Chris' Fish Place

Thoughts on things, mostly books.

 

 

                             

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You Say you Want a Revolution

Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits: The Crime Spree that Gripped Belle Epoque Paris - John Merriman

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

 

      

I live in a neighborhood that has anarchists.  Granted, my philosophy is different, and I don’t quite understand why an anarchist would always have the most up to date computer, but hey, they seem pretty nice even if they smell of pot much of the time.

 

                That’s my view of anarchists, who are usually squatters in my neck of the woods.

 

                Needless to say, those types of Anarchists are not the ones that Merriman is writing about.  Merriman’s history is about the bandits that committed crimes during pre-WWI France, but it is also about the anarchist movement in France at the time.

 

                Merriman opens his book with the holdup of the Société Générale.  This is the Bonnot Gang.  Of course, like most criminal’s people who were not involved with the crime spree where caught in the net.  It is two of these – Victor Kibaltchiche and Riette Maitrejean.

 

                Merriman takes him time in laying the foundation for the action.  He provides more detail of the Belle Époque period, showing the trends and political movements that gave rise to the Anarchist movement as well as the various threads of that movement – illegal activity vs philosophy.

 

                For that is what sometimes gets lost in a discussion of anarchists, at least in the media.  They become simply bomb throwing, gun shooting radicals who populate the media.  Merriman’s book illustrates that in some cases it was a life style, including vegetarianism and foregoing of items such alcohol and salt.

 

                Maitrejean and Kibaltchiche are at the heart of the story, for they seemed to have known everyone, and part of the drama of the story is the dragnet that captures are in its wake, regardless of involvement or not.  It is their fate and the fate of their family that moves the story forward.  Merriman’s prose is invigorating enough to carry the reader along.  There are also little details, such as the horror of balsamic vinegar that actually illustrate the dedication to the cause. Honesty, you must strongly believe in something if you are willing to give up such a wonderful thing.   Such small details actually make the history more interesting and in some ways more real.

 

                Considering the current political climate, the book might be timelier than intended.  It is also to Merriman’s credit that he does not romanticize the Illegalistes.  Despite the title the book isn’t one of the romantic retellings of an outlaw life.  In many ways, while the reader does end up feeing some sympathy for the bandits, or at least a few of them, the cost to others not involved in the Illegalistes is not ignored.  This is done by the not only the use of outsiders but also by showcasing the debates within the movement itself.

         

Gaming Book out in June about Elf Warfare

Elf Warfare (Open Book) - Chris Pramas, Hauke Kock, Darren Tan

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

 

                My love of elves dates back to the first time I read Lord of the Rings.  It was because they were ageless, spoke funny, or seemed so wise.  It was because they used bows and arrows.  This is because one of the first movies I ever saw was Robin Hood.  Honesty, if the orcs had been as skilled with bows as Robin was, I would be constantly wondering why everyone painted those poor, misunderstand orcs as evil.

                It’s true.

                Osprey’s book about Elf Warfare written by Chris Pramas taps into the fascination that many people have with elves, whether or not said people only like them because of the Robin Hood collection.  The book is ideal for any gamer or writer.  Osprey presents the various fighter types as well as various battle formats.  It is in one part source book and one part history, with a sprinkling of storytelling thrown in. 

                Highlights include a nice bit about how elves work with allies- be they human or animal and a detailed discussion about how elven armies and how they are designed.  There is at least one illustration that looks like it was Bloom’s Legolas inspired, and one does wonder a bit about some of the Elven women’s battle dress.  But those are quibbles.

                It is a quick fun read that can spark creativity.

Out now

Theatre Royal: 100 Years Of Stratford East - Michael Coren

This is an Endeavour Press reissue of a previously published book, originally published on the hundredth anniversaries of the Stratford East Theatre Royal in 1985.

 


The writing is a bit dry for this brief history of Stratford East’s Theatre Royal, yet the book is well worth a read. Coren gives a belief overview of the Theatre’s early history and then gives much detail about what was then the theatre’s later history. Understandably, much of the book is given to a detailed discussion of the Joan Littlewood years. Coren is direct in reporting that he was unable to interview Littlewood, yet more than makes up with the use of other interviews, He not only gives some details about the productions but also gives much attention to the workshops. What comes across quite clearly in the book is Coren’s enjoyment of and fascination with the theatre.

