AGEISM

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Hearing Trumpet

By: Leonora Carrington

Narrated by: Siân Phillips

Leonora Carrington (Author, artist born in England, lived in Mexico, 1917-2011, died at the age of 94.)

“The Hearing Trumpet” is said to have been written in the 1950s or early 60s. The author, Leonora Carrington, is believed to be in her late 50s when the book is written. Her age is relevant because the book is about old age and how those who make it to old age are treated in the modern world.

Though this is a highly regarded novel, to this reviewer the beginning is remarkable, the end is meh (uninspiring). The heroine of the story is Marian Leatherby. She is 94, a ripe old age, when one’s family members waiver between love and burden when thinking about their aged parents.

The character of Marian Leatherby is developed as a remarkable woman that is smart, and humorous but is troubled by loss of hearing. A neighbor who one presumes is similarly elderly buys a gift for Marian. The gift is “The Hearing Trumpet”.

Antique Ear Trumpet

Now that Marian has “The Hearing Trumpet” she can hear much better and understands her perilous living arrangement. She prepares for her children’s plan to move her into an assisted living facility for the aged.

Her son seems reluctant, but the daughter-in-law is insistent because of Marian’s bizarre behavior when they have guests. Marian rarely communicates with her children and often interrupts her family’s social lives because of her hearing loss.

Because of Marian’s hearing, she communicates and understands little about the son and daughter-in-law with whom she lives

The move happens within days of Marian’s realization of her son and daughter-in-law’s plan. Many who have reached a certain age, know of similar family decisions.

An aged parent responds in different ways. Some choose to die by making the move and refusing to adapt to a new way of living. Others choose to adapt. Marian is carted off to a monastery like facility.

The story is fascinating up to this point. It loses its appeal for this listener in a surrealistic story of Marian’s new living arrangement.

The head of the facility is an overweight manager with a semi-religious, zealot-like view of his role. Marian becomes an observer in her first weeks at the facility.

After some time, Marian accepts the behavior of her fellow wards and begins a surrealistic journey into a myth about the Knights of Malta (a religious military order under its own Papal, Roman Catholic charter).

This is semi-interesting to some because the Knights of Malta are an order of religious soldiers who are alleged by some to have murdered the famous artist, Caravaggio. That is not the surreal story of the author, but interestingly Lenora Carrington is an artist in real life.

Some suggest “The Hearing Trumpet” has a happy ending because Marian has escaped the reality of old age into a personal fantasy of the world while dealing with the reality of her failing physical condition.

One presumes Carrington’s remaining story is full of symbolism, but it hides the fundamental importance of aging and how fearful one is to become old, ignored, and essentially discarded by society. Maybe fantasy is all that is left to the aged. Carrington lives into her 90s. One wonders how she adjusted to her infirmities. 

PARENTING

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Little Fires Everywhere

By: Celeste Ng

Narrated by: Jennifer Lim

Celeste Ng (American Author, Received Guggenheim Fellowhip in 2020.)

“Little Fires Everywhere” is a work of fiction addressing American wealth and poverty, freedom, abortion, discrimination, family relationship, academic education, and parenting.  The author, Celeste Ng, artfully creates two families.  The first family has wealth.  The second lives on the edge of poverty.  Both have well educated children who make big and little mistakes borne from their genetic inheritance and environment.  

The two mothers are the primary decision makers.  The mother of the wealthy family (Elena Richardson) is a reporter and college graduate. The mother of the poor family (Mia Warren) is a waitress, house cleaner, and formally educated artist who quit college. The wealthy mother has four children, two boys and two girls.  The artist mother has one daughter.  These families come together in the same exclusive neighborhood. The wealthy mother decides to offer half a duplex for rental to a mother and her daughter.  The duplex is on the same property as the single-family home in which the Richardson’s live.

Parenting

Elena Richardson contrasts with Mia Warren in most ways.  Both went to college but one graduated while the other dropped out.  Both are dominate influencers in their social interactions, but Elena is bullying while Mia is reasoning.

The Richardson boys are near the age of Mia Warren’s young daughter.  All the children are in their teenage years. 

The children in this story reflect the strengths and weaknesses of their parents.  Both family’s children are headstrong, but the Richardson family’s children rely on their economic stability in making choices about life.  The Warren family relies on their independent lifestyle and pragmatic view of the world to make choices about life.

Freedom is never absolute.

