Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges

Kirkus Reviews –

An unabashedly polemic, angry manifesto that is certain to open eyes, intensify outrage and incite argument about corporate greed. In the proud populist tradition of Howard Zinn (whose A People's History of the United States provides a foundation for this book), a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and a renowned cartoonist combine their talents for an illumination of the American underbelly, as the exploitation of a perpetual (and growing) underclass makes the "sacrifice zones" of global capitalism seem like Dante's circles of hell. Truthdig columnist Hedges (Death of the Liberal Class, 2010) was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and other newspapers, though he plainly feels that advocacy can come closer to the truth than what passes for journalistic objectivity. Sacco (Journalism, 2012, etc.) shared the American Book Award for Palestine (2002) and has subsequently earned considerable acclaim for his graphic narratives of war zones. Though the team has plenty of experience with international warfare, the war they document here is in America, where "[c]orporate capitalism will, quite literally, kill us, as it has killed Native Americans, African Americans trapped in our internal colonies in the inner cities, those left behind in the devastated coalfields, and those who live as serfs in our nation's produce fields." Through immersion reportage and graphic narrative, the duo illuminate the human and environmental devastation in those communities, with the warning that no one is immune. "The ruthless hunt for profit creates a world where everything and everyone is expendable…it has enriched a tiny global elite that has no loyalty to the nation-state," writes Hedges. "These corporations, if we use the language of patriotism, are traitors." While finding some surprising pockets of hope within communities that are otherwise steeped in despair, the pair reserve their concluding glimmer of optimism for the Occupy movement. Otherwise, they find no hope in politics as usual, depicting Democrats and Republicans as equally complicit in policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many. A call for a new American revolution, passionately proclaimed.

Gold by Chris Cleave

Kirkus Reviews

After the enormous popular success of his second novel (Little Bee, 2009, etc.), British author Cleave turns to the world of Olympic speed cyclists to explore the shifting sands of ambition, loyalty and love. Tom, who just barely missed his own medal in 1968, is coaching Kate and Zoe to represent Britain at the 2012 Olympics, which the 32-year-old women know will be their last. They are best friends but fierce rivals. Zoe, who already has won four Olympic golds, lives only to race and will do anything, including sacrifice friends, ethics and her own emotional needs, to come in first. Though technically as fast, Kate is a perpetual runner -up, and compared to Zoe, she seems almost soft; her willingness to put family needs first has caused her to pass up two previous Olympic competitions. And then there is Jack, who has his own Olympic golds. He met Zoe and Kate when the three were stars in a program Tom ran to train Britain's most talented adolescent cycling prospects. Jack was the sexy boy down from Scotland obviously bound for glory. Although he and Zoe shared a brief, highly charged and emotionally fraught affair, Kate was the one he fell in love with and married. Their little girl Sophie is the novel's real heart. Cleave has a gift for portraying difficult children who pull every heartstring. Battling leukemia and obsessed with Star Wars, Sophie furtively watches her parents' reactions to her illness. Kate both embraces and resents that she is the one who must make the sacrifices for Sophie, while Jack's commitment to his wife and daughter is deeper, if more complex, than Kate recognizes. Meanwhile, emotionally stunted Zoe is facing a personal crisis of her own, both public and private. Then higher-ups change the rules, and father figure Tom must choose whether Kate or Zoe is going to the Olympics. In weaker hands this would seem a bit contrived, but Cleave knows how to captivate with rich characters and nimble plotting.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Kirkus Reviews –

A post-apocalyptic novel in which Hig, who only goes by this mononym, finds not only survival, but also the possibility of love. As in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the catastrophe that has turned the world into its cataclysmic state remains unnamed, but it involves "The Blood," a highly virulent and contagious disease that has drastically reduced the population and has turned most of the remaining survivors into grim hangers-on, fiercely protective of their limited territory. Hig lives in an abandoned airplane hangar and keeps a 1956 Cessna, which he periodically takes out to survey the harsh and formidable landscape. While on rare occasions he spots a few Mennonites, fear of "The Blood" generally keeps people at more than arm's length. Hig has established a defensive perimeter by a large berm, competently guarded by Bangley, a terrifying friend but exactly the kind of guy you want on your side, since he can pot intruders from hundreds of yards away, and he has plenty of firepower to do it. Haunted by a voice he heard faintly on the radio, Hig takes off one day in search of fellow survivors and comes across Pops and Cima, a father and daughter who are barely eking out a living off the land by gardening and tending a few emaciated sheep. Like Bangley, Pops is laconic and doesn't yield much, but Hig understandably finds himself attracted to Cima, the only woman for hundreds of miles and a replacement for the ache Hig feels in having lost his pregnant wife, Melissa, years before. Although Heller creates with chilling efficiency the bleakness of a world largely bereft of life as we know it, he holds out some hope that human relationships can be redemptive.

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Kirkus Reviews –

The Count of Monte Cristo finds justice--after a fashion, anyway, and by the most roundabout of routes. Daniel Sempere leads a life of bookish desperation in a Barcelona still reeling from the years of the Franco dictatorship. His father is even more desperate; no one is buying his wares, and there are always bills to pay. It's with considerable if very temporary relief that, while his father is away from their bookshop, Daniel sells a rare copy of The Count of Monte Cristo to a shadowy stranger who uses it to send a message to a helper in the store: "For Fermín Romero de Torres, who came back from among the dead and holds the key to the future." Who is the stranger, and what does his dark message mean? Will Daniel's long-suffering wife run off, leaving the book retailer for a book publisher? Will anyone in our time read Dumas père's book without having to be assigned to do so? For that matter, why did Franco ban Dumas, and what kind of trouble is Daniel in for because he has a copy for sale? From those promising if murky beginnings, Ruiz Zafón's story takes off, resembling a Poe story here, a dark Lovecraft fantasy there, a sunny Christopher Morley yarn over there. The influences of those authors, to say nothing of Dumas and Balzac, are everywhere, though it's a little disconcerting to find a street girl talking like Oliver Twist: "It's me tits....A joy to look at, aren't they, even though I shouldn't say so." But Ruiz Zafón's story soon takes twists into the fantastic and metaphorical, heading underground literally and figuratively, to places such as the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a place that only good and diligent readers ever get to visit, and in which the solution to the mystery is lain. Ruiz Zafón narrowly avoids preciousness, and the ghosts of Spain that turn up around every corner are real enough. Readers are likely to get a kick out of this improbable, oddly entertaining allegory.

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