Friday, March 15, 2019

The Tenth Man

The Tenth ManThe Tenth Man by Graham Greene
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

France during the II World War. Hostages imprisoned in German jail. Last night there were 3 casualties of French Resistance action so 3 hostages will be shot dead.
They draw lots.
One of death lots is drawn by a quite affluent person. He makes an offer - I will give my whole fortune to the estate of anyone who will take my lot.
There is a candidate, they prepare proper documentation.
The war ends, the man who bought his life does not dare to return to the society. He tries to find some job, but fails and falls into poverty. He gives in to temptation to visit his estate pretending to be a accidental survivor from the hostages prison cell.
At that point I expected quite a lot. It looked me as a favourite territory of Graham Greene - dubious character in strange environment.
And here came total surprise.
Well, kind of disappointment for me although I cannot resist smile .

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The Zookeeper's War

The Zookeeper's War The Zookeeper's War by Steven Conte
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was tempted to read this book by its title. There was obvious connection with The Zookeeper's Wife, which I rated quite high. Actually I preferred the movie over the book.
It looks, that reading the book about Warsaw Zoo and knowledge of some facts about its connection with Berlin Zoo completely disqualified Zookeeper's War.

Main character of Zookeeper's War is Alex Frey, a director of Berlin ZOO. He looks with sentiment at the portrait of his Father, who preceded him in this position.
So far, so good, I looked into Wikipedia to check what I remember from Zookeeper's Wife - director of Berlin ZOO during the war was Luck Heck. Yes, his father preceded him in this position.
And then... Mr Heck joined Nazi Party in 1937, but even before this he was enthusiast of National Socialism. He was personal friend of Herman Goring crazy about idea of reconstructing some mythical old German animal species.
As a Director of Berlin Zoo, in 1938, he passed a rule which prohibited Jews from visiting the zoo. On occasion of Hitler's birthday he was appointed a Professor.
During the war he was instrumental in pillaging the Warsaw Zoo, this is a role in which we can see him in Zookeeper's Wife.
More about Heck Luck achievements here:

I was quite surprised that an Australian author choose as a topic of his book such exotic theme as Berlin Zoo during the II World War. But I cannot comprehend why he did not bother to check the most essential facts.

No wonder I read the book with some dismay and great suspicion.
Well, I got some negative satisfaction - the book is not only based on totally false foundations, it is also terribly boring. Pages and pages of descriptions of city landscapes after carpet bombing.
It looks to me that the only reason for writing this book was to show some intramarital issues, I have to admit there is some sense in it.
I was interested in final chapters - encounter with Red Army.
Disappointment again, generally not convincing and the final episode involving the main character I found simply disgusting.

P.S. The book was awarded a Prime Minister award in 2008.
2008, then Kevin Rudd was our Prime Minister. He was the only one of Australian Prime Ministers known to me, whom I could suspect for reading books. But it looks he accepted carelessly an award for a very dubious project.

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Monsignor Quixote

Monsignor QuixoteMonsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As the title suggest a story based on M. Cervantes book.
A extremely honest and naive catholic priest and his friend, deposed city mayor with communist conviction, travel around Spain.
Place and time of action - Spain, around year 1980.
Timing is quite significant. In 1975 general Franco, autocratic ruler of Spain died and the country tried to move in democratic direction. The move was observed closely in Europe.
Now, 40 years later, very few people remember these events. Another point are changes in Catholic Church in early 1960 of which even less people are concerned now.
And one more - communism - ideas and political system almost forgotten.
As the result, quite substantial part of the book might be completely alien to many readers.
What remains? Humanly personality of main characters and few funny encounters. Not much.

