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Posts from the ‘non-fiction’ Category

20
Jun

A Very Expensive Poison

 

Finished: 20.06.2018
Genre: non-fiction (true crime)
Rating: B

 

Conclusion:

This book reads like a Le Carré espionage thriller!
Major theme is the death of Alex Litvineko 2006
and the final results of murder inquiry in London 2016.
Many names of Russian dissidents, double spies and ousted Russian oligarchs are mentioned. Victims were killed in drab suburbia (Alexander Litvinenko), often out in the open, on pavements (Boris Nemtsov), sometimes as the target was out walking their dog, or going shopping, with passers-by watching on in abject horror. (Sergei Skripal)
There seems to be a trend

…but who is the one giving the orders to kill?

 

Alexander Litvinenko – British naturalised Russian defector and former officer of the Russian FSB secret service who specialised in tackling organised crime in Russia.
(dead 2006, poisoning with radionuclide polonium-210)

 

“Badri” Patarkatsishvili – behind some of the most successful companies in today’s Russia (oligarch)
(dead 2008, collapse at his home, compounds known to be used by the former KGB can induce heart failure, but leave virtually no trace)

 

Boris Berezovsky – oligarch, agitator in Russian politics. He and Putin were sworn enemies.
(dead 2013, found in bathroom – death as “unexplained”)

 

Boris Nemtsov – outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian, undemocratic regime.
(dead 2015, assassinated on a bridge near the Kremlin in Moscow, with four shots fired from the back.

 

Sergei Skripal – former Russian military intelligence officer who acted as a double agent for the UK’s intelligence services
(March 2018, poisoned with a nerve agent…survived)

 

 

 

16
Jun

Deep South: Shortlist Stanford Travel Book 2017

 

Finished: 16.06.2018
Genre: non-fiction travel writing
Rating: A+++

Conclusion:

  1. Flyspecks on a map….
  2. …forgotten towns with a creek or running stream
  3. …they were all backwaters literally and figuratively.
  4. Deep South by P. Theroux surprises me with every page.
  5. From North Carolina through Georgia,
  6. Tennessee and Alabama to Mississippi and Arkansas….
  7. in his first book to focus on his homeland,
  8. the veteran travel writer and novelist finds segregation
  9. still thrives in the old Confederate states.

 

Strong point:

  1. Paul Theroux is more interested in
  2. conversationthan sightseeing
  3. …the heart an soul of family narratives…the human wealth.

 

Strong point:

  1. Theroux captures the essence of the Deep South.
  2. At the moment in The Netherlands ( where this ex-pat lives) the news is
  3. all about the elderly who are becoming  very lonely.
  4. People are living longer and must cope with a
  5. type of isolation due to physical health and mobility.
  6. NOT once in Theroux’s book is the word loneliness mentioned.
  7. Why?
  8. Because it is ‘the Southern way‘ to always be of
  9. assistance regardless of class, color or creed.
  10. …or  if you aree a stranger from the North taking notes (Paul Theroux)
  11. ” Kin Ah h’ep you….in inny way?  is the motto of the Deep South.

 

 

Last thoughts:

  1. Sometimes I don’t want a book to end….this is that kind of book!
  2. Theroux is a traveler but also a lover of literature.
  3. He explores Southern Fiction (especially Faulkner) to give the reader
  4. access to the reflective interior of southern states
  5. …so passive….so mute.
  6. #ExcellentRead

 

9
Jun

Mackellar: How to Get There

 

Introduction:

  1. I read an essay by Maggie Mackellar last year in
  2. The Best Australian Essays 2016
  3. …and was very impressed.
  4. Mackellar has had a tough life
  5. …death of young husband, single mother… but she is resilient.
  6. I want to read how she sets out her new life in Tasmania.

