Monday, February 25, 2013

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (2012)

One of the best moral dilemma stories I have read. Yes it is a historical novel about post World War I Australia, and touches on the tragedies of families and individuals after a war, but the main story is about Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, who find a few month old baby washed ashore in a boat along with a dead man. Isabel has just had a stilbirth after two miscarriages on the lighthouse island of Janus Rock. She convinces Tom that it would be best for the baby if they just kept it and raised it as their own. Tom wants to report the incident immediately, but the hope in his wife's eyes keeps him from doing this, and they both fall in love with little Lucy. Well, it turns out Lucy's mother is still alive, and totally devastated at the loss of her husband and child.

I am so glad I have been able to experience the birth of a child. I would not have understood this book or much of what makes the world go around, if I had not had a child myself. The bond is intense. The dilemma in this book is intense.

My other main observation was on the life of a lighthouse keeper. I just can't imagine living isolated for three months at a time, even if you do have a responsible job that requires your attention every day. Or to be the wife that has to live with you in this isolation. I used to admire hermits and thought I could be one, but I am much too social to be a hermit. On the other hand, I do not think I could stand to see one person day in and day out.

My last comment is on the audio recording. I had a hard time understanding the reader, especially in the beginning. Maybe it was partially the Aussie accent, but it seemed like he swallowed endings and whole words, important words, so that I was trying to grasp where they really were and what was going on. Even in the end I found myself turning up the volume to not lose some important conversation.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Silence by Shusaku Endo (1966)

I am fascinated by Japan, and this is the most famous work by a highly regarded Japanese author, but it is the second book in a month I have chosen to not finish. The book is a historical novel (usually my favorites) about Portuguese missionaries to Japan in the 17th century. I fully respect the right of people to believe in whatever makes sense to them, but have a very difficult time with those who think they have to bring their beliefs to others. I understand bringing medicine, literacy, agricultural skills, clean water wells to people to better their lives, but imposing a religion, which then often wrecks their own culture, I do not get. 

If I understand it correctly, Christians did make some inroads in Japan, but then the Japanese government banned Christianity in the 17th century and punished those who still worshiped Christ. Many missionaries left, but some still tried to serve underground. If the officials found Christians, they were forced to denounce their religion and become an apostate or were killed. As far as I got into the book, two Portuguese fathers hear of their teacher having apostatized and don't believe it, so they sneak into Japan and find a few Japanese villages that still have Christian believers that they serve. I am sure they were going to go look for their teacher and discover what has happened to him.

I just could not continue listening to this, as in my mind I kept asking "why are you doing this?" The only slight glimpse of understanding I got was from a line where the Japanese told the missionaries that the Christian fathers were the only ones that treated them like human beings, with love and care. I understand their lives were harsh, as were those of lower classes everywhere, and I get that religion offered hope, something to help people get through the hard times. I would rather explore why Buddhism did not offer that to the people of Japan. 

Hell's Corner by David Baldacci (2011)

The Camel Club books are my favorites from David Baldacci - I am not sure why, maybe because one of the characters works in the Library of Congress. Actually it is more because of Oliver Stone, the well worn agent, who has been in Nam and the Cold War, who still solves major problems for our country, even if he has not been treated well half the time. He is good at what he does, deduces things, bends rules when needed, and attracts strong women. This was my favorite of the series, with plenty of twists and turns in the plot.

Oliver Stone is present, when a bomb goes off at Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. (I had to look it up on the map, and will try to go visit it next time I am in DC. Never have been to the White House, but there are still a lot of things on my to-do list in Washington.) There are four people in the park around that time, and the British Prime Minister across the street. Stone is asked to officially get involved and is given a powerful side kick in MI6 agent Mary Chapman. They follow leads that often turn out to be red herrings. Stone does not want to involve his Camel Club friends, but they get involved themselves and help him run down some leads, and are with him at the last stand. The plot is complex with Russians, Mexicans, British, nanobots, the CIA training mountain and more.

I also enjoyed the interview with the author at the end of the audio book. He reiterated one of the things I learned from the book - that after the Cold War was over, a lot of spies were retired or laid off, and when there was again need for them after 911, they hired a lot of young and inexperienced agents. This is why Stone was brought into the story.

The name Hell's Corner comes from the fact that Lafayette Park is under the jurisdiction of three different government agencies - the Secret Service cover the sidewalks (because it is so close to the White House), the Park Service covers the park itself and DC Police cover the street. From the other Camel Club books I know that Stone had a protest tent at the park and at least according to the Wikipedia it has really been a protest spot over the years.