The best children’s author ever?

Enid Blyton (11.8.1897 to 28.11.1968) must surely be in the running for the title best children’s author ever. A prolific writer who produced a daily average of 6,000 to 10,000 words and wrote over 750 books in her life time. During the early 1950’s she achieved her peak output, writing 50 books a year. Think about that – 50 books in one year. Even though they were books for children, that is a phenomenal amount of writing.

Enid Blyton's most famous quotes


It came at a cost though. Even though children loved her books and the characters she created, and that most of her stories were centred around happy and stable family situations, AND that she loved to entertain and teach children….she had little time for her own daughters. Prior to finding success as a writer, she was employed as a nanny and a teacher and developed a fondness for children…other peoples children. Once she became a well known author, her obsession with writing and self promotion took priority over her own children, and her husband, who were pushed into the background. Her writing occupied most of her waking hours and the children were left in the care of nannies, or when old enough, shipped off to boarding school. Photos of her with her children were posed for the press photo-ops, such as this one below. See how the older girl manages to smile for the camera but the younger daughter appears sullen….unwilling to play her mothers game of ‘happy family’.

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Blyton is probably most famous for her stories about Noddy and Big Ears, The Secret Seven, and The Famous Five, but these were only a small selection from her vast number of story books. She also wrote poetry books, volumes of books for the teaching community, series of books based on ancient myths and legends such as the Knights of the Round Table and the adventures of Robin Hood as well as magazine articles. Such was her output that many in the literary business accused her of using ghost writers to produce such a large and constant out flowing of books. Many believed it impossible for such a volume of work to be produced by a single writer. This was strenuously denied by Blyton and in 1955 she successfully sued a librarian for spreading such rumours.

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Blyton with ‘Noddy’ entertaining someone else’s adoring children.

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Her stories and writing style were criticised by librarians and teachers because of the limited use of language and the recycling of story lines or themes in many of her books. Schools refused to allow her books into their teaching syllabus. She was also accused of being racist and sexist in her choice of language and the actions and diction of her characters, as well as being out of touch and too middle class. Her response was that she was only interested in what people under the age of 12 thought……and those people, those children, loved everything that she wrote. Books were flying off the shelves making her and her publishers a small fortune.
Many of the stories she wrote were of strong morals and the victory (eventually) of right over wrong, good over evil. But, rumours not only in her professional life as a writer, but also in her personal life were rife.

She was a very self centred person, selfish even, who put her life as a writer above everything and everyone else, even her family. This was probably brought about by the separation of her mother and father when she was a child of 13. She worshipped her father, refused to accept that he had many flaws…including chasing anything in a skirt….and blamed her mother 100% for the breakdown of the marriage. She more or less escaped into her own mind – into an idealistic world of perfect parents and ideal family situations. This came through in her books, but not in her personal life.


She severed ties with her two younger brothers, didn’t attend the funerals of either her mother or her father, shipped her own daughters off to boarding school at the earliest chance, cheated on her husband with other men…..and it’s rumoured with at least one of her children’s nannies. Yes, rumour has it that Enid batted for both sides.

Her first husband Hugh worked for the publishing company which produced her first books. Driven to drink, presumably by being shut out of his wife’s life, although he may also have been suffering from post traumatic stress as a result of memories of his experiences in world war one being revived while working on a book with Churchill. He went away from the family home during world war 2 to serve in the British Home Guard and it was during this time that Blyton had an affair with the man who would eventually become her 2nd husband – and Hugh began an affair with a much younger female author.

After Hugh had agreed to a divorce, as long as he could have full access to his children, Blyton then contacted his publishing company and told them that under no circumstances would she continue to do business with them if they continued to employ Hugh. She would take her vast back catalogue of books and any new ones to another publisher. As a result, Hugh was fired, and indeed ruined as far as the publishing business was concerned. He sank lower into alcoholism and eventually declared bankruptcy. Blyton also went back on her word and refused to let Hugh have access to his daughters. In effect, she ruined the man she once loved.

