Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Queen Beatrix's Abdication, the Netherlands, & Koch's The Dinner



Today's BBC headline is "Dutch Queen Beatrix abdicates in favour of son:"
Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has handed the throne to her son Prince Willem-Alexander. The 75-year-old monarch signed the instrument of abdication in Amsterdam after 33 years on the throne. Willem-Alexander has now become the country's first king since 1890.
To dig a little deeper, here's the Irish Times article "Dutch royals search for role as gossip-obsessed media circles new prey:"
Fond as the Dutch are of the departing Queen Beatrix, who abdicates today after 33 years on the throne, at 75 she has only limited gossip potential. On the other hand, Willem-Alexander’s Argentinian investment banker wife, Maxima, who becomes queen today, generates endless “glamour” interest, and their three daughters – known by their parents as “the Triple As” – still have their teenage years ahead of them, packed with “red-top” potential. ["Red-top" is a UK term for tabloids.]
For a novel set in the Netherlands, you have several options based on your genre tastes.

For literary fiction, try The Dinner by Herman Koch:
It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.
For historical fiction, try The Assault by Harry Mulisch:
It is the winter of 1945, the last dark days of the ware in occupied Holland. A Nazi collaborator, infamous for his cruelty, is assassinated as he rides on his bicycle. The Germans retaliate by slaughtering an innocent family: only the youngest son, twelve-year-old Anton, survives. 
The Assault traces the complex repercussions of this nightmarish event on Anton's life. Determined not to forget, he opts for a carefully normal existence—a prudent marriage, a successful career, and colorless passivity. But the past keeps breaking through, in relentless memories and in chance encounters with the other actors in the drama, until Anton finally learns what really happened that night in 1945, and why.
For a murder mystery, you might like Dutch Me Deadly by Maddy Hunter:
As a travel escort for seniors, Emily Andrew-Miceli has led her feisty Iowa clan all over the world. This time, they're off to see historic windmills, classic Rembrandts, and picturesque canals in Holland - if they can ever unplug from their smartphones, that is.
Joining them is the high school class from Bangor, Maine, whose 50th reunion celebration goes south faster than a fallen Brussel sprout soufflé as old rivalries start heating up. Worse, Emily's hopes for a 100% survival rate on this trip are dashed when an important member of the tour suffers a tragic (and highly suspicious) accident.
Then the saucy seniors' wild night of drug-laced desserts and risqué shows in Amsterdam's infamous Red Light District gets even more mysterious when one unpopular reunioner goes missing…
And for a thriller, try the soon-to-be-published Choke Point by Ridley Pearson:
When an award-winning foreign journalist reveals the existence of an Amsterdam-based sweatshop known as a “knot shop” that employs and enslaves young girls as laborers, private security firm Rutherford Risk is hired by a philanthropist to find it and shut it down. David “Sarge” Dulwich, Knox’s former boss from their government contractor days, knows that Knox's cultural knowledge, combat skills, and sympathy for the abused make him right for the job.
Joined by Grace Chu, whose more subtle skills for acquiring sensitive tech information help to balance Knox's improvisational style, he heads to Amsterdam in an attempt to dismantle the child labor operation and rescue the girls. In their way is a crime organization that has permeated the neighborhoods with goodwill turning even the victims' parents against their would-be saviors. With enemies around every corner, Knox and Grace can't tell the good from the bad. [Due out 4 June 2013].


Monday, April 29, 2013

Everest Fight, Mountaineering, & Rideout's Above All Things


From today's BBC article "Everest: Climbers Steck and Moro in fight with Sherpas:"
Police in Nepal are investigating an alleged fight between two famous European climbers and their Nepalese mountain guides on Mount Everest.
Switzerland's Ueli Steck and Simone Moro from Italy were nearing Camp Three at 7,470m (24,500ft) when the incident occurred.
The fight allegedly broke out after the pair ignored orders to hold their climb while the Sherpas were rigging ropes. The guides reportedly attacked the pair after they returned to their tents...
An unnamed eyewitness told the AFP news agency the incident had been "terrifying to watch - they nearly got killed".

For a novel about climbing Everest, try Above All Things by Tanis Rideout:
The Paris Wife meets Into Thin Air in this breathtaking debut novel of obsession and divided loyalties, which brilliantly weaves together the harrowing story of George Mallory's ill-fated 1924 attempt to be the first man to conquer Mount Everest, with that of a single day in the life of his wife as she waits at home in England for news of his return.
A captivating blend of historical fact and imaginative fiction, Above All Things moves seamlessly back and forth between the epic story of Mallory's legendary final expedition and a heartbreaking account of a day in the life of Ruth Mallory.
Through George's perspective, and that of the newest member of the climbing team, Sandy Irvine, we get an astonishing picture of the terrible risks taken by the men on the treacherous terrain of the Himalaya.
But it is through Ruth's eyes that a complex portrait of a marriage emerges, one forged on the eve of the First World War, shadowed by its losses, and haunted by the ever-present possibility that George might not come home.
For a young adult novel about Everest, try Peak by Roland Smith:
After Peak Marcello is arrested for scaling a New York City skyscraper, he's left with two choices: wither away in Juvenile Detention or go live with his long-lost father, who runs a climbing company in Thailand.
But Peak quickly learns that his father's renewed interest in him has strings attached. Big strings. He wants Peak to be the youngest person to reach the Everest summit--and his motives are selfish at best.
Even so, for a climbing addict like Peak, tackling Everest is the challenge of a lifetime. But it's also one that could cost him his life.
For a non-fiction book about climbing Everest, I recommend Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer:
Into Thin Air is a riveting first-hand account of a catastrophic expedition up Mount Everest. In March 1996, Outside magazine sent veteran journalist and seasoned climber Jon Krakauer on an expedition led by celebrated Everest guide Rob Hall. Despite the expertise of Hall and the other leaders, by the end of summit day eight people were dead. Krakauer's book is at once the story of the ill-fated adventure and an analysis of the factors leading up to its tragic end.
Written within months of the events it chronicles, Into Thin Air clearly evokes the majestic Everest landscape. As the journey up the mountain progresses, Krakauer puts it in context by recalling the triumphs and perils of other Everest trips throughout history.

