Even More Brief Book Reviews

Since the last posting, I have read:

  1.  Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The House of Seven Gables”, this one a re-read from years ago.  Parts of it seemed a little stiff this time, but the good parts are worth the slow parts.  An evocative picture of a New England town in the 1850s, with flashbacks that go more than 150 years into the past of the Pyncheon family.  Ah, the Pyncheons, down on their luck, their fortune dissipated.  Who remains?  Gloomy old maid Hepzibah, her ailing brother Clifford just released from prison, their young, sprightly and innocent cousin Phoebe, visiting from the country, and cousin Jaffrey, the “Judge” and only successful member of the family.  They suffer from a curse (perhaps), and live out their lives in fear or a repetition of evil doings, and of course their fears come true, but with a surprisingly happy ending.
  2. Celia Sandys’ “Churchill: Wanted Dead or Alive”, the story of Sir Winston’s time in South Africa during the Boer War, including his prison capture and somewhat amazing escape.  Charisma and guts win out.  Sandys, of course, is Churchill’s granddaughter.  Her prose is not the best (also not the worst), but the insight that she obtained talking to the children and grandchildren of so many of those who interacted with Churchill in South Africa adds an extraordinary dimension to the story.
  3. Anita Shreve’s “The Weight of Water”, a novel which takes an historical event (the murder of two women on barren islands off the coast of Maine in the 19th century, and interposes a contemporary story of a photographer with an assignment to photograph the island for an article on the murder.  I have seen the film, which I enjoyed, and found the book to be at least as good, but (to my memory) not quite the same.  The photographer travels with her husband, her husband’s brother, her husband’s brother’s current girl friend, and the photographer’s young teenage daughter.  But in the film…..where was the daughter?  Did I just forget her?  (I don’t think so.)
  4. Philip Roth’s “Letting Go”, his second book after “Goodbye, Columbus” and first full length (and then some) novel.  Not quite a coming of age story (his protagonists are in their late 20s and full members of society), but yet still a coming of age story.  Two college instructors at the University of Chicago, both Jewish, one from the mid-west, married to a young woman who converted to Judaism, and the other, a a New Yorker, unmarried, with a strange relationship to his widowed dentist father, and a series of involvements with strange, strange women.  Doesn’t sound promising?  In fact, I found it very appealing.  To my surprise.
  5. “Egypt: the Elusive Arab Spring” by Wafik Moustafa, an Egyptian-born British doctor who still gets involved in Egyptian politics.  A liberal who has not lost hope, but who provides a very readable and credible explanation of 20th century Egypt, King Farouk, Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, the Moslem Brotherhood, the British, Israel, and all the rest.  The book is hard to find, published by a small British Press (Gilgamesh), not published here.
  6. Richard Cote’s “Theodosia: Theodosia Burr Alston – Portrait of a Prodigy”, supposedly the story of Aaron Burr’s daughter, carefully taught by her father as if “she was a boy”, who married a southern planter, had a child who died young, was ill most of her adult life, and was lost at sea, still in her 30s, off the American coast during a storm.  But the book is as much a biography of Burr himself, the Burr who was Washington’s aide, Jefferson’s vice president and creator of a conspiracy to take the Louisiana Purchase and more out of the United States.  What a strange life was his; was a sad one was hers.
  7.  “An Interesting Career: the Life and Work of Luther Giddings (1823-1884), this one by one of my college roommates, John Eric Fredland, and published privately in Annapolis.  Farmer, lawyer, soldier and more – all before he died at 60.  Very influential in Annapolis.  And as an extra in this short book, Eric gives quite a bit of information as to Maryland politics in the 1850s.  Who knew?

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