I’ve Been Published!

I’m so honored to have my crime story “And Then We Sailed Away” published in the wonderful Uncharted Magazine. My editor referred to it as a story about the nature of goodness and complicated family ties, which I think sums it up perfectly. This story is very special to me because I first wrote it in high school. Persistence pays off–I’m thrilled with where it wound up, and am so grateful for everyone involved in publishing it.

You can read the story below. Note that it does contain dark themes (given that it’s a crime story!) If you do read it, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Lit in the Time of War: McAllister, Maupassant, and Maupassant

In which I review a book by Bruce McAllister and finally finish reading Maupassant’s Complete Short Stories!

Hello! I hope you are all healthy and safe. I have read three books this week, and have reviewed them below. I’ve also included a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need. Please do so if you are able.

Stealing God and Other Stories, by Bruce McAllister

“It is well known now the role the Arcturians played during the Cuban Missile Crisis in averting global nuclear disaster—specifically, by whispering telepathically and remotely simple phrases like “Trust!” and “This can be fixed!” and “This is definitely worth fixing!” in the sleeping ears of both John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev.”

Disclaimer: I know the author of this book, but chose to review it due to its own merits only.

This is a collection of speculative fiction short stories, some about magical Italian seaside villages, others about benevolent aliens, others about wisecracking vampire-slayers, and others about genetically-engineered animals (among other things). Most of the stories had a very human and psychological focus. For instance, even though one story had vampires, it was actually about the main character coming to terms with grief. This was very refreshing.

Some of the short stories took place in the same universe (there were multiple stories set in the magical Italian seaside village for instance), which made me feel like I was returning to a familiar world.

At the same time, the stories were interesting for their range—some were hilarious (like “Stamps” which is excerpted above), others were very sad (“The Witch Moth” was probably the saddest story in the whole collection), but they all worked pretty well. Yes, there were a few that I felt the author could have done more with (one could have been developed further, and another could have had a better thought-out ending), but that didn’t take away from the satisfaction they gave.

Overall, if you’re looking for a thought-provoking and emotionally-moving speculative fiction short story collection, and if you prefer stories with rich concepts and even richer character-depth/humanity, I would definitely recommend this book.

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant, Volume 9, Translated by M. Walter Dunne

“Then he visited the farms, picking his way across ground made moist by the rains, so spent he that he could scarcely raise his crutches. They chased him away, everywhere. It was one of those cold, sad days when the heart shrivels, the mind is irritated, the soul is somber, and the hand does not open to give or to aid.”

(Volumes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 here)

In this ninth volume of Maupassant’s stories, he writes about women who get back at their cruel dog-owning husbands by training the dogs to attack their husbands, hungry men driven to theft due to others’ indifference, families who go on pleasurable outings only to accidentally run over other people, and women who throw their dogs into ditches because they would rather save their money than pay to feed a pet.

In other words, these topics are very different from his earlier stories about love. Also, unlike in earlier volumes, Maupassant doesn’t really have anybody telling other people stories about what happened to them.

Interestingly, he’s able to make his characters sympathetic while also showing how wrong they are to be greedy (like in the story about the woman who threw her dog into a ditch). However, unlike in previous volumes I got the sense that he was somewhat more judgmental of these characters.

Overall, I would recommend that you read this, but just so you can get to Volume 10.

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant, Volume 10, by Guy de Maupassant, Translated by M. Walter Dunne

“All at once, at the foot of the tall column of wood there was a shudder which seemed to run to the top, like a painful shiver; it [the tree] bent slightly, ready to fall, but still resisted. The men, in a state of excitement, stiffened their arms, renewed their efforts with greater vigor, and, just as the tree, breaking, came crashing down, Renardet suddenly made a forward step, then stopped, his shoulders raised to receive the irresistible shock, the mortal blow which would crush him to the earth. But, the beech-tree, having deviated a little, only grazed against his loins, throwing him on his face five metres away.”

(Note: this review mentions rape)

This is the final volume of Maupassant’s complete short works. Originally, I thought that the stories were published in chronological order, but this volume ends with a story that was published halfway through Maupassant’s career. But before I get to that one, let me tell you about the others.

Continuing with the dog-theme from Volume 9, there are stories about a woman who trains a dog to kill a man who wronged her, and a servant who is forced to kill his beloved dog only to be haunted by its death. There are also stories about a man who gets stuck on a lake, a man who goes to a spa and meets women, and a hilarious story (“A Lucky Burglar”) about some friends who dress up as soldiers, get drunk, and fire unloaded pistols at a terrified (and very lucky) old burglar who visits them.

The last story in this volume is called “Little Louise Roque” and is the darkest story in the whole collection. It’s about the rape and murder of a young girl by the town’s mayor, who goes on to experience guilt while abusing his power to avoid suspicion. This story had beautiful descriptions of nature that didn’t get boring, very insightful psychological descriptions of the mayor, and a very sad ending (which I won’t spoil). It is just as good as “Ball of Fat” from Volume 1 of this collection. It may even be better due to its richer psychological insights.

Taking all 10 volumes into consideration, I would DEFINITELY recommend Maupassant’s complete works. He’s a great writer—very empathetic, insightful, warm, and human. Even though some of his stories hinge on plot-twists or aren’t that memorable, a large amount of his stories are terrific. He looks at people more closely than many of us, and so comes up with fresh realizations about how and why they act the way they do. At the same time, he rarely judges them for what they do, and so lets readers come up with their own perspectives and insights. Usually, there’s also the sense that he’s having fun with what he writes, so even if he’s writing about a greedy person, he’s less intent on shoving their greed in the reader’s face and more intent on showing the reader why that person’s so interesting. Finally, what makes him better than Chekhov (in my very strong but subjective view) is that he treats many of his female character just as humanly as his male characters. He rarely reduces them to roles or stereotypes, and never creates a subtle sense of distance between them and the reader like Chekhov tends to do. As a result, we’re able to experience the realities of Maupassant’s female characters just as richly as we’re able to experience the realities of his male characters.

Overall, I have two words of advice for you: read it. And once you do, I’d love to hear about your thoughts in the comments below.

