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The Human Body
The Human Body
par Paolo Giordano
Edition : Relié
Prix : EUR 24,01

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Superb novel about serving in Afghanistan, 2 octobre 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Human Body (Relié)
Paolo Giordano (PG)’s 2009 debut “The Solitude of Prime Numbers” sold over a million copies in Italy alone and has been translated in over 30 languages. In a recent interview he said the constant media attention and book signing tours in Italy and abroad seriously delayed his PhD dissertation in particle physics. When the storm died down and with his PhD finalized, he wrote for an entire year with his head only, not his heart, ending up with a few short stories he considered fit for human consumption. So, when offered the chance to go to Afghanistan as a journalist embedded in an Italian Alpine unit, he seized it with both hands. In the interview PG said it was his cure and salvation.
This second novel has several layers and reads like a thriller. It is about the boredom of some 200 Italian troops serving in Afghanistan in a remote, hilltop FOB near Helmand province: poor food, bench-pressing, posturing and pestering, gaming, phoning home and making rare inspections of the village below, heavily armed but with plenty of sweets for the dirty, fly-ridden children. There is nothing to enjoy and no sense to what they are doing, pacifying Afghanistan from a hilltop.
When Lt. Egitto, the unit’s medic and due to go on leave after six months, is phoned by his sister Marianna , their exchange of words and feelings prompts him to forego his leave. Another six months of duty lie ahead, which he is quite prepared to suffer with the secret supply of anti-depressants he has brought along. Why? For readers to find out.
This reader is stunned by how brilliantly PG has composed and written this book. His characters are superbly drawn and cast during and after Lt. Egitto’s fateful second tour: naïve and gullible Ietri, Torsu and his dubious online girlfriend, Lt. Egitto’s vengeful ex-girlfriend or macho soldier Cederna, who added 2.000 euro worth of internet-procured extras to his basic gear, and so on, all lost souls, right up to the ebullient, balls-scratching colonel in charge.
CNN is reporting high suicide rates among US veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 20 per day, perhaps 8.000 a year. This novel ‘s cast of characters feels that the Taliban follow their every move and inevitably, it comes to a dramatically described engagement. In the novel’s final part, PG sketches the psychological impact of the mission on some of them , also back in Italy.
Veterans from many countries who fought in Afghanistan and survived their tour(s) of duty intact in terms of body and mind, will probably enjoy this book about this hapless unit. Written with so much empathy and black humor, this novel may have therapeutic value too. Instantly re-readable and highly recommended.


Amriika
Amriika
par M.G. Vassanji
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 14,33

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Going West, 27 septembre 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Amriika (Broché)
This sprawling, ambitious novel is about the challenges immigrants with a deeply traditional background face in the US. It is about tall Ramji, born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania whose grandma raised him. He is part of the Shamsi community who follow an old Indian syncretistic mix of Hinduism and Islam. Feeling insecure in India, many Shamsis followed an ancient prophecy and began moving West, first to East Africa in the late 19th century.
In the late 1960s, Ramji excels in school and wins a scholarships to MIT at a time of massive students protests against the Vietnam war and the military-industrial complex. The plethora of good causes sometimes baffles him, but he becomes a fringe activist too.
Still in Dar, Ramji was shocked by Robert Kennedy’s murder and scared of going to the US. But fellow Shamsi and newspaper editor Darcy and his grandma both firmly pointed their index fingers westward. What follows is an account of 27 more years of Ramji’s life and his Shamsi community’s movement westwards. Ramji ‘s early, marginal involvement with student radicals will come back to haunt him decades in LA, where he moved after years in Chicago.
As a book character Ramji comes across as bereft of his early brilliance. No word about what he studied or why he flunked out. He is skeptical and ambivalent about religion and his own community’s faith, his radical student friends’ beliefs and later, the contents of the magazines and books he markets or distributes, radical or ‘alternative’. He does not fully embrace pure reason either. He is loyal to close friends, soft mannered, simply not born to die and leaving a large footprint behind.
The novel has strong and weak parts. A stern editor would have slashed a lot of superfluous text. In all, this is an intelligent and emphatic novel with a sad ending. But also a construction of a phantom community without roots in fact or history.


The Solitude of Prime Numbers
The Solitude of Prime Numbers
par Paolo Giordano
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 7,28

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Awesome and immediately re-readable, 17 septembre 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Solitude of Prime Numbers (Broché)
Brilliant debut novel about childhood issues like having a suffocating father, a crippling skiing accident and life-long anorexia. That is Alice. She will find much later a measure of solace working as a photographer and marrying a kind, young medical doctor. But.... She and Mattia meet on a number of occasions and at different ages in this book spanning 24 years (1983-2007). Mattia is socially unfit from an early age. When his twin sister disappears through his fault, he spends the rest of his child years, teenage and adult life filled with remorse. But he scores top marks in school, then at university and soon after graduation in mathematics he is offered a teaching post at a foreign university. He is totally lucid and brilliant about math, unable to make small talk or discuss anything else.
Prime numbers can be divided by themselves and by one. They live in pairs like 11 and 13 or 41 and 43. They suggest incompatibility with normal numbers that can be divided easier. Such pairs become rarer in the upper numerical regions. Midway in the book, Mattia jots down a lengthy number, much larger than the earth’s population, whose final digits are 49 and 51. He has quick formulas at hand to find if they (Alice and himself) are such a stellar pair, but is afraid of the possible outcome, and desists.

