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Stephen Siciliano "the highway scribe" (Los Angeles, CA USA)

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Studio Saint-Ex
Studio Saint-Ex
by Ania Szado
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.50

3.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 14 July 2014
This review is from: Studio Saint-Ex (Hardcover)
"Studio Saint-Ex" is about how talent alone is not enough to elevate those seeking fame, money, the bright lights and all that.

Mignonne Lachapelle is a young woman, not of humble means. She has an inheritance and the good will her father compiled serving the French ex-pat community of New York City in the 1930s and '40s.

Her desire is to be a fashion designer at the height of the World War II, when fabrics are being rationed and fashion is stalled, because life-and-death matters now occupy France, when France WAS fashion.

"Studio Saint-Ex" is told mostly by Mignonne, although a third person narration this reviewer could never figure out was delivering says of her:

"Fashion at its best was the most subtle and complicated of aphrodisiacs, and the girl had a witch's instinct for the nuances of desires."

To Consuelo, the girl has fire in her, "The stubborness and strength of a bulldog in the body of a whippet."

Through contacts made at what used to be her late father's club, Mignonne falls in with the St. Exuperys. That's St. Exupery as in Antoine, the big, rugged, adventuring pilot who wrote "The Little Prince" and other internationally successful novels of the early 20th century.

His wife is a fiery, enigmatic sexpot by the name of Consuelo. When Mignonne comes upon the couple, the marriage is on the rocks.

Antoine is grounded in the U.S., unable to fly his planes in the effort to liberate France from the Nazis. He's blocked as a writer and experiencing a decline in his energies, but has been enchanted by a beautiful blonde boy on a trip to Montreal where the idea of "The Little Prince" is born.

Mignonne, for her part, is in a testy business partnership with the flinty Madame Vera Fiche, a former instructor at her fashion school who stole a design that subsequently proved to have legs. Threatening Fiche with exposure, Mignonne gets the partnership in a failing design studio.

Our ambitious young designer is charged with dredging up business and she targets Consuelo as a source of possible commissions and publicity. An ambiguous game between Mignonne and the St. Exuperys ensues. And what else could it have other than seduction, restraint, duplicity and a lot of debates regarding the virtue of one fabric over another? Debates about the need to meet the demands of the market versus the demands of one's genius.

Mignonne boldly plays her talent and her beauty before the worldly French glitterati, seeking fame as a designer and Antoine St. Exupery for a husband.

How will she play high society? How will it play her? Prizes are laid out on the table, up for grabs, as Mignonne paints a portrait of wartime New York and the passions and antagonisms of the French war refugees who have found in it an asylum.


The Orenda
The Orenda
by Joseph Boyden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 20 May 2014
This review is from: The Orenda (Paperback)
Spoiler alerts are not always necessary when you're dealing with established history.

If you read a book about a diminished Indian tribe and vanished way of life, such as “The Orenda,” you can expect things don't go well for the Native-American protagonist(s).

Joseph Boyden's harrowing account of the Hurons' demise is distinct to the extent it lays most of the blame at the doorstep of inter-tribal warfare.

Yes, 17th Century French missionaries are on hand, but at this stage of colonial development, too much on their haunches and concerned with fur trading to go in for Indian extermination.

They are business partners with the Huron and their military impact appears limited to the distribution of gunpowder on both sides of the Indian war, although they import diseases that kill more of the local populace than any army could hope to.

The book opens with the murder of some Iroquois by a Huron war party. The raid is conducted by one of three narrators in the story, Bird, a warrior avenging his own family's murder and he tells his story in conversations with his departed wife. After killing a young Iroquois girl's family before her eyes, he absconds with the child, bent on replacing his own lost daughter.

The little girl is known as Snow Falls, and she is a second teller of “The Orenda” by way of confessions to her murdered father. Bird's war party has gone beyond the typical affront to Iroquois pride, because Snow Falls possesses certain spiritual qualities as the “western door” of her people.

She is of exceptional value to them at first. Later, the spiral of violence her kidnapping triggered gains its own momentum and her existence with the Huron no longer matters to the infuriated Iroquois.

The third narrator is a French and Jesuit missionary named Christophe whose thoughts about the “sauvages,” and bringing the light of Christ to their dark world, are rendered in dispatches to his superiors.

Christophe provides the perspective of Western culture.

When he tries to explain the European system of raising and eating sheep, “[The Huron] laugh at this, the idea that one might keep herds of friendly deer or elk that walk happily to their slaughter whenever it's time for the human to eat more meat. Some ask openly if there aren't consequences of a life so easily lived. The question fascinates me.”

