Europa Blues (Dahl)

I read Dahl’s Misterioso a few years ago and was hypnotized by it. For me, Dahl is in Mankell’s neighborhood yet he seems mostly undiscovered here in the United States. So when I found this book during a visit to Israel, I was excited and thought it might provide some relief from the Israeli fiction, history, and politics I’d been reading.

Shortly after the plane took off, I found I was wrong. One of the victims, the one that didn’t fit the pattern, was a concentration camp survivor. Still, Dahl’s prose was enough to make me read on. Part of it is that there’s a great ensemble of policemen in the Intercrime Unit. Certainly, there is one detective at the center, but he spends less time in the spotlight here than he did in Misterioso.

As the plot unravels and comes to its necessary climax, Dahl takes us to a place that I hope is fictional. Like Mankell, he does not limit his genre to ‘just’ a mystery. It is a vehicle for social commentary and, in this case, he refuses to allow Sweden to forget or erase its past. Individuals and countries may try to re-invent themselves, but they can not and should not try to bury the past.

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Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy (Thompson)

Before I read this book, all I knew about Attica came from Dog Day Afternoon. In other words, I didn’t know much. The only reason I bought this book is that it won the Pulitzer, so I was curious. And what an unbelievable and all-too-believable.

The conditions at the prison and the retaking of the prison cannot be easily dismissed. Here we have the very definition of man’s inhumanity to man. How in the world could people let other people live under certain conditions? How could they treat them the way the prison employees, the way the prison doctors, treated those prisoners? I don’t want to gloss over any part of this.

But the way the state of New York then fought so desperately to change the narrative, to hide the narrative, to punish those who’d been punished too much and to ignore those who deserved so much more (and here I mean both the prisoners and the hostages) was just astonishing. To read this book is to look into the face of cold, calculating meanness. To send the families of the employees who’d died a check, a very small check, a very much needed check, as a way to guarantee that they couldn’t pursue other legal means of being compensated. . . I mean, who thinks like that?

And the way it all stretched out – for years and years and years. I’d be reading and Thompson would mention the date, and I’d find myself shocked at how long it took to even begin to right even a few of the very many wrongs that took place at Attica.

This is an amazing, well-narrated, powerful and necessary book.

Incident at Vichy (Miller)

I am continuing to wind my way through Arthur Miller’s Collected Plays (Penguin, Miller Centennial Edition). I’ve never seen this one live; it certainly read very quickly. It reminded me of The Crucible in places – an individual’s decision to sacrifice himself for a larger idea. And the individual, as in Miller’s more (most?) famous play is not the expected sort. He’s more of an everyman. There seemed to be a wide array of characters for such a short play, so I wonder if they can be brought to life so quickly. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never seen it. I can’t even remember seeing it produced anywhere. Next is All My Sons.

The Orchardist (Coplin)

This was the book I needed now. I’m always grateful for a book that takes place outside of a city I know, outside of a life I know, outside of a time I know. The Orchardist does all of this and somehow Coplin makes it recognizable for an outsider like myself. The main characters are all decent people who have collided with some awful and fully realistic circumstances. They try to negotiate their lives but perhaps it is that people, unlike fruit trees, require more and different kinds of attention. Also unlike the fruit trees, the people who inhabit Coplin’s world may stay in one place, but they cannot stay still. We are all haunted, this book seems to suggest, or at least living with choice,s both made and unmade, both in our control and out of our control. We are forever chasing these choices, somehow, not as obsessively as Ahab, but with a kind of quiet and urgent persistence.

I fell into this book, wanted to meet the people and see the places. I cherished every soft and quiet moment; I think we all need more of these now. And I ached for the pure humanness of the people I feel honored to have met.

And Coplin makes the most of small moments. The purchase of a hat. The lonely decency of Caroline Middey. The intricate design and texture of a gun. The taste of an apricot.

Apparently, it took Coplin 8 years to write this book. I don’t want to rush her, but I’d like another one soon.

The Yellow Wind (Grossman)

I have to give Grossman credit here. He did simply pontificate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He makes the conflict human by talking to those it impacts directly. At times, it seems like he must have taken incredible risks to do so, but he does not call attention to his efforts. Instead, he lets the people speak. There are few digressions in history or whatever might be called the bigger picture. He simply lets the people speak and positions himself as a recorder or perhaps interviewer (at most). And the picture, and this book was published in 1988, is not only not good, it is complicated and not good.

Part of the argument here reminds me (in both its content and its truth) of the argument made about slavery. We know (within limits) what being a slave did to people. What did being a slaveholder do to a person? We see here what being occupied does to individuals. The men and, it seems, teens sleeping in a warehouse because they can’t deal with the border on a regular basis, will haunt me. And what, Grossman asks (and I took myself as a part of the audience for this question) does being part of an occupying force do to a person?

Autumn (Smith)

I know this is being hailed as the first post-Brexit novel, and it does a great job of that. It is also a remarkable love story and continues Smith’s pattern of redefining time and language. I understand this is the first of a quartet – all based on the seasons – and I can’t wait for the rest. There is not much to say here. It is a complete and total masterpiece.

The Power and the Glory (Greene)

This was an incredibly atmospheric read. I got the sense that there was always a constant drizzle and that people moved slowly, sometimes because of the heat and sometimes because there was no hurry to get to the limited places they could go. On one level, this book represents one of the slowest chase scenes in literary history. Somehow, I was profoundly engaged by the book, with its thoughtful contemplation of power and glory in all of their political, economic, military and religious (okay, especially religious) forms. The writing is dense and profound, the characters are fully human, and there are many memorable scenes. This is one worth reading and re-reading.