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John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA)
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Adieu Gary Cooper (Combedie Ambericaine)
Adieu Gary Cooper (Combedie Ambericaine)
by Romain Gary
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Franco-American alliance..., 22 Dec 2014
Romain Gary had a full and varied life. He was born in Vilnius (now in Lithuania) when it was part of the Russian Empire. His mother and he moved to Nice, France, and became French citizens in 1928. He would become an aviator with the Free French Forces during World War II. Later, he would become a French diplomat. He won the Prix Concourt twice, the only author to do so. He earned it for Les Racines Du Ciel (Folio), which he wrote under his own name, and for La Vie Devant Soi which he wrote under his pseudonym, Emile Ajar. The first book of his that I read was Les Tresors De LA Mer Rouge (Folio 2 Euros) and I found his style enticing, particularly as it related to one of the last outposts of the French Empire, Djibouti. His first wife was Lesley Blanch, author of the excellent The Wilder Shores Of Love. And while he was serving at the French Consulate in Los Angles, he would meet, and later marry the American actress, Jean Seberg, and hence the "Franco-American alliance." This work, published in French as "Adieu Gary Cooper," was also published in English as The ski bum. The novel is set in the `60's, and draws heavily on aspects of both American and European cultures.

Lenny is a deserter from the American Army, and hence, Vietnam, and is trying to make it (illegally) as a ski instructor in Switzerland. He falls in with a cast of counterculture characters, and alienation - a word I do not hear much reference to nowadays - hangs heavy over the "scene." His trajectory leads to Jess, the daughter of an alcoholic American diplomat, and all the complications of take center stage. At the beginning of the novel, the air is thin, high up on the Swiss Alps, but later Lenny descends, though inseparable from the skis he always carries, to Geneva, and Lake Leman, where the seagulls and swans provide continuing symbolic references.

I appreciated Gary's contrasting portraits of two "watering holes" in Geneva. "Le Chapeau rouge" is the best restaurant in the city, and the regulars from 1928 still frequented the place. "Le Bouton Rouge", is the best espresso-snack bar in the canton, leading the fight for nuclear disarmament (speaking of something else we don't hear much about today), and a convenient place for signing the latest petition against the world's evils. As Jess says about "Le Bouton Rouge": "Each time that I come here, I have the impression of falling into the full: Summer, 1914." The novel is replete with French and American cultural references, in some cases stirring long dormant associations, in others, going completely over my head. For example: The Saint James Infirmary, napalm, "empoujadisee," Oradour, and "The Silent Spring." Gary plays with those ultimate symbols for the alienated, and it resonated strongly: Madagascar, Outer Mongolia, and even Algeria.

I've been a long-time fan of Thomas Pynchon, and certainly found similarities in the work of Romain Gary (though he lacks the physics!). But the former husband of Lesley Branch made up for it, not by referencing the smell of the magnolia trees in Marseille but rather, the smell of the mimosas, because, it really isn't finished, it has just begun... and I have no doubt that I will be reading more of Gary in the near future. As Gary says, (p.248), "Outer Mongolia, it is you and me. 5-stars.


Honey and Salt
Honey and Salt
by Carl Sandburg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.87

5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry from the heartland..., 19 Dec 2014
This review is from: Honey and Salt (Paperback)
Carl Sandburg is a quintessential American from the "heartland," the Mid-West. He was born and raised in Illinois. He had a love-hate relationship with formal schooling; he did an assortment of laboring and service jobs that so often provide the real education into the dilemmas of life. It should be no surprise then that he found the life of another man of the heartland compelling: Abraham Lincoln. Sandburg earned the Pulitzer Prize for his outstanding biography of him (Lincoln: Sandburg). I've read that biography a number of years ago, and my 5-star review is posted at Amazon. At about the same time that I purchased the biography, in the `60's, I also purchased this work of poetry, for 50 cents back then, published by Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc. It has regrettably taken a long time to "crack the cover," and falls into the "better late than never" category.

