This book is about all the ambiguities of life, of memory, of meaning in life. It is the kind of book that many say they need to read (listen to) twice. I did go back and listen to the beginning and will probably buy the print copy.
That said, it is worth it to buy the audio version because the reader, who was an award-winning actor, gives it something extra.
The first half of the story recounts various events from the narrator's life. In the second half, a former girlfriend and a document from his earlier life reappear. The former GF and he also share new events. The narrator then needs to reassess the meaning (or even veracity) of events as he remembered them against the new perspectives of an older person with evidence that these events did not really occur in the way he remembered.
This reminds me of Kundera and of Remains of the Day. If you liked those, you will probably like this. Otherwise, consider carefully. This book is not for everyone. If you prefer a strongly plotted novel, this may not be your cup of tea (or coffee for Americans).
The sad thing is to learn that the narrator has died.
The story is not possible to summarize easily as it is woven together from the stories of many people from the early twentieth centuries. It is almost as though the world of this time is the primary character. The fictionalized stories of J.P. Morgan, Houdini, and Emma Goldman and others are woven in. Briefly, the story revolves around a family (and their connections, known and unknown to them). The family includes the father, who owns a flag and gunpowder factory, his wife who moved from the Midwest to marry him, her younger brother whom she raised as her own child after the death of their parents, and the couple's child, who is the nominal narrator of the story although other points of view are also utilized (e.g. the woman the younger brother loves, JP Morgan).
Younger brother falls in love with a renowned beauty, wife of the man who murdered her former lover. Through her, he meets Emma Goldman and we later see that he is radicalized by this experience. His sister rescues a dying baby and through this their lives become entangled in the lives of an accomplished black man, a tragic character whose persistence probably led to both his success and his downfall. This is only one story line of many. It is the one at the center of the "action" though not necessarily the most important story, as you will hear. (Apologies to Mr. Doctorow for this totally inadequate summary).
Doctorow's writing style conveys the sense of the early 20th century. There were times in listening to this where I was frightened for the character, or sad, or experiencing so many other feelings. For those who are interested in writing or in the study of literature, this book will prove a revelation as he uses techniques and styles that are unique and which could incorporated by others into their writing. It is also clear that he did a great deal of research into the facts of this time. There are times when the research became intrusive, but not often and, in the end, it was necessary to understand this to truly experience the time. At the end of the book, I felt that I had lived in that time. It reminded me of so many stories I had heard from grandparents and great aunts.
Doctorow reads the book. There is some thought that authors should not read their own books but leave this to professional actors. The advantage of professional actors is that they can utilize a fuller range of voices, emotions, etc. The advantage of having the book read by the author is that the emphasis is right. It is common for me to be brought up short by an actor's interpretation thinking, the author could not possibly have meant that. When the author reads, this does not happen, therefore I tend to prefer authors as readers.
This is my first Doctorow book but it won't be the last. That said, as in many of my other reviews, this is a book that will challenge the listener. It requires patience, and attention. There are thrills, but no cheap thrills.
McEwan is one of my favorite writers, but this one did not catch me. The story revolves around a neurosurgeon who wakes up on his day off, only to see a plane coming in over the Thames, apparently on fire. It is a day filled with events and, at the end, a new respect for and understanding of his family, particularly his two young adult children and his father-in-law.
It gets better towards the end, as he comes to a new understanding of poetry and its importance to his daughter, and music, for his son.
In addition, there was an ethically jarring situation ....
[SPOILER] where the narrator actually goes in and offers to operate on a man who had attacked him and who was injured because the narrator and his son had thrown him down the stairs, causing a head injury. It might be justified because supposedly he was the best person to take care of the man, but even this was not totally clear. At the very least, he should have told the other members of the team. Also, it would be a nightmare for the prosecutors to deal with this situation. When a story conflicts with reality, it takes one out of the world of the story. [END OF SPOILER]
There are, of course, the inevitable comparisons with Joyce's Ulysses, but the comparison does not hold up well. There is definitely less excitement than in the TV show "24", though there are fewer cheap thrills also.
The subject involves reactions to 9/11 and our perceptions on this evolve as time goes on. The novel is inevitably somewhat limited by the perspective of the time in which it as written.
Perhaps my problem is that I work in the medical field and so a lot of the medical description, while realistic, was boring to me. Maybe this is interesting to those outside the medical field who get to see some of the inside, but to me, it was too much like a day at work.
There is honesty in this writing but, unfortunately, the subject matter was less interesting than his other novels.
I have now listened to 28 of the 32 hours of this book of essays. It took me a while to get into it (it has been in my library for over a year). At first, it seemed so dense that I would listen to 1/2 or one essay and then take a break for a month or so. Then, something happened and it got much more interesting. I learned about writers in a way I had never thought about them and historical events from the viewpoint of a person who has thought deeply about issues of contemporary history.