 

Conclusion:

  1. I had my reservations about the book in the first few chapters.
  2. Mackellar was describing her new relationship with Jim and
  3. the move to Tasmania in micro-details.
  4. But soon after reading the “inner thoughts’ pages between chapters
  5. …I was drawn into Mackellar’s world.
  6. “I promised  myself I would never trust again.
  7. How does anyone ever learn to love again.”
  8. Through every small opening in life
  9. …through rips and tears and tatters….life pours.
  10. Mackellar: “I’ve raised these kids,
  11. I deserve some companionship, some love.
  12. I’ve done this on my own for 10 years.”
  13. Mackeller struggles to set down roots in Tasmania:
  14. a new love….compromise chips away at identity
  15. writer’s block
  16. homesickness..the acid rain that leaches into happiness.
  17. “Home, I must learn to say home.” (ch 6)
  18. This was a great read in which
  19. …Mackellar pours her heart out
  20. …and I mean that in a good way.
  21. “Sitting in the quiet I also fear my own inadequacy
  22. …to be the woman all these people need me to be.”
  23. #Insightful

 

Last thoughts:

  1. I dare you to read this book
  2. …especially the last 3 chapters + epilogue without
  3. feeling emotional, a welling up in your eyes
  4. …..as you try to reach out to Maggie Mackellar.
  5. I wanted to tell her
  6. …your book? your life?
  7. …..Job well done!

 

Wineglass Bay, Tasmania 

  1. This is the view Mackellar had during
  2. …her few days of solitude writing.
  3. This is one  of the most beautiful beaches in the world!

4
Jun

Afua Hirsch: Brit(ish)

 

Who is Afua Hirsch?

She is a writer born to a British father and an Ashanti mother from Ghana. She is a broadcaster, barrister and human rights development worker. Hirsch has graduated from the Cambridge University. She studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at St Peter’s College, Oxford. She also took the Graduate Diploma in Law at the BPP Law School.

 

What was the ‘hook’  in the book that kept me reading?

The ‘hook’ in this book is the frank and honest prologue. Hirsch explains the different worlds that clashed when she began a relationship with her partner Sam. They lived just miles apart…but that translated into worlds apart. This was absolutely an open and sometimes brutal look at the influence one’s environment (council estates vs Wimbledon) has on future opportunities.

 

When did I read this book?

I could not have timed this book at a better moment
Today is the tennis clash of the year 2018: The powerful American sportswoman Serena Williams vs Siberian princess Maria Sharapova. In chapter 3 Hirsch gives the reader in ‘inside’ view of the whitest suburb in London during the whitest 14 days of the year: Wimbledon. Afua Hirsch reveals some of the most unkind comments hurled at Serena by commentators. It is heartbreaking to envisage this type of abuse. It is admirable to read how Serena Williams deals with “…the era of racism without racists….it the story of my life.” (ch 3)   UPDATE:  04.06.2018 –  Another blatant example:  “A sports journalist has been forced to apologise after asking Serena Williams if she was ‘intimidated’ by rival Maria Sharapova’s good looks ahead of their French Open showdown on Monday.”  UPDATE:  04.06.2018  – Ms Williams pulls out of the French Open due to a pectoral muscle injury.

 

Why is this book so engaging?

Afua Hirsch is brutally honest.  She has revealed how many black people are outside their comfort zone every day in the way they feel their bodies as dictated by the standards of what is beautiful.

 

What made the most impression on me?

There were too many things to mention!  I was amazed at  details that Hirsch comments on….things I would never have known or noticed. She talks about the unspoken, unwritten rules one must follow being black at work. There are things that cannot be said for fear of making colleagues feel uncomfortable.

 

Conclusion:

  1. With the impressive list of accomplishments and
  2. …degrees in philosophy, politics, economics and law
  3. …still her colleagues look at her askance.
  4. It makes them feel uncomfortable when they realize
  5. Afua Hirsch has so much in common with cleaners in the building.
  6. Luckily for us Hirsch has learned to channel all
  7. her skills  to give us a book that must be read.
  8. Ms Hirsch has crossed the boundary between race and status.
  9. She has broken the rules.
  10. I am so happy she did and made me aware of the
  11. color-blind-racisim that still exists…
  12. “…racisim with a smiling face.” (prologue)
  13. #Powerful  #MustRead

 

 

 

2
Jun

Indie Book Award Non-Fiction 2018 Saga Land

 

Introduction:

  1. Saga Land is a heartfelt tribute to Iceland and its Viking history by
  2. Richard Fidler (Australian writer/radio presenter)
  3. and his friend, Kári Gíslason (Australian/Icelandic writer/academic).
  4. Kári Gíslason was born in Reykjavik to an Australian woman named Susan
  5. …and her Icelandic lover named Gísli.
  6. Gísli begged Susan to keep his identity secret.
  7. When the son Gíslason returned to Iceland
  8. …as a young adult he contacted his half-siblings.
  9. At a family get-together Gísli (father) told
  10. ..Gíslason (illegitimate son) that he was
  11. descended from Snorri Sturluson.
  12. He  was Iceland’s most famous saga author.

