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The Parade

In Dave Eggers’ The Parade, the reader is not told where the story takes place, other than it is a country somewhere in the Middle East which has been ravaged by war. There is constant danger from renegade rebel factions, requiring very strict security rules for foreign workers who are paving dirt roads to reconnect rural people to urban centers.

The main character, known only as “Four,” works with one other person known as “Nine.” They have virtually no verbal interaction or even eye contact with locals. Small personal connections often tend to encourage desperate, or unscrupulous people to extort, kill, kidnap, or steal from the workers. While any form of anomaly or impediment slows the progress of the road building, Four has always managed to finish his assignments on time. Nine, on the other hand, proves to be irresponsible and negligent: engaging with the locals, eating their food, attending their parties, sleeping with their daughters, and leaving Four and the RS-80 paving machine unsupported. Four manages to pave and yellow-stripe 25 or more kilometers each day on his own, hating Nine more and more as company rules are violated again and again.

Circumstances arise which force Four to trust a local man, Medallion, who offers much needed help. Four is in a constant state of anxiety as questions of ethical right and wrong pile up in his mind. He is not an unkind man, but the breakdown of a postwar society makes these questions hard to answer.

For a short book (less than 200 pages) this leaves an indelible image of the human suffering that goes on well after military troops have been pulled out.

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Losing Earth

This short, well researched book is a powerful documentation of precious time lost to prevent climate change. The focus is on the years 1979-1989, a single decade that encompassed the Antarctic ozone hole crisis, and the tremendous flurry of scientific evidence and testimony about rising global temperatures that followed.

It wasn’t just the scientific community raising the alarm. Oil, gas, and coal companies had done their own studies and had known for decades about the climate effects of long term unrestricted extraction and combustion of fossil fuels. Initially, they were on board to begin moving to renewables. In Congress, there was strong bi-partisan support to resolve the ozone hole problem and to take climate change seriously.

George H.W. Bush included in his campaign speeches, a promise to address climate change issues, but after winning, appointed John Sununu of New Hampshire as his Chief of Staff. Sununu perhaps did more than anyone to stymie action. He advised U.S. representatives to global summits not to sign protocols, insisting the science was weak. He ordered NASA scientist James Hansel to submit congressional committee speeches to his office where they were censored and re-written. James Hansen, to his great credit, refused the changes, testifying as a U.S. citizen rather than a government employee.

In 1979, Rafe Pomerance was Deputy Director of Friends of the Earth, based in Washington, D.C. After reading a technical EPA report on coal that said there would be”significant and damaging” changes to the global atmosphere withing two to three decades, he was immediately alarmed. This man, who most of us have never heard of, had widespread connections to all levels of government, from his years with the Sierra Club. He set in motion congressional hearings, press coverage, and the education of legislators by scientists. He and James Hansen are perhaps the original heroes of our growing awareness of our existential peril.

Losing Earth is a very accessible, quick read that you may be tempted to read a second time. Its authenticity and accuracy is based on many dozens of interviews with the major players (scientists, legislators, CEO’s, presidential staffers, etc.) involved in the governmental action and in-action of the 80’s.

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Starred Review: Implosion

Fascinating…disturbing…erudite…poetic…detailed…richly historical…painfully honest, and revealing all describe Garber’s memoir. I read her story with rapt attention as her brilliant, but often maniacal father, renown architect Woodie Garber relentlessly bent and enslaved his family to his will and whims.

Woodie Garber was a Modernist and adherent of the French architect Le Corbusier. His designs were flat roofed, and glass walled, making use of wood and stone in the interiors. Elizabeth Garber describes their home, when viewed from a distance at night, as being like an ocean liner with all lights blazing. Woodie’s designs can be seen around the city of Cincinnati. He designed the city’s public library as well as the towering, and much criticized Sander Hall, a 27 story glass-paneled dormitory, at the University of Cincinnati. Years later it was imploded.

Elizabeth’s father educated her in the realm of architecture from an early age. His ardent attention was intoxicating and she basked in his praise when she showed her aptitude and interest. Her younger brothers were often berated for being lazy, incompetent, or worse. Woodie was a big man with unpredictable behavior and a violent temper. His mental health deteriorated as his professional fortunes dwindled and his family could no longer tolerate his tyranny and out of control actions.

Woodie celebrated the naked body and was frequently nude at home. If he answered the door, whatever magazine he was reading provided cover. Bathroom doors were not allowed to be closed. The children were called on to tickle his back, a feeling he greatly enjoyed for extended periods of time. Throughout Elizabeth’s teens, he reciprocated, touching both sides of her body, claiming it was OK since he avoided the sensitive areas.

I have not nearly covered all the heartless and sometimes moving events and interactions that took place. Elizabeth will always have the emotional scars from her life with Woodie, but she has come to terms with the fact that she loves him. At the end, when she briefly describes her life with her first husband and children, it is a tranquil relief to the reader. She evolved into a creative communicator of the human condition with skills to offer a balm through the practice of acupuncture.

I highly recommend this book. It will cause readers to reflect on their own father and the dynamic between them even absent the abuse. Elizabeth resides in mid-coast Maine.