This formula results in a lively telling, because the alternating accounts provide a variety of perspectives on the same event. The differences in the way a mystical Indian girl and a Catholic priest measure their mutual encounters is both amusing and revealing.

The understanding and mixed admiration Bird and Christophe hold for each other is echoed when it comes to culture. Each is repulsed by certain habits of their partners in convenience, but amazed and intrigued by others.

In doing this, “The Orenda” lays bear the motivations for collaboration and conflict between Indian tribes and the French colonials, demonstrates the short-term, commercial considerations that led to long-term strategic Huron defeats.

The sauvages may be attuned to the Earth and take behavioral pointers from birdsong, but they are not immune to the consumer virus.

Sky Man, a visitor from a nearby tribe, tells council as he points to a copper kettle, “Our trade with the Iron People has brought us oddities that have now become necessities. Our people just love this stuff. We can't get enough of it.”

The author also probes the violent fissures in Native American life that precluded a concerted effort to defend an entire existence from the obviously encroaching European.

Author Boyden has no truck with claims of innocence by any party to the calamity under his microscope. Instead the different factions mirror each other's cruelties and drive home the point that torture transcends cultural boundaries.

When an Iroquois war party captures some Huron, or vice versa, the prisoners are aware that they are in for three days of “caressing,” or torture, painstakingly detailed in a variety of scenes by the writer.

It's no beach read. In fact, if a single word had to be summonsed to describe this novel, “brutal” would be a strong candidate.

New France is a place where people short on luck living very short lives commit whatever action is necessary to survive another day and eat some very bad food.

It is no surprise Thomas Hobbes, a product of the same epoch, declared life, or the “state of nature” in which all these characters reside, to be “solitary, poor, nasty, short, and brutish.”

“The Orenda” works as a war story, a tale of spiritual conflict, the reconstruction of a vanished life, and the recuperation of a people. It is complex storytelling that does not come across as complicated successfully recalls a historical moment through literature.


Tijuana Straits
Tijuana Straits
by Kem Nunn
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 28 April 2014
This review is from: Tijuana Straits (Paperback)
Rolling the North American Free Trade Agreement, the resulting industrial pollution, surfing, a working-class California beach town, the vagaries and terrors of the U.S.-Mexico border into literature takes some doing, but "Tijuana Straits" does it well.

Kem Nunn's thriller depicts an obscure corner of the country and fashions a novel example of "Surf Noir," never leaning too much on that one aspect, but mixing it with others just right, so that "Straits" is one story about a number of different things.

The story unfolds (unravels?) in the Tijuana River Valley lying between the southernmost city in California, Imperial Beach, and the neighboring Mexican city for which it is named.

"...the valley beyond her window, as a great repository of bones and dreams as one was likely to find, and above which a flock of shorebirds broke suddenly from beaches beyond her sight."

It's about a washed-up waterman named Fahey whose legend was earned surfing Tijuana Straits under the tutelage of an elusive and sainted sensei, Hoddy Younger.

"Goat Canyon, Smuggler's Gulch, Spooner's Mesa...He showed him how to find these landmarks from the water and how to line them up with the old Tijuana lighthouse at the edge of the bullring so that he could wait for the waves in the spots from which he would be able to catch and ride them."

Mired in grim mid-life, Fahey runs a floundering worm farm in Imperial Beach, of which he says, "This is the end of the line, the only beachtown in California no one wants, where the sewage meets the sea."

Along with the toxic brew that flows via the Tijuana River into the valley, polluting the estuary and chasing surfers from the beach break, locals like Fahey are at the forefront of the human wave surging at the base of the high-tech walls built to keep them out of the U.S.

Still they come: "And so you would see them, scarecrows with frightened eyes loitering in the shadows of the fence, along the cement walls of the flood control channel, at the bottom of every gully, clear to Las Playa, where they huddled amid the reek of excrement in the shadow of the bullring at the edge of the old people's park, fingering rosaries and counting out their luck."

Fahey lives with these darknesses seeping up from the south in his own way: "He did not ask to hear the man's story or to what end he might have come, then or at any other time, and would in fact go to his own grave without knowing it, for by his own measure the world was composed of sad stories and he saw no reason to learn another."

Until he runs into Magdalena, an outcast of a different type, given over to saving the world, or some very small part of it. An orphan and product of convent life, for her, "The hereafter would be what it would be. The struggle itself was the act by which one gave meaning to the world."

