Lit in the Time of War: Stevenson and Aswany

Hello! I wasn’t able to post my usual book review yesterday, so I’m posting it today instead. I’m also including a list of places you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need. Please donate if you are able.

Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson,
Read by Frederick Davidson

“[…] and taking a knife from the table, [Alan] cut me off one of the silver buttons from his coat. ‘I had them,’ says he, ‘for my father’s Duncan Stuart, and now give you one of them to be a keepsake for last night’s work, and wherever you go and show that button, the friends of Alan Breck will come around you.’ He said this as if he had been a Charlemagne and commanded armies, and indeed, much as I admired his courage, I was always in danger of smiling at his vanity.”

This is a book about a plucky kid named David Balfour whose father dies and who goes to live with his mysterious uncle Ebenezer. David is supposed to inherit a lot of money from his father, but Uncle Ebenezer wants the money for himself, so he gets his friends to kidnap David and ship him off to become a slave. However, David isn’t willing to let himself be kidnapped without a fight. He teams up with a Scotsman named Alan Breck to escape back home and get revenge on his uncle.

If Charles Dickens wrote adventure novels, they likely would’ve been very similar to this book. There’s a great deal of warmth in Kidnapped (like in Dickens’s books), along with some interesting character observations (see the passage above).

One of Stevenson’s contemporaries said that he wasn’t that great at psychological insights. While there weren’t any long passages where Stevenson’s characters contemplated their inner psyches, the characters felt surprisingly realistic. They were fleshed out enough to be sympathetic, and most of them were nuanced enough to feel believable. The only exceptions were the female characters—every single one of them wound up sobbing or weeping over the protagonist’s plight.

In any case, if you’re looking for an adventurous and entertaining book, I would recommend Kidnapped.

The Republic of False Truths, by Alaa Al Aswany,
Translated by S.R. Fellowes

“Everything really has changed. The dictator was stifling Egypt. When he was overthrown, all Egyptians were liberated. I’m writing to you from home, having just come back from the school, and I have lots of questions begging for an answer. How could the headmaster’s and Mrs. Manal’s attitude towards me have changed so amazingly? Is the revolution changing people’s natures? Is it giving them back their confidence in themselves and causing them to review their mistakes?”

Note: this book was written by a professor I once had in school.

This book is about the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt. It’s told from multiple points of view, including state generals, media stars, protestors, and sympathetic bystanders. There were enough perspectives to get a broad sense of Egyptian society, but not too many to be confusing.

The book had a lot of important insights about dictatorship and disinformation (there was a character who worked for a state-sponsored news agency running smear campaigns against the Tahrir Square protestors). The book also showed how the protestors tried to combat the disinformation, which was very interesting to read about.

It was also powerfully-written. The author was able to get across dramatic incidents in a sober, non-melodramatic way (which made them more impactful). Also, since the book avoided preaching (“dictatorship is bad!” etc.), it made a much better case against dictatorship than if it had preached.

The characters were rich due to the author’s depiction of their inner lives (especially the antagonists and morally-nuanced characters). Overall, I’d say that the depth of characterization was what ultimately made the book a very good read. I would definitely recommend.

As promised, here’s a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need:

Plan USA: Gives aid to refugee children in Moldova, Poland, and Romania. Donate here: https://www.planusa.org/humanitarian-response-ukraine-plan-usa/

International Committee of the Red Cross: Provides medical support for wounded Ukrainians. Donate here: https://www.icrc.org/en/donate/ukraine

Doctors Without Borders—Ships emergency supplies to Ukrainian hospitals. Donate here: https://donate.doctorswithoutborders.org/secure/donate 

UNCHR Refugee Agency—Provides refugees with food, water, health support, and assistance in rebuilding damaged houses. Donate here: https://give.unrefugees.org/

Lit in the Time of War: Hillenbrand, Maupassant, and Gladwell

Hello. I hope you are well. I’ve read three books this week. Here they are, along with a list of organizations you can donate to in order to help people in Ukraine.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand, Read by Edward Hermann

“For these men [POWs] the central struggle of post-war life was to restore their dignity and find a way to see the world as something other than menacing blackness. There was no one right way to peace. Every man had to find his own path, according to his own history. Some succeeded. For others, the war would never really end.”

This is a nonfiction account of a man named Louis Zamperini, who was a troublemaker in his childhood, an Olympic track-star in his youth, a WWII pilot-turned-prisoner of war in his manhood, and a PTSD-battling survivor in his older age. You may have seen the Angelina Jolie movie about him. This is the book it was based on.

The book was very good. It had a great blend of wisdom, humanity, warmth, tragedy, suffering, and (tasteful) comic relief. What stood out most was this blend, along with the author’s keen insights into the sources of resilience (of the prisoners) and malice (of their captors).

I would definitely recommend.

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant: Ten Volumes in One, Volume One, by Guy de Maupassant

“Then he went on a few steps, and stopped again to look about him, and the utter misery of his existence seemed to be brought out into full relief by the intense light which inundated the country. He saw his twenty years of café-life, dull, monotonous, heart-breaking. He might have traveled like others did, have gone among foreigners, to unknown countries beyond the sea, have interested himself somewhat in everything which other men are passionately devoted to, in arts and sciences, he might have enjoyed life in a thousand forms, that mysterious life which is either charming or painful, constantly changing, always inexplicable and strange. Now, however, it was too late.”

It’s so gooood. Unlike Chekhov, Maupassant was able to write female characters without being so sexist about it (so far, anyway). This made for a terrifically refreshing read.

Along with that, he was able to get at the humanity of everyone in his stories, even as they commit foul deeds (deceiving their spouse, etc.) I would say that there was one story that I felt that could have had a greater contrast to strengthen its effect.

Even so, if you’re looking for a short story writer who’s BETTER than Chekhov, I would recommend Maupassant without hesitation.

Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon,
by Malcom Gladwell, Read by Malcom Gladwell

“[Paul Simon:] In order for a problem to be something that you want to solve, it means it has to be interesting, which means you don’t know the answer to the problem. That’s why you’re interested, and you wonder, What’s the answer to that? What does that mean? How do you get there? How do you make yourself feel that chemical high that you feel when you make something that you like? [….] It’s the mystery of why that happens, but when that [chemical high] does occur to you the reward is so great you want that for your whole life.

