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review 2018-08-12 21:50
LOVE RUN AGROUND
Breakup: The End of a Love Story - Catherine Texier

Catherine Texier's story of the breakup of her 18 year relationship with a man who was also her literary partner, lover, best friend, and father of their 2 daughters can best be described as 'an anatomy of an affair'. 

From the book's first pages, Texier provides the reader with an open access into the gradual unraveling of what had been for her, a loving and satisfying relationship. Her partner was in emotional withdrawal. Oftentimes, he was surly, abrupt, or would give her the silent treatment. The more I read, the more his selfishness became evident to me. Texier found it so hard to let go of what they had together. And, in his own way, even after admitting --- while both were seeing a psychologist to help sort out their evolving feelings about each other and their dying relationship --- to having an affair and continuing to spend time with 'the other woman', he and Texier continued an intermittent, fiery sexual relationship. As I was reading all this, I wanted to say out loud: "Why don't the two of you make a clean break of it?" Easy for me to say, I know, as a single man with no children. But that's how I felt as I watched their relationship slowly deflate and disintegrate. 

I felt sorry for Texier because she was completely blindslided by her partner stepping out on her with this woman. In Texier's words: "The rage of being rejected. It’s one thing to be with a guy and see that he’s losing interest and maybe you are too, and quite another to have built a family and two literary careers and a house and eighteen years of shared companionship, the passion still going full swing in spite of the mounting tensions, and to feel the plug being pulled out overnight without warning.”

There is a denouement between Texier and her ex-partner. As a way of fully coming to grips with the end of the relationship, she has a big blowout party in the apartment she had shared with him and their children. "The party was meant as the kickoff of my new life. It was packed. It went on all night. It was exhilarating. A kind of exorcism. I was reclaiming my sexuality on the turf of our love. The very place where we had loved and hurt each other. I performed it with the ferocious energy of life feasting over a still-warm corpse. I barely had to lift a finger. Everybody had come to celebrate with me. A week before, I had bought a secondhand Isaac Mizrahi poppy-red stretch dress with spaghetti straps. I had carefully chosen the dress. Nothing short of red would have done. The dress worked its magic."

"BREAKUP: The End of a Love Story" has valuable lessons to provide the reader about the dynamics of an intimate relationship that comes to an unhappy end.

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url 2018-08-07 12:14
Leonardo's "To-Do" List
Da Vinci's Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image - Toby Lester

(Source)

 

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review 2018-07-08 12:49
TO LIVE IS TO ENDURE - AND PREVAIL
You Don't Look Your Age: And Other Fairy Tales - Sheila Nevins

Several weeks ago, I happened to see Sheila Nevins speaking about this book on CSPAN's BOOK TV program. I was so taken in with her presentation that I decided to buy "YOU DON'T LOOK YOUR AGE: And Other Fairy Tales" at the earliest opportunity.

In essence, the book is an amalgamation of short stories and poems through which Sheila Nevins shares with the reader "the real-life challenges of being a woman in a man's world; what it means to be a working mother; what it's like to be an older woman in a youth-obsessed culture; the sometimes changing, often sweet truth about marriages; what being a feminist really means; " the need to identify and be wary of 'frenemies' (enemies pretending to be your friend); "and that you're in good company if your adult children don't return your phone calls." 

I fairly breezed my way through this book and - as a middle-aged man - appreciated the insights Sheila Nevins gave me from her own life. 

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review 2018-05-29 14:57
A FRIENDSHIP MADE & LOST IN WAR
The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War - James McGrath Morris

"THE AMBULANCE DRIVERS: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War" serves as both a dual biography and a story of 2 men who shared an ambition of making themselves the pre-eminent writers of their generation. 

I wish to give credit to James McGrath Morris for writing such an interesting and engaging book. Prior to reading "THE AMBULANCE DRIVERS", I had cursory knowledge about Hemingway and had read one of his short stories during my freshman year in college that I thought at the time was rather good. A testament to the sparse prose that typifies Hemingway's best writing. As for John dos Passos, he was little more than a name I chanced upon over the past 20 years. I had read 2 books of his - the anti-war World War I novel 'Three Soldiers' (originally published in 1921) and a work of non-fiction, 'Mr. Wilson's War: From the Assassination of McKinley to the Defeat of the League of Nations' - both of which I liked, though I much preferred the latter to the former. So, when I came across "THE AMBULANCE DRIVERS" in a local, independent bookstore several weeks ago and read its flyleaf, I was determined to buy it.

