Monday, September 29, 2014

Europeon RC #4

I read this for the European Reading Challenge 2014.

The Radetzky March – Joseph Roth

This novel is set in the early 20th century, during the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Some critics have branded Roth’s purpose and tone as “romantic nostalgia.” But I think he was pretty clear about the decline of the empire. Adults seducing teenaged boys. Aristocrats exploiting the labor and bodies of the lower classes. Fathers spending to maintain the façade of gentleman, ensuring their sons will inherit nothing. Army officers on the frontiers, bereft of war to occupy themselves, gamble, duel, and chase women. Using third-person narration, Roth makes a similar argument to Ford Madox Ford in Parade’s End: moral and ethical deterioration starts at the top echelon of society.

People of all places in life know the empire will be history once the Emperor dies or a big war will shake everything down. Both, in fact, happened. Roth despises nationalism as a failure of different people to get along, though he sees as inevitable imperial domains breaking up in to smaller, squabbling states of Slovenes, Croatians, Hungarians, Czechs Germans, Russians, Ukrainians and Austrians. He also regrets that for some period of time people will feel lost, stripped of traditions and embarrassed by phrases such as “sacred honor” and “glorious sacrifice.” After the huge losses of the Great War, he asserts, people became modern and strong, in other words, callous "If a life was snuffed out from the host of the living," he writes, "another life did not instantly replace it and make people forget the deceased.... But everything that had once existed left its traces, and people lived on memories just as they now live on the ability to forget quickly and emphatically."

The Radetzky March is considered Roth’s masterpiece. I have read before only his shorter fiction and agree that this novel is worth reading for serious readers into novels about periods before wars. Roth (1894-1939) died of drinking, so his references to why and how heavy drinkers use alcohol feel true. Also he was born in a part of the Ukraine that was on the far borders of the empire, so he knows the region where he sends his characters. Readers who like novels about troubled relations between fathers and sons – and their inability to tell the truth to each other -- will find much of interest too. The sequel to this story, The Emperor’s Tomb, moves from the end of World War I to the Nazi ascension in Austria, which sounds like a novel any fan of Alan Furst – like me – would have to read.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Nonfiction RC #9

I read this book for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014.

The Globe Encompassed: The Age of European Discovery, 1500-1700  Glenn J. Ames

This book is an installment in the Connections Series for World History, which would be used in undergraduate general education courses such as World Civilizations. The aim is to provide an overview of a topic and provide selections from primary documents in books about 200 pages long. The first three chapters cover the empires of Portugal, the Netherlands, and Spain. The last chapter presents the English and French imperial experiences in North America.

Ames examines how "Old World" diseases devastated Native American populations in the Americas. Indians had no natural immunity to measles, smallpox and influenza. Demographers estimate that upwards of 80 to 95 percent of the Native American population died in these epidemics within the first 100 to 150 years following 1492. The most affected regions in the Americas lost 100% of their indigenous populations. I read this book in July, 2014 when people were expressing concerns about Central American migrant children who were supposedly carrying infectious diseases. Rich, indeed, very rich.

I recommend this book to readers who are seeking general information about the Portuguese, Dutch, and Spanish empires. The prose is a model of clear, precise writing. Before his early death at only 55, Ames was a well-regarded scholar of early modern Europe and the history of European expansion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

War Challenge #19

Read for the War Challenge with a Twist 2014 at War Through the Generations

Meanwhile Back at the Front – Gene L.Coon

Star Trek fans will recall that Coon’s Trek scripts such as "Arena", and "A Taste of Armageddon" had more reflective attitudes about conflict, diplomacy, and war than we would expect from TV even in the late 1960s.

As a Marine, Coon fought in the Pacific Theater in WWII. After the Big One, he was a China Marine and saw duty in occupied Japan. After WWII, he was a Marine reservist. Like many reservists, he was recalled to the USMC during the Korean War. He was assigned as a radio combat reporter during the Chosin Reservoir campaign and in GEN Rideways’ advance up the center of the peninsula. He brought all this experience to this comic novel about the marines and soldiers in the Korean War and published it in 1961.