Indian Wars, Wounded Knee Massacre, & Berger's Little Big Man




From Saturday's BBC article "To whom does Wounded Knee belong?:"
Part of the historical site at Wounded Knee is up for sale. Should it be developed as a landmark or left in peace out of respect for the Sioux people who died there?
Almost as soon as the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee was over, the battle to define what happened on that bleak December day began... [A]s many as 300 unarmed men, women and children were killed. And official reports from some in government criticizing the massacre were simply buried.
For the Sioux descendants still living in the Pine Ridge reservation, who remember first-hand accounts of the atrocity, the news that a key part of that painful history could be sold outside the tribe has come as a shock.
A 40-acre parcel of land that's part of the massacre site is up for sale, and its owner has given the tribe until 1 May to come up with the $3.9m (£2.5m) asking price. If they don't, land owner James Czywczynski says he will be forced to accept one of several offers he has already secured from commercial buyers, who may attempt to capitalize on the land as a tourist attraction.
For a novel about the Indian Wars (including massacres like Wounded Knee), try Thomas Berger's Little Big Man:
'I am a white man and never forget it, but I was brought up by the Cheyenne Indians from the age of ten.' So starts the story of Jack Crabb, the 111-year old narrator of Thomas Berger's masterpiece of American fiction. As a "human being", as the Cheyenne called their own, he won the name Little Big Man. He dressed in skins, feasted on dog, loved four wives and saw his people butchered by the horse soldiers of General Custer, the man he had sworn to kill.
As a white man, Crabb hunted buffalo, tangled with Wyatt Earp, cheated Wild Bill Hickok and survived the Battle of Little Bighorn. Part-farcical, part-historical, the picaresque adventures of this witty, wily mythomaniac claimed the Wild West as the stuff of serious literature.

You also might like Dances with Wolves by Michael Blake:
Ordered to hold an abandoned army post, John Dunbar found himself alone, beyond the edge of civilization. Thievery and survival soon forced him into the Indian camp, where he began a dangerous adventure that changed his life forever.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Philippines Underbelly & Hagedorn's Dogeaters


From Friday's ABC News article "NY Man Wanted in 2 Philippines Killings Arrested:"
Almost two years after a retired British police officer and his live-in girlfriend were shot to death as they slept in the Philippines, New York State Police said Friday they arrested one of the men accused of doing it.
Troopers worked with the FBI and Interpol for several months to track down 35-year-old Timothy Noah Kaufman...
In a posting on its website, the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation says Kaufman and two other men shot 54-year-old David Balmer and his 26-year-old girlfriend, Elma de Guia, in September 2011 as they slept in the home of Balmer's business partner, Richard Agnew, in Angeles City. Agnew discovered their bodies the next day. Philippines media report the area is in the heart of the country's sex tourism business and that Agnew owns several clubs.
For a novel that delves into the poverty and the sex trade of the Philippines, try Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn:
This jazzy, sardonic novel depicts the nightmare world that was the Philippines of the Marcoses...  Rich and poor, everyone sells something here; everyone has a price. The common dream of a myriad group of characters--bored teenagers, timid shop girls, male prostitutes on the make--is that hollowest of all modern apotheoses, "stardom."
A visiting filmmaker, a German degenerate, buys the services of a pretty boy, who soliloquizes: "I'll have it all worked out, soon. I know I will. I have to. I'll hit the jackpot with one of these guys. Leave town. Get lucky . . . . Soon."

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Guantanamo Hunger Strike & Gilvarry's From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant


Here's yesterday's Washington Post article, "Number of prisoners on hunger strike in Guantanamo rises to 97:"
The number of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay who are on a hunger strike has risen again.
Lt. Col. Samuel House said Friday that 97 men are now on strike, up three from the day before. He says 19 of them are receiving liquid nutrients through a nasal tube to prevent dangerous weight loss. Another five are under observation at the hospital on the U.S. base in Cuba. He says none have life-threatening conditions.
The hunger strike began in February, with prisoners protesting conditions and their indefinite confinement. Lawyers for the prisoners say the military is undercounting the number of hunger strikers. The U.S. holds 166 prisoners at Guantanamo, most without charges.
I have several recommendations for novels about Guantanamo.

For a satirical novel, try From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry:
Boyet Hernandez is a small man with a big American dream when he arrives in New York in 2002, fresh out of fashion school in the Philippines.  But on the brink of fame and fortune, there comes instead a knock on the door in the middle of the night: the flamboyant ex-Catholic is swept to America’s most notorious prison, administered a Qur’an and locked away indefinitely to discover his link to a terrorist plot.
Now, in his six-by-eight-foot cell, Boy prepares for the tribunal of his life with this intimate confession. From borrowed mattress to converted toothpick factory loft, from custom suit commissions to high-end retail, we are immersed in a wonderland of soirees, runways, and hipster romance in twenty-first-century Gotham... But behind the scrim of his wit and chutzpah is his present nightmare of detainment in the sun-baked place he calls No Man’s Land. The more Boy’s faith in American justice is usurped by the Kafkaesque demands of his interrogator, the more ardently he clings to the chimerical hope and humanity of his adoptive country.

For a novel about what what it's like to be an interrogator at Guantanamo, try The Prisoner of Guantanamo by Dan Fesperman:
When the body of an American soldier is discovered in Cuban waters near the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo, Revere Falk, a former FBI agent, is reassigned from his job interrogating an accused al-Qaeda operative to investigate the soldier’s mysterious death.
Falk soon finds himself in a deadly game of intrigue that stretches from the charged waters of Guantánamo Bay to the polished halls of Washington. Every move Falk makes could be costly, and to make matters worse, a dark figure from his past reappears, brandishing a secret he thought he had safely buried.

For a young adult novel about what it's like to be a prisoner at Guantanamo, try Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera:
Khalid, a fifteen-year-old Muslim boy from Rochdale, is abducted from Pakistan while on holiday with his family. He is taken to Guantanamo Bay and held without charge, where his hopes and dreams are crushed under the cruellest of circumstances. An innocent denied his freedom at a time when Western boys are finding theirs, Khalid tries and fails to understand what's happening to him and cannot fail to be a changed young man.

