There are now TWO ways to see reviews from the Meg's Monthly Booklist archives. You can go to the Monthly Listings or try out the new BookSearch search engine (where you can search for a specific book). With choices like those, you just don't have any excuse, kiddos.
First of all, let me say that this is a truly wonderful book. It's set in Greece during WWII, which, in and of itself, is fascinating since you hear all the time about WWII and England, Germany, Japan, Italy, and the U.S., but since when have you heard anything about WWII and Greece? And why not? It was definitely involved in the whole thing too, you know. How much of what happens in the book is fact and how much is fiction, I don't know and I really want to find out -- that alone ought to tell you that I found this book interesting enough to want to learn more. A good sign.
Setting aside, the plot is also fascinating. On a small scale, it focuses on a young Greek woman who falls in love first with a village boy and eventually with an Italian soldier (Captain Corelli). On a much grander scale, the book is about what war does to people. People on every side -- people of every position, every rank, every country, every sex, every occupation. While the effects of the war on the people in this book were varied -- some became brave, some became cowards, some fell in love, some fell out of love, some became proud, some ashamed, etc. etc. etc. -- for the most part, the effects can be boiled down to one phrase: war hurts. But this book goes beyond the usual examination of that concept. Some of the characters in this book experience the war in a way I've never seen written about in all the many books I've read about war. One of the best characters in the book (and I mean "best" both in that I found him the most intriguing and he was the best person) is a gigantic gay man who joined the military so that he could be around the kind of brotherly love that men encounter when thrown together in those kinds of circumstances. Whereas the current debate over gays in the military usually focuses on how sexually stimulating those nasty gays will get when they see their comrades nekkid in the showers, this book really brings into focus a much more realistic look at the issue. Our gay soldier does fall in love with a straight friend. In fact, he falls in love with two of them. And what it does is this: it makes them ALL better men for it. Take that, you don't-ask-don't-tell dunderheads.
The writing is also tremendous. de Bernieres has a keen wit and he's not afraid to us it! He is also masterful with the language -- some of his descriptions of things moved me to tears. Some of them made me laugh out loud. I have underlined entire passages and already gone back to reread them twice. He is a truly talented writer and I already miss getting to read his phrases. I can't wait to find out what other books he's got out there. Another good sign!
However, despite the fact that I loved the setting, characters, plot, and writing, I have to say now that the ending of this book is just plain awful. My perception of what happened is this: de Bernieres got towards the end of the book and realized he had only two options for the ending -- the happy option and the tragic option. And rather than settle for one of those two, either of which would be hard to pull off without running the risk of being cliche, he decided to just pretend he had a third option and made up an ending that fit none of the characters involved and essentially ruined the whole book for me. Not only did the ending come 50 pages and two decades too late, but it is one of those endings that is neither happy nor sad, neither good nor bad, and, alas, neither interesting nor moving. After a book of such powerful emotions and messages, to have an ending like this one tacked on carelessly at the last just killed me. I was so majorly disappointed. While it sounds like I'm cursing the author for daring to take a path that hadn't been gone down before, what I'm actually cursing him for was for not having the courage to be cliche and to hell with it. By writing this "neither" ending, he betrayed not only the readers, who were desperate by this point for some kind of emotional finale, but his characters as well. The explanation one of them gives for what went wrong is so wholly unbelievable that it made me snort. As if I believe for a moment that lovers like those two would ever have made that kind of a mistake about each other. The tragedy here is that de Bernieres chickened out. That he did it in the name of originality does not make it okay. And don't even try to argue that it was intended to be yet another example of the damage that war can do to people. You aren't going to convince me of that.
But, I'm sure I'm the only one out there who feels this way. It
wouldn't be the first time I was disappointed by something everybody else
in the world absolutely loved. So, hey, just ignore me and go read this
book. I'm sure you'll enjoy it -- I did myself. Just don't say I didn't
warn you when you get to the ending!
But soon the bodies are piling up and Cardinal realizes
what he's got is a serial killer. Making his job harder, though, is the
fact that his new partner is not-so-secretly investigating HIM for
allegedly helping a criminal escape capture. Cardinal does have a guilty
conscience, but is that why? Anyway, this is a complex novel with great
characters and a truly vivid setting. Thumbs up! Recommended!
Boy, was I wrong, though. Jance is a marvelous writer! This is the latest in one of her two famous series -- the J.P. Beaumont series. Beaumont is a Seattle homicide detective and in the novel right before this one, something apparently happened to him that was so awful, it drove him into retirement at last. So, this novel starts with Beau's (his nickname) first act of official retirement -- he's going on a cruise. Technically, it's not exactly a vacation for him -- he's agreed to go to serve as a kind of chaperone for his elderly grandmother and her new husband (they wanted to go but were worried something might happen to them mid-trip and wanted a family member present just in case). Still, it promises to be a relaxing and pleasant voyage for Beau.
Of course, that wouldn't make for much of a mystery novel, so before
Beau even has a chance to settle in, a woman at his dinner table goes
missing and another woman, one he's attracted to, is the prime suspect.
Not long after, another person on the ship is murdered, and things start
to get a little crazy after that. This was one of the best mysteries I've
read in awhile -- complex plot full of twists, wonderful characters
(Beaumont is terrific -- kind of a cross between Robert B. Parker's
Spenser and Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder), and a unusual setting (a
cruise ship!) that made even the non-thrilling moments pretty
entertaining. As soon as I finished this novel, I logged on to the local
library site and put several more Jance novels on hold. Can't wait to get
them! Highly, highly recommended to all mystery fans!
When he hears stories from the locals about a group of ultra-orthodox Jews (the "Lubavitchers") in a tiny Iowa town called "Postville," his curiosity is piqued. He goes to Postville not only to see how the two cultures are clashing, but to see if being around some Jewish people again might take the edge off his feelings of isolation and outsider-ness.
After talking to both the Hasidic Jews and several of the townspeople, though, Bloom quickly realizes he and the Lubavitchers have little in common. Though the Jewish community has single-handedly saved Postville from economic collapse, they have absolutely no interest in the town or its non-Jewish, of Gentile, citizens. Instead of trying to settle in, they break the town rules, ignore the people, and even occasionally downright insult folks.
But is it really that they dislike or are offended by the Gentiles? Or is it simply because that is the kind of behavior their religion dictates. And likewise, is the Gentile backlash really anti-Semitism or is it just confusion mixed with a little uneasiness about the economic power the Jewish population now has over them?
This was a fascinating (though overly lengthy) look at what makes a
community tick (or not tick, as the case may be). It's also an
interesting examination of prejudice -- both sides thought the other hated
them, but it was more a matter of miscommunication and misunderstanding.
I took sides all through my reading of this book -- sometimes thinking the
Gentiles were right, sometimes thinking the Jews were -- but by the end I
really came to realize what Bloom had come to realize himself -- both
sides have handled matters badly. And both sides are both right and
wrong, in pretty equal measure. If they'd just come to realize that
themselves, there might be a chance the two communities could live
together peacefully. Let's hope Bloom passed out free copies of this book
to the Postvillians shortly after it was published! Recommended!
The only problem is, almost against her will, she begins to learn more
about him and his past (he's a Russian immigrant). And, even worse, she
begins to fall in love with him. But her mistrust of men and anger towards
Daniels in particular leads her to commit a crime that forces the couple
to flee. While the ending seemed abrupt and the resolution disappointed me
somewhat, I really enjoyed the rest of the novel. Enough to make me
forgive the author for the ending. This is a great story not only about a
young couple in love, but about the early coal miners and their lives, as
well as the effects electricity had on the deeply rural parts of this
nation. Very highly recommended!
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