Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


In the Distance

By Hernan Diaz

Narrated by Peter Berkrot

Hernan Diaz (Author)

“In the Distance” can be viewed from different perspectives.  It is a story of emigration, isolation, survival, self-identity, human nature, extortion, and distortion.  The author, Hernan Diaz, is nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, but fails to win.  Diaz’s writing is unquestionably evocative and compelling but there is an aimlessness in the story that diminishes its appeal. 

Emigrating to America in the mid-nineteenth century, Diaz’s main character is accidently separated from his brother and arrives in California rather than New York, presumably between 1849 and 1855 (the gold rush).

The story begins when a tall and muscular Swedish immigrant swims out of frigid water to astonished travelers on an ice bound ship, sailing in Alaskan waters.  The Swede’s name is Hakan Soderstrom who is known by some as a legend named Hawk.  Hawk tells his life story to the astounded travelers.

Hawk is the younger of the two brothers who emigrated to America.  His older brother is alleged to have gotten separated in their departure, He lands in New York while Hawk lands in California.  Hawk depends on his older brother for guidance and decides to journey cross country to be reunited. 

One can imagine how isolated an immigrant would be without anyone who can understand or help a young emigrant boy who only speaks a foreign language.  Survival is dependent on finding one’s way in a wilderness of language and culture.

Diaz pictures gold rush days in California as a land of violence, greed, and survival. 

Hawk adapts to his environment and creates a self-identity based on what he must do to survive.  Hawk becomes acquainted with a family led by a miner who is looking for gold.  The husband finds gold but is extorted by a gang of town thugs.  The thugs abduct Hawk who becomes attracted by the woman who leads the gang.  Hawk is growing into a man of extraordinary size and strength.  He is corralled by the gang leader who uses Hawk as a sex slave.  She sees Hawk’s future potential as an enforcer for the gang.  Hawk has other ideas. He escapes captivity and heads east with the hope of finding his older brother. 

As the story unwinds, Hawk grows to be a giant of a man.  He never stops growing physically (a condition known as giantism today) and matures with an understanding of the natural world.

Hawk’s understanding of nature comes from an acquaintance, a naturalist who is searching for evidence of the origin of human life.  This naturalist befriends Hawk and teaches him many things about human life.

The naturalist is a nature-born physician (ahead of his time) who understands the importance of sterilizing medical instruments used to treat wounds and how poultices may be used to heal infections.  Hawk gains understanding of many medical treatments, but more importantly, recognizes the sanctity of human life from the practices of the naturalist.  The naturalist dies and once again Hawk is isolated and on his own.

Heading east, Hawk learns how to survive in nature.  He makes a great lion-head cloak from the skins of animals that he kills for food. 

Hawk survives severe weather conditions by creating shelters from whatever nature has to offer. 

His shelter reminds this listerner of an underground shelter photographed in Turkey in 2o19– carved in earth by ancient Christians to protect themselves.

Hawk eventually returns to society by joining a group of settlers traveling cross country.  The settlers are beholding to a flimflam leader that promises land when they arrive at their destination.  This leader recruits Hawk as an enforcer without Hawk fully understanding why. Hawks giant size is what the leader needs to keep the settler’s in line. 

The settlers and their leader are attacked by white renegades who disguise themselves as Indians.  They attack a young girl to which Hawk is drawn.  Hawk reacts by murdering the white renegades.   The renegades are rebels from an unspecified religion, implied to be excommunicated Mormons.  The re-telling of the massacre is distorted by public reports of the incident.  Hawk becomes a legend who kills brothers of the church and innocent women and children.  A price is put on Hawk’s head for a crime he did not commit.

Hawk’s actions become a widely known story that becomes distorted with its re-telling.

Hawk is eventually captured by brethren of the church.  He is tortured and mutilated but he survives with the help of a male brethren who believes Hawk is innocent.  They become close friends, maybe lovers, but other brethren of the church eventually find them, and Hawk’s friend is killed.  The legend of Hawk continues but after the loss of his friend, he returns to years of isolation.  He grows older and bigger but, through self-isolation, avoids capture.

Hawk is finally found by several rebellious uniformed soldiers who try to recruit him as their leader.  They reason Hawk could strike fear into anyone they choose to rob because of his legend and immense size.  Hawk sneaks away from the miscreants by preparing a dinner laced with a narcotic.

The story’s ending is all that is left.  It ends where it begins. “In the Distance” offers some interest to a listener. However, to this listener, Diaz’s tale is more interesting because of its prose than its content.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Fathers and Sons

By: Ivan Turgenev

Narrated by: David Horovitch

Ivan Turgenev (1818 to 1883–Russian novelist,poet, and playwright.)

