Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An honest cop with an attitude, a young woman in trouble, the mob, the feds, a dash of romance -- a winner!

I enjoy a good detective novel, and B. A. Morton’s “Mrs. Jones” is a gem. Detective Connell is an honest cop with an attitude about authority, a smart mouth and Irish charm.  Lizzie, aka Mrs. Jones is a young British woman in New York City on a mission she doesn’t understand who witnesses a hit-and-run her first day in town. When she and Connell connect with each other and the bad guys, a bought cop and the Feds, well, the story quickly becomes one I couldn’t put down until I’d finished it. I can see that B. A. Morton is going to become one of my favorite crime writers. I do like good crime novels with mouthy detectives.
I can hardly wait for the next one in the series, Molly Brown, which is due out sometime in 2012.
A very definite 5 star read.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Jenin invasion, as the survivors experienced it.

If human rights and justice are important to you, then put “Searching Jenin” on your reading list and study it. I remember the news reports on Israel’s attack on the Jenin refugee camp. It was brutal, it was thorough, and it was presented as justified. Oddly, the experience of the camp’s residents was missing. Here they are not; they form the core of the book, and, as one might expect, they do not make easy reading. Each of the people interviewed during the investigation that Baroud and his team conducted of survivors of the attack is further evidence of what Jonathan Cook calls “Israel’s experiments in human despair”, the subtitle of his book “Disappearing Palestine” (Zed Books, 2008).
Under the guise of seeking out terrorists in the Jenin refugee camp, the IDF, which describes itself as the world’s most moral army, attacked everyone, killing women, children and men indiscriminately. When a woman glanced out her kitchen window, a sniper shot her. A terrorist? Obviously not, and just as obvious, it did not matter to the sniper. She was a Palestinian, an Arab, and that justified any behavior. It is part of Israel’s experiments in human despair. The accounts given by survivors are beyond what any decent human wants to believe, yet they are true. Too many people, in too many places, have given the same testimony. As I read, these words kept scrolling through my mind as I thought about the invading soldiers: “What shitty, shitty people!” I apologize for the indelicacy of my language, but I cannot think of anything better to say. These people are beasts, and more and more people are becoming aware of it. 
The survivors call the attack a massacre, whereas Israelis recall it, not surprisingly, as “a fair battle.” Interesting to note what one of the attackers, a man nicknamed “Kurdi Bear” had to say about his role: “Many people were inside [the] houses we started to demolish. They would come out of the houses we were working on. I didn’t see, with my own eyes, people dying under the blade of the D-9 [bulldozer]. And I didn’t see houses falling down on live people. But if there were any, I wouldn’t care at all” (emphasis added). “A man who has done something, hang him, as far as I am concerned. Even a pregnant woman -- shoot her without mercy, if she has a terrorist behind her. This is way way I thought in Jenin. I answered to no one. I don’t give a damn. The main thing was to  help our soldiers. If I had been given three weeks, I would have  had more fun. That is, if they would let  me tear the whole  camp down. I have no mercy.” The man is a beast and a war criminal. And Israel welcomed him.
“Searching Jenin” is not an easy book to read, but it is a very important one. Ramzy Baroud and his team deserve an award for their work in revealing what happened there.
A definite 5 star read.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Life, love, ghosts, wood spirits and demons in MIchigan’s Upper Peninsula.

When I opened P. D. Allen’s Tales of the Yoopernatural and began reading, I didn’t know who P. D. Allen was or what to expect from him. A few pages later, I was thoroughly fascinated and couldn’t put the book down. I didn’t know what “yoopernatural” was, or who the “Yoopers” were either. In case you don’t, they’re the residents of Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula (the UP), and these are tales from that neck of the woods.
If you like stories about love, jealousy, small-town rivalry, ghosts, wood spirits,  what it costs when you get the spirits mad at you, demons, spelunking, haunted abandoned mines, old Indian grandmothers and the secret life of trees, you will love P. D. Allen’s “Tales of the Yoopernatural”. Told in a  series of interlocking stories set in Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula. The last story, about a young Ojibway soldier in Iraq and the Beast of War who follows him there, is both chilling and poignant in its reality and its message.
From knowing nothing about P. D. Allen when I opened this book, I am now a fan, and looking for the next book to enjoy.
P. D. Allen is an exceptionally fine storyteller and writer. Check out his books on amazon.com in paperback and Kindle.
This is a 5 star read.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Israel's experiments in human despair

