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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-04-22 18:01
Biafra: The World Was Silent When We Died
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,Zainab Jah

Half of a Yellow Sun is named for the centerpiece of the Biafran flag:

* Red for the blood of those massacred in northern Nigeria after the country's 1960 independence; in the time period leading up to the Nigeria-Biafra war, and in that war itself;

* Black for mourning them and in remembrance;

* Green for prosperity;

* And half of a yellow / golden sun for a glorious future: The sun has eleven rays, representing the eleven provinces of Biafra.

 

 

In this novel, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the inside story of the Nigeria-Biafra war, of the anti-Igbo massacres preceding it, and of the short-lived Republic of Biafra roughly corresponding with the area chiefly inhabited by the Igbo (as well as the Ibibio, and Ijaw) and, in colonial times, known as Eastern Region of Nigeria: to this day, the political period most haunting Nigeria and its people.

 

Though the novel is not autobiographical (Adichie was born several years after the war ended), it is inspired by the experience of Adichie's parents, as well as numerous other eyewitnesses, who individually and collectively informed her protagonists: middle class twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, their lovers -- university professor and political activist Odenigbo, and English journalist and would-be novelist Richard Churchill (a distant relative of Winston) --, and last but not least Odenigbo and Olanna's houseboy Ugwu.  Through their eyes, and chiefly through those of Ugwu, Olanna and Richard, Adichie conveys a fragmented and multi-faceted image of the events, from the search for an authentic post-colonial (national? Igbo? pan-African?) identity to the shock and sheer terror of the anti-Igbo massacres -- primarily in Northern Nigeria --, the euphoria accompanying the foundation of the Republic of Biafra, and finally the unspeakable horror of a war conducted, on the Nigerian side, by way of a systematic campaign of starvation, shutting off Biafra's access to necessary food products and producing the images which have come to define the word "Biafra" once and for all to this day.

 

 

Although these images were front page news all over the world, and relief organizations such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders (which in fact owes its very existence to the Nigeria-Biafra war) did the best they could to battle the impossible odds, most of the First World stood by and let events take their course, out of a mixture of political self-interest, ignorance, sheer disbelief, and helpless apathy in the face of the enormity of the genocide.

 

In the novel, it is initially Richard, who has come to identify with the Igbo at least as much, or even more than with his English roots, who tries to convey a sense of what is happening inside Biafra to the outside world, through newspaper articles published in England and North America.  But his big project, a book about the Igbo (initially about their history and art; later on, about the war), keeps getting thwarted, and he ultimately abandons it:

"Ugwu fumbled, awkwardly, for something to say. 'Are you still writing your book, sah?'

'No.'

'"The World Was Silent When We Died".  It is a good title.'

'Yes, it is.  It came from something Colonel Madu said once.'

Richard paused.  'The war isn't my story to tell, really.'

Ugwu nodded.  He had never thought that it was."

And in fact, it will end up being Ugwu himself who writes that very book.  As it should be -- the story of Biafra, and the Nigeria-Biafra war, is for the Igbo and the Nigerians themselves to tell, first and foremost.  That obviously doesn't mean the rest of the world should ever stand by and keep silent in the face of war and genocide; but Adichie's point here (and I agree with her) is about authenticity, both cultural and emotional:

"I taught an introductory creative writing class at Princeton last year and, in addition to the classic 'show don't tell', I often told my students that their fiction needed to have 'emotional truth' [...]: a quality different from honesty and more resilient than fact, a quality that existed not in the kind of fiction that explains but in the kind of fiction that shows.  All the novels I love, the ones I remember, the ones I re-read, have this empathetic human quality.  And because I write the kind of fiction I like to read, when I started Half of a Yellow Sun [...], I hoped that emotional truth would be its major recognizable trait. [...]

 

Successful fiction does not need to be validated by 'real life'; I cringe whenever a writer is asked how much of a novel is 'real'.  Yet, [...] to write realistic fiction about war, especially one central to the history of one's own country, is to be constantly aware of a responsibility to something larger than art.  While writing Half of a Yellow Sun, I enjoyed playing with minor things [such as inventing a train station in a town that has none].  Yet I did not play with the central events of that time.  I could not let a character be changed by anything that had not actually happened.  If fiction is indeed the soul of history, then I was equally committed to the fiction and the history, equally keen to be true to the spirit of the time as well as to my artistic vision of it. 

 

The writing itself was a bruising experience. [...] But there were also moments of extravagant joy when I recognized, in a character or moment or scene, that quality of emotional truth."

 

(Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, In the Shadow of Biafra -- essay included in the 2007 Harper Perennial edition of Half of a Yellow Sun).