Goal:

  1. Fidler and Gíslason embarked on a journey to Iceland with two purposes:
  2. to make a radio documentary retelling some of the sagas
  3. to discover whether Gíslason really is descended from Sturluson.
  4. Saga Land records their two trips to Iceland.
  5. The radio program went to air in 2016 and is now a podcast.

Structure:

  1. The book is divided into four parts.
  2. Fidler and Gíslason taking turns to tell the story.
  3. The stories  are woven skilfully into the narrative of the road trip.
  4.  — Fascinating insight into Iceland’s little-known history and literature.
  5.  — Compelling story of one man’s quest to reclaim his identity.

Thingvellir (assembly valley), Iceland

 

What is a saga?

  • The sagas are the true stories of the Vikings
  • ….who settled in Iceland in the Middle Ages.
  • They are tales of honour and revenge.
  • Richard and Kári travel across Iceland
  • to the places where the sagas unfolded a thousand years ago.
  • They cross fields, streams and fjords to
  • immerse themselves in the folklore of this fiercely beautiful island.
  • There is another mission: to resolve a longstanding family mystery:
  • …a gift from Kari’s Icelandic father
  • …that might connect him to the greatest of the saga authors.

 

Conclusion:

  1. Kari Gislason takes the reader
  2. …on a personal journey to find his roots
  3. Kari  spoke no more than 100 words with his father
  4. …saw him only 4 times in his lifetime.
  5. But father and son shared a few special secrets.
  6. This book describes an incredible family reunion.
  7. Kari takes his sons to meet their grandfather…(grave).
  8. Richard Fidler was co-author with Kari and together they
  9. explored Icelandic history and the 13th C literature of sagas.
  10. All elements of the book (history, literature, families) are
  11. equally balanced and the chapters alternate seamlessly
  12. …to keep you reading and wondering about Iceland.
  13. I needed to follow the chapters while google-ing images of
  14. Isfajordur, Helgahell, Thingvellir….etc.
  15. I knew nothing about  Iceland....
  16. …and now I want to visit the country!
  17. #WorldFromMyArmchair   read

Aurora Borealis in Glacial Lagoon Iceland

24
May

Kitchen Sink Realism

Author: Dorothy Chansky

Genre: non-fiction
Published: 2015
Rating: B

Domestic labor has figured largely on American stages.
The genre “kitchen sink realism” both supports and challenges
the idea that the home is naturally women’s sphere.

1920’s – popular plays staged the plight of women seeking escape from the daily domestic grind
Ambush (1921)
1930’s–  recognized housework as work!
Awake and Sing (1935)
1950’s – maids gained a complexity previously reserved only for leading ladies.
Member of the Wedding (1950)
1960’s – problems and comforts of domestic labor in homes took center stage.
Raisin in the Sun (1960)

Conclusion:
This is comprehensive analysis of kitchen and sink realism. Dorothy Chansky highlights plays that I never heard of  – Mine Eyes Have Seen (1918),  – Aftermath (1919) –  and it took some effort to immerse myself in them. Chansky discusses more than 20 different plays!  I did discover 2 female playwrights I would like to read:
Rachel Crothers – one of the most successful dramatists first part of 20th C.
Georgia Douglas Johnson – one of the earliest African-American playwrights. She was a participant in Harlem Renaissance.
If you are interested in drama and the societal impact these plays have had in the 20th C…this  book is for you!

23
May

Wounds

 

Introduction:

  1. Keane wants us to  understand the forces that produced
  2. the Irish War of Independence and Civil War.
  3. Keane zooms in and tells us his personal story about
  4. his town of Listowel, North Kerry Ireland.
  5. They all joined the revolution:
  6. grandmother Hannah,
  7. …her brother Mick and his friend Con.
  8. They took up guns to fight the British Empire.
  9. “This was to be a revolution of steel not poetry” (pg 26)

 

Notes:

  1. Land:  ch 1
  2. It was an important  theme in this book
  3. …who lost it,  stole it, worked it and who  gained from it.
  4. Nothing was so political than
  5. …the ground beneath your feet.
  6. Keane’s father would tell his son: “What you have, you hold.”

