopher is a natural choice for a partner in the investigation which seems like it will be quite simple to resolve. Also Christopher owes Gabriel a favor and Gabriel has a token attesting to that debt which he plans to redeem.

Corsica requires certain behaviors that must be observed if one wants to borrow Keller from Don Orsati. Gabriel must always stop by to see Don Orsati first and share a meal and a few intimidating amenities. And, although Gabriel scoffs at superstition, a rather talented seer must be consulted. For some reason she tells Gabriel he will die if he goes to Moscow. How could the kidnapping of an English girl possibly have a Moscow connection? To unravel that mystery you will have to start in Corsica with Gabriel and Christopher. I did not foresee the twist this thriller takes. Enjoy!

Photo Credit: ClipZui.com

Find me on goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson

Transcription by Kate Atkinson – Book

Kate Atkinson’s new novel, Transcription, joins a spate of World War literature coming out of Great Britain. All these books talk about what British citizens who were not soldiers did during wars. People wanted to help with the war effort and since many of the adults who were still in British cities were women, the tasks women took on often affected them in ways similar to the way soldiers are affected. The end of the war found women who had done unlikely, dangerous and heroic things, having to assimilate their war time behavior into the person they would be moving forward in peacetime. Other recent novels include: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn which I have not read yet, Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce, and Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.

Why is this the moment when so many writers were moved to write about such very similar experiences? Are people feeling an instability in political institutions these days that could lead to war? Are people rushing to offer us some patriotic roles that we could play? Is this a creative brain meld? Is this just an odd coincidence or nostalgic moment? With all the authoritarian figures rising in nations that once flirted with democracy does this feel somewhat similar to the rise of “you know who” before WWII? Are authors feeling the same fears we all feel that we may be called upon to defend our freedoms in the very near future, or to keep them alive for what could be decades of darkness?

Transcription is an absorbing book all on its own, but I recommend giving all these books a read because each takes a different tack on the same subject. In Transcription our heroine Juliet Armstrong is recruited by MI5 to help keep an eye on Hitler lovers and want-to-be Nazi’s living in England. British intelligence rents two adjacent apartments. In one a rather convincing Godfrey Toby, a spy of course, makes friends and collects important data about England’s defenses. These friends of Hitler think Gordon will pass this strategic data on to Germany. Of course this is simply a way for Britain to keep this information away from Germany and keep potential British traitors from doing real damage to the allied side in the war.

The second apartment is filled with recording equipment and a typewriter where a very young Juliet listens to what Gordon’s unwary informants reveal and then types a transcript that tries to give a word-by-word script of who is talking and what they reveal. Not all of the dialogue comes across clearly but Juliet does the best she can. Then Juliet is embroiled further into spying when she is asked to adopt a new persona and join a more upscale right wing group of traitors. This is how a girl who simply types gets deeply into something that is so unforgettable that she will never be free of either her memories or her handlers.

Do books make the future and the culture happen, do they predict what will come, or do they just reflect the present and the culture of the times in which they are written? It seems that books can do all of these things, and they can sometimes do all of them at one and the same time, which is probably one of the aspects of reading great books that keeps readers hooked. So what will turn out to be true of this little cluster of intellectual doppelgangers?

I am happy to read every book that Kate Atkinson writes and I feel the same way about Michael Ondaatje. I don’t know the other two authors as well but I may eventually be adding them to my long list of beloved authors. However, I would much prefer that these novels be reflective rather than predictive. You may find that you begin asking yourself how you would have performed under similar circumstances. One more point, possibly a #metoo point, although all of these books feature female characters, not one of them is a “chick” book. But because they all happen in the past, all these women work for men. However war seems to blur the lines between women’s work and men’s work as you will see. Don’t forget to spend a few moments thinking about why this book is called Transcription rather than Transcriptions. Thank you Kate.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search, Running in Heels

Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva – Book

Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva is Book 12 in the Gabriel Allon series, the fictional, but famous spy for the Israeli Intelligence Service at the Office on King Saul Boulevard in Tel Aviv Israel. Gabriel is an unusual person to be an assassin for justice, world peace, and the survival of Israel. He is an artist who gave up an artist’s life (his own) when recruited by Shamron, the aging hero of Israel, to pursue the terrorists who killed athletes from his beloved homeland at the Olympics in Munich.

