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review 2014-10-27 17:29
Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett
Edge of Eternity - Ken Follett


Edge of Eternity is Follett's bookend to his globe-trotting Century Trilogy that began with Fall of Giants followed by Winter of the World: a strikingly immense multi-generational saga featuring families from Germany, Russia, Wales, England and America, weaving historical world conflicts of the 20th century.


In this final installment, we see the grandchildren of the epic WWI story course through the remnants of WWII, the Cold War, and the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Follett's undertaking of the political crises of the next 3 decades, steered ahead by the superpowers of the world, range from Communism, Social Democracy, freedom and civil rights, the threat of nuclear annihilation, espionage and government corruption, weaving them with creativity, astute interpretation and insight.


The bulky novel is made highly readable by short chapters ending in enough suspense to drive the reader through a labyrinthine historical journey: a bus tour meandering through the seminal events that shaped the world of today. The most compelling of topics unfolded right here in America with the move for civil rights laws: issues which the Brothers Kennedy initially hesitated on while turning blind eyes to the violence waged on black people in the South.


Follett's mostly plausible characters are involved in real events, interacting with real world leaders; there are unmistakable characters resembling Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 'Hanoi' Jane Fonda and The Beatles. I say 'mostly plausible' since I had one teeny issue with Maria Summers, JFK's mistress: a strong black woman who was one of the Freedom Riders, who stands firmly for equality for black people, goes to bed and falls hopelessly in love with the white American president who refused to sign the bill for civil rights. I had the impression of the black female captive of a white plantation 'massa'. She stood out as a character out of character.


Finally, this epic fact and fiction heavyweight is a story of victory: of freedom and democracy after a century of earth's bloodshed; the realization that was once a Dream - the attainment of civil rights after such violent struggle, culminating into the making of America's first black President; the failure of communism, the fall of corrupt world leaders and - not to be left unmentioned - the triumphant heralding of the birth of Rock and Roll.


All we are saying is give peace a chance

Let me tell you now
Ev'rybody's talking about
Revolution, evolution, masturbation,
Flagellation, regulation, integrations,
Meditations, United Nations,


- John Lennon






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review 2014-10-26 04:06
The Wild Geese by Mori Ōgai
The Wild Geese - Ōgai Mori,Kingo Ochiai,Sanford Goldstein


Mori Ōgai co-mingles nostalgia for a vanished Tokyo of the late 1900's with romanticism as he tells the story of secret longing, isolation, and unrequited love. The main character, Otama, is the subject of pathos in this Meiji- period story: a naïve heroine left with gloomy prospects after her divorce from a bigamist policeman, succumbs to filial duty to her impoverished father by becoming the mistress of a sleazy moneylender.


Her patron, Suezo, while shrewdly building a business on the exploitation of others, compares typically to most Meiji-men: selfish, egotistic. Already married, he secretly sets up Otama in a residence where she wiles away her days like a lonely bird in a gilded cage.


The story of Otama is told in flashback through the narration of a keen observer - a friend of the male protagonist, Okada, a medical student pursuing plans to study in Germany, with ill- managed finances that force him to seek the services of the calculating moneylender. During one of her days often filled with boredom, Otama takes notice of, and becomes infatuated with the handsome medical student as he passes by her balcony. Their meeting develops into unfulfilling entanglements for all.


Ōgai vividly details everyday life in the village from shopkeepers, street performers, housemaids, geisha, and policemen to university students and their landladies: giving a strong impression of a transitioning Japan moving into the 20th century; though his characterization of women seem less than flattering, possibly suggesting once more, a distinctive Meiji societal attitude. For example, Otama early in the story is depicted with a flaccid personality, weak and too easily compromised to be completely sympathetic to the modern reader. Suezo, on the other hand, adulterous, serpentine and slithering; unlikable from the beginning, describes his wife as 'ugly and quarrelsome.'


Ōgai's imagery may seem clumsy or indelicate in areas as noted in the scene where Okada accidentally kills a wild goose.


Among these bitumen-colored stems and over the dark gray surface of the water reflecting faint lights, we saw a dozen wild geese slowly moving back and forth. Some rested motionless on the water.

"Can you throw that far with a stone?" Ishihara asked, turning to Okada.

Okada hesitated. "They're going to sleep, aren't they? It's cruel to throw at them... I'll make them fly away," said Okada, reluctantly picking up a stone.

The small stone hissed faintly through the air. I watched where it landed, and I saw the neck of a goose drop down. At the same time a few flapped their wings and, uttering cries, dispersed and glided over the water . But they did not rise high into the air. The one that was hit remained where it was.(111)


The image of the dead goose linked with Otama's fate is just one of several less subtle scenes, branding the story in general with a fable-like signature.

Not all wild geese can fly.


The Wild Geese was my first Mori Ōgai novel; a quick read at 119 pages, I have to admit that it didn't impress me as a 'classic' piece of Japanese literature. It truly leaned more to a charming fable whose heroine disregards the coveted riches of golden eggs, and finds freedom in the spreading of her own wings.


