Paul’s Book Reviews

Same bed Different Dreams selects RD4Same Bed Different Dreams
Ed Park

The experience of reading Same Bed Different Dreams was, for me, like dropping a dense little cube into a bowl of water, watching it unfurl into a complex origami crane with tiny Dr. Bonner’s Soap-style text on every surface, then fold back in on itself until only the original cube remains.

As three distinct narratives weave together, connections emerge, all of them leading back to Korea. I suspect re-reading the novel will reveal even more.

What is history? Yes, there was a Korean Provisional Government. Yes, there’s even a Parker Jotter, though it’s a pen, not a Korean War POW and science-fiction author (and speaking of science-fiction authors, Ed Park’s writing very much reminds me of Philip K. Dick’s … an author cited more than once in Park’s narrative).

My itch to understand Korea stems from the time I spent there while serving with the U.S. Air Force. Same Bed Different Dreams scratched that itch more effectively that the many nonfiction books about South and North Korea I’ve read over the years.

Thanks to my dear friend Abby for recommending this enthralling, fascinating book.

spook streetSpook Street (Slough House #4)
Mick Herron

I’m reading Mick Herron’s Slough House novels in order, which I recommend to prospective readers. You can jump into, say, Jack Reacher at any point: he never changes, never ages. That’s not the case with the slow horses, and you may not find their decisions or actions believable if you haven’t lived through the earlier novels with them. Of course there are new characters as well, replacing the dead and displaced; they too will grow over time. This Coe fellow, for example, with dark secrets in his past.

I find myself growing impatient with Jackson Lamb, even disliking him (will he ever stop torturing Catherine Standish?). My anger toward him is surely the author’s intent, and he maneuvers me expertly.

I was momentarily tempted to say this is River Carwtright’s novel, but no, every slow horse save the aforementioned Lamb adds layers of complexity to his or her bio as Spook Street unfolds, on both sides of the channel … oh yes, some of the most important action of this novel takes place outside London, a first for the series.

Books I love get short reviews. There’s nothing to pick at here. Herron has built a world as vivid as le Carré’s, with living, fascinating characters. Brilliant stuff.

prequelPrequel: An American Fight Against Fascism
Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow is a journalist, but she’s also one of our leading popular intellectuals and historians. Prequel, in the light of election denialism and the rise of fascist tendencies in the US today, takes a look at how what goes around, comes around. Pro-fascist, pro-Hitler, and anti-semitic movements in the US were widespread in the forties, in part fueled by Germany’s media-bombing of the US with millions of leaflets and letters pushing conspiracy theories about Jews, under the banner of America Firstism, isolationsism, nationalism, and populism.

The book had its roots in Maddow’s podcast, Ultra, an exploration of how close America came to falling into fascism in the lead-up to, and during, WWII.

Maddow names Huey Long as possibly the first proto-fascist in the US, but there were others. The cast of pro-fascist, anti-semitic Nazi sympathizers is by now familiar to a lot of people: Philip Johnson, Father Coughlin, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh. Less familiar today: Minnesotan George Sylvester Viereck, whose anti-semitic and pro-Hitler views were widely dismissed as crackpot nonsense (as were Hitler’s, early on). This cast of characters campaigned against FDR, casting him as a communist, as a secret Jew, and so on.

You don’t know any of this? Well, that’s because you didn’t learn it in history classes, as US history books tend to accentuate the positive, how the US was instrumental in — and this is true, of course! — defeating Hitler, but then as now, strong factions in this country favored authoritarianism and “race purity” for white people, excluding Jews and blacks.

Hitler and his henchmen used Jim Crow as a central model for their racist policies. That’s hard to hear , that he and his men admired the US for that, but there is a lot of evidence to that effect.

Maddow is a good and entertaining and startling storyteller, who admits up front (and not just buried in appendices) that the evidence is all there and has been catalogued in the various books and scholarly works she draws on to make her case. She does not connect the dots from then to today, but the elements are there, and she knows we can see them. The foreign election interference of Hitler, which Putin copies today. The media blitz to denounce democracy, and so on. But after Pearl Harbor and the US entered the war, there was almost unanimous approval to defeat Japan and Germany, and though a massive sedition trial crime to naught, most Americans came to realize that siding with pro-fascist forces and alt-right factions would lead to disaster.

