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Rock with Wings (Leaphorn and Chee Mysteries) by Anne Hillerman (4-Jun-2015) Hardcover
Rock with Wings (Leaphorn and Chee Mysteries) by Anne Hillerman (4-Jun-2015) Hardcover
by Anne Hillerman
Edition: Hardcover
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2.0 out of 5 stars Mundane, but Don't Give Up Quite Yet., November 10, 2015
In her second attempt at continuing the Leaphorn/Chee/Mauelito saga, Anne Hillerman centers on several plots and subplots.

The first one involves a speeding citation Bernie Mauelito issues to a man named Miller who has a gun in his glove box and a rifle in his trunk with two boxes full of seeming dirt. It's against the law to carry a gun in your car on the Navajo reservation. Although there's a drug sting going on, the FBI doesn't seem at all interested in Miller, but Bernie won't let it go.

She and Jim Chee are planning a vacation in Monument Valley, one of the most beautiful areas on the reservation. But a motion picture is being made there, involving zombies of course, and some violence seems to have occurred at one of the hotels. The Navajo police are short on investigators so Chee is asked to handle it. Chee finds blood and later a body. Their vacation is cut short when Bernie receives a call from a neighbor telling her her sister, Darlene, has left her mother alone. Another rather mundane plot involves a new tourist business Chee's clan brother has set up. Chee tries to fix the ancient people mover his clan brother wants to use to take the tourists to the sites.

Oh, yes, Chee also finds a grave at one of the tourist sites. It's been recently dug. Chee is suspicious the movie company wants to use the grave site for publicity. Then they find the residue of human bones. Once again Joe Leaphorn doesn't see a whole lot of action, although Chee does ask him for his opinion on the grave and items found there. This time Anne Hillerman has an excuse; he was shot in the head in the last episode and can't speak. When they get him a new laptop he is revitalized and makes some important contributions.

Back in Shiprock, Bernie finds a burning car near an elderly Navajo's house. He claims a skinwalker did it. Coincidentally the car belongs to Miller.

All in all there are too many subplots and the resolutions to some of them leave a lot to be desired. During a climax scene at the old Navajo's house, no body seems to recognize the so-called skinwalker who comes to the rescue. Bernie doesn't put two and two together, even when she's sitting behind the “skinwalker” in a car later on. The skinwalker's motivation is also suspect. Why would he/she come to their rescue when he was shot at previously?

Don't give up on our favorite character's involvement in the next episode, if there is one. The Lieutenant has asked Joe Leaphorn to work part-time at his own pace, and he has accepted.

Finders Keepers: A Novel (The Bill Hodges Trilogy)
Finders Keepers: A Novel (The Bill Hodges Trilogy)
by Stephen King
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.00
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4.0 out of 5 stars Another Obsessed Fan, October 31, 2015
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MISERY has always been my favorite Stephen King book, mainly because it wasn't about some dopey clown sticking his head out of a sewer grating. It was about an obsessed fan who happened to find her favorite writer in dire straights after a car accident and refused to let him go until he promised to continue her favorite series, which he had discontinued. It was plausible, in other words.

FINDERS KEEPERS is also about an obsessed fan who sets out to rob a J.D. Salinger like novelist who had been out of the public eye for twenty years. Morris Bellamy is more interested in a continuation of the Jimmy God novels (think Holden Caulfield), the last of which seemed to him to have been a sellout. John Rothstein keeps his writing and some money in a safe which Morris and his friends break into; Morris then dispatches his literary hero with a bullet to the brain and hides the money and the moleskin notebooks in a trunk buried beneath a tree. But he's arrested for a brutal rape and spends the next thirty-five years in jail.

Along come Pete Saubers who lives in Morrie's old house; he finds the trunk and the money as the bank beneath the tree has eroded revealing the trunk. Wonder of wonders Pete is also a big Rothstein fan, but he needs the money more to help his parents. His dad just happens to be a victim of the Mr. Mercedes attack; he can barely walk and has been laid off his job as a real estate salesman, thanks to the recession. His wife still has a job but just barely. Pete decides to send them five hundred a month, anonymously, and it pulls them through. By the time he's ready for college it's running out and his little sister wants to go to a private school; she's bullied at the public school she goes to.