Out in sept

To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen's Account of a War Criminal Trial - Kathy Kacer, Jordana Lebowitz

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

 

                When the trial of Oskar Groening of aiding and abetting the killing of Jews in Auschwitz. started, I actually discussed it with a student.  We had both seen the series on Auschwitz done by BBC and Lawrence Rees.  In it, Groening is interviewed.  My student wonder two things – why it took so long for Groening to be arrested, especially after the interview and whether her interest in the Holocaust was wrong.

                She would like this book.

                In many ways, Jordana Lebowitz reminds me of that student with an interest in something that happened long before her birth.  True, Lebowitz is Jewish and my student was not.  But the burning need to know is something that they have in common.  Though guts and determination, Lebowitz is able to make it to the trial and witness it.  This book is the story of that determination and the trial itself.

                Sadly, the book is far from perfect.

                Now, don’t get me wrong.  There is much that is good in this book.  In many ways, this is a book that most teens and young adults should read because it makes connections between then and now.  Lebowitz’s story not only shows the importance of history and remembrance, but how the younger generation can get involved. 

                Yet, there is also a sense of wanting something more from the book.  In part, this is due to the chosen style.  Referring to Lebowitz in third person, doesn’t work.  It actually distances the reader in a way that is a bit disconcerting, and the use of passive voice doesn’t help in terms of this.  There are also some weird juxtapositions – like the overlooking of Lebowitz’s grandmother’s reaction to her granddaughter’s proposed trip.  Perhaps this reaction does have something to do with the Holocaust as well?  The inclusion of Groening’s testimony , while understandable, is also somewhat strange as it is taken from sources, something that is only made clear at the end of each entry.

                The thing is Lebowitz’s blog on trial, done for the Simon Wiesenthal center, doesn’t suffer from this.  Undoubtedly, there are copyright resections and such, but if Lebowitz had had more of a voice, I wonder if this book would have been a smoother read.

                That said, it isn’t a bad read.  It is one worth reading, especially for teens and young adults.

Out Oct 3

Haunted Nights - Lisa Morton, Ellen Datlow

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

 

                Who doesn’t love Halloween?  Okay, it’s true that in some areas of the country, you will have near adults dressed in nothing more than a cheap mask ringing the doorbell and then being upset that they haven’t received a whole Snickers bar, but, hey, it’s Halloween, and look at those Princess Leias.  Brings a bit of hope about the future generation.

 

                But as most people can tell you, as the Princess Leias illustrate, there is also an attempt to make Halloween less scary.  Some schools have forbidden scary outfits, and most customers in my neighborhood recently have been superheroes and princesses.  (And that is another issue).  While it is understandable not to want to frighten young children, the sexualization of costumes and the move to cute, does tend to be a bit disturbing.  Look at the difference between male and female Iron Man costumes, for instance.

 

                Thankfully Morton and Datlow hew to the original concept of Halloween in this well edited collection.

 

                All the stories are set on Halloween (or on a related festival).  All the tales are spooky and focus on the darker aspect of the holiday.  Thought, it should be noted, that cute can still make an appearance in one or two tales.  But it is cute with a big bite, lots of sharp teeth, and you know, it is going to leave a scar.

 

                Seanan McGuire’s “With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfbane Seeds” starts the collection.  It is, on the surface, a haunted house tale (what better way to celebrate Halloween), as well as makes us of the idea of Mischief Night.  It is a good teen story too, at least in terms of the idea of needing and wanting to belong to a group.  It’s a rather quiet study of it, and while the subject matter and execution are completely different, in many ways it reminds me of Kij Johnson’s “Ponies” – the most chilling story about peer pressure ever.

 

                Which isn’t in this collection, but McGuire’s short story is just as good, so if you liked “Ponies”, read it.

 

                McGuire is followed by “Dirtmouth” by Stephen Graham Jones, a tale about fame, death, and afterlife.  To say much more would be giving a bit too much away, so I won’t.  Let’s just say, it makes a good companion piece to “The Monkey’s Paw”.

