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John P. Jones III RSS Feed (Albuquerque, NM, USA)

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The Frangipani Hotel: Fiction
The Frangipani Hotel: Fiction
by Violet Kupersmith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.30
57 used & new from $2.48

4.0 out of 5 stars A vast range of characters and topics, and much potential..., September 15, 2014
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Violet Kupersmith came by her interest in Vietnam naturally, as it were. Her father is American, and her mother was a boat refugee from Vietnam. She is 25 years old, and after graduating from college, spent a year in Vietnam teaching on a Fulbright scholarship. She is wise, and certainly a keen observer of the human condition that is far beyond her years. This is a collection of nine short stories about the Vietnamese, some set in Vietnam, others in the American diaspora. Ghosts and the supernatural are woven into many of the stories, with varying degrees of success. The range of her characters, and her insights is remarkable.

Several of the stories I found to be first-rate. My favorite is "Guests," a sardonic view of Westerner expats, and the range of their relationships during their varying sojourns in Vietnam. Mia works at the US Embassy, purportedly facilitating the processing of applications of pre-'76 Amerasian children for American citizenship and exit from Vietnam. She lives with Charlie, a teacher, and each are successfully tempted into tasting the native cuisine, as it were. "Turning Back" concerns the Vietnamese expat community in Houston, in assorted relationships with the underbelly of American culture. There was much wry humor in "Skin and Bones," where two very Americanized Vietnamese teenagers are sent back to Vietnam to live with grandma for a few weeks with the primary purpose being that it would serve as a "fat farm" for the one teen who is too pudgy. "The Red Veil" was also a well-told story within a story... a story told by a nun to a novitiate, and also including a couple teenage females in Vietnam who went "feral." And "Little Brother" concerned a truck-driver, who had made the Saigon - Ca Mau run for twenty years or more, who was conned by an attractive nurse into taking a man who was dying home.

Joss sticks are ubiquitous in Vietnam. There is a wide-spread belief in the ghosts of humans haunting the lives of the living, particularly those who died a violent death. I felt that Bao Ninh remarkable novel, The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam addressed this issue with painful clarity, commencing with the soldiers looking for MIA remains in the Jungle of Screaming Souls, in the Central Highlands. However I felt that Kupersmith overdid this theme, with ghosts playing parts in virtually every story, including some of the ones that I named above that I liked. I can recognize that others may have animist beliefs, and their actions can be dependent upon that belief. But Elvis really isn't still alive, even if others might believe it.

And "the kids" don't "get it." The war, that is. Certainly mine did not. Nor, as Tim O'Brien depicted, in The Things They Carried, did his daughter, Kathleen, who said: "Like coming over here. Some dumb thing happens a long time ago and you can't ever forget it." Kupersmith's details are off, from the "bullet holes" in the walls in Hanoi, to the "wheels" on the tanks, and stories like "One-Finger" really seemed to miss the mark completely and fall flat. It depicts three former NVA soldiers, who had slept in tents during the war, living in a very small and unspecified city in the Central Highlands for over four decades, and naturally there are ghosts in the background... and even a dash of Agent Orange.

There are still many untold stories from Vietnam. Kupersmith has many insights into the human condition that are a prerequisite for capturing them; if she currently has the Vietnamese language skills to capture them is unclear, and would be a worthwhile objective. For this collection of stories, 4-stars, and there is much potential for more.

Sihpromatum - Backpacks and Bra Straps: Backpacks and Bra Straps (Volume 2)
Sihpromatum - Backpacks and Bra Straps: Backpacks and Bra Straps (Volume 2)
by Savannah Grace
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good continuation...., September 12, 2014
I’ve recently read a couple articles in our news media about senior retirees “cutting loose” from their moorings, and adopting “the road” as their home. Leaving the cares of garage door maintenance and who will take out the garbage behind. Savannah Grace (and her family) adopted “the road” as their spiritual, if not physical home, much earlier in life. She was 15, yes in those “dreadful” teenage years, when she, along with mom, her sister and brother took to the road. They arrived in Hong Kong on 5-5-5, that is May 05, 2005. The first volume recounted their travels in China... all of which would have been impossible in the days of Chairman Mao. And towards the end of the book, the still young teenager had her own “eureka moment” near a lake in Mongolia. All those cares about who was doing what to whom, back in Vancouver, really didn’t matter that much anymore. Ah, to airlift many a teen to that same spot.