They collide on a dark windy beach at the border fence one evening and her perils become his, and the story is about how Fahey rebuilds himself in order to help she who has broken the terminal nature of his loneliness and decline.


Secrets of the Sea House
Secrets of the Sea House
by Elisabeth Gifford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Review, 21 Mar. 2014
""The Sea House" is about the power of past events and forgotten people to influence lives in the present.

For her tale of interplay between what has happened and what will, author Elisabeth Gifford developed three voices.

There is the Reverend Ferguson, living in the late 19th century, who represents the English presence in Scotland while dramatizing the struggle to reconcile community mythologies with the cold, hard facts of science.

There is Moira, his servant at the parish, who stands for all things Gaelic and local to the piece.

Finally, there is Ruth, living in the 1990s. She has returned to the village of Scarista, where she and her husband are opening a bed-and-breakfast (The Sea House) even as she is pregnant with child. Orphaned too young by her mother's apparent suicide, Ruth has not made her peace with the world yet.

The setting is the Outer Hebrides, or Western Isles, an outpost facing the cold Atlantic, off the northwest coast of Scotland.

All three characters are tied up with the local legend of the "Selkies" or mermaids.

Reverend Ferguson believes Selkies exist, existed at one time, or evolved into early generations of the home population. He is trying to prove this through the dictates of scientific investigation, that rare man of the cloth with one foot firmly planted in the empirical world - a Spinozan, reconciling faith and fact.

When Ferguson seeks help in his endeavors from a contact at the University of Edinburgh, he is deemed, "too ready to give credence to the fanciful tales of fairies and legends held by the aboriginal peoples of the Western Islands in their state of ignorance."

Ruth, for her part, is haunted by the idea that her mother, who claimed mermaid ancestry, committed suicide because of an inbred desire to return to the water.

"How could she do it," Ruth asks herself in a moment of introspection, "let herself slip away into the dark water? Couldn't she understand that when a mother takes her own life, she reaches out a hand to take her child with her? That cold, white hand reaching up from the water, willing me to slip away with her."

Moira, as homegrown product, naturally claims Selky lineage.

In getting the Sea House up to snuff, the newcomers discover a small chest with a baby's skeleton inside. The infant's legs are fused together like a mermaid's, a fact that unsettles all manner of things in Ruth's troubled soul and prompts a search for further information.

Ruth discovers that the uprooting of the original "crofters" on the islands in the prior century had forced a "complete break in the village's timeline."

The unfortunate crofters practiced subsistence farming on the rough and rocky Scottish highlands and outer islands under the tutelage of English aristocrats who owned the parcels from which they squeezed a living.

None of this is discussed in the story. Gifford writes her big history small, personalizing it. It is enough the reader know that a good and harmless people were uprooted and that the part of the culture they represented was destroyed in the process.

Here, Moira provides a Gaelic-tinged account of her cousin Annie's life.

"She and her husband had thrown together a small house made from rocks taken from the shore, but the only bit of earth left for the new squatters was a boggy and raw land. The children's feet did sink into it, down at the end of their house where the cattle should be kept -- not that Annie had herself a cow. They never had time to let the floor harden before they must live in there, and no one had the heart or the strength to get up a ceilidh to dance the floor hard and pack down the earth in the old way. The bairns [children] were playing a jumping game to see how far they could sink down in the mud until Annie gave the boys a slap -- something I had never seen her do before."

Gifford's research is nicely embedded into the fabric of the story so that it does not seem like research. She writes well and evenly throughout, the highpoint being an evocative and haunting account of one village's demise in which Moira and the Reverend bear witness and play a part, respectively.

Ruth's persistence, or mere presence perhaps, coupled with the stubborn regeneration of myths that sustain a scattered and dislocated people's identity, drive the story from two different places in time, seemingly seeking each other out in spite of history's attempts to obscure the connection between them.


All the Birds, Singing
All the Birds, Singing
by Evie Wyld
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 1 Mar. 2014
This review is from: All the Birds, Singing (Hardcover)
Evie Wyld is a poetess of the ugly.

Whether it's a cigarette with a still-lit butt being run under a faucet, a ewe getting her throat slit, or the little pink penis of her protagonist Jake's captor, Wyld employs her marvelous prose to drive bile from one's gut into the bottom of the throat.

There is a place for this in literature: the youth with jaundiced eye, the angry take on a world that has disappointed too early, and the newly minted among us can be particularly rabid about the letdown.

So prepare to be bit.