 

                Look, if you are over 12, and don’t know “The Monkey’s Paw,” I can’t know you.  Sorry.

 

                Perhaps Jonathan Maberry’s “A Small Taste of the Old Country”.  Considering the Trump’s administrations misstatements, false statements, or missteps (you can pick the word, I prefer lies) in terms of the Holocaust, Maberry’s somber story is a good rebuke to all those statements.  It also, like most good fiction, raises questions about justice, remembrance, and freedom.

 

                Joanna Parupinski’s tale “Wick’s End” makes good use of several folklore and tale motifs as does Kelley Armstrong’s “Nos Galen Gaeaf” (which is set in Cainsville).  Additionally, both stories make excellent use of the idea of storytelling.  Phillip Pullman’s “Seventeen Year Itch” also makes use of this idea and combines with the overuse trope of a madhouse.  Yet, he writes quite a spooky story.

 

                Jeffrey Ford gets bonus points for placing a tale in the New Jersey Pine Barrens but not including the Jersey Devil.  Paul Kane too plays with the sounds of footsteps, and John R. Little sets a Halloween on the moon.  Work by Pat Cadigan, Kate Jonez, S.P. Miskowski, and John Langan round out the collection.

 

                In all, the short stories are strong and contain a good deal of spook and spine tingles.  The emphasis is on fear rather than shock.  This isn’t to say that there is not blood, but the horror is more psychological than shock with blood spurting.  Not there isn’t the odd spurt or so.

On the AHCA

The saddest thing about this current presidency is the number of friends I feel that I am losing. It’s only gotten worse with the AHCA. How can anyone with a shred of decency be happy about a bill that allows rape to be classified as a pre-existing condition?

 

Think abou it.

 

 Rape. Pre-existing. Condition.

 

A rape victim could be paying a higher premium (or be priced out altogether) while his/her attacker can still have no problem gaining and keeping insurance. Let’s not forget – rape victims are not just women. Rape is underreported, but men vastly underreport it.

 

I know a few people who call themselves Christian and yet support the AHCA. They aren’t even in Congress. For them, it comes down to the whole abortion is bad belief. Yet, what they are also saying is that a woman’s life is worth far less than anything else, even that bundle of cells in her body. Even worth less than a possibility of that bundle of cells in her body.

 

Combining this bill with the defunding of Planned Parenthood means women will lack basic and needed medical care. Pap smears and mammograms are not covered. Because why? Because the people who wanted this don’t have vaginas. Or, as one twitter post commented, haven’t touched one in years.

 

With Planned Parenthood underfunded and in some cases having to close centers, women will lack access to pap smears, mammograms, and pre-natal screening.

 

Rape. A pre-existing condition.

 

I’m going to keep repeating that because it is important.

 

According to RAINN, every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. 60,000 children are victims each year.

 

Rape. A pre-existing condition.

 

60,000 children becoming/joining higher cost/risk pools under AHCA each year.

 

Being in those pools for the rest of their lives.

 

While women (and girls) make up 90% of victims and men 10% (according to RAINN), it should be noted that men unreported far more than a woman. If women face questions about being able to fend off an attacker, think of the questions a man faces.

 

According to the work of Debra Rowland, insurance companies have long denied covering contraceptives because women chose to have sex (see Boundaries of Her Body 271). Viagra and other male aids are covered because they have other uses.

 

The thing is that for women contraceptive devices have other uses as well and the obstacles that women have to overcome to get it covered are ridiculous. I had to have a IUD installed because of continuous heavy bleeding.   Incidentally the packages of Always I went through on a weekly basis weren’t covered either.

 

Imagine always bleeding, therefore always exhausted, and always worried about an accident because of heavy clots. And your job is standing in front of people and talking.

 

Then add the hoops.

 

My insurance doesn’t cover contraceptives and that is what an IUD is. First, I had to call my insurance. Then my doctor had to send them the medical history. Then the insurance says yes, only to say no on the day the device is installed. Then yes, again. Then no, again. I get sent a bill. A month of phone calls later, it finally gets straightened out. If it wasn’t for the last woman I talked to, I would have had to pay $1500 dollars.

 

Do men have to go thought that shit to get a blue pill?

 

Rape. A pre-existing condition.

