Sisters is not as good as other Littell novels. Nevertheless, in my opinion he is the best writer of the genre and his worst novel trounces the competition from other writers.
The story is set in the 1960's. The anti-heroes are two old bachelor CIA operatives with symbiotic minds. One sees the forest and one sees only the trees. They finish one another?s sentences and one another?s thoughts. When one is stuck, the other has a ready solution. They are called the Sisters (a title that has nothing to do with their sexual orientation, since, for many years, they have both been too obsessed with intelligence work and double think to think of sex.)
Within the agency, they are known to be somewhat strange, but are kept around, nevertheless, because they are occasionally brilliant.
They both believe that the battle between the United States and the Soviet Union is at a decision point and on this point hangs either civilization and freedom or barbarism and slavery.
So, with the presumed blessing of their superiors, they put their heads together to commit the perfect crime. How? They reason that if they can discover the identity of a Soviet agent in deep cover (a sleeper), hijack him, and control his mission, the crime can not be traced to the Sisters of the CIA.
That takes you through the first ten minutes.
The character development is very good. The twists and turns are good, but not as good as in other Littell novels. The ending has a twist (of course) but is not as ambiguous as Littell?s other novels. I recommend Sisters after you have listened to or read Littell?s other novels. The others are better, but Sisters is worth the read.
Some of these stories are very good. A few are very disturbing. I am not entertained or educated by a story that tries to place me inside the mind of a pedophile child rapist and killer.
I have listened to this story about 100 times. While falling asleep, on long trips, etc. I always find something new. It is absolutely one of my favorites of all time.
The year is 1967. Brano, an savvy and experienced agent in the state security agency of a Soviet satellite, is a pawn in a game among powers he cannot see and for purposes he does not comprehend. His perspective is much like that of a character in a Kafka novel. As he struggles to understand, to survive, and, most of all, to follow orders, the many layers of manipulation and deception unfold. But who or what is the ultimate puppetmaster and what is he or it up to? Will Brano live long enough to find out?
I, too, thought the author, Jasper Fforde, was a woman. Not so. Jasper is a man. That he can convincingly put himself (and a male reader) into the mind of a woman is, itself, sufficient reason to listen to the series. (In fact, when I heard the preview of the first book, I was sure it was a "woman's book" and I only purchased it and listened because I told a woman friend about it and she challenged me to stretch my brain a bit.)
The new narrator is good. Not as good as the prior narrator, but then again, who could be? She still gives plenty of range and depth to the charcters in her reading.
The writing is consistently witty and original. I loved the antics of two-year-old Friday and the Dodo. Also loved Thursday's single parent prospective: What could be as important in a new job as the challenge of saving the world? How about adequate child care. From shooting a page running minotar with a slapstick dart to the riots of fans at the croquet matches, to the common person's obsession with literary trivia and debate, in substitution for political arguments and sports talk, Jasper will keep you scratching your head and laughing out loud.
You don't have to listen the three earlier books in the series to understand and love this one. Each stands alone. This one begins with a brief description of each character, which is very helpful. A glossory of terms, such as "page runner" might have been helpful, too. But part of the fun is figuring out what the terms and devices are.
Certainly, Lost in a Good Book is the best in the series, but none of the books ran too long or seemed to me to have dry patches. All are fives on a scale of five.
So prepare to stretch your brain and exercise your funny bones.
This isn't as good as The Sunburned Country (Australia) or Notes from a Small Island (the U.K.) or A Short History of Nearly Everything (The Universe, Time, Science, Biology, History, Physics, and almost everything else). It isn't even as good as The Lost Continent (Bryson's other book about returning to America after a 20 year sojourn in England). But as they say about sex, even the worst is still wonderful. The same can be said about this book. It is funny. It is insightful. It is well-written. It is a joy to read and a joy to hear. I've listen to it five times, which is five times less than the number of times I listened to his other audio books.
So when is MOTHER TONGUE coming out as a audiobook?
Scott Brick reads Dean Koonz. The story is Frankenstein (the sequel). I have died and gone to heaven. No, better yet, I have gone to heaven without having to die first. You will, too.
