March 11th, 2017

Briana and Aunty Tara

Book 9 - 2016

Book 9: The Martian by Andy Weir – 369 pages

Description from
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

On New Years’ Day 2016, I flew from New York to San Francisco for the last leg of my most recent trip to the US (less than a 100 days to the next one). On the inflight entertainment was a movie I had wanted to see at the cinemas but had never got to – ‘The Martian’. I was travelling with my Mum, Dad and sister and we all got off the plane and went ‘Oh my God, how good was that movie?’. So needless to say, I went home and immediately ordered the book. I find film adaptations are either nowhere near as good as the book, or great but not necessarily true to the book. This book managed to be the rare combination of both a great film and try to the book. The film follows the story quite closely except for where it would have unnecessarily extended the film. Both versions capture the really beautiful humanity of the story – the idea that, if necessary, humanity, all of humanity irrespective of nationality etc, would work together to save one man because it was the right thing to do. Weir keeps the science mostly understandable, and he never makes Watney’s sarcasm and almost infallible optimism feel fake or forced. The story is an intriguing one, and the supporting cast are very real, their dialogue, interactions and personalities. Weir is one of the few writers who in reading I could hear similarities to my own style and I think that endeared me to the story even more. Overall, a great read, a great story, and I look forward to Weir’s future material.

9 / 50 books. 18% done!

2123 / 15000 pages. 14% done!

Currently reading:
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Book 9- Before Night Falls, by Reinaldo Arenas

9. Before Night Falls, by Reinaldo Arenas. This book, an autobiography, fulfills the category for reading a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative. Arenas grew up in Cuba, but was (barely) able to immigrate to the United States in 1980 as part of the Mariel Boatlift. Arenas lived in Miami for a short time before moving to New York.
He was an early supporter of Fidel Castro's revolution, but quickly became disenchanted with the Communist movement. It was heartbreaking to read about how he believed that one day Fidel Castro would be overthrown (Arenas died in 1990 at age 47 of an intentional overdose, three years after being diagnosed with AIDS.) Arenas describes, with raw honesty, his joining the Revolution, his growing realizations of how much worse things were becoming, his time in jail and his constant surveillance even after being released. He relates the grinding poverty, the hunger and the constant fear and persecution he and those around him experienced. It's astounding he was able to leave the country at all. He probably would have died in prison had it not been for the friendships he made with people in other countries, and the fact that his books had been published in France. It was fascinating to read how he was able to keep his writings hidden, and how he was able to smuggle a good deal of his work out of the country. It's an eye-opening account of life in Cuba under Castro's regime, and the stories Arenas tells are chilling.
One warning about this book: It's explicit. I mean, really explicit. Even at a young age (we're talking single digits here), Arenas had sexual exploits. To say Arenas was promiscuous would be an understatement. It's what he grew up with; the activities he engaged in at what most would consider an appallingly young age (not to mention just plain appalling) were the norm where he grew up. This realization was the only thing that kept me reading the book, otherwise I would have stopped early on. As it was, this one was a struggle to get through at times; it's borderline pornographic. At one point, Arenas said he probably had more than a thousand lovers, and I have no trouble believing that. I get the impression he didn't know the names of all of them, either. Yikes. I admit I would have trouble recommending this book due to this; it's a good read for those wanting to find out more about Cuba, from someone who saw and experienced the worst of what the Castro regime had to offer. But it's definitely not for the easily offended, and I think even those who consider themselves open-minded are going to struggle with some aspects of the explicit content.