 

  1. Justice?  ch 3
  2. It was not an easy life in Ireland 1879-1885
  3. ….famine and the start of the Land League.
  4. If a farmer declined to enter the organization
  5. he could expect to be boycotted,
  6. …experience cruel physical retaliation
  7. …or one day a bullet in his arm, if not his head.
  8. A network of secret groups sprang up across the country
  9. …to mete out the people’s justice.

 

  1. Auxiliaries and Black and Tansch 5
  2. This is the first book about Irish history
  3. …that  I have read  that has gone into such detail about
  4. security death squads and the
  5. scale of brutality meted out to civilians.
  6.  in the 1920’s…#Shock.

 

  1. Flying Columns: ch 6
  2. This was a small, independent, military unit capable of rapid mobility
  3. It is often an ad hoc unit, formed during the course of operations
  4. Political violence seems to simmer in Ireland…over centuries.
  5. Core tenet: Britian could only be drivan from Ireland by force.

 

Strong point:   reads like a novel!

  1. The cover says it all Wounds…love and war.
  2. 50% of the book is a telling of the routine harassment
  3. …ambush, reprisal and assassination in the area
  4. Listowel, North Kerry Ireland.
  5. I expected a dry account of the Irish Troubles
  6. …but Keane has infused Irish history with  journalist flair.
  7. The conflict between Republicans and Nationalists is fought out
  8. like a two-hander fist fight in front of the reader.

 

Conclusion:

  1. I am proud of my Irish roots.
  2. But after reading this book…
  3. now I know why I’m so proud.
  4. Ireland suffered through a War of Independence,
  5. a Civil War and has emerged as a country
  6. that has learned to respect and live with each
  7. other’s differences.
  8. Fergal Keane’s book reveals  in the last 4
  9.  ….chapters his very personal story.
  10. “Memory is no longer a penance” (pg 299)
  11. #MustRead

 

Fergal Keane – Anglo-Irish Foreign correspondent with BBC News

1
May

Cardinal Pell

 

Review:

  1. The winner of the 2017 Walkley Book Award is Louise Milligan.
  2. This her explosive book about…. “Cardinal: The rise and fall of George Pell”.
  3. Louise Milligan’s book examines Australia’s
  4. most senior Catholic through the lens of the child abuse saga
  5. …which has dogged the Catholic Church.
  6. She tells how George Pell rose from Ballarat boy to Oxford.
  7. He rose through the ranks to become the Vatican’s indispensable “treasurer”.
  8. Louise Milligan  is an excellent investigative journalist
  9. …who has followed the story doggedly
  10. She pieced together the story with sensitivity and care
  11. ….from thousands of pages of historical documents
  12. ….and interviews with hundreds of people.
  13. The book has had an enormous impact.
  14. Last thoughts:
  15. I discovered this book by accident:
  16. …winner of the Walkley Book of the Year Award 2017
  17. The investigation is ongoing….
  18. …Cardinal Pell will appear in court on 05 March 2018.
  19. This book is groundbreaking
  20. ….and nerve wracking for the Vatican.
  21. It is impossible to add anything else to this review.
  22. My mind is exhausted and I am stunned and speechless 
  23. …about  the cover-ups concerning  George Pell and child abuse by the
  24. …Catholic Church.
  25. #MustRead

 

 

 

 

18
Apr

Pulitzer Prize 2018: Locking Up Our Own

Perspective:

As a lawyer who started his career as a public defender in Washington D.C., Forman retains a pro-African American perspective for the entirety of the book.

Goal:

His goal is an honest retelling of the struggles the black man is up against:
arrests for minor marijuana infractions, opiate crisis getting worse particularly among blacks, racial profiling and guns. “From Wyatt Earp to the Godfather…USA misleads their young people who think they can secure their manhood through the barrel of a gun.”

Strong point:

With a fact-based approach Forman effectively presents the story of the racial injustice and inequality that is unchecked in Forman’s area of Washington D.C. . The War on Drugs that started in 1970’s did more harm than good resulting in mass incarcerations of black men.

Tone:    Forman maintains a level-leaded and intellectual tone throughout the narrative.