Pete wants to go to college to become a heinous (j.k) literary critic, as he doesn't quite have the talent to imitate his hero, Rothstein. He decides to sell some of the moleskin notebooks; he asks his former hippie teacher to whom he might sell them without too many questions being asked. Coincidentally (he said sarcastically) the teacher recommends a former friend of Morrie's who now owns a rare books store. He's wise to Pete immediately and sets out to blackmail him into giving him all of the notebooks. There are two new Jimmy Gold books, the second of which is his best, in Pete's estimation.

I know you're asking, Where the heck is Bill Hodges and his gang from MR. MERCEDES?, as was I. It takes over a hundred pages before he makes an appearance. Tina, Pete's little sister, the one who gets bullied, is friends with Barbara Robinson from the first book. Of course she is. She's noticed Pete is losing weight, his acne has resurfaced and he talks in his sleep. Holly who brained Mr. Mercedes with a sock containing ball bearings is now Bill's assistant, and she's gaining confidence every day. Jerome, Bill's lawn care boy from the first book is Barb's older brother, now in college. He returns to help out.

I think you know by now my main objection to the book is the unusual number of coincidences. But this is Stephen King, and he's got to be the best writer I've ever read at hooking you on the first page. Besides, Bill is an ex-cop who was suicidal at the beginning of MR. MERCEDES; Holly is somehow related to the woman Bill fell in love with in that book who came to a sad end. Bill blames himself. There's a cliffhanger at the end; I hate cliffhangers, but this is a three-book project, and the cliffhanger involves Mr. Mercedes, Brady Hartsfield, who's supposed to be brain dead; Bill isn't so sure. The John Rothstein plot has been fully resolved.

The Incarnations: A Novel
The Incarnations: A Novel
by Susan Barker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.93
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4.0 out of 5 stars Similarity Between Modern Chinese and Americans Is Intriguing., October 22, 2015
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Author Susan Barber spent several years learning about its culture and history; she's also of Chinese-Malaysian-British descent.

This book is about a taxi driver named Wang who thinks he's being stalked. Someone is leaving packets for him detailing his supposed previous lives. Wang is a former college student who spent at least seven hours a day studying. He had a nervous breakdown and was sent to a mental asylum where he had a homosexual affair. Ten years later he's married with a daughter, but he bumps into his former lover/musician who is now a barber and immediately blames him for the stalking.

The book travels back in time at least a thousand years, but it's not just Wang's story. There is another person who leads a parallel life with Wang. I will bet you a dollar to a doughnut you will never guess who the other person is.

One of the most interesting incarnations is when Wang is a concubine in Emperor Jiajing's court. She and fifteen others plot to poison the emperor who has a bad habit of torturing his sexual partners with knives, sometimes forcing another concubine to do it. I had trouble telling the difference between Wang alternative character and the other reincarnated person, but she/he is telling the story so if you pay close attention you can figure it out.

The other most interesting interlude was when Wang is a young woman during Mao Tse Dung's Red Guard revolution. Wang is the daughter of a high level member of the party, and she falls in love with Yi Moon whose father has been imprisoned because the Communists bureaucrats needed to fulfill their quota. Yi Moon is quiet and unassuming; Wang is a young communist leader with charisma. She must recognize Yi Moon as a kindred spirit. They're soon having sex.

The sexual attraction between the two characters continues from incarnation to incarnation. I'm not quite sure what Davis was getting at. Is she trying to make some sort of point, or is this just gratuitous sex to liven up her story? It seemed like it to me. The ending was a real surprise, and it put an end to the ongoing sexual attraction theory.

I know Buddhists believe in reincarnation, but there's no mention of that religion in the story. It does make for an original story. Another factor is how similar the modern Chinese are to Americans, despite the political differences.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
by Sarah Vowell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.37
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lafayette More Humble Than Most French Recruits, October 20, 2015
Lafayette was a married nineteen-year-old with a child who happened to be the richest orphan in France when he purchased a ship and sailed to America to join up with Washington and the American Revolution. The French tried to stop him as they had a precarious treaty with England after losing the French and Indian War. They were also in dire need of money.

To say that Lafayette was an idealist about the Americans is an understatement. He was not aware that there may have been just as many loyalists in America as revolutionaries. What he did have was a degree of humility. Vowell psychoanalyzes Lafayette quite often. The young orphan was looking for a father, and he found one in Washington, who was willing to overlook his pandering and impulsiveness. The humility was something the other French mercenaries, whom Franklin and the French foreign minister had recruited, under the table so to speak. They wanted high command. Most of them were sent packing or left on their own.