There are 77 poems, covering both the human condition and the natural world. His is definitely a "man's voice", shaped by work such as that of a bricklayer and farm laborer. And it is gentle voice, sensitive to nuance and heartbreak. The publisher provided "strength in the bookends," that is, the first and last poem. This collection takes its title from the title to the first poem, which is a wonderful distillation of the elements to a life of love. Consider:

"Is the key to love in passion, knowledge, affection?
All three - along with moonlight, roses, groceries,
Giving and forgivings, gettings and forgettings,
Keepsakes and room rent,
Pearls of memory along with ham and eggs.

Sandburg goes on to admonish against try to lock love away, where it will "gather dust and mildew." That repeated admonition to live life to the fullest.

The last poem is entitled "Timesweep." It is a rich tribute to life itself, commencing with "I was born in the morning of the world." Eternal truths, uniquely expressed: "The make-up of vertebrates; the long highway of mammals who chew; Their victims and feed their children."

The range of his subject matter is impressive. One poem is entitled "Anecdote of Hemlock for Two Athenians," another is entitled "Forgotten Wars" and mentions names that once reverberated with meaning, but now draw blank stare: Cassino, Anzio, the Bulge."

He pays tribute to that great granary that is the Mid-West in "Harvest,"

"When the corn stands yellow in September
A red flower ripens and shines among the stalks
And a red silk creeps among the broad ears
And tall tassels life over all else...

Their fire
Light the west in November."

As with all poetry collections, a few can fall a bit flat. Still, overall, for this volume, 5-stars.


Elsewhere, Perhaps
Elsewhere, Perhaps
by Amos Oz
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life on the kibbutz... first take..., 15 Dec 2014
This review is from: Elsewhere, Perhaps (Paperback)
Amos Oz, along with David Grossman, are the two great humanist Israeli writers. I hesitate to use the phrase, "of the left," which also implies a "right," both of which are slippery and ever-morphing concepts, particularly in Israel. I first read one of Oz's most famous works, In the Land of Israel (Flamingo) some thirty years ago. It was enough to keep me coming back for his insights, on the human dilemma, particularly in that aforementioned Land. I went on to read The Slopes of Lebanon Fima, and most recently Between Friends which was issued earlier this year, and I was able to read compliments of the Vine program. The later work was a "second take," the more mature reflections on life in a kibbutz, given almost a half century's distance. The "first take" is the subject work, his second work of non-fiction, written in 1966 (in Hebrew) and which I did not read until it came out in English, in the Flamingo edition, in 1989.

Oz lived on a kibbutz in the 1950's, and in this work, the kibbutz is called Metsudat Ram, deep in the desert, 2 miles off that arbitrary construct, the "green line," at the base of the Golan Heights. Remember that it was written one year before the '67 War which was to so transform Israeli. Oz includes in this novel a prediction from a Dutch Army Colonel, who visited the kibbutz, looked up at the Golan Heights, and predicted that someday the "mountains will fall down on you." (As we know, it turned out to be the other way around.)

The core of the novel is the human interactions of those engaged in a highly idealistic social experiment. It was yet another form of "building the new Soviet man," which the Communists attempted after the Russian revolution. That is, by design, within the space of a few years to a couple of decades, human nature would be transformed. As Oz notes, referring to the widow, Fruma Rominov, of the caustic tongue: "Gossip is normally thought of as an undesirable activity, but with us even gossip is made to play a part in the reform of the world."

Oz gently lances some of the ideals of the kibbutz with a spear of reality. Of course, sexism is banished and gender equality espoused, provided the women stay in their assigned roles, or, as the author portrays it: "Noga, when grown-ups are talking, women shouldn't interfere."