After marrying her 2nd husband she was surprised to find herself, in late middle age, pregnant but fell (accidentally or possibly deliberately if a recent drama based on her life is to be believed) from a ladder in the garden early in the pregnancy and lost the baby. It would have been a boy. Her first son and her second husbands first ever child.
Her second husband died in 1967 by which time Blyton was deep in the grips of dementia and no longer writing. Her death in 1968 came soon after his.

She wasn’t totally selfish though. She did support several children’s charities and set up her own foundation to help children in need. Her granddaughter Sophie Smallwood has revived the Noddy character and penned a new story Noddy’s Birthday Surprise.


Even though she died in 1968, Enid Blyton was still voted “best British children’s author” in 2008 – even beating J K Rowling – the creator of Harry Potter. She is also the 4th most translated author ever….behind Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare. Her books have been turned into TV series and movies and are still popular with children in many countries.

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I was a huge Enid Blyton fan when I was a child, and still am. Finding out about her failings as a mother, wife and of her general selfishness has soured my memories of her somewhat, but has not detracted from the escapism and adventure I found in her books.

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Hurricane Katrina from one families perspective. “Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers.

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This was one of many books that I bought during my trip to San Francisco back in April/May this year. I finally got around to reading it a couple of days ago and once I had started I couldn’t put it down. What a great read! Eggers spent 3 years researching the book and interviewing the Zeitoun family (and countless others) about their harrowing experiences during and after Katrina hit New Orleans – not only related to the storm its self, but also in the way that the main character in the story Abdulrahman Zeitoun was treat by the authorities.

Obviously I don’t want to give away too much of the story as I would rather you read it for yourselves, but just to set the scene…. The Zeitoun family consist of Abdulrahman, who is a Muslim of Syrian origin, who is married to Kathy, a white American woman who had already converted to Islam prior to meeting her husband to be. She had one child from a previous relationship and 3 more with Abdulrahman, They work as a team running a painting and decorating business…also doing building repairs….they are well known and well respected in the area. As Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy makes the decision to evacuate, with the kids, to her sisters home which is outside of the predicted disaster zone. Her husband decided to stay put and keep an eye on the multiple properties that they own in New Orleans and to help other people install plywood boards to protect their homes.

The day after the storm, with streets flooded, Abdulrahman sets out in his old canoe to assess damage and along the route to check his various premises, makes a number of rescues of people trapped in their homes. After this, he goes out every day seeking out people who need help, or deserted pets that need feeding. He feels that Allah has given him a purpose, justifying his decision to stay in storm ravaged New Orleans. He keeps in touch by phone, every day, with family members in Syria and in Spain, and of course with his wife who is safely out of the way being sheltered by friends and family. Until one day….when there are no phone calls from him. What has happened? Is he safe? has the phone system failed or has some ill wind blown the way of Zeitoun?

It’s most certainly worth reading the book to find out. Eggers writes extremely well. The story moves along smoothly and it really is a page turner. I personally rate the book very highly – it would easily be in my top ten of all time reads…..and I have been reading for over 50 years.

Katrina hit in 2005, the book came out in 2009, but more recently a cloud has been cast over the Zeitoun family. There are a lot of accusations of wrong doing in the last few years and the family has broken up, but this should not detract from the book or the story of how this family were treated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After reading the book you will never look at “Officialdom”, in the USA, the same again.

Good read’s gives it 4.1 out of 5. I’d rate it much closer to 5 – it’s not prefect, but it’s damn close.

Looking at reviews of the book, of which there are many I’ll share this one with you as the reader who wrote the review shared my reaction to the book.

“I’ve got to give it to Dave Eggers in that there was no Dave Eggers in here. The reason this book succeeded was that he was able to step aside and let Zeitoun and Kathy tell their stories, using the plainest style possible to convey the most heartbreaking, sickening, and devastating episodes.

I don’t know how much of the story I should reveal… it’s better that you just read the book. But I’ll just say that it’s based on true accounts of a family who survived hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and then survived many other more unpredictable trials. The book as a whole–its before, during, and after of events described–perfectly encapsulates my love/hate relationship with this country.

