Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review of The Eye In The Door

The Eye In The Door is the second book in the Regeneration Trilogy . Unlike the first book which centered mostly around Dr. Rivers, The Eye in the Door is split between Dr. Rivers' continued work with patients suffering from 'shell shock', and Billy Prior, one of Dr. Rivers' patients who was introduced in Regeneration.

The Eye in the Door takes place in the Spring of 1918, when the war was dragging on and defeat by Germany seemed possible. In England, politicians were distracting the public by targeting homosexuals, and the historical events of the time play a central role in the book. In fact, I've had a very difficult time writing this review because the story is so complex and nuanced with plot turns peppered by historical events, not to mention psychological food for thought. This is the type of book where each chapter could be a study of its own, either of history or psychology, yet there is a story that weaves its way through all of them and ties the book together.

Barker is an expert at conveying the emotions of a scene through dialogue. It's as though each chapter has it's own emotional theme (repression, fear, anger, sadness, love), and you feel it with the characters as you read. With the myriad emotions and politics surrounding homosexuality in England during this time set as the backdrop, Barker creates a tense but riveting story that is part history, part novel, part mystery, and part psychological study. Written by a lesser writer, this would probably have devolved into a chaotic and unsatisying read. But Barker manages to pull it off and I couldn't put it down. I didn't love it as much as Regeneration, but it doesn't fall far behind.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review of Regeneration

Another fantastic read for 2009. I'm on a roll! After reading Birdsong last year for my book club, I became quite interested in WWI, and my father suggested that I read the series by Pat Barker.

Regeneration centers around Dr. William Rivers, a psychiatrist at the Craiglockhart War Hospital who is treating officers returning from the front. One of his patients is Siegried Sassoon, a noted poet of the day, who has be sent to Craiglockhart not because of war trauma, but because of an anti-war manifesto he wrote that was published in the newpaper. As Dr. Rivers works with Sassoon and many others, the scale of death and destruction, and seemingly endless stream of traumatized soldiers, starts to take its toll. Rivers is forced to confront his own demons and decide if and how he wants his career to proceed.

What makes this book so brilliant is how Barker is able to address so many themes in a 250 page book that consists of a lot of dialogue. These themes range from homosexuality (admitted and repressed) to supressed anger to the insanity of war. I loved her writing style as well - clear and to the point, but also full of imagery and feeling. No book review can do it justice.

The icing on the cake is that several of the characters in 'Regeneration' were real people, and Barker has based the story on actual events that occured at the time. This made the story that much more moving, and I am already into the next book in the trilogy.

MY RATING: 10/10

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review of Dreams From My Father

It's a great feeling to read a good book that is well-written, heartfelt, and educational. But it's an even more wonderful feeling when the smart, articulate, honest, and inspiring writer happens to be your President.

I've been meaning to read this book for a while, but it took picking it for our book club to actually get me to pick it up. I have to admit, there was something that felt oddly voyeuristic about reading such a personal memoir by Barack Obama. But it was also incredibly satisfying -- I loved learning about his childhood and his pathway to community organizing and law school. It was also nice to finally have the sequence of his moves to various states and countries explained, not to mention his family history.

I could tell that he wrote it at a time when he wasn't considering a political career, because he was honest about emotions, family relationships, struggles and weaknesses in a way that someone aspiring to become President of the United States would edit much more substantially. For that reason, it was a refreshing read. I loved that he shared his struggles and confusion with respect to his identity as a black boy growing up with a white mother and grandparents. It is not easy to write about race, but Obama wrote eloquently and honestly, and I learned a lot. My only criticism of the book is that, at times, I felt like some of the chapters dragged on a bit. Whereas the chapters from his childhood raced by, the sections on his time in Chicago and Kenya were not as riveting to me.

I could go into more detail discussing the complexity of Obama's father, his relationship with his other family members, and his time in Chicago, but I feel that you need to read the book instead, because it's worth it.

I will end the review by saying that reading this book reminded me again of what a fucking idiot George Bush is, and I question how we all actually managed to survive 8 years of his presidency. Thank God he's gone, and Hail to the Chief.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Review of The Book Thief

This book was a gift from my friend Kristin. I visited her in Germany last September, and as we were walking throughout the picturesque streets of Frieberg I found myself struggling with the same sequence of thoughts I had struggled with during my previous (and first) trip to Germany in 1996. The sequence goes something like this: 1) As I am walking along I see an elderly person, somewhere in their 80s or 90s. 2) I think, "Damn, they're old! I wonder how old they are?" 3) Then I think, "If they're 85, that means they were in their 20s during WWII." And then I jump straight to 4) "I wonder if they were Nazis during the war...did they fight? Did they collaborate? Did they resist? What did they DO (or not do)?" And then I feel somewhat guilty for having those thoughts until I see the next elderly person and think them all over again...I can't seem to help myself. I shared this with Kristin at one point, and she told me to read "The Book Thief". "It will change the way you think about many of the Germans who lived through the war," she said. And then she bought it for me for Christmas.

The Book Thief is the story of Liesel, a skinny, hungry, and illiterate girl who is taken to live with the Hubermann's, a foster family in a small town close to Munich in 1939. The story follows Liesel through the war as she and her foster family resist the Nazis in the small ways that they can on the surface (such as Hans Hubermann refusing to join the Nazi party and paying the social price for it), and the big ways hidden below the surface (such as hiding a Jewish man in their basement).

I absolutely loved this book. In fact, it goes into my top 10. Part of the reason is because I haven't ever read anything like it. It is written in a unique style, but unlike other books that have dealt with serious subject matter by taking a unique approach to story telling which I hated because I felt they were so contrived (i.e. The History of Love or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), there is no posturing with the writing in the Book Thief, and instead I found myself wanting to dive deeper into the story with every page that I read.

I realized very quickly why Kristin had recommended this story to me -- it is a partial answer to the question I was asking when I walked the streets of Frieberg in September -- it is the story of what people who were not Jewish and not fighting DID during the war. And it is told without judgment, but instead through writing and imagery that is honest, touching, and beautiful to read.

MY RATING: 10/10