British journalist Jonathan Cook knows his subject intimately. The only Western journalist based in Nazareth, the capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel and married to a Palestinian woman, he experiences Israel’s experiments in human despair on a daily basis. The experience is not a pleasant one, and “Disappearing Palestine” is not an easy book to read. In fact, I found the experience -- though enlightening -- a deeply depressing one. His subtitle -- “Israel’s experiments in human despair” -- is attention-grabbing, biting, and deadly serious. It is also deadly accurate. Israel’s consistent goal has, from before it became a nation in 1948, been to rid Palestine of its Arab residents and claim the whole thing for Jews alone. Here is how the author explains it in his Introduction: “It is my contention that Israel has turned the increasingly confined spaces left to the Palestinians not only into open-air cages but also into laboratories where experiments to encourage Palestinian despair, and ultimately  emigration, are being refined. In fact, these experiments were begun inside Israel, only being ‘exported’ to the occupied territories after their conquest in the 1967 war,” something that is confirmed by Hatim Kanaaneh’s “A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel”. “Without the constraints impose by trying to maintain its image as a Western-style democracy inside its own borders, Israel has been able to develop a more aggressive and transparent form of imprisonment for the Palestinians under occupation. It has ‘industrialized’ Palestinian suffering through curfews, checkpoints, walls, permits and surveillance systems, creating a lucrative ‘homeland security’ industry that has grown in importance since the US began a similar occupation of Iraq. The holding pens in which the Palestinians are kept today are ideal places for testing new methods of urban warfare, crowd control and ghettoization, as well as developing techniques for excluding observers such as journalists and aid workers. The gradual ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their homeland, on both sides of today’s Green Line, is likely to take place with few witnesses to record it” (pages 7, 8). Within these enclosed areas, “Palestinians are being deprived of any economic prospects -- even the basic ability to subsist. Their immiseration ... is designed with one end in mind: the encouragement of ‘transfer’, the word Israelis prefer to ‘ethnic cleansing’.” (page 8)
The rest of the book’s 251 pages of text (plus 30 pages of notes) is a detailed description of what goes on in Israel and the Occupied Territories on a daily basis. As the old saying goes, the Devil is in the details, and the details are horrendous. If reading them is like taking an acid bath, imagine what living them every day of your life must be like. There hasn’t been a single Israeli leader who has not been directly complicit in this horror. Nor a single U.S. president -- with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter -- who hasn’t steadfastly supported Israel’s abhorrent behavior, all of it justified in the name of “security needs”. 
There is no excuse at all for supporting Israel in its inhuman treatment of Palestinians and its blatant racism concerning anyone who is not a Jew. This book ought to be required reading for every US Senator and Representative, and anyone running for those offices. The same goes for political leaders in the UK and Europe. That the West continues to condone and outright support Israel in this is a bitter indictment of all of us. 
If you don’t know this book, go to your local book store or one of the online booksellers and buy your copy today. It is an eye-opener, even if you consider yourself knowledgeable on the subject, as I did. I didn’t know the half of it.
A  5 star read. 

Move over, John Rebus, you’ve got company

I like reading police procedural novels, and Alfie Robins’s Reprisal is the best police procedural novel I’ve read in a long time. There is a vicious serial killer making the rounds of northern England’s Kingston-on-Hull (known locally simply as Hull), and Detective Chief Inspector Philip Marlowe and his team have to find him fast. Never mind that the victims are drug addicts, this killer, who administers the final coup de grace by driving a four inch nail into his victim’s skull, gives everyone the chills, and the Superintendent wants him off the streets by yesterday at the latest.  
Reprisal is a classic, bringing to life northern England’s Kingston-on-Hull (known locally simply as Hull) the way Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels put Edinburgh on the map.
Move over, John Rebus, you’ve got competition in Hull. 
The UK’s Night Publishing has scored a crime novel coup with this one. My plea to 
Alfie Robins is a simple one: When is the next installment of Marlowe and his harried crew coming out? Hurry up, please. We’re dying out here waiting for it.  
A definite 5 star read.

