Sunday, May 29, 2022

May 2022's Burgoine Reviews & Pearl Rule Reviews

Author 'Nathan Burgoine posted this simple, direct method of not getting paralyzed by the prospect of having to write reviews. The Three-Sentence Review is, as he notes, very helpful and also simple to achieve. I get completely unmanned at the idea of saying something trenchant about each book I read, when there often just isn't that much to I can use this structure to say what I think is the most important idea I took away from the read and not try to dig for more.

Think about using it yourselves!


Firefly (Paul Samson series #1) by Henry Porter

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: From the refugee camps of Greece to the mountains of Macedonia, a thirteen year old boy is making his way to Germany and safety. Codenamed 'Firefly', he holds vital intelligence: unparalleled insight into a vicious ISIS terror cell, and details of their plans. But the terrorists are hot on his trail, determined he won't live to pass on the information.

When MI6 become aware of Firefly and what he knows, the race is on to find him. Paul Samson, ex-MI6 agent and now private eye, finds himself recruited to the cause. Fluent in Arabic thanks to his Lebanese heritage, Samson's job is to find Firefly, win his trust and get him to safety.

A devastatingly timely thriller following the refugee trail from Syria to Europe, Firefly is a sophisticated, breathtaking race against time from the acclaimed and award-winning author of Brandenburg and The Dying Light.


My Review
: Paul Samson, Arabophone Brit of Lebanese background, has a gambling problem that got him bounced from the intelligence job he loved. He's an adrenaline junky, so he wasn't unemployed for long; he's fluent in the language and conversant with the culture of one of the world's hotspots, so guess where his now-unofficial work takes him!

Naji is the teenaged son of a Syrian academic who, gentle soul that he was, believed he could help some dissident students of his be found in Assad's brutal regime. He later died from the aftereffects of being tortured. Naji, after this awakening, is quick to see through ISIL's façade of acceptance and gets his family to Turkey preparatory to making it to Germany.

With, because he's very intelligent but not very smart yet, damaging information he got because "he's just a kid" and the violent men paid no attention to him.
His head went under. Seawater filled his nose and mouth; his eyes opened and he saw the black depths of the ocean below him. A moment later something knocked his legs—maybe part of the wreckage, he couldn’t tell. All he knew was that he was going to die. Then it came again. This time there was a distinct shove on his buttocks and whatever it was that moved with such intent beneath him lifted him up so his head and shoulders came out of the water and he was able to grab a plastic toggle on the section of the rubber craft that was still inflated.

Not good for his chances of survival...but Paul Samson, now that British officialdom know Naji exists, is sent unofficially and deniably to make him safe and get him to the point he can give the information to them. Kid's a tyro...he leads everyone a merry chase. Author Porter writes a damn good story here, sets it in places I'm convinced he knows well enough to lead tours, but there's not much horsepower in his characters as people. Their motives are clear and powerful. They are also, unlike real people's and thus unlike the characters I most enjoy reading about, unmixed. Black-hearted people, white-hatted people...not a lot of nuance.

That said I read the book as fast as I could. I wanted this kid to win and I think anyone who needs something more or less unambiguous for a restful but still exciting (weird sentence...but that's how this book came across for me) or at least very action-packed story of implausibly lucky good guys needs this read.

A Kindle edition is $10.99 at this non-affiliate link.


One-Way Street (var. title Monodromos) by Marian Engel

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Said: Her first two books, Sarah Bastard's Notebook and The Honeyman Festival, demonstrated that Marian Engel is a Canadian novelist with a marvelous talent for portraying women. In One Way Street (formerly titled Monodromos), we meet another one of her heroines. Audrey Moore, intelligent Canadian, 36—facts which help her not at all during her solourn on a Greek island where she is staying with her estranged husband, a has-been concert pianist with sexual proclivities that do not include Audrey. Although she senses that life on the island will be a one-way street for her, the heroine becomes deeply involved in the island's characters and finally takes a Greek lover—to the disgust of an island crone who sits in Audrey's doorway loudly lamenting the young woman's sins to passersby. The tensions of Audrey's island life explode in a hilarious finale as she ends her stay with pilgrimage to a Greek monastery where the Bishop attempts her seduction. A tragi-comic masterpiece, One Way Street is an intensely readable novel about Canadians in an alien land.