Giordano’s finale is intriguing with so many possible choices. It is for readers to find out how he ended this tale. Otherwise, I have not read any reviews of this great book, but the novel also presents a quiz question to me: in which foreign, coastal university with a distinctive logo (a bird of prey) has Mattia worked for 9 years? Situated some 600 km NNW of Turin as the crow flies and facing the sea when the sun rises? And with salmon sandwiches for lunch? There is no such place. There is only solitude.


Never Go Back (with bonus novella High Heat): A Jack Reacher Novel
Never Go Back (with bonus novella High Heat): A Jack Reacher Novel
par Lee Child
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 6,53

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Not good, not bad, 8 septembre 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Never Go Back (with bonus novella High Heat): A Jack Reacher Novel (Broché)
The title is all about Jack Reacher (JR) ‘s fateful return to the 110th MP base he commanded long ago in the state of Virginia, near Washington DC. During a recent adventure in South Dakota, he phoned its present commander. He liked her voice and hitchhiked his way East. Once he arrives near the object of his curiosity, things change rapidly: she is quickly arrested for corruption, JR is arrested for two historical offences.
What follows is plot-wise totally silly, as usual and full of the usual stuff, like using the laws of averages and probability, breaking limbs and outsmarting the enemy. This reader grows a little tired of aging Reacher’s absolute prowess in mind and body matters after 18 books. But this one is a lot better than its two predecessors, which occurred only weeks before this one. Why? For once, he is operating in busy urban areas again, not in isolated locations. Also, author Lee Child (LC) paints a scary picture of the surveillance capacity of the Department of Homeland Security via internet and mobile phones, esp. when bad people within have free access and control.
LC plants two warnings in this tale: check what you once sent and now receive back when leaving a war zone and watch the military logistics companies closely. My copy contains an encore in the form of a long story about JR as a 16 year old strutting his stuff. Brr.


The Three Evangelists
The Three Evangelists
Prix : EUR 7,04

4.0 étoiles sur 5 A New way to write and read about murder, 1 septembre 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Three Evangelists (Format Kindle)
The three evangelists’ real names are Marc, Lucien and Mathias. They are aged 35, unemployed historians and in deep shit financially and career-wise. They find and make a dilapidated 18th century house in Paris habitable in return for an ultra-low rent which they can just about raise between themselves. The trio occupies a floor each, with Marc’s uncle Armand, 68, a sacked police inspector moving into the attic. The ground floor is a monastery-like refectory. No TV, no telephone, which, being penniless historians, is perhaps no surprise. Only Lucien holds down a lowly teaching job. Marc’s last stint of paid work was ghostwriting romantic pulp novels; Mathias tried out being a car mechanic.
But why should a paleontologist like Mathias, expert in hunting and gathering and averse to shoes and clothing, be good with engines? Or a medieval scholar like Marc indulge in writing set pieces when so much mystery surrounds 11th century feudal relations and village markets? Lucien, the temp teacher, studies strangely neglected aspects of WW I and is perhaps best able to function in the here and now. At least, he owns a tie and wears it to work.
Shortly after their move into their new lodgings, a tree is planted in their neighbours’ garden, which worried the lady of the mansion, a former opera soprano. She disappears soon after. What follows is a warren of amateur and professional investigations, suspicions and accusations about real historic and emerging deaths, weird conversations and a surprise ending.
This reader has read almost all Fred Vargas (FV) crime novels in the wrong order. But they stand alone. No damage done. They should not be read as pure police procedurals. They are hard to summarize afterwards. They are fruits of the fertile and quirky imagination of a serious historian and archaeologist. Her plots are always challenging re plausibility. Police work, if any, is rarely decisive. Her books are eminently forgettable, except for their great, sometimes brilliant atmosphere and the obvious pleasure with which FV fabulates book after book about deep French fears.


