Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The secret life of James

For those who haven't realized by now, mountain climbing tends to send me into Walter Mitty style fantasies. I know full and well that I will never summit an 8000+ meter mountain, but books about doing so, even the ones about the disasters that happen on them, makes me imagine what it would be like to do so.

With that in mind, I picked up Buried in the Sky by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan, which discusses the 2008 disaster above Camp 4 on K2. However, unlike some of the other books on the subject, written by survivors, this one is much more focused on the High Altitude Porters ("sherpas") that took people up and tried to get them down. Which is unusual, since one gets the impression from this book and others that the porters are generally considered pack mules and barely worthy of getting a picture taken of them at the summit.

So, for some background, K2 (aka Chhogori), lies on the Pakistan/China border and is the second highest mountain on Earth. Unlike Everest, the weather patterns aren't that predictable, making summit attempts more of a crapshoot than some of the other mountains. The two porters we get the most involved with (Chhiring and Pasang) share similar backgrounds, coming from really remote villages in Nepal and coming to Kathmandu to make money to support their families.

What came as a great surprise to me was how much detail the first half or so of the book spends on going into sherpa culture and the legends around the mountains themselves, in terms of Buddhist gods inhabiting them. (Everest's Goddess is one of fortune. K2's is one of blood sacrifice.) Sherpa is actually a clan/caste name that gets applied to any porter, although the clan Sherpas tend to look down at any other class that's trying to be a porter. (Like the Bhotse. But they all look down on the Muslim porters from Pakistan.)

Anyway, we eventually get to the climb. We hear about base camp, and how most of the porters look with disdain on the cairn to the fallen at the bottom, since it imprisons the souls of the dead instead of letting them fly free. We get the impression that most of them tend to look at the foreigners as decadent, although the money lets them overlook the worst of their sins.

They get about a 3 day window to climb and summit the mountain between storms. As such, the teams trying to ascend at the same time join forces and porters to lay ropes Problem being the one porter who can actually speak enough languages to communicate effectively with everyone gets sick at Camp 2 with a bad bacterial infection. Since he's also the only one on the mountain who's ever summited the mountain, this is also a very bad thing.

Most of the problems become well defined on summit day, as all groups try to get up past Camp 4 and through the Bottleneck traverse, which is prone to avalanches and is narrow enough that passage is single file, making the pace that of the slowest climber. The biggest issues to crop up are that the porters still functioning are used to Everest, where rope is used all the way up. K2 usually only gets ropes through the bad parts. As such, they run out of rope, and have to keep going back for more to get people up. Which further slows down the progress. With a turnaround time of 2PM, the first person to summit (who was free climbing ahead of almost everyone else) tops out at 3:30 PM. Which gets the rest of the summiters up there near dusk. Making for dangerous conditions climbing down in darkness. Particularly when the seracs above the Bottleneck start to calve, burying the ropes. Given they're in the "Death Zone", this gives people the choice of trying to bivouac in fatal conditions or trying to climb down in dangerous conditions.

11 people die from falling, avalanches, and exposure. One Porter, Karim, we get supposition on his fate, since no one';s particularly sure where he was, since he wondered off. There are a few photos taken from lower down the mountain that seem to suggest him in one place, but given high altitude tends to inspire hallucinations and most of the radio communication was static by this point....

We also learn of what it's like to suffocate under the snow and how best to survive if buried in one. Not that it helps, the climbers who get buried don't make it down.

It seems in the aftermath that everyone blamed everyone else for the disasters, but eventually things resolved themselves as best as could be expected. And Chhiring and Pasang lived with the consequences as best as they could and still climb the mountains.

It's ugly in several parts, but honestly, the background information presented on the folks who live in the area and the mythology that surrounds the mountains more than makes up for the nightmares of being buried in a glacier.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Well, that was cheerful

There are a few comparisons I'd make with Felice Picano's Like People in History, but "The Gay Gone with the Wind" as Edmund White blurbs on the cover isn't one of them. Actually, the two things that kept coming to mind as I read it were Stephen King's IT and a mid-90's movie, It's My Party. 

Having not read this before, I guess I stumbled across one of those "loved by more than a few people" books. Which is not to say I didn't enjoy the journey, I did, but I also spent more than a few passages either wanting to reach into the prose and give a character a "Get Over It!" Cher slap or rolling my eyes and saying "Oh, get her!" I realize some of this is due to being closer in age to our narrator's boyfriend in 1991 than the narrator himself, but....