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Hedy Lamarr: An Incredible Life

Hedwig Keisler performed in the film Ecstasy when she was only 18 or 19 years-old. There was a huge scandal because she was nude in a solo sex scene, and the film was banned in many venues. Soon after, she starred in Sissi about the Empress Sissi which redeemed her somewhat in the public eye.

Desperate to get out in the world and advance her acting career, she impulsively married Friedrich Mandl, a wealthy German industrialist and Nazi sympathizer who wanted to own her for her great beauty. He kept her confined to their home except when he wanted to show her off, and in a fit of jealousy he burned every copy he could find of Ecstasy. She eventually managed an escape with the help of a maid, and absconded with enough of the jewels her husband had given her, to start a new life.

She went first to London where she met the rude and crude film mogul Louis B. Mayer. When they finally got their differences ironed-out, Hedy’s career took off, and so did her love life. She accumulated five marriages and many lovers, many of them major film stars.

The other half of this story is Hedy’s rich intellect, which was demonstrated when she was only a small child. Her father always discussed the science behind things they saw on their many long walks in Vienna, and Hedy had lots of questions, showing an unusual precosity of understanding. In her early teens she was repairing household appliances and inventing things which she recorded in her notebook entitled “Our Inventions”.

In 1942, she enlisted the help of pianist George Antheil to help her deliver to the War Department, a plan for a device to allow torpedoes to reach their targets undetected by changing a signal’s radio frequency (later called a frequency hop). The player piano had played a role in her discovery. The War Department turned her down saying that what was missing was the precision of a real scientist, and that the system was too cumbersome. They suggested she use her Hollywood star status to sell War Bonds, which she did to the tune of 25 million dollars.

As Hedy aged, she stopped making films and became a recluse after botched plastic surgery left her once, stunningly beautiful face disfigured. In the 90’s, her discovery laid the foundations for the development of new WiFi communications systems. In 1997, the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave her an amateur inventor award for her pioneering invention which has had a huge impact on our telecommunication advances.

The fun of graphic novels is that so much information can be conveyed by using both words and pictures. When you look at the last three wordless pages, the pictures create a powerful lasting image. I have learned a tremendous amount about Hedy, Josephine Baker, Marie Curie, and Joseph Stalin in very short investments of reading time by choosing this very entertaining literary form. I highly recommend it!

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Book of the Day: Among the Shadows

This is the first of Coffin’s Detective Byron Series based in Portland and Westbrook, Maine. The story of serial cop murders is lent great credibility by Coffin’s 12 years of experience on the Portland police force as a Detective Sergeant. He knows the procedures, staff relationships, necessary mental clarity, laws, dangers, and emotions of one engaged in ethical law enforcement.

Fairly early in the story, there are suggestions that the murders are an internal department problem and the challenge for John Byron is of course figuring out who, when, how, and why. You may have suspicions that prove to be correct, but the author rolls out the solution with twists and setbacks that leave the reader unsure, and compelled to get back to the story after any short break. Character types will be familiar because of the great exposure to vast numbers of detective books, movies and TV shows on the market, but Coffin avoids cliches and commonly used extremes of personality that we almost expect. This makes his story more real and easier to relate to.

An extra bonus for Maine readers is the anticipation of what Portland venues his characters will visit, as there are many they will recognize. I greatly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the sequels, Beneath the Depths and Beyond the Truth.

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Algeria is Beautiful Like America

A young French woman decides to travel alone to Algeria in search of her family roots and to visit the former home of her mother and grandmother. It is the beginning of an enlightening and disturbing exposure to reality.

Olivia had never really studied the Algerian fight for independence from France, so she began reading and talking to all of her relatives who had lived there. They were “black foot”, French colonists who settled in the mountainous Aures region and opposed independence and disliked Arabs intensely. They supported the O.A.S. (secret army organization) that used terrorism, murder, and any means necessary to stop the independence movement.

The FLN (National Liberation Front) was made up of Arab and North African nationalist groups whose resistance led to the Algerian War. While she didn’t know it at first, her somewhat gruff guide was a member of the FLN and was not pleased about taking her into still hostile territory. There is an odd turn of events at the end.

I found this book fascinating for the history, and for the reminder that the truth in political situations is often elusive because of bigotry, self-interest, economics, or power seeking. Like many non-fiction graphic novels, this was highly informative in a very engaging and easy to absorb format.


If you’re interested in Algeria is Beautiful Like America, you might like these graphic novels….

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.

Threads: From the Refugee Crisis by Kate Evans

In the French port town of Calais, famous for its historic lace industry, a city within a city arose. This new town, known as the Jungle, was home to thousands of refugees, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, all hoping, somehow, to get to the UK. Into this squalid shantytown of shipping containers and tents, full of rats and trash and devoid of toilets and safety, the artist Kate Evans brought a sketchbook and an open mind.

Accompanying the story of Kate’s time spent among the refugees—the insights acquired and the lives recounted—is the harsh counterpoint of prejudice and scapegoating arising from the political right. Threads addresses one of the most pressing issues of modern times to make a compelling case, through intimate evidence, for the compassionate treatment of refugees and the free movement of peoples.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.

At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent—the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home.

**Descriptions taken from publisher description**