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review 2020-12-21 04:56
The American dream is still alive for those determined to pursue it


For those of us who have only known life in an affluent country with a stable, democratically elected government, it’s hard to imagine the danger and drama of regime change in other parts of the world. Everything you believed in and all you’ve worked so hard to attain, can abruptly become a liability, and the peace and security of your loved ones suddenly put at risk.

This is the fate that befell so many South Vietnamese the day after the fall of Saigon in 1975, which marked the end of the Vietnam War with victory for the communist North Vietnamese forces.

One such person was Tim Tran, who relates his experience in the memoir, American Dreamer: How I Escaped Communist Vietnam and Built a Successful Life in America by Tim Tran with Tom Fields-Meyer.

To make that historical event even more personal and painful, Tran, a native-born Vietnamese, had experienced life in America on a scholarship and attained a degree in business from the University of California, Berkeley. He’d only returned to South Vietnam less than a year before the country fell to the communists.

In American Dreamer, Tran describes his childhood in a loving family that thrived through hard work, determination and amazing resourcefulness that emerges out of necessity. And how his father provided the motivation and the training for him to succeed academically.

Chapters about his immersion into American culture during his university years are a testament to his outgoing personality and the gracious, friendly, and helpful reception he received from almost all the Americans he interacted with.

Accounts of navigating day-to-day living in a totalitarian regime, harrowing experiences trying to arrange an escape from Vietnam, life-threatening confrontations as boat person beset by pirates, and volunteering with agencies while in a refugee camp are gripping and told with candour and humility.

Once back in America, career success is achieved with a combination of effort, excellence, enthusiasm, and integrity The author just doesn’t abide in America, he embraces it, holds it to his heart, then magnanimously gives back by creating an endowment that will for many years support the library operations at Pacific University. In these pages, Tran also pays tribute to all those who have supported him in fulfilling this dream.

Entertaining and inspiring, American Dreamer, attests to the fact the American dream is still alive for those determined enough to pursue it. And furthermore, there’s no need to make America great again, for people like Tran, it still is and always has been.


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review 2020-05-03 07:04
Review: Has China Won? by Kishore Mahbubani
Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy - Kishore Mahbubani

***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Public Affairs!***


I stopped reading this book about 150 pages in, roughly halfway. I make an effort to not put down a book less than halfway through in order to be fair. Sometimes things start to look up after a rocky beginning. To be clear, I did not put this book away because it was poorly written. Indeed, it was excellently written. But I felt like the author has gotten it wrong when it came to his starting thesis. And unfortunately, if your starting thesis is incorrect, then some or all of your conclusions probably will be too.


The author has a very big bias in favor of China. This was evident throughout the Introduction when he basically said that China is the victim of cultural misunderstanding and that America was mostly afraid of powerful “yellow” people (his words, not mine) and mistakenly thinks that all Communism is the same as the Soviet Union was. But I carried on in spite of this obvious bias because the next two chapters were about the biggest mistakes so far that each of the world superpowers has made. I thought, maybe here is where we get a more evenhanded approach.


Unfortunately we did not. According to the author, China’s biggest mistake is that it gives too much power to local governments and Beijing is largely powerless to control them. For example, the author mentions that businesses are very wary of working in China because they feel that China takes advantage of them and threatens them with access to the Chinese market if they don’t comply to outrageous. His example is a business that states they had a contract with a Chinese company that they would utilize their services for a set number of years and then buy the company outright for X price at the end of that period. When that date came the company refused to sell. The business petitioned to the courts in Beijing and were told “well pay them more money then and buy the business”. The author attributes this to a lack of centralized leadership. That is blatantly false and biased. That is called extortion. If the courts had said “Sorry, this is an issue with the local jurisdiction” that would prove the author’s point. But they acted like a mob enforcer “Pay more money, then they’ll sell.” The author gives this kind of leniency to the Chinese government over and over again.


