December 17, 2017

Hope: The Underlying Message of Ben Winter’s Underground Airlines

Ben Winters wrote Underground Airlines (Mullholland Books, 2016) ostensibly to bring attention to the lingering pernicious affects of slavery in America, but his inventive story can also be read to show far we have come from the days when slavery was legal. In Underground Airlines, an escaped slave––whose true name we never learn––has been coerced into serving as a slave catcher for the U.S. Marshall’s Service. Slavery persists in this alternate history as the result of a 19th century constitutional compromise that allowed each state sovereignty over the issue. In the time of the story slavery remains in four states—a situation that has engenered extremely negative consequences for the rest of the country, undermining its economic and moral status and […]
December 2, 2017

Annie Proulx’s Barkskins: Cements Her Status and Tells an important Story

Barkskins by Annie Proulx My rating: 4 of 5 stars A tour de force rendering of the history of the deforestation not only of North America but beyond told through the personal stories of three dozen (at least) characters beginning with the settlement of North America. Barkskins begins with the lives of two indentured servants–characters whose lives we quickly realize are less important to Proulx than what they reveal about the attitudes and actions of the European settlers on the natural environment, including their relations with the native Americans they came in contact with starting at the end of the 17th century to the present. Proulx’s need to have a vehicle to tell the story of the forests lessens the […]
May 11, 2017

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen: A Review

Forty plus years after the U.S. abandoned Vietnam to the Communists, Viet Thanh Nguyen captures the duplicity of all sides during the Vietnam war and its aftermath in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer. Reading Nguyen reinforces my belief that I was on the right side in the 1960s when I joined the anti-war movement before it imploded in the 1970s, exhibiting similar excesses to those perpetrated by the North Vietnamese (and Cambodians) on their own people. The American anti-war movement morphed into an anti-American movement with groups like the post-SDS Weather Underground waging war on the American working class for failure to take up arms against the American government. In Vietnam, the victorious Communists subjugated anyone and everyone […]
February 7, 2017

How Liberalism Divides America: A Review of Shelby Steele’s Shame

Shelby Steele, Shame, How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, Basic Books, 2015 Don’t be misled by this small book’s subtitle, or even the title for that matter. Neither reflects Shelby Steele’s thesis that post 1960s Liberalism is built on a house of lies that has relegated many blacks and other minorities to positions “of inferiors and dependents.” (179) Shame reveals among other things why eight years after the election of the first African-American president, issues around race still divide our country. Steele also explains why Liberalism seems to be more about absolving whites and government from America’s past than helping minorities overcome that past and why conservative commentators are not taken at face value. To understand Steele’s thesis […]
November 3, 2016

Two Book Reviews

Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef (2010) I was privileged last spring to hear Mosab Hassan Yousef speak about his evolution from an honored place in the “Palestinian” world as the eldest son of one of the founders of the terrorist organization Hamas to an agent of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service to Christian refugee in the United States. I chose to read his book because I hungered for more details and a better understanding of his role in helping Israel combat Hamas-inspired terrorism and to better understand the basis of his rejection of Islam and his conversion to Christianity. No doubt many “Palestinians” since the decision 68 years ago by Arab religious and political leaders to attempt to destroy […]
June 11, 2016

Not Surprising, Most of Richard Russo’s Fools are Men

Everybody’s Fool is the follow-up to Nobody’s Fool, Russo’s 1994 portrait of Donald Sullivan and life in North Bath, New York––a fictional community that is a compilation of Gloversville, where Russo grew up, and Ballston Spa, Saratoga Spring’s step sister. Sully is older now and has been told he needs a defibrillator. He’s also come into some money––his trifecta paid off more than once, then his high school English teacher left her house to him. Unable to work his usual jobs and not needing the money, he pays less attention to his sidekick Rub than the latter would prefer, but still ends most days on a bar stool in his favorite watering hole. While Sully was “nobody’s fool” in the […]