Concerning our infinite ability to re-shape history to fit our current needs (what would the Founding Fathers have done with the Internet?), Oz says of the place where Metsudat Ram was established: "For a thousand years the place was a total wilderness, until our first settlers set up their tents and made the desert bloom by the latest agricultural methods. True, a few Arab fellahin dwelt or wandered here before our arrival, but they were poor and primitive, in their dark robes, and easy prey for the hazards of the climate and natural disasters, floods, drought, and malaria. No trace remains of them except some scattered ruins, whose remains are gradually fading away and merging, winter by winter, with the dust from which they came. Their inhabitants have fled to the mountains, from where they hurl their baseless, senseless hatred down at us. We did nothing to them."

Evil within the kibbutz is not banished within the proscribed time, even though everyone pretends they are "on the same team," and that is a fitting end to this excellent novel. 5-stars.


Comedy in a Minor Key
Comedy in a Minor Key
by Hans Keilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.81

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dependence, deception, duty..., 12 Dec 2014
This review is from: Comedy in a Minor Key (Paperback)
...and much else. Hans Keilson lived the full life, to the ripe age of 101. During the Second World War he was in the Dutch resistance. He wrote this novel, obviously drawn on his experiences, shortly after the war, and it was published in 1947. Damion Searls has provided the English translation for this version which was published by a major NYC publisher in 2010. The cover is outstanding, and evocative of the entire novel. The literature of resistance to Nazi rule and occupation - both realistic and embroidered - is a rather crowded field. This is an exceptional novel that is a true standout in that field.

The first paragraph establishes a key aspect of the novel. The bombers - unspecified - but we know they are British and American - are flying overhead, on their way to Germany. The year is never revealed. It is one of the most realistic touches, since in a real war, particularly of those wars when you are in "for the duration," you never know when it will end. And throughout the novel, the war is in the distant background, like those bombers. The central theme is the relationship of three people, Nico, a Jew in his 40's, and the much younger Dutch couple, Wim and Marie, who were asked to perform their patriotic "duty" and hide him in their house.

Nico, who had been a traveling salesman of perfume ("a woman's calling card") is, of necessity, thrust into a relationship of dependency with a much younger couple. All three must practice varying degrees of deception. Ideally, no one else would know that Nico is there, for the normal "security" reasons, but that simply is not realistic. Keilson deftly demonstrates how the circle of the "informed" must slowly grow. Nico is always required to stay away from the window, and is usually confined to his room, but is "allowed" out for brief walks on moonless nights. Like most of us who have not been spies, or others who routinely deceive in their work lives, the three are amateurs in this game, and Keilson deftly explores this theme, including how they might be willing to deceive each other.

Early on in the novel, the reader learns that Nico dies. Yet another dilemma. How to dispose of the body, and what "rituals" might be observed, or not. Tellingly, as the author states, so few adults have actually seen a dead body, and certainly have not been confronted with how to move it. It is a short novel which can be read in a few hours, yet Keilson also managed the theme of a change in the dependency relationship: the providers of sanctuary were in turn required to seek it.

Regrettably this is the first Dutch author I have read. The work reminded me of the incisive novels of the German author, Bernard Schlink, who also has explored subtle themes of life under Nazi rule. As for Keilson's novel, 5-stars, plus.


[(Gila)] [ By (author) Michael Berman, Edited by Mary Anne Redding ] [October, 2013]
[(Gila)] [ By (author) Michael Berman, Edited by Mary Anne Redding ] [October, 2013]
by Michael Berman
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sanctuary for the soul..., 8 Dec 2014
...and a balm for the body too.

I first stumbled into the Gila Wilderness by failing to watch the road signs. On my way to Silver City, going through the town of Reserve along NM 12, I missed the right turn for US 180 and continued straight ahead (not the first one to have ever done that, I understand). It was the fall of 2003, I was new to New Mexico, and soon the vastness and the aspens, all a-yellow, grabbed me, and turned me into an annual visitor.