Finally, I also recommend M. Salahuddin Khan's Sikander, a book I previously recommended as a pairing to the debate over arming Syrian rebels:  
It's 1986. Seventeen-year-old Sikander dreams of studying and living in America, but in a blind rage after a family quarrel, he leaves his Peshawar, Pakistan home. 
Encountering mujahideen warriors, he joins them in their fight against the occupying Soviets in neighboring Afghanistan. American assistance is stepped up with advanced weapons, like the Stinger missile, and the mujahideen begin prevailing against the Soviets. 
After just two years following Sikander s arrival, a Soviet withdrawal begins and Sikander returns as a war-wise hero, settling down to build a normal life in Pakistan. 
Discovering romance, Sikander, becomes a happily married successful entrepreneur in Pakistan, when he finds his life abruptly thrown into turmoil as he s caught up in aftermath of 9/11. 
He must draw on the lessons from his mujahideen past as he takes on a perilous journey reaching as far as America, changing his life forever. SIKANDER takes us from the pricey suburbs of Peshawar to the primitive war-torn landscape of Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, to the placid serenity of Scotland, through the camps of Guantanamo...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Video Games, World of Warcraft, & Stephenson's Reamde


Here's Wednesday's Forbes article, "Chasing Dragons: How A Misunderstanding Of Video Games Led To The 38 Studios Disaster:"
It seems like a simple tale. Almost an admirable one. A retired sports star loved video games so much, he wanted to make one of his own...
Unfortunately, Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios now stands as a cautionary tale on overreaching expectations in the video game industry...
Schilling...was shooting for the moon... The game was Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, meant to be a World of Warcraft style sword and sorcery MMO... After all, how hard could it be to make another World of Warcraft?
That’s a question that would make anyone with even a passing interesting in gaming burst out laughing... For as much as Schilling claimed to love gaming, he was entirely delusional about the ease of crafting smash hits in the genre. Companies far more established than his have been trying to make a dent in World of Warcraft’s armor for a decade now
For a novel about the creation of a World of Warcraft-like game, try Reamde by Neal Stephenson:
Four decades ago, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa family, fled to a wild and lonely mountainous corner of British Columbia to avoid the draft. Smuggling backpack loads of high-grade marijuana across the border into Northern Idaho, he quickly amassed an enormous and illegal fortune.
With plenty of time and money to burn, he became addicted to an online fantasy game in which opposing factions battle for power and treasure in a vast cyber realm. Like many serious gamers, he began routinely purchasing virtual gold pieces and other desirables from Chinese gold farmers—young professional players in Asia who accumulated virtual weapons and armor to sell to busy American and European buyers.
For Richard, the game was the perfect opportunity to launder his aging hundred dollar bills and begin his own high-tech start up—a venture that has morphed into a Fortune 500 computer gaming group, Corporation 9592, with its own super successful online role-playing game, T’Rain.
But the line between fantasy and reality becomes dangerously blurred when a young gold farmer accidently triggers a virtual war for dominance—and Richard is caught at the center.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

ANZAC Day & Courtenay's Solomon's Song


Today is ANZAC day and here's the latest reporting from TVNZ, "Thousands attend 'emotional' Anzac Day services:"
Around 10,000 people braved the weather to attend the country's biggest service at Auckland's War Memorial Museum. It has been 98 years since Anzac forces landed on the shores of Gallipoli. "I spent some time in the New Zealand Army deploying to Afghanistan, it's a big day for me, probably the most important day of the year," said Damian Walker.
For a novel about Australia and New Zealand's experiences in WWI (and at Gallipoli), try Bryce Courtenay's Solomon's Song:
Solomons are pitted against Solomons as the families are locked in a bitter struggle that crosses battlefields and continents to reach a powerful conclusion.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Circus Animals, Tiger-Tamers, & Hough's The Final Confession of Mabel Stark


From the Guardian article "Circuses to be banned from using wild animals:"
Circuses [in England] will be banned from using wild animals in their shows under new government proposals that have been published after a long campaign.
Politicians and animal welfare groups have repeatedly called for the measure and in June 2011 MPs overwhelmingly supported a blanket ban, but ministers were initially reluctant to meet their demands due to fears over possible legal action from circus operators. T
he government's plan will make it an offence for any operator to use a wild animal in performance or exhibition in a travelling circus in England from 1 December 2015.

For a novel about a tiger-tamer and the circus animals she worked with, try The Final Confession of Mabel Stark by Robert Hough:
In the 1910s and '20s, during the golden age of the big top, Mabel Stark was the superstar of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, and one of America's most eccentric celebrities. A tiny, curvaceous Kentucky blonde in a white leather bodysuit, Mabel was brazen, sexually adventurous, and suicidally courageous. The Final Confession of Mabel Stark is Robert Hough's brilliant, highly acclaimed novelization of her fantastic life. It is 1968 — Mabel is just turning eighty and is about to lose her job at Jungleland, a Southern California game park. Devastated by the loss of her cats, she looks back on her life and her five husbands: the fifth would one day be tragically mauled by her one true love, her ferocious yet amorous 550-pound Bengal tiger Rajah. Starting with her escape from a mental institution to begin her circus career as a burlesque dancer, Mabel's exquisitely voiced confession is a live wire of dark secrets, broken dreams, and comic escapades.

Back in the News: Cancer Sticks & Horse Doping

Cigarettes
New York City took the first step on Monday in outlawing sales of cigarettes to anyone under age 21, in an effort to reduce smoking among the age group in which most smokers take up the habit.
The bill, which was introduced by the city council and has the backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would make New York City, which already has the highest cigarette taxes in the nation, the first big city or state to set the smoking age at 21. Currently, individuals must be 18 to buy cigarettes.
Eight in 10 adult smokers in the city started smoking regularly when they were below the age of 21, and most smokers who are under age 18 obtain cigarettes from individuals who are just a few years older than them, city officials said.

Horse Racing
Eleven horses from the Godolphin stable have tested positive for anabolic steroids in one of the biggest doping scandals in British racing history.
Godolphin trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni will attend a British Horseracing Authority inquiry after irregularities were discovered in 11 of 45 racehorses. Al Zarooni has admitted making "a catastrophic mistake"...
The 11 horses, who together have won more than $2m (£1.31m) in prize money, include unbeaten Certify, who will not be allowed to run in next month's 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Godolphin is the Maktoum family's private thoroughbred horseracing stable and is overseen by the constitutional monarch of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, who appointed Al Zarooni three years ago.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

POWs & Clavell's King Rat


From April 11th's BBC article, "Medal of Honor for US Army chaplain Father Kapaun:"
An Army chaplain who saved the lives of fellow US soldiers before perishing in a North Korean prison camp has been awarded a posthumous US Medal of Honor...
In the official Medal of Honor citation, Kapaun is hailed for staying behind at the battle of Unsan to tend to wounded comrades when Chinese soldiers overran the American position...
After their capture, Kapaun and wounded soldiers able to walk were marched to a prison camp near Pyoktong, just south of the Yalu River in North Korea. During the march and his time at the camp, Kapaun helped carry wounded men, bathed them and washed their clothes, stole food for his fellow prisoners and held secret prayer services in defiance of the Communist camp officials.
He contracted dysentery and pneumonia, and after months in near-freezing and starving conditions, Kapaun died in late May 1951 at the age of 35.
For a novel about POWs, try King Rat by James Clavell (who himself was a prisoner of war in WWII):
The time is World War II. The place is a brutal prison camp deep in Japanese-occupied territory. Here, within the seething mass of humanity, one man, an American corporal, seeks dominance over both captives and captors alike. His weapons are human courage, unblinking understanding of human weaknesses, and total willingness to exploit every opportunity to enlarge his power and corrupt or destroy anyone who stands in his path.

