Friday, March 30, 2012

TOO CLOSE TO THE SUN, The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton by Sara Wheeler (Bio) 292pp

Sara Wheeler is an beautiful writer and she gorgeously captures the essence of East Africa in this biography of Denys Finch Hatton. Among other things, Finch Hatton was the life love of Karen Blixen who imortalized him in her book "Out of Africa."  A movie was later made from Blixen's book.  Finch Hatton born of British aristocracy was a romantic hero of the World War I era.  His life was one of adventure and privledge, although as the younger son without a title, he had little money himself.  He was facinated by the wild beauty of Africa, and though he occasionally mixed with the infamous Happy Valley set, most of his time was spent hunting and photographing wild animals.  I highly recommend this book for its depiction of Early imperial Kenya and the colonial society that took this rich land without conscience.  Wheeler also gives us an insight into Karen Blixen and Beryl Markham, two famous woman who fell in love with Hatton.  Other fine books to compliment this one are:  "Straight On Till Morning," a biography of Beryl Markham by Mary Lovell, Markham's own autobiograpy, "West With the Night," and Karen Blixen's  "Out of Africa," which is a more romantized version of the hard scrabble life on an African farm.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

BRIDGE OF SIGHS by Richard Russo (fic) 528pp.

I have not read Russo's more famous book, "Empire Falls" for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. I found this very long subsequent book written in 2007 to be disappointing.  Apparently Russo is a master at depicting small town life, to the point that it is smothering.  This very long book centers around a small New York town, once prosperous for its mills which polluted the river running through the town.  The narrator, Lou Lynch and his life from childhood through age 60, guides us as we read his narrative.  Lou is a plain man with a plain story; his wife like his mother before her is the guiding light for Lou.  The family owns a small chain of Mom and Pop grocery stores that have managed to survive despite the mega grocery chains that surround the town.  The rebel in the story is his friend Bobby Marconi who with no lead up suddenly sometime after high school, finds he possesses great artistic talent. 
I stayed with the story to the end, sometimes interested, more often wondering where it was going.  The author seemed to feel this way as well as the final chapters seemed to hurry toward an unsatisfying ending.

Friday, March 9, 2012

UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand (biog)

"Unbroken" has been on the best seller list for some time, so I am a bit late in my review.  The title is perfect.  If you haven't heard the story of Louie Zamperini, and even if you have, but have not read the book, I recommend that you do.  How can a person go through so much and still fight to live?  Zamperini is a complete example of the "greatest generation," those who lived through the depression followed by the brutal World War II.  Louie was tough from the time he was born.  His character development is a fascinating story in itself.  How he transformed himself from a bad boy to a world champion runner is told in the early part of the book.  His capture by the Japanese, after enduring a record survival time lost in the vast Pacific, is heartbreaking.  The degradation and torture endured by Louie and his fellow prisoners is painful to read.   The incredible will of the human spirit and what the body can endure defies belief.  This is not an easy book to read, yet the promise of the final survival leaves many lessons to ponder both about man's inhumanity to man and the strength of character of those who endured. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

LEGACY by Susan Kay

Susan Kay is a winner of the Georgette Heyer historical fiction award and she is an above average writer of historical romances.  "Legacy" is a long account of the reign of Elizabeth I with an emphasis on the psychological relationships she had with her male courtiers.  I am always leery of writers of historical fiction with a romantic emphasis putting their own word into historical characters mouths.  Kay is no exception.  My readings of Elizabeth lead me to believe she is a much more sympathetic and brilliant woman than Kay makes her out to be.  Kay also is touch on the Cecils, father and son.  In reality they also are more sympathetic characters.  In the same vein, brilliant men like Leicester, Raleigh, Walsingham and Hatton are presented as love-struck caricatures who act as willing puppets to the Queen.  An accurate account of Elizabeth's relationship with her advisers can be found in the non-fiction book, "All the Queen's Men" by Neville Williams.
    If you are looking for a well-written diversion and are willing to overlook accuracy in character development, you may well choose to read this book.  As far as the historical framework goes, the author presents an accurate historical rendering of events in Elizabeth's reign.