The Museum of New Mexico Press has produced an impressive tribute to this vast wilderness area which remains - fortunately, from a selfish point of view - not one of the highest "ranked" destinations, even for "outdoor types." It was Aldo Leopold, way back, now almost a century ago, in 1924, who was able to have this area designated as the first "wilderness" area in the United States. Michael Berman has a keen photographer's eye. His photographs pay fitting tribute to the landscapes and the shapes of the natural world, mainly the trees. The best photograph, appropriately, has been used for the box cover. Cliffs on one side of a continuous picture, with rolling hills of juniper and pinon rising to the snow-covered pine covered hills, with storm clouds above. The very essence of the Gila. I was bemused by another reviewer bemoaning the fact that it is only "cliffs and trees." Well. The pictures are displayed without text or an index, so the reader does not know where each photograph was taken. In many ways, it does not matter, but I thought I saw a couple I recognized on the trail south out of the Willow Creek campground.

In addition, there is a separate book of 14 short essays on the Gila. It is a broad spectrum of individuals, and perspectives. Alex Munoz hunts elk with a bow and arrow. Victor Masayesva is a Hopi who considers it a sanctuary. Guy McPherson gives up his "day job" as a Professor at the University of Arizona, and decides to go back to the land, while quoting Arundhati Roy and Camus. Patrick Toomer finds solace in the Gila, after a career as a lineman for the Dallas Cowboys. Philip Conners has subsequently written of his work as a lookout in a watch tower during fire season in Fire Season: Field notes from a wilderness lookout.

Closing on a personal note, I'll mention a recent column from NYT columnist Thomas Friedman. It was one of his columns I actually agreed with. He had gone to the White House to interview the President. After going through the security arrangement, he goes to open the door, and the handle comes off in his hand. The security guard responded: "Oh, it always does that." A metaphor for America, as well as the Gila. Things just don't seem to get fixed. Willow Creek and Ben Lilly campgrounds have been closed for the past three years, due to what appears to be minor fire damage. Three years, and we just can't be bothered to fix it... always hiding behind "there isn't the money" when the real answer is there is the will. I suppose a minority of visitors might argue that it is helping restore the wilderness, though it decreases our enjoyment of it.

5-stars for this excellently produced work.


Common Sense (Dover Thrift Editions)
Common Sense (Dover Thrift Editions)
by Thomas Paine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A familiar problem..., 5 Dec 2014
Thomas Paine is an "icon" of the American Revolution. Most people recognize the name from some school lesson; few people have actually read his works. It is an all too familiar problem, and one that I finally partially resolved. After those high school American history classes in which I first briefly learned of Paine, I saw an excellent play on his life at Kelly's Seed and Feed Theater in Atlanta in the 1970's, which correctly depicted how one of the men most influential in starting the American Revolution would eventually die, poor, and largely reviled, in the country he was so instrumental in creating. But that is another story...

As for "Common Sense," it was written and published in 1776, by a recent immigrant, Paine, who had left England in 1774, and settled in America with the help of Benjamin Franklin. Purportedly half a million copies of this pamphlet, of under 100 pages, were purchased in a country with only two million "free" inhabitants. It was read aloud in the taverns. And that seems to be part of the problem I had with this work: it was WRITTEN in a tavern, after several refreshments were consumed.

In less than those 100 pages, Paine ranges wide, over a variety of subjects and ideas, large and small. Call it a pastiche, if you are charitable; call it a hodge-podge if you are less so charitably inclined. It is an acerbic polemic directed towards a predetermined answer to the question of: Reconciliation or Independence? (from Great Britain...or, rather, as Paine one time states it, "Ye would tell the Royal Wretch his sins, and warn him of eternal ruin..." He digs into the absurdity of the English Constitution (which I always thought did not exist, at least in written form), blames the Jews for starting all this "King business", but deftly deflects a charge of anti-Semitism by excoriating the Quakers: "The principles of Quakerism have a direct tendency to make a man the quiet and inoffensive subject of any, and every government which is set over him... wherefore, the principle itself leads you to approve of everything, which ever happened, or may happen to kings as being his work." He sets forth various principles for the new government, which includes how there should be many representatives (but of limited duration), and warns how Bucks Co. Pennsylvania could rule the whole state if matters were properly manipulated. Oh, he also gets into a detailed accounting of the elements of the British Navy, including the costs of its guns, while also proclaiming it a "paper tiger." Hum. I'll still call it a "pastiche" because of the number of notable quotes this short tract provided. I found myself underlining more passages than works that are ten times longer.

