So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.
I always feel that when reviewing a memoir you have to stick to rules that don't dishonor the author that is so bravely sharing a part of their soul. It is safe to say that Amanda shares hers with a restraint I respect, focusing on the surface events and the space within herself from which she drew the will to survive. She shows a surprising element of understanding towards her captors, and her partner Nigel, that I don't think I would have had the grace with which to do so. Accepting responsibility for her plight (which she does admirably) shows that this is a woman not wanting to waste her precious time placing blame or wearing the victim label.
The book gives the right amount of background story, is well written and edited, and refrains from manipulating the reader. I am still processing many aspects of the story, both the fascinating psychology involved, and the global politics. The hatred directed at the West, the treatment of women, then the reverse desire to have a Western education...but I don't want to tread into the politics. (The events that involved the ex-boyfriend have me still scratching my head...I would love to have that discussion with other readers.) I watched Amanda's interview with 20/20, and have since watched several other interviews she has given. The book is an extended version of those interviews. Amanda's story shows that she has learned to draw a positive power from the trauma, using it as the impetus to reach out to others; she is an empowered survivor whose courage and determination could not be beaten.
My husband doesn't understand how I can sit in front of the TV watching people preparing food; I tell him we're even because I don't understand how he can sit and watch two men pummeling each other with their gloved fists. This conversation came about as I watched *Cheese Slices'* Will Studd hiking through a little Spanish hillside in Castile to a remote village called Guzman in pursuit of a rare sheep's milk cheese preserved in olive oil. A cheese made throughout history by one family and prized among turophiles. Fellow Foodies will understand this passion. On a personal note, I am of Castilian/French ancestry, so I felt some connection to this particular cheese hunt and was intrigued -- to which my husband countered, "My grandfather was a boxer." Days later, The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge... appeared on Audible and I realized the "Piece of Cheese" was the same Páramo de Guzman I had seen Will Studd search out and hedonistically enjoy.
That cave was the "Telling Room", a family's bodega or "el contador," once used as a place to age the precious cheese, and to count and record the farmer's harvest. Later, the rooms were used as a gathering place to tell stories and drink copious amounts of the local wine. It is from this Telling Room that Paterniti draws out the tale of a family's cheese and two friends that battle over that cheese, lusted for by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Gorbachev, Reagan, and called by Harrod's of London, "the world's greatest piece of cheese."
Paterniti, who has an MFA in Creative Writing, is a skillful storyteller that writes with intense passion. He claims the research for this book changed his life, which is obvious in his almost loving attention to detail. (Apparently the book contains page after page of footnotes.) His own obsession with the tale of the cheese seemed like an engrossing tale -- until he introduces the reader to Ambrosio. As someone once said, "I thought I liked the chamber music until the orchestra started to play." Ambrosio is a character of Shakespearean dimensions, fueled by his love for his land, gossip and legends, and gallons of wine. His zest for life is exhilarating (even a very funny, but not irreverent, rustic soliloquy on defecating), everything becomes a shadow to his simple radiance. The story takes on a romantic fairy tale-like quality in his presence. "My name is Ambrosio Melinos de las Heras. You stole my cheese; prepare to die!"
The contrasting stories of an American journalist researching an article, and a Spanish farmer bent on revenge are tightly entwined. The book is verbose and became a little cumbersome as Paterniti painstakingly laid out his family's step by step acclimation to Spain and their personal story thread. The author uses whole chapters to tell a few paragraphs of a story, and I found myself rushing ahead to the villages of Spain and Ambrosio's story. A case of an author writing a character so well that he is outshone by his own brilliance. Readers who love the written word will enjoy...Foodies should at least look for an abridged edition. Not truly a food-themed book, hence the love, betrayal and revenge, but still enjoyable, and executed with talent and heart.
[**As for the cheese? Paterniti described the taste to the Chicago Tribune's Bill Daley: "The cheese was carrying so much metaphysical weight, it was such a product of the land. It connected me to the place....It was such a strong cheese. I didn't expect it. I couldn't eat any more of it. It was overpowering. It was such a reflection of who Ambrosio is." (You can experience his verbosity in this answer.)
*I was unable to find the cheese at any deli nearby for a tasting. The World of Imports has this description: "Páramo de Guzman is an innovative raw sheep's "cheese in a can." It is made on the banks of the Duero River in central Spain. Aged for 12 months for a piquant, sheepy flavor and a firm, slightly granular texture, it is them preserved in extra virgin olive oil -- in a can, no less. The yellow-green oil soaks into the pores of the cheese, giving it a bright olive tint and easy eating texture. From this oil come a typical Mediterranean aroma along with a citrus edge in the flavor profile. Currently sells for $22 lb."]
The first time I heard Sedaris, I thought I was listening to the funniest, most clever and original humorist since the early years of George Carlin and Steve Martin, whose live performances had you leaning on complete strangers to help support your racked-with-laughter body to keep you off the floor. Forget polite sophisticated chuckles--these were open-mouthed, tears down your cheeks, ugly-faced guffaws. You never finished a drink before the carbonation went flat...you knew there'd not be even one safe second to swallow before an explosive laugh might send that sparkly beverage spraying out your nose. Sedaris even had the added unique ability to get you laughing at those never before funny, tough memories we all share--those growing up rights of passage moments that elicit laughter through tears. He was (and is) that good at observing life and the ridiculous humor in the everyday.
Maybe I've lost my funny bone, but it seemed like something was missing with this latest collection. I never felt the urge to rewind and listen again, and at times found myself giving an obligatory chuckle out of respect for a comedic genius that has shared better comedy. He is still observant and witty; several of the pieces were great, but there was not much that seemed new and crisp, nothing to catch you off guard and slap you silly. There's a dusty air of reflection, even melancholy, in a few of the pieces that set a tone that stayed with me, in spite of some sunnier funnier bits. But then, maybe unfairly, I always compare his latest to his greatest, the one that had me afraid to drink a Coke even alone at home--Me Talk Pretty One Day; several guffaws better that hooting it up here with the owls.
Fans of Sedaris will still enjoy this, and will probably get plenty of laughs that make it worth the price of admission. Anything that can lift our spirits, give us a little enjoyment, and make us smile is worthwhile, afterall. *Worth mentioning: not a great or consistent production. As usual, there are live bits which you expect to be a little tougher to listen to, but even the studio recorded pieces are tinny and inferior.
mostly nonfiction listener
I just read Vowell's new book, The Wordy Shipmates, and loved it so much I immediately picked up the The Partly Cloudy Patriot. If Assassination Vacation was available unabridged at Audible I read that next.
Partly Cloudy Patriot is good fun....but nowhere near as smart or well developed as her latest book. You can see her maturity as a writer between the books, as Vowell is finding her voice in Patriot. In Shipmates, Vowell moves from a humorist (or essayist) to a historian.
Still....I enjoyed spending a few hours with Vowell - and came away feeling better about my own geek, history loving cred.