Financial Crisis & Haslett's Union Atlantic


Now that I've posted about bond traders and Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, how about some finance fiction for the 21st century?

Here's last week's Wall Street Journal article, "EU Approves Bonus Caps for Bankers":"
The European Parliament passed new rules Tuesday that will cap bankers' bonuses and boost banks' capital buffers, clearing the last hurdle for the legislation to come into force next year. The rules will limit bankers' bonuses to 100% of annual salary, or twice the annual salary if shareholders explicitly approve.
The compromise deal, which was approved by a majority vote, was hammered out earlier this month between European lawmakers and member states in the face of opposition from the U.K., home to Europe's largest financial hub. Britain has warned that banks could move their operations to the U.S. or Asia, as a result of the new rules.
"The rules will put an end to the culture of excessive bonuses, which encouraged risk-taking for short-term gains," said José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm. "If taxpayers are being asked to pick up the bill after the financial crisis, banks must also make a contribution."

For a novel about the financial crisis, try Union Atlantic by Pulitzer Prize finalist Adam Haslett:
In Haslett's excellent first novel (following Pulitzer and National Book Award finalist short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here), a titan of the banking industry does battle with a surprisingly formidable opponent: a retired history teacher. Doug Fanning has built Union Atlantic from a mid-size Boston bank to an international powerhouse and rewards himself by building a rural palace in Finden, Mass. The land his house is built on, however, had been donated to Finden for preservation by Charlotte Graves's grandfather, and Charlotte believes she now has a claim on the lot. She may be right, and her disdain of modern decadence means bad news for Doug should she win in court.... This book should be of interest to readers fascinated but perplexed by the current financial crisis, as it is able to navigate the oubliette of Wall Street trading to create searing and intimate drama.

Cosmetic Surgery & James' The Private Patient


From last week's Daily Mail article "Hundreds of women with faulty breast implants jeer French businessman as he goes on trial for making millions 'selling leaky PIP silicone':"
A French businessman who made millions by selling faulty breast implants was booed by his victims as he appeared in court today charged with fraud.
Jean-Claude Mas, 74, who founded and ran implant-maker Poly Implant Prothese, is among those on trial in Marseille. The now-defunct company had claimed its factory in France exported to more than 60 countries and was one of the world's leading implant makers.
The implants, which officials say are prone to rupture and leaking, were not sold in the United States, but more than 125,000 women worldwide received them until sales ended in March 2010. Of those, more than 5,000 are joining the trial as victims, saying the executives misled them into believing the implants were safe.
For a novel set in a cosmetic surgery clinic, try P.D. James' mystery novel The Private Patient:
In James's stellar 14th Adam Dalgliesh mystery (after 2006's The Lighthouse), the charismatic police commander knows the case of Rhoda Gradwyn, a 47-year-old journalist murdered soon after undergoing the removal of an old disfiguring scar at a private plastic surgery clinic in Dorset, may be his last; James's readers will fervently hope it isn't.
Dalgliesh probes the convoluted tangle of motives and hidden desires that swirl around the clinic, Cheverell Manor, and its grimly fascinating suspects in the death of Gradwyn, herself a stalker of minds driven by her lifelong passion for rooting out the truth people would prefer left unknown and then selling it for money. Beyond the book's central moral concern, James meditates on universal problems like aging (the amorphous flattening of self)...

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Kentucky Derby & David Francis' Dead Cert


The Kentucky Derby, to be held on May 3rd, is little more than a week away. Here's the latest from the Washington Post article, "Top Kentucky derby contender Verrazano, Revolutionary post workouts at Churchill Downs:"
Verrazano and Revolutionary were among five Kentucky Derby contenders posting workouts at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning.
Unbeaten Verrazano worked five furlongs in 1:00.20, while Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary breezed four furlongs in 48:80 with three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel aboard for the first time since being chosen to ride the colt.
Both 3-year-olds are trained by Todd Pletcher, who could have as many as six of the 20 horses in the Derby on May 4.
For a novel about horse racing, try Dead Cert by Dick Francis:
A jockey-hero ... realizes that a horse against which he was racing (at Maidenhead) is put at a disadvantage when the champion jockey who is riding it is murdered before the winning post. He must turn detective. (From the BBC review.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rio's Favelas & Lins' City of God


From Wednesday's UPI article "Brazil beefs up security before pope's visit, World Cup:"
Brazil is beefing up national security in preparation for the July visit of Pope Francis, the FIFA World Cup next year and the 2016 Olympics...
The slums, known as favelas, haven't entirely disappeared despite repeated police and paramilitary operations and remain problem areas for Brazil's law enforcement agencies, including army units used occasionally when police action fails.
The favelas are seen as hotbeds of crime, drug trade and human trafficking -- blots on the image the government of President Dilma Rousseff wants to present to the pope when he visits in July, the World Cup next year and the Olympics.
Before the pontiff's visit, Brazil will also host the FIFA Confederations Cup, an international association soccer tournament conducted June 15-30, which is a prelude to the 2014 World Cup. Brazil is the defending champion.
For a novel set in a favela, try City of God by Paulo Lins:
Lins's 1997 fiction debut—the source of the 2002 film published in English for the first time—chronicles two generations over three decades in the infamous Rio de Janeiro City of God, "a neo-slum of concrete, brimming dealer-doorways, sinister-silences and cries of despair."
From the slum's creation in the early 1960s for flood victims, through the rise of disco and cocaine in the 1970s, to the horrific gang wars of the 1980s, Lins traces the rise and fall of myriad, often teenaged gangsters for whom guns, girls and drugs are the tools of power.
While the film traces the divergent paths of two childhood friends, the novel rushes from vignette to vignette, with an ever-changing cast of characters with names like "Good Life," "Beelzebub" and "Hellraiser." Years, and pages, pass in a haze of smoking, drinking, snorting lines of cocaine, dancing sambas, swearing and planning the next big score. Guns dispense justice; the price for disrespect, whether to a spouse, a friend or the favela, is torture or death.
Lins, who grew up in the City, lets the horror speak for itself. He serves up a Scarface-like urban epic, bursting with encyclopedic, graphic descriptions of violence, punctuated with lyricism and longing.