Since that op he has trained with a talented art restorer and has become one of the best restorers of classic religious art in Europe. He is a bundle of contradictions but his strong values tie the whole package together. Gabriel’s family was, for the most part, killed in the Holocaust, except his mother who never really recovered from the horrors she experienced. Gabriel lost his first wife and his son to a car bomb, probably targeted towards Gabriel. Terrorists blew his life away right before his eyes. And even though they failed to kill the one the car bomb was designed to kill this became a sorrow he had to carry with him always. It hardened his heart in a more personal way and made him more lethal, more determined to fight evil in the world.

Through the first 11 books there have been plenty of evil actors to stop in their tracks, tracks which always are about either power and world domination or money or both. Eventually Gabriel remarried to the beautiful Chiara, daughter of a Rabbi, who also does intelligence work for the Office. Sometimes she is with him on ops and sometimes she stays home. Putting her at risk brings back old memories for Gabriel. After a while Allon is joined by a team, each person with different strengths and we become concerned about their safety in these rather impossible-seeming, risky, but usually successful operations they undertake. Gabriel is frequently wounded because he cannot let a villain get away. He retires every time he completes a mission as if he has beaten evil once and for all. But he knows this war is endless and he up-ends his life over and over again to do battle when he must. After a while we begin to wish there really was a Gabriel Allon and a Chiara, et al out there in the world, abolishing amorality and immorality.

So in Fallen Angel we have a lovely young woman who agrees to inventory antiquities in the Vatican collection who is found artistically dead after a fall from a balcony in the Sistine Chapel. At first her death is ruled a suicide. But Gabriel is a friend of the Vatican’s top two people, the Pope and his constant companion Father Donati, because he saved the Pope’s life and unraveled one of the plots that live in the competitive Vatican culture. Gabe is restoring a Caravaggio in some basement on the Vatican grounds and Donati has him summoned to tap into his expertise. Gabriel (also a fallen angel) does not believe this is a suicide. But when he pulls a couple of strings he opens a Pandora’s box of illegal trading in antiquities. These thieves never preserve provenance and this represents a huge loss of historical data about ancient sites and people. Once again what begins in Italy leads Gabriel all over the world and eventually home to Israel.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – You Tube

Find me on Goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter – Book

We meet the Kurc (Kur-see) family in Rodam, Poland in 1939. Hitler is on the move and we know what is coming, but this close-knit family of middle class Jewish Poles does not. We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter, covers familiar and dreaded ground, but this is a family of survivors. How did that happen?

Not one of these five siblings or their parents ended up at a concentration camp. They saw that Jews were being rounded up. They saw the railroad cars crammed with frightened humans supposedly going off to work in war factories. How is it that of the five (Addy, Halina, Bella, Genek, and Mila) and their parents only Mila ended up on such a train and she managed to escape a truly traumatic fate. They did not collaborate, they did not thrive; they worked almost to breaking in factories, subsisted on little food and sometimes no food. They often did not know where their other siblings were and they missed their family terribly, and worried about each other all the time.

The book skips between siblings and their spouses so we know where the Kurc’s are and how close they came to discovery and death, but they only learn this after the war when they all meet their son/brother Addy in Brazil. Georgia Hunter, the author, is Addy’s grandchild. He married a woman in Brazil who was from the American South. How did he get to Brazil?

Dumb luck and many delays, near capture, and the ability to anticipate and avoid being trapped helped Addy survive. He learned the name of a man who was supplying visas to Jews so they could leave Europe. He went to see this man and ended up on one of the last ships to Brazil. Even so all aboard the ship got rerouted to Casablanca and Addy almost ended up being caught there with an expired visa and sent back to Europe. This is just one of the family’s survival stories. The rest are just as compelling although told more as history than drama.

Georgia wrote a fictional story for the sake of flow and form and character development, but this is essentially a true story she researched for a decade, interviewing family, visiting museums and Holocaust data centers. Her family, whose stories she tells in We Were the Lucky Ones, may have only survived because they did not stay in one place and they were willing to learn new languages, buy papers that said they were Catholic, and because they were the recipients of favors from non-Jewish Europeans.