This is a series of interviews with Paul Simon (of Simon & Garfunkel), interlaced with insights from other musicians about Paul Simon’s music, and excerpts from the music itself. It was very interesting to listen to.

What made it more interesting, in my subjective opinion, was to see the contrast between Paul Simon and Malcom Gladwell (whose comments framed everything Simon said). Paul Simon is a musician who doesn’t think too much about what’s going on in his music in terms of the source of his genius. Malcom Gladwell is a man who seems keen to create theories about everything. He seems to want the formula for genius, and he seems like he wants to dissect Paul Simon to get at that formula. As a result, the interview could sometimes read like Paul Simon talking about whatever he wants and Malcom Gladwell trying to shove him into a box labeled “Malcom Gladwell’s Theory of Musical Genius.”

In other words, it felt like Malcom Gladwell was less interested in Paul Simon as a person, and more interested in him as a specimen of genius. This made the book less enjoyable than it could have been, but it also gave interesting, semi-enjoyable insights (due to the contrast between Gladwell and Simon’s approaches to life and music and genius).

This book also had good music (obviously, it’s Paul Simon), it had good insights into his music by other musicians, and it even had good insights into him by Malcom Gladwell (though sometimes Gladwell would just go off on random theories that had no real basis in the reality that Paul Simon was trying to tell him).

So overall, I’d recommend, but I’d keep in mind the interesting dynamics underpinning this book.

As promised, here’s a list of places to donate in order to help Ukrainians in need:

Corus World Health: Gives needed medicines to Ukrainians, and supports the work of health care workers in Ukraine. Donate here: https://donate.corusworldhealth.org/

Voices of Children: Gives emergency psychological support to children in need, along with evacuation assistance. Donate here: https://voices.org.ua/en/

Humanity and Inclusion: Gives support to disabled people in Ukraine, including at-home rehabilitation, mine risk education, and emergency health services. Donate here: https://www.hi-us.org/ukraine

International Medical Corps: Expands access to medical and mental health services in Ukraine, and helps refugees. Donate here: https://give.internationalmedicalcorps.org/page/99837/donate/

Lit in the Time of War: Dragomán, Mussorgsky, and Half of Pasternak

Hello! I hope you are all well. I’ve read three-ish books this week (one I’ve only read half of thanks to final exams). I’ll be back to reading three books next week. At the end of this post, I’ve also given a list of places you can donate to in order to help Ukrainians in need. Please do.

The White King, by György Dragomán,
Translated by Paul Olchváry

“By then we’ve been without Father for more than half a year, though he was supposed to have gone away for only a week, to a research station by the sea, on some urgent business, and when he said goodbye to me he said how sorry he was that he couldn’t take me with him, because at that time of year, in late autumn, the sea is a truly unforgettable sight, a lot fiercer than in summer, stirring up huge yellow waves and white foam as far as the eye can see; but no matter, he said, and he promised that once he got home he’d take me, too, so I could have a look for myself. He just couldn’t understand how it could be that I was already past ten years old and still had never seen the sea, but that’s OK, he said, we’d make up for that along with everything else we’d make up for, no sense rushing things, there would be plenty of time and more for everything, because we had a whole life ahead of us. This was one of Father’s favorite sayings, and although I never did quite get it, when he didn’t come home, after all, I thought about it a lot, and that farewell came to my mind a lot, too, how it was when I saw Father for the last time, when his colleagues came to get him with a grey van.”

This book is about Djata, an eleven-year-old boy who’s waiting for his disappeared father to return home. The problem is that his father has been arrested by the totalitarian state. Meanwhile Djata deals with the regime, his grief, and other kids.

This book takes the form of a bunch of loosely-connected short stories, but unlike some books of loosely-connected short stories, this one works very well. There’s a main through-line (Djata’s father) that ties it all together. It’s actually so unified that it sometimes feels more like a novel than a bunch of short stories.

The book itself is very good and very moving (it may make you cry a lot). The good news is that while it can be very sad, it also has hilarious parts, which makes for a good balance, and its ending is very satisfying (from a craft-based point of view).

The book’s style is interesting (but I didn’t realize until late into it). The author uses a lot of run-on sentences, and he doesn’t include quotation marks around dialogue. The good news is that this stylistic stuff doesn’t get in the way of the story’s substance. It actually augments the narrative, since it makes Djata out to be a super-talkative kid (who may even be trying to cover up his grief by being super-talkative).

So if you want to be emotionally devastated by a book, I recommend The White King.

Boris Godunov, by Modest Mussorgsky,
Based on the Play by Alexander Pushkin

“GRIGORI: Boris, Boris—you make the country tremble,
and no one ever dares remember
the fate you meted out to the Tsarevich.
Yet in this quiet cell
a monk recorded all that he knew
of this most heinous murder.
You will be called before your earthly judges,
nor can you flee
the judgment of the Lord.”

This is an opera libretto based on a historical play by Alexander Pushkin. In it, the Macbeth-like Boris Godunov murders his way to tsardom and then guilts about it while other people try to stir up rebellion against him. I’d previously seen Boris Godunov at the Metropolitan Opera, and so was curious to read Mussorgsky’s libretto.

Interestingly, there are different versions of the opera—Mussorgsky originally wrote a version about Boris, with a few scenes focusing on some other character called Dmitri the Pretender. Later, Mussorgsky was told that the opera couldn’t be performed unless he included a more prominent female character in the opera. So he created a second version (which I read for today) which included a love-interest for Dmitri.

The version I saw at the Met didn’t include this love-interest. In that version, the plot flowed better. In the version that I read, the love-interest seemed to be there for no real reason other than to be there (she didn’t even really contribute to the plot). However, the version that I read had a good scene in it that was cut from the Met. You just can’t win.

Overall, I wouldn’t really recommend this libretto. It’s not that good (though there are some good parts), but it has made me very interested in reading the actual play by Pushkin.

An Essay in Autobiography, by Boris Pasternak,
Translated by Manya Harari

“It was only later, when an attempt was made to establish a resemblance between Mayakovsky and myself, that I was credited with a gift for tonal and rhetorical effects. This is quite untrue—I have no more of this gift than anyone who uses words. On the contrary, my concern has always been for meaning, and my dream [is] that every poem should have content in itself—a new thought or a new image.”