April 27th White House Correspondents' Dinner & Tanabe's The List


The April 27th White House Correspondents' Dinner is fast approaching. Whenever I hear about the Dinner, I think of Colbert's epic 2006 speech at the event:




But it sounds like it's now become something of a celebrity circus. Here's today's Washington Post editorial, "E! to livestream White House Correspondents’ Dinner red carpet for first time:"
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner has finally, formally been crowned The Hollywood Petting Zoo.
E! Entertainment network announces Friday it will livestream the dinner’s red carpet for the very first time. The celebrity suck-up network will telecast highlights from the clambake the next night.
Ashley Judd, Connie Britton, Courteney Cox, Elizabeth Banks, Eric Stonestreet, Hayden Panettiere, Jon Bon Jovi, Kate Walsh, Kevin Spacey, Kristin Chenoweth, Matthew Perry, Nicole Kidman, Olivia Munn, Patricia Arquette, Shaquille O'Neal, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, and Tracy Morgan are expected on this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner red carpet,
E! noted. Conan O’Brien is hosting this year’s entertainment at the dinner in which, E! explained, Hollywood, media, “and political royalty” all come together for a night.

For a novel about DC correspondents, try The List by Karin Tanabe:
Meet Adrienne Brown, a twenty-eight-year-old Wellesley College grad who recently left her glamorous job at Town & Country for a spot at the Capitolist. Known simply as the List to Beltway insiders, it’s the only media outlet in D.C. that’s actually on the rise.
Taking the job means accepting a painful pay cut, giving up perks like free Louboutins, and moving back in with her parents, but Adrienne is certain that her new position will be the making of her career. And it is—but not at all in the way that she expects. The Capitolist runs at an insane pace: Adrienne’s up before five in the morning, writing ten stories a day (sometimes on her BlackBerry, often during her commute), and answering every email within three minutes.
Just when it seems like the frenetic workload is going to break her, she stumbles upon a juicy political affair, involving a very public senator—and her most competitive colleague. Discovering that there’s much more to the relationship than meets the eye, Adrienne realizes she’s got the scoop of a lifetime. But should she go public with the story?

Back in the News: Musharraf's Arrest & Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes

From Thursday's BBC article, "Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf: Court orders ex-ruler's arrest:"
A court has ordered the arrest of Gen Pervez Musharraf over his attempt when Pakistan's military ruler to impose house arrest on judges in March 2007.
Mr Musharraf was present at the Islamabad High Court when the judges issued the order. He had been seeking to extend bail in the case. Police present made no attempt to arrest him as he left the court.
A statement from his office described the court order as "ill-conceived and unwarranted judicial activism". It said that the order was "seemingly motivated by personal vendettas" since Mr Musharraf's return to Pakistan to participate in general elections in May. An appeal is being made to the Supreme Court, the statement said.
When I posted about Musharraf last month, shortly after his return to Pakistan, I recommended A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif:
Ali Shigri, Pakistan Air Force pilot and Silent Drill Commander of the Fury Squadron, is on a mission to avenge his father's suspicious death, which the government calls a suicide. Ali's target is none other than General Zia ul-Haq, dictator of Pakistani. Enlisting a rag-tag group of conspirators...Ali sets his elaborate plan in motion. There's only one problem: the line of would-be Zia assassins is longer than he could have possibly known.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Canadian Politics & Fallis' The Best Laid Plans


From yesterday’s Guardian article “Justin Trudeau takes up father's torch for Canada's Liberal party:”
There are few equivalents to the political power and promise associated with membership of the storied Kennedy clan. But in Canada, being the eldest son of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau comes close…
Now, more than a decade after Trudeau's death, his first-born son, Justin, has taken up his father's torch. An MP since 2008, he was elected leader of the Liberal party last weekend with an overwhelming 80% of votes cast…
Now Trudeau, 41, has a task more daunting than living up to his famous name. His challenge leading up to the next federal election in 2015 is to return the once dominant Liberal party to power. It is no easy job given that the Liberals, who made up the government in 2006, are now in greatly diminished third place in the House of Commons.
For a novel about Canadian politics, try The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis:
A burnt-out politcal aide quits just before an election — but is forced to run a hopeless campaign on the way out. He makes a deal with a crusty old Scot, Angus McLintock — an engineering professor who will do anything, anything, to avoid teaching English to engineers — to let his name stand in the election. No need to campaign, certain to lose, and so on.
Then a great scandal blows away his opponent, and to their horror, Angus is elected. He decides to see what good an honest M.P. who doesn’t care about being re-elected can do in Parliament. The results are hilarious — and with chess, a hovercraft, and the love of a good woman thrown in, this very funny book has something for everyone.

New Zealand's Legalization of Gay Marriage & Hulme's The Bone People


From yesterday’s BBC article “New Zealand legalises same-sex marriage:”
New Zealand's parliament has legalised same-sex marriage, the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to do so.
Lawmakers approved the bill, amending the 1955 marriage act, despite opposition from Christian lobby groups. The bill was passed with a wide majority, with 77 votes in favour and 44 against.
For a novel set in New Zealand, try The Bone People by Keri Hulme:
In a tower on the New Zealand sea lives Kerewin Holmes, part Maori, part European, an artist estranged from her art, a woman in exile from her family.
One night her solitude is disrupted by a visitor—a speechless, mercurial boy named Simon, who tries to steal from her and then repays her with his most precious possession. As Kerewin succumbs to Simon's feral charm, she also falls under the spell of his Maori foster father Joe, who rescued the boy from a shipwreck and now treats him with an unsettling mixture of tenderness and brutality.
Out of this unorthodox trinity Keri Hulme has created what is at once a mystery, a love story, and an ambitious exploration of the zone where Maori and European New Zealand meet, clash, and sometimes merge.