Anyway, People is told mostly in flashbacks, framed by events transpiring in New York City in 1991. Our Narrator, Roger Sansarc, an author, professor, and several other titles, is taking his much younger boyfriend Wally to Roger's cousin Alistair Dodge's birthday party somewhere off Central Park West. Alistair lives with a boyfriend everyone refers to as the White Woman. As it turns out, Roger's birthday gift for his cousin is a bottle of sleeping pills to assist his AIDS ravaged cousin die. From there, Wally and Roger head out to an ACT UP rally involving chaining AIDS patients to Gracely Mansion to protest the mayor not releasing funds to help the plague ridden victims of the city. Wally an Roger fight on the way there, because Wally thinks it's wrong for Roger to help his cousin kill himself. Roger agrees to go back to Alistair's after the protest to stop him, but instead gets arrested after helping drop a large banner off the mansion's roof. He eventually gets out of holding that evening, and finds a very angry Wally, who thinks Roger planned everything that lead to his arrest. That eventually gets settled, and the two reconcile before they gat back to Alistair's early in the morning. Where Alistair has taken the pills, leading to Roger riding in the ambulance with Alistair and deciding on saving Alistair would best be served by letting him die or making sure he recovers.

In the meantime, we look in on Alistair and Roger's relationship, starting first in 1954, when young Alistair comes to Suburban New York while his parents are fighting over custody. Alistair makes short work of taking over Roger's circle of friends.

In 1961, Roger visits Alistair in California (LA), ostensibly to lessen his depression. Alistair has become some kind of junior real estate magnate, working through his mom and her current boyfriend. Alistair hangs out with the surfers, most of whom seem to be what today would be considered casually bisexual. Alistair is also schtupping the landscaper, which eventually gets found out, leading to said landscaper getting deported.

We next check in with Roger in 1969, as he rather druggedly makes his way north to a certain concert in upstate New York along with a girl he thinks can be his first. Let's see, the girl joins a commune, Alistair, who's at Woodstock, gets Roger hooked up with a fictional bassist from a British band, who ends up becoming Roger's lover briefly. Roger falls out of love with the bassist, falling in with a revolutionary working against the war in Vietnam. Roger goes before the draft board under the influence of codeine from oral surgery, passes out, and figures out Alistair had helped the revolutionary set Roger up as part of a protest against the draft.

And on to 1974 San Francisco, where Roger is running an upscale bookstore that his cousin Alistair is trying to set up an art gallery in. Roger eventually meets Matthew Longuidice, a former Navy man who's been serving in Vietnam. Matt has a bad leg, but he and Roger are in love. Alistair marries a woman and moves to Europe.

1979 finds Roger working for a NYC magazine and weekending in the Pines on Fire Island where Matt is more or less living all summer. Matt has become a rather famous model for Drummer. Alistair sails in from Europe, in the process of divorcing his wife. Roger is dealing with more than a little jealousy over Matt's flirtations, even though the relationship is presented as being open; it's kind of implied that the rule seems to be once with one person is ok, twice with the same person is verboten. Matt's obviously jealous of Roger as well, and Alistair stirs the pot all summer before making his final moves at the Jungle Red party. Which ends with Roger having a one night fling with Alistair's brother in law and Matt leaving with Alistair for Europe.

And in 1985, we find Roger still in New York, this time helping produce a play he wrote about gay history, ending at Stonewall. Alistair is back in town; they run into each other at a supporting character's memorial. (This gets really painful, as only one person tells the truth about Calvin. It gets mentioned later that, true to history, Calvin's cause of death is listed as Herpes, not AIDS. Since no one died of AIDS. If you were really good, it was "liver cancer".) Over dinner with Alistair, an old acquaintance informs Roger that not only is Matt back in town, but he's in the hospital. Roger gos to visit, and he and Matt reconnect over Matt's eventual deathbed. Matt asks Roger to get his parents to come see him, which is heartbreaking. Matt's parents love him dearly and are very proud of him, which is a damn sight better than many people in the era got. Matt's mother tells Roger of Matt's love of a children's book retelling of Patroclus and Achilles, and how she still relates that story to hiw she and her husband held on to Matt's (now amputated) leg after he was born as her parents tried to take him away. As happened all too often, Matt dies and Roger is listed as next of kin. When he collects Matt's belongings, he finds some of the last poems Matt wrote for him, and we find that the two of them still loved each other.

