Monday, July 4, 2016

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

translated by Max Hayward and Ronald Hingley

By my personal star rating system a five star book represents a book I will read again. Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ by that measurement.

I won’t try to sell you on reading this book, you should already be sold. But I will explain why I enjoy it. I have read this book at least five times since the late sixties. And as you see by my rating, I will read it again. The first time, I read it over night. Like ninety minute movies, two hundred page novels are few and far between these days. There should be more of them so you can enjoy them more often. You can’t read Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon on a lark.

Solzhenitsyn shows us the best of human nature. Denisovich retains the ability to be a man in the worst of situations. He was not a brick layer. But he has learned and mastered that trade during his years in prison. He takes satisfaction in applying that art and in the fact the others in his work gang appreciate his abilities. He has retained his individuality.

In the work gang’s return to their barracks Solzhenitsyn presents the vagaries of life. The definitions of friend or foe, right or wrong are simply cast by changing circumstances.

Could you ask for more from another three hundred pages?

George W. Parker

Note: I have native Russian speaking friends who dislike Solzhenitsyn’s writing style. They say he writes like a news journalist. I don’t feel that in the translation I have. That is why I have noted the translation I own.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

By my personal star rating system a five star book represents a book I will read again. Rudyard Kipling's Kim is ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ by that measurement.

Continuing with my Project Gutenberg - Rudyard Kipling binge I just finished Kim. A lot of things have happened since I last read Kim: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA support of Pakistan's ISI cat's paw the Taliban, successful attacks on the World Trade Center, the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, and you get the picture. A lot of things have happened. And these things have given me a better idea of the forces Kipling writes about in Kim. It's all there: the Afghans, the Russians, the British (in place of the US), the spies, the machinations, and the religions. I'll have to re-read Kim just to review the teachings of Teshoo Lama, the Tibetan lama.

Kim is another coming of age story (Looks like Kipling enjoyed that type story.) This time it is Kimball "Kim" O'Hara, the orphan son of an Irish soldier raised in the native streets of Lahore. Kim is the Roy Hobbs of British India spies, a master of disinformation, stealth, and self preservation at an early age. We follow his recruitment and training into the profession. But for me the real story in Kim is the relationship between Teshoo Lama and Kim. They are like a Crosby and Hope road picture, laughs, gaffes, misadventures and ultimately enlightenment. (Don't ask in which film Crosby and Hope were enlightened, but I always was.)

Let me quote myself here , “So why might I read (Kim) again? Kipling is a good story teller. That point can not be undersold. The people in the story are full of life. The scenery (the Indian plains, the mountains, the Grand Trunk, the trains ) is majestic and powerful. The dialects are fun. And the histories of the men are appealing.” And I will repeat myself, I want to re-read the teachings of Teshoo Lama. I think there is much to learn there.


George W. Parker

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling

By my personal star rating system a four star book represents a book I might read again. Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous is ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ by that measurement.

I went to Project Gutenberg the other day looking for a copy of Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King. While browsing there I picked up a copy of Captains Courageous. It has been a long time since I read the story, and honestly, the Spencer Tracy movie version was jumbled up with my memory of the book.

Captains Courageous is the coming of age story of Harvey Cheyne, the spoiled son of a wealthy family. The short synopsis: When Harvey falls over board from a large cruise liner he is rescued by a small fishing bark, the We're Here. Harvey learns what it means to be a man while earning his keep during a fishing season on “The Banks.” Harvey is returned to his doting mother and self-made rich father who then teaches Harvey the value of an education. Harvey grows up to be a resilient, educated, soon to be, captain of business, a Captains Courageous.

That doesn't sound like a particularly exciting story line to me. Does it to you? So why might I read Captains Courageous again? Kipling is a good story teller. That point can not be undersold. The people in the story are full of life. The scenery (ocean waves, fog, wind in the sails) is majestic and powerful. The dialects are fun. And the histories of the men are appealing. And in our current time of “entitled children” it's good to see a spoiled boy become a respected man. Is that still possible? I have a seventeen year old son, I'll let you know.