 

It took years for marital rape to be a crime. Today, studies have discovered that partner violence includes a forced pregnancy (such as a husband raping a wife). Kate Harding cites that 64% of rapes are not reported, 12% of rape cases feature an arrest, and 2/3 of cases are dismissed (Asking for It 106).

 

If a woman who is already struggling to pay for standard and needed exams or birth control is raped, under AHCA why the hell would she report it? Those numbers are only going to get higher.

 

Now tell me we don’t live in a rape culture.

 

I dare you.

 

I cannot help but reach the conclusion that if you support AHCA, you support the punishment of women for being raped. It is honor killing but in another form, isn’t it?

 

AHCA endorses the rape myths, even if only passively – she asked for it, it wasn’t rape, she wanted it – and so on. After all, she must be punished somehow for wanting the morning after pill – a form of an abortion for some people. That is, if she can get access to the pill at all. We have cases of women who have reported being raped being prosecuted under their school’s honor codes for getting drunk (see: “At Bingham Young, a Cost in Reporting Rape” by Jack Healy writing for the NY Times).

 

And if you support the punishment of women for being raped, I do not want to know you.

 

Rape. A pre-existing condition.

Storybook Style

Storybook Style: America’s Whimsical Homes of the 1920s - Douglas Keister, Arrol Gellner

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

 

                I am coming to this as simply a reader who likes to the Storybook style, though before reading this book I would have simply called the style fairy tale houses.    Hey, not my field.

                This book presents a history of the style, including a brief overview of the influences, including the style used in the Renaissance and Medieval periods.  While most of the houses discussed are in the United States, there is a bit of an international flavor to the book.

                The book also looks at the influence of Hollywood upon the style as well as vice versa.  Additional, there are sections of the book that deal with the little things that are not noticed very often, describing terms and history.

                Quite a good little introduction.

Out in July

Hudson Valley Reflections: Illustrated Travel and Field Guide - Michael Adamovic

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

 

                One of the things I want to do is drive though the Hudson River Valley.  I have travelled though part of it by train.  In fact, the Amtrak ride from NYC to Montreal is a stunning, beautiful trip.  I highly recommend everyone take that rail journey at least once.  I do, however, want to drive though part of those towns. 

 

                And now, after reading this book, I have a couple more places I want to stop.

                Adamovic looks at the Hudson valley though the lenses of seasons.  Along the way, he hits places of historical importance – such as Sleepy Hollow.  The focus is mostly on the glorious scenery.  Adamovic places the wildlife in context, in other words it is just seasonal behavior but also text that details the fauna and flora.  The end of the book contains a location map and directions, making the book a practical work of art.

 

                 The photos of the flowers and animals are quite beautiful, including those photos of insect eating plants.  The deer photo in particular was adorable.

Out in June

Natural Wonders of Assateague Island - Mark Hendricks
Disclaimer: Arc via Netgalley.

Assateague owes it fame to ponies, perhaps mostly to Misty and her family. There is, however, far more diverse wildlife on the island then simply horses. Marc Hendricks book on the island showcases this quite well. According to his text, Hendricks has made a study of Assateague for a great many years. And while there are beautiful photos of the ponies, there are a great many beautiful photos that details the Sika, birds, and water life of the island.

The books chapters are photographer’s journey – in regards to various animals. Hendricks is able to connect the reader to the capture of the photography. And yes, one of the journeys does detail a pony, a black stallion to be more exact.

The true selling point of the book is the photo, and these are quite lovely. If you love nature, the ponies, or have been to Assateague, this is an ideal book.
 
 

 

The reason I have been quiet lately

is that I had to put my dog Tuna (hence Fish Place) down last weekend.  She was 14.  I know she was a dog, but it hurts.  I had her since she was about 2 months old.

Question

Apparently, earlier this week some white teen in a high school you never heard of it did a stunt to ask a famous star to the prom.  On one hand, I admire both the guts of these young men (and it is usually young men) but on the other one hand, the stunts always leave a bad taste in my mouth.

                What the hell does Emma Stone owe this teen?  Nothing.  In fact, one could argue that he capitalizes on the popularity of her last movie to get himself ten minutes of fame.  He gets on the news, he gets written up as far away as Australia.  He admits, to be fair, that he did not simply to get noticed, maybe some free swag or something.