I urge you to read this (and especially if you would never normally read Dave Eggers). If you give it 40 pages of your attention, I guarantee you will finish the whole thing in a day or 2.”

He was right. 2 days and I had finished this book. A good story, well written, highlighting the ridiculous priorities of government agencies in emergency situations and a demonstration on how they treat American citizens (badly!).

Book Review – When the Lights Go Out – Mary Kubica

On the back cover of this paperback, in block capitals, it says “A WOMAN IS PLUNGED INTO A BIZARRE CASE OF STOLEN IDENTITY IN THIS AMBITIOUS AND RIVETING THRILLER BY THE BLOCKBUSTER BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE GOOD GIRL, MARY KUBICA”.

When The Lights Go Out

The word AMBITIOUS should have been a clue, but I opened the book anyhow and started to read. It follows the lives of two women Jessie and Eden told in two stories – Jessie’s story is told in the odd numbered chapters and Eden’s in the even numbered. Jessie’s story is unfolding as we read it, where as most of Eden’s story is from 20 years earlier.

After the death of her mother, Jessie begins to rebuild her life and starts out anew by renting an apartment of her own and applying to college in order to continue her education – which was put on hold while she looked after her dying mother. The forms for the college application require a social security number…..to cut a long story short, her name, Jessie Sloan and the social security number it brings up, refers to a girl who died 17 years earlier. Jessie goes through her mothers papers but fails to find anything that can prove who she is….or who her father was. This obviously troubles her enough to add to the insomnia she is already suffering as a result of her mothers death. Very quickly lack of sleep makes it difficult for Jessie (and the reader) to know what is real and what is imagination as her world implodes.

It seems that the answer to her identity could be revealed in the story of the second woman, Eden and decisions that she made 20 years earlier.

I really do hate to give bad reviews to books I have read. I know how attached writers get to their work and how it hurts to have anyone criticise their ‘baby’ – but what I’d hate more would be for me to give it a good review and you, dear reader, to waste time reading the book and then sending ME hate mail. And you must remember this is only my opinion….who the hell am I anyway and what do I know? Although the story began with promise, once it started to focus on the lead characters insomnia – not knowing what was really happening and what was going on inside Jessie’s head – it quickly deteriorated, and my will to live, never mind my will to continue to read this drivel novel, was sorely tested. I struggled through to page 106 of the 301 pages before the urge to toss the book into the darkest corner I could find, took over. It lays there still….gathering dust.

I looked at some on-line reviews and found some by people who obviously loved the book. They said things like “One of the best thrillers I have read – EVER!” and “Omg! This is one of the best books that I have ever read! Great thriller, love it!” And not a hint of sarcasm, so they must have genuinely thought that this is the best thriller ever written. I am stunned by the thought. I can only assume that either they were paid a huge amount of money for their review by the author’s agent, or have extremely different tastes to me, or they are very easily pleased, or perhaps they have never read any book of substance. I’ve read a few other negative reviews of this book (such as someone called Janine who gave it one star out of 5 on Goodread’s – “Well, that was some bullshit. I should have known better.“) so I’m not on my own in not liking it.

In a bid to add balance to my panning of her book let me say that Mary Kubica is a best selling author who lives in New York (who is probably laughing all the way to the bank and won’t give a damn what I think). Her first novel was The Good Girl released in 2014 and she’s written several others since then. Hopefully with better plot lines than this one. The main character Jessie may have had insomnia, but this book cured mine.

No one is too small to make a difference – Greta Thunberg

This is not the post I had been planning on writing this morning. However, my wife Lizzie came home last night with a copy of Greta Thunberg’s book “No one is too small to make a difference”. It only costs NZ$7.00 and the money raised goes toward the Climate Crisis movement….so please buy a copy and help Greta to stand up for her generation….for all of us in fact.

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference cover art

Greta Thunberg was born in 2003. In August 2018 she decided not to go to school one day, starting a strike for climate outside the Swedish Parliament. Her actions ended up sparking a global movement for action against the climate crisis, inspiring millions of pupils, world wide, to go on strike for our planet. This action has earned Greta the prestigious Prix Liberte (Freedom Award) – Thunberg, 16, is the first recipient of this new award, which was designed to honor a young person ‘engaged in a fight for peace and freedom’.- as well as a Nobel Peace prize nomination. Greta has Asperger’s, and considers it a gift which has enabled her to see the climate crisis ‘in black and white’.

