more books

Mar. 13th, 2015 01:30 pm
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
The Chinese Bell Murders by Robert van Gulik (11) Another interesting set of Chinese mysteries from the Dutch Sinophile and diplomat van Gulik. Judge Dee handles a crime of passion, a gang of smugglers, an ancient feud, and a suspicious monastery with the help of this two trusty lieutenants and his dependable sergeant.

Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman--from World War to Cold War by Michael Dobbs (12) It would take some time to give this book a proper review, but as an opener let me say that I found it much more satisfying then the similar work by Michael Beschloss that I recently listened to. Some of the difference is doubtles due to the latter having been an abridged version (I hate those), but I find Dobbs to be, among other things, simply a better writer. That said, what stands out is the richness of detail and the vivdness of the character portraits he provides, things that might well be compressed in an abridged edition. Likewise, the breadth of the topics touched on is incomparably to the advantage of Dobbs's book. One fair point of comparison, I think, is that while Dobbs introduces a good many of the people invovled in the events of the period, from US Ambassador Averill Harriman and Soviet FM Molotov right the way down to the American and Russian soldiers meeting for the first time along the Elbe River, his focus remains on the principals: FDR (and later Truman), Stalin, and Churchill. Beschloss spends a tremendous amount of time and attention on Henry Morgenthau, Jr. While he was an important advisor to FDR and a major player in the considerations behind Allied treatment of postwar Germany, it makes little sense to pay more attention to him even than to Roosevelt, especially given that his plan for the occupation, though an important chip in the three-power game of poker, wwas never implemented.

The Wages of Zen by James Melville (13) and A Sort of Samurai by James Melville (14) I've started rereading Melville's Superintendent Otani mysteries, enjoyable stories about a mid-ranking Japanese police official in the city of Kobe. Otani, who served briefly in World War Two, is in middle age when we meet him in these tales, set in the 1970s. Otani-san is ably assisted by two colorful characters, Kimura-san, who handles the department's contacts with foreigners, and Noguchi-san (informally known as "Ninja"), who deals with Kobe's underworld denizens. Otani's wife, Hanae, often figures as a supporting character, and his radical-turned-solid-middle-class daughter and son-in-law are never too far away. In The Wages of Zen, the police are called in to a Zen temple to investigate drug smuggling that isn't but soon find a murder has taken place. In A Sort of Samurai, Kimura's language skills and debonair charm are required as the police investigate a suspicious death and some related unpleasantness. Melville (real name R.P. Martin), an Englishman, spent many years in Japan in various diplomatic and cultural positions and was well able to give Western readers a glimpse into the world of postwar Japanese culture. I imagine that his Kobe of the 1970s and 1980s might seem almost as foreign to today's younger Japanese as it was to European and American readers when the novels were published. Melville's stories are entertaining and enlightening without being hugely demanding; his characters are genuine and full o f personality, well rounded rather than simple cut-outs.

The Ultimate Battle: Okinawa 1945—The Last Epic Struggle of World War II by Bill Sloan (15) My reading of this follows my reading of Sloan's book on the battle of Peleliu, Brotherhood of Heroes. Since the two campaigns followed each other as well, many of the US Marine Corps men familiar from that book appear here as well, almost like old friends. Reading Brotherhood was wrenching, a tiny glimpse of the horrific conditions of fighting, even living, in the conditions that Marines suffered under in that battle being enough to turn one's stomach. The same can be said for Ultimate Battle, which conveys the brutality, the awfulness, the bitterness of losing friends and comrades, the horror of warfare, the frightful conditions on the ground, the mixture of fear and adrenaline rush of fighting off kamikaze attacks at sea, the stolid determination of the Japanese military (who knew they could not win the battle in any sense of the word) to inflict as much damage as possible on their enemy before they died, and of the destruction and terror of the native Okinawan noncombatant population, truly the shrimp crushed in the battles of the whales. Even the aftermath, in which is detailed the end of the war and the last attempts by fanatics to hold out in Japan, even to the extent of trying to overthrow the wartime government and the emperor in order to keep fighting, is fascinating. And the recounting of the postwar lives of the men who survived the fighting, who have become familiar to the reader, is heart-warming in its assurance that so many were able to find purpose and live on to ripe old age, many of them being interviewed by Sloan for the book, sixty years and more after the war.

In progress:
Blackett's War by Stephen Budiansky
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Crisis on the Danube: Napoleon’s Austrian Campaign of 1809 by James R. Arnold
McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales edited by Michael Chabon
The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
The Teeth of the Gale by Joan Aiken (20) The third of Aiken's YA "Felix" trilogy. Entertaining account of Felix, who rejoins a friend from an earlier adventure, venturing into the murky world of early 19th century Spanish politics. Ever the young caballero, Felix journeys to help a beautiful lady in distress and has more adventures in the desolate mountains of northern Spain. Enjoyable while not terribly deep, this story neatly rounds out the trilogy of tales about the young Anglo-Spanish nobleman.

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull (21) I first encountered Emma Bull when I read the novel Freedom and Necessity, which she co-wrote with Stephen Brust. That novel is based in history; this, written ten years earlier, is one of her best-known novels, a classic urban fantasy, with a young woman being dragooned into joining a war between two supernatural factions. Romance, music, knights of faerie--it's all here in an enjoyable story draped in what felt to me like charmingy dated 1980s aesthetics (written in 1997, so that last is a little misleading).

