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The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

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Standard detective tale in alternative history setting. When it is this well done I can accept the familiarity of the plot as long as the characters are so memorable and the setting is there for more than novelty factor. Predictably well written if not earth shattering stuff.
Easter

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An exploration of faith and organised religion told via the stories of a couple of dozen people linked in some way to the parish of an Anglican church in Hampstead with healthy dose of HIV added in. The first fifty pages are the best start to a book I have ever read. The rest of the novel might not keep up that amazing standard but it doesn't lose sight of it. Wonderful book.
The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq

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Rory Stewart takes on a various government roles in the provinces of Iraq during 2003 and 2004. The reading I have done on the occupation and the CPA have either been from the point of view of the military or very Baghdad centric. This is the view from the forntline of the occupation in South Iraq,. The attempt to crow bar Western ideals into Iraqi culture and it underlines the absolute futlity of 99% of the work attempted in that first year. How anyone could keep their patience when met with incompetence, misunderstandings, deceit and cowardice to the level seen here is beyond my understanding. Bureaucracy seems determined to make life tough for itself, the military are playing by their own rules but they won't share the rulebook, the bewildering number of factions seem more interested in hamstringing each other rather than moving forward. It is a tragicomic tale and while don't agree with all of RS's conclusions I do applaud his efforts and recommend this book to anyone puzzled as to how we made such a mess of the whole situation.
The Kindness of Women

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The follow up to Empire of the Sun which told the story of Ballard's childhood in Shanghai before WWII and his subsequent internment. Perverted, drunk and highly talented. Ballard's struggle to deal with the scars of his childhood in Shanghai shape his life. The first half of the book is by far the more interesting. He journeys back to England, pursues different careers and has a lot of sex. He marries, has children but always finds himself as on outsider to general society. Determined not to conform to societal norms yet too closely tied by his family to fully break free into the counterculture lifestyle which he skims the surface of. After a life changing incident the book changes. Always the outsider now Ballard seems unable to engage life fully and the second half of the book portrays a life lived vicariously. Sex, drink, drugs and Shepperton shape the rest of his life. The last chapter, which shows his reaction to seeing his own life story on the big screen in 'Empire of the Sun' is a fitting finale to two books which are gripping, disturbing and tear inducing.
The Gate

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Intriguing memoir of a French academic caught up in the Khmer Rouge uprising. Bizot found himself taken as a prisoner by the Communist forces and, following his release, central to events at the French Embassy. Bizot has an alternative world view and his straight faced disbelieve is at times comical. He is honest to the point of being painful. Unfortunately the pacing is uneven at times and the jumble of events and names can become confusing. This does not lessen the emotional impacts which come thick and fast. Bizot is capable of beautiful prose and his idiosynchratic telling of this tale fits the oddness within it very well.
Second Lives

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Tim Guest starts of on a very interesting note looking at the impact Second Life has had on the life of a group of people with Cerebal Palsey. Unfortunately from that point onwards he seems to have become rather more enamoured with spending his time in game rather than writing his book. Too much time is taken up with Tim Guest's personal issues and obsession and the book sometimes retreats to the quality of a blog. There is insight here and some commentary but if he had stuck to his original plan and lived up to the promise of the first chapters then this could have been so much more. Patchy.
Johnstown Flood

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David McCullough rocks my world. Takes a dam high in the mountains shoddily rebuilt by rich pleasure seekers, take a badass storm, mix together with the best historian in the world evertm and you have another compelling book. If it wasn't true you wouldn't believe it.
The Fifth Child

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Using the tool of the birth of an unusual child to a large and mostly happy family this book examines how the choices a parent makes can affect those around them. This was marketed to me as a horror story but it fails on that level. Where it succeeds is in examining how relationships hinge on other relationships and how a new person entering into a social web causes can cause far reaching changes. Only 150 pages long, packed with insight and details this story explores the mandane via the supernatural and pulls it off nicely.
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