Monday, December 12, 2011

An enjoyable tale of love and loss

A young war widow still grieving the loss of her husband sits alone in her house when a mammoth winter storm. The power flickers, then goes out. There is a tremendous crash. A massive tree has come crashing through the roof of her sunroom. What is she going to do? Then there is a knock on the door. Should she open it, or ignore it? Fearfully, she opens it, as it could be help. Standing there looking concerned is a very handsome fireman. On their way into the village and shelter, his truck slides into a ditch and he can’t budge it, so they make their way back to her house.
In the hands of a different kind of writer, this could be a horror story, or a maudlin tale of love and romance. In Jessica Degarmo’s capable hands, it is a well-written story about grief, loss, fear of letting go and moving on, and a growing love between Amanda Pickett and fireman Raif Weston. It is also a tale of small-town gossip, rivalry and jealousy.
If you’re looking for an enjoyable read,  pick up a copy of Jessica Degarmo’s The Storm Within. Jessica Degarmo is the kind of writer that can always be counted on to tell a good, well-written story that is a joy to read. 
A definite 4 star read.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A very good trio of short stories by Tom Winton

I like reading short stories, and this trio from best-selling writer Tom Winton are some of the best. Of the trio -- "Movin' On", "The Voice of Willie Morgan" and "Squandered Prayers" -- my personal favorite is "The Voice of Willie Morgan". All three are about family -- troubled families, to be exact -- where tempers flare and alcohol flows (never a good combination; rather like trying to put out a fire by throwing gasoline on it). Yet people do break free and triumph, and sometimes, at least in a son's imagination, a verbally abusive dad who's dead comes through a champ for his son.

Tom Winton is a fine writer. If  you haven't read one of his novels -- "Beyond Nostalgia" and "The Last American Martyr" -- pick of a copy of them for a Holiday read. Both are available in paperback and Kindle.

"The Voice of Willie Morgan" is a definite 5 Star read.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Murder, village intrigue, pedophilia -- WHO is the villain?

“Little Fingers” is a truly remarkable novel. Opening as the main character Julia Blackburn is being interviewed by police Inspector John Frampton. “There is a serial killer out there. He is living in that brain of yours as an unrecognised memory, a shadowy computation, and he must be stopped.” Inspector Frampton is a doggedly patient man who must get at the truth and stop the killings going on in the village of Hanburgh. Julia is the most recent person to have seen recently murdered Tom Willows. He is determined to tease the truth from Julia’s mind. Who is this mysterious woman? He persists doggedly forward. “That is what makes you a policeman,” she says; “You have the mind of a drill bit.”
Life in the little village of Hanburgh was relatively tranquil until Julia Blackburn arrived and rented one of the largest houses in town. Who is she and what does she want from the people here?
There is Mary, Julia’s friend and lover; Mary Knightly, wife of George and adopted daughter of Dr. Beringer, local physician and pedophile. There is Samantha, whom Mary Knightly calls “a bastard daughter of a whore”. Not to be outdone, Samantha calls Mary Knightly “a jumped up little poisonous turd.” No love lost there. There is Brenda, waitress at the local pub, a fund of knowledge about everything going on in Hanburgh. Who is Julia Blackburn, and what is she doing here? It isn’t until late in the novel that we find out who the killer is, and why. The killer’s purpose? To exact revenge on the people who made or her life miserable when she lived in Hanburgh. But ... who is the killer? At one point in her interrogation with Inspector Frampton, Julia asks :”If I am the fall guy, who is the murderer?”
Julia belabors the Inspector’s ears with philosophical asides. “We do such trivial things with all that intelligence we have been lavished with. We could work towards a better world, towards making even the smallest of differences, and we waste our time worrying whether somebody of no importance likes us or not.” “We are not balanced. We go from peaceful intentions in peacetime to murderous ones in war. We are easily provoked to hatred by the simplest of cynical exploiters. We fall for the same trick a thousand times without recognising it... You would think that we would  have reached satiety with all that we cram our homes with and later take to the dump. Apparently not. Rather than counsel ourselves that enough is enough, we carry on accelerating our desires, and cheering on people whose only intent is to profit from them. We may be decent, but we are certainly stupid.”
Rather than distracting from the story, these monologues add to the picture of Julia’s mind. Is she ...? You’ll have to read the novel to find out. It’s a remarkable piece of fiction that you won’t soon forget. I certainly won’t.
A clear 5 star read.