The Man Who Smiled: Kurt Wallander
The Man Who Smiled: Kurt Wallander
Prix : EUR 6,27

3.0 étoiles sur 5 At times implausible, 28 août 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Man Who Smiled: Kurt Wallander (Format Kindle)
This slow 1994 thriller sees the return to work of chief inspector Kurt Wallanger (KW), 49, after a lengthy medical leave. He intended to sign his resignation into effect, but remorse about the recent murder of a man he used to know, makes him change his mind. Why remorse? Because he refused to help the man when he asked for it. Days later the man was murdered.
Throughout the thriller KW is tired, depressed and irritable. He lives on coffee and fast food and sleeps badly. One cause of his Nordic gloom are his feelings of futility regarding his job: fewer crimes are solved in Sweden than almost anywhere else in Europe. Ever fewer uniformed police on the streets and more administrative staff at the station are the result of endless reforms whose main outcome is to achieve budget cuts. The unsolved 1986 murder of prime minister Olof Palme also weighs heavily on the force and KW’s midlife crisis: how to carry on? Finally, there is the belief in Sweden, also in law enforcement, that business tycoons and their families to whom the country owes its wealth, are immune to committing crimes, and therefore sacrosanct, above the law.
Because one such a mover and shaker, Alfred Harderberg, is the only person who could possibly have ordered the first murder. After slow and painstaking investigations KW and his team uncover more, apparently unrelated killings, and KW becomes a target himself. He also faces trouble from within the force in his efforts to confront the iconic tycoon.
This thriller takes place in late 1993, not long before the internet and GSM revolution erupted. Google and countless other apps and devices key to police work today had not been invented or introduced yet. Still, Mankell predicts in this book that it is bound to become more dependent on electronics through keyboards, screens, CCTV, mobile phones and massive computing power. Mankell wrote this book in the age of the telephone booth when people still wrote letters to each other.
Also, today thrillers with chapters of 25+ pages are widely considered unreadable; 6-8 page chapters is the norm now. Finally, Stieg Larsson must have thought: this can be done better. And he did.


Guilt
Guilt
par Ferdinand von Schirach
Edition : Relié
Prix : EUR 24,10

4.0 étoiles sur 5 A humane take on criminal justice, 15 août 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Guilt (Relié)
The author, now 50, is one of Germany’s most prominent defence lawyers. It is likely the 15 cases described here are constructs rather than reconstructions of real crimes from among the 2.000 cases he has thus far been involved with. Von Schirach has a way with words that crosses borders. His books are hits among crime buffs and law students.
This collection of cases is stunning in its diversity and impact. None of the cases is typically German. They deal with various aspects of a key judicial term, guilt. The searing opening tale “Funfair” shows how powerless judges and prosecutors can be when the accused choose to remain silent. Its longest story “The Key”, the book’s most violent and most hilarious tale, focuses loosely on Lebanese criminal families in Berlin. Other cases include a trio of juvenile Satanists at a boarding school, a cold case solved via DNA, a sadistic husband and a case about a convicted paedophile.
Von Schirach expresses his admiration for Germany’s code of criminal law, which dates back to the 19th century and which clearly defines deadly crimes against persons. Every murder is also a manslaughter, but how many manslaughters are murders? In one spectacular case von Schirach realizes only after the judge acquits his client that the judge was smarter than he himself and knew all the time what really must have happened. A perceived weakness of German criminal justice is the size of its apparatus in large cities: in a case of mistaken identity a man is wrongly charged with a crime he could never have committed. In another case rural judges are shown to have more leeway than their colleagues operating from within massive institutions.
Best of all, von Schirach is a gifted stylist and a born storyteller.


Dog Will Have His Day
Dog Will Have His Day
par Fred Vargas
Edition : Relié
Prix : EUR 20,21

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Weird and brilliant, 15 août 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Dog Will Have His Day (Relié)
Newcomers to Fred Vargas (FV)’ oeuvre gasp during the first 50 pp of any of her 10 crime novels, wondering what is happening and why, and why things are not explained step by step as other crime writers do. This confusion also affects aficionados like me. Her novels (FV is a female historian and archaeologist) defy the rules of the genre.
This second book in the Three Evangelists series finds Louis/Ludwig Kehlweiler (LK), 50, without a job but not without work. He was recently sacked as special investigator at the Ministry of the Interior, but his army of informers in Paris and every French province remains in place and with subscriptions to French regional newspapers he keeps his big private archive up to date. His archivist (2 hours per day) is Marc, one of the 3 evangelists: dirt-poor, underemployed historians living in a ramshackle house, with Marc’s uncle occupying the top floor: St Luke is obsessed by the Great War, St Mathew by prehistory and hunter-gatherers, St Marc is a medievalist. Marc’s uncle was dismissed from the Paris police for letting a murderer go.
LK finds a suspicious human bone in Paris. It prompts him, then Marc, then the paleontologist to travel to a Breton fishing village rife with secrets and intrigue. FVs crime novel breathe a unique atmosphere, often tackling primordial French fears and hosting a cast of eccentric characters. As police procedurals the main protagonists use rather quaint methods and techniques: LK his vast archive of newspaper cuttings and his spies, whilst Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg (hero of 7 books) relies primarily on his intuition. This book’s characters include a collector of rare typewriters, a 70-year old former prostitute, a war criminal, a former girlfriend and pit-bull Ringo. Full of what French people love, arguing and philosophy, plus a string of brilliant twists and turns, regularly punctuated by LK sighing ‘I could do with a beer’. Great translation, too.