Both men, despite their shared literary ambition, could not have been more different. Dos Passos, an only child from a somewhat affluent background, had grown up partly in Europe and partly in the U.S. and spoke several languages fluently.  He was admitted to Harvard at 16 and graduated 4 years later in 1916. Curious about the war in Europe, he made his war to France early in 1917 and later joined the ambulance corps, serving on the Western Front on attachment with the French Army that summer. The experience solidified Dos Passos' impression of war as an absurdity fostered by governments practicing deceit (via propaganda) and a needless waste of lives. 

Hemingway grew up in Oak Park, Illinois (near Chicago), the second of 5 children to a physician father and a mother who had trained as a musician. With America's entry into World War I in 1917, Hemingway, freshly out of high school, was keen to join the fight. But without his parents' consent, it wasn't possible for him to join the U.S. Army. So, for the remainder of the year, Hemingway went to work for The Kansas City Star as a cub reporter. There he honed his writing skills and came to rely on the Star's guide which came to define him later as a writer: "Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative."

Early in 1918, Hemingway responded to a recruitment drive from the Red Cross for ambulance drivers to serve at the Front. He arrived in France in June 1918. It was a critical time in the war with the Germans scarcely 40 miles from Paris and on the move. Hemingway didn't remain in France long. He went to Italy, where he and Dos Passos first became acquainted with each other. It was a brief encounter for both men. Hemingway was soon sent to the Front, where he was wounded in a mortar attack and ended up hospitalized in Italy for several months afterward. Dos Passos had run afoul of the Red Cross authorities for some anti-war remarks he had made in a letter to a friend in Spain that had been confiscated, translated, and read by Dos Passos' superiors. Plus, the draft board in the U.S. was breathing down his neck because Dos Passos had been out of the country at the time he had received a draft notice from the Army in 1917. So, Dos Passos returned to the U.S., was allowed to join the Army, returned with it to France shortly after the Armistice, gained acceptance into a special study program at the Sorbonne - courtesy of the Army, and was honorably discharged late in 1919.

The book, in the main, is about the development and the ups and downs of Hemingway's and Dos Passos' friendship. (The book also gives the reader wide ranging views of the personal lives of both men.) It was a friendship that was, at turns, supportive and fiercely competitive. As Hemingway gained fame from his best-selling novel, 'The Sun Also Rises' (1926) and gradually established his fame and reputation as a writer over the next decade, his friendship with Dos Passos would become fractious and eventually fall apart while both men were in Spain covering the civil war there in 1937. 

I enjoyed reading "THE AMBULANCE DRIVERS" so much and recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about the lives of 2 key figures in 20th century American literature. 

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review 2018-04-20 15:07
The Good Women of China / Xinran
The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices - Xinran

When Deng Xiaoping’s efforts to “open up” China took root in the late 1980s, Xinran recognized an invaluable opportunity. As an employee for the state radio system, she had long wanted to help improve the lives of Chinese women. But when she was given clearance to host a radio call-in show, she barely anticipated the enthusiasm it would quickly generate. Operating within the constraints imposed by government censors, “Words on the Night Breeze” sparked a tremendous outpouring, and the hours of tape on her answering machines were soon filled every night. Whether angry or muted, posing questions or simply relating experiences, these anonymous women bore witness to decades of civil strife, and of halting attempts at self-understanding in a painfully restrictive society. In this collection, by turns heartrending and inspiring, Xinran brings us the stories that affected her most, and offers a graphically detailed, altogether unprecedented work of oral history.

 

This is a heartbreaking book which I would never have picked up except I was looking for an X author for my Women Authors A-Z reading challenge this year. I never know how to rate books like these because it’s important to know about the situations in countries other than our own, but I always feel helpless and angry when I know that women are having such frightful difficulties.

I have to bear in mind that this book was published in 2002 originally, the author having moving from China to England in order to be free to do such a thing. A lot can and probably has changed in 16 years, plus many of the stories related in this book are from earlier years yet.

The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) seems to have disrupted relations between men and women and the nature of family relationships to an extreme. Survival was top of mind for everyone and each did what they had to. Xinran reveals the painful stories told to her by Chinese women—of having children horribly injured, daughters gang raped, husbands treating them like servants (or livestock), work denied, promotions skipped over, you name it.

As China seems to be heading into another iteration of their authoritarian regime, there will undoubtedly be more issues for women. I hope there is still someone like Xinran to listen to women’s voices and to articulate what they are able to (Xinran herself had to walk a fine line so as not to offend the Communist Party).

In the era of the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns here in North America, we have to hope that our sisters on other continents are able to achieve some gains as well.

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