but only just.
By the second week we were in
and three weeks later in
Thus for all but ten days of the first quarter we were in the Middle East.
Then April and almost all of May were spent in Turkey.
From there it was
a dip in
and then a much longer bathe in
That was most of June.
Most of July was spent in
with the tail in Prague and the tail, tail in
That's where we are now (Aug 28) and until about Oct 1.
After that it will
What will we read then?
I should begin by acknowledging
that I read this book thanks to
newly married to our old friend Moshe, who had it unread on her shelf.
I remember reading the reviews when it came out before we left the States
in 1999 and thinking that I would like to read it.
I believe it was also
recommended to me by my friend Barbara who is a member of a book club that
reads mostly non-fiction books.
But even with these encomiums, I was surprised
by the amount of pure pleasure I got from reading this book.
Iím not sure that a non-native
speaker and even a non-British native speaker could really enjoy the language
in this book, which is as rich and evocative as the myriad characters that
make up this story.
Iím also not sure that I should have enjoyed it given
that most of the characters spend their time lambasting the English and
the 800 years of misery they are supposed to have brought down on the Irish.
But enjoy it I did.
It made me laugh and it made me feel like crying and
The misery that the McCourt family undergoes has nothing
to do with the English and everything to do with Frankís father Malachyís
What is astonishing is that in spite of that fact, richly illustrated
in every page, Frank McCourt exudes a much deeper affection for his wayward
father than for his long-suffering mother.
Perhaps that is the central
How can this man who is so flawed and causes so much hunger, cold,
and pure misery for his wife and children exert such a powerful charm on
all around him? Some people are born likable, I guess.
And likable is how I would
describe Frank McCourt on the basis of this book.
He has given us an irreplaceable
picture of life in Irish poverty that brings to mind the stories my own
mother used to tell of her own upbringing in the 20ís and 30ís in the northeast
of England and even in some cases, like sugar and bread, wakens my own
memories of childhood.
The poverty in our lives was nowhere near as extreme,
but poverty it was and it brought out both the best and the worst in people,
just like it did in Angelaís Ashes.
I have resisted the temptation to share
with you my favorite stories from the book so that you can discover them
like I did, with wonderment and sorrow.
October 15, 2002.
(The Man who declared war on America)
by Yossef Bodansky, 1999, 2001
Jan bought this for Gerry for Christmas.
In a book store in NYC he picked
it up and at her suggestion didn't by it.
She sneaked back and bought it.
He started it in NYC and finished it in
both places where the subject of the book really comes to mind.
got into it.
We both found reading it a really hard slog, but intermittently
of quite considerable interest.
The author worked for US Congressional
committees investigating terrorism for many years and wrote it before
bin Laden became so infamous.
The book seems to be a paste-together of
reports that he must have written; as such it is very disorganized.
The picture it paints of radical or fundamentalist Islam (called Islamism
by the bookís author) is pretty horrific.
Fortunately, they are not nearly
as efficient and effective as their propaganda would have us believe since
many of their operations are foiled before they come to fruition.
Does he know his stuff and can he be believed? Reading between the lines
it seems likely, but
The Code Book (The
Secret History of Codes & Code-Breaking) by Simon Singh
The book is based on a BBC series of the same name.
That should have been
a clue that the book would not match its name.
It is as much about people
and personalities as it is about codes.
That is not bad, because the stories
are very, very interesting.
Would you believe that a man would take two
tons of gold from Western USA gold fields in about 1820, bury it in Virginia,
and leave a detailed, but coded guide how to find it after his death? Well,
believe it or not, the story is told.
Much more interesting is the story
of the decipherment of Linear B.
Is it or isn't it Greek? Until the job
- an amazing effort of intuition and perseverance - was done, nobody knew.
Top notch if you like mental sports.
Lessing Autobiography (Vol I & II) by Doris Lessing
This was one of Jan's picks based on a memory of having read Lessing's
"The Golden Notebook" either in or soon after college.
She liked the first
volume for its descriptions of pre-war Rhodesia, but she didn't like Lessing's
politics or her mealy-mouthed apologies for the Soviet regime.
First Overland by
Tim Slessor, 1956
Jan picked up this book for the princely sum of 10p (15 cents) in the lovely
abbey of Selby, north Yorkshire.
Written in 1957 it tells the story of
an expedition carried out by six students or recent graduates of Oxford
and Cambridge Universities to be the first to drive all the way from London
to Singapore overland, hence the title.
The writing was somewhat stilted,
but the subject matter was perfect for us as these young men driving two
Land Rovers passed through so many places that are familiar to us, in particular:
France, Germany, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal,
Burma, Thailand, Malaysia and of course Singapore.
As we read the book
we relived many of our own travel memories and added Burma and the Stilwell
Road to our list of must-see places.
Not quite as good as
Life as an Explorer.
Recommended for travel buffs.
Gesher Vakesher (Bridges
and Bonds, The Life of Leon Kronish) by Henry A.
Leon Kronish was the rabbi for many years of a reform Jewish synagogue
in Miami, Florida, from about 1941 to1980.
In many ways he was the creator
of reform Judiasm in Florida.
Gerry got the book by accident.
We were at
a talk in Jerusalem and his son passed them out for free in association
with a talk the son gave.
Once started, Gerry found it quite interesting
to read about a place to which some of Gerry's relative had retired and
the religious issues they faced.
Incidentally, in the talk, the son told
how he went from "understanding" the Palestinians to finally concluding
that they were untrustworthy and that Israel's continued existence depended
on continued vigilance.
Recommend only for a very small set of people.
Hope Dies Last by
Alexander Dubcek, 1993
A ghost-written autobiography of the main figure of the
Spring liberalization that was crushed by the invasion of the country by
Warsaw Pact troops in 1968.
A very interesting account of the events leading
up to 1968, but a little dissatisfying in that the last chapter of the
book, in which one would have expected conclusions to be drawn as to the
value and meaning of communism in general and soviet communism in particular,
was written without Dubcek's input because he had died in a car accident.
The man himself comes across as rather a too-good-to-be-true idealist and
But yet, the impression one is left with is that of a true
We bought this at a flea market in
Outside a church there was (is?) a plaza with about 20 "stalls"
laid out on the ground.
We picked up several books for about $1 each.
cover price was $20.
We got a great bargain and, we think, so did the seller.
We read it while in
just across the border from his homeland
Recommended for those who remember the Prague Spring.
We are now looking
forward to reading a good biography of Dubcek.
Hope Is Last
To Die by
A first-person account of life in the Nazi death camps of eastern Europe.
The writing was not of the best but as we had just visited Auschwitz and
the location of the bulk of the book, we were much better able to understand
and visualize the events described.
Gerry ended up disbelieving parts of
Jan agreed to some extent but on the other hand thought that
in order to survive in the camps one had to be very lucky not once but
many times, which perhaps makes any of the stories a little hard to believe.
July, 2002. Mixed.
A War on Pet by Brian Joslin
A short autobiographical piece about life in Bishop Auckland during
the second world war.
A very nostalgic read for anyone from the northeast
who will relish Joslin's descriptions of small-town life during the war.