Half of a Yellow Sun has been called everything from "stunning" and "a landmark novel" to "heartbreaking", "exquisitely written, "a literary masterpiece" and "a classic" (the last four of these, in one and the same sentence of a Daily Mail review blurbed on the front cover of my edition).  The novel is probably all of these things, and yet, let's face it, all of these terms are nothing so much as well-worn reviewer's clichésSince they're the coinage by which professional reviewers the world over operate, I'm sure Ms. Adichie still preferred getting plenty of this sort of accolades over being ripped apart by these same professional reviewers' mercilessly acidic tongues, which the same time-honored traditions of the trade reserve for books not considered worth the respective reviewer's precious time. -- Being a mere amateur, I'm going to content myself with saying that this novel is precisely what Ms. Adichie hoped it would be: an emotionally brutally honest book; a fragment of Nigerian history told through the eyes of a small, diverse, and devastatingly flawed group of people.

 

(And of course I'm going to count this towards the letter "A" of the Women Writers Bingo ... never mind that I've already read another book qualifying for that particular square.)

 

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review 2018-04-21 23:05
Murder Off Miami: Case Notes
Murder Off Miami - Dennis Wheatley

OK, I've finished it and formed my theory, but since MbD had pity on me last night (her time) and didn't exploit her world clock-generated advantage, I'll put all of my case notes (except for the corresponding headlines) in spoiler tags just to be on the safe side.  Though I do have a feeling we're on the same track as far as the solution is concerned.  But anyway!

 

Bolitho Blane and Nicholas Stodart

 

Who are they really, anyway??? 

 

* No verifiable third-hand information from any indisputable source (Scotland Yard, British armed forces, British colonial administration, etc.) on either. 

 

* Stodart's personal background especially re: the war years (WWI) is sourced only through S. himself. The British authorities don't even know him (i.e., he doesn't even have a birth certificate at Somerset House??)

 

* Ditto essentially Blane, who styles himself as a recluse and conducts even his business affairs chiefly "at the remote" -- by telephone and cable / correspondence.

 

* Both Blane and Stodart surfaced in Britain suddenly, at some point after the end of WWI, with a vague background of having come from "the colonies" (Australia / India / South Africa).

 

* Nobody, not even Rocksavage and the yacht's captain saw Blane / Stodart come on board (as per Rocksavage's testimony, you can't see the gangway from the bridge).

 

* Nobody saw Blane immediately after boarding; even the steward was kept out of his suite.

 

* Only one person on board knows what Blane looks like -- the Bishop, who wasn't in the lounge with the other passengers (minus Blane) before dinner on the fateful night and promptly has a fainting fit when Stodart enters the room where he is being interrogated.

 

* Similarly, nobody knows what Blane's handwriting looks like (or Stodart's for that matter).  The alleged suicide note is produced by Stodart.

 

* In fact, the entire suicide theory originates with Stodart.  (BUT: If you're staging a suicide, then why also stage a murder (tracks on the carpet, blood stains)?)

 

* Blane not only owns Argus Suds but (as per Jocelyn, who ought to know) also Redmeyer Synd shares, which at least before Blane's "exit" seem to have been faring considerably better than Argus Suds -- and better than Rocksavage Con, even if not as well as the other stocks associated with Rocksavage (Denton Bros, Grandol Soaps, and Sen Toilet Preps).

 

* Why the sudden need for a secretary / assistant on Blane's part, shortly before this trip?!  Explanation given isn't convincing.

 

* What is the meaning of Stodart's toothache / ill-fitting dentures?  Something to do with blood?

(spoiler show)

 

New York (Blane & Stodart's Travel to and Stay There)

 

* Blane's luggage has tags for the Ritz, Stodart's doesn't (at least not visibly).

 

* Stodart's luggage has "Cunard Line" tag, Blane's doesn't (at least not visibly).  (NB: As per internet research, the R.M.S. Berengaria really was a Cunard ship in the 1930s.)

 

* Letter to the Bishop written on Adlon Claridge paper.  That seems to have been the Bishop's hotel in N.Y.:  The Adlon Claridge match found later suggests that the letter wasn't sent to the Bishop as part of the mail delivered on board, but already conveyed to him in N.Y. in some fashion.

 

* Interpretation that letter to Bishop contains a veiled threat and is intended to hush him up is probably correct.

 

* Blane's luggage contains dirty / used clothing for 2 days.  So was there a laundry on the R.M.S. Berengaria?  (N.B.: Blue riband winners in the mid-1930s clocked in at roughly 4 days' travel time.  So the voyage from England would easily have taken that long, if not a day or two longer.)  But wouldn't the Ritz have offered laundry services, too?