"All the Birds, Singing," is the story of a woman whose first steps along the path of life are the wrong ones. Very wrong. The device, employed across a number of issues affecting Jake's life, is to let on that something is amiss and keep the reader guessing until the end, which limits the breadth of review so as not to spoil the story.

In any case, the narrative will take you from Australia to England, though it may take time to sort out where you are at first, because the second device employed is the presentation of chapters with no relation to chronology, except for the stacking of issue-resolving revelations at the end of the yarn.

The publisher, Pantheon Books, is very excited about Wyld, "All the Birds Singing" and the advance reviews ("completely and utterly monumental") focus on the author's crisp and textured prose.

There is, floating about the Internet, a "Ten Things Writers Shouldn't Do" list crafted by American author Elmore Leonard, whose specialty was the noir/thriller mystery.

Among Leonard's scripting sins is the use of adverbs, avoiding anything but saying the subject "said" during bouts of dialogue, and eschewing long descriptions of weather, places or people that a reader can jump over without losing the narrative thread.

"I'll bet you never skip over dialogue," said Leonard, whose big idea was that novelists should avoid "self-conscious writing."

Wyld would probably disagree, because she breaks all of Leonard's rules.

And that's because there is good storytelling and there is good "writing" with carefully crafted crevices, rises, flatlands and, yes, adverbs. Wyld has chosen this type of scribery over the keep-em-turning-those-pages approach, which is fine, with all due respect to Mr. Leonard. Readers find joy in the revelry of language, too.

Jake has got scars nasty enough to send one of her johns (semi-spoiler) heading for the exits without paying what's owed and, by golly, you will wait good and long before the writer decides to let you in on how they got there.

"Dark," "guttural," "raw": Pick your descriptive for this rural rant that does not offer up a boulevard of broken dreams so much as a gallery of damaged souls; emotional runts who make an art of barely coping.


The Telling Room: A Tale of Passion, Revenge and the World's Finest Cheese
The Telling Room: A Tale of Passion, Revenge and the World's Finest Cheese
by Michael Paterniti
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 26 Feb. 2014
A year in Province and then some more... a lot more.

In the hands of a capable novelist, this story of a man's attempt to honor his father through the production of a local cheese and the friend that may or may not have betrayed him, might have been a better work than “The Telling Room.”

Michael Paterniti, a travel writer and freelance journalist, saw what he thought was a story, a cautionary tale, an echo of man's inhumanity to man, and took off in search of the truth. The problem with his venture seems to be that there was no truth, only ambiguity and a messy affair that didn't fit a journalistic template.

The author is frank about how often the book went cold on him, how many times he had to throw away a stack of papers and start all over again.

“The Telling Room,” is about many things, most of them having to do with Spain. At times it is quite interesting, and the opening salvos are certainly intriguing, but the author clearly got lost and ended up barely pulling out something serviceable that his publisher could accept for the advance paid.

“The Telling Room,” never truly coheres and never really gets anywhere but where we all get; a little older, a little fuzzier, and a little sadder. The writer spread himself thin trying to catch the essence of Castile and the wider expanse of Spain, but he could not weave this dream right.

“The Telling Room” is pocked throughout with footnotes parked in big spaces that often dwarf the writer's main text and take one off-track when they should have been worked into the story and enriched it, rather than served as distracting adjuncts.

Like countless writers before him, Paterniti is bewitched by Iberia and its people. He holds forth on what the ancient land and its wise, yet life-loving people, can teach us, but that did not prevent him from engaging the uniquely American predilection for prattling on endlessly about himself.

Whether it's the “Legend of El Cid,” the bullfight, the process of cheese making or Real Madrid soccer, the discussion always comes back to the author, his family, his thoughts and his personal progress. It shouldn't. It should be about Spain.

“The Telling Room,” represents a case of promise unrealized.


Ursua
Ursua
by William Ospina
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.58

5.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 13 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Ursua (Paperback)
"Ursúa" abre las puertas del pasado sobre el mundo fantástico de colores y humanidad vencida que fue Sur America para los que llegaron de Europa y para quienes los recibieron.

Si el protagonista principal es el guerrero homónomo de pocos años y sangre de Aquitania, los indígenas de las tierras firme y caliente, o del istmu de Panama o de Mexico nunca ceden su lugar en el primer plano del Colombiano William Ospina.