Available in paperback and Kindle.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Romance, sex, obsession and adventure

A long novel, Alexandra Sophia’s “Lover From an Icy Sea” is also a mesmerizing one. About a love affair between the stunning (and wealthy) fashion magazine editor Daneka Sorenson and photographer Kit Addison, it is much, much more than that. It is about a deeply damaged woman, obsession (“And now, he realized, he’d fallen in love, deeply in love, obsessively in love, with an illusion.”), sexual addiction and tragedy. From early in the story I saw Daneka as a deeply disturbed individual -- her excessive need to be in control, the obsessiveness of her sexual appetites, her obsessive cleaning, her rapid mood swings, her need to be in constant motion, moments of tenderness that she would rapidly move away from -- these were nightmarish.  Yet I couldn’t stop reading.
Alexandra Sophia’s prose is mesmerizing, whether describing sexual scenes or a beautiful seascape, where “tiny waves broke in muted applause along the shore, sending up their silver spray like handfuls of pocket change.”  

Near Daneka's cottage on a Danish island in the Baltic Sea there is a description of a forest scene that is one of the most exquisite pieces of writing I have ever come across. “In a clearing of not much more than two or three body lengths in any direction, a bed of velvet-soft moss -- pure Polytrichum -- tiptoed  up to a sheer and jagged granite wall Here and there in the moss carpet tiny poppied peeked through. Map lichen -- Rhizocarpon geographicum -- spotted the granite wall like forests made for Lilliputians. Water dropped down the face of the wall and dripped into a tiny pool. Kit looked into the pool to gauge its depth, but couldn’t discern a bottom. The water was blacker than any black he’d ever known. Emerald green bridal gowns of liverwort -- Conocephalum conicum -- covered trunks of trees surrounding the clearing, while their branches wrestled in wraiths of  Isotherciium stoloniferum, the color and texture of lime-green lace.” Every time I read that passage, I can smell that place and feel its coolness because, enchantingly, I am there.
“Lover From an Icy Sea” is an amazing novel in so many ways. Like life itself, it is also a deeply disturbing one.
A definite 5 star read.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Living in harmony with the world and with each other

A review of John Philip Newell’s A New Harmony: The Spirit, The Earth, and The Human Soul. Jossey-Bass, 2011. Hardback, $19.95
John Philip Newell thinks in terms of the interconnectedness of all things,  from the most microscopic to the cosmic. There is nothing and no one that is unimportant. As Scottish poet Kenneth White so beautifully puts it, “My thanks for this handful of April days / for the white wind blowing / for the dark earth and the tangled grass / and the woman beside me walking.”
The feeling is one of utter connection with everything. It is where Newell began his journey many years ago as he began exploring the Celtic Christianity that once bloomed in the British Isles before it was nearly eradicated by the Roman Church with its top-down, otherworldly structure. 
For most of us raised, as I was, in Western religious and intellectual traditions, learning to see ourselves as connected with everything else that exists requires a radical shift in understanding and worldview. It means moving radically away from viewing our lives in individualistic/tribalistic terms and learning to see our lives as interconnected. “Our lives are part of the cosmos, and the cosmos is part of us. The life of humanity is not an appendix or an exception to the universe. It is a unique expression of the universe. And each of us carries the essence of the cosmos within it” (pages xi, xii). Quite a leap from the old Gospel song that goes “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through” in which nothing and no one has any significance and “reality” is “somewhere beyond the blue” where our “treasures” are “stored up” for us. I found this not only unsatisfying, I found it deeply depressing; ultimately, I rejected it and with it, spirituality.
The imperative of the gospel, as the Celtic Church saw it, is one of learning to follow the way of love in our relationship with the world, with one another, with all other beings, and with the cosmos. As Pelagius is quoted as saying: “If we look with God's eyes, nothing on earth is ugly." “The danger,” Newell maintains, “has been to take our eyes off the imperative to love” in the most radical of ways in which we recognize and celebrate our interrelatedness with every other human being, every other species, and the world and the cosmos of which we are a part. “To truly love one’s family is to love the essence of every family. To truly love one’s nation is to enter a ‘genuine dialogue’ with the heart of every nation” and “to truly love God is to look for the sacred in everything that has being” (page 123).
This is a book that you’ll read more than once.
A clear 5 star read.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