 

* Stodart's luggage not inventoried.  (Presumably because police consider him a witness?)

 

* By letter to Bishop, we know that Blane / Stoddart were (was?!) in New York on March 5.

 

* Then [t]he[y] found an excuse not to travel to Florida with the rest of the passengers, and only board the yacht there at the very last minute on March 8.

(spoiler show)

 

Crime Scene

 

* If Blane was shot, where is the bullet?  Why wasn't it recovered (near one of the blood stains or anywhere else)?

 

* Crime scene photos at the very least don't suggest bullet has entered the wall.

 

* No odd number of bullets found in Blane's possession (25 bullets sounds like a number that B. could have counted off and brought with him from home).

 

* What caused that blood stain's black rim -- possibly black ink?

 

* "Suicide note" written in blue ink.  Comment on the back of the stock price listing written in black ink, like the stock price listing itself.

 

* Writing set on the desk seems to be missing one (the middle) pen.

 

* What color is the ink found in Blane's personal possessions -- black or blue?  The inventory doesn't say.

 

* Where did whoever wrote the suicide note (if it was written on board) sit while doing so?  There is no chair anywhere near the desk.

 

* Additional notes on ink / paper:

(a) Both of Hayashi's notes are written in blue ink as well.  As per his and the steward's testimony, immediately after boarding no foolscap / writing paper and no ink available in his cabin (only after the main on-board store had been reopened and cabins could be reprovisioned from there).  Lacking writing materials in his own cabin, Hayashi had to resort to materials provided in the ship's writing room.

(b) No odd number of sheets of yellow writing paper on the block contained in Blane's possessions.  25 sheets sounds like this could be the complete block brought by Blane from home.

(c) 68 pages of foolscap suggests use of some of the foolscap paper, though.  But for what purpose?

 

* In Blane's room, no change of daytime or evening clothes seems to have been unpacked / laid ready for dinner (only his pyjama and dressing gown). -- Stodart, OTOH, has had a change of shoes and socks at the very least.

 

* What is the black spot at the far end of the bathtub in Blane's suite?

 

* If the steward was in the adjacent room to Blane's suite, why didn't he hear anything?  (The shot may have been silenced, but literally nothing -- no commotion, not Blane's / Stodart's voice(s), no sounds of something falling (the body?!)?  May be the fault of the nearby carpenter's work, though.

(spoiler show)

 

Time of the Murder

 

* See above: Why can't the murder (if such a thing occurred at all) have been committed right after boarding?  We only have Stodart's word for the assertion that Blane was alive then in the first place -- and Stodart, by his own testimony, was alone in the room with him until 7:30 pm.

 

* At and after 7:00 pm (even more so, between 7:30 and 8:30 / 8:45 pm) it would have been dark outside, so presumably nobody would have seen what, if anything, was tossed out of the porthole of Blane's suite at that time.

 

* But: According to the page torn from Stodart's calendar, full moon at 4:15 am.  (Where exactly does that get us?  What, if anything, was planned for that time?)

 

* Stodart is the only person who was always in somebody's view and therefore has a perfect alibi during the entire time when Detective Kettering believes the murder was committed (i.e., after 7:30 or even after 7:45 pm). -- As Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey have all said on many a similar occasion: "There is nothing I distrust so much as a seemingly unbreakable alibi."

(spoiler show)

 

Relationship Blane / Hayashi

 

* Is Hayashi's note really about Blane's supposed intent to come to an agreement with Rocksavage?  I don't think so -- rather, the wording suggests a specific action being contemplated by Blane, and of which he has given Hayashi advance notice; maybe in order to sway H. in his (Blane's) own favor.

 

* We know from Slick, aka the Count, that Blane had exposed Slick's card-sharping on a previous occasion, much to Slick's detriment.  Could Blane not have told Hayashi that if H. didn't grant the Japanese monopoly to him (Blane), he'd expose the bribery scheme to which Rocksavage had more or less already agreed?

 

(spoiler show)

 

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review 2018-04-21 20:31
Review: "Arschbacken zusammenkneifen, Prinzessin!" by Mirco Buchwitz & Rikje Stanze
Arschbacken zusammenkneifen, Prinzessin! - Mirco Buchwitz,Rikje Stanze

 

~ 5 STARS ~

 

 

 (Note: BILLIONS and BILLIONS of stars for Carolin Kebekus‘ hilarious narration! ❤️❤️❤️)

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review 2018-04-20 22:28
A murder is committed -- and hilarity ensues.
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin,Paul Panting
Quick Curtain - Alan Melville
Quick Curtain - Ben Allen,Alan Melville

Both Edmund Crispin's Moving Toyshop and Alan Melville's Quick Curtain are mentioned in the "Making Fun of Murder" chapter of Martin Edwards's Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.  Both are excellent examples of writers taking something as horrific as murder and turning it right around and into a farce, albeit (as Dorothy L. Sayers remarked in her review of Melville's book) at the expense of a realistic description of proper police procedure.  But then, a surfeit of realism isn't necessarily what either of these authors was aiming for.