De Ursúa el jamás identificado narrador nos cuenta: "Esas eran las aventuras con que soñaba: apartar los ramajes para descubrir un océano, ser el primero a las puertas de una ciudad incomprensible, destrenzar las serpientes enormes para llegar al tesoro escondido, ver los dragones o los gigantes de un mundo nuevo, someter pueblos feróces o dominar a los reyes del río del trueno."

Viene con éstas inspiraciónes pero con el cargo oficial de imponer nuevas leyes del Imperio de Carlos V para proteger a los muy malparados indios.

El autor recupera, para los que no lo conocían, los jefes, los guerreros, princessas y peónes que sufrían la crueldad de unos hombres desalmados y ciegos por el oro. Cuenta las torturas y maltratos absorbidos por los indígenas.

Basta un ejémplo para dar idea del nivel de hostigamiento que sufrieron milliones de séres humanos reducidos a la esclavitud y la muerte: Cuando un capitán español es alcanzado por una flecha, el médico ordena que le trajen un indio y a éste se le abre el pecho con cuchillo, mientras esta consciente, para adivinar como remendar el conquistador herido, y luego dejarle morir desangrando.

Para Oramín, el assistente indigena de Ursúa: "Los poderosos enemigos habían llegado y ahora triunfaban; crueles dioses estaban con ellos; un bello mundo estaba declinando; una maldición indescifrable se cumplía contra estos reinos que gozaron por miles de soles y de lunas una felicidad irrepetible. No encontraba lugar para la esperanza. Podía ver que los invasores no estaban de paso, que habían venido para quedarse, y que en su mundo lejano quedaban todavía incontables guerreros esperando su turno para venir al incendio y a la rapiña, de modo que ya nadie podía, como Tusquesusa, y como los primeros testigos en las islas, alimentar la ilusión de que un dia se fueran."

Poco tiene que prestar Ursúa al esfuerzo del la corte imperial para proteger los indios. "Ya empezaba a sentir en su propia conciencia la contradicción entre ser encargado de la justicia y ser un aspirante a las riquezas y los repartos de las Indias," explica el narrador.

El nuevo mundo es un lugar de poca ley o justicia y Ursúa encuentra tierras donde los Españoles, en cuanto no andan desatando masácres sobre los muiscos o zapes, matan entre sí con mucho brío. Reinan aparte distintos conquistadores que, hasta entonces, mandaban un cuarto de las riquezas robadas de los tribus naturales al corte imperial para luego administrar las nuevas tierras a sus antojo.

Cuando el tío de Ursúa, Armendariz, manda un tal Robledo a relevar el conquistador Belalcázar de su cargo, éste lo toma como prisionero, lo despoja de sus bienes, y lo mata. Apelando al hombre fuerte del imperio en las Indias - La Gasca - Armendariz se entera de que no habra justicia para Robledo por que el emperador necesite el apoyo del cacíque renegado.

Pero Ursúa no viajo al nuevo mundo a matar ibericos y luego gana su renombre destripando a los nativos de la tierra invadida.

"Por eso amaba tanto la guerra," escribe Ospina, "porque sentía que en sus vórtices era posible ser brutal sin dejar de ser un caballero, y tal vez por eso lo tentaban más las guerras contra infieles, contra indios y esclavos, por que su dios lo autorizaba a toda crueldad mientras no estuviera atentando contra sus semejantes."

Aprendemos que, contra Ursúa, el jefe Tayrona reunió pueblos que se unían "por el odio y miedo" y que, "Vinieron a su ejército los canoeros de Jate Teluaa, en las puertas del gran mar azul, la madre del oro, y hombres embijados, con lanzas talladas en fémures, que avanzaron desde Java Nakúmake, madre de los lechos de sal; y vinieron remeros de Lúdula, en el espejo inmóvil, la madre de los peces de muchos colores y formas, y de la desmbocadura del río Tucirina, en Java Katakaiwman, madre de todo lo que existe en el mundo; tropas empenachadas de plumas de Kwarewmun, la madre del barro, y guardianes del Ñui de Aracataca, que detienen co rezos a las fuerzas malignas, y mantienen con ofrendas el equilibrio."

Y así por todo el libro, el autor diestramente compaginando una lectura histórica con una prosa que embellece y hace más entrañable su recuperación detallada de pueblos desaparecidos.

Impresiona el esfuerzo, y la variedad de tacticas, hecho por los indígenas, tanto como la manera en que los españoles dominaron tanta tierra poblada con tan escasas tropas. Es una história de armas superiores.

Cuenta el narrador las dificultades que tienen los invasores en una contienda contra un guerrero con espada español hasta que viene alguién que le dispare desde atrás con su arcabuz, rompiendole la espalda y ¡Viva España!

