29 March 2009

Written in March

While resting on the Bridge at the foot of Brother’s Water

The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter
The green field sleeps in the sun;
The oldest and youngest
Are at work with the strongest;
The cattle are grazing,
Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one!

Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill;
The plowboy is whooping- anon-anon:
There's joy in the mountains;
There's life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!

-William Wordsworth

25 March 2009

3. The Light of Men by Andrew Salmon

Another book from the 50 Books Book Club, which, so far, has accounted for 2/3 of my 2009 reading. I do have some books in the works, and plan to have a late spring flurry. I will also preface this by saying that I have not read the other comments as I write this review, though I will once I finish this post. I will include links to Olman's review, so you can find the others.

This was a difficult book for me to get into. Though by the third chapter, when I thought I had it figured out, it picked up pace until it was clear that I didn't have it figured out at all. Then it kind of dragged while I got over my disappointment.

Set in a WW2 concentration camp, we begin with the arrival of a boxcar of new prisoners that includes our main character, Aaron. Unnaturally savvy and cagey about prison-camp survival, Aaron soon blends in. And then he begins to work his way up the unofficial/prisoner pecking order until he can earn a meeting with Kreuger, the prisoner who runs the prison-mafia.

Aaron promises Krueger access to some exceptionally valuable diamonds in exchange for a few favors. Deal in place, Aaron moves into the Jewish section of the prison. There he meets John, a evangelic Rabbi who wants to recruit everyone he meets for a Revolution against the SS.

As part of the deal with Krueger, Aaron is able to befriend and protect one of the newly-arrived prisoners, Sol Liebman. Why he wants to do this is unclear until about halfway through the book.

I have to say that I was not really what kind of book I was reading. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be expecting some kind of WW2 survivor narrative, fictional or not, or some kind of alternate history. But when the first big reveal came, I have to admit to a certain level of satisfaction. I figured it was something like that. Aaron just knew too much about the camp, the prisoners, Sol, Krueger, and the real end of the war. So, I read on, and figured that I was reading some kind of alternate-reality story. But I had a sneaky suspicion I was being duped along the lines of "For the Love of the Game" which seems to be about baseball, but turns out to be a cheesy love story. Fortunately this fear was misplaced.

But when the real big reveal came, I have to admit to a certain level of disappointment. I didn't reject the idea with the now-legendary disdain that I rejected the warrior polar bears of the Golden Compass, but I have to admit that it was pretty, pretty, pretty close. Time travel was one thing. This was another. I'll just say that I felt like Ripley in Aliens and leave it there.

The end, then, was just playing out my hand and seeing how it all came together. I am glad I read the book, but it didn't offer me anything new. I feel like I have been in that concentration camp before. I felt like I had worked that black-market prison structure before. I knew the moves; I knew the reactions; I knew when to duck and when to jump.

Maybe I would have enjoyed it better with a little more clarification on the back cover. Even as I was getting deeper into the story, I just didn't care that much about the new prisoner's "mysterious agenda," or whether he was an "allied spy or a Nazi collaborator" (neither of these were alluded to in the text, either. Everyone just seems to accept Aaron for the cryptic he is.).

(And I also know what you are going to say, snobby-English teacher doesn't like anything written after 1969, but that's not it at all.)