Understanding the culture of other countries is aided by reading histories and literary classics.  Like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Ivan Turgenev paints a picture of Russian culture in the mid-1800s. 

Russia in 1850

In “Fathers and Sons” it is the age of Alexander II, the Russian Tsar who began his reign in 1855. He presided over emancipation of serfs in 1861. 

Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881)

The Tsar’s intention is to liberate serfs from aristocratic servitude.  In respect for the Tsar, some Russian farmers offer their farmland to serfs in return for rent or a percentage of profits from the sale of produce

There is great turmoil during this time in Russia. 

Tsar Alexander III (1845-1894)

It is eventually quelled by Alexander III (1881-1894) who represses and reverses Alexander II’s political and social liberalization.  Turgenev dies soon after Alexander III’s ascension.  In “Fathers and Sons” one can see the seeds for Alexander III’s reaction to Alexander II’s liberalization.   

The principal character in “Fathers and Sons” is Yevgeny Vassillievitch Bazarov.  He is a young doctor who sees the world through science. 

Bazarov does not believe in God and sees morality as a fiction induced by society.  He is a nihilist.  He purports to believe life is meaningless.

In this Russian era, serfdom created an uneducated underclass that feeds Bazarov’s beliefs.  Serfs had no place in society.  They were indentured to an aristocracy that used them as slaves to cultivate land holdings. 

Alexander II creates change which would allow serfs to own land, work for themselves, and break their cycle of poverty.  However, serfs as well as the aristocracy are unprepared.  Farmers who try to free their serfs find their farmland turns fallow.  The reasons for loss of productivity are complex but such a sudden change in opportunity is either not properly capitalized or resistance by aristocrats scotches Alexander II’s liberation.

Bazarov sees serf liberation as evidence of the meaninglessness of life.  Bazarov and a fellow traveler, both sons of farmers, return to their family farms after finishing their education.  The fellow traveler is Arkady who idolizes Bazarov.  Arkady’s father’s farm is shown to be deteriorating when the two travelers visit.  Bazarov observes the indolence of former serfs who work the land.  At the same time Bazarov notes the entrenched aristocratic prejudices of Arkady’s uncle who has come to live at the farm. This uncle is an immaculately dressed and groomed middle aged man who is well known in aristocratic circles.

Bazarov’s suggests Alexander II’s reform only reinforces the meaninglessness of life.  To Bazarov, human nature is immutable, God does not exist, and art is an affectation.  He places this argument at the feet of Basarov’s uncle. Arkady agrees with Basarov and recognizes him as a mentor and superior intellect. Both the uncle and Arkady’s father are offended by Basarov’s comments. The uncle is appalled by Basarov’s nihilism.

Turgenev introduces a doppelganger of Basarov in a wealthy young widow named Anna Odinsova.  Odinsova is attracted to Bazarov’s views based on her life experience.  She sees life as equally meaningless.  The irony is that Basarov falls in love with Odinsova.  Loving someone contradicts meaninglessness in life.  Odinsova does not love Basarov but admires his intellect.  Basarov’s professed love betrays his nihilist beliefs.

Turgenev accelerates his argument against nihilism by having Arkady fall in love with the sister of Odinsova.  This sister has the moral strength of Odinsova but accepts Arkady’s love, and marries him. They settle on Arkady’s father’s farm.  Arkady, with the help of his new wife, make his father’s farm prosperous.  Arkady’s father changes his role at the farm and is eventually able to retire.  Nihilism has no place in Arkady’s life. Life has meaning to Arkady.

Turgenev leaves his audience with the belief that Odinsova will overcome her belief in nihilism. She marries a prosperous and dynamic Russian businessman.  Turgenev suggests she may grow to love this businessman and abandon her mistaken view of life.  This is a Turgenev’ finishing nail in nihilism’s coffin.

Turgenev’s warning to humanity is that God, morality, and love makes life worth living, while ignominious death is left to nihilists.

Basarov dies from Typhoid, never to realize the wasted life he has led.  His death leaves his mother and father to grieve over Basarov’s great potential and lost opportunity. 


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Dinner at the Center of the Earth

By: Kenneth J. Hammond

Narrated by: Mark Bramhall

Kenneth J. Hammond (Professor of History at New Mexico State University)

“Dinner at the Center of the Earth” is a story of spies.  It is a short novel illustrating the intransigent and complex conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Ariel Sharon (Prime minister of Israel and Israeli general 1928-2014)

The context is in the last years of Ariel Sharon’s life before, during, and after his death from an 8-year coma.   