Iran's Nuclear Program, the Shah, & Seraji's Rooftops of Tehran


From last month’s BBC article “The man who turned Iran nuclear:”
In a rare interview, the man dubbed "the father of Iran's nuclear programme" tells how the project began under the Shah, who wanted to leave the option for a bomb open.
Now in his 80s, Akbar Etemad remembers all too clearly the pressure the Americans tried to apply to him when he was head of Iran's nuclear programme between 1974 and 1978.
Mr Etemad was the president of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation and it was under him that the country's nuclear project began and flourished. The Shah of Iran had announced that he wanted to build nuclear power plants in the country, a plan supported by the United States. The goal was for Iran to produce 23,000 megawatts of electrical power...
For a novel about Iran under the Shah, try Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji:
Set in 1970s Iran during the shah's regime, this earnest, semiautobiographical debut novel is told from the perspective of bookish 17-year-old Pasha Shahed, who, along with his best friend Ahmed, plays soccer, goofs off and thinks about girls.
But Pasha pines for one girl in particular—his neighbor Zari, betrothed since birth to Pasha's mentor, the neighborhood radical, Ramin Sobhi, whom everyone calls Doctor. Over a summer Ahmed orchestrates daily meetups with his own beloved, Faheemeh, and includes Pasha and Zari. Despite knowing he shouldn't, Pasha falls in love with Zari.
The idyllic summer comes to an end when Doctor is abducted and killed by SAVAK, the not-so-secret police. The effects of Doctor's death on Pasha and Zari are traumatic and lead each to acts of transgression with tragic results.

Political Appointees, Diplomats, & Boyd's A Good Man in Africa




 From last week’s Washington Post editorial, “Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service:”
…What accounts for the Foreign Service being marginalized? The most visible factor is the overwhelming — and growing — presence of political appointees in mid-level and top leadership positions at the State Department.
For all their merit, political appointees are short-term officials, subject to partisan, ­personality-specific pressures. They do not notably contribute to the institution’s longer-term vitality, and their ascension creates a system inherently incapable of providing expert, nonpartisan foreign policy advice…
Since 1975, the number of top leadership positions … filled by career Foreign Service officers has fallen from 61 percent in 1975 to 24 percent in 2012. Only five of the 35 special envoys, representatives, advisers and coordinators appointed during President Obama’s first term were Foreign Service officers.

For a hilarious, satirical novel about life as a diplomat (in this case, a British diplomat), try A Good Man in Africa by William Boyd -- one of my top ten favorite novels of all time:
In the small African republic of Kinjanja, British diplomat Morgan Leafy bumbles heavily through his job. His love of women, his fondness for drink, and his loathing for the country prove formidable obstacles on his road to any kind of success.
But when he becomes an operative in Operation Kingpin and is charged with monitoring the front runner in Kinjanja’s national elections, Morgan senses an opportunity to achieve real professional recognition and, more importantly, reassignment.
After he finds himself being blackmailed, diagnosed with a venereal disease, attempting bribery, and confounded with a dead body, Morgan realizes that very little is going according to plan...

Indonesia's Mining Controversy & Hirata's The Rainbow Troops


From yesterday’s Reuters article, “Indonesia softening mining policy after industry backlash:”
Indonesia appears to be softening a controversial mining policy amid industry criticism and legal challenges to rules whose implementation could cost Southeast Asia's largest economy up to $10 billion a year in lost exports...
Last year Indonesia asked all miners to submit plans to build refineries or smelters ahead of a January 2014 ban on raw mineral exports. Until then a 20 percent tax on ore exports has been levied.
Deputy Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Susilo Siswo Utomo said the focus is to add value to exports, and for that smelters need not necessarily be built. "The word process does not mean you have to build a smelter. Sometimes you need to wash, to separate the soil and mud. This is also processing," Utomo told an Australian mining conference in Jakarta on Tuesday.

For a novel set in an Indonesian mining town, try The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata:
Ikal is a student at the poorest village school on the Indonesian island of Belitong, where graduating from sixth grade is considered a remarkable achievement. His school is under constant threat of closure. In fact, Ikal and his friends—a group nicknamed the Rainbow Troops—face threats from every angle: skeptical government officials, greedy corporations hardly distinguishable from the colonialism they’ve replaced, deepening poverty and crumbling infrastructure, and their own low self-confidence.
But the students also have hope, which comes in the form of two extraordinary teachers, and Ikal’s education in and out of the classroom is an uplifting one. We root for him and his friends as they defy the island’s powerful tin mine officials. We meet his first love, the unseen girl who sells chalk from behind a shop screen, whose pretty hands capture Ikal’s heart. We cheer for Lintang, the class’s barefoot math genius, as he bests the students of the mining corporation’s school in an academic challenge.

Cricket in Pakistan & Hall's The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken



From yesterday’s BBC article, “Salman Butt & Mohammad Asif: Pakistan cricketers lose appeals:”
Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif have lost their appeals at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) to have their bans from cricket overturned.
Ex-Pakistan captain Butt, bowler Asif and team-mate Mohammad Amir were found guilty of "spot-fixing" in 2011. Butt, 28, is said to be "bitterly disappointed" and his legal team plan to continue to fight the ban.
"In the coming days and weeks, we will be exploring every other available avenue," said one of his legal team.
Butt is banned for 10 years by the International Cricket Council (ICC), with five years suspended, while swing bowler Asif is banned for seven years, two of which are suspended.

For novels about cricket, try the following:

Vish Puri is as fond of butter chicken as the next Punjabi. So when it’s served at the Delhi Durbar hotel at an India Premier League cricket match dinner, he’s the first to tuck in. Faheem Khan, father of Pakistani star cricketer Kamran Khan, can’t resist either. But the creamy dish proves his undoing. After a few mouthfuls, he collapses on the floor, dead...

A harrowing yet tender novel — Bend It Like Beckham in a burka — The Taliban Cricket Club is a moving and unforgettable tale of one woman’s courage and guile in the face of terror and tyranny. Set in war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan, this extraordinary new fiction by Timeri N. Murari, acclaimed author of the international bestseller, Taj, is a sweeping story of love, family, resilience, and survival, featuring an unforgettable heroine determined to help her loved ones win their freedom with a bat and a ball.

  • Or maybe some cricket in New York? Try Netherland by Joseph O'Neill:
In a New York City made phantasmagorical by the events of 9/11, Hans--a banker originally from the Netherlands--finds himself marooned among the strange occupants of the Chelsea Hotel after his English wife and son return to London. Alone and untethered, feeling lost in the country he had come to regard as home, Hans stumbles upon the vibrant New York subculture of cricket, where he revisits his lost childhood and, thanks to a friendship with a charismatic and charming Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Israeli-Palestinian Relations & Abulhawa's Mornings in Jenin


In the wake of Obama's visit, Palestinian rocket attacks have resumed in Israel.