No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference is Greta’s first book in English, collecting her speeches from climate rallies across Europe to audiences at the UN, the World Economic Forum, and the British Parliament. She is not afraid to hold the older generation responsible for the mess our planet is in. She is not afraid to call out governments and corporations to act responsibly and to help to clean up the mess that they have created, or have allowed to be created, all in the name of the mighty dollar…for profit in financial terms, and to hell with the environment on which we all depend for life itself.

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She is an amazing, caring, passionate, intelligent and very responsible little girl with a huge heart who deserves our respect and our support, so please buy the book….or at least read it….or view/listen to her speeches on Youtube – link below – and join in the fight for the survival of the earth and all life, (including your own), on it. The corporate world hate her and fear her – every time she speaks to an audience, more and more people get on board to help the climate crisis cause – so they try to discredit her, belittle her for her ‘simplistic ideals’ and accuse her parents of manipulating her. There have also been personal attacks linked to her autism and her physique. It is pathetic to attack a child who’s only interest is to save the earth which we all – even the corporate executives – depend on for life.

I can’t wait for her to become of voting age…to see politically where it will take her. This young lady will go far. Click on the link below to hear her speak.

I would be delighted if any other bloggers would like to share this blog post to help to get the word out about Greta and her quest. She, we, and our planet, need all the help we can muster. Many thanks.

So many books, so little time. (Howards End is on the Landing)

I’ve just finished reading Susan Hill’s – “Howards End is on the Landing”. Any readers who have come across the writings of Susan Hill probably best know her for her novels – of which there are many. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading her fiction, but if she writes her stories in the same enthralling manner in which she wrote this book, I am guessing that she will be a delight to read. I will certainly take a book or two of hers out from the local library to see for myself.

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Howards End is on the Landing is a wonderful book that takes us on a search for E.M. Forster’s book, Howards End, among Susan Hills vast and haphazard collection of books – in many rooms, on many bookshelves and in many piles, in corners or on windowsills, or even in stacks on the stairs. The search leads her to discover many books that she has bought or otherwise acquired over the years and never read. As she continues her search for Howards End, she puts a number of these freshly re-discovered books into a “to read” pile….to be joined by other previously read books that she has a burning desire to read again. She decides to compile a list of 40 books from her own shelves to be set aside to read over the next twelve months. As she shares her collection with us we are given the benefit of Susan’s experience – educated as to which books are worth reading, have stood the test of time, are regarded as either “true” classics….or simply also-rans. And as she educates us she also entertains us – regaling us with personal stories about the books, their stories and about authors she admires, has met and/or worked with along the way. And in some instances how her opinion of some writers, she met, changed over the years. Roald Dahl being a prime example. (Read the book to find out what changed her mind about the great Mr Dahl).

Howards End is on the Landing has set me thinking about a number of book related issues such as, compared with Susan Hill, how little I have read of books that are considered to be “the classics”, how many books there are in existence, and how impossible it is to read them all. It also makes me realise that perhaps I shouldn’t waste what time I have left on this earth by reading what she regards as “pulp fiction” …. and also how many books I have collected or amassed over the years, bought on a whim and gathering dust on a shelf unread and, for now, unloved. BUT how does each person know if a book is worth reading or not, simply by reading the notes on the books cover? Even by looking on line and checking the likes of Goodread’s reviews….they are, after all, just other peoples opinions…their tastes may not be mine….the only way to find out for sure is to read each book.