The Richardson’s freedom is constrained by rule-of-law, wealth, and social position. The Warren’s freedom is constrained by rule-of-law, poverty, and moral conscience. Abortion is a moral and social crime to Elena Richardson. Abortion is a woman’s right and moral choice to Mia Warren.  Discrimination is academic to Elena and her social circle. It is personal to Mia. The Richardson family relationships are autocratic and secretive. The Warren family relationship is democratic and selectively open, limited by the maturity of Mia’s daughter. Education to the Richardson family is important to improve one’s social position. Education to the Warren family is to broaden one’s understanding of life.

Parenting is shown to be the most difficult task of every family. whether wealthy or poor. The lifestyle of the Richardson family creates “Little Fires Everywhere”. The Warren family lifestyle implies a fire retardant. The author tells a story that reveals how difficult it is to be parent of societies’ future.

MORAL CERTITUDE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Improvement

By: Joan Silber

Narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Adenrele Ojo, Hilliary Huber, Ramiz Monsef, Kate Reading, R.C. Bray

Joan Silber (Author, winner of the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction and the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her book “Improvement”.)

“Improvement” is a compilation of characters in the formative years of their early adult lives. 

The primary character is Reyna who lives in Harlem, New York.  It is a story of her life and the lives of several who are in that age group.  All characters in the novel are directly or indirectly connected to Reyna.  None are “movers and shakers” of the world, but each represent what life is like for many young adults in the 21st century.

Reyna is a single mother with a young son named Oliver, and a boyfriend who is not the son’s father.

The boyfriend, Boyd, is serving time in prison for drug possession.  Her attachment to Boyd comes from personal attraction but is cemented by Boyd’s attention to her son.  The four-year-old idolizes Boyd.

Boyd also lives in Harlem.  Reyna is white.  Boyd is black.  They are both living on the edge of poverty.  Reyna is a secretary at a veterinary clinic. 

Cigarette Smuggling in New York

After being released from prison, Boyd and friends decide to become smugglers by buying cigarettes in Virginia and selling them in New York. 

The cigarette tax difference between States goes into the pockets of smugglers.  If caught, they are fined and put in jail.  This illegal activity, either directly or indirectly, sets events in motion that affect all the characters in Silber’s story.

Reyna is called upon to drive the smuggler’s transport truck when their regular driver is unavailable. 

Reyna initially agrees but at the last moment decides she cannot make the trip because of her responsibility as a parent.  She fears being arrested and having her son taken from her.  Claude, one of the smugglers, says he will drive even though he has little experience driving, and no experience driving a truck.  Claude also has no driver’s license. 

On the trip to Virginia, the truck is t-boned by a commercial truck driver.  Claude is killed, others are permanently injured.

The result of the accident is to reveal more information about everyone in the accident and people who are affected by the death of Claude.  Claude had found a girlfriend in Virginia.  She knows nothing of the accident and wonders why Claude has not contacted her.  Claude’s sister is heartbroken by his death.

Claude’s girlfriend meets someone else to replace her affection for Claude.  Reyna feels guilty for Claude’s death.  Boyd breaks up with Reyna.  Reyna’s son misses Boyd.  The commercial driver becomes deeply in debt to repair his truck.  The consequence of the accident reaches into the details of many lives. Claude’s sister leaves Harlem with money she unknowingly received from Reyna who feels guilty for Claude’s death. Claude’s sister starts her own business in Philadelphia.

One draws conclusions about life from Silber’s story.  Seemingly unrelated events have consequences beyond one’s knowledge. 

This is a story of people at the bottom of America’s economic ladder but what is true for the poor is true for all humanity.  Everyone’s life is affected by what happens to others.

Empathy will not cure the ills of society, but knowledge of life’s interconnection offers hope for life’s “Improvement”.  Silber shows how all human actions have consequence.  One cannot predict the consequence of one’s actions, but Silber implies moral actions offer a chance for human “Improvement”.  

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP

Audio-book Revie
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Spaceman of Bohemia

By: Jaroslav Kalfar

Narrated by Jot Davies

The author, Jaroslav Kalfar offers a perception of communist Czechoslovakian history.  Kalfar became a resident of Brooklyn, New York at the age of 15.

“Spaceman of Bohemia” is partly a “stream of consciousness” tale. Just as a reader/listener thinks the story is complete, a new story begins with a similar thematic destination.  In an implausible space journey to a galactic dust cloud and a miraculous rescue, a Bohemian astronaut is saved by a Russian spaceship. The spaceman of Bohemia’s spaceship is compromised by dust from the cosmic cloud he is inspecting.  

