Saturday, January 28, 2012

What "The People" Means

from "The People"
in China in Ten Words
Yu Hua

This was a key moment in my life. I had always assumed the light carried farther than human voices and voices carry farther than body heat. But that night I realized that it is not so, for when the people stand as one, their voices carry farther than light and their heat is carried farther still. That, I discovered, is what "the people" means.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry--Kathleen Flinn

In a word, not to keep you in suspense, charming.  A memoir cum travelogue cum cookbook, Ms. Flinn tells the story of leaving corporate America and pursuing her dream of a degree from one of the most prestigious cooking schools in the world.

Ms. Flinn tells her adventures while attending all three courses at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris--basic, intermediate, and superior.  Along the way we learn about the Chefs, their moods, their modes, their recipes, their haunts.  We also learn a bit about Paris, a good deal about the school, and a great deal about Ms. Flinn, who sounds like a wonderful person--one both interesting and entertaining to be with.

Living in Paris Ms. Flinn plays host to any number of visitors--from one young man who bursts into her apartment to find the bathroom and spend much of the rest of his stay with her recovering from food poisoning picked up in London, to the visitation of two extremely trying young women who allow Kathleen and her husband to foot the bill for much of their stay.

Along the way, Ms. Flinn cooks, cringes away from some of the darker moods of some of the chefs, gets married, worries over her newly-wed husband. She also tells us something of the history of the school, of cuisine, of Paris itself.

And it all reads like one long love story--for Ms. Flinn gets married in the middle of it, but obviously loves Paris as much as Hemingway, though in a very different way.

Ms. Flinn, despite her high-flying career and her success at Le Cordon Bleu comes off as genuine, interesting, fun.  She offers to her readers this wonderfully considered piece of advice:

As in cooking, living requires that you taste, taste, taste as you go along--you can't wait until the dish of life is done.  In my career, I always looked ahead to the place I wanted to go, the next rung on the ladder. It reminds me of "The Station" by Robert Hastings, a parable read at our wedding.  The message is that while on a journey, we are sure the answer lies at the destination.  But in reality, there is no station, no "place to arrive once and for all. The joy of life is in the trip, and the station is a dream that constantly outdistances us."

Highly recommended--*****

House of Silk--Anthony Horowitz

Hmmm, I thought to myself as I glanced at the book, Anthony Horowitz, isn't he the author of a whole bunch of YA young spy kinds of things?  And here he is continuing the Sherlock Holmes Opus?

It's scary enough when great, well known writers of mystery decide to continue the opus--few of these are entirely successful--most are marginal.  And here is a person I know little--indeed next-to-nothing about presuming to tread on this sacred ground.

Well, I'm here to tell you that House of Silk is among the very finest continuations of the Holmes saga.  Perhaps a bit too much Elephants Can Remember, Sleeping Murder, or Curtain--but that's rather a matter of taste.  And to my taste, this was superb.  We start with a mysterious stranger, evidently a Boston thug threatening an Englishman who had only just recently returned from America--and we move on into murder, mayhem, opium dens, and conspiracy in high places to keep entirely hidden the secrets of the House of Silk of the title.

Mr. Horowitz deftly captures the spirit and even to some extent the language of the original.  His smooth, well-informed writing is such that it made reading a novel-length Sherlock Holmes adventure a real pleasure.  If you are a fan of the great one, you would do yourself a favor by reading this book!


Later--Another view of the same--even more favorable than my own.  And I agree with the reviewer--the book is quite a stunning achievement--nearly as good as Doyle himself.  A truly seamless addition to the canon.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Reading in Review

Last Man in Tower--Aravind Adiga

One of the blurbs on the back of Mr. Adiga's latest book compares him with Charles Dickens--and perhaps this comparison is more apropos than might seem at first glance.  The White Tiger, Mr. Adiga's first book, won the Man Booker Prize the year it came out. It was a savage indictment of the current regime in India with a sharp look at the cost and benefits of "outsourcing."  One might think about it as the inside story of outsourcing.  Between the Assassinations, a kind of novel in short stories, I have not read.  This third work, is larger in volume and yet somewhat smaller in scope than either of the first two.

Mr. Adiga takes us into the lives of the residents of an apartment house that comes to the attention of a building constructor who wants to place on the site new luxury apartments.  The developer offers the people in towers A and B a princely sum for their houses.  Almost all of the residents want to take him up on it.  But there is a single hold-out--Masterji.

The story charts the early benevolence/indifference of the residents and their gradually increasing concern as Masterji's reluctance to leave his home endangers the deal for everyone.

Adiga gives us a story of corruption, greed, desperation, poverty, family, and friends.  It is exemplary of the adage that "The Love of Money is the root of all evil."  For in this book it is the deep love of money that drives the residents to their actions, which include all manner of inducements and punishments to force Masterji to change his mind.

Adiga obviously loves his native India and is rightfully concerned about what is happening there--to the culture, to the people, to the city.  His story is Dickensian, as I said above, because his chief concern (other than telling a fantastically good story) is to address the evil rife in India and in the hearts of all of those who choose to value the material at the cost of the human and the humane.  Just as Dickens looked with mordant eye upon the morals and mores of the straight-laced but sometimes conflicted Victorian society he was part of, Adiga does the same for the society of India right now--and by extension through out-sourcing and other connections for the world at large.   As with The White Tiger, Last Man in Tower is an often savage indictment of society and an intimate portrait of the human heart.


Song at the Scaffold Gertrud von Le Fort

I have to admit that this short novel came as something of a disappointment.  Perhaps my expectations were set much too high by so many reviewers.

Ms. von Le Fort tells the story of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne--seventeen Carmelites who were executed just before the end of the Terror.  She tells the story from the point of view of one who, while desiring most of all martyrdom, is trapped in the martyrdom of the one who escaped.

Short, easy to read, but not at all what I expected from a book so highly praised.  It suggests that I need to go back and reread. Or perhaps better, return to the short opera by Fracois Poulenc which the work inspired--"Dialogue of the Carmelites."