As promised, here are some organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need:

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/

World Central Kitchen—Feeds Ukrainians in cities like Odessa, Kharkiv, and Kyiv. Donate here: https://wck.org/relief/activation-chefs-for-ukraine

24,000 Friends of Ukraine—Subscription donation campaign started by the Ukrainian president to provide medical aid to Ukrainians in need. Subscribe here: https://donorbox.org/24-000-friends-of-ukraine

Lit in the Time of War: Vogt, Maupassant, and Afremow

Hello! I hope you are well. I have read three books this week. Below are my reviews, along with a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need.

Slan, by A.E. van Vogt

“Her words were harsh, her tone icy. But far more menacing than her tone, Jommy realized, was the fact that neither right nor wrong, truth nor untruth, mattered to this slan woman. His world was shattering before the thought that if this immorality was slan justice, then slans had nothing to offer the world that could begin to match the sympathy, kindliness and pervading gentleness of spirit that he had seen so often in the minds of the lowly human beings.”

This is a book about a super-strong, super-smart, and super-telepathic boy named Jommy, and a super-strong, super-smart, and super-telepathic girl named Kathleen. Both are “slans”—supposed descendants from a scientific experiment conducted by a non-telepathic/smart/strong guy named Samuel Lan. Since then, the slans were ostracized, persecuted, and attacked by the humans.

Now, Jommy has to grow up, find a secret weapon left him by his slan father, and find the other slans, while Kathleen has to figure out the mysterious motives of a human benefactor while avoiding being killed by the slan-hating head of secret police.

All that to say, this book was very entertaining and thought-provoking. It’s hard to find really good books that are really readable. This was one of them.

Slan had interesting ideas about science. I don’t know how accurate they were, but they sure felt accurate, and the way that Vogt made his scientific mumbo-jumbo very important to the plot (“Character X can slip past security because he has this special device!”) made the book even more exciting to read.

This book also had great ideas about war (when two opposing sides can’t trust each other, it makes peace very hard—and Vogt literally came up with this in the 1940s, years before the super-influential theorist Kenneth Waltz basically came up with the same theory).

I will say that the female protagonist felt somewhat underused (though remarkably developed, considering she was written in 1940). Also, the plot seemed logical, but if you looked too closely at it, parts would have fallen apart.

Overall, if you like surprisingly well-developed female characters that are somewhat underused, and are okay with not looking too closely at your plots, I would definitely recommend this very-readable book.

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant, Volume 8,
by Guy de Maupassant

“And she lay huddled up in bed, crying and heaving great sobs, feeling that there was an end of her happiness, and that it was all her own fault.”

(Volumes 1 2 3 4 5 6 and 7 here)

This volume had much better stories than the other two volumes I reviewed last week. There were a lot more interesting observations about people (a man falls accidentally in love with a woman, for instance). These stories felt like they were written more carefully, and relied less on plot twists and more on character insights to have an effect.

Some highlights were “The Avenger” (a guy marries his dead friend’s wife and gets jealous and insecure and tries to get his wife to put his dead friend down while pretending to be grief-stricken at his death), “The Conservatory” (quoted above), “My Uncle Sosthenes” (more funny than insightful, but still extremely relevant to today), “My Landlady” (about a youth who befriends his landlady and tries taking a woman home), “The First Snowfall” (about a couple that’s happy until it gets cold), and “Selfishness” (what happens when a man has to choose between saving his brother from a wound and saving his own money? Read this story and find out!)

Also interesting were the parallels I saw between these stories and Chekhov’s “The Lady With the Dog.” A love-affair that is described as more honest and more transcendent than staying married to one’s own spouse? Check! A guy looking into a mirror, seeing he’s aged, and plunging into profound contemplation? Check! Spa resorts? Check! I’ve read that Chekhov was influenced strongly by Maupassant. It was interesting to speculate about whether the stories in this volume influenced him as well.

Overall, I would recommend.

The Champion’s Comeback: How Great Athletes Recover, Reflect, and Reignite, by Jim Afremow, PhD

“How do you explain defeats, missteps, and setbacks to yourself? Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, describes how pessimists explain negative events to themselves as personal, permanent, and pervasive. Optimists are the opposite. They explain negative events to themselves as situational, short-lived, and specific.”

I had previously read Afremow’s The Champion’s Mind, and enjoyed it a lot, so I decided to read this book, too.

The Champion’s Comeback is about coming back from defeat and growing in the process. It includes a lot of inspirational anecdotes about athletes who have suffered defeat and have grown through it (Michael Jordan was kicked off his high school basketball team, for instance).

It also includes some good principles for dealing with defeat (like letting it inspire you to find a deeper intrinsic source of motivation instead of just “winning a medal”), and visualization exercises.

This book felt less substantial than his previous book, but it was still a good read, and I would recommend it.

Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments below!

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

Direct Relief—Provides trauma kits, insulin, and other important medical supplies to Ukrainians. Donate here: https://www.directrelief.org/emergency/ukraine-crisis/

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

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/

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: Maupassant, Maupassant, and the Bhagavadgita

Hello! I hope you are well. I’ve read three books this week. I’ve also provided a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need.

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant, Volume 6

“They heard from the next room the voice of agony, living, without doubt, in this last hour, the life she had expected, living her dreams at the very moment when all would be finished for her. Cimme, in the garden, played with the little Joseph and the dog, amusing himself much, with the gaiety of a great man in the country, without thought of the dying woman.”

If there’s only one story you can read from Volume 6 of Maupassant, make it “An Old Maid.” It has profound contrasts and juxtapositions, and it makes a great point about people confronted with mortality without judging them. Actually, it basically seems to judge them anyway by showing their actions as they truly are (but somehow getting away with not judging them by not framing their actions as bad, just as the actions of human beings like us all). For these reasons, I found this to be the most impressive story in this volume.

This volume had a lot of other interesting stories. Maupassant liked using the plot-twist more than ever, so a lot of stories in this volume hinged on that. There were two duels in this book: one that was tragic, and one that was actually kind of funny. There was a ghost story, and there were more stories of people telling others of stories that they themselves had heard or experienced.