Vowell reviews several of the early battles. Two that stand out are Brandywine and Germantown. At Brandywine Washington forgot to cover or didn't know about some of the fords in the river and the British were able to get behind him and attack his flank. He was lucky to get away with most of his army intact. Germantown was another blunder, but when the French found out about it, they were impressed that Washington was willing to take the fight to a modern European army, and they were more inclined to agree to an alliance. That inclination became a reality when Benedict Arnold and Mad Anthony Wayne defeated Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga.

Sarah Vowell is as much a satirist and smart aleck as she is a writer of popular histories. I first saw her on C-Span doing a reading and answering questions for her burgeoning fans. She insulted those wearing ugly sweaters in the front rows. She does that in this book as well. After the early battles of the Revolution, some of the members of the revolutionary government wanted to try one last time to get the king to intervene with Parliament. This effort was called the Olive Branch petition. George III never even read it. John Adams and John Dickenson stopped speaking to each other over the matter. Vowell interjects, “If two of the most distinguished, dedicated, and thoughtful public servants in the history of this republic could not find a way to agree to disagree, how can we expect the current crop of congressional blockheads to get along?”

The comparison to modern dysfunction comes up again when Vowell makes a case that the American rebels could not have won without France entering the war (It was their idea to blockade Yorktown from the sea; Washington wanted to recapture New York). Vowell was outraged when neocons during the Iraq war wanted to change the name of French fries to Freedom fries because the French voted against invading Iraq.

The book starts with Lafayette returning to the United States in 1824. He was the last surviving general to have fought in the Revolution. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were still alive. Two-thirds of the population of New York City showed up to cheer and shower him with accolades and mountains of swag. As many historical enthusiasts know, Lafayette rose to the rank of major general in short order after he arrived; he was also influential in convincing other European mercenaries, such as Von Steuben (who whipped Washington's army into shape) into coming to America. He also commanded two brigades at Yorktown.

The Fall of Princes: A Novel
The Fall of Princes: A Novel
by Robert Goolrick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.90
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4.0 out of 5 stars Money Won't Make You Happy, October 8, 2015
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I have read Robert Goolrick's two previous novels, HEADING OUT TO WONDERFUL and A RELIABLE WIFE. If I had still been doing a top twenty List Mania for Amazon, I would have put both of them on the list for the year they were published.

Alhough not as readable as the previous two, THE FALL OF PRINCES is more significant in that it addresses an ongoing controversy: how rich do you have to be before enough is enough? Rooney, the major character in the novel, works as a Wall Street trader. At one point he does well enough to earn a “yard and a half” bonus at the end of the year. A yard is a million dollars. But, alas, the partying got to him and he was fired, ending up working as a manager for Barnes and Noble.

Rooney never wanted to be a Wall Street wheeler dealer. He had a fellowship to work on his art in Europe for two years. He thought his work was crap and took his father's advise and went to business school. But business school didn't get him his job; the Firm he went to work for didn't take investments under ten million dollars. He got his job because he beat his boss at a poker hand. You'll have to read the book to find out how he did that.

There's also lots of sex involved in the book; Rooney wasn't very selective at the height of the AIDS epidemic; he was bi-sexual, although he does not mention any of his male partners. He was also married to one of the richest women in high society. She ditched him when he got fired, but he claims he'll always love her. We meet her again, but she doesn't seem all that lovable to me.

Rooney really isn't such a bad guy. He forms a relationship with a transexual prostitute named Holly, and they become platonic friends. She works on the street when it's kind of cold out, and he let's her warm up in his apartment once or twice a week. She even cleans his ratty apartment without being asked. Ultimately she tells him she's fallen in love. Again. She ruined her first relationship when her lover gave her money to have the operation, and she spent it on a couple of sailors she met on the way. Who has she fallen in love with? It's Rooney, and he considers it the highest compliment he's ever received. And when he gets down, he knows that somebody loves him. Inexplicably she disappears right after she tells him.

The ending is rather confusing. Rooney insists on buying good sheets, the one rich person habit he refuses to give up; at one point he says only one part of his bed gets mussed. So then he's asexual, right? But when he meets his ex-wife, Carmela, at the book store, he tells her he's a homosexual, but he's not any good at it. He was much better with women. So, is he or isn't he?

I've read an uncomplimentary review about this book, but I get the impression that the author has some experience in this milieu, if his acknowledgments mean anything. So we get to learn something about Wall Street that confirms the old saw: money won't make you happy.

