Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Books - A Review

Recent Books (with * to ***** rating):

And Quiet Flows the Don - Mikhail Sholokov (The sequel is “The Don Flows Home to the Sea”) **
Written in the 1930's and winning the Nobel Prize (1965) for this Russian author.
A long story of Cossacks and the Russian Revolution. To be honest with you, it is really not that great. I much prefer Doctor Zhivago, though it too is also not that well written.

The Gnostic Gospels - Elaine Pagels **
Dr. Pagels develops a thesis about the early Christian Church based on information found in documents discovered in Egypt in 1945. You will have a much different conception of the Church if you agree with her. While well documented, I find her excrutiatingly repetitive.

Faceless Killers - Henning Mankell **
Mankell is sort of the Raymond Chandler of Sweden. A fairly good read.

Dirty Snow - Simenon ****
First of all, you got to like someone with one name. This is his noir novel, and noir is what you get. The whole weight of WWII wells up here. You will remember the characters for a long time.

Garden State - Rick Moody ***
This is a Clockwork Orange novel set in, well, you know where. Its full of reference to a world of rock music, drugs and sex. A little bleak.

The Night World, Kingdom of Shadows, Night Soldiers, etc. - Alan Furst ***
Good reads, these. Furst has done his homework and he recreates Europe in the late 1930’s and during WWII with a bunch of romantic spies, mostly European with the wierd American thrown in every now and then. A lot about Paris, if you like that.

The Siege of Krishnapur, The Singapore Grip - J.G. Farrell *****
I can’t recommend this author too highly. He is wity, historical and creates memorable characters. The Siege of K. takes place in a city in northern India at the time of the Mutiny of 1856. The Singapore Grip is set at the time that Singapore fell to the Japanese. Well worth the read.

The Romantics - Pankay Mishra ***
Mishra is a writer for the New York Review of Books. He has done some excellent things there on Kashmir, etc. This, however, is a coming of age novel set in north India (mostly). There are overtones of Indian fascination with European women as in Passage to India and the Raj Quartet. I read this to prep me for his recent book on the Buddha. We’ll see if it helped.

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell *****
This book jumps around like a jumping bean. It is a mix of classic writing, fantasy, future world and I don’t know what. He is not as glib as Pynchon, and doesn’t have quite the breadth, but his characters are more memorable. Nothing is ever as it seems.

The Jewel in the Crown, The day of the Scorpion, The Towers of Silence and A Division of the Spoils - Paul Scott ****
The books to read to understand the British experience in India. Of course, who cares about this anymore. (Maybe we latter day imperialists should care.) Well written with themes and characters that run through all four novels.

The Shape of Water, The Snack Thief, The Terra Cotta Dog - Andrea Camilleri ***
I know nothing about Sicily. Now I know a little. These are detective/police novels with a randy hero and lots of reference to the Mafia. They are good reads.

The Rule of Four - Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomasen *
I found myself begging for this book to be over with so I could put it out of its misery. I never knew Princeton bred such prigs

The Hamilton Case - Michelle de Kretser ****
This is a sort of mystery novel. It is set in Sri Lanka and covers a fairly long time from the 30’s to the present. It has a murder mystery as its focus, but it is much more a pastoral novel describing the same changes as the Raj Quartet

The Root and the Flower - L.H. Myers *****
I don’t know why I am reading so many books about India. This one just sort of lay around for years and one day I said I had better read it. I think I didn't read it because the cover turned me off. It is an astounding read. The protagonist is the ruler of a small state in, you guessed it, north India. But the action takes place at the court of Akbar, the great Mogul ruler (late 16th century) and in the hill country. There is intrigue, beauty, Thugees and other nasties. You will not regret your time here.

The Sunday Philosophy Club - Alexander McCall Smith **
Better known for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, this is a new series by this interesting author. He has an interesting way of writing that is different from others in the same vein. Interesting stuff about Edinburgh. A good way to wile away time.

For Love of Insects - Thomas Eisner ****
This tome tells you so many things about bugs that you never knew it almost makes you want to go back to graduate school in entomology. I like bugs because they are fiendishly clever chemists. We all know that bugs will still be around when we are long gone.

Buddha - Karen Armstrong ***
This is good information if you are going to read more of Mishra. Although the Buddha lived in, you guessed it, north India, around 500 BC, what he encountered in his life sounds pretty modern (war, poverty, greed, etc.). Armstrong, an ex-nun, writes well and seems to be very well versed on this subject. (I wish she would use “dharma” rather than “dhamma.” Its like Peking Duck. I just can’t get myself around Bejing Duck.) The Buddha isn’t somebody you really like. More like respect. Then, again, I probably wouldn’t have really liked Christ or Socrates, the other two greats of the Axial age. Not one of the three ever cracked a joke.

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