In this volume, it sometimes felt like Maupassant was losing steam/energy to tell really good stories. You could gloss over a lot of stories in this volume without missing much. Every now and then though, Maupassant would surface from his lethargy to write a really good story, like “An Old Maid,” or some other stories about doctors helping others conceal their love affairs from their husbands, and about people pretending to steal relics to impress their girlfriends.

So while I found these stories to be a mixed bag in terms of being the highest quality possible, they were still all good and entertaining, and I’d strongly recommend reading “An Old Maid” at least.

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant, Volume 7

“These private [Latin] lessons were given in the little room looking out on the street. It so happened that Pére Piquedent, instead of talking Latin to me, as he did when teaching publicly in the Institution, kept telling about his troubles in French. Without relations, without friends, the poor man conceived an attachment for me, and poured out into my heart his own misery. He had never for the last ten or fifteen years chatted confidentially with anyone.”

This next volume of Maupassant stories kind of redeemed the previous volume. There were some very good observations about blind people in one story (which started off in such a way that I worried it would turn into a “oh, they’re so miserable because they’re blind!” but thankfully avoided this). Maupassant also told more ghost stories, which were interesting for his focus on his characters’ psychologies. Finally, the last story in this volume apparently indicated the “onset of Maupassant’s madness” according to a footnote. The story in question was about a man hallucinating others in his bedroom, and dreading his hallucinations so much that he wanted to marry to get rid of them.

What strikes me about Maupassant’s stories is that he was writing these in the 1800s but was able to have such a broad view of people. Did he want to write about a murderer? He wrote about the murderer with such empathy that the man could’ve been his brother. Did he want to write about a townsman desperately trying to convince himself and others that his obscure town was actually a big deal? He wrote about this man with humor and warmth. Did he want to write about a woman who was forced to marry someone she didn’t want to marry? He wrote about her without condescension and with sympathy. Here’s a writer who always gives dignity to whoever he writes about. Even when he was practically judging those people back in Volume 6, he somehow did so without actually judging them in such a way that diminished their own inherent humanity. That’s impressive.

There were also times when Maupassant’s characters acted a lot like people in real life today (such as the Latin teacher quoted above). Even though the world may have changed a lot since Maupassant’s 1800s, people certainly haven’t!

So overall, I would recommend this volume, more than the previous one.

The Bhagavadgita, Translated by Sir Edwin Arnold

“Better to live on beggar’s bread
With those we love alive,
Than taste their blood in rich feasts spread
And guiltily survive!”

This is a part of the Mahabharata, which I reviewed previously and thought was one of the best books I ever read. The version I reviewed didn’t include this book, though, so it was good to read now.

In the Bhagavadgita, Krishna the god tries to convince his (hearteningly compassionate) human friend Arjuna to kill his relatives in war. Krishna basically does this by saying all of reality is a delusion, that people never truly die, that fighting this war would guarantee Arjuna heaven, that the gods would go on to rationalize Arjuna’s sins and make like they never existed, and by insisting that Arjuna worship him.

For me, the most compelling part of this book was Arjuna’s reasons against killing others. I wasn’t at all swayed by Krishna’s reasoning. Since Krishna’s reasoning wasn’t convincing to me, I felt like Arjuna’s own sudden acceptance of Krishna’s perspective came off as contrived (from a narrative/writerly point of view).

Still, this book had a lot of good wisdom about how to live life well (don’t be greedy), but I didn’t understand other wisdom in it (such as why it would be desirable to detach from other humans and meditate all day).

I’m clearly not the best person to review this book. I disagreed with its main premise, and spent the majority of the book disagreeing with a lot of what Krishna was saying to justify it. Given all of this, I would strongly encourage you to read this book for yourself and see what you get out of it (I’m sure you’ll get more out of it than I did).

If you’ve read this book (or Maupassant), I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

Lit in the Time of War: Kawabata

Hello, and happy August! I have reviewed one book this week that I have been eager to read for a while. I have also provided a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need.

Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata,
Translated by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman

“Even if she was laughed at for her exaggerated carefulness—taking those 10 days to buy something that cost a mere forty sen—Yoshiko would not have been satisfied unless she had done so. She had never occasion to regret having bought something on the spur of the moment. It was not that the seventeen-year-old Yoshiko possessed such meticulous discrimination that she spent several days thinking about and looking at something before arriving at a decision. It was just that she had a vague dread of spending carelessly the silver fifty-sen pieces, which had sunk into her mind as an important treasure.”

This is a book of very short stories—they could actually be called flash fiction—written before flash fiction was even a thing. They’re called “Palm-of-the-Hand” stories because they’re so short they can fit onto your palm. An example of this kind of story by Kawabata is this story that I reviewed earlier (but which is unfortunately not included in this collection).

A lot of these stories had great insights into humanity. Each one felt like a little world. Some of them even encompassed entire generations in two or three pages (such as the two-paged “Faces”), and others felt like epics condensed into super-short forms (“Earth”).

Kawabata wrote these stories throughout his life, so you get to see his artistic development. His development didn’t seem like some authors’ developments, like Chekhov, Hemingway, or London, who started out writing awkward/sometimes-really-bad stories and then gradually got better as they continued writing.

Yes, some of Kawabata’s stories felt too subtle to understand, and a few others felt overly-crafted—they were so meticulously made that Kawabata’s intentional repetition of phrases actually drew attention to the artificialness of the story in question. Even so, there weren’t many like this. Kawabata must have already gotten all of his badly-written stories out before going on to publish his palm-of-the-hand stories.

So, instead of seeing how Kawabata developed from a not-good writer to a great writer, I was able to see how he returned to write new pieces about certain themes, ideas, and characters (he loved writing about old men walking alongside young girls, for instance).

One of the most fascinating stories of the collection was “Gleanings From Snow Country.” Kawabata worked on this story throughout his life and only published it right before he died. “Gleanings” is basically a 10-page version of Kawabata’s novel, Snow Country. Having read that book before this one, I was able to find aspects of the same plot, while also noticing how the two differed in their development. In “Gleanings,” Kawabata couldn’t fit in all the detail of his novel, and so some parts of the plot felt vaguely sketch-like. He still hit all the high-points of his novel (while only hinting at the end). Unfortunately though, while “Snow Country” had one of the best sentences I’ve ever read, “Gleanings” didn’t have room for it.