As Susan Hill writes of her journey through her book collection – “What follows is a description of that journey, which has also and inevitably led to my thinking, remembering, ordering, assessing, my entire book-reading life.” And what a full and interesting book reading life that has been. She also mentions the benefits of “Slow Reading” – saying that some books you can rip through as fast as possible, enjoy the thrill of the ride, absorb a simple story-line and then put the book down never to have the urge to read it ever again….comparable to grabbing a quick burger for a snack (fast food – satisfying the immediate urge, but not a long lasting satisfaction), where as other books should be Slow Reading stories – enjoyed in well chewed mouthfuls….savoured over a long period and digested gradually over time. She will read two or three chapters of, for example, Little Dorrit, or To the Lighthouse, or Midnight’s Children – and then go back and slowly chew over each sentence….see how each paragraph has been put together….mull over how each character is developed….what they say, how they say it….she enjoys examining the complexity of language and style. Slow reading, just like slow food is to be enjoyed and absorbed gradually – not gulped down.

In the final chapter of the book she mentions that we owe it to books to bring them to life by reading them rather than letting them sit like decorations on our shelves, simply looking pretty. “…for a book which is closed and unread is not alive, it is only packed, like a foetus, with potential.”

With this in mind I am going to take a good look at the books I have amassed/collected over the years, which are currently languishing on bookshelves in the dining room, bookshelves in the spare bedroom – which doubles as my office – piled in dark corners, in boxes under beds, in long forgotten cupboards, in boxes and trunks in storage in the garage. Some no doubt never have been read, others will be old favourites which have been taken down from the shelves and read several times….others have merely been dipped into…nibbled at in snack sized bites when time allows. I owe them all another chance, so I’ll do what Susan did and take a journey across the shelves, back in time, to re-discover and reclaim the books I once held dear…and come up with a “to read” list of my own.

I’ll let you know in a future post how I get along and what I find of interest. Meantime enjoy your reading and give life to a forgotten book if you can.

Noam Chomsky and the “War on Terror” – a look at 2 books of interviews with the great man.

I recently read 2 books of interviews about Noam Chomsky’s take on 9/11 and the events that followed. Here is a brief summary.

Most people will know of Chomsky. He is a well known political activist/commentator, writer and professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT, where he started teaching in 1955. He has written and lectured on many subjects including linguistics, philosophy and politics. He’s not a man who skirts around the issue and has been quite scathing of his countries role in world wide terrorism.

He states that as far as the government of the USA is concerned, terrorism is what is done by others to the united states….not something that the USA actively participates in. He then goes on to name many of the terror events that America has wrought upon other nations around the world in the name of “Freedom & Democracy”…. and what hypocrites the government have been over the years.

The USA have ignored World Court ruling on several occasions. Have gone against United Nations resolutions designed to bring peace to troubled parts of the world and have instead chosen to act unilaterally rather than side with its traditional allies. They refused to sign the Kyoto climate change agreement and more recently pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. They have violated many treaties to further their own global dominance. They have overthrown foreign governments that were opposed to the USA and installed puppet governments in their place….often these puppets becoming dictators who violate the human rights of their citizens…..get too big for their own boots and are in turn kicked out/replaced by the USA again. Thus is their revolving door foreign policy.

It was the Clinton administration back in 1993 that informed the U.N. that the U.S. “will – as before – act multilaterally when possible but unilaterally when necessary” and they have been choosing to ignore their friends and allies ever since in order to pursue their own ends. Bush continued this stance. The USA has become the playground bully. They took over the mantel from Britain, who’s empire crumbled after becoming almost bankrupt as a result of the 6 years of fighting in World War 2.

Since becoming “Top Dog”, the USA has been a quite ruthless bully. It takes war to other countries quite happily, but then becomes shocked and outraged when someone attacks them. September 11 2001 was the first time since the war of 1812 that America’s national territory had been under attack….by which I mean mainland USA, so not taking into consideration the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour back in 1941. Having said that, Hawaii did not become an official US State until 1959.

So, the attack on the Twin Towers was a shock to the system for the USA. They over-reacted, a knee jerk reaction – and committed themselves to the “war on terror” and the needless attack on Iraq….who had nothing to do with the attack in the first place.

A war usually takes place between two or more nations. What happened on September 11 was a crime….not an act of war. It should have been treat as a crime – an act of terrorism perhaps, but a crime all the same. A thorough, non-biased investigation would have helped rather than leaping to the conclusion that somehow Osama Bin Laden from a cave somewhere in Afghanistan had done this horrendous deed and that some how the Iraqi’s were also implicated.

