Sunday, September 25, 2016

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

                In the village in Turkey where Desdemona and Lefty were from, things like this happened often. Well, at least there were stories of babies born looking like girls and then around fifteen they were boys. But that was in turkey in the early 1900’s, not Detroit in the 1970’s. There was a reason why first cousins weren’t allowed to marry and you even needed permission to marry a second cousin. Desdemona was always afraid that something would happen after her and Lefty got married. But then they had two kids and they were fine. Their children had kids and Calliope seemed fine. Calliope had no idea about her own truth, even though it should have been discovered at birth. She was born with the genitalia of a woman but the genetics of a man. Middlesex is what Cal has to say about his family history, the girl he used to be and the man he became.
                I can honestly say that I have never read a book about a hermaphrodite before. This was a great introduction into the topic. A little bit of science with a lot of emotional development. This is a lot less about the story of a young girl unaware of her hermaphroditism and more about three generations of Greeks and how they navigated life as a family. It is trying, emotional, funny, and gritty. Cal is our narrator and we are very aware from the beginning that he is a hermaphrodite living as a male. I found Cal to be an extremely well-written, well-executed character. The way he told the story made it really enjoyable and interesting. I found him witty and not at all self-deprecating. His goal, in my opinion was to inform readers of his life and how he came to be in this genetic position. The world building was amazing. I thought Eugenides through Cal’s voice was really able to capture the era, tone, and characteristics of each age, while still being able to describe in great detail the surroundings.

                Middlesex starts off very strong. I must admit that I found the history of the family way more interesting than his “discovery” of himself. Part of that is because the reader is always aware of his hermaphroditism so there is never any mystery involved. When he becomes aware of the truth he begins acting like a typical teenager and that close to the end of the book, my interest started wane. The story of Desdemona and Lefty, the story of Milton and Tessie, and even how they all interacted as a family was great. Eugenides’s writing style was really enjoyable. His change in narrative from past to present was done well. I rate this 4 out of 5 stars. It was really worth the read. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand (2001)

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

                Other trainers had overlooked Seabiscuit for many reasons. He was a difficult horse with “bucked knees” and bad composition. “Get me that horse. He has real stuff in him. I can improve him. I’m positive.” That statement made my by Tom Smith secured in history the success and trials that would come to him as the trainer, Charles Howard as the owner and Red Pollard, his jockey. The group would come together and take the racing world by storm. In the late 1930’s Seabiscuit would fight through injuries, successes and failures as he was swept back and forth across the country competing against many of the best horses in the world, breaking records and winning.
                I only found myself gravitating towards this book because I had previously read Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and absolutely loved it. I have never been a fan of horse racing. I’ve also never seen the movie Seabiscuit so I considered myself completely ignorant on this subject. Needless to say I plowed ahead with this nonfiction book to educate myself on the subject and to see if Hillenbrand was as talented as I assumed she was. I was not in any shape way or form disappointed. This book is absolutely amazing. Beautifully narrated and chronologically told Hillenbrand takes readers from the very beginning with the story of Charles Howard, and how he gained his fortune and began dabbling in racing. We then meet Tom Smith and John “Red” Pollard and the lives of all three men intersect because of Seabiscuit.

                What these men did together over the course of 5 years with this horse was absolutely amazing. And it is all captured and characterized in Seabiscuit: An American Legend. Hillenbrand is gifted in the way she can provide information and weave a beautiful tale. The world and characters are so detailed that they come alive on the page. I felt like I was in the midst of watching these races. The suspense was there in each moment. I felt the pain with each injury, the exhilaration of each win, and the sadness of each lose. I love when I finish a story that I not only loved but that I learned a great deal from. My interest is piqued and I find myself going back to certain section of this book simply to relive the moment. This was extremely well done and I give it 5 out of 5 stars. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers (2000)

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers

                I was convinced I knew what I wanted to write when I sat down to begin this review. I was going to mention how everyone can recognize the photo used on the cover of this book. That it’s an example of patriotism and a symbol of World War II. It represents the integrity of the men fighting on the small island of Iwo Jima and an ode to those who lost their lives. But it’s so much more than that. That image was used as propaganda to extract more bonds from Americans in the war effort. The image was falsely portrayed and the truth pushed to the side because the image itself was so well done that the story framed around it simply had to be true. Many didn’t want to listen to the true story behind the image, the raising of the second flag on top of Mount Suribachi. That the original picture of the first flag being raised was never used and is barely even acknowledged. Flags of Our Fathers uses this image to explain what really happened on Iwo Jima, the lives that were lost, the sacrifices made, the horror endured in the name of war. Marines stood side by side fighting to the death to secure that island while Navy Corpsman like Doc Bradley would go from man to man trying to save their lives.
                Bradley wrote a book not only about the history of his father but about the many Marines and Navy sailors who fought and died on Iwo Jima. This book was well researched, well told and glaring in its ruthlessness. But war is brutal and the campaign in the Pacific was extremely brutal. This was a type of warfare Americans had never seen and weren’t prepared for. I found Bradley’s account endearing. The love for his father was obvious as was his need to understand the role that his father played. John “Doc” Bradley never wanted to talk about the war, Iwo Jima or The Photograph. It “happened a long time ago” he would say or “the heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn’t come back.” James Bradley wasn’t even aware of the fact that his father had received the Navy Cross for his service at Iwo Jima. By learning the history of his father and writing this story not only about him but about the men who stood by his side I feel like he was honoring his father in a way he couldn’t when he was alive.

                I’m giving this book 4 out 5 stars. I thought it was captivating and captured the horror of war while telling the story of boys becoming men. Now with that being said I must provide a disclaimer. I was less than a hundred pages from finishing this book when I came across an article stating that James Bradley was not sure if his father was actually in the The Photograph on the top of Mount Suribachi. Yeah, how about that for a mind blowing tidbit of information. Now keep in mind his father said he was in the picture. John Bradley took part in the bond tour that took place, with two other flagraisers. He was used as a propaganda piece. What does any of that mean though if he wasn’t actually in the photo? It means a lot of other things may have been in play. Especially if he wasn’t in the picture and the other two men on the tour Rene and Ira, knew he wasn’t in the photo and yet they all took part in the tour. When reading the tail end of this book all of these thoughts were in my mind and I still haven’t come to a conclusion. Does this new information change how I look at this book? Absolutely. James Bradley didn’t purposely falsify his dad’s role. This new information came out within the last two years and he just verified this in May of 2016. It leaves question about the man and the solitude he was seeking once the tours were over. It begs the question of whether there was more to his silence then the horror of the war and the losses of life he witnessed.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999)

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

                I don’t usually gravitate towards collections of short stories but after including Interpreter of Maladies as part of my thirty year theme, I may have to re-evaluate that decisions. These stories were beautiful. They were a look into a culture that I’m not familiar with. They had diverse characters whose lives I could vividly imagine. The stories were so diverse and extremely well imagined that I couldn’t pull away from any of them. This was so highly enjoyable that I want to read more of what it is Lahiri has to say. She was able to create these beautiful tales in such a simple and yet satisfying way. I raced through this book.
                I feel like there is a story for everyone. Whether it’s the story of a couple whose relationship is deteriorating after the birth of their child. Or an unexpected friendship with a very old woman. Even finding Christian imagery all over a home. And becoming friends with a man whose family is living through the middle of a war. Each of these stories had an amazing presence and an amazing voice. The characters were beautifully sculpted and the worlds well imagined. I could go on and on but I feel like I will just start rambling so I will leave this by simply recommending this collection of stories. I give this 5 out of 5 stars. Absolutely amazing.