Overall, I would recommend this book if you have never read anything by Kawabata and want to get a taste of him before reading some of his other works. I would also recommend this collection if you are a fan of flash fiction, and if you’re a fan of terrific fiction in general.

Have you read any of Kawabata’s work? Let me know in the comments below!

Now, as promised, here is a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support people in Ukraine:

Global Giving—Provides basic necessities (food, shelter), psychosocial and health support, and economic assistance to Ukrainian refugees. Donate here: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/ukraine-crisis-relief-fund/

Insight—Provides food, permanent shelter, and medicine/hormones to LGBTQI+ Ukrainian refugees. Donate here: https://www.insight-ukraine.org/en/join-donate/

Revived Soldiers Ukraine: Provides medical support to soldiers and civilians. Donate here: https://www.rsukraine.org/

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

Lit in the Time of War: Goethe, Butler, and Maupassant

Hello! I hope you are all well, (and not overheated!) I’ve read three books this week, about death, life, and France (Note: The first book review mentions suicide). I have also included list of organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need. Please do if you are able.

The Sorrows of Young Werther and Novella,
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
Translated by Elizabeth Mayer, Louise Bogan, and W.H. Auden

“‘They are loaded.—The clock strikes twelve. —So be it! Lotte! Lotte! Farewell! Farewell!’ A neighbor saw the flash of the powder and heard the shot; but as everything remained quiet, he did not pay further attention to it.”

This is a book about a man named Werther who falls in love with a woman named Lotte, gets rejected by her, and kills himself. It’s also basically a Hamlet rip-off (Werther is Hamlet, Lotte is Ophelia, and Wilhelm, who Werther writes long and emotional letters to, is Horatio).

This book was said to have plunged a lot of people into existential angst. I was curious to see what would happen upon reading it.

Instead of being plunged into existential angst, I was distracted by all the unresolved plot-lines. For one thing this translation didn’t make it clear what happened to Lotte (it just had a mysterious sentence that “[her] life was in danger,” which could be interpreted however you want it to be, but didn’t really give concrete resolution).

Then there was the matter of Werther’s friend Wilhelm. Werther had been writing these long angsty letters to Wilhelm, and at first Wilhelm had seemed to just nod along sympathetically (Goethe didn’t include his responses but based on Werther’s letters we could assume this). Then, when Werther started despairing of life, Wilhelm apparently planned to come see him and reassure him. This was very intriguing, and I was expecting to read something about Wilhelm arriving, finding out about Werther’s death, and grieving. However, the book didn’t mention Wilhelm reacting at all. It would be as if Hamlet spent the entire play confiding in Horatio only for Horatio to suddenly disappear when Hamlet died (instead of giving a sad and cathartic eulogy like he actually did). This felt like a huge cliffhanger, and it ultimately left me feeling disappointed.

At the same time, I could see that this book was very influential in literature. It referenced paper lanterns and delusions, for instance, which made me think of Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” for instance. So if you’re looking to see how books influence each other, Werther would be a good book to read.

The characterization was also interesting. At the beginning, Werther made a big speech about how people were totally rational and able to control their emotions, and that anyone who gave in to emotions was weak. Then, when he succumbed to emotions, he made a big speech about how others were telling him to just be rational, and that they obviously couldn’t understand him. This piece of characterization was well-done. At the same time, there were some melodramatic moments that felt unintentionally funny (“Oh, this void, this terrifying void I feel in my breast!” for instance).

Overall, this book was interesting, but ultimately felt like a let-down due to its unresolved characters.

The novella was interesting, too. It’s about a princess who goes on a walk and encounters a lion. Now, only some kid with a pipe might be able to save her from certain death. Will she survive? Read the novella and find out.

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler

“The wordless message was the same for both child and woman: In spite of your loss and pain, you aren’t alone. You still have people who care about you and want you to be all right. You still have family.

This is a book (written in the 1990s) about a girl named Lauren who is living in California in the early 2020s. Climate change is causing crises and societal instability, people are trying to rob her walled-in neighborhood, and she has hyperempathy, which causes her to experience others’ pain—if someone is shot, she collapses as if she’s shot. She’s also trying to start a new religion called Earthseed.

This book had very interesting ideas about change, adaptation, and hope in the face of crises. It also had a powerful/ominous/important vision of the future (a country destroyed by climate-change). The Earthseed religion, which involved restarting civilization in space, was interesting, too. Also, in spite of the grim situations they were in, the characters had strong moments of humanity and compassion. This made for terrific reading.

At the same time, I felt that Butler could have added more nuance. First, the characters felt like they were all being over-explained/overly-defined by Lauren’s perception of them—one character would say something, and then Lauren would think something like, “[the other character] was too bright to take anything but the most superficial comfort from her denial.”

This explanation (“she’s in denial”) seems to me to reduce the other character’s complexity, since it never lets the readers figure out for themselves that this character was in denial/the specific nuances of this denial. It also seems to judge the other character—the reader gets that this character is in denial because of “X, Y, and Z,” and that there’s nothing more worth understanding beyond this intellectualized explanation. While people can never be fully explained, this kind of explanation seems to artificially boil them down into a completely understandable formula/dynamic, which is not true in reality—there’s more to humanity than rationality.

Also, I feel like Butler could have gone deeper into Earthseed. Why should it be guaranteed that once they go into space, people will be super moral and not corrupt this new system as they’ve always corrupted everything throughout history? There is a character who vaguely brings up a similar point, but the author never really engages with this argument. However, this was probably because Sower is the first book in a series. If so, I hope that this point gets developed in the next book.

Overall Parable of the Sower was very thought-provoking. I would definitely recommend it for its terrific ideas and emotional impact.

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant, Volume 5, by Guy de Maupassant

“Monsieur Savel, who was called in Mantes ‘Father Savel,’ had just risen from bed. He wept. It was a dull autumn day; the leaves were falling. They fell slowly in the rain, resembling another rain, but heavier and slower.”

(Reviews of Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4)

In this volume, Maupassant continues to write amazing stories. He starts off with some sketch-like stories, and then goes on to write more developed pieces. A lot of them have to do with affairs again, but others have to do with graveyard hijinks, and some have to do with deathbed confessions. Almost all of them involve one character telling a story to another character. Two stories that were particularly good were “Regret,” and “Two Little Soldiers.”