My Review
: I read this book because Jo Walton liked it. Me? was okay. I certainly didn't hate it. I was slightly surprised that Author Marian Engel was married to Howard Engel, whose Benny Cooperman mysteries I read in the 1980s. They're not stylistically similar at all, in the manner of divorced spouses around the world I suppose.

This book failed me by being a "straight-woman-saves-gay-ex" narrative that portrays him as a hapless and manipulative ne'er-do-well. Now, in 2022, I am less horrified and more simply impatient with that kind of dumb-man stuff. But it not only colored but darkened my appreciation for Author Engel's lovely descriptive prose and perceptive aperçus.


The Barbary Figs by Rashid Boudjedra (tr. Andre Naffis-Sahely)

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Winner of the 2010 Arab Book Prize.

Two old friends and cousins find themselves side by side on the flight from Algiers to Constantine. There is a lot of history between them, as well as bad blood. The flight will last only an hour—an hour during which both their stories will be told, interspersed by anecdotes of Algeria's struggle to release itself from France's colonial grip. The title, The Barbary Figs, is a symbol of the "old" Algeria, since their grandfather used to grow them on his estate. The "new" Algeria is far less straightforward, and has produced far more bitter fruit.

My Review: Algeria was considered a part of France, not a mere colony, from 1830 to 1962. It was not like the country treated the Algerians as French people, for all they were officially citizens. After the war for independence was won, the country began the process of yeeting itself into a civil-warring mess.

Interrogating this process of disintegration is a life-long project for Author Boudjedra, born in 1941 and still with us as of this writing. He attempts to encapsulate his own life by trapping two estranged cousins, Omar and Rashid, on a one-hour flight from Algiers to Constantine, Algeria's second city. They reminisce, as we're all prone to do; they talk about love, sex, and death, and they don't shy away from the anger these conflicting needs and desires evoked then. The issue interfering with my full-on unmixed appreciation of the story is repetition, as it is in all life stories. Are we here again, the reader wonders wearily; as I am an old man with some young people in my life, I cringe a little in self-reflective recognition. Sorry, Rob, I'll try to rein this behavior in.

Most of all, though, I want others to know that this is a story of great resonance, that its title is its organizing metaphor for fecundity and sweetness in many colors and shapes that no longer appear with regularity in public markets. Author Boudjedra's long, fatwa-filled career as resister of the colonizers, then resister of the religious mobs, is summed up in this rumination on what the past offers and what it does not. I think he said it best and most succinctly in a letter from the 1990s quoted in the translator's Afterword:
All great literature has incorporated history as a fundamental element of the interrogation between the real and the human, operating in a more subjective mode than one would think in so far as it is the one fruitful and interesting mode of inquiry, becoming far more than just a reading of the past that is immediate, official, fossilized, academic, mechanistic and opportunistic, always co-opted, distorted, and travestied for the sake of the cause.

His eloquence and his fighting spirit shine through a translation that I can't say scintillates, though it is not pedestrian or plodding. I doubt it's inspired, though, as the source text won a literary prize. Albeit, I must say, one that appears to have vanished as of 2012....

Follow this non-affiliate Amazon link for your Kindle edition, or a tree book if you desire. Each starts at about $16.00.


The Red Mill: A Musical Comedy by Victor Herbert & Henry M. Blossom

Rating: 3.5* of five

Completely goofy 1907 play about Yankee con-men doing their thing in a tiny Dutch town. It's not anything special in plot terms. It's a musical, so it doesn't have to be. There's a raft of forgettably pleasant tunes telling its sentimental story. What makes it more than a single-star snooze is "Because You're You," a terrific and very ear-wormy meditation on loving someone just cause they's them.

There's a condensed performance of its highlights on The Railroad Hour with Gene Kelly, Gordon MacRae, and beautiful mellifluous soprano Lucille Norman as Gretchen, the Dutch love interest. Check it out, it's only 45min, plus it has a super-funny ad or two here.

"Because You're You," the tune I like, starts nine and a half minutes in.


This space is dedicated to Nancy Pearl's Rule of 50, or "the Pearl Rule" as I've always called it. After realizing five times in December 2021 alone that I'd already Pearl-Ruled a book I picked up on a whim, I realized how close my Half-heimer's is getting to the full-on article. Hence my decision to track my Pearls!