Like Catch-22 though not as tragically absurd, it is simultaneously implausible and realistic. The satire of the war correspondents is bitingly funny. Examples of Hemingway-esque, overblown, and cliché-ridden style of war reporting generate many laughs. The large cast of characters provides various picaresque types, even real-life GEN Chesty Puller appears as “Gutsy Pusher.” All the episodes are loosely connected by a rambling plot involving a mobile bar-and-brothel in the combat zone. Predating the MASH books and TV show, the theme is the creative and daring individual versus the by-the-book collectivism of the military-minded.

With the stipulation that this is very much a guy’s book, given the emphasis on Marines and broads, this is an entertaining novel also about the uneasy place of reservists recalled to the Marines, the restive Marines under Army command, the rivalry of reporters with each other, and the tensions between embedded reporters and the military. He also pokes fun at the Marine self-image, which is something that only a Marine can do in safety, I imagine. Finally, it is worth reading if only because there must be relatively few comic novels about the Korean War not involving MASH uni

Monday, September 22, 2014

European RC #3

I read this for the European Reading Challenge 2014.

Princes among Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians- Garth Cartwright

This is part travelogue, part history about Roma music in Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania. He is completely engaged with his topic. He loves this kind of music and his fascination is infectious. His writing will drive us, compel us to YouTube where we can find awesome music that makes us want to dance and rejoice (click the links below).

The Romany, or Roma, are dispersed from Rajasthan to Ireland to North America but the Balkan countries of Eastern Europe are home to the largest Roma populations. They have been denigrated for centuries. My gentle grandmother, a Hungarian born in the early 20th century, told me when I was a kid to beware of “gypsies” since they kidnapped little kids, blinded them in one eye, cut off an arm or a leg, and made them beg on the streets. The first time I saw people I knew had to be Romany in the central market in Riga, Latvia I thought automatically, “Okay, watch out….” Funny how our default settings lie dormant, only to spring into action even after we are old enough to know better.

If only discrimination stopped with scary stories designed to make kids stay close to home. For centuries, the Romany have been socially and economically oppressed and victimized by injustice and violence. During World War II, the Nazis and the Croatian fascists committed genocide against the Romany. The Romanies were killed on sight or sent to labor and death camps. The total number of victims has been estimated at between 220,000 to 1,500,000.

Oppressed peoples turn to music to make their hardships easier to bear. The Romany listen to brass bands, violin and cimbolom virtuosos and captivating vocalists at weddings, funerals, and other events. Cartwright must cover a vast topic, but he does so by writing profiles of representative artists. He is less reliable on history and anthropology. Some readers may be able to shrug off his curt dismissals of Kronos Quartet, John Coltrane and Uriah Heep. But this reader can’t. Run down Uriah Heep. And get on the fighting side of me.

Click on the link to get to YouTube.

Cocek Shutka               Sudahan          
Molitva                         Ekrem  
Brau                             Fulgerica          
Kan Marau La    Fanfare Ciocarlia & Dan Armeanca
Boro Boro                     Kal      
Godzila                         Jony Iliev         
Revisko Oro                  King Ferus Mustafov    
I Barval Pudela              Saban Bajramovic        
Daniova Mama              Sofi Marinova  
Sunet Oro                     Kocani Orkestar
Nahtareja Mo Ilo Panljan Esma Redzepova
Ce Aysunu                    Dzansever Dalipova     
Ca La Breaza                 Toni Iordache, tambalist
Cocek Akana                Boril Iliev          
Rustem si suite             Taraf De Haidouks       
Dzumbus Funks            Boban Markovic Orkestar
Mahalageasca - Mahala Rai Banda
Cintec De Dragoste Si Joc - Taraf De Haidouks
Mundo Cocek - Boban Markovic Orkestar
Rachenitsa for the Bride - Ivo Papasov
Di, Murgule, Di - Nikolae Simion
Opa Cupa - Saban Bajramovic
Lume, Lume - Fanfare Ciocarlia
Romano Horo - Esma Redzepova
To Tsantiraki - Eleni Vitali
Felix Kolo - Boban Markovic Orkestar
Kadife - Omar Faruk Tekbilek
Taraf - Shukar Collective
Sofyisky Kjuchek - Ibro Lolov
Rom - Nikos Kypourgos