The Russian spaceship comes out of nowhere and is part of a top-secret program that explores the universe without knowledge of the rest of the world. The spaceman’s story begins with a young boy in communist Czechoslovakia just before the 1968 Prague Spring and Czechoslovakia’s democratization in 1989.

Jakub is the teller of this tale.  In recounting his life, Jakub offers a history of what life is like for families that supported a repressive communist regime before the Prague spring movement. 

Jakub’s father is employed by the secret police who torture dissidents at the direction of the communist party.  One of those dissidents is tortured by Jakub’s father.  After the communist party is rejected by the Czechs, this particular tortured dissident returns to seek revenge on Jakub’s family. 

As a real-life example of dissident torture in Czechoslovakia, a Slovak priest dies from torture and radiation poisoning from forced labor during the communist era. He is beatified by the church after his death.

After Jakub’s father dies, he is raised by his grandparents.  However, they are evicted from their home that Jakub’s grandfather had built.  The eviction occurs because of political influence used by the dissident who had been tortured by Jakub’s deceased father.

Jakub becomes a Czech astrophysicist. As a scientist, he discovers a new life form in cosmic dust.  Because of that discovery, he is called upon by his government to become an astronaut to make a trip to analyze a distant cosmic dust cloud.   The true reason the Czech government calls for Jakub to become an astronaut is revealed at the end of the story.  It is the influence of the tortured dissident.

Jakub’s ego, patriotism, and the added weight of the Czech republic’s storied history of science (referring to the likes of Bolzano, Purkinje, Wichterle, Heyrosky, etc. and oddly, Nikola Tesla who was a Serbian) entice Jakub to take the risky space journey.

Cosmic dust cloud.

The journey to the cosmic cloud takes several months.  As the journey toward the cloud continues, Jakub meets, at least metaphorically, an alien that has the general form of an arachnid, but with 13 eyes. 

The arachnid has lived for centuries and is able to communicate directly with Jakub.  The arachnid calls Jakub “skinny human”.  The arachnid can read Jakub’s mind which suggests it is a figment of Jacob’s imagination. That idea takes a listener into a state of suspended disbelief that becomes more surrealistic as the story progresses.

As the spaceship reaches the cosmic cloud, it becomes disabled by dust particles that penetrate the life support system of Jacob’s vessel. 

As the “Spaceman…” nears death, a Russian spaceship rescues Jakub. The approaching spaceship is a part of a secret Russian science program that has explored the universe for many years.

Everyone in Czechoslovakia presumes Jakub is dead.  The Russian’s plan is to keep their rescue of Jakub secret.  As they near earth, Jacob impresses one of the cosmonauts (who incidentally has lost his mind) and helps him take over the Russian spaceship. It crashes into the ocean.  Jacob escapes and returns to his home country.  

Those are the general details of the story, but its appeal is in the author’s skillful use of words and his characterization of human relationship and fragility.  As the author explores human relationships, he exploits beliefs in authoritarian, democratic, communist, and capitalist government’ deficiencies. 

Jakub marries a free-spirted artist, a woman whom he loves.  She also loves him but resents his self-centeredness. 

Jakub chooses to take this dangerous journey without considering his wife’s opinion.  He treats her as a non-person; not worthy of consideration when deciding something that deeply affects both their lives. She decides to leave Jacob just as he left her, without explanation.  Jakub is only part way through his journey to the cosmic cloud when she leaves.  She chooses not to explain anything to Jakub in their weekly contacts while he is in space.  She just leaves. 

Jakub’s wife works with a psychiatrist that helps her understand the decision she makes to leave her husband. 

The meetings are transcribed, and Jakub is given a copy of the transcript when he returns to earth.  He realizes the mistake he has made and hopes to reenter the relationship he has lost.  When he sees his wife, he realizes there is no chance for reconciliation because of the past.  He recognizes his failure as an equal partner to a woman of substance.

Personal relationship is the beginning and end of all that matters in life.  Kalfar tells a story of human fragility.  Life is not government.  Life is not politics.  Life is not economics. 

THOUGHT IS A BEGINNING

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Secret Garden

By: Frances Hodgson Burnett

Narrated by: Carrie Hope Fletcher

Frances Eliza Hodson aka Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924, Author, British American citizen died in New York.)

