Monday, April 14, 2014

The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar

I looked at the book cover art and figured it wasn't my kind of book, but since it came recommended by the O.C. Book Club I began to read it despite preconceived notions. I'm very glad I did. It begins as a quiet story involving an upper middle class family living in a new and large house on a beautiful hillside with a western view to the ocean. These folks represent the modern hectic lives of most of their neighbors. Their lives have become more dependent than they realize on an illegal immigrant housekeeper. 

The housekeeper quickly becomes the focus of the novel. She is Mexican, young, big boned, anxious to please, and a very hard worker. In almost every way she is a satisfactory (slave) employee. She lives in one somewhat messy room, and she is underpaid, but she is quite loyal to the family.

The book is a story meant to describe the life (lives) of illegal Mexican immigrants. Millions of them. How they live. Their struggles and attitudes. Their often overlooked contributions to Californias society. The barriers erected to keep them at the edge of poverty.

The first half of the book sets the stage. The last half presents most of the difficulties a non-documented Mexican faces in California. The last half is a "page turner." that keeps a reader involved and curious.  This is a good book, well written, and an excellent read.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Revenge of Geography by Robert Kaplan

The author believes that natural borders, ie. rivers,oceans, mountains, influence  a nations history. Kaplan thinks the lack of natural borders has a similar influence. At first, for me, this theory was a bit of a stretch.  Mr. Kaplan suggests that study of a relief map will help a person  understand the time and events of history.

In the first half of the book the scholarship appears accurate, the references and quotations seem appropriate, but the overall presentation is terminally boring. The first half may be skipped completely. The last half, beginning withTHE GEOGRAPHY OF CHINESE POWER, was fascinating. It is as if the book was written bt two different people. All of a sudden the book becomes less of an incomprehensible and badly assorted text of academic non-sense, and  it becomes immediately an excellent book.

Quotes from the book: 
  • Saddam launched a full scale assault on Iraqi Kurdistan - the infamous Al Anfal campaign - that killed an estimated 100,000 civilians. 
  • Yes, atrocities happen, it is the way of the world. But it doesn't have to be accepted thus. Because man is rational, he ultimately has the ability to struggle against suffering and injustice.
  •  From Croatia's borderlands with Serbia, the war would spread to Bosnia, where hundreds of thousands would perish in grisly fashion. 
  • We have learned that human nature has not changed. That Europe at the end of the twentieth century is quite as capable of barbarism as it was in the Holocaust of mid-century. 
  • For the purpose of stopping genocide, the use of force is not a last resort: it is a first resort. 
  • Clinton's hesitant way of waging war was complicit in large-scale suffering. The work of idealism has been reduced to relief and rescue, to the aftermath of catastrophe. We should have rushed bullets. Instead we rushed blankets. 
  • Clinton discovered a new kind of warfare in which Americans do not die, a cowardly war with precision technology that leaves polls and consciences unperturbed. 
  • Segments of the elite, awestruck at the American military might. became infused with a sense of moral indignation against George H. W. Bush and Clinton's administrations for not using the military might in time to save a quarter of a million people from genocide in the Balkans (not to mention the million in Rwanda). 
  • Vietnam is domestic in spirit It is about taking care iof one's own, following the 58,000 dead from that war.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Good Scent From A Strange Mouintain by Robert Butler

Another pleasent surprise. I was told that this little book of short stories would help me understand the people of Vietnam. It turned out to be a delightful read and at the end of the book I did indeed have a better appreciation of the gentle Vietnamese. It touches on their delicate manners, reverence and respect for family members, quiet acceptance of male dominance, and the relatively slow pace of life in the jungle garden that is the Vietnamese landscape.

A great read. Highly recommended.