Archive for August, 2008

Cancer Wards

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Mercury Under My Tongue, Sylvain Trudel, 2008

Short delightful novel by French Canadian writer Trudel now translated into English. Our hero is a precocious teenager wrestling with the big questions of life, especially the mysteries of girls. Unfortunately he has bone cancer in the hip and does not have long to find answers. He writes poetry (pretty bad), keeps a journal, and meets other young patients. This being Montreal, the care is good and caregivers wonderful. Our hero takes a dim view of religion, even rejecting reincarnation, and is able to give the visiting priest a drubbing and send him packing. Quite hopeful despite the topic.

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The Post War Dream, Mitch Cullin, 2008

This novel combines the struggles of an aging Korean War veteran to purge himself of his war demons (he witnessed – participated in? the Hangang Bridge Massacre where American soldiers bombed and shot peasants fleeing from the North and for which the American have recently apologized.) He is wounded shortly thereafter in an incident that kills a bigoted red neck Texan. He returns from the war with a purple heart and and a war hero story. Implausibly he returns home to Minnesota to a brass band and parade hero’s welcome. In reality, the Korean War started our long term indifference to the fate of veterans as America began its entry into increasingly meaningless wars. To escape home and his bitter father-in-law (he joined the military to escape the first time), he travels to Texas to attend a memorial service for his dead “buddy”. He invents tales of the incident and his friendship for the family and girl friend then falls for the girl. Fast forward fifty years and the couple are retired to a gated Disney-like golf course retirement community near Tucson. (woe to anyone caught harboring their grandchildren in this mecca for the aged) There his wife discovers she has stage III ovarian cancer. Equally implausibly the couple have no financial worries at all as she undergoes years of chemo and experimental treatment. The tale climaxes during a blizzard where the golf course ponds are frozen over and the entire state of Arizona is paralyzed. (During our time in Phoenix, the temperature dropped barely below freezing one time which killed and damaged much of the vegetation in all our yards. We’re still waiting for that blizzard.) A real downer this one.


Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Peace, Richard Bausch, 2008

Monte Cassino 1944 montecassino.jpg

Bausch’s newest novel deals with the experience of a few American soldiers sent up the mountain near Cassino on scouting patrols during the Allied drive north through Italy. Short but compelling look at the horrors of war up close. One of the characters concludes that Stephen Crane got it wrong in The Red Badge of Courage.

Global Attrocities

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Draining the Sea, Micheline Aharonian Marcom, 2008

Los Angeles River Construction lariver.jpg

A most unusual and challenging novel. The narrator lives in Los Angeles, the son of an Armenian (1915 Turkish Massacre) and a Lebanese (Civil war throughout the 1990s) mother and an American father. The narrator reflects on paradise (Los Angeles) which usurped its river and drained lakes to make the modern city possible. The author is obsessed with another massacre occurring in a remote Indian village in Guatemala in 1982. The massacre has no photos, no video, no outside western witnesses and is only known from first hand accounts. The narrator believes himself to be in love with a young pregnant girl who was killed along with her unborn baby in the massacre.

Guatemala Genocide genocide.JPG

The title comes from a saying attributed to General Rios Montt, military dictator in Guatemala:

The guerrilla is the fish. The people are the sea. If you cannot catch the fish, you have to drain the sea.

General Rios Montt riosmontt.jpg