I have enjoyed short stories by this author, but I didn't particularly enjoy this novel. There are no likeable characters and the story is quite unbelievable without feeling exactly like a fantasy. So many details that aim to make this sound authentic, but it didn't work for me.
If you found "Rise and Fall" to be a gripping book, as I did, then I think you will find "Berlin Diaries" to be a wonderful listen. Here you learn all the thoughts of a witness to an amazing place and time. Particularly striking is the insanity of what Shirer is and is not allowed to report. The world was turned upside-down and Shirer tells you about it as if you were having a drink at the press club. Wonderful insights into easy things that the British might have done better... for example, bombing doesn't need to be massive to be effective, Shirer explains that even small bombings during the night in Berlin have the effect of keeping everyone awake and dramatically affecting war production, not to mention jangling nerves. You see Shirer becoming more and more cynical as the war begins to go badly and his access to real news vs. propaganda is limited. The book leaves you wanting to learn a lot more about his wife Tess who seems like a very interesting character in her own right. Shirer explains so clearly successes of the Third Reich early in the war; you understand what it means to build a war machine, to consider all the technical details, to keep all your aircraft hidden a short distance from the airfields so that the bombing of an airfield produces limited damage. Shirer explains Hitler's misperception of British attitudes. I found the book truly fascinating.
This novel is perhaps not as strong as The Good Earth or Pavilion of Women but the story chronicles a fascinating chapter in both Jewish and Chinese history; the final years of a distinct Jewish presence in Kaifeng. A warning; some Jews may be offended by Buck's views on why Jews have been historically persecuted. The book includes a wonderfully informative epilogue by a scholar of Sino-Judaica which provides a historical context for the novel. It affirms the accuracy of much of what Buck writes and points out specific places where Buck has taken literary license. For Buck fans, like me, you will want to listen, and for those who want to learn more about the Jewish culture in China, you will also want to listen. For centuries, China was a safe haven for Jews who came to China via the silk road. In the years leading up to the Holocaust, Shanghai welcomed Jews when countries around the world denied them entry.
This book has very much the feeling of The Good Earth (first book of the Good Earth trilogy) but set in the period of World War II. It describes how a family in the countryside deals with the tragedy and upheaval of the Japanese occupation of eastern China. Buck delivers stylized language that perfectly captures the feeling of Chinese speech and culture. For example, when the eldest son finds a Chinese woman rather than a Japanese man in the trap he has set, his first question after he pulls her out is "have you eaten?". This will ring true to anyone who has visited China. Buck is a treasure, perhaps an undervalued treasure. How many American writers grew up in China, living among relatively poor people, speaking as a native, and later writing in English. In spite of winning the Nobel prize, she does not get the recognition she deserves. A style every bit as strong as Hemingway and perhaps more substance and political awareness.
The book is so relevant today, when China is the country that America loves to hate and when Japan is looking at re-interpreting its constitution to allow the development of a military. This book will remind Western readers that China was ravaged by Japan (after having been ravaged by Britain). It was interesting to learn that Japan, like Britain, used opium as a tool to destroy China. A wonderful story and a good performance by the narrator.
Interestingly, what I loved best is the performance. The author gives us characters from a variety of countries speaking English in distinctive accents. Ms. Bentinck's performance brings these voices to life so beautifully that, at times, you find yourself not caring so much about the slowly unfolding story as you are captivated by the sound of the characters. And while the story does build slowly, it builds very surely. The author has you firmly in his grip.
It is a gripping story filled with moral ambiguities and interesting surprises. It is beautifully constructed, like the artwork described within the story. The author uses language in many beautiful ways.
Just beautiful; a great read.
Clearly, most Audible listeners would enjoy it more as the book got good reviews.
Much of the book is dialog on speed; constantly frantic; very difficult to listen to. I have to accept that people spoke like this in the Iraq deployment since I wasn't there. To me, it sounds like the ravings of adolescents who have overdosed on steroids. I was not at all persuaded that this is the bearing of a skilled and professional soldier. Given that the US infantry was outfitted with night vision glasses, multiparty communications, and the most modern weapons systems, it appears they made a lot of mistakes; perhaps some due to raging egos. The sergeant constantly demonstrated an 'attitude' towards officers. He sounded downright insubordinate. In his own descriptions he appears mentally unstable. Again, I wasn't there, but it seems unlikely that the results would warrant keeping a person like this in a sensitive position in the military (fighting house-to-house).
The book seems to assume that readers would agree that Iraq was a just war fought for the Iraqis. The writer appears committed to the importance of the the US involvement in Iraq, but there should be at least some mention of the widely held belief that the war was sparked by government claims of WMDs.
By the time I reached the end of the book (the epilogue is interminable), I wanted to wash my hands to cleanse myself of the awful way in which this man treated his family. If you are a fan of intelligent non-fiction about war, try William Shirer, Rick Atkinson, or Cornelius Ryan, not this poorly written book which sounds like an action movie without video.
Imagine, for a moment that the author of the Hardy Boys chose another pen name and wrote a book about a young man who joins the circus and finds true love. Although I did manage to finish the book (I wouldn't make that choice again), I am surprised by the high ratings this title has received. Be warned; I'm hanging the red lantern on this circus train. The protagonist does everything but say 'aw shucks'. He is practically forced into sex by women who unzip him, thus escaping all responsibility. And the writing includes such gems as "solid as an oblisk; viscous as water". Viscous as water? Given the ratings, there must be a good audience for this kind of book.... but I'm not it.
I love reading (listening to) Greene. This is not really a 'spy thriller' as suggested by the "Publisher's Summary". It is a story about characters ranged on a spectrum of moral ambiguity; how they think and behave; and the consequences. The mystery is trying to guess where on the spectrum each character lies. Greene ties all strands as expected, but not, I think, as the reader might have chosen.
The author takes you through a mystery in a world that bends in on itself; where all roads out take you back in. where things you should have expected are unexpected. Wonderful use of language. At times, I felt that the narrator lied to me a bit... but I forgive him.
Katherine of Maryland is certainly correct that the music in the audio version is extremely distracting. I often hear audiobooks that have music at the beginning and ending. Sometime you get a bit of music at the end of chapters. None of this works well. But, in this case, the music seems to pop up all the time. It is loud and it is distracting. I would urge that this audio be re-issued with the music track removed.
The author makes the case that what you know about Columbine is probably wrong. I found his arguments persuasive. The extent of the cover-up by Jefferson County officials was new information to me. The author also delivers on the promise to provide insight into the motivations of the killers. The book is difficult to put down. I suggest not reading it at night as it will very likely disturb your sleep. I did find that the narrative went a bit off-track during the long discussion of psychopathy, but it manages to find the way back.
Graham Greene is a wonderful listen even when not at his best. The first half of the book promises more than the second half delivers. An earlier reviewer 'Vered' described exactly what I felt about this book; the religous issues are clearly something that the author was wrestling with, but they overpower the story in the end. The narrator does a good job.
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