Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Cadence

Cadence: Travels with music — a memoirCadence: Travels with music — a memoir by Emma Ayres
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember Emma Ayres very well as ABC morning music presenter.
Not so long ago I've been to his (Eddie's) presentation of his latest book - Danger Music. I found this book very interesting, but at the same time I was very frustrated with descriptions of life in Kabul and hopeless struggles of Afghani musicians.
I just received from Goodreads a summary of my readings this year. A very saddening summary - 35 books read, average rating 2.3. Most of books written by writers I respect and such a disappointment. I got a feeling of time lost and hesitated to start another book.
It looks that the last glimpse at books in my local library was a kind smile of the fate - Cadence by Emma Ayres - her life, musical experiences, adventurous bike ride and reflection on selected pieces of music.
I suppose for everyone who remembers Emma and her music programs it will be a most welcome return of a good friend.
For those, who do not remember Emma? Still I think it should be interesting story of a brave girl fighting for finding her place on earth.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 16, 2018

Richard Flanagan - The sound of one hand clapping

The Sound of One Hand ClappingThe Sound of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A very depressing story, a very depressing book.
Wasted life of refugees employed in early 1950-ies at building the dam and electric station at Butlers Gorge in Tasmania.
Author tries to connect hard memories of Slovenian refugees with the harsh climate of Tasmania and here he goes over the top. In the opening chapter one of main characters leaves her home at night, it is cold, windy and snowing, which "...brought back painful memories of forced labour camps in the Urals and Siberia".
Tasmania and Siberian winter - it sent me the warning - there will be lots of exaggeration and demonizing Tasmania.
Another point related to the same paragraph in the book: "... she knew it wasn't Stalin's USSR. Knew it wasn't Kolyma or Goli Otok or Birkenau".
I personally found this sentence very disturbing .
Couple of facts - Goli Otok was a Yugoslav concentration camp on Adriatic. Communist Yugoslavia broke any cooperation with Stalinist USSR in 1948.
Birkenau. Yes, there is relation of Birkenau and Stalin's USSR. This notorious German concentration and extermination camp has been liberated by the Red Army in 1945.
It is only page 4 of the book and I was warned - the author feels free to play tricks with facts and history.
I appreciate R. Flanagan's great writing style, but throughout the book I felt it excessive and false.
Another point is ironic, sarcastic view of Tasmanian hydro-scheme. It is written definitely from the perspective of current day environment protection activists and does not fit atmosphere of years 1954 or 1957 depicted in the book.
And here comes the story - I find it extremely depressing. I know that the author being married to a Slovenian must have good knowledge of migrant fate and stories, but this one was for me impossible to accept. I just paged through large sections of the book to find whether it leads to some feasible end.
Well, on hand there was some relief. Hate and cruelty ends. On the other hand idyllic finale does not fit anything of what was told in the preceding 390 pages.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Richard Flanagan - First Person

First PersonFirst Person by Richard Flanagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 1991 John Friedrich was in the centre of media attention. A person with unknown background climbed to the top of Victorian Branch of National Safety Council (NSCA) and changed it from an advisory body employing maybe a dozen people to a very modern search and rescue organisation with some 400 employees and state of art equipment. For this he was awarded Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).
2 years later NSCA collapsed with debts of around 300 million dollars. Friedrich was arrested and charged of obtaining property by deception.
He became media celebrity, no wonder he received a lucrative offer of writing an autobiography. A ghost writer was hired to assist in this task.
I looked in the result - John Friedrich with Richard Flanagan (the second name in smaller print): Codename Iago: the story of John Friedrich.
In a book there is a short note about the helping hand: Richard Flanagan is a writer who lives in Tasmania... he is presently writing a feature film script and completing his first novel.
First Person is Richard Flanagan's story about above project.
In first two chapters I enjoyed Flanagan's great writing style and some observations on literature and publishing industry. We are also introduced to main characters of the story - Siegfried Heidl, the con man and Kif Kehlman, the ghost-writer - and realize that the task will be difficult. Heidl does not cooperate at all in providing details for the book, he limits his relation to ambiguous comments and observations - euphenisms, riddles, rhetorical formulations that could mean everything or nothing.
Frustrated by the lack of progress and pressed by a publisher, Kif Kehlman finds himself dependent on Heidl, he feels that his own character changes, that he becomes Heidl-like.
For a while I enjoyed Flanagan's language and style, but there is too much of it. Some 200 pages and no progress of the story.
And then, unexpectedly the pace accelerates - Kif writes like an automaton, book completed, money received, but this is no longer Kif we knew at the beginning of the book, his family breaks, he becomes an unscrupulous producer of best-selling media contents. He became Heidl.