A spy for Israel is recruited by “The General” through a connection with an American Jewish mother who persuades her son to become a spy for the Israeli government.  The son reports only to “The General”, without any direct connection with the State of Israel.  The plan is liberally financed by Israel.  

The recruit poses as a wealthy entrepreneur that brokers used computer equipment to foreign countries.  With that cover, he infiltrates an Egyptian supporter of the Palestinian cause of repatriation.  “The General’s” goal is to eliminate the Egyptian cell.

The infiltration is a success, but the price paid by the spy is in a bombing designed to destroy the leaders of the Egyptian cell. 

In the detonation, the building collapses on an adjacent building occupied by an innocent family. 

The leader of the cell is the brother of the person befriended by the recruit.  When the bombing occurs, the “friend” of the recruit realizes he was set up.  He contacts the spy and tells him what death he has brought to his family and to innocent children near the bombing. 

Contrary to the rules of spy craft, the recruit acknowledges his role and asks for forgiveness in return for intelligence on Israel.  The recruit betrays Israel.  In finding the recruit’s betrayal, “The General” puts him in an isolation cell that no one knows about.

The recruit appeals to “The General” for his release, but “The General” has fallen into a coma.  This is one thread of the story.  With the death of “The General” there is no way out for the recruit.  No one with any power knows of the recruit’s fate.

In the end, with the help of a gift from his guard, the recruit hangs himself.  The guard knowingly supplies a belt with a gifted robe, a forbidden act by the guard.  He knew the gift would give the recruit a choice.

The meat of the story is in how the recruit is caught.  This is where the story becomes maudlin and unbelievable. 

The counter spy that captures the recruit is too contrived.  She is a beautiful waitress with unfathomable wealth.  There are so many clues to her duplicity, only an idiot spy would not see what is happening. 

In a non-sequitur reveal, a listener is introduced to a Palestinian peace maker. He is called the map maker because he suggests the creation of two states.  The female Jewish spy who led to the capture of the recruit has a deep and committed relationship with this Palestinian. 

This “waitress” and “peace maker” plan a dinner for two in an underground tunnel between Israel and Gaza. It is a “Dinner at the Center of the Earth”. 

The “waitress” and “peace maker” seem to represent the only hope for comity between Israelis and Palestinians.  The moral seems death of human innocents is what matters, not land.

If there is a saving grace to Hammond’s story, there are both Palestinians and Jews who wish for peace.  Peace is only conceivable with a growing recognition that death of innocent children is too high a price to pay for land that only belongs to nature. 


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Project Hail Mary

By: Andy Weir  

Narrated by: Oliver Wyman

Andrew Taylor Weir (American Novelist.)

In a bit of serendipity, “Project Hail Mary” reminds one of Jason Lanier’s memoir, “Dawn of the New Everything”.  Lanier commented on a fascination with exhibiting himself as a crustacean in virtual reality.  Andy Weir seems similarly captivated.

Andy Weir wrote the fictional novel “The Martian” about an astronaut being stranded on Mars. It became a block buster movie starring Matt Damon. 

As an astronaut, Damon overcomes many things that might go wrong when exploring Mars.  Weir vivifies and magnifies that danger by exploring the entire cosmos in “Project Hail Mary”.   

Like the hero of “The Martian”, Weir creates a character who understands the science of space. 

“Project Hail Mary” is the story of a brilliant Junior Highschool Science teacher who becomes a reluctant astronaut.  This teacher overcomes many of the mental and physical challenges of space exploration.  On his journey, he becomes the first human to contact an alien life.

A striking feature of Weir’s writing is the science he incorporates in his novels. As an only child, Weir is raised by a physicist father and electrical-engineer mother who may have had something to do with his interest in science. 

Whatever Weir’s influences, “Project Hail Mary” is a tour de force of science and space travel for non-scientists.  Whether Weir’s writing has scientific merit or not, “Project Hail Mary” is a great entertainment, narrated by Oliver Wyman, a master of the art of audio presentation.

Weir takes us on a journey to another solar system.  Weir manages to suspend one’s imagination with a tale about a threat to earth on the scale of global warming.  Ironically, global warming’s threat is subsumed by a greater threat–the growth of a fungus originating on Venus that absorbs the energy of the sun.  Without that energy, Earth is doomed.

