Thursday, December 22, 2011

Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa, Richard Grant

Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa, Richard Grant.  New York: Free Press, 2011.  paperback, 336 pps., incl. index.

     I first encountered Richard Grant through an earlier book of his called God's Middle Finger which narrated his trip through the Sierra Madres.  I was delighted to find Crazy River on the shelves of my local bookstore.  Although different in tone from his earlier work, Crazy River immediately drew me in.  I haven't been to Africa (yet) but this book transported me to a very different world.

     The Malagarasi River, dotted with small fishing villages between the wild places, is full of pissed off hippos and crocodiles and bandits.  Grant skillfully interweaves the stories that the river has for him into the histories of other adventurers, politicians, and the East African peoples.  The crew that Grant hires in Tanzania is composed of men who each have their own story to tell.  Crazy River carried me away from my reading chair to a place I had never been.  I was there as Grant made his way through checkpoints and red tape, as prostitutes tried to pick him up, as children demanded money.  I was also there on the river itself with the tsetse flies and passages of choking weeds.  And there as Grant actually got to view the source of  the Nile itself. 

     By the end of Crazy River, I had a visceral sense of the horror of genocide and specifically the genocide that took place in Rwanda.  Grant tells the story of some two thousand people that took refuge in a Catholic Church in Nyange.  The priest there, one "Reverend" Athanase Seromba, was more than compliant in the slaughter of those seeking sanctuary in his church building.  He arranged to have his church building bulldozed.  He let the drunken militia in with their grenades.  He then pointed out any survivors who were then killed off with bayonets.  The priest did this because the folks hiding in his church building were the wrong tribe.  The priest himself belonged to the other tribe. 

     Crazy River is a most excellent book eluding a real sense of place.  This book is a definite keeper and the finest example of the modern travel essay.

sapphoq reviews says: Highly Recommended.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

fundies say the darndest things webiste

No matter how many of you DEFEND anime/manga, you NEED to realize that this genre of entertainment is nothing short of witchcraft...Creation has been unanimously proven...Registering [the poor] to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals...Most knowledge cutters the mind anyway...

Those are just a few of the more recent quotes culled from the fstdt website. Folks can submit a quote; and also comment on the quotes if they sign up for an account. Each quotation is identified by who said it and the website where the original can be found.

sapphoq reviews says: A winner!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Children of Dust, by Ali Eteraz

Ali Eteraz, Children of Dust. New York: Harper One, 2009. hard cover, 337 pps.

Ali Eteraz was born Abir ul Islam in a small village in Pakistan. He built his identity around having been promised to serve Islam. He attended madrassa and was beaten. Beatings were routine during lessons if a boy made too many mistakes in his recitation of a portion of the Koran which was set for his memorization that day. And sometimes for other things.

He migrated to the United States with his family, finally settling in the Bible Belt. Abir then became Amir. The young Amir experimented with sex and the secular, then settling into a routine of super-Islam-dude. His idealized self fell short when presented with the responsibility of running a student Muslim organization in college.

He became a lawyer, lost his practice, reinvented himself as Ali Eteraz and went to Kuwait to seek converts to his idea of Islamic reform. A friend enlightens him. He returns to the United States.

This book was not as satisfying to me as A Thousand Splendid Suns was, but still good and worth reading. Ali's name changes seemed to be a bit more than the reinvention of his self. To me there were whispers of fragmented selves rather than an integrated personality. I may be wrong about that. That is the impression the book left with me.

sapphoq reviews says: recommended to those who are curious about life in a small Pakistani village.

A Dead Hand, by Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux, A Dead Hand. New York: Marina Books, 2010. paperback, 279 pps.

A Dead Hand, subtitled A Crime in Calcutta, is a work of fiction and a crime mystery by the great Paul Theroux. (He and Oliver Sachs are tops on my wish list of people to hang out with for a couple of hours drinking tea and talking about regular stuff). As always with Theroux's writings, a sense of place is omnipresent. The narrator is a man reluctant to leave Calcutta because of a mysterious woman. The woman, Mrs. Unger, is an American ex-pat with an orphanage, some knowledge of tantric sex and Kundalini, and a fetish for the blood of black goats. She also has a pair of quasi sons-- Charlie and Rajat. She is a wealthy philanthropist, but not after the fashion of Mother Theresa so it seems. Theroux inserts himself into the book by meeting the narrator and asking if he knows Mrs. Unger. The ending involves a cremation without rain.