Maupassant has great opening lines that are very exciting to read. There are characters who fall madly in love with other characters right away, there are characters who give in to the sin of love for the first time, and there are people who are drunk. Basically, Maupassant’s openings never disappoint.

Also, while he sometimes explains characters’ dynamics (sometimes intellectualizedly), he then goes on to let the reader see them happening for themselves without framing them in such a way that insists that there is nothing important left to Character XYZ but Maupassant’s explanations about him/her. I guess this is what I meant earlier by someone who doesn’t judge or overexplain their characters. The characters just are, and even if they’re wrong, the author lets the reader figure this out for themselves, and arrive at unexpected insights that might very well have been lost had the author tried to explain the characters himself.

I would recommend. Also, if you’ve read any of these books yourself, I would love to hear your thoughts!

As promised, here is a list of organizations you can donate to in order to help Ukrainians in need:

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

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

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: Kertész, Konstantin, and Dostoyevsky

Hello. I hope you are all healthy and safe and that you are enjoying whatever books you are reading. I’ve read three books this week and have reviewed them below in case you wanted any inspiration for your summer reading. I’ve also included a list of organizations to donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need. Please do so if you are able.

Fatelessness, by Imre Kertész, Translated by Tim Wilkinson

“’Would you care to give an account of your experiences, young fellow?’ I was somewhat dumbfounded, and replied that there was not a whole lot I could tell to him that would be of much interest. He smiled a little and said, ‘Not me—the whole world.’ Even more amazed, I asked, ‘But what about?’ ‘The hell of the camps,’ he replied, to which I remarked that I had nothing at all to say about that as I was not acquainted with hell and couldn’t even imagine what that was like. He assured me, however, that it was just a matter of speaking: ‘Can we imagine the concentration camp as anything but a hell?’ he asked, and I replied, as I scratched a few circles with my heel in the dust under my feet, that everyone could think what they liked about it, but as far as I was concerned I could only imagine a concentration camp, since I was somewhat acquainted with what that was, but not hell.”

This is a book about fourteen year-old Georg who is taken to Auschwitz. Georg goes on to recount his experiences of starvation, torture and sickness with a kind of intellectualized detachment. His attempts to rationalize his experiences made for fascinating and horrifying reading.

I don’t know what else to say about this book other than that you have to read it yourself to understand what I mean. I would recommend.

A Red Boyhood: Growing Up Under Stalin,
by Anatole Konstantin

”As I discovered many years later, there actually was no need for us to go hungry. The desert was literally crawling with food: desert turtles and snakes were there just for the taking. The fact that people starved to death rather than eat them is another proof that materialism, dialectical or of any other kind, does not prevail in real life and that ideas and taboos are more powerful than even the instinct to survive.”

This is a memoir written by the Ukrainian Anatole Konstantin about his boyhood in the USSR. It begins with the arrest of his father, describes his life as a son of an enemy of the people, goes on to tell about his family’s experience during World War II (where they had to go work on a collective farm in Kazakhstan), described their return home, their journey through Poland, and ultimately, their emigration to America.

It was fascinating to read, especially since in my experience, history is usually depicted in somewhat-separated sections: Stalin’s purges are depicted as being separate from World War II, which is then shown as being separate from the Cold War. This is the way I learned about history in school at any rate. While dividing history into chapters/units may help students learn, this division destroys the sense of continuity that actually existed in reality. A Red Boyhood put all these sections of history together into one coherent whole, which enabled me to better see the causes and effects of various events.

The author apparently wrote this book “without any literary pretensions,” and in some places he makes subtle grammar errors/awkward word-choices which shows that English was not his native language. These did not really detract from his memoir. In any case, he more than compensated with the amount of rich detail he provided about his experiences. I was in awe of his memory. It felt like he was able to give very detailed descriptions of small events throughout his life, people he met once or twice, and even rooms in which he stayed in for like a night. His memory reminded me of the richness of detail in Maxim Gorky’s memoirs.

Anatole also had an excellent way of observing people. There would be several times where he would tell his mom not to trust Mr. So-and-So, and his mom would ignore him, only for Mr. So-and-So to wind up trying to steal their grain. This was very interesting to read about, and these nuances of their family relationship really brought history to life in a way that history textbooks never do.

In school, I remember a teacher giving me a bunch of memoirs to read written by historical figures in order to bring the dry-seeming facts we were learning to life. It seems to me that history can’t be taught effectively without humanizing the people involved—even if we do learn the dry facts in our textbooks to try and prevent history from repeating, history may repeat itself anyway unless we care enough about those who suffered before us to want to stop it from repeating. A Red Boyhood did a terrific job of making me care.

I would definitely recommend.

The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoyevsky,
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Translated by David Magarshack

“And so when I got off the bunk and looked round, I suddenly felt I remember, that I could look at these unhappy creatures with quite different eyes, and that suddenly by some miracle all hatred and anger had vanished from my heart. I walked round the prison peering into the faces I came across. That rascal of a peasant with his shaven head and branded face, yelling his horse drunken song at the top of his voice—why, he, too, might be the same sort of peasant as [the kindly] Marey: I cannot possibly look into his heart, can I?”

This book contains stories by Dostoyevsky written in his youth and in his old age. It’s interesting to track his writerly development across them. It starts out with “White Nights,” and goes on to other stories including “Notes from the Underground” and “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.”

In the beginning, it seemed to me that Dostoyevsky was drawing mostly from the books he had read as a kid, because in “White Nights” the protagonist really just seems to want to assume a role similar to those of the literary heroes he worships, to the point of deluding himself about a romantic encounter. Not much more nuance exists to the story other than that.

As the book continues, there is more and more nuance to the stories. A rich man becomes jealous of a peasant boy who seems to have caught the eye of a rich girl who he eventually wants to marry for himself. Later on in Dostoyevsky’s writings, another man wants to feel so much in control of his reputation that he drives his wife to suicide.