This book contains both Pasternak’s autobiographical essay and his poems. I’ve only read his essay so far. The poems are written in both Russian and English, and I’ve been spending more time than I should comparing the Russian to the English, which has taken up more time than allows for in my week. So I’ll probably review the poems next week. For now, I’ll review the essay.

This essay is basically about Pasternak’s youth and the people he met who inspired the approach he developed towards writing. Among others, he talks about Marina Tsvetaeva, Rainer Marie Rilke, Alexander Scriabin, and Paolo Yashvili.

If you’re looking for a definitive autobiography of Pasternak (something like Gorky’s 3-volume autobiography), it doesn’t exist. There’s only this essay and another essay he wrote earlier on. He thinks this essay is better and less pretentious than his earlier one. I haven’t read the other essay, so I can’t say for sure, but I agree that this essay is not pretentious. Pasternak has a lot of sensible ideas about art, and is very grounded in what he says (he cares for meaning over rhetorical flourishes, for instance).

Also, a fun fact about Pasternak: he wanted to be a composer when he was a boy because Alexander Scriabin was his neighbor and Pasternak once walked through the woods between their houses, heard Scriabin play, and got obsessed. Pasternak even became a good composer, but stopped, because though he was able to compose sophisticated and rich music, “I played wretchedly and I read music like a child learning to spell” and, “The discrepancy between my musical themes, new and difficult in themselves, and my lack of practical skill turned the natural gift which should have been a joy to me into a torment, and in the end I found it unendurable.”

What was also interesting was that as a youth, Pasternak didn’t see the need for hard work. He thought genius would just flow out of him like carbon dioxide flows out of someone’s nostrils. He obviously got wiser afterwards (see the rest of his autobiographical essay), but it’s interesting to get a sense of what he used to believe (art is the result of effortless genius) and what he went on to realize (art is the result of a lot of hard work).

Overall, if you’re looking for very insightful portrait of someone’s artistic development, I would definitely recommend this essay. It’s wise without being condescending, and thought-provoking without being pretentious.

Now, as promised, here’s a list of places you can donate to in order to help Ukrainians in need:

Save The Children: Gives emergency aid to children in Ukraine. Donate here: https://www.savethechildren.org/us/where-we-work/ukraine

Urgent Action Fund Ukraine: Supports evacuation efforts, provides disaster survival training, provides access to alternate communication methods for Ukrainians and more. Donate here: https://urgentactionfund.org/

Global Empowerment Mission: Gives plane tickets to Ukrainian refugees so they can reach friends and family they have in Europe. Donate here: https://www.globalempowermentmission.org/

World Health Organization: Helps treat injured Ukrainians and provides life-saving medicines. Donate here: https://www.ukraine.who.foundation/

Lit in the Time of War: Brady, Blok, and Yelchin

Study for exams! Read books! Stop the war!

Hello! I hope you are as well as can be hoped for during these awful times. I have reviewed three books this week, and have included a list of organizations you can donate to in order to help Ukraine:

Profile of a Prodigy: The Life and Games of Bobby Fischer,
by Frank Brady

“Psychologically, he seems trapped by his own temperament, unable to realize that a sensitivity to the rights and interests of others is a condition of social being. He has backed himself into such a small cultural corner that his ideational mobility suffers every time it is tried, as is shown by the almost pathetic lack of sophistication in his statements since Curaçao. Indeed, he is scarcely able to communicate with the world of larger interests except through the medium of the chessboard. Mikhail Tal one said in an interview that Bobby should read more outside of chess or else his game would eventually  suffer from the thinness of his education. Bobby replied by slighting his critic’s chess ability and adding a series of sneers at intellectual pretensions on the part of certain chess masters.”

This book is about the famous chess player Bobby Fischer, who was a prodigy as a kid and who went on to become the world champion of chess.

What makes this book more interesting is that the author knew Fischer personally. Also, this book was written and published in the 1960s, when Fischer was on hiatus from chess and before he returned to win his famous matches in the 1970s. So here we only have a partial profile of a prodigy rather than the whole story (which is what most standard biographies would give you). So think of this book as being more of a snapshot than a comprehensive biography.

The book was good. It was interesting to learn about the world of chess. Fischer was a very good chess player at a very young age, but he was also very immature. At the time this book was written, his immaturity was limiting him by causing him to decline to participate in chess. He had wanted to compete in the world championship, for instance, but, after convincing himself that the game was rigged against him in favor of his Soviet rivals (which he only complained about when they beat him), he also convinced himself to take a hiatus from the game.

 The book also contains annotated diagrams of Fischer’s greatest games (up to the 1960s). Though it was mildly interesting to flip through these (“14 RxB!!”), it was more interesting to read the biography portion of the book. What made it stand out the most to me was its chapter trying to dissect Fischer’s psychology. He apparently tied his sense of self-worth to chess to the point where he wound up sabotaging his chances at the world title in the 1960s to preserve his sense of superiority over other players.

So, if you’re interested in a psychological portrait of a (sometimes comically-whiny) prodigy, I’d recommend this book.

Poems by Alexander Blok, Translated by Yevgeny Bonver

“Years that burned everything to ashes!
Do you bring madness or grace?
The war’s and freedom’s fire flashes
Left bloody light on every face.”

After reading Pasternak’s poems on a website and reviewing them on this blog, I have found another website with a lot of poems by Alexander Blok.

The poems were good. They made me think about the world in a different way. Some were particularly striking, like “All perished, All!” and “He, who was born…” All in all, it was a very good compilation.

The only thing I would say about these poems is that the English translation loses out on nuances in the original. For instance, in “Night, Streets, the Lantern…” the original’s last line has to do with ice flowing (or something that shows that in spite of the frozenness of ice, it still contains a glimmer of motion). This nuance was completely lost in the translation, which mentioned something about a swelling canal in the night. Obviously not all translations can be perfect, but it has made me wonder how much nuance has been lost in the other poems translated here.

In any case, I would recommend just to get exposure to Blok. If you can read the originals, I would recommend them even more.

The Haunting of Falcon House, by Eugene Yelchin,
Read by Michael Bakkensen and George Guidall

“I hesitated, deciding which book to open first. Not that it mattered. It shouldn’t be too hard for me to pass what was required. French I didn’t need to study. I already knew it. Of course, en garde, prêts, allez were the only words I knew, but they were the most important words in French. You couldn’t start fencing without saying them. I didn’t have to bother with the Russian grammar, either. Russian is my mother tongue, and besides, I write in cursive neatly. Well, almost neatly. As for arithmetic…true, numbers had always troubled me a little, but I could draw them well. Zeros in particular.”