This book should be required reading for any fluffy bunny who believes that Kali-Ma is a benevolent protector of women and fluffy bunnies.

sapphoq reviews says: Highly recommended for fans of Paul Theroux as well as for those who appreciate a sense of place.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns. London: Riverhead Books, 1997. hardcover, 372 pps., including Afterword and Acknowledgements.

I found A Thousand Splendid Suns in a rummage sale at a library. The author Khaled Hosseini is noted for his novel The Kite Runner (on my "to read" list now along with all of Paul Theroux's fiction and any future works of J. Marteen Troust) and for his work with U.N.H.C.R. (refugee agency of the U.N.). I found the afterword to be highly informative about the Afghan refugee crisis and I have visited as Hosseini recommends. I regret not having read the afterword first of this fine book.

A Thousand Splendid Suns tells an interwoven fictional story of several Afghani families set against a historical backdrop of three decades. Mariam was born the illegitimate child of a cinema-owning tycoon and one of his servants. He sent Mariam and her mother to live in a small hovel near a stream approximately two kilometers from town. Although he regularly visited Mariam once a week, he did not acknowledge her officially. Thus, she remained cut off from the benefits received by his other children and three wives. Mariam was also visited by a kind elderly mullah who tutored her in the Koran. Mariam the adolescent wanted to attend school like her half sisters and go see a movie at her father's cinema in town. But she was denied these opportunities because she was a bastard child.

Upon her mother's death when Mariam was fifteen, she was briefly moved to the guest room in her father's mansion. Shortly after, her father arranged a marriage for Mariam to a shoemaker who was much older than she. The man Rasheed met Mariam, they married in haste, and moved to his two story house in another city very far away. Thus, the problem of Mariam was gotten rid of.

As the old saying goes, everything worked for the first couple of weeks. Rasheed presented his bride with a burqa. Shortly after, Mariam experienced her first pregnancy and her first natural abortion. Rasheed began to reveal his temper and his pickiness, resulting in regular beatings of his teen wife. More pregnancies and natural abortions followed. Mariam was unable to carry a fetus to term.

Meanwhile, several overthrows of the government had occurred and the Afghanis started fighting amongst themselves based on tribal geography. Down the street, a barely pregnant teenager lost both of her parents to a rocket. Her teen lover had left for Pakistan. Rasheed found her in the rubble and dug her out. Mariam and Rasheed nursed her back to health. Laila, the teen, quickly agreed to be Rasheed's second wife. She was out of options. Laila's upbringing had been more modern. For the sake of her unborn daughter, she donned a burqa and submitted to Rasheed. Her first child, a daughter was born. Rasheed suspected the child was not his. And so, after a time the shoemaker had two women to beat. Mariam and Laila became friends. Mariam got a chance to be an auntie to Laila's daughter by her absent teen lover, and then to her son by Rasheed.

Laila and Rasheed's son copied his father's treatment of the two women. He defied them and would not listen to them as he knew they had no real authority over his. He was his father's
child in many ways. He remained so throughout most of the book. When Laila's teen lover returned, the son ratted to Rasheed. This resulted in a severe beating of both women. Mariam sacrified her self so Laila and the children could escape with Laila's teen lover. They settled in Pakistan for two years and then returned to their hometown.

A Thousand Splendid Suns was an excellent historical fiction. The characters were well drawn, the history presented was accurate, and there was a real sense of place. I found myself involved with the characters. There was enough suspense to hold my interest. The horror portrayed when the Shittites marched victoriously into town chilled me to the bone. What would I do if I woke up one morning to men wearing black turbans in a jeep announcing that all women must now wear burqas and are required to have a male relative accompany them when on the streets?
I had a Muslim acquaintance of several years who startled me one day by telling me that he wanted the United States and other places to be under Sharia law. My acquaintance was educated and well-spoken. My reaction reflected my shock at his viewpoint. [The man has since disappeared]. I have at least one relative who fervently believe that the more fundamentalist Muslims will "take over the world one day." And another who believes that all divisions between fundamentalist and the more modern Muslims are artificial at best. He says that Muslims are more prone to becoming fundamentalist than Christians are due to the lack of higher criticism available related to the Koran. Thus the prevalence of Muslims who interpret the Koran literally is higher than the prevalence per population of Christians who interpret the Bible literally.

There is, I think, a common assumption that almost all Muslim men who embrace Sharia law are violent and beat their wives. I wonder about that, if there have been studies or not. What is the percentage of Shittite men who have beaten their wives vs. the percentage of Sunni men vs. the percentage of men who belong to other fundamentalist religions vs. the general population in various countries? One beating of one human being is one too many. Is fundamentalism of any ilk a contributing factor to probability of domestic abuse or is it merely a correlant?

sapphoq reviews says: Highly recommended for those who like narratives, memoirs, or historical fiction

The Broken Window by Jeffrey Deaver

Jeffery Deaver, The Broken Window (a Lincoln Rhyme novel). New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. paperback, 596 pps., including Author's Note.