Here's today's BBC article, "Eilat rocket strike: Israeli city of hit from Sinai:"
At least two rockets have hit the southern Israeli city of Eilat.
Police said the rockets had landed in open areas, without causing damage or injury. The Israeli military said they were fired from Sinai in Egypt.
Warning sirens went off just before the rockets hit. The city's airport has been closed and security tightened.
Eilat, a popular tourist destination on the Red Sea, has previously been hit by rockets fired by militants in neighbouring Egypt and Jordan. The Egyptian military said it was investigating the incident.
Hours after the attack, a small militant Salafi group, the Mujahedeen Shura Council, said it had fired two Grad rockets at "occupied Eilat", in a statement carried on jihadist websites.
For a recent novel about Israeli-Palestinian relations try Susan Abulhawa's 2010 Mornings in Jenin:
Forcibly removed from the ancient village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, the Abulhejas are moved into the Jenin refugee camp. There, exiled from his beloved olive groves, the family patriarch languishes of a broken heart, his eldest son fathers a family and falls victim to an Israeli bullet, and his grandchildren struggle against tragedy toward freedom, peace, and home. This is the Palestinian story, told as never before, through four generations of a single family.
The very precariousness of existence in the camps quickens life itself. Amal, the patriarch's bright granddaughter, feels this with certainty when she discovers the joys of young friendship and first love and especially when she loses her adored father, who read to her daily as a young girl in the quiet of the early dawn. Through Amal we get the stories of her twin brothers, one who is kidnapped by an Israeli soldier and raised Jewish; the other who sacrifices everything for the Palestinian cause. Amal’s own dramatic story threads between the major Palestinian-Israeli clashes of three decades
For a novel set in Israel, the book I recommended in my post about Obama's visit was To the End of the Land by David Grossman:
Ora, a middle-aged Israeli mother, is on the verge of celebrating her son Ofer’s release from army service when he returns to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, she sets out for a hike in the Galilee, leaving no forwarding information for the “notifiers” who might darken her door with the worst possible news. Recently estranged from her husband, Ilan, she drags along an unlikely companion: their former best friend and her former lover Avram, once a brilliant artistic spirit.
Avram served in the army alongside Ilan when they were young, but their lives were forever changed one weekend when the two jokingly had Ora draw lots to see which of them would get the few days’ leave being offered by their commander—a chance act that sent Avram into Egpyt and the Yom Kippur War, where he was brutally tortured as POW. In the aftermath, a virtual hermit, he refused to keep in touch with the family and has never met the boy.
Now, as Ora and Avram sleep out in the hills, ford rivers, and cross valleys, avoiding all news from the front, she gives him the gift of Ofer, word by word; she supplies the whole story of her motherhood, a retelling that keeps Ofer very much alive for Ora and for the reader, and opens Avram to human bonds undreamed of in his broken world. Their walk has a “war and peace” rhythm, as their conversation places the most hideous trials of war next to the joys and anguish of raising children. Never have we seen so clearly the reality and surreality of daily life in Israel, the currents of ambivalence about war within one household, and the burdens that fall on each generation anew.

Back in the News: Another Mars Voyage in the Works

Look out, Inspiration Mars Foundation: Dutch organization Mars One has thrown its hat in the ring for the race to send a manned voyage to the Red Planet.

Here's today's BBC article, "Applicants wanted for a one-way ticket to Mars:"
Want to go to Mars? Dutch organisation Mars One says it will open applications imminently. It would be a one-way trip, and the company hopes to build a community of settlers on the planet.
Uncharted waters, mountains or far away lands have always drawn explorers. History books show that desire for adventure, even in the face of extreme danger, did not deter the likes of Columbus or Magellan. So it is perhaps not surprising that Mars One has already received thousands of prospective applicants. But there is no return - unlike the mission which hopes to fly to Mars and back in 2018.
The novel I recommended when I posted about this space race last month was Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson:
For eons, sandstorms have swept the barren desolate landscape of the red planet. For centuries, Mars has beckoned to mankind to come and conquer its hostile climate. Now, in the year 2026, a group of one hundred colonists is about to fulfill that destiny. John Boone, Maya Toitavna, Frank Chalmers, and Arkady Bogdanov lead a mission whose ultimate goal is the terraforming of Mars. For some, Mars will become a passion driving them to daring acts of courage and madness; for others it offers and opportunity to strip the planet of its riches. And for the genetic "alchemists, " Mars presents a chance to create a biomedical miracle, a breakthrough that could change all we know about life...and death. The colonists place giant satellite mirrors in Martian orbit to reflect light to the planets surface. Black dust sprinkled on the polar caps will capture warmth and melt the ice. And massive tunnels, kilometers in depth, will be drilled into the Martian mantle to create stupendous vents of hot gases. Against this backdrop of epic upheaval, rivalries, loves, and friendships will form and fall to pieces--for there are those who will fight to the death to prevent Mars from ever being changed.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon Attack & Waldman's The Submission


Here's the latest about this tragic event from the New York Times:
Boston Marathon Blasts Kill 3 and Maim Dozens
Two powerful bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon, killing three people, maiming dozens and transforming one of this city’s most cherished rites of spring from a scene of cheers and sweaty triumph to one of screams, bloody carnage and death.
Some three-quarters of the 23,000 runners who participated in the race had already crossed the finish line when a bomb that had apparently been placed in a garbage can exploded in a haze of smoke amid a crowd of spectators on Boylston Street, just off Copley Square in the heart of the city. It was around 2:50 p.m., more than four hours after the race had started, officials said. Within seconds, another bomb exploded several hundred yards away.
Understandably, the last thing most people will want to do after yesterday's events is read a novel about an attack. But for those who do want to reflect on what happened by delving into a good book, I chose one that focuses on how America is dealing with the after-effects of 9/11. The book is The Submission by Amy Waldman and here's the description:
A jury gathers in Manhattan to select a memorial for the victims of a devastating terrorist attack. Their fraught deliberations complete, the jurors open the envelope containing the anonymous winner’s name—and discover he is an American Muslim. Instantly they are cast into roiling debate about the claims of grief, the ambiguities of art, and the meaning of Islam. Their conflicted response is only a preamble to the country’s.
The memorial’s designer is an enigmatic, ambitious architect named Mohammad Khan. His fiercest defender on the jury is its sole widow, the self-possessed and mediagenic Claire Burwell. But when the news of his selection leaks to the press, she finds herself under pressure from outraged family members and in collision with hungry journalists, wary activists, opportunistic politicians, fellow jurors, and Khan himself—as unknowable as he is gifted. In the fight for both advantage and their ideals, all will bring the emotional weight of their own histories to bear on the urgent question of how to remember, and understand, a national tragedy.