                But that doesn’t really disturb me, outside in a “I know it’s stupid” way.  It’s the reaction more than anything.   Reporters usually end the report with the hint that Stone should so yes.  But, why should he?  How is this anything more than putting public pressure on someone to do what you want?  Take away the fame of the object (and Stone is being treated as an object) would we really be looking at this the same way?  Would the reports think it cute?  Would people be saying that Stone should say yes?

                And why is it usually suburban high schools and young white males?  I know this isn’t all the class.  There was a couple that invented a footballer to their wedding.  But they just sent him an invitation, and it wasn’t news until he showed.  There was no pressure on him.  It’s the reaction, the expectation that not only does Emma Stone owe him answer, but if she was a nice person she would say yes.

                WTF?

                Is this some outgrowth of rape culture?  Am I being too sensitive?

Spies and More Spies

Sub Rosa: The O.S.S. and American Espionage - Stewart Alsop, Thomas Braden

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

 

                In my English 101 class, we just talked about spies and saboteurs in World War II.   It was in a conversation about an essay that dealt with the changing nature of history books in schools.  We were discussing people and ideas that history books leave out.  Female resistance members and the dropping of people into occupied countries came up.

 

                Perhaps we don’t like talking about such people in wars because there is a whiff, just a whiff, of something not quite right.  It is almost sneaky but in an understandable way.  It is the question of tough choices and we really know that real spies are not James Bond in any of his incarnations.   It is messy and tough, and not fair.

 

                Perhaps that is why.  Perhaps this is also why we romanticize the role because we know that it is a necessary one.

 

                This slim volume gives a brief history of the OSS (the forerunner to the CIA) built pretty much by Wild Bill Donovan as well as detailing some of the lesser known missions.  Both Alsop and Braden worked for the OSS, so the reader gets a sense of wanting the deserved acknowledgement.

 

                Considering the time in which the authors lived, they deserve absolute kudos for noting woman agents and pointing out that the women agents did not hesitate to throw themselves out of perfectly good airplanes.  It almost makes up for the use of only male missions in the second section of the book.

 

                The authors also note the use of non-white agents as well.

 

                Yet the authors do deserve praise for not trying to sugar coat not only the risks but also the need to sometimes act in a less than chivalrous way, this is particularly true of the last class.

 

                At times, the stories seem to be a bit blogged down with words (and sometimes with too similar names), yet Alsop and Braden do a good job at bringing a little known but very important role in the Second World War to light.

Open Road Edition Review via Netgalley

The Oldest Enigma of Humanity: The Key to the Mystery of the Paleolithic Cave Paintings - David Bertrand, Jean-Jacques Lefrère

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

 

                I have never seen the Lascaux Cave paintings, at least not the real ones.  I did see the traveling reconstruction exhibit, which was very cool.  But truth be told, I have never really thought about cave paintings very much, outside of abstract desire to see them.

                David and Lefrere, however, seem to have spent a significant about of time thinking about cave paintings.  This is a good thing. 

                In this short book, it is possible to read this in an hour or so, David and Lefrere make a pretty good case for the cave paintings’ creation – both the how and the why.

                The theory about the why is one of those moments that at first seems so out there but makes such prefect sense when they lay out the details and take the reader along with them on the journey of discovery. 

                I am not entirely sure if I fully believe all the why part of the theory.  While the authors make a very good case, there are too many variables that can be called into account.  The process of how the art made it on to the wall – the “technology”/technique – of the animals on the walls of the cave.

                The book is very readable because the structure is done in steps.  The reader goes on the journey of discovery with the authors.

SPOILER ALERT!

Fathers and Fear

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley, Maurice Hindle

It is said that Frankenstein is about the horror and despair of giving birth.  Mary Shelley wrote it after a dream she had, a dream that occurred after an evening of ghosts in Geneva.  It also occurred after miscarriage and a death of a child.  Upon reading Mary Shelley’s diaries, one cannot help but think of how she viewed pregnancy with a tinge of fear and perhaps despair, not only because of her own experiences but also because of her own birth.  Yet, for all of its focus on the fear of birth, it is absentee fatherhood or even husband hood that seems the focus.