So volume two picks up the trip in Mongolia, and continues on for the rest of the book in Central Asia. And this is the strong appeal of the book for me: what it is now possible to do, as a traveler, in Central Asia. As a matter of some perspective, I took a similar, long, overland journey in Asia, in 1971, traveling, independently, through Iran and Afghanistan. That would be foolish to utterly impossible today. But the Grace family managed to travel through areas that would have been impossible in 1971. After leaving Mongolia, that arrive at Irkustk (just like in the Risk game, one of them note!) They stay in a guest house on an island on Lake Baikal. Envious, I am. Savannah’s older brother Ammon had traveled before this trip, and is obviously well-read. Savannah uses his knowledge throughout the book, to provide the “hard facts” about a locale, for example, that this one lake contains more fresh water than all the Great Lakes in North America. Later, when they were at Tomsk, a 1000 miles from Irkustk, via a visit to a graveyard, the impact of the Second World War, on the then Soviet Union, was related.

They took a 24 hour 3rd class train trip across Kazakhstan (definitely one way to meet the locals!). The “sweet spot” of the trip, for me at least, was on their 100th day on the road, spending a couple of nights in a yurt in Kyrgyzstan, at an idyllic campsite at 3000 m, surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world. Visas, overstaying them, and corrupt officials, always looking for that bribe, were a large concern. They re-entered China, at least its “wild west” portion, and arrived at Kashgar, which now apparently is a hub for backpackers. They spent nine days in the town, a bit of “R&R.” They visited a site that involved underground tunnels for irrigation, a concept that I thought originated in Oman... but obviously it might have been the other way around. This site was the desert region around Turpan. They moved on to Tibet, found assorted hassles there and seemed to be delighted to arrive in Nepal, with the trip ending at Everest base camp, with the view of the big one. Sweet.

Along the way, the reader is treated to the “family dynamics,” which helps the reader reflect that a journey is often shaped by the person or persons one travels with, and their particular passions. So be it. Unlike one other reviewer, I found the language in volume two much more expressive, and perhaps due to my own bias, I felt the terrain covered to be much more interesting. May she... and her family... keep it up. 5-stars

Calcium Nitrate Fertilizer 15.5-0-0 2lb
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To the rescue..., September 10, 2014
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I purchased two plum trees this spring, and planted them the recommended 6 feet apart. Both are getting the same amount of sunshine and water. Within a couple of months, it was obvious that one was doing “poorly.” Check the internet for solutions, and the consensus is: calcium nitrate

I returned to the store where I purchased them. They didn’t sell any calcium nitrate. Phoned a local nursery that had a more extensive selection of products, but likewise, they did not carry it. Finally, once again, it was Amazon to the rescue. A few keystrokes, and two days later, via Amazon Prime, and therefore free shipping, I had the bag on my doorstep.

And the plum tree? The jury is still out, as they say in the legal profession. Noticed some dramatic improvement from a near-death experience, and now the “poorly” one is just holding its own. Applied to the healthy one also, and there was improvement there also. Before the jury returns its verdict, it will be (hopefully) with much greener and abundant leafs next spring. Excellent way to shop, quick delivery, and I guess I can’t knock the product if the tree does not survive. 4-stars.

by Frank. Gibney
Edition: Paperback
5 used & new from $0.16

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still provides a solid foundation..., September 8, 2014
Frank Gibney developed a life-time interest in Japan, as well as Asia in general, via a common mechanism: participating in a war against the country. After a war, most soldiers simply want to get home, forget the bad experiences, and resume the comfortable routines of their native cultures. A distinct minority, however, get "hooked" on learning more about those who were "on the other side of the river," to use Blaise Pascal's expression. Gibeny was in the latter category.

