Monday, July 8, 2019

The Zone of Interest

The Zone of InterestThe Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After reading some 60 pages I got impression, that it is a story written by some lunatic and I was ready to give it back to the library.
I waited few days to get some distance from the story and started again.
Some background info... I am an old man, born and grown up in Poland. Few of my close relatives were killed during the war, few survived German concentration camps. I met quite a number of survivors of concentration camps and read few book about them and about Holocaust.
This might explain that The Zone of Interest shocked and repulsed me.

Now is the time for my second opinion.
First point - most of reviews mentioned, that love is one of the subjects of this book.
Well, in my opinion it is lust not love.
Second point - I was shocked with many cases of factual nonsense.
Few examples -
One of main characters, the commander of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, lives in a street in Warsaw's Old City, very close to the Old City Square.
Well, it is 315 km from place of his work in Auschwitz.
Next one - Kommandant's Doll family lives in Dzilka St.
Again, there is Dzika St in Warsaw (Dzika means Wild), quite close to former Umschlagplatz where inhabitants of Warsaw Ghetto were loaded into trains destined for extermination camps. There is also Dzielna St nearby (Dzielna means Brave) crossing Ghetto area.
But Dzilka?
Anyway, any of these streets was not suitable for a living place for highly ranked German official.
Then misspelling of names of few Polish names and places. Just these were quite easy to spell and pronounce.
On my second reading attempt I came to conclusion, that these inaccuracies were not mistakes, but deliberate deformations made on purpose.
But on what purpose?
I thought that the key lies in Kommandant Doll thoughts and words. I have to say that I enjoyed the mixture of English and German text and unexpected placing of numerals in his texts.
Another interesting point were numerous quotations from some German propaganda about character and destiny of glorious Aryan race.
I appreciated effort and skill of the author in constructing these texts, but the question returned: for what purpose?
Somewhere near page 190 I came conclusion, that I will not get answer and gave up.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

The lemon table

The Lemon TableThe Lemon Table by Julian Barnes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like with all J. Barnes books I got very mixed feelings.
For me the main topic of the book is ageing. In majority of cases it does not look good, in some cases - disgusting.
For me the question was - do people change to worse when they grow old or it is just that in this age their weak points are more obvious?
Here is my disappointment with the author - it looks that these people exist and function quite well in their own, familiar environment. It is just the author with his spying glass, who makes them repulsive. Not nice approach Mr Barnes.
P.S. Of all stories I liked most these two which took place in Scandinavia - Mats Israelson story - Sweden, and Silence - Finland (I know that it is not exactly Scandinavia ;). First one - there was nothing wrong with the person getting old. Second one - the story moves along full life of the main character and shows him as a difficult one all the time, not just when old.

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi  - last Thursday I watched on SBS the Polish news and there it was - relation from celebrating Corpus Christi in Poland.
It is a public holiday and in every town or village there is a ceremonial procession.
It goes quite a distance in main streets of the town. The priest carries all the way a monstrance with a host, there are 4 altars on the way. At each of altars the procession stops, there is short reading from the Gospel, blessing of the faithful and the procession continues.
Here are links to 2 video clips from last Thursday taken in small towns:

Here comes my story...
The celebration was held in Poland even during hardest Communist rule. 
I remember clearly one such event.
We got day off from school on Thursday, but we were offered a mandatory excursion to some attractive location. Food and entertainment provided.
I announced it to my mother, she looked at me - but you will not go because tomorrow is Corpus Christi.
But, it is mandatory, they will request clear explanation.
So you will tell them, that your mother ordered you to go.
And we went.

At the procession I noticed one of my school colleagues with his mother.
She approached us and whispered to my mother:
Do you want a medical certificate for your son? My husband is a doctor, he can provide you with one.
But THEY see us here - replied my mother - you husband takes unnecessary risk. Thank you very much.

I was devastated.
My mother shook her head - what a nonsense, to cheat about your religion. THEY probably would be satisfied - it would mean we practice our faith in fear.

Next day, just when I entered school, there was young activist waiting for me.
Why you did not join us at the excursion?
Because my mother ordered me to go to procession.
The activist almost choked on such an answer.
So tell your mother, to shift you to some school teaching practical trade because we will take care that you will not be accepted to any university.
I wandered till evening around the city being afraid to bring this to my mother.
Eventually I came home and told her.
I could see that she was shaken, but she said.
We did not deny our God, our God will not deny us. Even without university degree you may have a decent life.