 

                Mary Shelley (hence MS) ran off with Percy Shelley (hence PS) while he was still married to his first wife, Harriet.    Let’s be clear, he abandoned his wife and two children to run off with Mary.  At one point, he seemed to float the idea of some type of threesome (perhaps foursome) with him as center, but Harriet never bit.  Despite the work of some authors and critics, like Mark Twain, Harriet Shelley never had the good press that MS and PS did.  In all fairness to PS, one should note that the marriage with Mary seems in large part to have been an attempt to gain custody of his children by Harriet, after she committed suicide.  PS was not a faithful husband to his second wife any more than he was to his first.  It is possible (and I think it highly likely) that PS had an affair Claire Claremont, MS’s step-sister.

 

                Frankenstein is about a man who creates life without the aid of a woman and flees in horror, who does not take responsibility for what he has created or done.   Considering the men in MS’s circle this portrayal is hardly surprising.  There was love them and leave them Bryon whose relationships included ones with his half-sister and Claire Claremont, there was Shelley himself, who never seemed to suffer the same way Mary did when she lost a child.

 

                Reading MS’ journals one is stuck not so much by the sheer number of pages that have been removed, but by the sheer number of times that PS and Claire go off somewhere while MS is suffering though a pregnancy related illness.  How many time Claire burst into the Shelley’s chambers.  At the very least, it must have been a strange relationship, a fleeing couple taking a third wheel with them, the third wheel that had been used as cover for their relationship.  Then MS to be left behind while PS and Claire went rambling.

 

                Did Mary feel something of the abandonment that Harriet must have felt?  MS did resent Claire, she confirmed as much in her lifetime, is this part of the reason why?

 

                And it is those that the absentee father leaves who bear the cost.  While it is true that Victor’s friend and younger brother are murdered by the monster, his wife Elizabeth and maid/companion Justine are murdered simply because of the actions and inactions of both the monster and Victor.  Victor could have saved Justine if he only spoke up, but he doesn’t.  He could have stopped the tragedy if he had taken responsibility for his actions, had ever tried to right his mistake.  He possess an inability to shoulder any part of the blame or to act to stop the unfolding events.

 

                And that makes him a far different monster than the one he creates.

 

                And one wonders, one must wonder, if there is a bit of PS and Harriet in Victor and his monster.  PS marrying Harriet in part to “save and educate” her, in part to shove it in his father’s face.  Then losing interest in both wife and children, leaving them for a younger girl.  There is no one cause for suicide, but surely PS’s treatment of Harriet must have contributed something.

 

                Even as we condemn the monster for his actions, we feel pity for him.

 

                Perhaps the novel is also a bit of a dig at her father and is remarriage after the death of Mary Wollstonecraft.  Godwin remarried in 1801 (Wollstonecraft died in 1797) and prior to that he had left the young MS and her half-sister Fanny in the care of a friend.  Victor does nothing for his son and yet seeks to have another second family with Elizabeth much like Percy leaving Harriet, or William Godwin marrying a woman with two children.  Is the suicide of her half-sister, Fanny Imlay, also present in the story?  It is unclear.  But one could argue that Imlay was abandoned by her family in an emotional sense at the least.

 

It is said that Frankenstein is about the horror and despair of giving birth.  Mary Shelley wrote it after a dream she had, a dream that occurred after an evening of ghosts in Geneva.  It also occurred after miscarriage and a death of a child.  Upon reading Mary Shelley’s diaries, one cannot help but think of how she viewed pregnancy with a tinge of fear and perhaps despair, not only because of her own experiences but also because of her own birth.  Yet, for all of its focus on the fear of birth, it is absentee fatherhood or even husband hood that seems the focus.

 

                Mary Shelley (hence MS) ran off with Percy Shelley (hence PS) while he was still married to his first wife, Harriet.    Let’s be clear, he abandoned his wife and two children to run off with Mary.  At one point, he seemed to float the idea of some type of threesome (perhaps foursome) with him as center, but Harriet never bit.  Despite the work of some authors and critics, like Mark Twain, Harriet Shelley never had the good press that MS and PS did.  In all fairness to PS, one should note that the marriage with Mary seems in large part to have been an attempt to gain custody of his children by Harriet, after she committed suicide.  PS was not a faithful husband to his second wife any more than he was to his first.  It is possible (and I think it highly likely) that PS had an affair Claire Claremont, MS’s step-sister.