As has happened many times in history, a common threat creates friends of former enemies.  Like the creation of a political alliance in WWII to defeat an enemy aggressor, a science alliance of independent countries is formed to defeat nature’s aggressor

In Wier’s story, a brilliant group of scientists from around the world assemble to assess the threat of a fungus that absorbs the energy of the sun. 

A common threat demands singular, decisive, and coordinated action.  Imminent threat requires focused leadership.

In Weir’s novel, that is Eva Straat.  She is not the heroine of the story, but she is a leader.  She is an historian who clearly understands the gravity of the threat—no energy from the sun, no life on earth. 

Weir’s hero is Ryand Grace, a scientist who chooses to abandon science research to teach Science at a junior high school.  Grace is a reluctant hero.  He is commandeered by Eva Straat because of a science paper, written by Grace as a parting shot to the science community.  The leading scientists of the day said no life exists without water.  Grace’s science paper claims life on earth is not necessarily true for all life in the galaxy.  Grace is convinced that water is not necessary for all forms of life.  He quits the science community that vilifies him for his contrary opinion.

Teachers are great managers that know how to control resources, whether human or material. Grace is a quintessential manager.

Weir’s story credibly develops a belief that life might exist without water and oxygen interactions with the other elements of the periodic table.  Grace eventually meets an alien he calls Rocky.  Rocky is an alien from another solar system whose home planet is facing the same energy consuming fungus.  This alien has no eyes but can see, no ears but can hear, no hydrogen or oxygen in his world, and looks like a crustacean with multiple appendages.

There are many story lines to follow in Wier’s imaginative novel.  Some common threads are teaching moments.  There is the thread of our world’s end if evolution is unable to keep pace with social and environmental change.  There are the principles of friendship, hardship, scientific understanding, teacher and science contribution to society, crises response by the few, the one, and the many, willingness to sacrifice one’s life, and moral choice. 

An overriding principle in “Project Hail Mary” is the story of evolution.  Life’s adaptation is the soul of the story. Only through evolution does sentient life have a chance to survive.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Brothers Karamazov

By: Fyodor Dostoevsky (Translated by Constance Garnett)

Narrated by Frederick Davidson

A re-listening of one of Dostoevsky’s masterpieces reminds one of why it is considered a classic. 

My first review of “The Brothers Karamazov” focuses on Dostoevsky’s prescient view of psychology

Re-listening reprises its deeply religious overtone and its depiction of how some novelists view and reinforce inequality of the sexes.

Vasily Kachalov as Ivan Karmazov.

The role of religion in life is vivified by Ivan Karamazov, the 4th son and brother of the Karamazov family. 

Depiction of Alyosha Karamazov.

Ivan tells his youngest brother, Alyosha, of an imagined poem.  It is named “The Grand Inquisitor”.  It is a story of the return of Christ noted in the Christian bible as the second coming. 

Ivan offers a societal interpretation of the concept of God in his narrative poem.  He explains to his brother Alyosha–if the Son of God returns to earth and shows his divinity through miracle, the returning Christ would be captured by church elders and rejected as humankind’s Savior.

Christ’s capturer in Ivan’s poem is a wizened bishop (the Grand Inquisitor) who explains faith is more important than the second coming. 

The bishop explains the Church is commissioned by Christ’s Father to rule the world.  With God’s commission, “The Grand Inquisitor” argues the Church dutifully manages human sin and confession.  The inference is that a “second coming” will not successfully eradicate human sin because it is ineradicable.

The bishop argues the return of Christ is not as important as the church’s management of sin and its gift of hope to the people of the world. 

In contradiction of Ivan’s poem and his societal interpretation of religion, Dostoevsky creates Father Zosima.  Zosima tells his life story as a relatively wealthy young military officer who becomes a venerated monk. 

Despite a secular life of sin, Zosima requests forgiveness from those he has sinned against.  Because of his spiritual awakening, Zosima requests forgiveness, and with the help of a stranger’s confession, reconciles and accepts the word of God. 

Zosima recalls the truth of God who tests Job’s faith by allowing the devil to take all his earthly wealth, health, and family.  Job never gives up his faith in God. Zosima recounts reconciliation and forgiveness of Joseph’s brothers who sold him into slavery.  Zosima commits his remaining life to God with these two biblical parables.  Zosima’s life story foreshadows Ivan’s conversion from belief in the “…Grand Inquisitor” to belief in God’s truth.

For God’s believers, Dostoevsky argues the world will change just as Zosima changed.  The change will come from salvation based on repentance, confession, and acceptance of God’s truth. 