George W. Parker

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Dracula by Bram Stoker

By my personal star rating system a five star book represents a book I will read again. Stoker's Dracula is ☆☆☆☆☆ by that measurement.

This is the third time I have read Dracula. I still find Stoker's use of a journal style presentation annoying. I think the final showdown in the shadows of Castle Dracula is way too brief. And is anyone really as good a human being as Mina Harker? (At least she notes that they are lucky to have a wealthy friend or none of this battle could battle been accomplished.)

But the horror is still there. The glittering specs of light gathering into ravenous beauties. The fog moving across the yard to envelope the bedroom. Renfield fighting to save Mina's soul. The army of rats at the Master's command. The dead captain at the ship's wheel bring Dracula to England. The burning red eyes. What's not to like and enjoy?

George W. Parker

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, Bantam Books

This is a two star book.

Thomas Harris' Red Dragon is best known for introducing Hannibal Lecter. Maybe that is its proper place. The antagonist and protagonist are interesting, “troubled” characters. The book draws you along with anticipation of the next killing cycle until the redemptive influence of a woman's love ruptures the Red Dragon. For all the evident hard work Harris does, ultimately he skates on the ending – split personalities fighting with themselves. Made for TV movies don't even do that, well sometimes.

I do also want to point out a time/space continuum error. The FBI agent in Chicago packages Lecter's ad to the Red Dragon for shipment to Washington and suddenly we find out that in the distant future the agent will show the ad to his children during a tour of FBI Headquarters. That was an uncomfortable time shift. How did that make it into the book?


George W Parker

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Treasure Hunt by John Lescroart and Counterfeit Road by Kirk Russell

I have been remiss in posting reviews. Here are two:

Treasure Hunt by John Lescroart - One and a half stars. This is a Rex Stout want-a-be novel except the characters are not up to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. The story takes place in San Francisco and there is a lot of location name dropping. The story seemed a little transparent to me so I didn't finish it. I would be hard pressed to pick up another of Mr. Lescroat's novels.

Counterfeit Road by Kirk Russell - Two stars. This story is also set in San Francisco. (My month for San Francisco stories.) A cold case investigation suddenly gets hot when the police receive a video of the murder. Although who sent the video would appear to be the most important question for the police to solve it is never address until the end of the book in an all most after thought way. Instead the hero, Ben Raveneau, makes all the important discoveries, the FBI ask him for help, he jets around the country investigating, and for good measure he saves the President's life. But I was at lease able to finish the story.

George W. Parker

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Shadow Factory by James Bamford, published by Doubleday

2.5 of 5 stars

If you didn't know the United States Government is listening to all you voice communications and reading all your emails and monitoring all the web sites you visit, then shame on you. Do you think the government didn't watch Arron Burr and other long before and after? Governments have always watched their own. Back in the day they use to go to the library and see what you were reading now it is easier to pull that information off the fiber optics the telecommunications industry charges you to use.

The Shadow Factory delineates the external and internal monitoring changes made post 9/11 by the various US alphabet agencies at the behest of the Bush administration. It has often been said by supporters of this type of broad reach surveillance that "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about." This is a book review so I won't argue that point but here is a link that will http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/government-might-know-youre-reading.

In the early parts of The Shadow Factory Bamford succeeds in presenting a story line that stands on solid ground and feels like fact. As the book progresses though the factual feel begins to slip away and we're left with what seems to be “water cooler talk.” I wish he had been able to maintain that earlier story strength.

For me the real success Bamford has is in portraying the poor management and often mismanagement of these various spy projects/systems. The incestuous moneyed relationships between government agencies and their contractors that he presents are enough to make Monsanto and the Department of Agriculture blush.

I recommend that you read the early sections of The Shadow Factory.

George W. Parker