 

                Frankenstein is about a man who creates life without the aid of a woman and flees in horror, who does not take responsibility for what he has created or done.   Considering the men in MS’s circle this portrayal is hardly surprising.  There was love them and leave them Bryon whose relationships included ones with his half-sister and Claire Claremont, there was Shelley himself, who never seemed to suffer the same way Mary did when she lost a child.

 

                Reading MS’ journals one is stuck not so much by the sheer number of pages that have been removed, but by the sheer number of times that PS and Claire go off somewhere while MS is suffering though a pregnancy related illness.  How many time Claire burst into the Shelley’s chambers.  At the very least, it must have been a strange relationship, a fleeing couple taking a third wheel with them, the third wheel that had been used as cover for their relationship.  Then MS to be left behind while PS and Claire went rambling.

 

                Did Mary feel something of the abandonment that Harriet must have felt?  MS did resent Claire, she confirmed as much in her lifetime, is this part of the reason why?

 

                And it is those that the absentee father leaves who bear the cost.  While it is true that Victor’s friend and younger brother are murdered by the monster, his wife Elizabeth and maid/companion Justine are murdered simply because of the actions and inactions of both the monster and Victor.  Victor could have saved Justine if he only spoke up, but he doesn’t.  He could have stopped the tragedy if he had taken responsibility for his actions, had ever tried to right his mistake.  He possess an inability to shoulder any part of the blame or to act to stop the unfolding events.

 

                And that makes him a far different monster than the one he creates.

 

                And one wonders, one must wonder, if there is a bit of PS and Harriet in Victor and his monster.  PS marrying Harriet in part to “save and educate” her, in part to shove it in his father’s face.  Then losing interest in both wife and children, leaving them for a younger girl.  There is no one cause for suicide, but surely PS’s treatment of Harriet must have contributed something.

 

                Even as we condemn the monster for his actions, we feel pity for him.

 

                Perhaps the novel is also a bit of a dig at her father and is remarriage after the death of Mary Wollstonecraft.  Godwin remarried in 1801 (Wollstonecraft died in 1797) and prior to that he had left the young MS and her half-sister Fanny in the care of a friend.  Victor does nothing for his son and yet seeks to have another second family with Elizabeth much like Percy leaving Harriet, or William Godwin marrying a woman with two children.  Is the suicide of her half-sister, Fanny Imlay, also present in the story?  It is unclear.  But one could argue that Imlay was abandoned by her family in an emotional sense at the least.

 

                Reading this novel, it is hard not see it as anything but condemnation of a men who father children, who marry and then leave, abandoning the women and children but also leaving them with the hard work.  Then perhaps, returning and upset at the way things have turned out.  Even at the beginning of science fiction, even before the genre had a name, Shelley was showing us what it could be.  It puts the Sad and Rabid puppies to shame, doesn’t it?

 

                Reading this novel, it is hard not see it as anything but condemnation of a men who father children, who marry and then leave, abandoning the women and children but also leaving them with the hard work.  Then perhaps, returning and upset at the way things have turned out.  Even at the beginning of science fiction, even before the genre had a name, Shelley was showing us what it could be.  It puts the Sad and Rabid puppies to shame, doesn’t it?

SPOILER ALERT!

Review of Elephant Macaw Banner 1-3

The Fortuitous Meeting (The Elephant and Macaw Banner - Novelette Series Book 1) - Christopher Kastensmidt A Parlous Battle - Christopher Kastensmidt

The Elephant and Macaw Banner series is written by Christopher Kastensmidt.  I picked up the first three volumes in the series when they were offered as Kindle freebies.  The first three volumes - The Fortuitous Meeting, A Parlous Battle and The Discommodius Wedding - detail the beginnings of a series of adventures of two men - Gerard Van Oost and the warrior Oludara.  By the second book, the adventures are joined by a woman, a native of Brazil, named Arany.  The setting is a Brazil during the time of the Portgeuse arrival/conquest, but it is an alternate reality, a historical fantasy, for the adventuring men must battle and face monsters and gods.