This book is about a prince, Lev Lvovich, who is sent to live with his aunt Olga in a house called Falcon House, which just so happens to be haunted. As he tries to live up to his grandfather’s legacy (his grandfather was apparently a fancy general in the Russian army), he meets a mysterious boy named Vanyusha who has mysterious secrets, studies half-heartedly for admittance into a fancy Russian military academy, and finds himself drawing pictures better than he ever had drawn them before.

The book started slow but gets really good at the end. Was it worthwhile? I found it to be so. It was fun to read, with humor, action, and heart. I felt like some aspects could have been developed more (we learn about the protagonist’s grandfather but not so much about his father, for instance), but there was enough to keep the read entertaining.

So, if you’re looking for a book with some humor and a terrific ending, read this. And if you just so happen to be cramming for final exams and writing essays for final assignments, I’d recommend this book even more for its inspirational take on academics (see excerpt above!)

As promised, here’s a list of Ukrainian organizations to donate to. In case you missed out on previous lists, some entries are repeated here:

UN Refugees: Supports Ukrainian refugees by giving them supplies and assistance. Gifts are being matched up to 1 million dollars. Donate here: https://www.unrefugees.org/

World Central Kitchen: Provides food to displaced Ukrainian refugees and to civilians still in Ukrainian cities. Donate here: https://wck.org/

Razom for Ukraine: Provides medical supplies to Ukrainians in need. Donate here: https://razomforukraine.org/

Plan USA: Gives resources and psychological support to girls and women in Ukraine. Donate here: https://www.planusa.org/

Lit in the Time of War: Sergey, Marina, Ilf, Petrov, and Yelchin

Hello! I hope you had a happy Easter/Passover/Ramadan. This week I’ve reviewed three books, and, as usual, provided a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukraine during this awful war.

The Scar, by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko,
Translated by Elinor Huntington

“The world is preserved by the mother of all roads. She looks after the faithful traveler, relieving his solitude. The dust of the road covers the hem of a cloak, the dust of the constellations covers the curtain of the night sky, and the wind blows both the clouds toward first light and sheets hung up the dry with the same eagerness. It is no misfortune if the soul is scorched by the sun; it is far more disastrous if a raging fire devastates the soul. It is no misfortune if you do not know where you are going; it is far worse when there is no longer anywhere to go. He who stands on the path of experience cannot step away from it, even when it has come to its end. For the path is without end.”

This is a book about a guy named Egert who starts out being a self-absorbed jerk and a member of the royal guard. He’s very brave, but he bullies his friends, chases after other men’s loved ones, and so on. But one time, he winds up killing a woman’s fiancé in a duel, and gets cursed by a mysterious man called the Wanderer. The curse rids Egert of his bravery and sets him fleeing from everything. Now he needs to figure out how to break the curse before it’s too late.

This was a fun read. The protagonist was initially very unsympathetic, but wound up becoming more sympathetic as the book went on and he learned how to be compassionate towards others instead of just thinking about himself. What also made this book good is that even though nothing seems to happen and there are no real big battles or anything (except at the beginning and the end) it still feels as though a lot is happening (even though the characters just walking around living life). I guess that’s a testament to their authors’ skills with characterization.

It’s also a compelling read—I found myself prioritizing this book over my schoolwork. So if you’re in the throes of studying for final exams, etc, be warned.

In any case, I’d recommend this book.

The Twelve Chairs, by Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov,
Translated by John Richardson

(So funny I had to include 2 excerpts)

Excerpt 1:

“The same old story of Gavrila was begun again [by Nikifor Lapis], but this time with a hunting twist to it. The work went under the title of ‘The Poacher’s Prayer.’

‘Gavrila lay in wait for rabbits.
Gavrila shot and winged a doe…’

‘Very good,’ said the kindly Napernikov. ‘You have surpassed Entich himself in this poem, Trubetskoi. Only there are one or two things to be changed. The first thing is to get rid of the word “prayer.” ‘And “rabbit,”’ said the rival. ‘Why rabbit?’ asked Nikifor [Lapis] in surprise. ‘It’s the wrong season.’”

Excerpt 2 (Also about Lapis):

“‘Well, how have you been making out?’ asked Persidsky. ‘I’ve written a marvelous poem!’ ‘About Gavrila? Something peasanty? “Gavrila ploughed the fields early. Gavrila just adored his plough?”’ ‘Not about Gavrila. That’s a pot-boiler,’ said Lapis defensively. ‘I’ve written about the Caucasus.’ ‘Have you ever been to the Caucasus?’ ‘I’m going in two weeks.’ ‘Aren’t you afraid, Lapis? There are jackals there.’ ‘Takes more than that to frighten me. Anyway, the ones in the Caucasus aren’t poisonous.’ They all pricked up their ears at this reply. ‘Tell me, Lapis,’ said Persidsky, ‘What do you think jackals are?’ ‘I know what they are. Leave me alone.’ ‘All right, tell us then if you know.’ ‘Well, they’re sort of… like… snakes.’”

This is a very funny book. it stars con-man Ostap Bender, the “smooth operator” (or “великий комбинатор” in the Russian original) and his guileless acquaintance Ippolit Matveyevich, who’s much less smooth of an operator. Ippolit Matveyevich has just gotten an inheritance of 12 chairs from his mom, and one of the chairs contains a fortune sewn within it. The only problem is that Ippolit Matveyevich does not have the chairs—they have started to be dispersed around Russia. When Ostap Bender learns about this, he insists on getting into the chair-hunting business. Thus begins an epic and funny chase around Russia.

This book reminded me a lot of Gogol’s Dead Souls in that there are different episodes that the characters go through to swindle others of their money, and each episode is pretty funny. While not as funny as Ivan Chonkin by Voinovich, it’s still very funny (and some episodes are absolutely hilarious). Not to mention that this book has a very surprising and exciting twist ending that somehow gets cancelled out in the second book of the series which you should also lie in wait for (like Gavrila with the doe that he intends to wing).

