June 28th, 2012

a book's worth

Book 83: The Submission by Amy Waldman

Book 83: The Submission.
Author: Amy Waldman, 2011.
Genre: Contemporary. Social Issues. Religion. Art.
Other Details: Hardback. 299 pages.

Two years after the terrorist attack of 9/11 a jury is meeting to select the final design for a memorial for its victims to be built on the site of the World Trade Centre. The many anonymously submitted entries have been whittled down to a final two. 'The Void' has the backing of influential artist, Ariana Montagu; while 'The Garden' is favoured by Claire Burwell, a wealthy widow representing the families of those who had died on September 11. After a decision is reached the chairman of the jury opens the envelope that contains the name of the winning architect. When that name is revealed to be Mohammed Khan, an American Muslim, the jury is thrown into instant chaos. However, this is nothing compared to the response from the public when the news of his selection is leaked to the press.

I found this a very powerful novel dealing with a controversial topical issue. Waldman does an excellent job of detailing in a very realistic way how the situation spirals out of control as the media continues to fan the flames. Claire Burwell remains steadfast in her support of the design and is well aware that her late husband, who died in the attacks, would have been appalled by this kind of discrimination. Khan, who prefers to be addressed as Mo, is wholly secular holding no religious beliefs and while not unaware of the difficulties now facing him as an American Muslim, still seems quite naive in terms of the strong emotions unleashed by his submission for the memoiral. Throughout he remains a quite enigmatic figure; proud and ambitious about the legacy he wishes to leave in terms of his architectural work.

The novel raises many questions and I felt it was an impressive début for Amy Waldman. In her career as a New York journalist she did report on the aftermath of 9/11. The novel could be seen as a response to the 2010 Park51 controversy though the novel was already written in first draft at that point. Still, it demonstrates that Waldman's fictional events are indicative of the divided attitudes in America following the events of 9/11.

I am at a loss as to why this novel was not short-listed for the 2012 Orange Prize as it was well-written and tackled head-on a difficult subject, presenting all sides in a balanced way. Maybe it was a little too controversial? It was nominated for a number of accolades and won some awards. I am pleased that a member of our Orange Shadowing Reading Group raised the issue of its non-inclusion and brought it to our attention.

Official Website for 'The Submission' - the 'about the book' section contains the first chapter and other material.

#8-9: Sherry Jones, Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett

#8 Sherry Jones: Four Sisters, All Queens. (2012) 5/5
Historical fiction about the four sisters from Savoy, all of whom have become queens: Marguerite – wife of the French King Louis IX; Eleonore – wife of the English King Henry III; Beatrice – wife of Charles, a brother to the French king, who later became king of Sicily, and Sanchia – wife to Richard, a brother to the English king, who later became king of Germany.
I have really enjoyed this book. I thought the atmosphere of the Medieval Europe and of Outremer – the Holy Land was very believable. Also, the characters of the four very different sisters are well written. And I can only sympathize with each woman’s attempt of making her way in the world. Being a queen is not as easy as one might think. Going into a foreign country and forever being called foreigner, no matter what you did for the good of your new country.
Difficult to believe though, that Louis was that crazy – I am now on the lookout for his biography.

#9 Stephen Baxter & Terry Pratchett: The Long Earth (2012) 5/5
I am a fan of Terry Pratchett, and have never read anything by Stephen Baxter. So it is difficult for me to judge ‘who did what’. But then, perhaps, it is a mark of successful collaboration.
On a ‘stepping day’ the humanity suddenly finds out that people can step into parallel Earths. And there are millions of those. At least. And those parallel Earths are basically our Earth, which at some point happened to choose a different path of evolution. No people – just multiple paradises. And so people move out and go exploring and build new frontier towns and do what people usually do.
But Joshua and a former Tibetan Lobsang reincarnated as a super-computer go in search of the end of this new Long Earth. In the process they meet trolls and elves, but not as we know them, and discover a huge and horrible thing which causes those trolls and elves to flee across the worlds.
Not the laugh-out-loud funny of the Discworld novels. But I have enjoyed it tremendously. Wonderful characters, wonderful story… The idea of those multiple parallel worlds itself gives so much food for thought!
And the ending definitely implies a sequel. Can’t wait!


1984 by George Orwell
1/5    -bad
dystopia, adult fiction

Written in 1948, 1984 was George Orwell's chilling prophecy about the future. And while 1984 has come and gone, Orwell's narrative is timelier than ever. 1984 presents a startling and haunting vision of the world, so powerful that it is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the power of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of multiple generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions a legacy that seems only to grow with the passage of time.