"Al final no triunfamos los humanos, al final sólo triunfa el relato, que nos recoge a todos y a todos nos levanta en su vuelo, para después brindarnos un pasto tan amargo, que recibimos como una limosna última la declinación y la muerte."

Así concluye Ospina ésta divertida novela, con ese estilo entre lo fantástico y lo hiper-real, con esa voz mística que aplican con tanta sensatez los escritores de su


Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health - And How We Can Save Ourselves
Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health - And How We Can Save Ourselves
by Linda Marsa
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.85

4.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 13 Jan. 2014
There are growing number of books being released about climate change and this one addresses its impacts on individual health and the public systems designed to address those impacts.

Guess what? They're insufficient. Author Linda Marsa has travelled far and wide in gathering information from places where climate change is already wreaking death and destruction, spurring desperate attempts at adaptation.

In line with recent reports (2013-14) suggesting the impacts of climate change may confront all of us sooner than expected, Marsa gathers up a string of evidence that will scare the wits out of you, that special American citizen who believes in causes, effects, and the evidence linking them.

The author's focus is on the need to build a strong public health infrastructure able to cope with the widespread effects of climate change. Marsa asserts that because many of the perils associated with global warming are generally predictable, it is possible to design or adapt buildings and communities to be more resilient.

Strategies for creating a nonpolluting, clean-energy future can also improve public health.

A chapter entitled "Fever Pitch" examines the relationship between rising temperatures and the persistent and greater diffusion of diseases beyond their typical geographical distribution. Essentially, shorter, warmer winters aren't killing these things off and they actually grow stronger when they survive.

"Fevered" looks at the way global warming impacts air quality. "Rising temperatures will make bad air even more dangerous," writes Marsa, "cooking up a witches' brew of pollutants that will sear the delicate tissue lining the lungs and aggravate an astonishing array of other health issues ranging from heart disease, to lung cancer, to dementia."

"The Hot Zone" portends the more frequent occurrence of death by heat wave, characterized here as large tragedies going under-reported, because the dead can't always be linked directly to the heat, even though they were killed by existing ailments the extreme conditions triggered.

Chicago, France, Russia, Philadelphia, all have recent and ghastly stories related here.

"Health Care on Life Support" dissects the collapse of public health infrastructure in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and what came after, which was more of the same.

Marsa reports, nonetheless, that The Crescent City became something of testing ground for federal policies aimed at "disaster-proofing" healthcare there.

For example, patient records are now kept electronically, and New Orleans is also part of a federally funded pilot program that stores this information in a central information exchange, efficiencies that might have saved lives in the hurricane's wake.

The chapter entitled, "Running on Empty," covers the dangers of malnutrition, examining the case of actress Audrey Hepburn, who endured starvation as a Dutch citizen during World War II, before transitioning to the topic of agriculture's increasing difficulty in cultivating a hotter planet.

A lot of that difficulty comes down to water - here she looks at the situation in the American southwest where the Colorado River no longer reaches its natural delta, wrung dry by a growing population.

Circumstances in Australia, which is at the forefront of climate change impact, involve "catastrophes of biblical proportions; unleashed killer heatwaves, agricultural collapse, bushfires of unimaginable ferocity and hastened species extinction."

Drought has wiped out entire agricultural communities, and it is possible "vast portions" of the country's northern regions could be submerged by rising seas, rain storms and flooding

Because of its unique vulnerability, Australia has become a living laboratory for adaptation to a warmer world. Marsa makes a trip down there. The country's system of water consumption control offer a preview of what we'll be seeing everywhere someday, or sooner.

"Holding Back The Waters" returns to New Orleans, documents efforts at retooling water management and flood control systems in a sustainable way and reverses the environmental degradation that made Katrina worse than it needed to be.

Also covered are the problems in south Florida and the apparently borrowed time the city of Miami is living on, as sea level rises to threaten the lowing lying community and its freshwater supply sources.

It's not all darkness. There are strategies not only for adapting health care systems to a warmer world, but also for developing sustainable cities as a matter of public health. By way of example, Marsa sheds light on the Orange County Water Authority's pioneering to reuse wastewater for potable purposes.

New York, covered in a fulsome network of mass transit, and characterized by vertical lifestyles, is held up as an example of the good way to live, although the fact you need to be rich to reside there is not mentioned.