In any case, I would recommend.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose, by Eugene Yelchin,
Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, Read by Mark Turetsky

“‘Why is “The Nose” still so important to us?’ No hands go up, and I’m not surprised. He’s talking about a crazy old story they always make us read called “The Nose.” It’s really stupid. Some guy’s nose is dressed up in uniform, imagine that, and it starts putting on airs as though it’s an important government official. It takes place way before Stalin was our leader and teacher, of course. Could something like this happen now? No way. So why should Soviet children read such lies? I don’t know. I’m in no hurry, so I keep listening. ‘What “The Nose” so vividly demonstrates to us today,’ says Lushko, ‘is that when we blindly believe in someone else’s idea of what is right or wrong for us as individuals, sooner or later, our refusal to make our own choices could lead to the collapse of the entire political system. An entire country. The world, even.’”

This book is about a kid named Sasha Zaichik whose father is an official in Stalin’s government. Sasha is a model Soviet student, and he wants to become a Young Pioneer (the Soviet equivalent of Boy Scouts) at an upcoming ceremony at his school. The only problem is that his father is arrested by the Soviet government, and now Sasha has to go to school and hope that his father comes back in time for the ceremony (spoiler alert: he doesn’t).

Along the way, he meets friendly enemies of the people (classmates whose parents had also been arrested), breaks the nose off a bust of Stalin (which could get him arrested), and is lectured to by a life-sized version of Stalin’s nose smoking a pipe (see drawing above).

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Who cares that it’s for kids? the author is terrific at dramatic irony (Sasha remains in denial about his dad’s arrest, but we know too well what’s probably happened to him), and at drawing through-lines through the story (Character A does something mysterious, we wonder about it for a while and then forget about it, only for it to pop back up again at the end of the book).

The author is also great at humanizing the characters. I found myself sympathizing with even the least sympathetic of them (Sasha’s classmates). It also goes without saying that Sasha himself is also very sympathetic.

The book is also apparently illustrated. I didn’t get to see that, as I read the audiobook version, but the illustrations look pretty good based on what I could find online…

In any case, I definitely recommend this book. Who cares if you’re an adult? Read it anyway. You won’t regret it.

As promised, here are some places you can donate to in order to help Ukrainians in need:

The American Jewish Distribution Committee: Supports those in Ukraine, those fleeing Ukraine, and Ukrainians residing in Hungary, Poland, Moldova, and Romania. Donate here: https://www.jdc.org/

Muslim Hands: UK-based organization supporting Ukrainian refugees in Poland (can choose to donate in dollars). Donate here: https://muslimhands.org.uk/donate/ukraine-refugee-crisis/ukraine-refugee-crisis

Jeremiah’s Hope: Christian organization that provides evacuation assistance, relief, and long-term rebuilding support. Specifically focuses on helping orphans. Donate here: https://www.jeremiahshope.org/

International Committee of the Red Cross: Provides medical support to wounded Ukrainians. Donate here: https://www.icrc.org/en/donate/ukraine

Lit in the Time of War: Sepetys, Miri, Grossman

STOP THE WAR.

Hello. I hope you are as well as can be hoped for. As the war in Ukraine continues, I’ve read three more books (one of them being the third and final part of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate). I’ve reviewed them here, as well as providing a list of ways you can support Ukraine at the end of this post.

Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys

She curled her finger toward me, beckoning me closer. ‘Want to know a big secret?’ she asked. ‘What’s that?’ She leaned over and whispered in my ear. ‘Mama says the NKVD [Stalinist secret police] are going to Hell.’ She leaned back. ‘But you can’t tell anyone. It’s a secret, okay?’”

This book is about a Lithuanian girl named Lina who gets deported with her family to Siberia. It reminded me of Zuleikha, which I reviewed in the past, only this book was better.

Unlike that book, this book didn’t have contrived characters. Also, “Gray’s” characters were more compassionately portrayed. The author did a very good job of humanizing everyone, which added a lot of power to this book.

One thing I will say is that its beginning is a bit slow. Not in terms of action—the action gets started right away, but in terms of development (though this is likely just a subjective comment—it was still a wonderful book).

I’d recommend.

Tokyo Ueno Station, by Yu Miri, Translated by Morgan Giles

“If I can’t exist I can’t disappear either.”

This book is about a dead, grief-stricken man in Japan who reflects on the tragedies in his life, and how societal inequity caused him to become a ghost.

History and the present-day coexist in this book, from the American firebombing of Tokyo during WWII to the Fukushima nuclear disaster to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

I found this book important to read—it talks about a lot of significant events and displaced populations—but I didn’t find it to be that interesting. The protagonist just meandered around the whole time. Also, it reminded me a lot of Chingiz Aitmatov’s much-better The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years, and I found myself wanting to re-read Aitmatov’s book instead of reading this one.

That’s not to say Yu Miri isn’t a good writer—she definitely is, and I think I’m going to wind up recommending her other books (I’m currently reading her Gold Rush and am enjoying it a lot!) It’s just that Tokyo Ueno Station didn’t do it for me personally.

Doesn’t mean the same will be true for you.

Life and Fate, Part Three, by Vasily Grossman,
Translated by Raymond Chandler

“Somehow you could sense spring more vividly in this cool forest than on the sunlit plain. And there was a deeper sadness in this silence than in the silence of autumn. In it you could hear both a lament for the dead and the furious joy of life itself. It was still cold and dark, but soon the doors and shutters would be flung open. Soon the house would be filled with the tears and laughter of children, with the hurried steps of a loved woman and the measured gait of the master of the house. They stood there, holding their bags, in silence.”

(Part One, Part Two)

Here we are. The final part of Grossman’s epic 900-pager.

It was very good.

A physicist struggles to maintain his integrity in the face of Soviet terror, the battle of Stalingrad draws to a close, and some other guy randomly gets arrested for no reason he knows of.

Another name for this section of the book could have been “All the World’s a Prison,” because in it, we see that even those who are free are technically prisoners of the Stalinist state.

Something else: we previously saw Grossman going from being super-sexist to being more feminist. Now, we see him return to a middle position. One female character who had previously seemed to be very developed turns out just to have been developed that way for the sake of becoming a last-minute love-interest. Oh yeah, and did I mention the love-triangles? Yes, love-triangles. There are two of them in this section, which resolve rather boringly.

Two of the more interesting scenes in this section focused on Stalin and Hitler. They didn’t seem that realistic, though. Grossman apparently thought these dictators were, in their moments of weakness, capable of longing for their mothers (Hitler) and feeling overwhelming bouts of love for their daughters (Stalin).