With the majority of the “terrorists” linked to the attack being of Saudi nationality, if a war was going to be declared and retribution taken it should therefore have been against Saudi Arabia…..so why attack Iraq and the Libya? The answer was to overthrow the government of the day – neither of which were friends of the USA, although both at points in the past had been recipients of military aid from the USA…when it had suited the USA to befriend and prop up these dictatorships. So, the “War on Terror” was declared as a smokescreen to mask US foreign policy decisions. Bush, incidentally, originally called it a “Crusade” but on advice corrected this to the war on terror, as crusade brings to mind religious ideals and ethnic cleansing.

But it was not a War on Terrorism – it was a politically motivated means of gaining control of the middle east and its oil supplies. By attacking Muslim targets, the USA fell straight into Bin Laden’s trap. Their actions, in attacking the Muslim world, enraged even the most peaceful followers of the Islamic faith…..creating no end of would be terrorists.

It’s not only in the war on terror that the USA is culpable in the deaths of innocents. Their economic foreign policies – sanctions – against countries who fail to comply with the USA’s “requests” have been responsible for ending trade between allies of the USA and a number of “victimised” nations. For example they stop aid and trade with Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya bringing about death by starvation of millions of civillians – half of which are children. When asked if it was worth these deaths in order for the USA to maintain its political dominance the reply from the Whitehouse…..yes it is.

Such is US foreign policy. In reality the world is full of “grey areas” and yet to the USA policy makers it’s black or white – “you’re either with us or agin’ us” – as they used to say in those old B movie westerns – ….and we retain the right to change our policies, and our friends, as we choose, when we see fit to.

Getting back to Chomsky’s books….In the September 11 book, he was asked if he thought that Bush’s “War on Terrorism” was winnable. His response – I’d love to copy straight from the book, but don’t want to infringe copyright laws so I’ll paraphrase.

He says that in much of the world, the USA is seen as THE leading terrorist state and with good reason. In 1986 they were condemned by the World Court for “unlawful use of force” (international terrorism) – and they were told to adhere to international law. They ignored the World Court on that occasion, as they have done on other matters since. The USA are a rule to themselves and damn anyone who disagrees with them. When terrorist events occur, we should try to reduce any further threat rather than escalate it by knee jerk reactions such as bombing sovereign nations without evidence. When the IRA bombs went off in London and other places in the UK, there was no call by the British government to bomb west Belfast….or to attack the financial backers of this terrorism in Boston – an Irish stronghold. Rather, steps were taken to gather evidence and to take the criminals responsible into custody…..and efforts were also made to remedy the reasons behind the attacks. When the Oklahoma bombings occurred, calls were made immediately to bomb the middle east. It was only when it became clear that the terrorist was domestic…a white US citizen….with links to white nationalism that it didn’t go ahead. BUT there were no calls to bomb Montana or any other state with strong links to the perpetrator. Go back to the 1980’s and the USA “involvement” in Nicaragua. Tens of thousands of civilians died in Nicaragua as a result of violent assault by US forces. This terrorist attack by the USA also brought about the start of an economic war in which a small country like Nicaragua could not compete – it devastated the country and it’s never really recovered. The World Court ordered the USA to stop its actions immediately and to pay reparations to make up for their crime. As usual, the USA ignored the judgement, dismissing it with contempt, upping its destructive actions in Nicaragua. Did Nicaragua respond by sending terrorists to Washington? No…the went to the UN security council and asked them to intervene. The security council put forward a resolution calling on all states to observe international law. The U.S. alone vetoed it. They then went to the General Assembly where this time Israel, USA’s puppy state also opposed a similar resolution to obey international law. These are just a few of many many examples where the USA has dismissed international law and opinion and gone its own “lone wolf” way. It makes it’s own rules because no one else is big enough or powerful enough to make them act responsibly. If that doesn’t define what a Bully is, nothing does.