Gibney had been a Greek major at Yale, which the military deemed appropriate background to become a naval intelligence officer. He learned to speak Japanese, and he notes in the forward that the first time he spoke to a native Japanese was when he spoke to a private who had survived the annihilation of his army unit on one of the Marshall Islands. And in that first interrogation, he realized that this private was just " average citizen like myself, who had gone to school, looked forward to vacation times, fallen in love with a girl, and not liked it much when he was drafted..." This insight is a dominant theme throughout Gibney's account: understanding a culture, but avoiding stereotypes; being able to see the individual characteristics of the people who compose a particular culture. The author says he wrote the book for two purposes: Provide " man's interpretation of the peculiar characteristic and qualities that have made the Japanese such a modern success, and which at the same time distinguish them, sometimes to the point of isolation, from the rest of us on this planet"; and " how the Japanese- successes, virtues, and failings- relate to Americans."

Gibney lived in Japan for many years, became a journalist - always a good way for meeting many native people - and even was responsible for the publication of a Japanese version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He also maintained a solid intellectual understanding of the American culture - vital to fulfill point 2 above, and entitled one chapter "The Unlonely Crowd" and had appropriate references to a spectrum of works, from Walt Whitman to Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (Contemporary Austrian Studies).

The book was first written in 1975, with an updated version published in 1979 (I purchased my copy when I was in Japan in 1984.) Thus, some of the observations are dated, but most are still quite valid. For example, America's population is now more than 300 million, but forty years ago it was only 200 million, and as Gibney says, they "enjoy" the services of 400,000 lawyers. (Today, there are 1,200,000 plus lawyers in the USA) By contrast, as the author notes, for the 114 million people in Japan at the time, they managed to get by with the services of 11,000 lawyers. But this is not the only disparity in professional services available that is noted: "Accountants are equally suspect, especially the American accountant who insists on doing everything the way the book says. (As recent United States business history shows, many large accounting firms may pass on very dubious sets of assets and liabilities with equanimity, as long as all the entries are in the right place." With such observations, the author underscores how Japan was able to rapidly recover from the devastation of the Second World War to become an economic superpower, due to the concentration of resources of productive efforts

Gibney's account dates from the period when Japan was approaching its economic apogee. The "fragile" in the title did hint to the possibility of trouble, but he was not able to envision how the country's leadership would allow the price of land and the stock market bubble to devastate the economy for more than a decade, and seriously check its long-term growth prospect vis-à-vis its Asian rival: China. Still, an excellent account of a country and a period, from a knowledgeable outsider who lived on the inside. 4-stars.

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain
Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain
by Maryanne Wolf
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.37
95 used & new from $6.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Richly informative..., September 5, 2014
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Maryanne Wolf has written a richly informative work, which covered a number of areas that I had very limited knowledge of. She is an academic who has made numerous complex subjects and concepts accessible to the non-specialist, yet has not trivialized the material. She never explains when and how she had the inspiration for a very memorable title, which would nag with the question: What could Marcel Proust and a Squid possibly have in common? Ah, like so much in the book, and in real life, it is the connections that our neuro-pathways make.

The author has covered three principal topics. As she explains in the first chapter: "This book consists of three areas of knowledge: the early history of how our species learned to read, from the time of the Sumerians to Socrates; the developmental life cycle of humans as they learn to read in ever more sophisticated ways over time; and the story and science of what happens when the brain can't learn to read."

Admittedly, rather late in life, I finally read The Odyssey. The version was a new one by Barry B. Powell. In his introduction, he posits the theory that the Greek alphabet was invented around 800 B.C., in order to record the poetic rhythm of Homer's epic tale. Thus I was particularly attentive to Wolf's account of how writing systems evolved, starting with the "bird tracks," of the Sumerians through the Akkadians (a language I have only recently become aware of - apparently there are a few hundred people in the world still trying to keep the language alive) and on to the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians. Each of these languages contained a pictorial element. It was only when the Greeks invented their language, which was largely and directly related to the phonetics of the language, that a true alphabet was established.