The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander novel, continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series
The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander novel, continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series
by David Lagercrantz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.77
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3.0 out of 5 stars Sounds Like a Conspiracy Theory, October 1, 2015
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I've read reviews of THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB that argue Lagercrantz's book is on a par with the previous Lisbeth Salander novels. I beg to disagree.
For on thing Lagercrantz is more of a journalist and celebrity biographer than a novelist, and it shows. A big no-no in the mystery craft is not to try to use dialogue to provide backstory. Lagercrantz does this over and over. No reporter would let his source carry the interview like the Blomkvist interviews.
Also, once again, Salander, the star of the show, doesn't get enough time on stage. Too much of the book is about Blomkvist whining about Millennium possibly going under and stories in celebrity mags that claim he's over the hill. He hasn't had a big story since Lisbeth's Russian gangster father was revealed as a major crime figure and eliminated.
This story is about cyber hacking, mainly of the NSA. They're really bad guys in the story, so bad that the story is rather unbelievable. Yes, they snoop on everybody, but they don't steal intellectual property.
The intellectual property we're speaking of is artificial intelligence and a scientist named Franz Balder has made great strides in the field. But he's developed a conscience. All he wants to do is help his autistic son August. Surprisingly his ex-wife isn't opposed to the idea. But then he's murdered and Lisbeth swoops in to save August. There's also lots of information on how to hack into a file. Of course August is a savante (isn't everybody?) and he helps Salander decipher an important NSA file.
We are also treated to another nasty villain, Camilla, Lisbeth's beautiful, psychotic twin sister. She's inherited her father's crime syndicate, but she's so beautiful and doe-eyed that nobody believes what a criminal mastermind she is. She hates her sister, and a confrontation is imminent.
That's another thing that's wrong with the book. The ending just fades out without a real confrontation. There is one, but it's not between the sisters. That's what I hate about series mysteries. Some of them have cliff hangers, and you have to buy the next book to find out what happens. Lagercrantz is doing well enough with this one for that to be inevitable. Not that I won't read it.

Mr. Mercedes: A Novel (The Bill Hodges Trilogy)
Mr. Mercedes: A Novel (The Bill Hodges Trilogy)
by Stephen King
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.40
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hooked!, September 9, 2015
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I'm not a big horror fan, but Stephen King has always had the ability to hook the reader on the first page, so I've read my fair share of his novels and short story collections. MR. MERCEDES isn't really horror anyway. King's son, Joe Hill, must have influenced him to try the mystery genre, and that's what this book is.

King hooks us with these two likable characters, Augie Odenkirk and Janice Cray, who are both standing in the rain waiting for a job fair to open. A thousand people are to be hired and they're both desperate for work. Janice is so desperate she's brought her baby with her and it needs to be changed and fed. Augie loans her his sleeping bag. Just when she's all set, a Mercedes plows into the crowd. We're hoping Augie, our hero, and Janice and her baby aren't hurt, but that rat King won't let us have our way. So then who's this story about? King is a lot like John Sandford in that he lets you follow the killer throughout the book. This killer is a computer repairman, part-time ice cream salesman (That's how he gets to know the real hero of the book, a retired cop, named Bill Hodges, who's thinking of eating his father's hand gun). Brady Hartfield has seen him through the window. and he intuitively knows that's what Bill is doing. So he writes Bill a letter, signing it Mr. Mercedes. (BTW, that's a flaw in the book. Newspapers don't give serial murderers nicknames anymore like the Zodiac killer or Son of Sam. That's what they want, publicity. If they do, they'll hear from the police.) Brady's new target is Bill Hodges, and he wants to drive him to suicide, just as he's done with the owner of the Mercedes.

Brady Hartsfield is one sick puppy. He's got an Oedipus complex for one thing. He still lives with his mother, and he's got a man cave in the basement where he torments his future victims via the dark Internet. He's trying to get Bill to sign on to a site called “Debbie's Blue Umbrella”, but actually he's done Bill a favor; Bill now has a reason to live besides watching Judge Judy on TV: to track down this monster before he hurts somebody else.

Often divorced Bill also meets the owner of the Mercedes's sister, Janey. Mr. Mercedes has sent her sister a letter similar to the one Bill received. Bill is 62; Janey is 44 and beautiful. For some reason, she likes him, despite the age disparity. She hasn't had much luck with men, and Bill is a very nice man. She wants in on the search for the killer. So does Jerome, Bill's lawn boy, who also happens to be an all-American boy bent on being accepted at an Ivy league school. But he likes to pretend he's a field hand around Bill as he's an African-American. He's also adept at computers, and he helps Bill check out “Debbie's Blue Umbrella.” The last member of the group is Holly, whose mother was Mercedes owner Olivia Trelawney's sister. Holly ia forty-four years old but her mother, along with other bullies, has driven her to bat city She's got more ticks than a Rocky Mountain forest, but she's also computer literate, and she's brave and smart, despite her condition.