Consider a few of them:

"The rich are in general slaves to fear, and submit to courtly power with the trembling duplicity of a Spaniel."

"In England a king hath little more to do than to make war and give away places;...a pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed eight hundred thousand sterling a year for, and worshipped into the bargain! Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived."

"Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions."

(on how kings are created): "...the principal ruffian of some restless gang, whose manners or preeminence in subtlety obtained the title of chief among the plunderers."

It can all sound pretty good; even better after a few beers. Overall, 4-stars.


Seagate STDR2000201 Backup Plus Slim 2TB USB 3.0 portable 2.5 inch external hard drive - Silver
Seagate STDR2000201 Backup Plus Slim 2TB USB 3.0 portable 2.5 inch external hard drive - Silver
Price: £74.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The Cloud vs. the Hard Drive..., 3 Dec 2014
My daughter and I had that discussion last evening. She is in the "Mac World"; poor old dad stodgily plods along in the Windows based systems. Should one back up all one's precious files in "the cloud" or on a hard drive? Being a belt and suspenders sort of guy, I argued that the "vs." should be removed, replaced by an "and." And with the continued improvements in technology, both are readily viable solutions. Trust, if you will, some provider to operate and maintain "the cloud" securely for you, but also verify that you have the files available, even if the Internet is not, say in the Gila Wilderness. Of course, as my daughter perceptively noted, why would you want to look at your "files" in the Gila Wilderness?

Seagate has produced a wonderful "belt and suspenders" type of external hard drive. First of all, although designed for the Mac World, with minor effort, it also can be configured to work with the Windows based systems. Please note the "also," meaning that it will function with both systems. It comes with a USB cable that will work with both the newer (and naturally faster) USB 3.0 ports as well as the older USB 2.0 ports.

If you have a Mac, as the name of the product implies, simply pop it out of the box (and pry it out of the plastic), plug it in, and it works. If you have a Windows based system, you need to look at the directions, (conveniently printed in 327 languages- OK, I exaggerate slightly). You obtain Seagate's URL for the Windows "app," go there, download and install on your Windows system. It is about as straightforward and "foolproof" as possible. It took me a couple of minutes only to load it onto my "Dell Inspiron i3147-3750sLV 11.6-Inch 2 in 1 Convertible Touchscreen Laptop" which I also received via the Vine program. I then verified I could move a picture file from the Laptop to the Seagate hard drive via the USB 3.0 port. Yes, it was "lighting fast." I then attempted to connect the Seagate hard drive to my desk top Windows system, via the USB 2.0 port. It did not recognize the hard drive. So, that is the cautionary point. If you intend to use it for Windows systems, you have to download the app onto each computer you will use - no real problem though, at a couple of minutes per computer. And then I transferred a picture file via the USB 2.0 port - also, very fast.

No secret there have been enormous improvements in technology. This drive is probably one one-hundredth the size of the clunky external hard drive I purchased seven years ago, and has a hundred thousand times the capacity. At 2 terabytes (that's a million million bytes), sometimes expressed as 10 to the 12th power, it could be used to store all the files both my daughter and I will ever produce. At a little more than 5 ounces, it is meant to be portable, whether your destination is the Gila Wilderness or the Calanque National Park. 5-stars, plus.