In human evolution the ability to read has developed only recently. Wolf makes the point that we are not "hard-wired" to read. For each of us, we must learn - sometimes painfully, and with limited success - to develop those neurological pathways that make sense of the small, repetitive shapes on a piece of paper - or now, increasingly, on a digital screen. I found this section fascinating too. For example, she cites the work of three Chinese neurologists in the 1930's who studied the case of a bi-lingual businessman who had a severe stroke. He had completely lost his ability to read Chinese, but could still read English. It required completely different sections of the brain to read a more pictorial based alphabet as opposed to the limited characters in the alphabet used to write English.

Another section that strongly resonated concerned re-reading books at different periods in one's life, deriving different meanings depending on the evolving experiences in one's own life. Wolf specifically mentioned George Eliot's Middlemarch (Penguin Classics) which she had read several times, which was precisely the theme of Rebecca Mead's recently published My Life in Middlemarch. I too have been re-reading a number of works first read 30-40 years ago, finding new meaning, and re-assessing.

The last third of the book dealt with those who have difficulties reading, and are often labeled dyslexic, a term that Wolf says has no real meaning. She does cover the number of areas in which individuals may have deficiencies in their ability to read fluently. These deficiencies can be unique, or overlapping. And it seems that the brains of these individuals are simply different, with more equality between the left and right hemispheres. And "dyslexics" seem to be more creative. She names numerous historical individuals who appear to have had that problem, and whose names are definitely remembered today, like Einstein. She also reveals it is a personal issue, since her son has had reading problems.

I did have some problems with this book. First and foremost, Wolf repeatedly makes the point that Socrates was opposed to the transition from the oral to written medium for conveying knowledge, and attempts to connect that to the transition from knowledge obtained through books to that obtained from the Internet. But she never really develops this theme; she just raises it repeatedly. I felt particular unease - though I admit doing it myself, in deciding a book of Diane Arbus' photographs was not suitable viewing material for my once-upon-a-time seven year old daughter - to Wolf's theme that access to knowledge should be "guided." That concept is right out of the playbook of many a totalitarian state... or, increasingly, wantabees. Who does the "guiding" and with what criteria was another topic she did not address. I also felt she succumbed to a congenital weakness of academics: "plugging" the work of colleagues for no particular purpose, other than, the "plug."

Finally, and it is a particular concern of mine. With all the effort that is expended on learning how to read - to obtain that "eureka" moment that Wolf beautifully described in one case, why do so very few people continue to read serious works once the school assignments are finished? Also, unaddressed. Overall, for Wolf's work, a very informative 4-star rating.

Sunnytech® Solar Powered Led Reading Lamp Light,Foldable Emergency USB Mobile Phone Charge Power Bank Function,touch Control,brightness Adjustable,modern Candle,green Energy,highlight, Eye Protect,durable,for Camping,traveling Outdoor Activity
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It doesn’t work!..., September 3, 2014
Like some other reviewers, I was offered this product for review. Camping remains a passion of mine, and I thought this would be a nice addition to the campsite, and would enhance my “green” credentials.

The problem is straightforward: it doesn’t work! The unit came with instructions that indicated the battery needed to be charged from an AC outlet. An electrical cord was provided for this purpose. I promptly plugged it in, but I noted that the red charging light was not lit. Still, it could have been charging, with the small red charging light simply not functioning. I tried the light after what I think was 12 hours.... a brief flicker of light, and that was it.

I notified the supplier, and he asked if he could send me another. Fair enough. A certain percentage of all mechanical / electrical units are defective. I said Yes. Then a few days later he wrote, and said that they did not have the stock to send me a second one. Ah, that is “the rub.” Customer service.... and how they might behave, in particular, if I had purchased it. Without the opportunity of evaluating a second one, which actually functioned, I can only give this unit one-star.