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review 2014-04-09 01:05
I Am Livia - Phyllis T. Smith

The history of ancient Rome, in general, has cloaked the women of the Caesars in shadows and obscurity. Undoubtedly, these women are worthy of greater attention; their stories are fascinating in their own right, and rife with intrigue and scandal.


Livia Drusilla (58 B.C.- 28 A.D.) was extremely charitable to the cause of orphans and provided relief support to victims of disasters. She was privy to affairs of state and had the ear of "the ruler of the world."  She has been viewed as the most powerful woman in the history of ancient Rome and was deified as a goddess after her death.


Livia was described by her grandson in I, Claudius (1934) as: both "remarkable and abominable," and one of the worst of the ancient Claudian family of Rome. Robert Graves's Claudius leaned to the beliefs that she was shrewd, cunning and responsible for poisoning many who crossed her path to power. Contemporary historians dispel this idea, finding these accusations baseless - a fair sentiment which Smith achieves in I am Livia by portraying her in a more judicious light.


To be appreciated as a woman, and also to be appreciated as a creature with a mind --what more could I have wanted?


The novel's similarity to I, Claudius is its autobiographic-fictional device, used in this case, to tell the historical events starting from the murder of Julius Caesar to the last Civil War. Smith's work however, skims the surface of historical details and their significance in shaping the Empire, focusing more on the characters' relationships, specifically, the woman behind the man.


Any woman who says she does not want to guide the actions of the man she loves, is in my opinion, lying.


Readers get to see the developing inner machinations of an astute, intuitive woman, viewing Livia as a young, out-spoken daughter of a nobleman, as a teen-bride, a wife to a Caesar and mother to a dynasty- a woman who could capably exercise influence over Caesar Octavianus, in her mind, "for the good of Rome"; whose political savvy and sound advice were probably her husband's greatest assets.


I can't claim to know much of ancient Roman history (a paucity I regret and look forward to remedy), so it was a little confusing for me with all the key figures (who bred like rabbits), their offspring, extended family members and/or adopted heirs with same or similar names. It is for this reason that I would have liked to see a genealogy map. Trust me, this is important! In the mean time, for those of like-mind, I am Livia is an enjoyable prompter to pulling out those ancient history books.


Generous marks to Phyllis T. Smith's I am Livia for a very good start (there's a follow up in the works).


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review 2014-03-24 08:00
A King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman
A King's Ransom - Sharon Kay Penman

Your Pride Will Be Your Undoing, Lionheart 

A King's Ransom is the sweeping, adventurous sequel to Lionheart , a masterfully spun novel of the last seven years of Richard I's life: 1192-1199, focusing on the period of his capture, imprisonment, and ransoming by Heinrich Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor. It is a homeric epic that retells the life of this legendary hero in "IMAX" detail. The author takes great care to keep historical veracity while weaving well thought-out strategies and motives, clearing a few myths and misconceptions along the way of transporting us on a grand medieval journey.

Sharon Kay Penman is well-known for her detailed, insightful characterizations, and in A King's Ransom, that skill is shown at its peak. Historical figures became flesh and blood, living, breathing 3- dimensional people: I felt the searing pain of burnt flesh, the fear and mania of being in solitary imprisonment; I smelled the musty, moldy dankness of the chilled dungeon; the putrefying odor of the suppurating wound; felt the heartbreak of a neglected wife; tasted the sweetness of love's second chance. 

Her characters' personalities are well-conceived and fitting - I saw Richard I as a restless and impulsive adventurer, quick to flare up with that "notorious Angevin temper," more suited to aggressive military life than to contemplating law, governing a kingdom; or to committed marital life. 

It couldn't be all swords and crossbows in Ms. Penman's novels, so it was a pleasure to see the women of court take active duty: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joanna, Berengaria. Their roles and perspectives brought deeply heartfelt, emotional dimensions to that dangerous, often tragic medieval life.

History is never so entertaining as in a fictionalized version, and Ms.Penman pulled it off in imaginative scenes - sieges, battles, betrayals, political drama - the dangerous 12th century game of Monopoly . The amazing sea adventure, Richard's capture and especially his incarceration will stay in my mind for a long time. 

I particularly got a thrill by old King Henry's cameo appearance as Richard lay feverish in his dungeon: "There is something else you need to remember whenever this new reality of yours becomes more than you think you can bear. You cannot gain revenge from the grave. Trust me on this; I know." 

Ms. Penman brings spirit and passion to the life of the Coeur de Lion, whose legend will carry on in A King's Ransom -the last of the Angevin Trilogy, much like what Homer did for Odysseus... and you know how successful that was.

            photo image_zps1a03ac72.jpg


From wikipedia.org:
Richard I (8 September 1157 – 6 April 1199). He was known as Richard Cœur de Lion, or mainly Richard the Lionheart, even before his accession, because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior.


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