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Friday, October 5, 2007

Future topics may include...

Anything from my upcoming projects (books etc in the pipeline) to current events such as the upcoming elections in Pakistan, where I live, to the vagaries of US foreign policy--plenty of material there--to the Marx Brothers. Suggestions are welcome. For now, I'll just mention a couple books I've been reading lately: A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka, which is very good; and A Long Time Gone by Ishmael Beah, which is devastating.

The Lewycka book is about a gold-digging Ukranian woman in her thirties, who marries a befuddled older gentleman who immigrated to the UK from the Ukraine decades ago. It's narrated by the old fellow's youngest daughter, and it's very funny but also bittersweet. The woman who is marrying the father is obviously motivated by greed, but also by a genuine desire for a better life; Lewycka takes some chances, I think, by making her such an loathesome character. It's all quite different from the recent deluge of immigrant-to-the-west books that have been inundating the scene for a while. (The Inheritance of Loss; Brick Lane; White Teeth; Maps for Lost Lovers; The Reluctant Fundamentalist; and on and on.) These books tend to have immigrants as the protagonists, presented in a very sympathetic light, and people who resist them are characterized as racist. Which, of course, they often are in real life; it's just interesting to me that this book takes a different tack and does it very well.

Ishmael Beah's is entirely different. It's not funny, for one thing. It couldn't be: there's not much humor in the life of a thirteen-year-old soldier in Sierra Leone. He was drafted into the army while fleeing from his life from rebels who destroyed his village; he was then turned into a monstrous little murderer who lived his life doped up on "brown-brown" (cocaine mixed with gunpowder) and killed anything he could. This went on for a couple of years. The book is devastating when it recounts this part of his life, but the next phase--where he is entered into a rehabilitation program--is only marginally less grim. Along with a bunch of other boys, he is taken out of the army and expected to go to school, listen to adult authority and so on. It's a joke to these kids; two weeks earlier they were shooting "adult authority." I won't tell how it turns out, but he does after all survive long enough to write the book. It's harrowing. Dave says: you should read it. Kind of puts those computer war games your kids play (only your kids?) into a different light.

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