While I had a few issues, as mentioned above, by the end I was attached to the characters and better understood why Roger makes his eventual decision. I also spent much of the book in tears, since much of the last part covers my era of coming out. The Fire Island chapter is filled with Disco earworms.

It's a good read, and one that the younguns who don't know any of the history might benefit from. Or for those of us who are older, serve as a reminder of who we are and where we came from.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This is how your write a villain

Reading Benedict Jacka's Bound (the latest in his Alex Verus series), is a good reminder of what got me sucked in to his writing in the first place. Great pacing and a real mystery as to what's actually going on. By the end, we get an idea of how many books he's been plotting a few of the twists through.

Bound covers roughly 10 months of of Alex's life after being made Morden's second at the end of the last book. Needless to say, it hasn't improved his popularity with Britain's Light Council. While this does get Alex back into the Keepers, they're not exactly bending over backwards to help him.

In the meantime, both Morden and Richard Drakh, Alex's former Master, have him running around on both Council business as well as some personal business that doesn't make much sense until the end. On top of that, Arachne sends Alex and Anne and Luna and Varium off on a secondary quest to find a dreamstone, an item that might help Alex reach Deleo and maybe help defeat Drakh.

Which leads to the foursome taking over a Shadow Realm of their own after a bit of an adventure with a really angry hammadryad.

Towards the end, with Verus and Anne tapped to break into council chambers (or so they think), we finally get a tantalizing peek at what's been going on behind the scenes for a few books now.

Drakh's plot so far reminds me a bit of a traditional trickster, someone who's several steps ahead of all the other players, and much better at arranging pieces on the board.

Given it will likely be a year before the next volume, I can only hope time passes quickly.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sigrud lives

Bit late writing this one up, since I technically finished Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Miracles yesterday. But since I wanted nothing more than a nice nap when I got home yesterday....

Anyway, this supposedly being his final book in the Divine Cities trilogy, I found it was less of a trilogy and more like a musical Rondo, as this book returns to many of the themes and scenes as the first book after a completely different second installment.

We start by meeting Sigrud in a logging camp several years after the events that ended City of Blades. What brings him out of his self imposed exile is news that Shara (former Prime Minister of Saypur, hero of City of Stairs, Sigrud's mentor) has been assassinated in Bulikov.

Sigrud takes it upon himself to find Shara's killer and bring justice to him. Which honestly happens fairly quickly, except for the fact that finding the killer leads him further into a much deeper plot involving things Aunt Vinya did prior to the start of the series, and indeed things that date back to the time before the Blink, when the Divinities died.

On the bright side, Mother Mulaghesh shows up a few times, now serving as opposition party leader in the Upper house of Saypur's parliament.

Much of what the plot revolves around in the idea that the divinities had children, either with each other or with mortals...leading to complications in the modern age, since Jukov, the trickster, made the children forget their divine heritage in order to protect them when the Divinities died. As such, one of the children, Nokov, the embodiment of the First Night, who was also tortured by Aunt Vinya in her misguided attempt to give Saypur a Divinity,  is running around, finding his Divine siblings and cousins and essentially eating them to become a full fledged Divinity.

It takes much of the book for the full scope of everything to become clear, most of which is Sigrud coming to terms with his own checkered past, and his remorse over the death of Signe, his daughter in the last book. Along the way, we find out what actually happened to him in the prison he was in before Shara rescued him and the greater meaning of the miracle that scarred him.

Along the way, we get exciting chase scenes, including an extended run along a fast moving people mover suspended by cables over the snow covered mountains.

Several themes get revisted here, the biggest of which seems to be Sigrud's personal "It's easy to find a cause to die for, it's much harder to find one to live for." We also get "How do we end the endless cycle of of pain inflicted upon each generation?" and "What exactly is Divinity?"

Phenomenal book. Phenomenal Series.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ich bin ein Berliner

It's been a bit of a journey getting through it, but I finished Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical Christopher and His Kind, covering his life from 1929-1939, although technically the book ends in January of 1939 as he and W H Auden sail into New York City. But still, it's a decade spent partly in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party and around Europe and Asia.