 

Which doesn't mean that their observations on society, or the segment thereof being portrayed (academia in Crispin's case, the world of showbiz and the theatre in Melville's) aren't spot on satire.  In fact, if read in that spirit, they are, in many respects, as timely today as they were when originally written:

"Tuesday, June 18th, you will have noticed, was the great day [of the musical company's London opening].  On Sunday, June 16th, when most of the Blue Music company were still in Manchester [...], seven grim females parked seven rickety campstools outside the gallery entrance of the Grosvenor Theatre.

 

They were joined a little later in the evening by four more females and a lone male.  They unpacked sandwiches and munched.  They uncorked thermos flasks and drank hot coffee out of the aluminium tops of the flasks.  They discussed with one another Mr. Douglas, Miss Astle, Mr. Baker, Mr. Douglas's past successes, Miss Astle's last divorce, Mr. Baker's profile -- both the port and the starboard view.  They half slept.  They suffered endless agonies on their stupid, unreliable campstools; they each contracted stiff necks and shooting pains in the lower reaches of the spine; they were photographed for their pains by a man in a dirty waterproof and appeared on the back page of the Daily Post under the title 'Gallery Enthusiasts' Three-Day Wait for New Douglas Show.'  They were stll there on Tuesday morning, proudly in the van of a fair-sized queue."

 

(Alan Melville, Quick Curtain)

Harry Potter and Apple gadgets, anyone?

 

 

Edmund Crispin's Moving Toyshop concerns the temporary metamorphosis of a grocer's shop into (you guessed it) a toyshop for purposes of the concealment of the scene of a murder; a plan that goes haywire when one of the book's two protagonists, a poet friend of Oxford don (and star of this book series) Gervase Fen, accidentally stumbles into the temporarily morphed shop, shortly after the dastardly deed has been committed.  Crispin's particular forte were hilarious chase scenes, of which this book contains several, perhaps the most notable being the two amateur sleuths' chase after a young woman in the midst of the Oxford Händel Society's rehearsal of Brahms's Schicksalslied in the Sheldonian Theatre:

"The girl with the blue eyes and the golden hair was embedded in the very middle of the altos, and there was no way to get near her except through the basses, who stood nearby, behind the orchestra.  Accordingly, they hacked out a path between the instrumentalists, under the envenomed gaze of Dr Artemus Rains [the conductor].  The second horn, a sandy, undersized man, went quite out of tune with indignation.  Brahms thundered and trumpeted about their ears. 'Blindly,' the chorus roared, 'blindly from one dread hour to another.'  They knocked over the music-stand of the tympanist, sweating with the efford of counting bars, so that he failed to come in at his last entry.

 

The haven of the basses achieved at last, a number of further difficulties presented themselves.  The Sheldonian is not particularly spacious, and the members of the large choir have to be herded together in conditions not unreminiscent of the Black Hole of Calcutta.  When Fen and Cadogan, pushing, perspiring, and creating a great deal of localized pother, had penetrated the basses to a certain distance (Cadogan shedding wicker basket, bootlaces, and dog-collar broadcast as he went) the could literally get no farther; they were wedged, and even the avenue by which they had come was now irrevocably closed and sealed. [...]

 

Dr. Rains leaned his spidery form forwards across the rostrum. 'Professor Fen --' he began in a silky voice.

 

But he was not allowed to finish.  The girl with the blue eyes, profiting by this sudden focusing of attention, had pushed her way through the altos and was now heading at a brisk pace towards the door.  Unnerved by this fresh interruption, Dr Rains swung round to glare at her.  Fen and Cadogan got on the move again with alacrity, clawing their way back through the basses and the orchestra without ceremony or restraint.  But this process delayed them, and the girl had been out of the hall at least half a minute by the time they reached open ground.  Dr. Rains watched them go with a theatrical expression of sardonic interst.

 

'Now that the English Faculty has left us,' Cadogan heard him say, 'we will go back to the letter L.' The rehearsal started afresh."

I've yet to see the BBC TV adaptation of this, but if handled well, this is not the only scene that would have made for much hilarity, never mind the novel's otherwise somewhat thin plot.

