Friday, July 16, 2010

Review: Murder in the High Himalaya by Jonathan Green


Murder in the High Himalaya is one of those rare non-fiction books that elicited a myriad of emotional responses from me. I love mountain climbing and had for years heard rumors of the Tibetan plight. Yet, I had no real idea what exactly their hardships were outside of knowing the Dalai Lama was exiled and the Chinese occupied their otherwise peaceful country.

Jonathan Green compiled an incredible amount of data from the few witnesses willing to come forward and confirm the murder they witnessed on Cho Oyu. He brings the stories of the survivors, the deceased, and the witnesses together in alternating stories, weaving a timeline of events.

From this book, I was able to grasp the extreme hardships these peaceful people go through to leave Tibet, go to India, and meet their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Pilgrims die, they lose limbs, are imprisioned, beaten, tortured, threatened, separated from their families, and murdered. Despite the hardships of little food, water, clothing, and shoes, ane experience, a few make it through the Himalayas. Sadly, most do not make it.

I listened to the audio version of this book. While listening my emotions varied from sadness to hope, anger to tears.

At the center of the story the main focus bounces from a young nun names Kelsang and her best friend Dolma to American mountain guide, Luis Benitez. Luis and a few other westerners risk their careers and lives to get the story out. Romanian journalist Sergiu Matei had the wisdom to break out the camera and start filming once he heard gunshots. He smuggled the footage out of the country and refuting the Chinese press release on the incident, proved the coverup with irrefutable evidence.

The stories of the Tibetan refugees and pilgrims were heartbreaking but I sincerely appreciate the effort of Jonathan Green, and all of the climbers who came forward as witnesses to such a cold blooded murder of a young nun.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review: The Clouds Beneath the Sun


Set in the early 1960's, The Clouds Beneath the Sun revolves around Natalie Nelson, a freshly minted Ph. D. Suffering the loss of her mother, rejection of her father, and the breakup of her married boyfriend, Dr. Natalie Nelson heads to Africa to join an archaeological team digging in a Kenyan gorge. This digging season proves to be the most intense the experienced team has ever had. Two team members raid the ancient bural grounds of the local Massai tribe in order to have modern bones for comparison to the bones they have discovered. One of them is murdered. From there, problems arise in many forms: criminal, moral, and political; with romance and natural dangers thrown in for good measure.

I truly enjoyed The Clouds Beneath the Sun. The story never felt rushed or contrived. At over 450 pages, the author took his time to develop the story and the characters, as well as the believable setting. Although most of the book takes place either in the camp or in Nairobi, some of the best and most memorable parts of the book take place in the bush, at a secret lake, saving wildebeests, and over Christmas break in Lamu. Massai culture is touched upon, but certainly not a strong theme in this book.

Almost 4 stars for me!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


After hearing so much about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I finally picked it up. I am so glad I did. If you've ever heard the words, "The plot thickens" I have seen no finer example than in this book. The details spanning generations are skillfully woven together.

Lisbeth Salander is a fascinating character and central to the story. She is a ward of the state, a brilliant computer hacker, a justice seeker, and so much more. Working alongside Mikael Blomkvist they seek to solve the forty year old mystery of the disappearance of a young woman from a wealthy family.

The story is fast moving, intriguing, and never dull. I'm so glad I'll be able to jump right into the next two books in the series and see the movie. I am saddened though that the literary world lost such an amazing author before his time.

Review: The Good Son by Michael Gruber


I was incredibly disappointed with The Good Son by Michael Gruber. The book description sounded like a fascinating, but the more I read the more unlikely the story was. Furthermore, I found absolutely none of the characters to be even plausible. Most especially, I felt that Sonia Laghari was so detached, so unmotherly, and so unreal that it became irritating to read about her.

Sonia was one of the two main characters, yet I found it impossible to get inside her head and understand how she can be so robotic in words and actions. Even Annette, another character in this book, remarks that she has never known anyone like her.

I read the first two-thirds of the book in hardback, and finished the final third by listening to the audio version. I'm glad to see that this book has appealed to so many people and is getting great reviews at Amazon and LibraryThing, but unfortunately, it was just not a good read for me.

The only part of the book that I really found interesting was when Theo, Sonia's son, joins the mujahadeen and later goes back to Afganistan. I also found the Pashtun tribal culture to be very interesting.

Review: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress


Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was recently recommended to me and I'm so glad I read it. It's full of charming characters in very uncharming circumstances. Set during Mao's cultural revolution, the narrator and his friend are deemed intellectuals due to their middle school education and their parents occupations. They are sent to a remote mountain village in China to be "re-educated" by the peasants. While living in house on stilts, their life is never portrayed as dull despite the times they were living in.

This book follows their quest for banned literature, storytelling, and their affections for the little Chinese seamstress. I started reading this book initially, and then managed to get the audio version, and reader B.D. Wong uses his voice in such a magical way that it only added to the storytelling.