As these dynamics become more nuanced, so does his observations related to them. While in the earlier stories, you could pretty quickly understand where characters were coming from all along (the rich man just wants the rich girl’s money! That’s it!), later stories had more unexpected revelations. At the same time, it didn’t feel like Dostoyevsky was doing any psychological acrobatics or contriving anything, which was exciting to see.

Finally, it’s interesting to compare Dostoyevsky’s first-person writings to his third-person ones. This book is entirely made up of his first-person writings, which all seem to be very rich, intriguing, and entertaining. Also, his characters all made sense, even when they got seemingly hysterical or irrational.

Meanwhile, whenever I read his third-person works (The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, or The Idiot), there were still rich psychological nuances and really good moments, but it seemed to me that his stories were less interesting, more convoluted, and that some of his characters suddenly acted very strangely and unrealistically. Now, you could apply the inner thought process of the Underground Man to Dmitri Karamazov, for instance, and his hysterical outbursts would make perfect sense. However, just reading about them in third person made them somehow seem unrealistic.

In any case this was just an observation I had. I would be interested to know if you had any thoughts about it.

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

Revived Soldiers Ukraine—Provides medical support to soldiers and civilians. Donate here: https://www.rsukraine.org/

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

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

United Way Ukraine—Provides food, water, and other emergency support for Ukrainian refugees and their children. Donate here: https://www.unitedway.org/our-impact/work/no-nav/unitedforukraine

Lit in the Time of War: Hauptmann, Spragins, and Maupassant

Hello! I hope you are well and that you had a happy 4th of July yesterday if you live in America. I have read three books this week and have reviewed them below for your pleasure. I have also provided a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support people in Ukraine. Please do so if you are able.

The Weavers,” “Hannele,” and “The Beaver Coat,” by Gerhart Hauptmann, Translated by Horst Frenz and Miles Waggoner

DR. FLEISCHER enters with his five-year-old son. FLEISCHER is 27 years old, wears a hunting suit, has coal black hair, mustache and goatee. His eyes are deep-set, his voice is soft. He continually shows an almost pathetic anxiety for his child.

MRS WOLFF. (Shouting joyfully.) My! Philipp’s come to visit us! […] (She takes hold of the child and pulls off his overcoat.)

FLEISCHER. (Anxiously.)  Mrs. Wolff, there’s a draft. I think there’s a draft.

MRS WOLFF. He ain’t that frail [….]

FLEISCHER. No, no. Be careful. What do you think? The child takes cold in a minute. Move about, Philipp. Keep moving about.

(Philipp refuses to move and screams.)”

This is a collection of plays including “The Weavers” which I have already reviewed and two others which I haven’t.

“Hannele” is about an abused girl who has hallucinations of angels. “The Beaver Coat” is about an upstanding woman who decides to steal a beaver coat from someone else.

“Hannele” had a lot of elements of fantasy in it and not much characterization. Yes, there were some interesting characters at the beginning, but they didn’t play much of a role in the rest of the story.

“The Beaver Coat” had more characterization (see excerpt above), but also had a somewhat anticlimactic (though still good and somewhat surprising) ending. The ending was probably much more surprising back in the late 1800s-early 1900s when this play was written. However, after reading plays like Ibsen’s “The Pillars of the Community,” it wasn’t as surprising to me.

The play that stood out the most to me was “The Weavers.” There were interesting characters who had thought-provoking interactions, and the play’s ending was striking. For me, the ending scene that Hauptmann probably intended to have the most impact felt somewhat less impactful than one line just before it. The ending scene felt a bit too “look at how sad this situation is!” while the line I’m referring to was more subtle but somehow filled with dread and significance.

Overall, I would recommend.

What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self,
Edited by Ellyn Spragins

“What could also ease your stress is a different way of thinking about how we travel through this world. There’s no ladder to success. The rhythm of life runs in cycles. There are times in the darkness and times in the light. The energy of life is like the rainforest in Borneo. Things live, grow, die, fall to the forest floor, rot, and then they are born again.”
(From a letter by Olympia Dukakis)

This is a book of letters written by accomplished women, filled with advice they wished they’d had when they were young.

Authors inside include Madeleine Albright, Nora Roberts, and Maya Angelou. In a way it reminded me of A Hand to Guide Me, which had a similar conceit.

It was interesting to read the editor’s introductions to each woman. They helped me better appreciate each woman’s life and background. However, for some reason the editor kept writing lines like “I was prepared to encounter a shrill, angry woman” only to be surprised when the woman she encountered turned out to be a very nice person. All of the women turned out to be very nice people, and they all had great perspectives on life. Topics in their letters included growing up, making it in life, getting married (or not), and being a mother.

Interestingly, the most famous letter-writers didn’t necessarily give the most insight (similar to what happened in A Hand to Guide Me). Some standout letters from What I Know Now were the ones by Olympia Dukakis (actress), Joyce Tenneson (photographer), and Ingrid Newkirk (founder of PETA).

If you’re looking to be inspired, I would definitely recommend this book.

The Complete Short Stories of Maupassant, Ten Volumes in One, Volume 4, by Guy de Maupassant

Two Quotes:

“And he extended his great rude hand, into which the priest let fell his own, heartily. The smack of this hand-shake ran along under the arches and died away back in the organ pipes.”

“Simon Bombard often found life very bad! He was born with an unbelievable aptitude for doing nothing and with an immoderate desire to follow this vocation.”

(Volumes 1, 2, 3 here)

The more I read Maupassant, the more I figure out his formula: he starts out with a situation, has his characters get into an affair, and then gets the characters into some kind of situation in which they show a surprising side of themselves. At least, that was the way it felt in this volume, where 99% of the stories seemed to include a love affair.

This made for somewhat less interesting reading than usual–how many times can you read about an affair? Even so, it wasn’t that boring, because Maupassant has the ability to make anything interesting, even if he’s written about it so much that it should have become completely uninteresting.

He also tells compassionate stories of the downtrodden (prostitutes, orphans, etc.), which made for good reading (even though in this volume they usually wound up getting into affairs).

In any case, if you have decided to take the plunge and read all ten volumes along with me, I applaud you. If you haven’t yet decided to take that plunge, take it as soon as you can, because it will be much well worth your time. At least read one of his stories, and make that story be “Ball-of-Fat” (Volume One). From there, you won’t be able to stop reading Maupassant, and you’ll wish you had all ten volumes of his short stories in front of you so you could keep reading.