I don’t know why stories about WW II and the Holocaust keep falling into my hands, but this period in human history was a time when heroes and villains reigned. This was a time when what we learned about human nature was that we could succumb to a sickness of the spirit, to our most negative traits, envy, fear of others, national pride, genocide; or resist and become our better selves. Such books have special relevance in 2018 when we are in the midst of dealing with our fear of Muslims and “the others”, inclined to isolationism, and fomented to an exaggerated nationalism similar to what sent the German people so spectacularly and disgustingly awry in those WW II years.

Every time I read about WW II I learn something I did not know and feel things that I would not have felt otherwise. This may not be a perfect book; but it’s a very good debut and a great addition to the growing library of books about WW II for Jews in Europe.

Photo Credit: Books and a View

Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva – Book

Europe is in an economic recession and it is flooded with refugees who cannot speak the language of their new nations and who have difficulty finding work that will pay enough to support their families, or even a single person. In this post 9/11 world refugees inhabit areas around Europe’s cities and some mosques are centers of religious radicalism where young men are recruited to terrorize the West. Portrait of a Spy(Gabriel Allon Series, Book 11) by Daniel Silva deals with an environment we recognize from our very recent past, a set of circumstances that could easily flare up again in the future.

Gabriel Allon, now a retired Israeli spy, leaves his cottage in Cornwall to visit Isherwood Studios in London, run by Julian Isherwood, friend of Gabriel and of Israel. Gabriel is a talented art restorer who often restores damaged paintings, sometimes for Isherwood. Gabriel’s wife Chiara is with him. As they are walking near Covent Garden Gabriel spots a suicide bomber. Bombs have been used in the past few days in Paris and in Copenhagen, and a bomb is about to detonate in Central London.

No one else identifies this man as a terrorist but Gabriel’s experiences set off warning signals. He even knows what time the bomber will trigger the detonator because it is timed to when a plane hit a target on 9/11. Gabriel is almost on time to stop the killing. Gabriel has his gun out to shoot the bomber when two London policemen arrest him. The bomber detonates. Gabriel’s guilt calls him back to duty as a spy. He even has a fair idea of who is running this group of terrorists. When he is vouched for by Graham Seymour, head of MI5 he joins forces with Adrian Carter of the CIA in Washington, DC and a cohort he has hunted down bad actors with on the world stage many times. Chiara is on board and eventually his team joins him in the new high tech national security center in DC.

The man Gabriel is seeking has been out of view for years and is believed dead. But Gabriel does not believe it. Word is that the terrorist group is running out of money which means these guys will go to ground for a while. Gabriel visits a young and wealthy Arab business woman he met when she was a young girl in the South of France (Book #6, The Messenger). Nadia al-Bakari was with her father (a wealthy funder of terrorists) when Gabriel killed him. She is also a philanthropist, helping especially Arab women. Nadia forgives Gabriel and agrees to buy a recently restored painting to create pool of invisible money that will go to tempt the terrorist and his group into the open.

As usual with Gabriel Allon spy thrillers the plan unfolds in great detail before we get to the actual op and the usually violent end game. Terrorists and other bad actors who stay hidden are well-guarded and very paranoid. They are hard to kill. Gabriel does not usually get off without injury. We always wonder what will happen to him this time. He also does not like to put others in danger, although he will do what he must to take out someone whose intent is to harm many. How do things turn out for Nadia?

It is Silva’s contention that Saudi Wahhabism has led to a good deal of the terrorism unleashed on Europe and America. He also feels that America’s supposed Allies, the Saudi’s, are responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the intended attack on Washington that shocked America and the world. And yet we remain tied to Saudi Arabia, probably for oil more than loyalty. A fiction author, such as Daniel Silva, writing a spy thriller like Portrait of a Spy, is freer than others to speak candidly about his world view and these spy thrillers always connect to events in the real world. This one upped my heart rate.

Equally bizarre, as I am writing this it is 9/11, seventeen years later, and they are reading the names of those killed in the attack on the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center on my TV news. A most strange coincidence.