And still, I continued. I thought that perhaps when the author was describing the largest mistake by America that we would see the same leniency. We did not. The author spends the entire chapter demonizing President Trump and demonizing businesses for blaming it on American war culture. And then throwing in some demonization of America’s lack of social justice for good measure. Americans just want to believe that all Communism is bad, so that’s why we demonize China. Again, this is a flawed premise. The Chinese Communist Party is bad. They have upwards of 1.5 million people imprisoned in labor camps, another half million in re-education centers. Stories abound from survivors of these camps of the rampant abuse and rape that goes on. Defectors from the CCP are executed silently and immediately, potentially thousands of people per year. The CCP has  launched genocidal massacres on Tibetans, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims within the past decade. Don’t try and blow that particular sunshine about good Communism up my behind, thanks all the same!


In the end, this author thinks China is a great place and America is inherently racist with a psycho for a President. To me, that indicates that all conclusions that he draws will be flawed. So while the author asks a lot of interesting questions, the answers will likely be unsatisfying.

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review 2016-11-13 00:20
Communist "witch" hunt during the '50s
Home Sweet Home: A novel - April Smith

This book is loosely based on a real-life family who was victimized by the fear and hatred created during the McCarthy era.   Cal Kuseck and his wife Betsy move their two children, Jo and Lance, to a cattle farm in South Dakota.  The book chronicles their struggle to adapt to their new life.  Cal becomes interested in politics and serves three terms in the State Assembly.  When he decides to run for the Senate, the FBI looks more closely into his and his family’s past affiliations and learn of Betsy’s short membership in the Communist party when she was a very young woman.  Cal’s political enemies start a smear campaign and his friends and neighbors turn against him.  This all leads to a libel lawsuit and ultimately, many years later, to murder.


I had expected this to be a fascinating, empathetic book but for some reason, I never could really connect with the characters. I thought this book would really speak to my heart, especially during this difficult time in our country when people are so divided and fear is prevalent.  I read this book during the last days of the presidential election.  But I really didn’t get caught up in the victimization of this family and didn’t find much suspense in the murder either.   It felt a bit flat and disjointed to me. But it’s certainly a timely book and shows just how fear and hate can grow in a country until it produces unreasonable mass hysteria.


This book was given to me by the publisher through First to Read in return for an honest review.

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review 2016-10-12 22:05
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar - Simon Sebag Montefiore

Montefiore's history of Jerusalem happened to be the first book I reviewed on Booklikes and I was happy to revisit the author with another one of his works. It seems that every time I pick up a history book in a book shop it is endorsed by Montefiore, he's clearly very passionate in his pursuit of historical knowledge. 


This book centres around Stalin and his changing inner circle. It's an odd blend of details of dinner functions, Stalin's character in calm times and the chronicles of the terror and his political brutality. It's a fascinating glimpse into the sycophantic fervour he fostered amongst his magnates and the cunning, horrific nature of his paranoid mind. I've given it five stars, because probably fittingly, after Kershaw's Hitler this is simply the best biography of a historical leader that I have read. 


Anyone who harbours any romanticism or flirts with the hard left I advise to read this and recognise the dangers of unswerving idealism, the dangers of being an illiberal bent on realising a utopia for humanity in the future at any cost to the people of this life. I had always thought that Stalin wasn't overly ideologically motivated, yet this book seeks to dispel that notion comparing the avidity of Stalin's belief in Marxism to that displayed in radical Islamists. 


Something touched upon in the book and spoken about in debates by Christopher Hitchens is the idea that the Tsar in Romanov times was the voice of God himself, understand that and you may be able to understand the cult of personality that Stalin was able to engineer and take advantage of. The idea of a strong, powerful leader was ingrained into Russian society and it is an interesting feature of the revolution, that despite its attempts to turn society on its head with the ultimate goal of Communism, the aura of leadership remained steadfast. 