The Scarlet Letter (Penguin English Library)
The Scarlet Letter (Penguin English Library)
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Bedrock American literature..., 1 Dec 2014
Nathanial Hawthorne is a quintessential American writer. His life spanned most of the first half of the 19th Century. His works are a vital part of the foundations of American literature. His ancestors first came to America from England in the early 17th century, and settled in Salem, Massachusetts, when it was the "Bay Colony." Over two centuries later, his descendants are in the same place. Hawthorne notes this point in his novel, specifically: "This long connection of a family with one spot, as its place of birth and burial, creates a kindred between the human being and the locality, quite independent of any charm in the scenery or moral circumstances that surround him. It is not love but instinct. The new inhabitant-who came himself from a foreign land, or whose father or grandfather came-has little claim to be called a Salemite; he has no conception of the oyster-like tenacity with which an old settler, over whom his third century is creeping, clings to the spot where his successive generations have been embedded."

The connection of people with a particular patch of earth, even memorably expressed ("oyster-like tenacity") is a relatively minor theme in this work. The dominant ones are "sin," to use a word becoming increasingly obsolete, and which can designate actions and behavior outside of societal norms; guilt; and revenge. There is precious little love in this stern Puritanical society which helped establish America. There are still threads of current societal "norms" that can be traced back to these early beginnings of the United States.

The novel opens in the Custom House in the port of Salem, now well past its prime, sometime in the early 19th Century. Hawthorne for a time was a customer inspector so he was able to draw from that experience to depict the colorful characters who collected their paychecks there, mainly former Sea Captains. A book of old documents was found, and that was the entrée to the story which occurred two centuries earlier. The scene opens with Hester Prynne in prison, for a "sin" that had been committed at least 10 months earlier. She is married, but her husband was not in the Colony at the time, yet she became pregnant, and now carried the child in her arms as she is led to the pillory for public shaming. She has been sentenced to wear a large crimson "A" on her chest for the rest of her life. "It takes two to tango," but Prynne resolutely refuses to name who the father is. Hawthorne deftly handles the plot, gradually hinting and at last revealing who the father is. Meanwhile, Prynne's cuckold husband returns to the Colony, incognito, and obsessively plots revenge upon the father. Meanwhile, over the course of the next seven years, Prynne's daughter develops into a feisty and elfin child, precociously asking questions about the relationships between the key characters. And Prynne herself, even though branded as an outcast from society, through her skills as a seamstress, and her good deeds, at least wins a grudging acceptance from virtually all the citizens of the Colony.

"Feminism" can be an emotionally charged word, covering a wide range of complaints and grievances. Mary Wollstonecraft is considered an early pioneer in addressing the injustices done to women. It would be appropriate to present a man, namely Nathaniel Hawthorne, with an "honorable mention" in noting these injustices. As so often happens, even today, when the prostitutes are jailed, and the "John's" are not, society punished Hester Prynne, and the father "only" experienced his (significant) guilt as the partner in the tango. As Hawthorne expresses it through one of his characters: "It irks me, nevertheless, that the partner of her iniquity should not at least, stand on the scaffold by her side. But he will be known!" Hawthorne has Prynne ruminate on the injustice she has faced, and conclude: "Then the very nature of the opposite sex, or its long hereditary habit, which has become like nature, is to be essentially modified before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position."

Hawthorne himself carried some emotional "guilt" baggage, assuming, like Original Sin, it can be inherited. His ancestor who came from England went on to become a harsh "burning" judge in the Colony - "burning" as in women, who were labeled "witches." And he was the only judge who never repented for his actions. It was one reason Hawthorne added a "w" to his name to distinguish himself from his ancestor. As Voltaire famously quipped: "It is remarkable how few witches there are nowadays since we stopped burning them." That might easily apply to "enemies" in general.