 

Alan Melville's Quick Curtain is, as shown already in the excerpt further above, a satire on the world of 1930s theatre and showbiz, where a murder occurring at the focal point of a bestselling new musical comedy is investigated (with many quips and witty asides) by a policeman and his journalist son.  Obviously, this premise in and of itself is more than merely a little preposterous, even for the 1930s, but if you're able to get past this point (Ms. Sayers obviously wasn't) and past the fact that the central plot device has been used about a million times since, there is much to enjoy here -- and Melville, who knew the world he was describing inside out, certainly doesn't mince words when it comes to the characterization of the chief players who, like those of another theatre insider turned mystery writer of the day, Ngaio Marsh, are thinly veiled take-downs on several real life stars -- yet Melville (like Marsh) kept the allusions just on the right side of the generic and light-hearted, without ever descending into outright character assassination.  (Well, he was making a living in that very world himself, after all.)  And he managed to maintain his light, almost absurdist approach right until the end: Think a Golden Age mystery always ends with a pat and neat solution?  Think again.  Even if there is such a thing as a standard-issue conclave in the 23:45th-ish hour ...

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review 2018-04-19 18:58
The Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
The Strain - Guillermo del Toro,Chuck Hogan,Ron Perlman

I have not seen the show created from this material. I DVR’d it but the thing got full and it was deleted. That may have been for the best . . .

 

The Strain begins when a passenger plane lands with its windows all darkened and none of its 199 passengers getting off the plane. Is it a terrorist attack or something even more insidious?

 

I’ll give you a hint. It’s the second one and this part of the book is so very creepy!

 

There was something on that plane that is now wreaking havoc on the family members of the extremely unlucky passengers aboard the plane – and on society at large.

 

This story is basically pandemic via vampiric strain and focuses a lot of time on the rush for experts to discover exactly what the hell is going on and how to stop it before everyone dies a horrid death or worse.

 

The audiobook is narrated by Ron Perlman who gives the material a lethal edge and he doesn’t even attempt to feign a female voice (thank all that is good and kind in this world). He is deadly serious as well he should be for a story like this! It’s tense and gory and action packed.

 

But you need to know something. Terrible things happen to people, to children, and to dogs (gawd, the dogs!) in this book so guard yourself before you step in. Some may say this is a spoiler but I say you MUST know if you have any feelings at all. I wish I had. I might’ve skipped it had I known about one particular scene. That scene had me in complete dread mode guessing what was going to happen and wishing I could unhear it and pretend it never happened after it did. My heart let me know that it hasn’t completely shriveled up yet.

 

I love pandemic and plague stories even though they give me endless nightmares because I know it’s going to happen to us one of these days and that we’ll probably deserve it (well, most of us anyway). But I only sometimes enjoy thrillers and vampire stories. This one combines the two and I mostly enjoyed it before it got too gross and boring because the vampires are evil, hungry and not at all sexy. Nope, there is no sexy to be had here (more on that in a minute). My biggest complaint about this book was the fact that it was mainly a thriller with heavy handed violence and the characters weren’t given enough space for me to get to know them (especially the women) because they were so busy doing important things to stop this blight on humanity. I really didn’t end up giving any craps about any of them because the whole thing lacked an emotional connection for me. I know not everyone necessarily needs that but I do with very few exceptions. I think reading Salem’s Lot as a kid may have spoiled most vampire novels for me.

 

As I said, this book is deadly serious but there is a moment of dialogue that I must share because I am still laughing about it.

 

“I am a drinker of men.”

 

Heh, I’ve never quite heard it put this way before and I think I like it! I wish there had been more unintentionally funny bits to break up the slaying.

 

Towards the middle it gets rather gross and I rarely say that. There’s a proboscis thing, there’s white goo/blood and, grossest of all, there’s peeing/pooping vampires. And they do it as they feed! I told you there is no sexy here and I wasn’t kidding! There is just entirely too much yuck to behold. Even my cast iron stomach was screaming for it to stop. Maybe it’s because I listened on audio and I find audio such an intimate experience that it became way too much? Or perhaps I’m getting whimpy? I don’t know what my problem was but I do know I probably won’t be reading the next two in the series because the last bits bored me to tears. It’s all chasing down vampires and slicing off their noggins and looking at vampire pee/poo and lots of telling and not any showing. I tuned out during the final acts and I’m too chicken to rewind. I was also totally fatigued by the story at this point. I probably won’t be moving on to the two sequels even though my library has them unless someone decides to be super evil and makes me change my mind! Please don’t.

 

I’m going to give it a three because the first half or so was incredibly chilling. I just wish it had all gone another, perhaps less grosser, way in the latter half.

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