              “The Secret Garden” is a period piece.  One should read/listen to “The Secret Garden” with an understanding that it is a story of its time, not of the 21st century.  It tells of wealth’s privilege at a time when poverty is ignored and perceived as a natural part of civilization.  “The Secret Garden” was serialized in a 1911 publication called “The American Magazine”. 

“The Secret Garden” is a story of childhood privilege and neglect.  The story begins in India and ends in an English manor house.  It is a story of how some children overcome the circumstance of parental neglect. 

The first character introduced is Mary who lives in India with her British parents. 

The second is Colin who lives with his father in England. 

              Because of implied wealth and virtual absence of parents, two ten-year-old cousins are raised by servants.  Their early perception of the world is that they are masters of their domain.  At the age of ten, both children have been neglected by their parents.  Mary is characterized as unattractive with a beautiful mother who has turned her parental responsibility over to Indian servants.  Mary’s father is never a part of the story. 

Cholera strikes India in 19th century. Both of Mary’s parents die from Cholera, and she is carted off to England to live with her uncle.

Mary’s uncle lives in a 100-room mansion in the English countryside.  Mary arrives at the manor and is greeted by servants, not her Uncle.

              Her Uncle lost his beloved wife in the birth of their son.  The son, Colin, is isolated in one room of the mansion, cared for by servants, and rarely visited by his father.  Colin believes he is going to die because of a physical affliction that is presumed to have come from his father’s unspecified condition, a condition of melancholy more than physical being. 

                Mary begins to recognize people who care for her are not slaves when she returns to England.  Her realization comes from being taken out of India’s way of life into an English countryside where servants are noted as somewhat independent while handcuffed by low wages paid by employers and the independently wealthy.

The consequence of Mary’s and Colin’s neglected upbringing is their characterization as imperious martinets who order their care givers as though they were slaves.

              Mary begins to realize English servants are more than order takers.  They have lives of their own.  She begins to realize one must treat others as she wishes to be treated. 

The author makes it clear that Mary’s steely imperiousness has not left her but that she tempers its use as she becomes better acquainted with the poor who must work to live.

A secret garden is the center of the story because it is a symbol of life’s resurrection. 

               Even the most neglected and spoiled children can be metaphorically planted in a different environment to become more caring and understanding.  A secret garden changes Mary and Colin into better human beings.

The key to understanding “The Secret Garden” is that thought makes humans who they are and what they become.   

              Colin is introduced as an invalid that is unable to cope with the world as it is.  He is neglected by a father who may blame him for the death of his beloved wife.  Colin is ten but acts like a two-year-old.  He is as imperious as Mary when she lived in India.  Because of Mary’s experience in India, she understands Colin’s reasons for acting as a two-year-old.  In that understanding she uses her experience in India and her newly acquired knowledge of English life to lure Colin out of his melancholy.  She talks of a secret garden that was created by Colin’s mother before her untimely death.  Mary found the key to the Secret Garden and the metaphorical key to Colin’s health and happiness.

               Frances Burnett created a story that explains how children who are neglected by parents can change the direction of their lives.  The course of one’s life begins with thought.  Good thoughts lead to good actions.  Bad thoughts lead to bad actions. After Burnett’s story, a final thought is–weather neglected or not, it is a child’s choice.

DISAPPOINTING FICTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

My Year Abroad

By: Chang-Rae Lee

                                                    Narrated by : Lawrence Kao

Chang-Rae Lee (Author).

As a first exposure to Chang-Rae Lee, “My Year Abroad” is disappointing.  Lee is an accomplished novelist with many awards, but this latest book is long, and in too many places, ponderous.  

In some sense “My Year Abroad” is a stereotypical story of an Asian immigrant capturing the American dream by working hard.  It outlines the life of a person who is industrious and intelligent who works in a restaurant while earning a college degree in chemistry.  Somehow, this immigrant’s success becomes tainted in using his education to delude himself and others to believe in immortality. The idea of a chemical formula to extends one’s life seems to trigger a greed that destroys rather than preserves lives.

Lee’s fictional story reminds one of Elizabeth Holms and her belief in the blood test technology of Theranos. The only question being–does motive come from self-delusion or greed?