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

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

CNN Public Good: Provides money to organizations working in Ukraine such as Americares, Catholic Relief Services, and Oxfam America. Donate here: http://cnn.com/2022/02/24/us/iyw-how-to-help-ukraine/index.html

USA Ukraine Foundation: Provides grants and on-the-ground humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians in need. Donate here: https://usukraine.org/

Mercy Corps: Funds grassroots humanitarian organizations in Ukraine and provides food assistance to countries impacted by the war. Donate here: https://www.mercycorps.org/donate/war-ukraine-has-impacts-around-world-give-now

Lit in the Time of War: Maupassant, Ali, and McCulley

Hello! Happy Tuesday. I have read three books this week and have reviewed them below. I have also provided a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support Ukrainians in need. Please do so if you are able.

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant: Ten Volumes in One, Volume 3, by Guy de Maupassant

“The Academician was silent. And his companion, the political man, murmured: ‘Yes, indeed; we ought to occupy ourselves a little more with the children who have no father.’”

(Reviews of Volumes 1, 2, 4 here)

We’re back with the third volume of Guy de Maupassant’s complete short stories. They continue to be amazing, they continue to treat women as real people, and this time their plots actually become somewhat more interesting than in the past.

In a previous review, I mentioned that some of the stories he’d written were like sketches. This version also had some sketch-like stories, but they were more interesting than in previous volumes because they were set in countries other than France, and thus enabled Maupassant to make different and more intriguing observations than in the sketch-like stories he’d set in France.

I probably sound like a broken record already, but we’re only up to volume three of ten, so expect me to keep repeating to you: read this book. It’s terrifically worth it.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali, Ghostwritten by Delphine Minoui

“Compared to dreams, reality can be truly cruel. But it can also come up with beautiful surprises.”

This book was very interesting. It’s about a 10-year-old girl named Nujood who lives in Yemen, and whose father arranges for her to marry a man. She suffers abuse at his hands and finally runs away and becomes the first woman in Yemen to ever successfully divorce from her husband. She then goes on to inspire other child-brides to get divorces from their abusive husbands.

While the story was terrific, the person who ghostwrote this memoir didn’t write it very well. She made certain decisions that made this story unintentionally less powerful, like italicizing he when referring to Nujood’s husband—think things like “he was coming, he was here, he walked in, I couldn’t stand the sight of him.” Also, a lot of the story felt like a sketch instead of an actual story (compare it with First They Killed My Father and Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina).

Finally, I Am Nujood was strangely non-chronological—it jumped between the present of her seeking a divorce to the past of her becoming married back to the present of her seeking a divorce and back to the past. While there are a lot of books that do this amazingly (like practically everything Chingiz Aitmatov wrote), in this book it didn’t work because there didn’t seem to be any real justification for why the author was choosing to make these time jumps. It wasn’t like Nujood’s character developed in a very specific way that could only be seen by telling her story in this non chronological way, for instance. As a result, it came off more as distracting than helpful.

Overall, I would recommend this book for the terrific story it tells, but not for the way it was written. If you want to read terrific memoirs that are also terrifically-written, I would recommend another book.

The Mark of Zorro, by Johnston McCulley,
Read by Bill Homewood

Best Quotes:

“‘A maiden likes to be wooed of course, even though she has made up her mind [to marry].’ ‘I have a servant who is a wonder at the guitar,’ Don Diego said. ‘Tonight I shall order him to come out and play beneath the señorita’s window. ‘And not come yourself?’ Doña Catalina gasped. ‘Ride out here again tonight, when the chill wind blows in from the sea?’ gasped Don Diego. ‘It would kill me!’”

[Don Diego said] ‘Perhaps I may come out again to see you within a few days, if I survive this night. Buenos noches, Señorita. I suppose I should…ah… kiss your hand.’ ‘You need not take the trouble,’ Señorita Lolita replied. ‘It might fatigue you.’ ‘Ah, thank you. You are thoughtful, I see.’”

[Zorro said] ‘It would be an insult to my sword to run you through.’”

“‘You have about as much knowledge of a Franciscan’s principles and duties as has the horse you ride.’ [said the insulted man]. ‘I ride a wise horse, a noble animal! He comes when I call, and gallops when I command. Do not deride him until you ride him. Ha! An excellent jest!’ [said Sergeant Gonzalez].”

This book was so good. It’s about a woman, Señorita Lolita, who is being reluctantly wooed by the wealthy but boring Don Diego. Then she meets the masked bandit Zorro who everyone is chasing and trying to kill. Who does she fall in love with? You guessed it. Hijinks and fighting ensue.

It’s clear that the author had a terrific amount of fun writing this book, in the same way that Tolstoy had a terrific amount of fun writing War and Peace. The author of Zorro also made these keen observations of people and their nuances, which was unexpected. For instance, there were a bunch of vigilantes who were chasing down Zorro, only they weren’t doing it for glory or money justice as might be expected, but just because it gave them an excuse to have fun together and get drunk afterwards.

In terms of the adventure, it was very well-plotted and paced, the characters were very entertaining due to the author’s ability to observe them, and the story in general was very good.

Two things I would say: the book was very hypocritical and old-fashioned. Zorro puts a woman at gunpoint and forces her to kiss his hand. Then when he sees another man making unwanted advances on her, he gets all feminist, fights him off, and insists that women should never be forced to do things they don’t want to do.

There’s another part of the book where he forces some innocent people to take part in whipping a judge (which was framed as being a very heroic and noble act, totally uncorrupt and totally not like the corrupt governor forcing his troops to be complicit in oppressing the nobility by throwing some of them in jail for no real reason). So that was interesting.

The book was old-fashioned in that the author took for granted that Native Americans could only be servants, and that all women were unable to use swords. On the second point, it was interesting to see that even though the author could have gone the route of making the women all completely-helpless damsels in distress, there were some scenes where the women made daring escapes and rode horses better than the men who chased them. That was unexpected, and a bit refreshing, but the old-fashioned-ness of the book still stands.