Dostoevsky suggests God’s truth is that no one should stand in judgement over another, each should pray for theirs, and their brother’s redemption. Zosima argues this change will come upon the world gradually based on a growing diminution of the human desire for money, power, and prestige.  Care for others becomes as great as care for oneself. To Dostoevsky, this is an evolutionary imperative based on the biblical word of God.

The truth Zosima refers to is that all men are created equal, they should be treated with respect, and forgiven for their inevitable sins. 

A blaring irony of “The Brothers Karamazov” is the reprehensible characterization of women.  Dostoevsky’s vision is patriarchal.  Women bare children keep the house and obey their husbands.  There is no room for women’s equality.  They are a mere rib of Man.

One might argue there has been progress for women since the 19th century, but women are still battered, women are generally paid less than men for the same work, and women are often treated like slaves.

“The Brothers Karamazov” is a classic. It is prescient for these times.  One might argue that more attention is being given today to sexual, ethnic, religious, and racial inequality.  However, progress is slow.  America has taken many steps back, and few steps forward. 

Dostoevsky’s “…Brothers Karamazov” is a reminder of Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote— “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Maybe, but this generation doubts its truth.

How long is too long?


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Homeland Elegies: A Novel

By: Ayad Akhtar

Narrated by Ayad Akhtar

Ayad Akhtar (American author, playwright, novelist, and screenwriter-received 2013 Pulitzer for Drama.)

When listening to “Homeland Elegies”, one must remind oneself it is a novel.  It is written by an author and screenwriter who can create characters with singular insight and theoretical power to change the world.  Though there have been such people in history, they are never recognized in real time.  Extraordinary people are only found in the perspective of history or in fictional stories by creative writers. 

Many in history might be considered in the category of extraordinary people.  They were not perfect, but they changed America, and in some cases the world, for the better.  Extraordinary people are either revivified historic figures, or imaginary characters created by authors like Ayad Akhtar.

Pakistan, to many Americans, is a riddle wrapped in an enigma (a phrase Churchill used to describe Russia in the 1930s).  The author manages to reveal some of that riddle in “Homeland Elegies”. 

Without delving into the history of the author, the author’s main character is named Akhtar.  One gathers from his novel, that Akhtar is an American, but his parents are from Pakistan.  Akhtar is born into an upper-middle class family whose father is a renowned cardiologist. 

Akhtar’s father sees Trump as a man like himself.  Akhtar’s father is flawed in ways like Trump.  Both Trump and Akhtar’s father look at life’s decisions as transactions with winners and losers. 

Trump and Akhtar’s father’s mutual history of dalliance with prostitutes, their failure as business investors, and their unshakeable belief in the value of capitalist self-interest make Akhtar’s father and Trump brothers in both character and ambition. 

Politically, the character Akhtar and his father are opposites.  Akhtar’s father appears to have voted for Trump in the 2016 election; in part because of a brief medical encounter with Trump long before he became President. Akhtar argues with his father about Trump’s public persona. Trump’s lack of empathy, and his transactional domestic and foreign policy actions are “red flags” to his son.  Though Akhtar loves his father, he attempts to bully him into changing his mind about Trump.

The author shows why Trump appeals to many Americans.  The “…Elegies” help explain why disparaged American minorities (both nonwhites, and extreme libertarians), as well as white voters, support Trump. 

Trump’s support crosses all strata of American life, including the rich, poor, educated, and un-schooled.  Many Americans vote for and revere Trump.  Trump’s appeal is not to any precise citizen category. His appeal is to every American that wants to be rich enough to be left alone by government or any outside interference.

One of several serious reflections by the characters in the “…Elegies” is an American Pakistani who uses Trump’s memes to punish anti-Islamist local governments that deny American Pakistani equality.  This character is a brilliant strategist and wealthy investor.  This super-wealthy investor, a born-in-America Pakistani, creates a hedge fund to be sold to communities that formerly denied Muslim equality in their cities. 

This hedge fund creator concocts a hedge fund scheme to make money at the expense of anti-Muslim American city governments.  Greed of government public fund’ investors blinds them to carefully worded risks in the hedge fund prospectus.  In the end, these city bureaucrats nearly bankrupt their cities because of their failure to read the fine print.  The cities governments sue the creator of the hedge-fund but are unsuccessful because the prospectus clearly explains the fund’s risk. The hedge-fund profits even more by having hedged against the fund because they knew what would happen to the original investment.

In a trip to Argentina last year, our guide suggested the same hedge-fund profiteering occurred in their country. Argentina fell prey to the same corporate shenanigan. Corporate investors profited twice (first in selling bonds and second from hedging against default). The Argentine people paid the price through inflated consumer prices and devalued currency.