I supported the Bush administration?s preventive war against Iraq because, after September 11, it seemed prudent to invade before Iraq could use its weapons of mass destruction. I cheered when CNN made Scott Ritter a laughing stock because he said Iraq had few if any weapons of mass destruction and invading Iraq was going to make things worse. I cheered when the administration slimed him with rumors and innuendo about his personal life.
When no WMDs were found in Iraq and wild allegations arose that the war was more about election strategy than national security, I decided to go back and see what Ritter was really saying. This 1999 book, by the U.N.?s chief weapons inspector in Iraq for seven years, is on target and amazingly current. It could have been written last week.
Ritter has no kind words for the Clinton administration, Madeline Albright, or the United Nations. His description of Saddam and his cohort will make your skin crawl.
But Ritter?s 1999 description of what would happen if Iraq were invaded is pretty much what happened. He points out that Iraq?s army was so poorly trained and equipped that it could barely march, but could cut and run. Its fighter pilots barely knew how to take off and land. And its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction had been eliminated and, even if a few had not been destroyed, they did not present a credible threat to an invading army.
He also shows that Saddam is a product of Iraq?s history and culture and that overthrowing him is likely to lead instability and something or someone worse.
Ritter offers a way out, albeit an answer that will not satisfy those who want simple, fast, painless solutions. Alas, we will never know if his proposals would have worked.
Today, high government officials are saying ?WE DIDN?T KNOW.? Even Scott Ritter knew. He knew in 1999. And he wrote a book to tell everyone. So they slimed him.
So why isn?t Ritter on CNN saying, ?I told you so!?
How did George W. Bush defeat John McCain in the South Carolina primary? Thousands of voters received calls from an "independent polling firm" asking if they would vote for John McCain if they knew he was the father of a black child born out of wedlock. Technically, this wasn't even a lie, since John McCain and his wife adopted an orphan girl from Bangladesh and she appeared with them on the campaign trail.
In the George W. Bush acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 2000, he said that Clinton had gutted the military so badly that if called to fight, two entire divisions would have to say "Not ready, Sir!" Yet, a year later, Bush launch a successful war in Afghanistan with that same military. As Cheney told Reagan after the first Gulf War, a president must fight wars with the military put in place by his predecessor. So Bush won the war (and the second Iraq war) with Clinton's military. Franken shows that Clinton built up the military, contrary to the falsehoods of Bush, Cheney and the radio and television generals.
"Operation Ignore" is the name Franken gives to the Bush administration?s refusal to implement General Richard Clark's program - developed in by the Clinton administration after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole - to destroy Al Queda by sending Special Forces into Afghanistan, breaking up cells, tracking down Osama's charities and other money sources and establishing a Department of Homeland Security.
As a bonus, Franken is very funny.
Oh, by the way, remember the vandalism committed by Clinton's staff before they turned over the White House to Bush? The General Accounting Office conducted a through investigation and found no evidence of any such vandalism. The Bush administration. It was artful. As Franken says, in a paraphrase of Groucho Marx, "Truth goes out the door when rumor comes innuendo."
Vasili Mitrokhin was an archivist for the KGB. For several years, he reviewed files as they were moved to a new building. He began to secretly copy information from the files and take it home. Security was surprisingly lax and he became bold. Eventually, he had six crates of notes and quotes. After the fall of the Soviet Union, British intelligence exfiltrated him and his family in exchange for access to his files.
In this book, he names names. Hundreds of names. For instance, he names an employee of M.W. Kellogg in Houston, whom no one ever suspected of being a Soviet agent. He names key members of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations.
But saying that he names names is understating the importance of this book.
Beginning in the 1930's and continuing into the late 1980's, he describes Soviet tradecraft and the work of master spys, cutouts, agents, and persons compromised. For instance, the provides the Soviet side of the recuiment and running of the Kim Phily Five, the Alger Hiss matter, the Rosenbergs, etc.
HE EVEN IDENTIFIES SASHA, a Soviet mole who did much damage (although the CIA's hunt for SASHA may have been even more damaging than Sasha's own work - and the skeptics amoung us question whether there was another Sasha).
If this were fiction, it would be a pretty good book. As non-fiction, it is a must read for anyone who wants to know what really happened in the cold war and how close we came to losing to the Soviets.
About 20% of the information in this book is incorporated into Robert Littel's novel, THE COMPANY.
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