Writes Marsa: "Sylvan paradises like Vermont, where you don't have to wait until farmers' market day to buy locally grown, produce, may intuitively seem like places where sustainable living would be much easier than in urban areas. But the reality it quite different. Because the population is so spread out, Vermonters use nearly four times as much gasoline as New Yorkers, and six times as much as Manhattan residents. Ironically, on just about every other barometer, Green Mountain State residents turn out to be the resource hogs: They have larger carbon footprints, guzzle more water, dump more garbage, and consume quadruple the amount of electricity as the average New Yorker. In other words, the seductive allure of rural life is simply wrongheaded at a time when the world's population is surging toward eight billion and roughly 80 percent of Americans live in cities."

"New York," Marsa writes, "developed as a city before the advent of the automobile, so it is compact and dense. To become more like New York, the rest of us are going to have to undo the half century's worth of damage to our health and the social fabric of our lives that resulted when we became a car-centric society and suburban sprawl became a way of life."

But New York may be just as car-centric as any city out there. Robert Caro's "The Power Broker" painfully documented the efforts of a man who never drove a car, Robert Moses, to bind the city up in ribbons of "parkway."

One of the few people able to thwart him was Jane Jacobs, the urbanist who extolled the dense city neighborhood as a place of social health and economic vitality.

"Fevered" is progeny of Jacobs' own books. Her vision was of a sustainable city before that term became a byword for future survival. Marsa's work links the loss of high-density, transit-served urban villages with the sprawl that characterizes most development over the past half century.

Marsa's contribution is to take the ideas Jacobs propounded in her books beyond the concerns of neighborhoods and microeconomics and link them to the causes of climate change, and the health of the people in those neighborhoods hopefully driving those economies.

The author asserts that the universal and modern dependence on individual, motorized transportation is responsible for a series of direct health hazards ranging from lung disease and obesity, and indirect impacts such as global warming.

Marsa echoes Al Gore's call for a Marshal Plan to fight global warming in his "Earth in Balance" with her own call for a medical Marshall Plan that would recapture the spirit of cooperation that arose with WW II's outbreak.

"We must become that country again," she pleads.


In the Night of Time
In the Night of Time
by Munoz
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 13 Jan. 2014
This review is from: In the Night of Time (Hardcover)
A revolutionary guardsman deems Ignacio Abel, the protagonist of Antonio Muñoz Molina's "In the Night of Time," a "gentleman with a union card."

Civil wars often divide countries. Spain's sliced Iberia into a series of mind states, intellectual positions and moral prerogatives that deposited a prismatic understanding of those traumatic events in history's hopper.

How you understand the conflict depends very much on who is telling the story, a devout Catholic or Falangist, a millenarian anarchist, a determined communist, a socialist intellectual with sympathies rooted in a class not their own.

Abel is a working class boy made good by studying hard in preparation, and marrying up to cement his drive for respectability.

His complacency, his thinly veiled boredom with bourgeois Spanish life, mark him as something other than the family he's married into, architectural brilliance and financial success notwithstanding.

As the country lurches toward civil war, circumstances in the family come to something of a boil as his socialist tendencies clash with their own Catholic and evolving fascistic allegiances.

The ebullient Republican milieu and the opening up of Spain in the 1930s, following years of dictatorship, led to outside influences and armies of curious visitors. One of these, Judith Biely, a student, revolutionizes his life, awakens the older man's sexuality and deepens his appreciation for Madrid, the city he grew up in yet has never truly seen.

About the time the affair comes to light in Abel's domestic life (not a spoiler) the civil war has broken out. They go together, this conflict at home and the larger one outside it, to the point where the same things that divide Abel's family, divide the country.

The story opens with the architect running from Spain and his family, floating through New York's Pennsylvania Station. Muñoz Molina's is a backward glance at Abel's family life, his professional milieu and colleagues, "the affair" and other relations with different strata of Spanish society.

Relations that define him.

Because he is shacking up with his lover when the fascist uprising launches, Abel ends up on the wrong side of the front from his family. Or, considering that they, good conservative Catholics, would not have been able to protect him from summary execution, on the right side of the new dividing line.

But his leftist sympathies are not enough to save him from being rousted up by an anarchist patrol and readied for the firing squad, only to be saved by an old friend of his father's.

Although a man of the left, the author's portrait of revolutionary Madrid has much in common with that rendered by right winger Agustin de Foxha in "Madrid: From Royal Court to Checka."

It's a dreary, unromantic and dangerous place where the violence comes from within and without alike. One of those places where death takes root so strongly that it no longer discriminates on the basis of guilt or ideology, but harvests what ever innocent stands in its way.