I first read this novel back at the beginning of time, as a high school reading assignment. Believe I got the answers to the test OK, but most of the rest of it was over my head. The second time around I was impressed with how well-written it is, maintaining dramatic suspense, while addressing fundamental problems of the human condition. 5-stars, plus


Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone
Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad's Green Zone
by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars "...that Iraq would be a quiescent terrarium..., 28 Nov 2014
...in which to cultivate democracy and a free market." The previous quote, from the author, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, referred to the basic assumption of the leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). That leadership was all American, but not just any Americans. By in large, they were all Republicans, and even those were carefully vetted. Experience and skills took a backseat to ideology, of the neo-conservative variety. Imagine, as the author relates one applicant's experience, being asked your opinion of Roe v. Wade during a job interview.

Chandrasekaran was in Iraq before the American (excuse me, coalition of the willing) invasion of 2003, arriving in September, 2002. He left before the invasion, returned the day Saddam's statue was pulled down on April 10, 2003, and stayed until the end of September, 2004. He is a journalist, and is currently an editor at the Washington Post. He lived in the "Green Zone," which was the area that Saddam had walled off, to separate himself from the Iraqi people. The American leadership promptly followed Saddam's example. The title to the first chapter is: "Versailles on the Tigris." Chandrasekaran's account is composed of numerous journalist vignettes, which he relates with a flat-affect, which can leave the reader more enraged at the folly than if he had resorted to hyperbole and polemics. In general, he avoids the common mistake of all too many books produced by journalists: he has carefully edited out the redundancies. It proves to be an excellent, readable "indictment" of the American-directed post-war efforts in Iraq, and is the best explanation why we are STILL there, over 11 years later, fighting an enemy that has acquired some new initials.

L. Paul Bremer III is of the "best and the brightest" pedigree: Phillips Andover, Yale, Stanford, Harvard, even Institut d'Etudes Politique de Paris. The latter was apparently not held against him during the era of "Freedom Fries." The author dubs him the "viceroy," who ruled Iraq from May, 2003 to the end of June, 2004. He took over from the short reign of Jay Garner. He reported directly to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and thus to George Bush. Early on, Bremer made a couple of disastrous decisions that haunt us today, namely the disbandment of the Iraqi Army, and the de-Baathification program which removed members of the Baath party from governmental positions. All while ensuring that the so-called magic elixir of the "free market" did not provide jobs to those given the "pink slips."

The experiences of numerous other Americans working for Bremer are related. John Agresto, connected to V.P. Dick Cheney, came from St. John's College in Santa Fe, NM, to restore the university education programs, largely without any money, and dealing with buildings that had all been looted. Frederick M. Burkle is a physician, with impeccable credentials in international health, who led the effort to revitalize the medical services in the country, for one week, but was replaced by a poorly qualified neo-con "loyalist" non-physician. Overall, it was a "gold-rush" for contractors, like the aptly named "Custer Battle" which made millions overbilling the US government for services. Bremer was never able to successfully resolve the most crucial issues: the security, the political composition of the "new" Iraq, and to get the electricity working.

One summation of the problem with the American approach in Iraq which Chandrasekaran provides: "Iraqis needed help - good advice and ample resources - from a support corps of well-meaning foreigners, not a full-scale occupation with imperial Americans cloistered in a palace of the tyrant, eating bacon and drinking beer, surrounded by Gurkhas and blast walls." Elsewhere, the author underscores their isolation by saying that CPA workers would find out what was going on in Iraq by watching Fox News. And in terms of the ideological blinders, exemplified by an emphasis on tax codes, and traffic laws, instead of electricity, jobs and security, the author says that one woman working in Wolfowitz's office proclaimed that "drinking the Kool-Aid" was regarded as a badge of loyalty. The Rev. Jim Jones could ask for no more.

Haven't we seen this movie before? It was President George H.W. Bush who gleefully proclaimed that America was over its "Vietnam syndrome" after the 1991 war against Iraq which liberated Kuwait. Alden Pyle, Graham Greene's fictional character in The Quiet American. was also one of the "best and the brightest." He was Ivy League educated, and his head was stuffed full of the academic theories of York Harding that blinded him to the reality before him in Vietnam. Greene wrote his novel in 1955, long before the American commitment of major military units. Chandrasekaran made no mention in his work of history repeating itself, even with the same character models.