Even so, Grossman was great at getting at his (other) characters’ psychologies. Rationalizations abound. So do subverted expectations and betrayals. Through it all, though, Grossman never loses compassion for the people he portrays, which is impressive.

Overall, this behemoth of a book was worth it. It made me think a lot about prisons, love-triangles, and the human condition.

As promised, here are some Ukrainian aid organizations you can donate to. Please do, especially in light of the news of the horrible massacre in Bucha:

Mercy Corps: Provides humanitarian aid and emergency cash assistance to refugees in Ukraine, Poland, and Romania. Donate here: https://www.mercycorps.org/

Direct Relief: Works with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health to provide medical aid like emergency response packs and critical care medicine. Donate here: https://www.directrelief.org/place/ukraine/

International Relief Teams: Works to provide food, water, and shelter to refugees in Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and Poland. Donate here: https://www.irteams.org/

Human Rights Watch: Works to defend human rights in Ukraine. Donate here: https://donate.hrw.org/page/100202/donate/1

Lit in the Time of War: Radnóti, Aramaki, Grossman

War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

Hello! I hope you are as well as can be expected. I’ve reviewed three more books, and have provided a list of more charities you can donate to in order to help Ukrainians in need.

Camp Notebook, by Miklós Radnóti,
Translated by Francis Jones

“I tumbled beside him, his body twisted and then,

like a snapped string, up it sprang again.

Neck shot. ‘This is how you’ll be going too,’

I whispered to myself, ‘just lie easy now.’

Patience is blossoming into death.

‘Der springt noch auf,’ rang out above me. Mud

Dried on my ear, mingled with blood.”

This book is really good. It contains poems written by Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti as he went about life in a Nazi death camp. The poem quoted above was the last one he ever wrote before being shot.

This is some of the best poetry I’ve read in a while.

I don’t know what else to say about this book. Basically that it’s very short, very profound, and that you should definitely read it.

The Sacred Era, by Yoshio Aramaki,
Translated by Baryon Tensor Posadas

“Finally, K understands everything. Human consciousness is akin to the surface of a mirror. The surface does not in itself exist. All the mirror can do, all that defines a mirror, is its capacity to reflect back the object before it [….] Is this what we call God? Is God this cosmic consciousness this totality, this pure consciousness of all the cosmos? If God is the surface of a cosmic mirror, then insofar as God is pure, there can be no awareness of himself as God.”

This book is interesting. It’s about a guy named K (no, not the same K from Kafka’s The Trial). He takes a test called the Sacred Examination, passes it, and is assigned to work on secret research on the planet Bosch (yes, named after Hieronymus).

Interdimensional hijinks ensue. There’s a renegade named Darko Dachilko who’s supposedly been executed hundreds of years ago, but whose ghost (and dismembered limbs) still lurk around, ready to kill unsuspecting people. There’s also intergalactic travel. There’s basically everything.

The only thing that weakens this book is its underdeveloped female characters. Considering that the book basically revolves around the male characters reuniting with female characters, it’s a wasted opportunity for character development when female characters are given no substance other than the fact that they’re there to make out with the male characters.

In any case I would recommend this book.

Life and Fate, Part 2, by Vasily Grossman,
Translated by Robert Chandler

“His train of thought was quite simple, though not so easy for an outsider to follow. Several things had come together: memories of his past; the fate of Tolya and Anna Semyonovna; the war; the fact that, however rich and famous a man may be, he will still grow old, die, and yield his place to the young; that perhaps nothing matters except to live one’s life honestly.”

(See Part 1 Here).

In Part 2 of Life and Fate, Viktor Pavlovich has made a huge scientific breakthrough that makes him eligible for the Stalin Prize, but his rivals don’t like him and they want to win the Stalin Prize themselves, so they start a smear campaign against him. Will he stand up for himself? Or will he give way to lies to preserve his reputation? Read this section to find out.

A lot of other things happen in this section, including better-developed female characters. Granted they still all revolve around men, but at least now they also get to have some philosophical insights, which is more realistic.

One thing that Grossman is really good at is making these surprising, but honest and logical observations about people. He’s like Tolstoy in that way (Character A feels happy to survive XYZ but then feels guilty about feeling happy, or feels angry at himself for being happy, etc.)

Considering the fact that if you read 300 pages of this book a week (a section per week), you can get through it in about three weeks (it’s 900 pages). Considering what you get for your troubles (and considering the increasingly-well developed female characters), I would recommend.

As promised, here’s a list of charities supporting Ukrainians. Please donate if you can.

World Food Program: Gives cash and food to 3 million+ Ukrainians. Donate here: https://www.wfp.org/emergencies/ukraine-emergency

Lifesong for Orphans: Works with Ukrainian orphanages to empower children, encourages adoption efforts. Donate here: https://lifesong.org/ukraine-relief/

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee: Gives food packages, online support to Ukrainians sheltering in place, and transport/accommodation assistance to refugees. Donate here: https://www.jdc.org/

Heart to Heart International: Distributes medical supplies to Ukrainians in need. Donate here: https://www.hearttoheart.org/

Americares: Gives medical and food aid to Ukrainian families in Poland and Romania. Donate here: https://www.americares.org/

Lit in the Time of War: An Entire Book By Chi, Part 1 of Grossman, and 14 Chapters of Solzhenitsyn

Stop the War!

Hello! I hope you are all as well as can be expected giving the ongoing war in Ukraine. This week, I’ve reviewed three-ish books, and have provided another list of organizations you can donate to that provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

The Membranes, by Chi Ta-Wei,
Translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich

“Safe under the purple sky of a waterproof and earthquake-proof membrane, deep beneath the ocean, people lived out their days like flowers in the greenhouse [….] Although they were physically removed from the realities of war, they were suspended in a state of virtual escape. And it felt real to them.”

This book is crazy (in a good way). It’s known as a classic of queer speculative fiction. In it, a woman named Momo is a dermal care technician in an underwater city called T City. Why’s it underwater? Because the ozone layer was breached and as a result people all suffered from radiation and had to move underwater. Anyway, Momo begins to wonder about her identity, learns about the connections between androids and humans, uses special technology called M-Skin to download the memories of the people she works for…and I can’t give anything away other than that.

The beginning of the book is a little repetitive, but once you get past it, the story becomes very interesting and very recommended. Chi has a lot to say and this book is very good at saying it.