If you're a novice writer, presenter or speaker, this is a must-have book for you.

Review of Aneeta Sundararaj, “How To Tell a Great Story” Published by Bookshaker, July 2,  2011. 170 pages and Kindle
Whatever it is that you do, if you want to get your point across, tell a story. The reason is simple: stories connect, they anchor ideas and images and information in our minds like nothing else does. That is what makes a great novel, a great speech, an excellent business presentation effective is the way they link what they have to say to a compelling story. It is also what makes gossip and political attack TV ads so damaging. The power is in the story because stories make ideas come to life in ways that you and I can identify with.
If you’re a beginning speaker, presenter or sales person, then Aneeta Sundararaj’s book is one you’ll want to have as one of your valuable resources. If you’re a beginning writer, want to write articles for magazines, write short stories and/or a novel, “How To Tell as Great Story” is a must for you. I wish I’d had such a resource to consult when I started my writing career, but I didn’t. I did, however, have some excellent mentors who kept me focused on story-telling.
I give this book a clear 5 star rating
Available from amazon.com, amazon.co.ca, amazon.co.uk, amazon.co.jp and  The Book Depository (www.thebookdepository.com)

Friday, November 11, 2011

A memorable family saga of the 5 sons of Charlie Gisby

What’s in a Name? Brendan Gisby asks in the title of the Foreword to this interesting history family sage. “What’s in a name?” is a question that millions of people ask every day, often chasing down the origin of their own family name. It’s a question that intrigued one of my own ancestors, Benjamin Kendall Emerson, that he traced the history of his own family from the time they first arrived in Ipswich, Massachusetts. A great-aunt gave me the book he had privately published in 1900; my eldest son now has it. Out of curiosity, I just now looked it up online and discovered that it’s been reprinted by Kessenger Legacy Reprints and is available on amazon.com. So who knows where The Five Sons of Charlie Gisby will end up in years to come? Hopefully read and reread as often as I read that book about one branch of my family.
But even more interesting than the question “What’s in a name?” is the question who is there?, because this tells the stories of the people, where they were from, how they got there, what happened to them during their lives It’s an interesting adventure, and Brendan and his cousin Phil Gisby have written a most interesting history of their family.
If you enjoy reading family histories, if the name “Gisby” shows up somewhere in your family tree, or if you’re just curious, buy yourself a copy of this fine book. Brendan Gisby, by the way, is the author of several fine books, including a memoir of his father (The Bookie’s Runner) and The Island of Whispers, being his most recent.
A 5 star read.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"The Wandering Who? -- A Study of Jewish Identity Politics

Gilad Atzmon’s transformation from a typical Jewish Israeli kid to someone who began questioning the Israeli narrative began when he heard Charlie (“Bird”) Parker with Strings on a late night jazz program. “I was totally knocked down. The music was more organic, poetic, sentimental and wilder than anything I had ever heard before.” Parker was the beginning of Atzmon’s journey away from being a believer in the Zionist ideology and his “chauvinist, exclusivist tribe” to being one of its staunchest critics. What completed the change in his life was a visit to Ansar as a young Israeli soldier. Ansar was “a notorious Israeli internment camp in South Lebanon” in 1981 during the first Israel-Lebanon war. “I studied the detainees,” he writes; “They looked very different to the Palestinians in Jerusalem. The ones I saw in Ansar were angry. They were not defeated, they were freedom fighters and they were numerous. As we continued past the barbed wire I continued gazing at the inmates, and arrived at an unbearable truth: I was walking on the other side, in Israeli military uniform, and I was nothing but a ‘Nazi’.” (page 6)