Chalk it up to journalist rivalry, or a particularly "best and brightest" blind spot, but Chandrasekaran takes a number of "pot-shots" at the news network Al-Jazeera. On page 311, the author says the following: "The Americans responded with an escalating barrage of bombs, mortars, and gunfire, killing more insurgents and civilians. It was never clear how many civilians died, but it didn't really matter. Al-Jazeera and other Arab television stations broadcast breathless reports of large-scale civilian deaths in the city."

"...but it didn't really matter." It DOES matter, Al-Jazeera or no, and it is a key reason why, a la Vietnam, 11 years later, we are still there. Chandrasekaran himself obviously spent too much time in the Emerald City, thereby facilitating the writing of that sentence. Despite what I would normally consider a "fatal flaw," in this account, for the rest, I am still willing to give 5-stars


The Other Shakespeare
The Other Shakespeare
by Lea Rachel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.18

4.0 out of 5 stars A world of one's own..., 21 Nov 2014
This review is from: The Other Shakespeare (Paperback)
Lea Rachel drew inspiration from a portion of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (Penguin Pocket Hardbacks). Wolfe speculated on how it would have been to be Shakespeare's sister. Woolf depicted her own dilemmas and difficulties as both a woman and a writer in the early 20th century. How much more difficult would it have been if born more than three centuries earlier, as a woman, with aspiration to be a writer? Perhaps a simple additional room would not do; rather one might need an entirely different world. Rachel takes Woolf's speculative thesis, and developed it into a well-written historical novel, that is largely believable.

Rachel retains Woolf's name for William's sister, "Judith," and she is the oldest of her four siblings, with William being nearest to her in age. She is 16 when the novel opens, and she leads her four younger siblings in enacting plays in their imaginary theater in the woods. In depicting their home life in Stratford, along the Avon River, Rachel deftly reveals, without being too heavy-handed, how difficult it was for a woman in the 16th century, who did not want to meekly accept her "assigned role." Judith did not go to school - women did not then - only her younger brothers. She would meet them after school, walk home with them, and learn of the world beyond, in a second-hand fashion, which focused much on the Greek and Roman worlds, and their writers, from Seneca to Ovid. Not only is Judith unschooled, she is illiterate. She acquires her brother's books, and learns to read on her own...but feels compelled to hide her efforts, and the outcome. All of which is one more version that knowledge is power, reading is the path to that power, and in a male dominated society, which all too often prefers "barefoot and pregnant" as the desired role for women, why worry your "pretty little heads" with knowledge?

Mary, who is Judith's mother, is rather superstitious, and ultimately becomes convinced that Judith is "bad-luck." Best to "exile" her to the big city of London, where she will be a servant in a Huguenot family, of libertine persuasions, the Mountjoy's. Both her assignment with this family, as well as London appear to be most beneficial to Judith's development. Soon she is going to the theater, not the theater of London today, but a much cheaper and more raucous affair. Judith is enthralled. Meanwhile, with this inspiration, she is attempting to write her own plays, and given the Protestant - Catholic discord of the times, it should not be a surprised that it is a love affair across religious boundaries, which is indeed what Romeo and Juliet (Wordsworth Classics) is about.

I did have at least one problem with the plot's plausibility. Judith falls in with "the theater crowd," which is all male, with regular pub meetings, and she becomes "one of the boys." Hum. And although Rachel is again not too heavy-handed with the theme, virtually all the men come off as "cads," or worse, of the "yeah, but how do I know it's mine" variety.

Rachel embeds quotes from Shakespeare's plays in each chapter, and challenges the reader to find them. And I did find a few, but probably not all. The denouement is one that Woolf would fully understand. 4-stars.


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