We start with Christopher's arrival in Berlin, and his search for someone who can fulfill his fantasy of the "foreign boy". Which I'm not particularly kidding about. In a change from his fiction, here, the author is being honest about his homosexuality and how it propelled him through life. He describes in detail about how finding a boy who could be GERMANY in the avatar of a lover appealed to him, and so he met Bubi at one of the local dives. (There are a few long passages that precede this meeting discussing why the author didn't ever feel particularly comfortable in the UK practicing his homosexuality, and a few glimpses of college encounters ridden with guilt. It's a bit like reading Brideshead Revisited.)

Anyway, his romance with Bubi doesn't last long, particularly when Christopher's German improves, ruining the fantasy. H does move in with Frl. Schroeder, which is much like what''s described in Berlin Stories. Here though, she's a bigger than life character, one who doesn't care what happens under her roof as long as no one gets hurt. He talks of going back to Berlin later in life and visiting with her, hearing what happened to her during and after the war, as she lived in West Berlin.

He, as in the above mentioned book, does move in to the slummish attic with Otto and his family, although here we find out that it was not due to financial difficulties, but because he and Otto were shacking up. His description of his relationship with Otto is a bit odd, since to the author, it revolved around dominance and submission, with both trying to achieve the upper hand with the other. Or as described, Christopher gave Otto money and gifts, or Otto started looking elsewhere for attention.

As life in Berlin proceeds ever downward (Isherwood leaves right about the time Hitler gained the Chancellorship), we see the real people who populated Isherwood's Berlin books. Gerald, the lawyer who in time became Mr. Norris; Joan, who became Sally Bowles; and several students who had their own roles to play, some of whom survive, some of whom don't. We hear of the fighting in the streets between the three major political factions (those behind the current government, those backing the Nazis, and those who thing the Bolsheviks had it right and Germany needed to become a Communist nation), and how most of this is overlooked by the police.

He does meet and fall in love with Heinz, who becomes his constant companion throughout life out of Germany. So about 1933 to 1937ish. This includes stays in Belgium, Portugal, Greece, and France, but never in Christopher's homeland.  This is due to problems with Heinz's passport, which lists his occupation as something akin to domestic help. When Christopher tries to get Heinz into England, he's not allowed in, since Christopher's rather bourgeois family would unlikely need a foriegn houseboy. Christopher and Auden complain that it's likely because the border agent knew Christopher was Heinz's lover because the guard was also homosexual.

That love affair eventually falls apart, as Heinz's attempts to change his citizenship keeps running into issues, and Hitler starts conscription. Eventually, forced to return to Germany for what's supposed to be a night, Heinz is arrested by the Gestapo.

Thankfully, Isherwood passes on that Heinz did indeed survive the war, and even ended up marrying a woman and having kids. Which isn't exactly a happy ending, but it certainly beats the heck out of the fates of others arrested under Paragraph 175.

While this relationship was the focus of much of the book, Heinz's fate is revealed with about a fourth of the book left to go. Which leaves us with Isherwood and Auden going to Asia to cover the Japanese invasion of China, and their eventual immigration to the US. Where Isherwood leaves us with a bonne mot about how his future lover was only 4 years old when Isherwood made it to the States.

This book was not exactly what I expected. Based on what I'd heard from others, I was expecting most of it to be set in Berlin, and Heinz to be more of a focus of the narrative. Neither of which is true. Then again, Isherwood leaves Berlin in 1933 and Heinz is arrested in the late 30's.

Early passages in the book, describing his realizations of his queerness echoed back to my own early coming out, trying to find a personal mythology to explain why the heck I was so different than everyone else around me.

One of the things that becomes quite clear after the Reichstag fire is that those who could, left Germany. Those who couldn't, stayed. And in the case of the landlady, had to perform enough lip service to the Reich to survive, even if she did vote Communist in the prior election. Something that we, here in the modern era, seem to forget when looking back at it. It also makes Max and Elsa a smidgen more sympathetic in The Sound of Music when they sing "No Way to Stop It".