So, if you like mind-blowing literature, I would definitely recommend this book. It’s very short, it’s very well-written, and it’s very worth reading.

Life and Fate, Part One, By Vasily Grossman,
Translated by Robert Chandler

“I realize now that hope almost never goes together with reason. It’s something quite irrational and instinctive. People carry on as though their whole life lies ahead of them. It’s impossible to say whether that’s wise or foolish—it’s just the way people are […..] Our turn will come in a week or two, according to plan. But just imagine—I still go on seeing patients and saying, ‘Now bathe your eye regularly with the lotion and it will be better in two or three weeks’ [….] Meanwhile the Germans burst into people’s houses and steal; sentries amuse themselves by shooting children from behind the barbed wire; and more and more people confirm that any day now our fate will be decided.”

After three years, I’ve finally started it–Life and Fate.

This epic novel is set during the Battle of Stalingrad and revolves around the Shaposhnikov family. It’s been compared to War and Peace, and I can see why in the sense of it being an epic novel during a war that also involves peace. It’s also very good—Grossman, like Tolstoy, makes a lot of great observations about people.

The main downside to this book is its sexism—the female characters are all there to fall in love with the male characters (or to be objectified by them!), which detracts from this book’s power because it makes them less realistic than the male characters. First, I’d read a very good chapter about a male character. Then I’d read another chapter from the perspective of a female character and find myself laughing at how bad it is (“She loved him! She couldn’t live without him! She embraced the coat-hanger upon which his coat had been hung! Waaaah!”)

So far however, I’d still recommend it.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, In the First Circle,
(Chapters 1-14 Where I Gave Up), Translated by Harry T. Willetts

“Simochka’s girlhood had held nothing but unhappiness so far. She was not pretty: Her looks were spoiled by a nose much too long and hair that had refused to grow out, gathered now into a skimpy bun at the back. She was not just small, she was extremely small, and her figure was that of a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl rather than a grown woman. She was, moreover, straitlaced, averse to jokes and frivolity, which made her still less attractive to young men. So it was that in her twenty-third year no one had ever courted her, hugged her, or kissed her.”

I usually don’t review books I don’t like or don’t finish, but I’ll make an exception for Solzhenitsyn’s In the First Circle. It was very disappointing, I didn’t see anyone else on Goodreads with similar views, and so I wanted to fill this gaping hole in the review-literature.

More seriously, this book is billed as being about gulag prisoners who work on scientific projects in more-privileged conditions than regular gulag prisoners. These prisoners have to decide whether to give a man away for giving nuclear secrets away to the US or not (they’ve been asked to identify his voice from a recording). Circle is supposed to be brilliant and philosophical. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was very good. And, I mean, the author even won a Nobel Prize in Literature!

However, as can be seen from the passage above, Circle is an extremely sexist book. By comparison, Solzhenitsyn somehow makes Grossman seem like a die-hard feminist. Somehow, for instance, Simochka’s been unable to feel any happiness whatsoever because she was too ugly to be attractive to men. Since when could a woman only feel happy if she gets a guy? Whatever happened to Simochka’s friends? Her parents? Was she just shoved into a cardboard box her whole life by Solzhenitsyn so she couldn’t have any happiness? (Okay, that was facetious, but seriously).

The worst thing is that this sexism isn’t just relegated to appearances of female characters—it’s also deeply engrained in Solzhenitsyn’s brilliant philosophical musings (Character A bases his whole philosophical worldview on the fact that, in spite of suffering, men live in the hope that one day they’ll find pretty women who will “give [themselves] to him.”) So even if you come to this book for the philosophy, the book’s sexism even weakens its philosophical power.

So in conclusion, though this book may have a lot of great ideas in it, it also suffers from a near-terminal case of unrealistic female characters (and philosophical contemplation based on axioms which themselves are based on flawed conceptions of women’s place in society). So it’s no wonder that I had to quit this book at Chapter 14. Yes, it may have been a life-changer for some readers, but it definitely wasn’t for me.

In the end, of course, my comments are subjective. Feel free to enjoy the book anyway. But, I hope that if other readers have had similar experiences with this book’s sexism, they’ll find that they’re not alone. And, if the book does happen to get better (AKA less sexist and actually more philosophically-sound/engaging) later on, I’d love to hear about it. Maybe I could even be persuaded to pick it up again.

Now, as promised, here are more places to donate to in order to help Ukraine:

Fight for Right: Works to evacuate Ukrainians with disabilities. Donate here: https://eng.ffr.org.ua/support-in-crisis/eng

Black Women for Black Lives: As you may have read, Black people have been facing discrimination at the Ukrainian border. This group works to help them leave Ukraine. Donate here: https://blackwomenforblacklives.org/

The Association for Legal Intervention: Gives pro-bono legal aid to Ukrainian civilians who have fled to Poland. Donate here: https://interwencjaprawna.pl/en/get-involved/donate/

OutRight International: Helps LGBTQ refugees flee Ukraine. Donate here: https://outrightinternational.org/ukraine

CARE: Works to get food, water, and other urgent supplies to Ukrainian civilians. Donate here: https://www.care.org/

UN Women: Works in Moldova to help female Ukrainian refugees. Donate here: https://donate.unwomen.org/en/ukraine

Lit in the Time of (Ongoing) War: Let The Right One In

Read John Ajvide Lindqvist and Stop the War!

Hello. I hope you are all well, and that the war in Ukraine stops soon. Meanwhile, I’ll keep titling my posts “Lit in the Time of War,” and hope that it’ll end soon. Also included at the end of this post is a brief list of places you can donate to in order to support Ukraine.

Let Me In (AKA Let The Right One In), by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Translated by Ebba Segerberg, Read by Steve Pacey

“The fact that the [murderer who had disfigured his face with acid to avoid being recognized] had not been recaptured during the day made the news more sensational, and a British journalist gave the best analysis of why the whole thing had attracted such attention: ‘It’s a search for the archetypal monster, this man’s appearance, what he’s done, he is the monster, the evil at the heart of all fairy-tales, and every time we catch it, we like to pretend it’s over for good.’”

This book is about a mysterious girl, Eli, who comes to Sweden and befriends a bullied boy named Oskar. Eli’s strange. She only comes out at night, and she lives with a man who kills people so she could live on their blood. In other words, she’s a vampire (but a much better vampire than Edward Cullen ever could be!)