Hitchens has a particular viewpoint. He was unabashedly against religion, especially in the ways in which religion has been misused. He has absolutely no patience with the use of religion to torture others. He traveled in Africa and Afghanistan during disruptions and wars. He experienced waterboarding and described the sensation in detail, while admitting that it must have been worse for those who had less trust that they would live through the experience.
One interesting experience is how much attention he pays to women who have written on history or as novelist. His (possibly) favorite novelist was George Eliot.
I heard about his impending death and then his death when I was not familiar with his work. His essay just before his death, in, I believe, the NY Review of Books, was to dense for me to read. Now, I am so sorry he is gone. I would like to argue with him about several of his points, or ask him for even more details. Of course, I wouldn't have a chance with such a sardonic wit.
As most know, this is the story of the Corleone family, based on true Mafia stories. The main story revolves around Michael Corleone, who went to Dartmouth and planned never to get involved in the family business. It shows the force that led him to choose to go back into the life, why his wife, from a professional New England family decided to join him, and how many of those both in and out of the family were affected by these choices. By the second chapter, I was already watching the chapters go by, wishing it would never end. The narrator was great, allowing one to hear each character.
Puzo was a great writer in the way he used time, the way he characterized people by their actions and words, telling just enough for the reader to draw their own conclusions.
I lived in NJ in the sixties and knew of some of these events through the news and heard about the burials in NJ. Although this is fiction, there are thinly veiled references to real people that sometimes it makes one think about what was really happening. It will also make you think about influences on police, judges, and politicians. Every so often a case breaks out into the open, but probably there is much more graft than we ever learn about. It makes one think.
It is also a great story and interesting on many levels.
This book takes the listener through Iranian history, proposing that the roots of problems between the US and Iran started with the overthrow of the popular leader, Mossadegh. Mossadegh was the first democratically elected leader of Iran. He was both idealistic and unyielding. Mossadegh nationalized the oil fields run by the Anglo-Iranian corporation, a forerunner of BP. Although many in the West could not understand his unyielding stance on this issue, the author presents facts to show that Iran benefited little from the oil that was taken from it, making it at least partially rational to withhold oil until when and if Iranians could run the oil fields.
Mossadegh was taken down by a coup led by the CIA, and initiated by the CIA agent, Roosevelt, grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.
The author is a writer for the NY Times. He investigates, as fairly as possible, the historical events for the events surrounding the coup and its aftermath. After listening to this book, I felt that I had a deeper, though still incomplete, understanding of Iran.
This book is written by an Iranian-American who works as a journalist. His family seems to be well connected as it is through some of these connections that he is able to interview several high ranking officials. His social group (perhaps obviously) is that of the upper middle class to upper class as they generally seem out of sync with the present regime which is supported by those from (apparently) lower classes.
These caveats aside, I found the descriptions of Iranian society, values, and cultural perceptions to be fascinating and feel that I now understand that country much better and that it would be enjoyable to visit. For those who have an interest in the Middle East or in Iran, this is certainly a worthwhile book and one that is likely to give more insight into how Iranians perceive the world than most other books.
This book initially seems to be the story of a love affair, which it is. But it is so much more than that as these two are caught up in a triangle that threatens a friendship and a marriage, affected by world events and impacted by religious beliefs and changing culture.
It also beautifully shows how a couple (or couples) can have an affair, or a marriage, that has a unity, but then each of them has his or her own life that impacts the relationship, often in a way that the other does not understand and often misinterprets.
I wish I had this book 15 years ago. It is written for those working in business, in a conservative environment, but some people were actually taught this and, if you don't know the rules, then you will make inadvertent errors. I would recommend this for anyone working in a professional or business environment. You might not obey the rules all the time, but it is nice to know what they are. I've been around long enough to recognize that what she says is true in many environments.
The author was trained or worked as an airplane or helicopter mechanic for several years before getting into flight safety full time. He describes the evolution of his awareness of flight safety and also the background of airplane crashes in which we was on the investigative team. If you are interested in airline safety or safety in general, this will be of interest to you. He does name names and complain about people in the industry, so he will make some enemies. He also seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but, if you can ignore that, this will be a fascinating read or listen.
This is not a bad book and it is very interesting in terms of learning about the culture of one of the Native groups (Chippewa, I believe). The narrator is a young teenager who reacts to the rape and almost murder of his mother. The writing is very good, but I was not too interested in the story and also have a hard time with stories that I perceive as showing a stereotyped view of women (as weak, serving roles in stories primarily as victims). There are some interesting minor female characters, but the primary roles of women in this story is to have something terrible happen to them and then the male figures have to react. Unfortunately, this view has become so dominant in our literature that even highly rated female authors fall for it. In contrast, the women that I see in every day life are brave and struggle with many issues of meaning, spirituality, goals, etc.
I also had difficulty with the narrator's style but listened to this right after listening to "Sense of the Ending" which has one of the best narrators ever. After a while, either I got used to it or he got into the flow better.
Many people love this book and my tastes are different than many, so see what I like or don't to see if this review applies to you.
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