Monday, October 17, 2011

Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver

Garden of Beasts

This was an entertaining, historical fictional page turner that took me into the world of Nazi Germany's 1936 Berlin during the Olympics.  This exciting read is told from the viewpoint of an American assassin, Paul Schumann, who has been promised forgiveness from his mob assassinations by the US if he will kill one of the (fictional) Nazi leaders, Reinhard Ernst, for the Department of the Navy. 
This story is told in a time before World War II, when Hitler was attempting to form his conquering armies in spite of the Treaty of Versailles where Germany agreed (well, by a twist of arm, they lost WWI) that not only did they cause WWI but they agreed to have an extremely limited military.  Deaver created a work of art, not telling, but showing the reader the mood of Berlin, where everyday Germans were terrorized by government thugs known as "Brownshirts", or the SA. Jewish shop owners are attacked, and worse....

He wrote his story, alternating between the viewpoints of diverse characters.  Our hero, Paul Schumann, is busy negotiating Berlin's underground, trying to figure out how to get a bullet through Ernst.  Ernst is busy successfully surviving the hostile politics of Hitler, Goering (head of SS) and Goebbels (minister of propaganda).  Kohl of the Berlin Police (known as Kripo) is on Paul's trail for a murder he did not commit.  One can only hope that Paul gets Ernst before Kohl catches Paul.

The story was totally fun, deep in history, and has many discussion points.  I would recommend this book for discussion.

One curious thing is that there is another book titled In the Garden of Beasts written by Eric Larson.  This book was chosen by my book club, and I accidentally picked up the wrong book.  They were both about Nazi Berlin, but In the Garden of Beasts was not fictional, and was set in 1933.Though I haven't read the one I was "supposed" to read, after our reading group meeting, I'm convinced I had a lot more fun reading this book! No complaints here!  Many complaints from others regarding In the Garden of Beasts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Read this book, and you will visit this sad, lonely group of people, living in a economically depressed town in the South, during the Great Depression, during a time of racial injustice, hunger for many, and yes, lack of health care. 

I think if you would like to appreciate how wonderful it is to live in our current Great Recession, you should read this book.  In the 1930's, lack of health care meant that there was no hospital that would save you; no doctor to see if you didn't have the money.  Hunger was not relieved by food stamps.  Jobs were scarce.   Life was tough.

This novel is centered around five main characters.  Four of the characters are strongly passionate about their aspirations.  There is the old black Dr. Copeland who believes in Marxism, the young Mick Kelly who wants to compose music, crazy Jake Blout who wants to teach people about economic injustice in America, and Biff Branon who through a true love for his fellow man wants to ease suffering.  These characters all gather around their friend, deaf-mute John Singer, of whom each believes he understands their passions.  He doesn't.  As you read this book, you believe that each of their aspirations can be obtained.  In the end, McClullers crashes this, and doesn't give us much hope for any of her characters in this novel.  It is surprisingly entertaining for a novel with about zero plot, though one could argue that there are five strong subplots.  Each subplot tells a sad story through a purposeful character.

This is an Oprah Book Club book, the perfect place to find every sort of human misery put into literature.  The stories of the five main characters are told to make, what I think, is a point that we are basically inconsequential, sad creatures who struggle in a horrible world.

The following is referring to Biff, the do-good er and owner of an all night cafe.

"For in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valor.  Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time.  And of those who labor and of those who .. love.  His soul expanded.  ... Between the two worlds he was suspended.. The left eye delved narrowly into the past while the right gazed wide and affrighted into a future of blackness, error and ruin"

I think I'll throw myself off a bridge now.  Nah, maybe just have a glass of wine to kill the pain.

Yes, this book is a masterpiece.  It is well written, makes you care about the rich characters, has a point, keeps you interested and turning pages as the motivations and horrendous problems are laid out on these pages.  It would make a great discussion book.  However, for a book club pick, my personal preference would be for something with more hope and fun.

I would like to recommend To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee as an alternative.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Readers, do you know of a great book, set in depression era America, that leads you with more hope that you would recommend?