I looked at some of the other reviews, and found the one by M. Erb particularly helpful... perhaps even explaining what happened to mine. There is no indicator to tell you how much charge the battery has. My red charging light never worked. And quite possibly, I left it charging for more than 20 hours... and the result might have been that the unit “burnt out” without a protective circuit that would have prevented what must be a common occurrence. Also, I agree with Erb that the general “feel” of the light was one of cheapness. At least he has one that works. I note numerous 4 and 5-star reviews.... hopefully they will update their review when and if the unit finally fails.

With no light, I am back to batteries at the campsite. And I’ll file this 1-star rating on the lamp light before returning to the campsite.

The Complete Wilfred Owen: The Collected Poetic Works
The Complete Wilfred Owen: The Collected Poetic Works
Price: $1.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long..., September 1, 2014 though almost glad the end had come."

The above sentence is the concluding one in Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, the classic anti-war novel of the First World War. The "him" was the fictional Remarque himself, yet in reality, of course, Remarque who wrote his novel in 1929, did not die in October of 1918, as indicated in the novel. He lived until 1970, and had become an American citizen. It was Wilfred Owen, on the other side of the trenches and wire from Remarque, who fulfilled the destiny Remarque gave his protagonist: Owen died even a bit later, only a week before the war ended, on November 04, 1918. We'll never know if Owen was glad that the end had come, and that is one of the reasons, a truly haunting one of a soldier dying in the last days of the war, why he, along with Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke are honored as the greatest British poets of "The Great War."

Bybliotech deserves some kudos for bringing Owen's collected works together, and making them readily, and cheaply assessable in Kindle format. The cover is perfect, the soldiers climbing out of the trench, going over the top, perhaps only a minute or two away from fulfilling Owen's classic line, the first one in the poem entitled "Anthem for Doomed Youth": "What passing-bells for those who die like cattle" and which concludes poignantly: "And each slow dusk, a drawing down of blinds." `Tis a shame that the publisher did not credit the photograph, and in particular its location. With the mountains in the background, it cannot be Flanders field, where so many of the British died. Perhaps Gallipoli? Owen mocked the singularity implied by a famous line from fellow poet Brooke: "That there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England." Owen, in "An Imperial Elegy," said: "Not one corner of a foreign field, but a span as wide as Europe; An appearance of a titan's grave, and the length thereof a thousand miles, It crossed all Europe like a mystic road..."

"Dulce et Decorum est" is generally considered Owen's most famous poem, and is fittingly placed in bold print by the publisher. Ironically, the "punch-line," the biting satire of Owen's anti-war stand, is expressed in Latin, that so few of us understand today. It translates: "The old lie: It is sweet and honorable to die for the homeland." Other poems have the theme of blood as dirt: "The world is washing out its stains, he said; It doesn't like our cheeks so red; Young blood's its great objection." Another moving poem is the sentry who was blinded by an incoming shell. Yet another anticipated Bob Dylan's line that if God was on our side, He'd stop the next war. Owen said in "Soldier's Dream": "I dreamed kind Jesus fouled the big-gun gears' And caused a permanent stoppage in all bolts."

As the title states, it is the complete works of Wilfred Owen, and therein lies the rub. Less than half of the poems concern the war. Numerous are from the prewar period, including one attempt at an epic poem, with Greek gods. Some are incomplete fragments, unfinished when he died. Thus, the quality is quite variable, and I found numerous poems a bit of a slog, and some, seemingly pointless. But I did learn that he was a great admirer of Keats. I felt the slog was somewhat redeemed in reading a poem not generally highlighted in the summaries, entitled "Disabled." With a poet's wonderful economy of words, Owen hit the tragedy of the severely wounded on all cylinders. It starts: "He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark... legless, armless"...Owen covers the disable's wounding with "and leap of purple spurted from his thigh." He had been a football player, and enlisted, when he was under age, to please his girlfriend; as Owen says: "Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years." A line that set the theme in Johnny Got His Gun: "Now he will spend a few sick years in Institutes and do what things the rules considered wise." Cynicism about the chaplain: "Only a solemn man who brought him fruits, Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul." And the fear that haunts every soldier, even those lucky enough not to become wounded: "Tonight he noticed how the women's eyes Passed from him to the strong men that were whole." "How cold and late it is, Why don't they come and put him into bed? Why don't they come?"

