"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

This is the story of Deo, a survivor of the Tutsi-Hutu genocide in Burundi and Rwanda and how he fared after escaping to America. Even though he was a medical student in Burundi, he started life in America as a homeless person living in New York's Central Park, who made a subsistence living delivering groceries. Through a series of almost miraculous encounters, he was able to lift himself up, graduate from Columbia University, and build a medical clinic in his native Burundi. Deo's is a life still in progress, and although his clinic is a triumph, we know he still has great things ahead of him.

Kidder's writing is very vivid and immediate, and is told from Deo's point of view, so you feel as if you are traveling and experiencing all this with Deo. In particular you feel that he's not much better off as a homeless person in America than he was on the run in Africa, except that in America no one is trying to kill him.

On the other hand, because events are presented out of sequence, the vivid writing does not build much tension--the narrative starts in 2006 with Deo's return to Burundi, so we know that he has survived all the events that are detailed later and has prospered in his new country.

Unfortunately about 2/3 through the book something happened. The author changed his writing style from third-person (from Deo's perspective) to first-person, and in my opinion, the story lost its fizzle.

That being said, I would recommend the book simply for the first 2/3 - I enjoyed it that much. Just be warned that you may leave the book feeling... fragmented.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Summerland by Michael Chabon

I found this book to be mediocre. The writing itself was beautiful at times. Chabon's knowledge of various folklore and legend was impressive, although I found his mix of them sometimes confusing. The four worlds was an interesting element, particularly given how Chabon used them to explain phenomena in our own. And of course, Chabon's love of baseball shone through brightly. Not being a baseball fan myself, I didn't find those parts particularly compelling, but the passion in them was undeniable.

The story, however, is why I hesitate rating this book higher. Many of the characters were fun and memorable - Ethan, Jennifer T., Cutbelly - but the "bad guys" were rather one-dimensional. Many of his minions, too, were much too black-and-white for my taste. The progression of the story chiefly annoyed me. The characters often seemed to advance more thanks to a series of fortunate circumstances than through any action of their own (Thor just happens to be a shadowtail, Pettipaw conveniently shows up at the right moment, the stick Ethan finds happens to be magical). It seemed heavy-handed.

All in all, I'd say that this book is probably pure magic to a baseball fan, but in terms of fantasy, it's nothing to write home about.