Back in the News, April Omnibus Edition

Several issues I previously reported on are now back in the news. Here are the latest headlines, along with the novels I recommended:  


Genome Patents
Bestseller Crichton (Jurassic Park) once again focuses on genetic engineering in his cerebral new thriller, though the science involved is a lot less far-fetched than creating dinosaurs from DNA. In an ambitious effort to show what's wrong with the U.S.'s current handling of gene patents and with the laws governing human tissues, the author interweaves many plot strands, one involving a California researcher, Henry Kendall, who has mixed human and chimp DNA while working at NIH.





Nuns
Sister John's cloistered life of peace and prayer has been electrified by ever more frequent visions of God's radiance, leading her toward a deep religious ecstasy. Her life and writings have become examples of devotion. Yet her visions are accompanied by shattering headaches that compel Sister John to seek medical help. When her doctor tells her an illness may be responsible for her gift, Sister John faces a wrenching choice: to risk her intimate glimpses of the divine in favor of a cure, or to continue her visions with the knowledge that they might be false-and might even cost her her life.





Bird Flu
Right now, in a remote corner of rural China, a farmer and his family are sharing their water supply with their livestock: chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep. They share the same waste-disposal system, too. Bird viruses meet their human counterparts in the bloodstreams of the swine, where they mix and mutate before spreading back into the human population. And a new flu is born.... Dr. Noah Haldane, of the World Health Organization, knows that humanity is overdue for a new killer flu, like the great influenza pandemic of 1919 that killed more than twenty million people in less than four months. So when a mysterious new strain of flu is reported in the Gansu Province of mainland China, WHO immediately sends a team to investigate...



Food Safety
1906 bestseller shockingly reveals intolerable labor practices and unsanitary working conditions in the Chicago stockyards as it tells the brutally grim story of a Slavic family that emigrates to America full of optimism but soon descends into numbing poverty, moral degradation, and despair. A fiercely realistic American classic that will haunt readers long after they've finished the last page.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sandy Hook Mother's Radio Address, School Shootings, & Picoult's Nineteen Minutes


From yesterday's BBC article "Sandy Hook mother replaces Obama for guns radio address:"
The mother of a victim of last year's Sandy Hook shootings has replaced Barack Obama to deliver the weekly US presidential radio address.
Francine Wheeler, whose six-year-old son Ben was killed, used the nationally-broadcast statement to call for tighter gun controls.
Asking a citizen to deliver the weekly address is a highly unusual move. It comes as President Obama attempts to ratchet up pressure on the US Congress, which is due to debate new gun laws.
In an often emotional statement, Ms Wheeler recalled waiting for her son to return home following the shootings, and said the "tidal wave of anguish" resulting from that day had yet to recede. She said new gun laws were needed to prevent more deaths.
On the subject of school shootings, I have three novels to recommend. The first is Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult:
Bestseller Picoult (My Sister's Keeper ) takes on another contemporary hot-button issue in her brilliantly told new thriller, about a high school shooting.
Peter Houghton, an alienated teen who has been bullied for years by the popular crowd, brings weapons to his high school in Sterling, N.H., one day and opens fire, killing 10 people. Flashbacks reveal how bullying caused Peter to retreat into a world of violent computer games. Alex Cormier, the judge assigned to Peter's case, tries to maintain her objectivity as she struggles to understand her daughter, Josie, one of the surviving witnesses of the shooting.
I also recommend We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver:
Eva Khatchadourian is a smart, skeptical New Yorker whose impulsive marriage to Franklin, a much more conventional person, bears fruit, to her surprise and confessed disquiet, in baby Kevin.
From the start Eva is ambivalent about him, never sure if she really wanted a child, and he is balefully hostile toward her; only good-old-boy Franklin, hoping for the best, manages to overlook his son's faults as he grows older, a largely silent, cynical, often malevolent child...
The narrative, which leads with quickening and horrifying inevitability to the moment when Kevin massacres seven of his schoolmates and a teacher at his upstate New York high school, is told as a series of letters from Eva to an apparently estranged Franklin, after Kevin has been put in a prison for juvenile offenders.
And while the school shooting takes less of a prominent role in Empire Falls by Richard Russo, it's still a major part of an excellent novel. Here's the summary:
In his early 40s, passive good guy Miles Roby, the son of Francine's husband's long-dead mistress, seems helpless to escape his virtual enslavement as longtime proprietor of the Whiting-owned Empire Grill, the town's most popular eatery, which Francine has promised to leave him when she dies. Miles's wife, Janine, is divorcing him and has taken up with an aging health club entrepreneur.
In her senior year in high school, their creative but lonely daughter, Tick, is preoccupied by her parents' foibles and harassed by the bullying son of the town's sleazy cop—who, like everyone else, is a puppet of the domineering Francine. Struggling to make some sense of her life, Tick tries to befriend a boy with a history of parental abuse.
To further complicate things, Miles's brother, David, is suspected of dealing marijuana, and their rascally, alcoholic father is a constant annoyance. Miles and David's secret plan to open a competing restaurant runs afoul of Francine just as tragedy erupts at the high school.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bali Plane Crash & DeMille's Night Fall


I posted about airliner glitches a few weeks ago but, thankfully, there haven't been any major crashes in the news since then.  That changed with a major crash yesterday.  The good news is everyone on board survived. 

Here's today's BBC coverage, "All survive after jet lands in sea off Bali Indonesia:"
An airliner has ended up in the sea off the Indonesian island of Bali after missing Denpasar airport runway, but all those on board survived.
Hospitals treated 22 people after the crash, which involved an Indonesian Lion Air plane carrying 101 passengers and seven crew. Photos posted on Twitter showed the jet with its fuselage cracked, sitting in water near rocks, with dinghies nearby.
The Boeing 737 was on a domestic flight from Bandung in West Java. It missed the runway reportedly from a height of 50m (yards) and landed in the ocean nearby. Terrified passengers made their way ashore through the shallow water in life jackets as police in rubber dinghies rowed out to rescue them.
A transport ministry official told BBC News it was too early to talk about what had caused the plane - a new Boeing 737-800 - to crash.
For a novel about a plane crash, try Night Fall by Nelson DeMille:
The book is centered on an investigation of the July 1996 crash of flight TWA 800, "when... a big Boeing 747 bound for Paris with 230 passengers and crew on board, exploded off the Atlantic coast of Long Island, sending all 230 souls to their deaths."
In July 2001, Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force detective John Corey, a brilliant, smart-ass detective last seen in Plum Island and The Lion's Game, accompanies his FBI agent wife, Kate Mayfield, to the fifth anniversary of the disaster. John, whose wife worked the crash in 1996, understands that Kate has brought him along because she doesn't buy the official finding of "mechanical failure" and wants him to mount his own investigation.