It fascinated me that the sons and daughters of some of those murdered and tortured beyond repair on Stalin's orders still regarded him as a great leader. It is unfathomable to me that it is possible to inspire such unswerving loyalty amongst people. This is ultimately what draws me to these immensely flawed and yet ridiculously charismatic characters. There seems to be men and women who pop up from time to time under varying banners of ideology, be it religious/political who manage to cultivate vast followings and impact the course of human history through their actions.


And so I came to the end of the book having lived within the court of the red tsar through the eyes of his vicious inner circle and I was struck again by the surreal nature of it all. How terrifying is it? If you place enough power into the hands of the wrong person you can end up with a society in which an innocuous comment could result in years of torture and imprisonment or a painful death. How is it that a man so well read and intelligent as Stalin, uses that intelligence to create a cut throat, savage society in which even those closest to him are not safe from assassination? 


I guess my curiosity will never be sated.

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review 2016-08-05 06:35
Morality of the Execution
Measures Taken and Other Lehrst├╝cke - Bertolt Brecht,Ralph Manheim,John Willett,Carl R. Mueller,Wolfgang Saueralnder

This is actually a really short play, so short that it only took me four beers to finish it. Mind you, these plays generally aren't available in English (which I didn't realise until I started reading this particular book). Anyway, Brecht himself says that the idea of the plays is that they are morality plays, and further more, he wrote them not to be performed by professional actors, but amateurs. Also, as should be noted, this was written during the time when he was basically a communist so there is a lot of communist language used (and one should also note that it was also written during the rise of the Nazi party, however at this time Hitler had yet to seize control of Germany, and the parliament was divided between two extremist groups – the communists and the National Socialists).



The play is about the revolution in China (though one should note that as of its writing, the Maoist revolution was still a long way off – that was to really hit full swing after World War II, though there was still the beginnings of the revolution sturing) and about how a group of revolutionaries executed somebody, and then tell a story to the chorus (who are obviously the judges) as to why the execution was necessary.



The interesting thing that continued to arise during the play is that the nature of the proletariat and the question as to whether the soldiers (and the police) are the friends or the enemies. One sometimes feels that in such a dictatorship the best job to have is in the security forces, but Brecht suggests otherwise. In fact the security forces are being oppressed just as much as the rest of the population – instead of fighting them one should attempt to sway them over to their side. However, it is hard not to view the security forces as being the enemy in that they tend to oppose your movement, as is the case in the play where the police officer is challenging the revolutionary and the worker over handing out leaflets (which the police officer believes is far, far more dangerous than any bomb or gun).


This leads me to the concept of the power of ideas. Sure, there is a suggestion that political arguments are not won or lost on Facebook (or even during a dinner party), however what many people seem to forget (usually those trying to shut down such an argument) is that you're not actually trying to win over the person that you are having the argument with (because in many cases it is nigh impossible to be able to win them over), but rather you are attempting to persuade those whom are listening as to the validity of your argument as opposed to the other side. The same is the case with Facebook because you're not trying to change your opponent's views, but persuade those who may be listening – it is true that arguments aren't ever won or lost, but it is the audience who are the targets – which is the key to many debating contests, and it is also why the audience are the ones who determine the winner in the debate.

As such this graphic actually isn't true:





Finally, I wish to touch on the idea of winning over the security forces. We saw this in Egypt, and also the case with other revolutions – they are never won or lost through the organisers but rather through bringing the military onside. Sure, there are instances where revolution descended into civil war (as was the case with Libya, and is also what is happening in Syria), but this is because the military has disintegrated and they have split off to their respective teams, or that the military was generally made up of a minority, and the majority who are revolting were able to arm themselves effectively. However, in the case of Egypt, the revolution would never have been won and Mubarack deposed were it not for the support of the military (and this was also the case with France, while in Russia the military had been so decimated by the World War that they weren't able to fight the communists, and by the time the West had managed to mobilise against them they had become pretty much entrenched – and also the communist troops were pretty fresh while the troops representing the White Russians had been exhausted through four years of war).

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1717827045
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