What a shocker for this grandson of a former prominent commander in the right-wing Irgun terror organization, raised on the notion of Jewish righteousness and Arab duplicity, to finally awaken to the truth about his country. “At the time of the Oslo Accords in 1993, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I saw that Israeli ‘peacemaking’ was nothing but spin. Its purpose ... was to further secure the existence of the Jewish State at the expense of the Palestinians. For most Israelis, shalom doesn’t mean ‘peace’, it means security, and for Jews only.” Moving to London, he began work on a Master’s Degree in philosophy at the University of Essex, began his career as a jazz musician, and began digging deeply into modern Israel’s character for answers to his questions about its origins, its inhuman treatment of Palestine’s Arabs, and its contemptuous regard for international law. 

Central to Atzmon’s discourse is a discussion of what the word “Jew” stands for, a question that seems to him to be “taboo within Western discourse”. It is clear why. Begin to ask the question, and you are likely to get yourself accused of being an anti-Semite. And this is exactly what has happened to Atzmon. Though he presents a harsh criticism of Jewish politics and identity, there is not “a single reference to Jews as ethnicity or race” anywhere in the book. “In my writing, I differentiate between Jews (the people), Judaism (the religion) and Jewish-ness (The ideology).” If you’re “searching for blood or race-related interpretation of Zionism (you) will have to look for it in someone else’s book.” It certainly is not present here.

In Chapter One, Atzmon asks two simple-but-significant questions: Who are the Jews, and what do people mean who call themselves Jews? (page 16). “As far as self-perception (my emphasis) is concerned, those who call themselves Jews (can) be divided into three main categories: (1) Those who follow Judaism; (2) Those who regard themselves as human beings who happen to be of Jewish origin; and (3) Those who put their Jewish-ness over and above all other traits” (page 16).

Atzmon points out that it is this third category that is the core of Zionist ideology and the major cause of modern Israel’s problems. “You may be a Jew who dwells in England, a Jew who plays the violin or even a Jew against Zionism, but above all else you are a Jew” (page 17). Jewish-ness is “the fundamental characteristic of one’s being,” that stops “the Jew from assimilating or disappearing into the crowd.” “The Jew would always remain an alien” (page 17), one of the Chosen Ones in a sea of goyim, a people who must have their own homeland in which they can dwell in peace. It is from those who put their Jewish-ness before all else that Israel’s most enthusiastic supporters (like AIPAC, the America Israeli Public Affairs Committee) and spies (like Jonathan Pollard) come. In Israeli parlance, Jewish-ness is more than a tribal identifier, it is a political commitment (p. 20) that Atzmon calls “third category brotherhood” (p. 21). The Zionist movement’s greatest strength has been transforming “the Jewish tribal mode into a collective functioning system” (p. 21) that vigorously attacks all who stand in its way.

According to Zionist dogma, the Jews are the descendants of Israel’s original Jewish population exiled from their ancient homeland through conquest. But are they “one people”, the descendants of a common ancestor? Apparently not, as Israeli historian Shlomo Sand shows in his book The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso, 2009), a book that I have read and reviewed. As Atzmon explains on page 135, in the 19th century “intellectuals of Jewish origin in Germany ... took upon themselves the task of inventing a people ‘retrospectively’ out of a thirst to create a Jewish people” (p. 135), thus creating a raison d’etre for the creation of the modern Jewish State. Yet as Sand convincingly shows, the “Jewish people” are a conglomeration of peoples, the descendants of converts to Judaism, not an ancient people long separated from their homeland. What Atzmon does here with Sand’s help is pull the rug out from under the modern Jewish State by showing that the preamble to Israel’s Declaration of Independence -- "After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people remained faithful to it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom" -- is based on “mythistory”, not fact. Little wonder why Atzmon’s book has created a loud outcry about Atzmon’s book from Israel’s most ardent supporters.