The hedge fund creator has no empathy for citizens who are pawns in a scheme bought into by their local representatives. 

The hedge fund creator’s primary objective is to punish local governments that had discriminated against creation of Muslim places of worship.  The hedge fund creator exhibits the same characteristic that many ascribe to former President, Donald Trump.  Trump shows little empathy for the public while focusing on those he wants to punish, regardless of collateral damage to innocent bystanders.

Two interesting perspectives come from this elegy of a super-wealthy American Pakistani investor.   

  1. He explains why Eastern and Western cultures had such different economic histories. He notes corporations led to accumulation of wealth in Western nations.  In contrast, in the hay days of the Muslim Empire, individual wealth was disbursed to relatives who steadily diminished capital and retarded the general welfare of the Empire.  Eastern nations failed to adopt the idea of corporations for 300 years.  In that 300 years, accumulated wealth in corporations allowed Western economies to grow while the East foundered.
  2. His second message is ironic. Individual managers of corporate wealth diminished the moral center of Western nation’ capitalism.  The human flaw of greed became good.

The underlying theme of “Homeland Elegies” is that corporations have diminished the ideals of Adam Smiths’ theory of capitalism. 

All races, colors, creeds, and religions succumb to the Hobbesian faults of being human.  Only empathy for others can blunt the ill effects of corporatism and the wealth machine that feeds on the lives of the poor and near poor.

The author expands this argument in the elegy of a wealthy Black American who understands why Trump will win the 2016 election.  This wealthy lawyer recognizes the link between corporate wealth and discrimination.  He can see Trump will be elected in 2016 because White America wishes to maintain control of corporate wealth. 

The counter to Trumpism in this American’s mind is to fight for control of corporate wealth; not to empathize with the poor, homeless, and non-white populations because it is a waste of time.

The S.P.A.C. (special, purpose acquisition company) movement reinforces this Black American’s argument.

Corporate and personal wealth are often experienced as a superpower created by the faults of human nature (namely greed). Citizens are not seen empathetically but only as transactions between company and customer.

Corporations see individual citizens and consuming customers as fodder for economic growth. 

The author abandons a central corporatist distortion of reality with elegies of his personal sexual experience.  The character of Akhtar falls somewhere between caring and transactional sexual relationships.  In one encounter, it seems there is care for another; in most others, sex seems simply a pleasurable transaction.  The inference is that casual sex is the equivalent of corporate greed.

The author’s main character sees sexual experience is often a transactional rather than caring experience between adults. 

Ayad Akhtar is an insightful writer that gives listener/readers much to think about; not the least of which is unfair treatment of American citizens born here by former immigrant parents.  One might look forward to seeing Akhtar’s theatrical production for better understanding of American culture.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Night Watchman

By: Louise Erdrich

Narrated by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich (Author, National Book Award winner plus other honorifics.)

(Louise Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Erdrich’s parents, a Chippewa mother and German father, taught at the “Bureau of Indian Affairs” in Wahpeton.  She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and her husband was the director of “Native American Studies” at Dartmouth.)

Like Ellison’s “…Invisible Man”, Louise Erdrich offers “The Night Watchman” to show how invisible native Indians are in America. 

The headline in the 1/4/21 “New York Times” National page is “Indian Country Loses a Hospital at a Crucial Moment–Tribe Members Feel Abandoned as the U.S. Turns a New Mexico Facility Into a Clinic”–today’s example of Indian invisibility.

“The Night Watchman” is not Erdrich’s first attempt at explaining Indian’ invisibility.  She also wrote the best seller “The Round House”.  Both reveal the ignorance and unfairness of Indian reservation life and American government attempts to subsume Indian culture.

Erdrich notes “The Night Watchman” is a true story with names changed to hide American political shamefulness and abhorrent treatment of a young Indian woman.  On the one hand, her story may be distorted because of truth written as fiction.  On the other, Erdrich offers a distinctive picture of Indian reservation life and reminds reader/listeners of American power’s treatment of Indian people.

Erdrich offers a distinctive picture of Indian reservation life and reminds one of American power’s ill treatment of Indian people.

America’s history of violating contractual agreements with Indian tribes is well documented.  A part of Erdrich’s story shows how those contractual agreements are broken.