Some brilliant 6-star poems that captured "The Great War"; overall, for the collection, 4-stars.

Tresors de La Mer Rouge (Folio 2 Euros) (French Edition)
Tresors de La Mer Rouge (Folio 2 Euros) (French Edition)
by Romain Gary
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
22 used & new from $2.41

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The treasures of the Red Sea..., August 29, 2014
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Romain Gary was born in Vilnius (Lithuania), in 1914, when it was part of the Russian Empire. He had a full and varied life, serving as an aviator in the French Air Force and later, as a French diplomat. He was also a novelist and film director, and even an "ecologist," before that label was popularized. What caught my eye in his biography was the fact that he was married to Lesley Blanch, whose work The Wilder Shores of Love I have long admired. After they were divorced, he married the actress Jean Seberg. I was only recently introduced to his writings, and should soon be reading Les Racines Du Ciel (Folio (Gallimard)) (French Edition) (The Roots of Heaven) for which he won the Prix Goncourt. Having done a fair amount of Scuba diving in the Red Sea, this volume obviously caught my eye. Gary does no Scuba diving in this account, nor is it really about the Red Sea; rather it concerns two fascinating countries on either side of the Bab-el-Mandeb, the straits at the southern end of the Red Sea: Djibouti and the Yemen.

Gary visited these countries in 1970. Djibouti was still a French colony, the last outpost of an empire gone, with, in particular, two "lynchpins," Vietnam and Algeria gone. In the beginning, he describes, but does not name a man who must be Helie de Saint Marc. How many other Frenchmen fought in the resistance against the Nazis, then fought for France in both Vietnam and Algeria, only to end up being jailed (for 10 years) for his part in the "putsch" in Alger with the four French generals who revolted against DeGaulle? Saint Marc tells Gary: "In order to understand what they have done to us, go to Djibouti. I will give you a word. They will show you Machonnard." Gary renders a fascinating portrait of the characters and the countryside of Djibouti, one of the world's least hospitable places. The French Resident, for example, goes out to an island in the Red Sea, just to get away. Gary also renders a compelling portrait of Gossard, age 34, a "pied-noir" and a doctor in the French Army who works overtime trying to keep the natives alive, ones who don't even know they are sick. Gary identifies two crimes of colonialism: those against the natives, of course, but also against those who faithfully served, believing in the colonial mission, like Gossard.

History does repeat, as well as rhyme and resonate. For somewhat different reasons, I wound up following in the footsteps of Saint Marc, off to Indochina 15 years later. And a fellow medic there, Gary Miller once told me: "If we ever get out of this place, I'm going deep into the desert, build a bunker, and live there the rest of my life." Gary is taken to Machonnard, and that is precisely what the latter had done, complete with two portraits on the wall: Navarre and Salan. (In general, you'd have to be French, and of a certain age, to know who they are... though there are a few eccentric Americans...) Gary produces an empathetic portrait of the man. And there are numerous others, including arms dealers who fly their plane too high.

Gary decides to cross the Red Sea and visit the Yemen. It was shortly after the civil war was concluded that had brought into the battle both the Egyptians and the Saudis (on opposite sides). And there was that odd syncretic mixture of Mao and Mohammed, which the author compares to the Cao Dai in Vietnam. There were numerous other portraits, including the man who said he would save the West, preventing the Chinese communist plot of selling Western youth heroin through Albania.