Not really for me. Where's the action, where's the romance? I wasn't satisfied with the realization that the world should not be like that.

I didn't like the excerpts from "the book" either. That was just boring to me, and I thought about just skipping it.

I didn't like Winston. I never really connected to him in any way and I didn't really believe his opposition against The Party.

I really didn't like Julia. How she just all of a sudden decided that she loved Winston, how she didn't care to rebel and work toward a better future, she was really just annoying

  • Current Music
    watching Roseanne
  • Tags
Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

This is clearly going to be a week of graphic novels.

While sitting at the emergency vet clinic, I read Usagi Yojimbo #26: Traitors of the Earth. That's not the issue number of the comic book, that's the 26th volume of graphic novels. It amazes me to realize that Sakai has been writing and illustrating this comic for 28 years now. I still enjoy it for its artistry as well as the quality of the scripts. If you've never tried them, go back to the start; I'm pretty sure they're still in print.


One of the occupational hazards of reading things for a living is that books and papers accumulate.  One of the realities of doing the work of several people in an era of downsizing is that time to clear out the excess is hard come by or put to other uses, such as maintaining a web journal.  Thus comes Robin Zasio, the staff psychologist for A&amp;E's Hoarders, and her The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life.  Book Review No. 20: sneak up on the task, clear it out a little at a time.  If you're considering the book as a nudge to a friend or family member whose housekeeping skills you find deficient, read it first.  Will it earn a place on the shelf and contribute to the hoard library?  Probably not.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

book and cup

#66The World that was Ours - Hilda Bernstein (1967)

The World that was ours, originally published in 1967, and was written at a time when Hilda Bernstein had to disguise certain names and incidents to protect some of the people she had left behind her in South Africa. Amendments were then made later to the original text when it was safe to do so. This is an extremely well written political memoir by the wife of Rusty Bernstein, one of the men in the Rivonia trial, tried alongside Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu – he was later acquitted – but only after having suffered months of mistreatment and isolation in prison.
Hilda Bernstein details the everyday lives of people like her, who had a home and family, had work to do, children to raise, but who lived everyday with the fear of the Special Branch and possible arrest.
“11 July 1963
There was a sense of unease all afternoon. It was true there had been many such days and nights and the premonition is only recalled in its full oppressiveness after disaster has been realised; many, many such times; the precise cause, the months and even the years of them have silently blurred, lost consequence.”
Yet the thought of leaving South Africa for people so committed to their cause was extraordinarily hard – do they leave their friends and colleagues? – Or stay and risk being separated from their children? Imprisoned within a system that becomes harder and harder to fight. The Bernsteins risk everything; they are under enormous pressure and frequently know a very real and almost paralysing fear – which Hilda Bernstein describes brilliantly. The tension and claustrophobia of the South African regime is absolutely palpable. Yet through it all Hilda’s love for her husband sees her through these unimaginably difficult times.
“I held on to Rusty, touched him, kissed. We sat clasping each other, alone together. There was nothing in the cell except the narrow bench against the wall. At first we could barely talk, then we began softly, intimately. It was sheer, unbelievable happiness. I thought if I could sit for an hour a day close to you like this, Rusty, just holding on to your hands and talking, life would be completely bearable. That’s all I want – just an hour a day in close, quiet contact, alone. At that moment it seemed like the fulfilment of all ambition.”
I found the first part of this book where Hilda describes the lives she and her family are leading, both fascinating and poignant. It is almost inconceivable that these things were happening within living memory. I wonder if I would be able to hold quite so fast to my principles in the face of such fear and intimidation. For me however the details surrounding the actual Rivonia trial were rather less exciting than I had expected them to be – but were interesting, thorough and complex. I did find myself frequently horrified and incensed by the prosecutor Yutar, an often nasty tempered, irrational man.
After Rusty’s eventual release – Hilda is the one who now must fear for her freedom. It becomes clear that the Bernsteins must leave. However that is rather easier said than done. To leave involves great secrecy. It is not possible to just go, Hilda needs to judge it just right, she will be leaving her children behind, at least in the short term. However while keeping one eye on the road outside and the garden path, ready to flee; she gets on with her washing. Such is the life of a woman living with the threat of arrest in 1960’s South Africa. The details surrounding Hilda and Rusty’s flight steps the action up considerably. I found it unimaginable – to be driven through the dark at great risk to an unknown destination – into an unknown fate, no guarantees when or even if, they will see those they love again.
The World that was ours is an enormously readable memoir which highlights brilliantly the evil injustices that were practised in South Africa – and the extraordinary men and women who stood up for what was right.