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Confidential Agent

The Confidential AgentThe Confidential Agent by Graham Greene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the Introduction to the book Graham Greene mentions, that he wrote it only for money while his main project at this time was The Power and the Glory.
To increase productivity he wrote the book in rented flat and under influence of Benzedrine.
The effect was obvious, he managed to write 2,000 words a day while his normal output was 500 words. Benzedrine took its toll. Late afternoon he returned home feeling very tired and smallest thing could upset him. He feels that in long term it was a main factor in his marriage breakdown.
But then, a next day came, he took a morning pill, sat in front of the blank page and the words started flowing on the paper.
The final effect? Graham Greene was so disappointed with the book, that his first idea was to publish it under different name.
My judgement is quite opposite, I prefer The Confidential Agent over The Power and the Glory.
The book was written in 1939, aftermath of the Spanish civil war. Graham Greene mentions, that the Munich Agreement of 1937 was also affecting his thoughts.
The book - Mr D. an agent of a revolutionary government of the country in the state of civil war comes to England to buy coal, which is essential to his government survival. From the very start he is plagued with innumerable misfortunes, troubles and oppression. Some imaginary, some real.
He reaches London where he meets his local contact and realizes, that nobody trusts him and that he cannot trust even people nominally representing his government.
Finally he arrives at the meeting with coal mines board of directors, negotiates a feasible deal and then discovers, that somehow his credentials disappeared, have been stolen. The contract is taken over by anti-government opposition.
This is too much, he converts into a hunter thirsty for blood of his oppressors. His hunt turns into a comedy of errors. He resigns and resorts to the last resort - meet coal miners' trade union and appeal to their solidarity with working class of his country.
The result is predictable.
And then, when everything failed, he is miraculously rescued.
I think, that the effects of Benzedrine are obvious - enormous density of actions and counteractions and the miraculous ending. On the other hand I liked the book, main reason was the main character fighting and ready for an ultimate sacrifice for a cause which is alien to him.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Stamboul Train

Stamboul TrainStamboul Train by Graham Greene
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am glad that G. Greene first books I read were The Heart of the Matter and Our Man in Havana. If I had started with Stamboul Train, there is a chance I wouldn't finish the book and did not look for other books by this author.
My very first impression was that most of the characters in the book did not look realistic to me. Actually only Miss Warren, a very dynamic journalist, looked to me as a person with blood and bones.
Second strong impression and surprise was emphasis of Jewishness of one of the main characters.
In many reviews of this book I found comments about antisemitism of the author.
I do not share this opinion, actually my opinion is opposite.
Firstly it is gentiles who somehow recognize that Mr Myat is Jewish and it sends a signal , that this person should pay extra tips and charges.
Secondly, Mr Myat is shown as a generous person, somehow accepting, that he has to pay more.
In my opinion it shows the rising of antisemitism in Europe of 1932.
I wonder what was the aim of G. Greene? Was antisemitism so obvious in Europe, that he felt obliged to address this issue?
The story. I have to admit, that due to my disappointment with all the characters in the book I was not very interested with the plot. It was my loyalty to the author whom I rate very high, that I read the book to the last page. And then, retrospectively, I thought that it was quite well designed plot with typical "Greenesque" twists of motives and actions of main characters.

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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Bieguni - English title Flights

BieguniBieguni by Olga Tokarczuk
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Looks to me as a random collection of less or more interesting facts, memories and stories.
Professional critics try to prove that they see some deeper meaning in this maze.
Definitely not my idea of reading books.
I ended my efforts around page 120 and immediately forgot what I read in preceding pages.

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Friday, December 21, 2018

Rachel and Leah

Rachel & Leah (Women of Genesis, #3)Rachel & Leah by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am familiar with biblical Jacob's story. First of all from Joseph and his Brothers, a monumental book by Thomas Mann. Thomas Mann was most interested with complicated relations of Biblical characters with God, women were left in a background.
So I welcomed Rachel and Leah as a worthy addition of woman's point of view.
I was quite pleased with first few chapters, different characters of two sisters, daughters of Laban, Jacob's uncle. I welcomed addition of Bilhah and Zilpah, two women with unfortunate childhood, but with strong characters.
I enjoyed witty dialogues with gentle humor and bits of spite.
But there remained few hundred pages to read, will all be just a lighthearted banter?
No, author introduced a significant element - reading holy books, the word of God.
It looks to me like an author's invention, there is no mention in the Bible of any books passed between Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Another point is Jacob, the book pictures him as a man of great depth and faith, it rather contradicts the biblical story.
Anyway, I do not mind some deviation from the biblical path, but as for me there was too much about influence of holy texts on Leah character.
Finally we come to the climax of the story - wedding of Jacob and a daughter(s) of Laban. I was very interested how the author solved this puzzle? Well, again he resorted to God, faith and love. On one hand I do not see any other peaceful solution, on the other it was choosing an easy way out.
Summarizing - I read this book with some interest, but I will not read other biblical stories by this author.

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