I've only been to the Yemen for six days, and thus am hardly an expert. But I felt unease in reading Gary's account. There were numerous aspects that didn't ring true, like his claim of riding a camel for three days, and arriving in the oasis of Sheba. There is no oasis by that name, though the Yemen is in many ways referred to as the land of Sheba, the Queen who had a liaison with Solomon in the Bible. At another point he says that he rejoins the route that goes from Sanaa to Mecca, but arrives next in Hodeida, which would have been a roundabout way. Overall, the lack of specifics on certain matters was equally disturbing.

And the treasures of the Red Sea? The ones he collected were immaterial, the flakes of other people's lives. Overall, 4-stars.

Taierzhuang 1938 - Stalingrad 1942
Taierzhuang 1938 - Stalingrad 1942
by Lance Olsen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $34.64
26 used & new from $24.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh and novel perspective..., August 27, 2014
Lance Olsen has produced an important historical narrative that covered what, at least for me, had been a large lacuna in my knowledge of the Second World War. Not only had I heard of the Battle for Stalingrad, I have read several books on the battle, for example Beevor's Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 as well as Theodore Plievier's Stalingrad. But I had never even heard of the 1938 Battle for Taierzhuang, in China, that was a precursor to Stalingrad, containing many of the same elements of battle.

Olsen commences his account by defining various areas of conflict during the Second World War. From a Western, and in particular, an American perspective, it is only natural to focus on the fighting which involved American and other Western allies in North Africa, Western Europe and the Pacific. The less reported spheres of action were where the largest battles, in terms of troops and casualties, took place. Against Germany, it was the Russian front, with the Russians sustaining 20 million dead. Against Japan, it was the war in China, which commenced in 1931, and was seriously escalated in 1937, that consumed the most lives. Olsen provides a concise historical perspective to these battles, condensing several hundred years or more of Japanese-Chinese relations as well as German-Russian relations.

The core of the book, almost three-fourths of it, is the Battle for Taierzhuang. It is dense military history, replete with battle units and commander's names. It is complex, but the author does a reasonable job of explaining the battle, and the inevitable "logic" of war. To his credit, he discusses in a straightforward manner that most confusing issue for non-military historian types, the number of men contained in various military units, such as a "division" and an "army." In some cases, the figures for the same designation would vary between 10,000 and 25,000 men. The author also provides some excellent maps that help orientate the reader. Taierzhuang was actually the climatic battle of another three battles, fought over 200 square kilometers, over a period of several months. Taierzhunang was an old fortress city, approximately two square km., that was along a key transportation hub, originally along a canal which was built in the 6th century, and subsequently a railroad that paralleled it, and was the essential conduit for north-south transportation.

Taierzhunang, like Stalingrad four years later, was intensely fought over, with key positions changing control many times. The Chinese were able to negate much of the Japanese superiority in weaponry by fighting up close to the Japanese. The key weapons: the hand grenade, and the very effective broad-bladed sword. Yes, just like in the Middle Ages! Like the Russians four years later, the Chinese almost lost the entire city, barely maintaining certain footholds. They eventually prevailed, driving the Japanese out, and proving they could beat their technologically superior foe, and also slowing down their advance against Wuhan, where the capital had been relocated. A key difference between the two battles, and I felt the author did not stress it enough: Stalingrad was a turning point on the Eastern front, and the Germans were essentially retreating thereafter. The Japanese continued to advance, in fits and spurts over the next few years, and fortunately for the Western allies, the bulk of their forces would remain in China.

Although as indicated at the beginning of the review I was familiar with the Battle for Stalingrad, a key new insight is that both major Russian architects of that victory, Zhukov, and Chuikov, had been to Taierzhunang, with the latter being able to speak Chinese. Chuikov was credited with the tactic of up close, "hugging the enemy" fighting, which he had obviously learned from the Chinese battle tactic.

I felt there were a number of weaknesses to the book. For example, it was marred by redundancies, for example, within two pages the reader is told twice that the Germans had no winter clothes or antifreeze when they were engaged in Operation Barbarossa. On another occasion later in the book, entire pages are duplicated. And the author definitely tried for "a bridge too far" by attempting to connect these two key battles with 9-11, and subsequent terrorist attacks throughout the world. He should have stopped, and have been content to have provided valuable non-conventional insights the Second World War. Overall, 4-stars.