I'm also kind of amazed by his account of Chamberlain's role in the Munich Agreement, or the Munich Diktat, depending on how one feels about appeasement. Isherwood makes it sound like Chamberlain knew he's failed. Then again, he also says the communist leader at the meeting was probably the only one who openly opined the entire thing was farcical.

About the only thing that really got on my nerves through the first part was his tendency to refer to himself in third person when discussing the past, while using first person when recalling various things in what was his present. It took a lot of getting used to, plus the occasional reference to his eventual conversion to Hinduism.

Really though, Isherwood's tale reminded me most of the character of James Whale (himself a real person) as portrayed by Ian McKellan in Gods and Monsters. Then again, both men were of a similar age and similar class backgrounds.

While I enjoyed the book, I doubt this will be one I revisit all that often. If only because a few things in here, particularly when he gets self destructive, made me want to reach into the story and smack some sense into him. (I mean this figuratively.)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hands Across the Multiverse

So, during the recent library drought , I looked through goodreads recommendations and found that the library had one book out of about 15 that was recommended, looked interesting, and was available to check out. Which would be Mike Resnick's first John Justin Mallory Mystery (How goodreads labels the series, vs. the book itself which labels it "A Fable of Tonight"), Stalking the Unicorn.

The book is centered on a New York City Detective named, unsurprisingly, John Justin Mallory. We meet John on New Year's Eve, as he's behind on the bills, his wife has run off with his partner, and he's busy drinking whiskey out of a Mets coffee mug.

He's startled by the arrival of Mürgenstürm, an elf, who's willing to pay exorbitant cash if Mallory will help him find a unicorn before dawn. (That Mürgenstürm is responsible for the unicorn and going to be killed by his guild if he doesn't have the unicorn back by dawn would be his major motivation is hiring a down on his luck private dick.)

Mallory, like most sane folks, thinks the elf is a pink elephant. Then Mürgenstürm drags him across into HIS Manhattan.

Long story short, the unicorn got kidnapped by a leprechaun who also double crossed a demon who wanted it.

Along the way, we meet Captain Winnifred, the big game hunter; Felina, the cat girl; and Eohippus, a talking horse about the size of a chihuahua. Oh yeah, and Grundy, the demon who wants the unicorn for the ruby on its head that makes travel between this Manhattan and the one Mallory normally is in possible.

While I ended up liking the book, it does come off a bit like what would happen is Dashiell Hammett had written The Phantom Tollbooth.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Bark at the Moon

So, today, I finished Mark Chadbourn's The Hounds of Avalon, and with it, The Dark Age Trilogy. While I kind of regret reading Book 1 of the next trilogy (thanks to a misunderstanding with goodreads.com) before finishing this middle trilogy, it did make reading through this really dark book a slight bit more bearable.

Dark is a bit light. Perhaps pitch would be a better description of the tone throughout. Actually made The Empire Strikes Back look like Pollyanna by the end.

We center mainly on Hal and Hunter, the last two members of the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons of the current pentad following The Age of Misrule. Hal is an inofficious bureaucrat with the remains of the government (currently seated at Oxford) and Hunter is something of a Soldier of Fortune currently employed by the government. Both come to find out about their position around the midpoint of the book. Mallory and Sophie from Book 1 show up when Hunter is sent to capture of of the Brothers of Dragons on behalf of the government. Sophie winds up supposedly dead and in Lugh's court thanks to Cerridwyn's intervention. Where she meets a powerless Caitlin from Book 2, who in turn becomes an avatar of The Morrigan again.

Any rate, we get much more on The Void, the Anti-Life, that noticed the rise of humanity after the defeat of Balor during the Battle of London. We meet street gangs going around with Red V's on their chests who think of Ryan Veitch, the Great Betrayer, as some kind of Messiah. (Which, given his role in the next book...) Mind you, when Shavi, Laura, and Ruth show up about 2/3 of the way through, they still think of Ryan as a good man who had the misfortune of being used by the gods.

I'm getting ahead of myself a bit here. Hunter more or less plays the role of tactician of the new 5, trying very hard to get everyone in the right place. Hal, in the meantime, has a more cerebral task, tracking down  hints of Avalon in a Poussin painting. (And here you though Poussin only painted triangles disguised as historical figures.)