The Chinese Maze Murders by Robert van Gulik (22) van Gulik was a Dutch diplomat, writier, and musician. Born in the Netherlands, he spent most of his life in East Asia, first growing up in the Netherlands East Indies and later serving in the Dutch foreign service in Japan and China. Van Gulik loved Asain traditional culture, especially Chinese art, literature, and jurisprudence. He translated a traditional Chinese novel, of a genre somewhere between the mystery and the police procedural. Quite taken by this Chinese genre, he wrote new novels in this form, using historical settings and legal cases taken from his research, hoping that these would appeal to modern Chinese and Japanese readers, who at the time (1950s) were very taken with Euro-American detective novels. The novels proved even more popular in the West, and van Gulik eventually published over a dozen of them, which appeared in English, Chinese, and Japanese translations.

This is the first novel he wrote himself (though not the first in in-story chronology). It illustrates some of the characteristics that van Gulik found most interesting about the original Chinese style, including the simultaneous unraveling of several different plots; the pattern of the central character being a magistrate who investigates, prosecutes, and judges his cases; the importance of the public nature and ceremony of examinations and sentencing of prisoners; the importance of maintaining the symbolic unity and propriety of Imperial rule as a means of ensuring it's practical stability. The one element he reportedly changed was that traditional Chinese "detective" stories employ an inverted format, where the details of the crime are known ahead of time and the dramatic tension come from the investigator's own growing understanding of them. Van Gulik thought that readers would prefer the method more traditional in the West, of allowing the reader to discover the facts of the case as the same time as the investigator.

I found this quite enjoyable. I was able to find a cheaper copy in the Apple (book)store; it has van Gulik's pen and ink illustrations, but is produced from an older edition with fewer bells and whistles and the occasional typo, but for what will likely be a one-off reading, I can justify the cost of a $5 e-book of an old edition more easily then the $9 cost of an e-book of the most recent printing.

Brotherhood of Heroes: The Marines at Peleliu, 1944--The Bloodiest Battle of the Pacific War by Bill Sloan (23) This deserves a fuller review than I can provide right now. But I will say that it strikes me as an excellent history of a military action, as it provides strategic context, a factual narrative, thorough and careful detail of tactical, doctrinal, and practical issues that someone not intimately familiar with the subject may not know, and it also engages the reader by providing a lot of personal/human context by skillfully weaving in the accounts of individual soldiers involved in the battle. It left me feeling as if I had gotten a clear and detailed look at the events of the battle and gotten to know many of the participants.

I also began listening to, and then stopped and returned, John Mosier's Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914-1918. I have to say, frankly, I detest his work. He represents what, to me, are some of the worst traits of amateur military historians. He wants to be notorious, controversial, iconoclastic, and for the most part always comes off, to me, as shallow, self-important, and sloppy. He starts off Verdun by trying to convince the reader that French geography is confusing, idiosyncratic, and impenetrable, that it confused and confuses most military officers and historians, both from foreign countries and even from France itself. His evidence for this is that wartime documents and postwar histories of the Verdun battle use terms like "the Argonne" or "Lorraine" or "Burgundy" that were not specifically delineated entities with legal borders. That's like saying that a history of Virginia is confusing because it refers to the Peidmont and the Tidewater, which are not legal entities (today, "Lorraine" definitely *is* a legal and administrative entity, which makes me wonder if it wasn't in 1914 or if Mosier screwed that up too). He complains that authors frequently mean different things by referring to "Verdun"--sometimes the city, sometimes the Région Fortifiée de Verdun. Well, yes, sometimes names mean more than one thing; but I'm unwilling to beleive that most historians of the conflict are unable to clearly indicate which they mean.

In progress:
Roman Blood by Stephen Saylor
How Can Man Die Better: The Secrets of Isandhlwana Revealed by Mike Snook
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (coffee cup)
Never let a civilian into or through your forward lines--if he's up there under fire, he's out for no good. Our fellows have got to remember that a kid or a woman may be a sniper that'll kill. Don't move out of the areas we control. If some G.I. goes wandering off on his own ... he may he picked off a few houses down the street. Stay away from women; we've had boys have their throats cut before. In villages, watch out for the [tall towers on religious buildings] —that is the [enemy's] favorite place to put a rear guard.
It may look timely, but it's actually
Read more... )
winterbadger: (coffee cup)
We Flew Without Guns

I was looking for something else (as I always am) when I found this. It's an autobiography of a guy who flew "over the Hump" for the China National Aviation Corporation, a "private" company that supplied the Nationalist Chinese government in southwest China by flying across the Himalayas from India. They flew out of Dinjan, in Assam, the same airfield used by the US Army Air Corps and where, I'm pretty sure, my dad was based during the war. So they were almost certainly in the same place at the same time, and they may even have run into each other.
winterbadger: (FOWija)
a China-Burma-India-theater issue of the Army weekly magazine Yank

I wonder if my Dad read it...

More here, along with a wealth of information about the CBI

WTF?

Oct. 16th, 2007 07:51 am
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
Beijing has strongly urged US President George W Bush to cancel a planned meeting with the Dalai Lama, saying it would "seriously damage" relations.

Mr Bush is due to host Tibet's spiritual leader at the White House.

On Wednesday, Mr Bush is due to attend a ceremony at the US Capitol where the Dalai Lama will receive a Congressional Gold Medal, a top US civilian award.

It will be the first time a sitting president will have appeared in public with the 72-year-old Buddhist leader.


I'm horrified by that last piece of information, but pleased that--if he does nothing else of value in his term as president--George Bush will have repaired that mistake.

I completely fail to understand how this country can continue to have normal relations with China, given that they invaded and seized another country and are attempting to ethnically cleanse it (and parts of China with non-Chinese populations) by suppressing their language and culture and religion and importing settlers. These are things that the US did in the 18th and 19th centuries to Native Americans and is deeply ashamed of now; how can we stand by and tolerate it in China?

Well, apparently we're OK with it in Israel, so I guess China is just a matter of scale... :-(

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