Gilad Atzmon wrote his book out of a desire to probe deeply into the country in which he was born and raised. It is also a journey of self-examination and awakening. Why does Israel act the way it does? Why has it always treated Palestine’s Arabs with such contempt? Why are its laws written to benefit only its Jewish citizens, relegating all others to second class citizenship? Why does it engage in acts that are commonly viewed as barbaric and reminiscent of the behavior’s of Hitler’s SS and Gestapo? Why does it view itself as always needing security while denying the Palestinian people and its Arab neighbors that right? Why is it so blind to the reaction its behaviors cause? 

Atzmon’s discovery and questioning reminds me of my own awakening when, back in the summer of 1954, my best friend Claude explained to me what it meant to grow up African-American (the term used back then was American Negro) in my home town Seattle, Washington. I was devastated. It still brings tears to my eyes. How could anyone treat my friend like that -- so damage his feeling of self-worth and value? How could I be so totally unaware this was happening to people in my home town? The experience was transformational, totally changing my thinking on the subject of race.

The Wandering Who? is a valuable contribution to understanding how tribalistic thinking leads to narrow-mindedness and barbarism. Is his book controversial? Of course. A book that asks the kinds of questions Atzmon asks about Israel and its behavior is automatically labeled controversial by Israel’s apologists. Reading them is like listening to a group of abusive men loudly proclaim their innocence by finger-pointing at their accusers. I’m much more apt to listen to their accusers than I would if they’d shut up. But they don’t. A recent rant by Alan Dershowitz is a wonderful example of what I mean: http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/97030/atzmon-wandering-who-anti-semitism-israel  . 

If you’re looking for a good book about Israel and its modern history, I highly recommend The Wandering Who? It’s a solid 5-Star book.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A beautiful, profound book of poetry by one of the best

“Poetry slows us down, cherishes small details. A large disaster erases those details. We need poetry for nourishment and for noticing, for the way language and imagery reach comfortable into experience, holding and connecting it more successfully than any news channel we could name.” About her “Palestinian grandmother who lived till she was 106” she has this to say: “She wanted people to worship in whatever ways they felt comfortable. To respect one another, sit together around the fire cracking almonds and drinking tea, and never forget to laugh no matter what horrible things they had been through. What wisdom,” she asks, “did  she know that all these men can’t figure out?” (from the Introduction.)

In “Different ways to pray”, she writes
“There was the method of kneeling,
a fine method, if you lived in a country
where stones were smooth.
Women dreamed wistfully of
hidden corners where knee fit rock.
their prayers, weathered rib bones,
small calcium words uttered in sequence,
as if this shedding of syllables could
fuse them to the sky.
There were men who had been shepherds so long
they walked like sheep.
Under the olive trees, they raised their arms --
Hear us! We have pain on earth!
We have so much pain there is no place to store it!
 But the olives bobbed peacefully
in fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme.
At night the men ate heartily, flat bread
    and white cheese,
and were happy in spite of the pain,
because there was also happiness.

In “Passing the refugee camp” she writes after describing how
“Yesterday the soldiers smashed
Lena’s sink and tub and tiles” and
“They whipped a father in front of his sons
ages 2 and 4” and later
“On the steps of the National Palace Hotel
soldiers peel oranges
throwing back their heads so the juice
runs down their throats” she asks
They know what sweetness lives within
How can they know this and forget
so many other things?”

It is difficult for me to pick poems in this wonderful book that are favorites, because so many of them are. Painful, beautiful, poignant, wonderful poems. In “All things not considered”, she has this to say:

“You cannot stitch the breath
back into this boy.
A brother and sister were playing with toys
when their room exploded.
In what language 
is this holy?
TheJewish boys killed in the cave
were skipping school, having an adventure.
Asel Asleh, Palestinian, believed in the field
beyond right and wrong where people
    come together
to talk. He kneeled to help someone else
stand up before he was shot.
If this is holy,
could we have some new religions please?”
In “Blood”, she writes:
I call my father, we talk around the news.
It is too much for him,
neither of his two languages can reach it.
I drive into the country to find sheep, cows,
to plead with the air.
Who calls anyone civilized?
Where can the crying heart graze?
What does a true Arab do now?

