Archive for December, 2004

The Time of Our Singing

Friday, December 31st, 2004

Richard Powers Richard Powers “The Time of Our Singing” is an exploration of music through the eyes of a multiracial family. A German Jewish refugee physicist meets a black Philadelphia doctor’s daughter at the Lincoln Memorial rally in 1939. This rally was made famous by the singing of Marian Anderson. The couple’s connection is music, he with his classical European background, and she with her gospel singing. They have three children and all inherit their parents love of music. This novel follows the lives of each. The language is rich, poetic, and jazzy. Powers is sometimes tough going but this is his most beautifully written work to date.

Shadow Divers

Thursday, December 30th, 2004

This book by Robert Kurson is an account of the discovery in 1991 of a U boat sunk in the shipping lanes near New York and of two American divers who become obsessed with solving the mystery of who, how, and why this boat is here. The book is both a study of the people who dive ship wrecks as a an extremely dangerous hobby and of the dangers of relying on histories of events particularly of wars.
We meet the leading American, British (at Scotland Yard), and German U boat experts, historians and archivists. We discover that military record keepers, under great pressure to wrap up the loose ends of WW II, started connecting unrelated events and reports to account for lost U boats, sometimes reporting a flimsy encounter report as a definite sinking. Over time, these false connections get written into the official histories accepted by families and all concerned. Time and again in this book the divers discover that what really happened is totally different than recorded in history. This book reads like a good mystery novel and is worth reading for the characters and the thrill of following the chase to uncover the identity of and true history of this U boat.

Anatoli Boukreev, Remarkable athlete of the Himalayas

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

BoukreevAnatoliClimbing peaks above 8000 Meters is a unique sport requiring a combination of luck and a natural ability to survive at these altitudes. Climbing skills are necessary but are secondary to these two characteristics. The recent explosion of interest in extreme sports as an ego enhancer is nowhere more misplaced than the attempts of amateurs with money to try to climb Everest and the other giants. This came home in a big way during the tragic climbing season in 1996 when several “guided” expeditions overstayed their summit efforts and were caught by a storm resulting in eight deaths including two of the expeditions leaders American Scott Fischer and New Zea lander Rob Hall. Accounts of this tragedy include Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer a writer who was a part of Fischer’s group. Another account of the tragedy is found in High Exposure by David F. Breashears.
Krakauer criticized two of Fischer’s guides for climbing without supplemental oxygen; Anatoli Boukreev and Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa. Boukreev was deeply hurt by the criticism and wrote his own book of the events The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston Dewalt. In reading these works, I became fascinated by Boukreev. Who was he and why was he such a remarkable climber. Boukreev was a Kazakh born near 8000 meter peaks which always attracted him. He trained hard and became a member of the Soviet climbing team just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Boukreev needed money and support to continue his climbing which ultimately led to his guiding expeditions. His extreme talent as a climber and his taciturn personality probably made him ill suited as a guide but he had little choice if he wanted to pursue his life’s passion. No one could climb with Boukreev. His specialty was speed climbing without oxygen. He still holds many climbing records including climbing two 8000 meter peaks in one day, and speed records for accents from base camp to summit for a number of peaks. On one legendary climb, he returned to his single tent camp on the descent only to find the tent occupied by another climber. Ever the gentleman, Boukreev, after drinking hot tea with the intruding climber, continued his descent to base camp. Between 1988 and 1997, Anatoli climbed eleven of the fourteen 8000 meter peaks without oxygen; four in a single ninety day period-establishing difficult technical routes as well as speed records. He died in an avalanche on Annapurna on Christmas day in 1997. His diaries were published in 2001 Above the Clouds: The Diaries of a High-Altitude Mountaineer by Anatoli Boukreev.
Also interesting and under appreciated are the many Sherpa mountain climbers starting with the legendary Tenzing Norgay Sherpa who first climbed Everest with Hillary. The ensuing widespread interest in mountain climbing has been a mixed blessing to the Sherpa who have been able to start schools and train generations of mountain climbers and guides. A special account of the Sherpa is found in Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest by Tenzing, Tashi (Norgay’s grandson).

A Past in Hiding

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

Marianne Strauss by Mark Roseman. This book is a true account of the survival of a young Jewish woman inside Germany from 1939 to 1945. Relying on her ability to pass as non Jewish thanks to an id card issued without the Jewish markings and on a small group of supporters, Marianne Strauss was able to remain in Germany throughout the Nazi period even as her family died. As remarkable as the story itself, the extremes to which the author goes to uncover the true events and chronology is what makes this book worth reading. Roseman is very sensitive to the problem of relying on faulty memories to get at the truth of events. He offers detailed explorations for how personal memories can be attached to famous events and thus distorted. He also explains how survival itself may depend of distorting history in ones memory. He goes to all lengths to interview everyone who might remember the event and uncovers everything that might have been written about that event. This diligence uncovers efforts by the Nazis to recruit Marianne’s father as an agent in return for an exit visa; efforts by a probable Nazi mechanic to send a receive letters from the camps and help her family with food and other goods. A remarkable story and a remarkable historical investigation.