Said painting, complete with Dan Brown style anagrams.
Eventually, several different Lords (Bones, Flesh, Insects) show up with the Lament-Brood and hold Oxford under siege. And the true ugly of the book starts appearing, as Hal is arrested for assassinating the Prime Minister and sentenced to execution during the height of the siege. We watch the last gasps of humanity as the Hounds arrive and their howls become the last cries of humanity. And we find out that the government sold out to the Void.

And then we see how the present of the next trilogy begins.

As I said at the outset, this is a very dark book, with very few and very faint glimmers of hope lighting the last days of humanity. And the last days of the Golden Ones, really. I mean, everything changes at the end.

Yeah. I think I'll return to the final trilogy sooner than later, since I'm kind of curious how this all will turn out.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Exorcizamus te, omnis immunde spiritus.

So, in a moment I've been kind of dreading for a while now, particularly since Abracadaver was published in 2014, and Goldzilla has been announced yet not released, I did finish Laura Resnick's most recent Esther Diamond novel.

Picking up right after the ending of The Misfortune Cookie, we start at the end of Chinese New Year with John Chen, the funeral home worker dragging an exhausted Max, Lucky, and Esther back to the mortuary where a recently prepared corpse has just tried to walk out. While this might have lead into a rehash of the zombies in Unsympathetic Magic, it instead focuses on Lopez's partner Quinn, and his oppression by a very old demon. (How old? It speaks pre-Christ Aramaic.)

Given the indie film Esther was working on previously has folded production, Esther is quite pleased that Crime & Punishment: The Dirty Thirty wants her to reprise her role as Jilly C-Note, the bisexual hooker. Also gives her an excuse to sent the show's star, Nolan, to shadow Lopez and Quinn to figure out what the demon is plotting.

While th ebook features much of the same increasingly bizarre situations that make the series so much fun to read, there's a really large fight between Lopez and Esther that's really hard to make it through.

And eventually, we get resolution, sort of rushed, but satisfying none the less.

Unlike other books in the series, this one is not particularly focused on one Manhattan neighborhood. Instead, we're much more focused on the interpersonal relationships of the characters and how the supernatural tends to affect those relationships.

I hope Goldzilla eventually sees release, since I'd really hate to see the series end here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

Once, again, I find myself tracking down origin materials for a musical I've recently seen. In this case, I saw Cabaret earlier this month, so I started reading Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, which formed the basis for the play and later movie I Am a Camera, which in turn became Cabaret.  Since I don't run a theater blog, and I leave the movie reviews for my brother Chuck over at The Other Ebert .... (And I'm not sure when or if I'm going to read the source of the musical I saw in New York. Tolstoy might be a bit much.)

The Berlin Stories is actually two novels, The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin, with the former being written in 1935 and the latter in 1939. Both concern the author narrating a fictionalized account of his life in Weimar Republic Berlin. By the end of Goodbye, Der Furher has taken power and is about to become a dictator.Both portray a wonderful vision of the era, even if the author left out a bunch of personal things going on in his own life at the time that were (according to Armistead Maupin's introduction) later revealed more in depth in Isherwood's Christopher and His Kind, which will likely be reserved in the very near future. As it is, tantalizing hints lie in the prose, but written is such vagaries as to get around the censors of the era.

The Last of Mr. Norris concerns our narrator (William Bradshaw, which would be Mr. Isherwood's middle names) as he crosses into German by train, sharing a compartment with the title character, a rather effeminate business man whom the narrator assumes is smuggling silk from Paris into Berlin.

Mr. Norris and Bradshaw become friends over time, with Bradshaw getting involved with the German Communists by proxy. Mr. Norris has issues with his hired help, and also appears to be paying a woman of negotiable virtue (and a friend when not otherwise employed) to dominate him. Over time, we see Norris, who does works for the Communists, get Bradshaw involved with Herr Kuno Pregnitz for a trip to Switzerland to make monetary arrangements which would benefit Mr. Norris. Pregnitz is an older man with a collection of physique magazines and a love of books written for younger men. (It's rather implied that Kuno's gay and has an interest in Bradshaw, but given the time of the writing, nothing is ever spoken aloud.) In Switzerland, Herr Pregnitz meets with Van Hoorn and son, not knowing they're Norris contacts. Kuno flirts shamelessly with the son, who in turn befriends Bradshaw, eventually unleashing his Nazi sympathies to the young British narrator. (Having the benefit of reading this nearly a century later, I can say it's quite disturbing how much the young Dutchman believes the crap.) As it turns out, what's been going on is that Van Hoorn Sr. is with the French Secret Service and trying to use Herr Pregnitz government contacts to get better information than Norris can provide.