Overall, if you’re looking for a very good action-adventure story with terrific twists and some sharply-observed (though sometimes old-fashioned and hypocritical) characters, I would definitely recommend this book. I’d especially recommend the audiobook version—the narrator took it to a whole new level of exciting.

Here’s a list of organizations you can donate to in order to support people in Ukraine:

UN Women—Provides food, water, and other essential resources to women and refugees. Donate here: https://unwomenusa.org/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=188

Care.org—Provides cash support, food, water, and other needed relief to Ukrainians, prioritizing women, children, and the elderly. Donate here: https://www.care.org/

The International Rescue Committee—Supports Ukrainian families in Poland by giving them food, water, and other vital supplies. Donate here: https://help.rescue.org/donate/ukraine-web

Plan USA—Provides psychological support to Ukrainian refugees and helps their children attend school. Donate here: https://www.planusa.org/humanitarian-response-ukraine-plan-usa/

Lit in the Time of War: Gelfand, Márquez, and Ung

Hello! I hope you are all well and have had a happy Juneteenth and Father’s Day. I’ve read three books this week and have reviewed them below, as well as providing my usual list of organizations you could donate to in order to help those in Ukraine. Please donate if you’re able.

Diary, 1942, by Vladimir Gelfand,
Translated by Google Translate

“The sun rises tender and good, the roosters sing in the farm. All is well in nature. Only people who invented wars, who kill each other, are bad. We do not know how to use life, which is so beautiful, we do not know how to enjoy it and love it.”

This is a diary of a Russian-Jewish soldier fighting in Stalingrad during World War II. I heard from other sources that it provided fascinating background on the war, as well as some unexpected insights, so I was interested enough to read one of the volumes. In this volume, the writer gets drafted into the war, and fights all the way to Stalingrad. There, he gets a finger-wound and passes out, and we are left in suspense until the next volume whether he has survived (don’t worry, he does).

My sources were right about this book giving unexpected insights into war. Based on what I had read in the past, I had thought that all the Soviet troops were drunk on the juice of Stalinist propaganda and were thus fearlessly throwing themselves into battle for the sake of Stalin. However, this book showed a different reality. Apparently, a lot of soldiers actually fled as soon as they could. They didn’t get enough food. They were also antisemitic (which actually was expected given Stalin’s antisemitism).

Less expectedly, the soldiers refused to follow orders. There was one part where Vladimir was trying to get his subordinates to dig a trench and they just flat-out refused because they were tired. There was also another part where his subordinate Khaustov made up all these reasons why he should get some sleep while Vladimir should stand guard. When Vladimir woke Khaustov up and said he wanted a chance to sleep, Khaustov just ignored him and went back to sleep.

Interestingly, Vladimir still drank the Stalinist juice in spite of this. He also wrote these clumsy descriptions of nature (“Steppe, steppe, steppe … Smooth as a table, quiet, as if dumb, grassy, like a freshly baked gingerbread, fragrantly smelling of its steppe flowers”).

Overall, if you’re looking for an unexpected view of World War II and aren’t afraid of Google Translating it, I would recommend this book.

Leaf Storm and Other Stories, by Gabriel García Márquez, Translated by Gregory Rabassa

“Suddenly, as if a whirlwind had set down roots in the center of the town, the banana company arrived, pursued by the leaf storm.”

This is a short story collection including the longer story “Leaf Storm” and shorter stories, including “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.”

I have an unpopular opinion about this book. I think that Márquez is extremely skilled at describing potentially-interesting events (Murder! Betrayal! Etc.!) in a very flat and uninteresting way. This was especially the case with “Leaf Storm”—characters have affairs, characters betray each other, characters commit suicide, but it’s all told in a detached, distant way. To me it felt more like he was describing something that happened to someone else he didn’t really care about instead of actually telling it while having an investment in it.

Interestingly, I also found a lot of similarities between his writing and Ray Bradbury’s—they were both poetic and descriptive, but for some reason I felt Ray Bradbury was able to bring an emotional keenness to his work that I didn’t feel as strongly in Márquez’s book. His characters felt more vivid, perhaps.

As you can see, my thoughts are all very subjective—I doubt Márquez really didn’t feel anything about the characters he wrote about, for instance. Also, I had previously read his Chronicle of a Death Foretold and vaguely enjoyed it, along with some of his other stories (“Tuesday Siesta” and even “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.”) So in this case, I think my review says more about my reading tastes than the quality of Márquez’s writing, which is very high, in spite of my thoughts about its emotional impact.

In the end, I would recommend you read this book so you could form your own opinion about it separate from what I say. You may actually enjoy it a lot. If you do, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, by Loung Ung, Read by Tavia Gilbert

“The next evening while sitting with Kim outside on the steps of our hut, I think how the world is still somehow beautiful, even when I feel no joy at being alive within it. It is still dark, and the shimmering sunset of red, gold, and purple over the horizon makes the sky look magical.”

This is a memoir about a young girl’s experience during the Cambodian genocide. It describes her experience in Cambodia’s capitol Phnom Penh beforehand, when her family lived in financial comfort. It describes her experience when the Khmer Rouge took over the country and she and her family had to work in forced labor camps for years. It describes her joys and her sorrows and her losses (the Khmer Rouge killed over a million people), and it conveys her emotions and thoughts with incredible honesty.

She described how she blamed herself for some of the tragedy her family went through (she stole food from them when they were all starving for instance), as well as the destructive thoughts she had about herself and the Khmer Rouge (she fantasized about violent revenge, for instance). At the same time she showed great humanity (sharing food with her siblings at other times). Overall, her book showed the remarkable strength of family bonds, but also how a brutal regime could turn people against each other and subvert their highest ideals.

It all sounds somewhat intellectualized when I write about it, so the best I could say is read the book for yourself. You will come away with a greater understanding of humanity, as well as the horrors of war and genocide.

I would highly recommend.

As promised, a list of organizations you can donate to in order to help Ukrainians in need:

World Central Kitchen—Feeds Ukrainian refugees as they cross into Poland. Donate here: https://wck.org/

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/

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

Human Rights Foundation Ukraine Solidarity Fund—Provides medicine, baby formula, food, and other urgently needed items to regions under attack. Donate here: https://hrf.org/hrf-launches-ukraine-solidarity-fund/