As she says:
People frequently ask me how many pages they should give a book before they give up on it. In response to that question, I came up with my “rule of fifty,” which is based on the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books. If you’re fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up. If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100—the result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit.

So this space will be each month's listing of Pearl-Ruled books. Earlier Pearl-Rule posts:






Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation by Ian Stevenson

Pearl Ruled at 13%

The Publisher Says: This is the revised edition of Dr. Stevenson's 1987 book, summarizing for general readers almost forty years of experience in the study of children who claim to remember previous lives. For many Westerners the idea of reincarnation seems remote and bizarre; it is the author's intent to correct some common misconceptions. New material relating to birthmarks and birth defects, independent replication studies with a critique of criticisms, and recent developments in genetic study are included. The work gives an overview of the history of the belief in and evidence for reincarnation. Representative cases of children, research methods used, analyses of the cases and of variations due to different cultures, and the explanatory value of the idea of reincarnation for some unsolved problems in psychology and medicine are reviewed.

My Review: Two things you should know up front: I believe reincarnation, of some sort, is real; I have little faith in the direction of brain and neurological research as of 2022 answering the question, "what is your mind? what is the soul?" That does not require belief in some sort of supernatural bookkeeper whose Ledger tots up, infallibly and constantly, your personal record of naughty-vs-nice behaviors. It means there is nothing to explain why you're you in the structures of your brain and firings of your nerves. Science isn't looking into the subject because it's like the third rail in a drunken subway pissing contest: contact will be unpleasant and possibly fatal.

And while neurological research is crucial, leading to amazing insights into a host of issues, no one can yet tell us based on neurology or brain anatomy what your mind is. We need to develop the questions before science can apply its astonishingly powerful array of tools to discovering the answers. Not, at present, happening.

So I Pearl-Ruled this book not because it was trying to skip scientific steps and present unfounded answers but because it literally cannot, and does not claim to be able to, answer anything. That got old fast. I'm on board: My Jesus-freak mother was my source of early information about past-life memories. My oldest sister was apparently quite garrulously willing to talk about her bizarrely sophisticated memories of things she couldn't have known about (she remembered having sex as a man but had no idea what any of it was, for example) from age two until she was about four.

As those conversations were memorable to me, I wasn't in need of any persuasion to accept the possibility that these are actual memories of some strange sort. So just watching the evidence pile up was, frankly, tedious. I bailed because I was already on board not because I disagreed, in other words. I don't know if these case studies are the sort of material a skeptic would care about, and a fence-sitter would do well to take it in doses. It's not without value; it's just not designed to meet my need for deeper context.



The Nightingale Won't Let You Sleep by Steven Heighton

Rating: 2* of five

The Publisher Says: Elias Trifannis is desperate to belong somewhere. To make his dying ex-cop father happy, he joins the military - but in Afghanistan, by the time he realizes his last-minute bid for connection was a terrible mistake, it's too late and a tragedy has occurred.

In the aftermath, exhausted by nightmares, Elias is sent to Cyprus to recover, where he attempts to find comfort in the arms of Eylul, a beautiful Turkish journalist. But the lovers' reprieve ends in a moment of shocking brutality that drives Elias into Varosha, once a popular Greek-Cypriot resort town, abandoned since the Turkish invasion of 1974.

Hidden in the lush, overgrown ruins is a community of exiles and refugees living resourcefully but comfortably. Thanks to the cheerfully corrupt Colonel Kaya, who turns a blind eye, they live under the radar of the Turkish authorities.

As he begins to heal, Elias finds himself drawn to the enigmatic and secretive Kaiti while he learns at last to "simply belong." But just when it seems he has found sanctuary, events he himself set in motion have already begun to endanger it.

My Review: The author died last month of cancer. He was sixty.

This story opens with consensual (or as consensual as heterosex ever can be) sex turning into a shooting and a melodramatic follow-up crime committed by crazed-by-hate Turkish Muslim men in divided Cyprus.

I quit caring fairly quickly. This kind of crime isn't immediately interesting to me because it's using violence against a woman as an excuse to cause trouble for a man. And to be extremely clear, the violence isn't the sex. Which, yes, it was icky but it wasn't coerced or compelled. The violence was some Muslim men taking umbrage that a white guy was going to have sex with a Turkish secular woman.

Great. What the world needs now. However it was going to end, the beginning was pretty crappy by my lights and I don't need this. So Vale Author Heighton, we will not meet again.

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