Lee shows an industrious young man who games the American immigration system to stay in New Jersey past the date of his limited visa.    A large part of his story reflects on the success of an immigrant who flimflams fellow investors into a scheme to sell an elixir to cure death.  This is not the first time an American has bilked the public which is why Lee’s story loses its way.

Lee puts aside, rather than explains, the poorly managed and unfair American immigration system that shuts out an important part of America’s prosperity.

What keeps one interested in Lee’s story is Tiller, a young boy who gets caught up in the elixir fraud.  Tiller enters the story by helping a mother and her son in a chance meeting at the airport.  The mother has been put in a witness protection program.  She testifies to the illegal activity of her husband who is pursued by the American government.  This introduces the threat of discovery by her husband’s associates who might kill her. 

Her savior is Tiller who comes from a broken family.  His mother left her family early in Tiller’s life.  He does not know what happened to her.  Tiller misses her presence. 

Tiller has a telephone relationship with his father who is a professor who supports him while he works in a restaurant as a dishwasher while going to college.  Tiller is a teenager, nearing 20, when he meets the witness protection mother and her son.  They begin a troubled life together.  The trouble is multifaceted based on age differences, guilt of the mother for having ratted on her husband, and a son bereft of a father, showing behavioral problems.

To some reader/listeners this is a lot to accept as credible.  Lee manages to keep the story together with the endearing qualities of Tiller.  Tiller deals with life as it happens.  He is industrious and has an inner compass that guides him through whatever circumstances life presents.  One admires Tiller’s grasp of the circumstances of the mother and her son.  Tiller makes their lives better.  One grows to care about Tiller, the troubled mother, and the son who needs help in coping with life.

Many of the things that happen to Tiller fail to suspend disbelief.  This is a long story without the qualities of good fiction.  One comes away from the story in disappointment with an author who is obviously gifted.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The Handmaid’s Tale

By Margaret Atwood

Narrated by: Claire Danes

Margaret Atwood (Author)

For a short time in 2017-18, “The Handmaid’s Tale” mesmerized TV viewers.  A 4th and final season is planned by Hulu in 2020.  An interesting speculation in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is–what would happen if misogyny grew rather than diminished in society?  Margaret Atwood suggests misogyny will create a dystopian future. 

Atwood’s view of misogyny’s existence in the world is fulsome and complex. She implies misogyny is perpetuated and reinforced by both sexes.  Both women and men ally themselves in repression of sexual equality. 

Margaret Atwood creates a story about a conspiracy of women to repress equality by exclusively relegating women to propagation and covert management of humanity.  Males are correctly accused and guilty of denying women’s equal rights, but Atwood illustrates both sexes are complicit in suppression and enforcement of sexual inequality.

Many men and women hide behind the veil of religion and secular authority to exploit unequal treatment of the sexes. 

Atwood’s story implies men may rule the world but only under the influence and guidance of women.  Males are sperm providers.  Males possess rights to rule the world, but they delude themselves in thinking they are in control.  The relationship between the sexes makes women not only the vessel of creation but the covert controller of society. Only the female form can create human life.  In most western religions, only women were given knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden.

Love is not necessary and is a negative force in Atwood’s dystopian vision of the future. 

Atwood’s dystopian world suggests management of sexual inequality is perpetuated by women.   Atwood’s story infers God created humanity for man with women as knowledge bearers who reproduce and manage life through nature’s thicket of good and evil.  “The Handmaid’s Tale” exposes the weakness of men and the strength of women.

Atwood implies men’s weakness is in their ignorance, desire for intimacy, failure to control nature, and a wish to see themselves as more than sperm bearers.  The strength of women is in their knowledge of good and evil and how to use it to have some level of control over nature. 

Neither sex can control nature, but knowledge gives women a sharper edge for splitting the difference between good and evil.  What Atwood implies is that women’s superior knowledge of good and evil may lead to her described dystopian world.

The best antidote for a future unlike that shown in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the Socratic importance of “knowing thyself”.  All human beings are created equal.  “Knowing thyself” is the beginning of wisdom.  Neither men or women are superior beings.

PORTAL TO THE WORLD

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

No One is Talking About This

By: Patricia Lockwood

                                                        Narrated by : Kristen Sieh

Patricia Lockwood (American Author, poet.)

In “No One is Talking About This”, Patricia Lockwood shows mind is life’s portal to the world.

Every human being perceives the world though their mind.  Her book offers three hours of introduction to a mind’s amorphous perception of the world, followed by one hour of clarity.  Lockwood writes three hours of “stream of consciousness” to introduce one hour of personal belief in the sanctity of human life. 