The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest (Doubleday Image Book)
The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest (Doubleday Image Book)
by Johann Gerhard
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
3 used & new from $13.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A change in perspective..., August 25, 2014
I first read this autobiography in 1961. It was a school assignment, for that once sophomore in high school that was me. I still remember the Catholic book store in downtown Pittsburgh where I had to go to purchase it. As one of the first "serious" books that I had read, it was WAY over my head. It is very unlikely that I had even heard of the term "Elizabethan England," which is the setting of John Gerard's memoir, and for sure, I had never heard of Graham Greene, who wrote the introduction. Gerard was a Jesuit, and he says that the Society requested that he write his story, after his last escape from England. He wrote it in Latin, and it was not translated into English until around 1870. That translation was `Elizabethan' according to the new translator, Philip Caraman, A lot of sand has flowed down that proverbial wadi (arroyo) over the last half century, so I wanted to determine how different my perspective would be. Among other matters, along the way I not only learned who Graham Greene was, but read several of his works, including the ever so prescient The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition).

Gerard was born in 1564. His childhood is briefly covered, and he mentions that there were already serious religious differences within his family. Throughout the book, the historical context is completely missing for the modern reader. A good ten-page introduction would do wonders for the reader's understanding. For example, it would be useful to know - and I recently read it in a radically different book, Robert McFarlane's The Wild Places (Penguin Original) that the "Act of Supremacy" had been promulgated in 1558 by Elizabeth I, which updated her father, Henry VIII's break with the Pope and the Catholic Church in Rome. This Act, and subsequent amendments effectively outlawed the Catholic Church in England, with their priests being guilty of treason. Death, in the most unpleasant manners of the time (like being drawn and quartered) was the punishment. Hence the "hunted" in the title.

The "safe haven" was nearby Belgium, where Gerard went, and became a Jesuit. The author provides little information on his motivations, or the corresponding beliefs that he held. He decided to return to England in 1588 (yes, the year of the defeat of the Spanish armada). In the company of three other priests, they landed in the north of England since it was a less likely destination. (He notes that the other three were martyred). For almost two decades he would provide Catholic services and counselling to the many Catholics who had not renounced their beliefs. Most of the time he was "on the run"; hopefully a few steps ahead of the law. He needed the protection of the rich, with large houses, where his movements were easier to disguise.

He was eventually betrayed, and spent a number of years in prison, including "The Clink," and thus I learn the derivation of that expression: "thrown in the clink." He was there for three years, 1594-97, and was later transferred to the Tower of London, where he was tortured on a number of occasions. Eventually he made a rather dramatic escape. The prison period was the climatic portions of the book. Bribes worked then (and probably now) to improve one's conditions, and he was able to communicate with the outside world with the old trick of "invisible writing" with lemon and/or orange juice (and he explains the varying properties).

It IS a book written by a profound believer in his faith so there should be no surprise that there are a lot of "miracles" occurring. And there is that religious phrasing for events. For example, in referring to the execution of Master Page at Tyburn on 20 April, 1602, he says that "...he washed his robe in the blood of the Lamb." (p. 150). Again the historical context is missing. He never mentions that Elizabeth I died in 1603, and James I assumed the throne. Gerard eventually fled England on a permanent basis due to the "Gun Powder" plot (to blow up parliament). He literally says that since the "facts of the plot" are well-known, he will not cover them. (Yes, I had to look them up.) He claims he was not involved, and had no knowledge of it, but one of the other priests was executed for it.

There is the drama of life lived "on the run," with issues of doctrine, heresy, and steadfastness to a given belief always in the background. Even over the last half century, these "critical" issues have faded, and the competing churches of both faiths, particularly in Europe, are largely empty. Now the "critical" issues, sometimes of life and death, are a belief in a particular football team, or doctrinal economic issues promulgated by the International Monetary Fund. Plus ca change... and for Gerard's work, the second time around, 3-stars.

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