I paged through the real product of Friedrich-Flanagan cooperation - Codename Iago. I wanted to see the very beginning:
Chapter 1.
I have been absent throughout my life
.
In First Person we have:
I typed (after Heidl): I have been missing since I was born.
I stared at that line. And then cut it from the end of my document, scrolled upwards, and pasted it at the top, immediately below the words Chapter 1.
.
As for the rest of the book, I found it very average. Only opening chapters about Friedrich's work in Aboriginal communities were interesting to me.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 26, 2018

Paper is patient

Paper: An ElegyPaper: An Elegy by Ian Sansom
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Elegy for paper - very difficult task.
I respect the author for taking the challenge and all hard work. Unfortunately, at least in my case, he lost.
Already at the start of the first chapter I raised brows - idyllic description how paper was produced from the bark of mulberry tree... in Japan.
It puzzled me, I always thought that paper was a Chinese invention. Two pages later my thoughts were confirmed. Yes - China was a correct answer. So why Japan in the opening paragraph?
Another big and unexpected surprise - I was used to the idea, that paper is made from trees. The opening phrases about mulberry tree confirmed my view, and then a shock - at the beginning of XIX century there were problems with paper production because of shortage of rags.
Rags? There is no mention in the book since when and why rags were used for paper production.
Someone may say I that I am picking on the author.
Well, the problem is, that the book contains hundreds of associations of various events and writings. Majority of them unknown (and irrelevant) to me. I read them with some reserve - what for are they in the book? In many cases I got impression, that only to demonstrate author's knowledge and writing skills.
And again to the facts. Author mentions book burning in Nazi Germany in May 1933. He mentions some authors whose books were burnt.
Among them - Thomas Mann.
WRONG! These were books of his brother Heinrich.
Another point - author devoted few pages to the 1937 Munich agreement signed by Chamberlain and Hitler. Why just this, and only this, document has been treated in such detail?
Similarly, there is quite elaborate story about building of Natural History Museum in London. It ends with a conclusion - paper made it possible. Same conclusion as in the previous case.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Kiwi

Kiwi: The Australian brand that brought a shine to the worldKiwi: The Australian brand that brought a shine to the world by Keith Dunstan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

History of one of the most popular Australian brands.
Great history of Scottish migrants who brought to Australia new concepts and energy.
The story of Kiwi Polish storming world's market was quite fascinating for me.
As negatives I will mention some difficulty in keeping synchronized the story of Kiwi polish conquering the markets and Ramsay family history.
Last chapters was for me a bit too much of the politics of a large multinational corporation.
Note: I read a hardback edition, could not find it on Goodreads.

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 21, 2018

And deliver us from... Baldacci

Deliver Us from Evil (A. Shaw, #2)Deliver Us from Evil by David Baldacci
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The book is based on well designed scenario.
Start with a commonly known event. In this case it is Holocaust. Follow with a widely unknown historical event. In this case it is Holodomor - a Soviet designed famine in Ukraine. The aim of such a mixture is to make impression, firstly that the author sticks to historical events, secondly that there were terrible crimes committed in obscure places and circumstances which we never will be able to fully comprehend.
On such prepared ground we can plant a story of another, not-so-authentic, genocide, this time organised by post-soviet KGB (of source there is a mention, that the current leader of Russia has KGB past).
The book is about a hunt for a perpetrator of this crime.
The second arm of the story is detailed description of cruelty. Once I read an interesting observation. The author looked on the bookshelf in the library. He noticed that in one of the books there was a small section apparently read more frequently as the pages were more worn out. He looked there - these were descriptions of tortures.
It seems the observations were right, some readers are excited reading about cruelties. My impression is, that this topic was one of driving powers of Stieg Larsson's Millenium series.
Writing about cruelties has an additional strength. The reader feels a strong desire to punish the perpetrators. It opens a field for a further fantasies about cruelty - this time for a good cause.
I understand, that 'And deliver us from Evil' is a part of a series of books. It is about some mysterious organisation(s) whose aim is to punish mass murderer's. They collect enormous material on crimes committed, but do not pass it to any justice system rightly considering them as not efficient enough . So they will bring the devil to justice themselves. It seems that there are numerous occasions to kill the the beast, but a special scenario must be observed. The perpetrator must be presented a documentation of atrocities committed and then executed. It is not easy and here we have substance to fill 400+ pages of the book. This way to justice leads to few dozens of accidental casualties.
I managed to read almost 300 pages of this book and I have to admit there were written well. I mean the plot, language, characters presentation, description of localities. In this book there were not so many graphic descriptions of cruelties so only a dozen or two pages to skip.
The author describes frequently technologically advanced methods and equipment. In my opinion does it very well... with one exception. Hunted criminals are protected by very advanced security systems, still in 2 cases just a few seconds power failure creates opportunity to break them. Well, for $80 I bought a very simple home security system and guess what? It is not affected by a power failure.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Nicola Tesla - for beginners

Tesla For BeginnersTesla For Beginners by Robert Sutherland-Cohen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Simplified story about life and inventions of Nicola Tesla. I suppose the name of the inventor has been recently popularized by Elon Musk, thus quite a number books published.
Having read few other books on this topic I can say it gives a good look into a fascinating life of a fascinating person.
Negative point for me is demonizing Tesla opponents or competitors, specifically Edison and Marconi.

View all my reviews