(This is a photo copy of a Senate Agreement with Crow Indians for Sale of Their Reservation in Montana-1891)

An elected official submits a bill to a state legislature suggesting native Indians have achieved equality before the law and that they have become Americans who should not be restricted to reservations (a euphemism for break-up of Indian culture and land confiscation).  The submitted bill gives no value to the tradition and history of Indian culture.  The bill might offer compensation to a tribe for the taking of the land, but at an unspecified price.

The people of the reservation are legally notified of the prospective legislative bill.  People on the reservation are offered a public hearing to discuss the bill. 

There is no offer of financial help for traveling to the hearing or for legal defense of Indian contractual rights to the reservation land. 

In Erdrich’s story, effort to organize and pay for travel and legal expense is left to reservation people who have no money to spare. What money they have is to survive, to have a roof over their head, and food on the table.

“The Night Watchman” is a story of big government against “invisible” Indians. 

The bill is created by a Mormon legislator in the state whose family settled in the area in the 19th century.  He argues reservation land was a temporary holding until Indians were integrated into American culture.  The legislator reasons the day for full integration into American culture had come.  He reasoned job availability, education, and welfare of tribal populations had reached the same level available to all Americans.  It is the same lie offered to women and minorities in the history of the world.

Erdrich’s story begins with vignettes of Indian life on the reservation.  This is somewhat confusing but gains momentum as her characters are fully developed.  The night watchman is an Indian named Thomas Wahhashk.  He works off the reservation at an industrial plant.

Patrice Paranteau is an Indian who works at the same plant as Thomas.  She has a sister named Vera who has left the reservation to live in the city.  Vera disappears.  Patrice goes to the city to find Vera but only finds Vera’s baby who appears abandoned. 

The disappearance of Vera is one of the drivers of Erdrich’s story.  What happens to Vera is unconscionable.  She is kidnapped and held in a ship’s hold to be abused by its sailors.

There is a burgeoning love story threaded into Erdrich’s story that reflects the striving of an Patrice to become an equal partner in life.  Patrice chooses her own path to become an independent woman in a world defined by government and men.

Erdrich’s story reminds one of Ellison’s invisible Black who identifies with a personal culture while wanting to be treated as an equal in American culture. 

Minorities do not wish to lose their identity but to be equal participants in a wider culture. It should not be difficult to be a Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, or other American and enjoy the benefits of democracy’s freedom.

Erdrich combines the theme of cultural identity with a story of human relationship, hardship, success, and failure.  Erdrich offers a glimpse of our hard it is to be an Indian in a culture dominated by a largely white American culture. 

Erdrich, like Ellison, shows how multiculturalism is denied by a country that purports to believe in equality of opportunity for all. 

Like Ellison pictures what it is like to be Black in America, Erdrich shows what it is like to be Indian in America.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Eye of the World (Book 1)

By: Robert Jordan

Narrated by Kate Reading, Michael Kramer

James Oliver Rigney Jr. aka Robert Jordan (1948-2007–American Author, Born in Charleston, South Carolina)

Robert Jordan explains “The Eye of the World” is about myth.  He recreates a cast of characters that brings tales of the past into a “wheel of time”.  Jordan draws on myths told and retold to glean a perception of world history before history became an academic discipline.  He suggests there is an element of truth in all myths, though retelling changes their truth. 

Jordan creates an integrated mythology made up of 14 books and a prequel novel.  The renown science fiction writer, Brandon Sanderson, finishes the series upon Jordan’s death.

Jordan’s underlying theme is wrapped in the “wheel of time”.  The idea comes from India in a philosophy alluded to in Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism.  He argues history continually repeats itself in changing ages.  This “wheel of time” gets its energy from conflict between good and evil.  As a circle, it has no beginning and no end.

“The Eye of the World” is the first book in Jordan’s 14 book series.  It begins in a rural setting and introduces the theme of conflict between good and evil.  Though Jordan might be offended by the comparison, it is reminiscent of “Lord of the Rings” with the added dimension of a “wheel of time” that never stops turning.

The main characters are Rand, Mat, Egwene, and Nynaeve with an introduction of Moraine, Mandrogoran, and Thom.  They represent forces of good.  Evil is in a caste of characters led by the “Dark One”.  Though there is a clear line between heroic and nefarious characters, the good are tainted by evil and mystery.

From an attack on Rand’s hometown, a long voyage of self-discovery begins for Rand, Mat, Egwene, and Nynaeve. In their journey, Jordan shows there is good and evil in the best of us. 

Humans are layered with beliefs and circumstances that proffer choice.  At different times and different circumstances, we choose the good and sometimes the bad. Jordan infers no one is exempt from evil.  

Jordan implies the energy of life comes from conflict between good and evil.