De Foxha's last-scene departure across the border into southern France is a welcome return to warm bourgeois normalcy, and Abel's arrival in New York's Hudson River valley is much the same.

The revolutionaries in control of Madrid are not the armed and noble yeoman of a certain strain of Spanish Civil War literature. Not for Abel, who has eaten from the tree of knowledge so that he sees things too well to act and lets fate pick his poison for him

"They're intoxicated by words and anthems," he writes of the red and black hordes lording it over Madrid's streets, "as if they were breathing air too rich in oxygen and didn't know it. But perhaps it was he who was mistaken, his lack of fervor proof not of lucidity, but the mean-spirited hardening of age, favored by privilege and his fear of losing it."

Although they are ostensibly on his "side," the randomness and brutality of the violence the revolutionaries mete out is something the architect simply can not forgive and he grows disheartened with the political experiment in his homeland.

Being about Spain, the story can't help but be about the contrary demands of tradition and the yearnings of the individual heart.

So, sure, he feels guilty about cheating on his wife, but..."Only with [his lover] had he discovered and now regained what he'd never known could be so pleasurable, the habit of conversing, explaining himself to himself, confirming immediate affinities in what until then he'd thought of as solitary sensation and thoughts."

Judith Biely instructs him in that most American of indulgences, the self, while the country outside their lover's lair is enmeshed in an epic and all-inclusive struggle.

So "In the Night of Time," is about many things and as such, deals in ambiguity, ambivalence and irony.

Is Abel a coward to leave his family on the fascist side even though the marriage is shot and he is free? How can he make himself useful to the Republic when the "magnitude of the catastrophe" it faces is so evident, when it doesn't even want his support?

Muñoz Molina is a big prize guy in Spain, a prestige writer, who has earned the right to air out his thoughts. It is a long book and when Igacio Abel's children come up, they will come up for a good four pages minced with flashbacks, epiphanies and confession.

The publisher would have done well to furnish a few footnotes identifying certain of the historical figures Ignacio Abel engages as an architect on one of the nascent Republic's big projects, a new university city.

It helps to know his protector Juan Negrín would rise to the presidency, that Julian Besteiro was a socialist and president of the parliament under leftist coalitions, that Alejandro Lerroux was the long-time leader of the Radical Party.

Without some background, they are just names people are not likely to know much about, unless the Spanish Civil War is their "thing," which may in the end be where this book finds its audience

Even those readers may find the author has managed to add a degree of freshness to a topic they are already familiar wit


Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
by Ben Fountain
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 15 Oct. 2013
Back when the world of book publishing was focused around a few areas of Manhattan Island, "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" (BLLHW) would have been considered a mordant and witty satire on American culture and politics.

But today, with factions of the country hording their own myths as facts, BLLHW is better understood as a kind of blue-state analysis of red state life, written by a blue-state-red stater, also known as a liberal southerner.

This book takes place in the early 2000s, around the time an obscure Illinois state legislator told the 2004 Democratic Party Convention, "There are no red states. There are no blue states. There are only the United States."

President Obama probably doesn't think that anymore, and if Ben Fountain's entertaining novel had been available, instead of merely being written at the time, he might not have said those things.

"Billy Lynn," juxtaposes the deadly serious concerns, thoughts, and fears of Bravo Company's legitimate Iraq war heroes with the predatory motivations of Hollywood (they want to make a movie of the yunguns' exploits), and the silliness and excess of the culture around the Dallas Cowboys football club.

The setting is mostly the old stadium the "Boys" played in for 30-plus years. It's where Bravo Company is to be feted at half-time for battlefield heroics witnessed by the entire country thanks to the extended reach of modern telecommunications.

And thanks to the longevity of Beyonce Knowles's career, her turn as star during that half-time in BLLHW was matched at the 2013 Super Bowl, keeping Fountain's novel relevant and hip despite the passage of time and further degeneration of national discourse.

The author has great fun making great fun of conservative Texans, Cowboy fans, and overpaid, overfed football players sacrificing nothing but a lot of hot air for a war the Bravo boys feel they are fighting on their own.

Texas is the place, but the extrapolation to the farthest regions of our country is easy because BLLHW has little patience for yahoo-jingoism, conspicuous consumption of the vulgar kind, and the disconnect Fountain proposes exists between the lifestyles of most Americans and everybody outside the bubble dome isolating them.

BLLHW goes down easy as fast food, but its nutritional value is without question.


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