Fans of Lincoln Rhyme and privacy activists are sure to warm up to this novel. The story opens with Lincoln's cousin Arthur Rhymes visiting an attractive woman at her domicile, then she gets brutally murdered. The murderer absconds with her latest collected painting by a minor artist named Prescott. Arthur is unjustly accused of the murder and is sent off to prison. Lincoln is asked to look into the matter.

Lincoln detects a pattern. Underneath the pattern is a giant data collecting corporation and a disgruntled ex-employee. The pattern itself involves several men imprisoned for crimes which they did not commit. The ending involves a piece of historic rock and the healing of the fractured relationship between Lincoln and Arthur. The Author's Note speaks to privacy and identity concerns.

This novel was satisfying and for the most part fast-moving enough to hold my interest. And I liked it. The caveat to watch over one's identity in a time of decreasing privacy is well to heed.

sapphoq reviews says: Recommended for fans of Lincoln Rhymes.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Russo's Adirondack Grill

Russo's Adirondack Grill
3664 State Highway 30
Vails Mills, New York   12078
Proprietors Michael and Barbara Russo

It was St. Paddy's Day and my dad was hankering for a drink.  So we went to the rundown Italian bar and restaurant called Russo's in Amsterdam NY.  Dad had a glass of wine and a toast.  I had a diet soda.  We watched the teevee at the bar and the traffic go down West Main.  A train blew through.  Dad had to pee.

Dad came back from the mens' bathroom and I knew it hadn't gone well.  "This place is a rat hole," he said.  By his description, the bathroom was filthy.  We left.

Russo's in Amsterdam had been there for many years-- more than thirty by my reckoning.  And the place looks it.  The restaurant is housed in an old building which had seen better days probably before I was born.  The bar rats look like they crawled out of the Mohawk.  Even the pizza and the pasta fazole  ain't what it used to be there.

But this review is about the new Russo's, the one in neighboring Fulton county.  My dad flatly refused to visit the new Russo's, even after I went to check the mens' room one day.  That may be just as well.

Companion and I went to the new Russo's for lunch yesterday.  There were three men at the bar-- they could have been transplants from the old Russo's so similar in style and appearance they were.  The food is uninspired and flavorless.  On the plus side, companion reports the mens' bathroom is clean.  More negative: the radio was loud and the music-- really bad sixties and seventies style (think, "the worst of...").  There was one drunk at the bar talking to a couple of restaurant patrons who were leaving.  Even the drunk had to yell to be heard.  The bear with the pizza out front rendered by a local chainsaw artist was the only thing remotely Adirondack about the place.  Logs and timber do not equal those great mountains.

From the menu, companion ordered Lobster Bisque ($3.59) and I ordered the Italian Wedding Soup (also $3.59).  In addition to the soups, I also arranged for a plate of garlic bread toasted sans cheese ($2.79, with cheese the price is upped a dollar to $3,79) and I asked for a cup of coffee.

The coffee sucked.  It was lukewarm and uninspiring to my now conditioned for black coffee palate.  It was served in an old fashioned diner style cup which did nothing for the total non-ambiance of the place.  And the wait for the coffee was unacceptably long at 18 minutes.

Companion's soup was served in a crock and it was a pleasing lobster bisque color-- not the fake pink that some places serve.  He declared it to be acceptable.  My Italian Wedding soup was served in a crock also.  I was pleased to see some little slices of squash that so many places leave out.  I was unhappy with the subtraction of cheese from the ingredient list for the little meatballs.  I was very unhappy with the deletion of SPICES from the soup altogether.

The garlic bread was also disappointing.  It was over-toasted and under-buttered.  The cup of marinara sauce that it came with was similarly uninspiring, lacking flavor.  I know times are hard and spices are expensive but geez.  Even at rock-bottom prices, I expect food eaten out will have some taste to it.  

So folks, if traveling about the area skip Russo's Adirondack Grill and keep going.  My personal suggestion is to wait until you hit Saratoga if traveling east, go to Romano's in Johnstown if traveling west, the Crystal Ristaurante if heading south, and some sleepy little diner perhaps in Day or Northville or further along if venturing north.  Russo's Adirondack Grill is bound to disappoint so don't bother.  Even a hot dog from the local Stewart's is more pleasing.

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