Three very quick book reviews

1. David Remnick’s “King of the World” was published in 1998, but does not seem dated, in part because Remnick’s language is so fresh. It is billed as the story of Muhammad Ali, and that it is (although more attention is paid to his earlier years, and surprisingly little details are given of his trial and conviction for refusing to serve in the army during Viet Nam and its aftermath) and more. It tells the story of race relations in the country during the 1960s and their effect on fighting, the unsavory history of boxing in the United States and the strong (surprisingly so to me) connections between the underworld and the fighters, including Sonny Liston, and gives abbreviated but detailed life histories of other fighters, such as Liston and Floyd Patterson, as well as historic black fighters like Jack Johnson and Joe Louis. And of course it tells the story of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X and the Black Muslim. Movement(s). Recommended.

2. Ruta Sepetys’ “Between Shades of Gray”, a Holocaust book not about the Holocaust. A short novel set in Lithuania and Siberia, the book follows an academic family whose four members are amongst the tens of thousands arrested by the Soviets in 1941 and sent to Siberia for “anti-Soviet” activities prior to the invasion and takeover of the country by the Nazis. Conditions of arrest and of transport were as harsh as those instituted by the Germans, it appears, with the destination being Siberian settlements, rather than work or death camps, although the settlements turned out to be both. We don’t read as much about these other crimes across what are becoming known as the European blood lands, but we should, as it gives us some perspectives on the terrors and fates that confronted many non Jews in the region. The storyline of the book, which was written in English and published this year, is very engaging, although almost of secondary importance to the book’s deeper message. Written for young adults, it can be read by anyone. Recommended.

3. Howard Norman’s “Devotion” is also a short novel that I finished in one sitting. A liitle off beat, it is the story of two Canadians who meet and fall in love in London and quickly marry. The woman’s father is in London during their honeymoon. She leaves first on a business trip, leaving husband and father behind. An ex- girl friend of the new husband unexpectedly shows up and the. New father in law assumes that his daughter’s new husband has something going on the side. The complications that ensue are, to put it mildly, unnecessary. Recommended? Neutral.

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