The first three installments (each averaging around 40 pages) are pretty good.  Is it the best fantasy I have ever read?  Well no, but the idea is interesting, there has been editing, and the characters are likable and believable.

Gerard has a problem; he wants to explore and make a forture; however, no company will have him because he is Dutch and Protestant.  Additionally, while his heart does seem to be in the right place, he isn't the sharpest sword in the armory.  Fortunately, he runs into Oludara, a warrior from Africa, who has been sold into slavery.  Oludara is a Yoruba, a ethnic group from the area of today's Nigeria and Benin.  Because Oludara has the intelligence to answer a question of stragedy, Gerard determines to free him (by buying him and then freeeing him) and to do earn the large amount of needed money, Gerard must see Sacy-Perey, a Brazilan prankster god/creature.  He's like Loki, but younger, darker, nicer, and missing a leg.

The second and third volumes find Gerard and Oludara interacting with the Tupinamba people and eventually becoming part of the tribe.  While the interact of Gerard with the native tribes might be a bit too modern for it to be truly historically accurate, the books do have a clear eye to detail about the culture as well as poking fun at what the Europeans think of the Tupinambas.   The series is quite fun in the terms of the use of legends and myths of Brazil.  

The only false note is in the first volume when Gerard buys Oludara.  Oludara does sound out Gerard, making sure of the man who buys him and that is not the false note.  Oludara was only one of many men brought on a slave ship to be sold to millers and sugar farmers.  When Gerard asks Oludara if any of the other slaves are family, the Yoruba answers no, and once Gerard says, basically, that's good because he couldn't afford to pull the others.  I can understand why Kastensmidt does this - he wants to answer the question that most readers are wondering - what about the rest.  It also shows Gerard in a good light (though Kastensmidt does not make me too modern as seen in the other installments).  Yet, Oludara's disregarding of the other men rings false - would this really be his reaction, especially considering his reactions in the other volumes?  It just felt like there should be more here.  It was too simply done.  It felt off, as if Oludara would have tried something more.  

But Oludara is the star, he is the central.  He isn't simply the wise black friend who the white guy seeks advice from.  He isn't the moral speaker.  In the first volume, it looks like it might be the case, but in 2 and 3, Oludara is central stage.  He is the one who gets the love interest while Gerard simply plays the best friend, the second fiddle.  

Which is kinda nice.

The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan - Rafia Zakaria

When I brought this book, I was expecting something along the lines of Fatima Merissini. This book is not that.

What this book is a chronicle of a family life in Parkisten after Partition, Zakaria’s family moved to Pakistan because of the anti-Muslim climate of India. Zakaria’s family history, in particular, that of her childless aunt whose husband takes a second wife. The personal conflict in the family is also shown in contrast to the unfolding political and societal drama, as Pakistan’s government tightens control over women.

In many ways, Zakaria’s story is like Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, and considering that Atwood’s novel doe draw on real events and rules that have been applied to women, this should not come as that much of a surprise. After all haven’t you seen the photo of a bunch of old white guys deciding that maternity care is not essential for health? Haven’t you read about the anti-abortion bill that was signed by a white man surrounded by white men? Haven’t you heard of the Saudi Girls council with just men? The Russian loosening of spousal abuse laws? How about the women leaving Saudi Arabia because of the constraining laws? The various Texas bills and laws concerning abortion? The lawmaker who referred to women as a host for the baby? The fact that in many countries young girls can legally be married to older men?

So yeah, The Handmaid’s Tale is real, and this book really proves it.

Unlike Atwood’s fact based dystopia, Zakaria memoir showcases the erosion of rights and standing as a woman actually becomes a leader of the country. The trials and tribulations that the women endure might not be common to all at least on the face, but at the root? At the root, it is.

But the memoir isn’t just concerned with Pakistani politics, but also with the effect of international politics on the ordinary Pakistani citizen. (I for one wish I had read this prior to reading A Golden Age). It is non-linear, so it will put some people off, but if you give yourself over to the voice, it is like you are having a cup of tea with the author.