This book will keep you on the edge of your chair until the climax is over, and you'll keep reading to find out what happened to everybody after that. It even ends with a cliffhanger of sorts. Usually that's a no-no for me, but I would have read the next King mystery anyway.

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.47
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3.0 out of 5 stars Unlikable Characters, Author Intrusion, August 27, 2015
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This review is from: The Girl on the Train (Hardcover)
The three principal characters in THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN have much in common. They're not very likable, they're depressing, and they don't have much taste in men.

Rachel is the girl on the train. She's lost her job for drinking on the job. Her husband has left her for another woman, and to top matters off, he's had a baby with his new wife, with whom he was carrying on an affair while still married to Rachel. That's what broke up Rachel's marriage; she couldn't have a baby. She takes the train to work every day to fool her land lady roommate (the nicest woman in the book) into thinking she still has a job. The part about the train has to do with two people she sees almost every day on their veranda. She doesn't know them, but she convinces herself they're the happy couple. She even gives them names. They live a few doors down from where she used to live with her husband Tom.

The second woman is Megan. Megan lives with a horrible secret I won't reveal here. Let's say, psychologically, it has affected her. She's the woman in the ideal couple, but she's far from ideal. She sleeps around; she even makes a move on her therapist. It's not clear whether he sleeps with her, but Rachel does see them kissing from the train. Megan also winds up dead. That's the best part of the book as far as suspense is concerned. I read a lot of mysteries, and usually I can tell who did it within the first fifty pages, but there are several candidates here, and I didn't know who killed Megan until the author told me.

The third woman might be the creepiest of all. She had an affair with Tom and she knew he was married. She even reveled in it. The woman is close to a sociopath. She only cares about her own little world, her husband and her baby. When she is confronted with a physical threat she runs away. Some might argue that she's only protecting her baby, but it seems to be more than that. She also does something creepy during the denouement to someone who can't defend himself/herself.

I really don't see how this book has stayed on the best seller list for most of the year. As I said above, about the only redeeming quality is the “who done it” aspect. It's also hard to believe that Megan, who worked at an art gallery before it closed, would babysit for people she barely knew, that is unless you consider that the author needed her to. Her horrible secret also involves a baby. This is called author intrusion, and it's a bad “no no” for literary critics.

Go Set a Watchman: A Novel
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel
by Harper Lee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.99
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3.0 out of 5 stars Did Good People React This Way to Brown vs. the Board of Education?, August 18, 2015
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I wouldn't say GO SET A WATCHMAN is a rejected manuscript the author never would have wanted to publish, but it does need an edit, and it obviously got one. The result was TO KILL A MOCKINBIRD, and it was exponentially better.

The problems start when twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise returns from New York City to Maycomb for a two-week visit, as she does every year. The real Scout, Harper Lee, actually worked in New York as an airline clerk before her success as a novelist. The Supreme Court has just ruled on Brown vs. The Board of Education, and her relatives, including Atticus are not acting like they did when she was growing up. The Tom Robinson case is even mentioned, and that Atticus is not this Atticus. Uncle Jack is more of a featured character in this novel; he's a retired doctor who lives in his own world. He tries to explain to Jean Louise what is going on.

No only does the story need editing, but the writing could use some work. In one scene Scout is attending his first dance. Henry Clinton, a senior has asked her. She thinks it was Jem's idea, but he already has a crush on her. Anyway, Scout refers to the principal as Miss Muffett; she's really referring to Mr. Tuffett. Either that or she got confused during the first draft. We have all had nicknames for our principal, but Miss Muffett just doesn't work. Perhaps Old Lady Tuffett would have made her intentions more clear.

Calpurnia makes a brief appearance as well. At times she's the same old house keeper and substitute mother for Scout and Jem. She still calls Jean Lousie “Baby,” but at other times she looks straight through Jean Louise as if she's not there. You see, her grandson, Frank, is in trouble with the law. He ran over the town drunk and was arrested for manslaughter. Henry Clinton, Atticus's law partner, doesn't want to take the case. Atticus does want the job, to convince him to plead guilty and keep the NAACP lawyers from getting him off. Doesn't sound like Atticus, does it?