Which leads to a confrontation with Norris, who in turn leaves town before either the Police or the Communists or his former employee can get him.  We hear bits from him over a few moths, as the reichstag burns while he is in South America.

Then we start into Goodbye to Berlin, which is narrated by a man named Christopher Isherwood. (Or Herr Isseyvoo, as his landlady Frl. Schroeder  calls him.) It takes the form of a diary (or journal really; nothing is dated and the stories really don't have a particular narrative order to them), discussing Isherwood's various dealings with people in Berlin. This section is where we meet the now famous Sally Bowles, a singer with rather...um...loose standards of morality. (It's kind of funny, she's only in the book for about 30 pages, but she's one of the most memorable parts.) We meet the tenants sharing his boarding house with him, including the prostitute Frl. Kost (who winds up with a Japanese sugar daddy towards the end) and Frl. Mayr, the singing Nazi. We wend our way through him teaching English to students, some poorer than others, and at one point join him in a small attic where he's living with a 5 person family. We meet the Landaurs, a Jewish family who's fate doesn't seem that pleasant by the end. (The patriarch suffers a "heart attack" under the eyes of the Nazis.) We watch as Weimar falls and the Reich rises.

Honestly, it's the end that gets to be the most memorable, as Isherwood talks about the folks watching the atrocities start and throwing up their hands, but not doing anything to stop them.

One of the more striking bits of all of this is discussions on how everyone wound up where they are in the narrative, While this would have been Depression era, the post War era with its Inflation is almost another character in the narrative. It's hard not to feel like you are there in some sections, whether freezing in Otto's parent's kitchen, or listening as the old maids argue over small things in the living room.

Quite frankly, I kind of wish they'd have used either one or both of these for the German perspective in my high school lit class's WWII section rather than the rather horrid novel we read instead.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hard Hearted Hannah

So, since there was a gap between my last finished book and the arrival of my reserves at the library, I had to choose something off the shelf to get me through. Wound up choosing John Berendt's 90's potboiler, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, of which I think I've owned 3 copies at different points. (Kind of like Jewel's Pieces of You album.)

It's been several years since I slipped away from things to go walk historic Savannah with John's narration of the eccentric folks within and the murder that eventually engulfs the entire town. We start with the author, a New York Magazine writer/editor, going on a trip south and eventually moving part time to Savannah, GA.

Within the confines of the city, he meets folks ranging from Emma Kelly (nicknamed by Johnny Mercer as "The Lady of 6,000 Songs") to The Lady Chablis, the Grand Empress of Savannah. Eventually, as he starts moving through the rarefied straights Upper Crust Savannah, he meets Jim Williams, an antiques dealer who lives in Mercer House on one of Savannah's historic squares.

Halfway through the book, Williams gets arrested for Murder, having shot the male hustler sort of in his employ.

The second half of the book concerns the four trials of Mr. Williams and the various personalities involved in said trials. One of whom, Minerva, the Vodou priestess from nearby Beaufort, SC, who gives the book its title. (The graveyard being the Garden, and midnight being the meridian between good magic and evil magic.)

Eventually, Williams gets acquitted, after about 8 years of trials and a change of venue. Then dies of pneumonia quite suddenly in about the same position he would have been in had his hustler friends actually succeeded in shooting him. (Minerva swears and the author sort of agrees that Danny, the dead boy, was angry with Williams and this was his final revenge.)

The book is very entertaining, even as is portrays just about every side to every charcater the author encounters. We hear about Mr. Odem, who's convicetd of forging checks, but charms everyone anyway, Chablis's meltdown at the Black Cotillion, Lee Adler, who is not well liked for his restoration projects downtown, although a thread of anti-semitism exists there as well.

If I had to critisize the book for any one thing in particular, it's that it take half the book before it stops being profile pieces on the people of Savannah and moves into the murder phase, which is also about the only time the narrative has any real sense of linear time.

Like I said, it's a fun read, deserving to be read at a leisurely pace while sipping something mildly alcoholic.