1.5 years later (October 1956) there was a shake up of Communist system and significant relaxation of policy.
In 1958 I was accepted to the university without any problems.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Machines like me

Machines Like MeMachines Like Me by Ian McEwan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Machines like me.
What does this title mean?
Machines are like me, or they feel well about me?
There is second line of the title: ...and people like you.
Same thing - are like me (the reader) or like me.
Together it gives a number of combinations:
- machines are like me and people are like you,
- machines have liking to me and people have liking to you,
- machines have liking to me and to people like you.
First two separate worlds of humans and machines. The third one bring them together, but only for people like me - the owner or the reader.
I selected the third option and from this moment I felt part of the book.
From the title we know that the book will be about people and humanoid robots.
And here comes surprise.
Year of action = 1982.
Futuristic book placed in year 1982?
This alone made me feeling comfortable.
This is very subjective of course, but I do not like books placed in too remote future.
Simply I feel cheated - author wastes my effort on reading his/her drivel on unknown future reducing size and contents of the main story.
Year 1982 - what happened in England that year - similarities with current Brexit chaos and confusion are obvious.
Charlie, the main character is a person a bit below average - did not complete studies, has no proper job. From the beginning we see that his property - Adam - is superior to him.
There is also a bit of the challenge to the reader - can you follow Adam's considerations on various subjects - artificial intelligence, literature, etc.
I appreciated it, remember - I felt being part of the story.
But then comes a crunch - Adam falls in love.
I reread the motto of the book:
But remember, please, the Law by which we live,
We are not built to comprehend a lie...
-- Rudyard Kipling - Secret of the Machines.
I checked the next line of the poem: ...We can neither love nor pity nor forgive... - full text HERE
Alarm bells ringing. Ombudsman, help! - we, humans, have been cheated!!
Can robot love?
There were 25 humanoid robots in this series - 12 Adams and 13 Eves. There are rumors, that some of them fell into deep depression, committed suicides. For me the reason was obvious - totally disenchanted with their owners/masters.
From this point of view "our" Adam is a very promising case, an amazing opportunity of future mutual cooperation of people and machines.
But here comes the ultimate power - the Author - and brings order, obeying statement in the motto to the letter.
Great disappointment for me, here I dropped one star from the rating.

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Sunday, June 2, 2019

First Sunday of June

Means - MS Walk - already for the ninth time.

MS - Multiple Sclerosis - a terrible disease attacking mainly young women.

This year the event looked as withdrawn a bit - I easily found a space in the car park, there were not so many people as usual, the rest was fine.

Albert Lake...

Start... looks like I am getting smaller and smaller

But on the other hand looks like medical procedures of last year helped. I did not notice when we made a full circle around the lake.

Few steps more and we reached the end

My companion was, like in many previous years, Gudrun, my friend from skiing club - thank you Gudrun for constant support.

Looking around I found that, despite not so many people at the start, financial result of the event was quite satisfactory

Together with similar walks in Sydney and Canberra, MS Society gained over $1 mln.

And then the sun shone

I left Albert Lake to its traditional owners

My personal input: I received donations of over $400 - thank you very much all supporters. It makes close to $6,000 in these 9 years.

Beware, I will be there in 2020.

My fundraising page HERE.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The only story

The Only StoryThe Only Story by Julian Barnes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, finally, the only real question.
You may point out- correctly - that it isn't a real question. Because we don't have the choice."
I think these opening sentences well summarize the book.
There is a story, but - in fact - there is no story.
Well, there is a skeleton of a story followed by storyteller considerations how he looked at it in various stages of his life.
Typical for this author, but I still like him.

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Saturday, May 18, 2019


Today we had elections to Federal Parliament.
Almost a month ago I presented HERE  two candidates one of whom will get the seat, so today I had to make decision.
My basic reasoning was as follows:
Labor got bigger chances, so vote for Liberal so that the winners feels the presure. Maybe it will result in better work.
Additional factor was intensity of harassment - for some time I was receiving phone calls and sms from both main parties and also from UAP. Actually in the last days Labor was more aggressive which meant leaning towards Liberal.

But then, just as I was driving to the shopping centre, I received a sms. I stopped the car expecting some addition to shopping list, but no - it was from Liberals.
No! I will vote for Greens, they never breached my privacy.
Then, as I was passing a voting point, I noticed 2 bikers pulling large billboards calling for Green vote. They were riding their bikes on very narrow footpath forcing pedestrians to step on the lawn.
What a hypocrisy!

I thought a while and decided to vote for Animal Justice Party.

I returned home in full peace of mind and then, in our garden, I noticed birds, indian mynah, pecking or rather massacring our cherry tomatoes.
I returned to my original concept. At least I knew that it was well thought over decision.