The author gives listener/readers a point of view about a subject that, contrary to the title of Lockwood’s book, is talked about by everyone. 

Nearly everyone is talking about women’s rights.  She makes a compelling case for limited women’s rights by telling the story of a pregnant woman that finds she has an unborn baby who is affected by the rare disease of elephantiasis.  The unborn baby has a heartbeat but shows the unmistakable growth characteristics of elephantiasis in her mother’s womb.  The State in which the mother lives does not allow abortions.  Whether the State would allow abortion or not is not the story.  The story is the mother’s decision to keep the baby.

In the end, Lockwood’s story implies women’s rights stop at the door of human conception. 

Lockwood alludes to many of the trials of having a health compromised baby that will require special care.  She notes the high medical costs that a family may incur.  However, cost is irrelevant in this story because there is an unbreakable filial bond that sustains parents, grandparents, and siblings of the family.  They love this stricken child.  Added to that bond is religion.  In their minds eye (the portal) the thought and action of abortion is inconceivable.

In some families, there is an unbreakable filial bond that sustains parents, grandparents, and siblings.

“No One is Talking About This” is a compelling argument against abortion. The flaw in Kisten Seih’s argument is it is one family’s point of view.  Lockwood implies it is God’s commandment to preserve life.  However, what if God is a manifestation of mind-not the creator and ruler of the universe?  It becomes a question of faith to a believer but a case of reason to an agnostic.

Some suggest, God is nature, a complex manifestation of a physical world.  The argument for “a right to abortion” is a singular choice by humans which are a part of the mind’s perceived physical world.  “A right to abortion” rests with humans (a part of nature) who believe women should have a choice. 

The argument for “a right to abortion” is conceived by some as a singular choice by humans which are a part of nature which, in their mind, is God.

CROATIAN SERBIAN ATROCITY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Girl at War – A Novel

By Sara Novic

Narrated by : Julia Whelan

Sara Novic (American author, translator,and professor of creative writing at Stockton University.)

Sara Novic writes of war in Croatia that is tentatively settled by the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.  Yugoslavia’s splits into 6 ethnic territories–Bosnia/Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia.

In a personal 22-day visit to five of the six countries, a Croatian guide tells our small group of travelers that he does not offer a trip to Serbia.  (Our trip was in October 2o17. The guides’ name is not given for obvious reasons.)  He explains his father was killed by Serbian soldiers in the Croatian war.

A little history gives perspective to our guide’s and Novic’s story.  After WWII, Yugoslavia is set up as a federation of six republics to be ruled by one leader, Josip Broz Tito. 

Josip Broz Tito (Yugoslavian ruler 1953-1980, died in May of 1980.)

Though Tito is considered a dictator, under his rule the six ethnic republics experience a period of strong economic growth and relative political stability. 

In having dinner with a family in Bosnia/Herzegovina, a grandmother says she misses Tito’s government.  She felt life was better with Tito as leader of the six territories.

Mass grave in Croatia in 1991.

Novic’s story is of a 10-year-old girl who loses her mother and father when stopped at a Serbian check point in the early 1990s.  The Serbian army gathers a group of Croatians, lines them up in a circle around a pit, and shoots them one by one. 

Serbian soldiers murder every adult and child, each of which fall into their grave.  The father tells his 10-year-old daughter to hold his hand and fall into the pit when he is the next to be shot.  She plays dead as the Serbs complete their circle of horror.  She escapes the pit before bulldozers cover the dead and dying.

Croatian Defense Force fighting in the Croatian War of Independence.

The orphaned girl runs from the scene.  She finds refuge among a group of resisters.  She is recruited by fellow Croatians who have gathered to fight for independence of their country. 

She becomes a soldier for a short time before finding her way back to her abandoned home.  With the help of her godfather’s family, she is illegally aided by a UN representative who smuggles her to America.  She is adopted by an American family, goes to college, and eventually returns to Croatia.

On return to Croatia, she renews acquaintances and finds the place where she had taken refuge after her parent’s murder.  The mass grave is near where she had found refuge ten years earlier. 

This is not our guide’s story, but his story reinforces Novic’s picture of Serbia’s and Croatia’s conflict.  Our guide explains how the United Nations helped Croatia survive the 1991-1995 war.  Interestingly, the guide denigrated America’s role in the war.  In his opinion, America stood on the sidelines when Serbs were perpetrating mass killings.