The ending is another disappointment. Not only is the Frank conflict go unresolved, but we get a bunch of hooey about how Jean Louise must learn to stand up to Atticus, and he's proud of her when she does. But the race question goes unanswered. I just thought it was unrealistic.

I have taught TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD sixteen times over my teaching career and never got sick of it. I was even criticized for not switching to another book. But I never found one that was half as good, and that includes some of the classics. After reading GOD SET A WATCHMAN we should all realize that we're dealing with one hell of a revisionist, or her editor was another Maxwell Perkins.

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
by Timothy Snyder
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.83
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3.0 out of 5 stars Mind-boggling, August 11, 2015
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BLOODLANDS is about Stalin and Hitlers murder of fourteen million non-combatants between the early 1930's and 1945. The Bloodlands refer to the lands between eastern Germany and the part of Russia that Hitler invaded in 1941 when he broke the alliance with Russia.

Where to begin. Ideology and megalomania, if not psychosis, play a role. In the early thirties Stalin began his five-year plans by creating agricultural communes in the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine. Private farmers called kulaks lived there; it's not clear whether Stalin even asked them if they wanted to join communes. He just starved them out. Author Timothy Snyder claims 3.3 million peasants were murdered during that time. Stalin wanted to industrialize the USSR, and the big factory cities needed the grain. He also exported grain while his people were starving. Coincidentally perhaps (although I doubt it) his wife committed suicide at the same time.

Next came the great Terror of 1937-38. Westerners are familiar with the purge of intellectuals and political adversaries during this period, but Stalin also eliminated a further 700,000 national minorities. If you were sent to the Gulags in the early thirties you were lucky, but if you returned to the Ukraine in 1937, having served your time, you were targeted again.

Hitler had a utopian idea that he would invade Russia, kill or starve the Slavs living there and move German farmers into the area. That's the principal reason for breaking the pact, besides hating communists. The first part of the invasion of Russia was a blitzkrieg, just like his rapid defeat of the lowlands and France. Hitler's army took hundreds of thousands of Soviet prisoners and starved them to death in prison camps, that is unless he needed slave labor. Prior to the invasion of the USSR, Hitler had invaded Poland. He had to split Poland with the Soviets, but they both tried to eliminate the leadership: politicians, university professors, scientists, high school and elementary teachers.

Hitler had originally planned to deport the Jews. Snyder mentions Madagascar as a possible destination. That became an unrealistic destination once the war started because England ruled the seas. Something Americans don't realize is that there were very few jews in Germany, not even a million, but once Hitler invaded Poland and Russia he suddenly held sway over five million of them. Shooting Jews was the principal method of extermination during the original invasion of the USSR; they then moved to gassing them, using portable vans and carbon monoxide.

Around 1941, Hitler realized he wasn't going to be able to defeat the Soviets; they were starting to push back. But he could get rid of the jews, by gassing them. That was Himmler's idea and Hitler approved. Americans soldiers did release prisoners at several concentration camps where jews were gassed, but according to Snyder they didn't see the worst of it. That happened in the Bloodlands. Treblinka was not a concentration camp; it was built to kill jews. Auschwitz, the most famous of the concentration camps, was originally intended to be a work camp. I.G. Farbin needed slave laborers; only later were the gas chambers and crematoriums added. To realize the significance of the fourteen million number, which doesn't even include soldiers, that number is thirteen million more people than all of the deaths in all of the wars America has fought in its entire history.

At one point Snyder tries to explain how this mass murder could happen. He criticizes himself in that numbers are mentioned too much; the nazis killed eleven million people, about six million jews, and five million others, but the human mind can't grasp such a large figure. After a while it doesn't mean anything. Snyder recommends we try to individualize the people that died, and he makes a half-hearted attempt at doing so. A Jewish girl leaves a message for her mother on the wall of a synagogue as she's being burned alive. There's too little of that in this book. It's mostly depressing. The poor Ukrainians were massacred four times, in the early thirties by Stalin, again during the Great Terror, by Hitler who wanted “living room” for his farmers, and once again by Stalin who was afraid the Ukrainian partisans would be hard to control after the war.

You really can't explain how two monsters like Stalin and Hitler happened to exist at the same time in almost the same place, but several authors have taken a crack at it. Snyder recommends Hannah Arendt, author of ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM and novelist Vasily Grossman, author of LIFE AND FATE and the incomplete EVERYTHING FLOWS. Grossman especially has become more and more popular throughout the years. LIFE AND FATE was published abroad in 1980.

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