I first encountered Naomi Shihab Nye when I read one of her poems, “Kindness” that  haunted me until I found the book it was in and bought it. She is also the author of the young adult  novel “Habibi”, which I have also reviewed, and other novels and poetry collections. 

This is a book I keep nearby to read again and again and again. Go to your nearest bookstore and buy a copy. Get one from amazon.com or The Book Depository. But get one,read them out loud and listen to the voices there. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stories and poems about Northern Ireland by a master storyteller and poet

“Haunting Tales and Living Verse of Ulaid: Ghosts across our landscape”, by Colin T. Mercer. Night Publishing, October 2011. Kindle and paperback

Colin Mercer’s collection of poems and stories of Northern Ireland (“Ulaid”) is an absolute gem of a book. Some of the stories are laugh-out-loud funny, others poignant, others about ghosts and body snatchers in the 1700s, Viking raids still earlier; Ireland’s coastal waters, the heather, mountains, weather. I came away from the book feeling steeped in Ireland and the Irish, reminded of good friends who recently spent a month or so exploring the land of her ancestors.
There is so much loveliness in this book that it’s difficult to point to favorites. “Resurrection Men”, about body snatchers in the 1700s left me laughing out loud, as do several others, including “Catching the Train”, a poignant story that ends ... well, I won’t spoil it for you, but I’m still laughing.
There are stories about illness, mothers, grandmothers and losing one’s childhood innocence one day that recalled “the Troubles” and, for me, in “My Troubled Playground of 1976”, the tragedy of Gaza and the West Bank where children lose their innocence, and sometimes their lives.
Colin Mercer is a wonderful poet and storyteller. He is also the author of “For Irish Eyes” (2009), available in paperback from amazon.com.
“Ghosts across our landscape” is a book I will read again and again, savoring each reading like a good piece of chocolate or a fine wine.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Taylor Takes Charge", A delightfully comic tale of intrigue in a boy's prep school.

Take a shopworn setting like Portland Court Preparatory School for Boys, an eighteen year old, newly-minted school master named Ben Glossop, a lovely young Under-Matron named Sarah Wilton, mix in a loopy band of kidnappers, a tipsy collection of senior school master’s, a Matron nicknamed “The Elephant” and a 12 year old boy named Taylor who is the real Head Master, and you have the recipe for one of the funniest comic adventures I’ve had the pleasure of reading since P. G. Wodehouse laid down his pen in 1975. From start to finish, it is marvelous fun.
Charles Utley, a London barrister, is a wonderful story teller, and Taylor Takes Charge is a wonderful book that you will read over and over again. Watch for the sequel, which I am told, will appear ‘soon’. Is Charles Utley starting a series of Portland Court novels? Oh, I hope he is.
A definite 5-star read 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A wonderful tale for the Christmas Season and beyond

As Christmas celebrations begin, a young woman hails a taxi to take her home. On the way there is a horrible accident. Thinking that she will just be late, her parents and little sister retire for the night. Then there is a knock upon the door, which dad answers. Their beautiful, beloved daughter is no more, and the family, overwhelmed with sorrow begins to fall apart.

One year later, dad is caught in a howling blizzard on the way home, and his car slides out of control and ends stuck in a drift. Then Nick appears, rescues him, and drives him home.

Who is Nick, and why does their younger daughter take such a shine to him, when since her sister's death, she has spoken to almost no one? Why is he so kind? Why are his eyes so penetrating.

In this fascinating tale of Christmastime, tragedy, healing and forgiveness, author S. J. Ingram weaves a magical spell over this hurting family. It's a tale for everyone who has ever experienced loss and suffering and blame.

If you're looking for a gift for your friends and family, pick up a cop;y of this book at amazon.com, and be sure to include a copy for your Kindle, where mine is parked.

A heart-warming ***** read.