This is a story of their friendship, along with the story of a bunch of other irrelevant side-characters who somehow become relevant only in the last quarter of the book.

The book was fun to read. It took a while (it was very long), but it was entertaining, and its ending was good. The narrator was fantastic, as well, so if you can get it on audiobook I’d highly recommend it. My only real gripe with it was that it felt like there was too much buildup with the side characters—they were important but they weren’t that important.

In any case, I’d definitely recommend this book. It’s very good horror, with humanity mixed in.

Some organizations supporting Ukrainians that you can donate to:

Razom For Ukraine—Provides medical relief for soldiers and doctors on the front line. Donate here: https://razomforukraine.org/

United Help Ukraine—Provides medical supplies to soldiers, and ships goods to Ukrainian refugees. Donate here: https://unitedhelpukraine.org/

Ukrainian National Women’s League of America—Provides humanitarian support to civilians and military hospitals. Donate here: https://unwla.org/top-news/call-for-humanitarian-aid/

Doctors Without Borders—Ships emergency supplies to Ukrainian hospitals. Donate here: https://donate.doctorswithoutborders.org/secure/donate 

Red Cross—Provides first aid, food, medicine, and evacuation help to Ukrainians. Donate here: https://www.redcross.org/donate/cm/abc.html/?subcode=abc-pub

UNCHR Refugee Agency—Provides refugees with food, water, health support, and assistance in rebuilding damaged houses. Donate here: https://give.unrefugees.org/

International Rescue Committee—Provides food, medical care, and emergency support services to Ukrainian refugees. Donate here: https://www.rescue.org/

Save the Children—Provides food, water, money, hygiene kits, and psychosocial support to children. Donate here: https://www.savethechildren.org/us/where-we-work/ukraine

Amnesty International—Investigates human rights violations in Ukraine to hold those responsible accountable, defends journalists and other people at risk. Donate here: https://www.amnestyusa.org/

Have you read Let Me In? Have you donated to any of these organizations (or know of anywhere else someone can donate to support Ukraine?) Let me know in the comments below!

Lit in the Time of War: Jemisin, Brecht, and Zhadan

“Woe to you who defies the advice of the wise!
If you wade in the water, it will drown you!
Don’t ignore what I say or you’ll rue it one day,
Said the wise woman to the soldier.”

Hello. I’ve changed the title for today’s post. As you know, there is a horrible war in Ukraine that should not have to be fought, and this post’s title tries to honor that fact.

Now. On to the reviews.

The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin

(Warning: Profanity)
“I sing the city. Fucking city. I stand on the rooftop of a building I don’t live in and spread my arms and tighten my middle and yell nonsense ululations at the construction site that blocks my view. I’m really singing to the cityscape beyond. The city’ll figure it out.”

This book is about a bunch of people who embody the soul of New York City, which for some reason has just been born in the 2020s. There’s Manny (Manhattan), Queens (Queens!), Bronca (the Bronx), Brooklyn (Guess), and Aislyn (Staten Island). There’s also a sleeping embodiment of the city itself. Now, the avatars of the boroughs have to get together and wake the city.

This book was action-packed (literally), while also having a lot of moments for reflection. I really enjoyed the humor and the points it made, but sometimes it felt a bit like “Action scene! Reaction/reflection scene! Action scene! Reaction/reflection scene!” which, although it was entertaining, sometimes felt like Jemisin had heard that books worked well if they had this structure and decided to go with it no matter what.

In any case, this is a good book and I would definitely recommend it. It’s also the first in a trilogy so 🙂

Mother Courage and Her Children,”
by Bertolt Brecht, Translated by Eric Bentley

“For marching never could hurt him!
From the north to the south he will march through the land
With his knife at his side and his gun in his hand:
That’s what the soldiers told the wise woman.

Woe to you who defies the advice of the wise!
If you wade in the water, it will drown you!
Don’t ignore what I say or you’ll rue it one day,
Said the wise woman to the soldier.”

Called one of the greatest anti-war plays of our time, this is the story of a woman who’s trying to get her kids out of the war alive. However in the process she starts profiteering off the war, and finds herself sacrificing humanity and human lives for the sake of material gain. Will this catch up to her? Read the book, and reflect on how awful war is, to find out.

This play was really good. None of the characters were that sympathetic, but they got across the horror of war and that’s what seemed to matter the most to Brecht.

Also, there was a particularly striking scene near the end which involved someone playing a drum on a rooftop which got to me. I won’t spoil it, but I’ll probably keep thinking about that scene for a while.

In any case, I would definitely recommend this play, especially nowadays.

The Orphanage, by Serhiy Zhadan,
Translated by Reilly Costigan-Humes

and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler

“[…] an incredibly young rifleman tugs on his sleeve [….] While the woman’s pouring their drinks, he roots around in his pockets, takes out a handful of small bills, scrutinizes them discontentedly, reaches into his pockets again without letting go of Pasha’s arm, and then suddenly produces a hand grenade. The woman freezes; the rifleman places the grenade on the counter and keeps rummaging through his pockets as the grenade starts rolling down the counter, rolling and rolling, very slowly. The woman can’t take her eyes off it, the cup runs over, and the other people standing around also notice the grenade, but they can’t get anything out. All they can do is watch it roll slowly, very slowly, toward the edge, pause, roll over the edge, and plunge to the floor.”

This book is set in Ukraine, and is about a guy named Pasha who needs to get his nephew Sasha out of an orphanage during the war. During the story, he meets a bunch of people and learns that trying to stay out of politics is never a good idea because politics and war eventually catch up to you anyway and force you to choose a side.

The book was very poetic. Sometimes it felt overly poetic. Sometimes, every other line felt like a comparison of one thing to another thing.

And sometimes, the author seemed to overuse certain kinds of dialogue tags—“asked skeptically” and “said, surprised” seemed to be favorites. This doesn’t really matter much in the grand scheme of things, but it did kind of make me feel like his characters were being restricted to just following a path the author laid down before them, being confined to embody what the author wanted them to embody rather than turning into fully fleshed out human beings.

In spite of this, I would still recommend this book. It’s a very good (and sometimes moving) depiction of war and its impact on civilians, and how you can’t escape it, and how bad it is, and how much wars in Ukraine (and wars in general) should just end as soon as humanly possible.