The wheel turns as the wheel wills.  It turns in a pattern that repeats itself in good’ and evil’ conflict within and between us, our cultures, nations, and galaxies.  It is the wheel of time.  In never stops turning.  Presuming time is a fundamental quantity, the wheel will always exist.

Jordan’s story begins somewhat ponderously but gains momentum and interest that will lead some to read more of “The Wheel of Time” series.  For others, “The Eye of the World” satisfies one’s curiosity about Jordan’s popularity.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Volume 1)

By: Phillip Pullman

Narrated by Michael Sheen

Phillip Pullman (English Author)

 “The Book of Dust” is a surreal story told by a master narrator.  Pullman combines magical fantasy with speculative science.  The drama of Pullman’s story captures your attention with a story about a boy and girl struggling with maturity in a world turned upside down by a disastrous flood. Phillip Pullman’s extraordinary imagination is amplified by Michael Sheen’s oral presentation. 

Human nature is on display.  People are not always what they seem.  Every person has an image of themselves and others that is revealed by what they do; not by how they look, or what they think.  Pullman implies there is a presence in each of us that is illustrated by an individualized demon. 

In Pullman’s imagination that demon is attached to our being and cannot be separated except by death or extraordinary circumstance. 

The demon is like a talking spirit that changes form in ways that reinforce feelings and thoughts of its companion.  It advises, directs, and illustrates contradictions and affirmations in its companion’s life.

Volume 1 of Pullman’s trilogy sets the table for an ongoing story with three principal characters.  Lyra is a baby in Volume 1 but seems destined to be the main character that carries secrets and mysteries to be revealed in future volumes. 

Lyra holds a mysterious power as an offspring of an estranged husband and wife who are on opposite sides of a political divide.  One side appears to be autocratic: the other loosely democratic.

Volume 1’s hero is an eleven-year-old boy named Malcolm.  Alice is Malcolm’s fierce companion in a dangerous escape from a mad scientist, a horrendous flood, and an autocratic government agency.  The two young protagonists struggle in their relationship with each other. They have a pact to protect Lyra. Both are pursued by the mad scientist who is determined to murder Malcolm, ravage Alice, and either kidnap or kill the baby.

Pullman’s appeal is partly in the adventure but also in the sprinkling of “dust” that seems to have something to do with quantum unpredictability. 

Both threads of Pullman’s story appeal to a reader/listener’s fascination with the adventure and puzzles of magic, religion, and science.  A third interest comes from those who just enjoy well told fictional stories.

 The first volume will lure many into the second and third of Pullman’s trilogy.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Manhattan Beach

By: Jennifer Egan

Narrated by Norbert Leo Butz, Heather Lind, Vincent Piazza

Jennifer Egan (American novelist)

“Manhattan Beach” is a mystery.  Egan tells the fictional story of Anna, raised in an Irish family, among New York Italian mobsters during WWII.  The story unfolds with revelations about its characters.  “Manhattan Beach” reveals the contradictions of human life.  It exposes the good and bad of every human life, whether male or female, law abiding, or criminal.

Manhattan Beach in the 1930’s and 40’s.

Anna grows to adulthood from a childhood interrupted by her father’s disappearance.  She is 14 years old when he disappears.  Her father left some money to the family, but without a word about where he went or what had happened.  Egan adds to the mystery with Anna’s father’s meeting with an Italian mobster, two years before her father’s disappearance. Anna is at the meeting.  She is 12 years old.

Anna’s father has an eidetic memory.  That skill leads him to be hired by the mobster.  The mobster uses Anna’s father’s detailed memory to keep tabs on employees and operations of a nation-wide gambling syndicate. 

The mobster is the biggest financial contributor to the boss of the syndicate.  Anna’s father’s eidetic memory helps the mobster, but it also creates a potential risk to the syndicate.  It could be used to reveal the details of its criminal activity.

Later, Anna meets the mobster her father worked for, but she is now in her early twenties.  She chooses not to reveal her real name.  She thinks she might find some clue about what happened to her father.  She and the mobster begin an affair.  She reveals her real name, and the mystery begins to unfold. 

A listener wonders is her father dead or alive?  The mobster believes he is dead, but Egan reveals the father’s life as an officer in the merchant marines, after his disappearance.  A listener now begins to understand what might have happened.  One becomes interested in how the story ends.  That is what makes Egan’s story interesting and worth completing.

This is not the greatest story ever told but it is entertaining. It illustrates how similar and equal men and women are–both in good, bad, and ethical qualities.