Novic’s story is well written.  It clearly reinforces our guide’s perception of what happened in Croatia.  The concerning part of the story is its analogous relationship to America’s intervention in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  

The troubling issue with all international conflicts is where the line is to be drawn between being “helpful Hannah’s” and exemplars of good and responsible behavior. Today, NATO’s Western Alliance is struggling with the line to be drawn in Ukraine.

WHERE R U FROM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Committed

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

Narrated by : Francois Chau

Viet Thanh Nguyen (American author, 2016 winner of Pulitzer prize for fiction.)

“The Committed” carries forward the life of three Vietnamese blood brothers introduced in “The Sympathizer”, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s earlier novel.  Nguyen’s story begins during America’s Vietnam war. 

In the beginning of “The Committed”, the main character, Vo Danh, arrives in Paris with his blood brother Bon.  Their first night’s stay is with a  communist sympathizer who is Vo Dahn’s aunt.  Bon is incensed by the aunt’s support of communism. Bon’s job as a Vietnamese counterspy in America was to murder communist sympathizers.  Bon wishes to leave immediately, but Vo Danh calms him down and they stay the night. However, Vo Danh continues to visit his aunt and for a time lives with her. 

The main character of “The Committed” believes all social beliefs one commits oneself to are corrupted by human nature.  To Vo Danh, his aunt is just who she is committed to be, without being either good or bad.

Vo Danh and Bon leave the next morning to find jobs at a Vietnamese restaurant near the Eiffel tower.  The restaurant is owned by a mobster.  They are hired and choose to rent a room from the mobster.  Bon mostly leaves Nguyen’s story until the last chapters of the book.  He chooses to keep a low profile as a restaurant employee. 

Vo Dahn takes an entirely different path. Vo Dahn becomes a customer procurer and seller for the mobster’s drug business.

Vo Danh’s experience in a Vietnam re-education camp taught him to believe in nothing.  That teaching came from his third blood brother who is commandant of the camp during the Vietnam war. 

This third blood brother is a communist sympathizer in name only.  Before becoming  camp commandant, this third blood brother is badly disfigured by an American napalm attack. He realizes Democracy’s liberation of Vietnam from communism is a meaningless chimera.  In that realization, he re-educates Vo Danh to understand communism, authoritarianism, and democracy are fictions. 

Re-education camps are a euphemism for detention and torture.

Committed beliefs about government mean nothing.  One’s first thought is that the third brother is simply a nihilist.  Vo Dahn understands something different.  In sum, the commandant teaches Vo Dahn that commitment to any ideological belief is a trap.  Even in accepting his blood brother’s re-education, Vo Dahn recalls the love of his mother.  He believes the selfless love of his mother saves him from being a nihilist.

Vo Dahn does not consider himself a nihilist but agrees that believing in nothing liberates humanity. 

In Paris, Vo Danh chooses to become a mobster who sells drugs for a percentage of profits.  He lives life as he chooses.  He expresses no personal scruple about sale or personal use of drugs or alcohol.  He has no fear of the drug supplying restaurant owner, arrest as a legal consequence, or possible attack by competing mobsters.  Vo Danh lives an amoral life informed by the love of his deceased mother.  His life experience and studied philosophical beliefs lead him to believe in nothing as a way of living in an unprincipled world.  His actions in the world are formed by the mother who loved him and a father (who is a priest) that abandoned him.

What is troubling about Nguyen’s story is that love and care is often missing or mutually misunderstood between a mother and her children.  One might accept Nguyen’s story for those children who are truly loved and cared for by their mothers.  However, if mothers are to be on a pedestal, what about the affect of mothers who do not truly love or care for their children.  Are uncaring mothers responsible for children who become mass murderers, dictators, mobsters, and other societal miscreants?

Nguyen’s story has a strong point of view, but it diminishes the complexity of a child’s growth to adulthood.  Interaction between mothers, fathers, and their offspring are interpreted though the minds of their children. 

One is reminded of fictional and news worthy stories of children who are raised in perfect families who become serial killers.

A recurring truism in Nguyen’s story is that all humans are created equal.  When one is asked where they are from, the only correct answer is “I am from my mother”.  Nothing else matters. Color, national origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation do not determine the value of a human being. Nguyen is a great writer with a point of view worthy of many philosophers of this and past ages.