A fast and troubling read. Maddow’s book title reminds us that we have faced this kind of thing before and can, as we did then, face down this kind of affront to democracy. Recommended!

valient womenValiant Women: The Extraordinary American Servicewomen Who Helped Win World War II
Lena Andrews

This was my book club’s selection for February 2024. I found it an interesting read, particularly the history of how the different services’ women’s auxiliary branches came to be, but I wish there’d been a bit more Studs Terkel-style oral history to it: I wanted to hear more from the women who served. I’m not saying comments and recollections from some of the women aren’t woven into the organizational history chapters … I’m just saying I wanted more, much more.

I grew up as a military brat in the 1950s and early 60s and remember WACs and WAVEs: though by then those acronyms were obsolete, everyone still called them that. As a servicemember myself from the early 70s through the late 90s, I knew better than to call them that: by then they were simply fellow servicemembers, enlisted and officer. During the decades after WWII, enormous progress was made in terms of equal pay, benefits, promotion opportunities, and retirement … but restrictions remained. In my military specialty, flying, it was momentous when the first groups of Air Force and Navy women were selected for pilot training in the mid-1970s. It was equally momentous when combat restrictions were lifted in the early 1990s and women began flying fighters, helos, and bombers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And yet old prejudices and attitudes remain deeply embedded, the very ones Lena Andrews tells us held women back in the 1940s. Ms. Andrews mentions male commanders refusing to accept women who had been assigned to their units over the issue of shower and toilet facilities. Would you believe male commanders pulled the same argument out of their asses during the introduction of women into pilot training in the 70s and into combat flying units in the 90s? I know: I was there and saw it happen. One still hears of resistance to women serving in missile silos, in forward-deployed units, and on ships (especially submarines), much of it coming from the spouses of male airmen, soldiers, and sailors.

In addition to including more oral history, I wish Ms. Andrews had addressed sexual assault. Perhaps the subject was beyond the scope of what she meant to write about. Still, considering her fairly lengthy discussion of allegations of, and investigations into, lesbianism in the women’s ranks during the 1940s, she only had to go a little farther to address the larger elephant in the room.

Well, I guess you can’t cram everything into one book.

concrete blondeThe Concrete Blonde (Harry Bosch #3)
Michael Connelly

Half a point down from four stars for the closed room mystery ending, not at all what I expect in a Bosch novel (then again, I’ve read less than half of them). Otherwise a most satisfactory police procedural, with lots of seemingly-realistic detail, office politics included (from what I read about Connelly’s Bosch novels, they are respected by working cops and detectives).

Spoilerish stuff: I’ve watched the entire 7-season Amazon Prime serialization of Bosch twice, plus 2 seasons of Bosch Legacy on FreeVee, and am often surprised by differences between the books and the shows. I understand each season dips into different novels, sometimes out of sequence. That bothers me not at all, nor do shifts in time frame (book Bosch being a Vietnam vet, TV Bosch being an Afghanistan vet; the presence on TV of a former wife and a current daughter, etc). But in Concrete Blonde, the fate of attorney Honey Chandler (who features prominently in all seasons of the TV shows) is starkly, even shockingly, different, and this is only the 3rd of 23 Bosch novels!

I’ve been reading Bosch novels out of order (so far, books 1-3, 5, 18-20, and 23 [which is also a Renee Ballard novel]) but will now start reading missed ones in order.

heaven & earthThe Heaven & Earth Grocery Store
James McBride

I wanted to like this story more than I did. I mean I liked it, but wished it were less bloated with repetitive and irrelevant detail. Parts of the narrative reminded me of Carl Hiassen, whose schtick is to infuse specificity and detail into an almost endless series of wacky incidents, some plot-related, some thrown in for fun, like this:

Jack Bogsworth was decapitated mid-curse while screaming into his iPhone at a former spouse while speeding on Interstate 75 in his red 2009 convertible Corvette by a flying miniature dachshund which had been furiously flung from the cab of a passing White Freightliner by a one-armed lot lizard named Maude who’d been picked up by the truck driver at a Pilot 50 miles north of Tampa who was angry with the dog for chewing a hole in her knockoff Gucci purse.

Yeah. There were pages and pages of this sort of thing in The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, slowing the story down, taking forever to get anywhere.

Also, was it really necessary to insert English translations of Yiddish words and phrases? Oy.

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