Weak point:

The book begins slowly and the first 2 chapters (legislation drugs and guns) did not ‘grab’ my attention. But once I reached chapter 3 “1948-1978 – Rise of African American police” I was hooked.

 

Conclusion:

  1. This book is a welcome addition to the
  2. …debate about racial issues in the USA.
  3. It cannot be compared to:
  4. Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy   or
  5. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America
  6. Heather Thompson and Jill Levoy shift the tone in their books from
  7. fact, despair, to excitement, back to fact.
  8. They take the reader on a roller coaster of emotions.
  9. James Forman jr. as professor of law at Yale and legal scholar
  10. .. keeps emotions subdued but enlightens the reader
  11. …with facts only a lawyer can reveal through years of experience.
  12. Forman offers solutions that should be investigated.
  13. This book is a winner!
  14. Pulitzer Prize General Non-Fiction 2018.

 

Last  Thoughts:

  1. Sometimes it is best to read these books ‘hot off the presses’.
  2. If I wait too long the chances are
  3. …high the book disappears on my TRB.
  4. Pulitzer has a habit of selecting great books
  5. …but I have been disappointed at times.
  6. Never overlook the longlists
  7. …there hide many potential winners.
  8. Emotion is always a ‘cincher’ and
  9. …H. Thompson’s book was filled with
  10. emotion and much more ‘shock and awe’.
  11. J. Levoy’s book was a deep personal story
  12. ….one police officer was a leading example
  13. …and proved #BlackLives do matter!
  14. This was a very good book.
  15. J. Forman jr.’s book attests to the fact
  16. …there is still much to be corrected in USA.

 

Structure:

  1. 1975 – Struggle to pass a bill to legalize marijuana
  2. 1975 – Struggle to pass gun regulation
  3. 1948-1978 – Rise of African American police
  4. 1981-82 – Forman’s personal experiences as a young public defender
  5. 1988-92 – Crack: the worst thing to hit African Americans since slavery
  6. 1995 – Racial profiling ( stop-and search)
  7. Epilogue:  2014-16 Our reach for mercy
17
Apr

The Trauma Cleaner

 

Finished: 17.04.2018
Genre: non-fiction
Rating: A+++
Review:

 

Who is Sandra/Peter?
She is a transgender, a survivor of a dysfunctional childhood, a husband, wife,
father, svelte star of many brothels and a savvy businesswoman.

 

What did I learn from Sandra?
Keep you life uncluttered…keep only what makes you happy.
Sandra: “I’ve made an executive decision.
This is shit”… and we are tossing it out!

  1. I just was so inspired by the strength Sandra showed
  2. ..when life threw her a curve ball.
  3. She helps her clients throw the junk out of their lives.
  4. She comforts them and always
  5. ...feels warm (character), like a car engine that’s been driving for hours.

 

Who was my favorite client?
Marilyn
A 70-ish “iron-tongued warrior in silken finery and bold beads.
Marilyn puttering around the house filled with junk and debris that almost sweeps the ceiling… with the aid of a gliding walker while balancing a gin and tonic on it in the early-morning light. Marilyn is a Christmas junkie… 2 artificial trees, Christmas-themed rugs, strings of lights an lots of Santas.
Hoarding does not discriminate on the basis of income or intelligence.

 

Strong point: Sarah Krasnostein can write! I am so impressed and happy I discovered this new writer.If this is a first book…I hope to read may more by Sarah!
Strong point: The book moved me to tears.
…and I mean that in a good way.
The narratives of the hoarders are as messy as their houses.
But Sandra has managed to maintain harmony in
her home and life as a means of survival.

 

Last thoughts:

  1. Sandra’s personal life is a rollercoaster ride of emotion.
  2. Hold on to your hat!
  3. But the chapters alternated with her work as trauma cleaner
  4. …..showing a compassion that just took my breath away.
  5. Sandra runs a tight ship when it comes to her business
  6. …but takes time to sit on the side of the bed with
  7. …’Marilyn’ in her lavender bathrobe.
  8. She assure her client that nothing is
  9. …tossed out with out her permission.
  10. Nothing goes in the dishwasher.
  11. Her workers will hand wash every utensil in the kitchen.
  12. Marilyn sighs a deep breath of relief.

#MustRead !

 

Sandra