The Collini Case
The Collini Case
Prix : EUR 6,93

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Great legal thriller with deep roots, 8 août 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Collini Case (Format Kindle)
To date, Ferdinand von Schirach’ (FvS) has published a collection of legal cases and two legal thrillers. They were all short works that became bestsellers in his native Germany when published in 2010, 2011 and 2012. He is also Germany’s most famous defense lawyer. There his work is widely read not only by law students but also by a general public he has made aware of the strengths, weaknesses and quirks in German criminal law, and how it is applied. And because of his his unique family background.
“The Collini case” is about the brutal murder of an 85-year old industrialist in a top Berlin hotel room in May 2001. The murderer is a giant of a man, an Italian auto worker at a Mercedes factory, of unspoken behaviour, retired after 37 years of service. He notified the hotel staff of what he did . Arrested, he confesses but remains silent about his motive. His court-appointed defense lawyer is recently-graduated Caspar Leinen.
Early on young Caspar is shocked because of his closeness to the victim, who was his substitute grandfather. Legal and moral issues emerge, e.g. should he take the case and If so, how to build a defense case for a murderer who does not want to be defended? Caspar chooses a pro-active defense and surges ahead, researching the personal and family history of the murderer and his victim. Here this reviewer stops about what happens next.
On to the message of this book, as far as I understand it. The key question appears to be: who exactly can be termed a murderer during WWII and be charged with murder under German law, before and after a fateful amendment passed without vote on 1 October 1968? The 1947 Nurnberg trials indicted and sentenced only top Nazis for murder although it is likely none had killed anyone personally. All those below who executed their orders, real or in their spirit, in their many awful capacities all over Europe during WW II, faced a potential charge of being accessories to murder, whose statute of limitation is not lifelong as for murder, but 20 years...
Law students should spot another German WW II war crime committed all over Europe and confirm or challenge/dispel von Schirach’s claim that the practice was sanctioned, albeit under strict conditions, by 1940s international law.
Ferdinand von Schirach is economical with words, plots this books brilliantly, creates a crime, a search for truth and several family histories, a fleeting love affair and a courtroom drama. Enjoy Caspar chatting with the baker operating below his office: FvS is a natural storyteller and writer. Finally, his international success depends very much on the quality of his translators.


Biography of a Buick
Biography of a Buick
par Bill Morris
Edition : Broché

4.0 étoiles sur 5 "What's good for GM is good for America", 5 août 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Biography of a Buick (Broché)
Highly entertaining account of the lives of about a dozen persons (loosely) connected to the Buick division of General Motors in Detroit during 1954. Then, everything was just fine with low inflation, high employment and a 50 dollar down payment for a 1954 Buick Century. A career and another 80 dollar deposit and one was owner of a brand-new home. Detroit is described as an industrial powerhouse with GM at its centre, the biggest company of the world, and as a metropolis attracting talent from everywhere. After Warsaw the city with the highest number of Polish people. Migrants from the South manned its factories and defined its music, later to be fused into ‘Motown’.
BM has spruced up his intrigues, betrayals and ambitions of the main protagonists with numerous cameo roles of famous or up and coming writers, musicians, movie stars, politicians, etc. This works well with e.g. Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassidy, famous from “On the Road”, helping out Buick with a logistics snag, driving a brand-new 1954 Century nonstop from Detroit to Manhattan. Another cameo is Ray Kroc, who made McDonalds big and is shown how he became a Buick fan. Other cameos fail to convince, like Buick trying to contract Marilyn Monroe for an ad campaign, or are plain offensive, such as Morris’ portrayal of author Vladimir Nabokov.
The main characters are for readers to enjoy. All make fateful decisions in 1954, some on impulse, others in a calculating manner and a few loose ends remain at the end of the book. But close readers should pay attention to Claire Hathaway, who inaugurates this novel…
Otherwise, enjoyment is enhanced by having YouTube and Google on hand to see the 1954 Buick Century and other feats of technology mentioned, or hear Ornette Coleman play “Ray’s Pitch” (allegedly named after a chance meeting with Ray Kroc), or an early Elvis Presley 1954 recording.
Bill Morris has produced a cleverly-plotted, politically-rich and well-documented novel about a once great American city. Today, Detroit is a shadow of its 1954 self, almost bankrupt, de-industrialized and depopulated. This page-turner from 1992 is an unplanned memorial to its greatness before, during and after WW II as the motor of American prosperity and power.
I have not said half. Very nice read, despite some flaws and defects. Deserves wider readership


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