In his other book “Power and Terror”, Chomsky, as he has done many times in the past, places the 9-11 terrorist attacks in the context of American foreign intervention throughout the postwar decades – in Vietnam, Central America, the middle east and elsewhere. Beginning with the fundamental principle that the exercise of violence against civilian populations is terror, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a well organized band of Muslim extremists or the most powerful state in the world. Chomsky, in uncompromising terms, challenges the United States to apply to its own actions the moral standards it demands of others.

In the book, Chomsky compares US policy with that of Nazi Germany – as an indicator of the current moral and intellectual culture in which we live. He says that it’s something that we should be very concerned about and continues…. The acts of terror that the USA have brought to Central America, the Middle East and certain parts of Africa – they don’t count as Terror. The USA and the west as a whole see these actions as a “just war” or as “counter-terror”. But the same thing gets carried out by foreign parties against the USA or its allies, and it is “most certainly an act of terrorism”. This idea is not something new. It has been the standard line throughout the whole history of European imperialism. The USA are simply carrying on this tradition. So, they do it to us and it’s an act of terror….we do it to them and it’s a just war, it’s counter-terrorism, it’s a civilizing mission, it’s democracy in action, it’s bringing “freedom” to the oppressed. It’s bullshit… but it’s true with even the worst killers in history. If you read Nazi literature, in occupied Europe, they claimed to be quote -defending the population and the legitimate governments against the terror of the partisans (freedom fighters) who were controlled from abroad – close quote. The USA does the same things in modern times by propping up dysfunctional (but friendly to the USA) dictatorships to prevent rebels/freedom fighters/political opponents – call them what you will – from changing the government. It’s happened with El Salvador, Turkey, Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Syria (where we have changed sides too many times to be credible)….the list goes on. But lets just take Columbia as an example.

In the 1990’s Colombia’s human rights record was the worst in the hemisphere and yet the USA gave more aid, including military aid, to the Colombian government than to the rest of the nations in the hemisphere combined. Mass murders were committed by government forces (including an incident where chainsaws were used to kill civilians) as evidenced by mass graves. Colombia also had, at that time and beyond, the world record in killing trade unionists and journalists – political murders ran between 10 and 20 per day and thousands of people went “missing” every month. Over 2 million fled the country while other civilians were pushed out of their homes to find refuge in slums without proper sanitation, schools or even the most basic of health care……and yet the USA financed this government, because it suited their short/mid term political and strategic goals. This is the moral decay that Chomsky fears has taken over modern political life.

He doesn’t only condemn the USA in “Power and Terror” – he also has a go at other world powers who, over the years have committed politically motivated atrocities (Britain included). Notable mentions were the German government of Nazi Germany before and during world war 2 – particularly the genocide of the Jews and Romanies – and also the actions of the Chinese government which brought about the deaths – through starvation, due to politically motivated decisions – of 25 million of its citizens.

Both books make interesting and compelling reading….depressing as they are. This is politics as it really is….dirty, low and evil – anything goes as long as we maintain the upper hand.

We owe a debt of thanks to professor Chomsky for being courageous enough to criticize his own and other rogue governments in this manner and to help us see beyond the smoke and mirrors of modern politics usually brought to us by the “bought and paid for” media.

I read things such as these two books from reliable sources like Noam Chomsky and realize that some of the “far fetched conspiracy theories” circulating on line or in publications such as the magazine “Uncensored” are maybe not so wide of the mark after all. It’s a strange and scary world in which to live and yet Chomsky remains upbeat and optimistic that the world is a more “civilized” place than it used to be. Perhaps as the end note of Power and Terror says – “his optimism sustains his life long mission: to bring the facts to the public, in the faith that, armed with knowledge, they will not fail to act”.

Book Review – Surveillance by Jonathan Raban.

I have no idea where to begin in reviewing this book. It was both a delight and a disappointment to read. One of those books you love and hate at the same time.

Image result for Jonathan Raban Surveillance cover

I expected, from the title “Surveillance” and from the comments of reviewers on the cover of the book…..such as “The finest, most human, most chilling novel to have emerged in response to these desperate times”…and “Security, preparedness, identity and truthfulness are cleverly dissected in Raban’s disturbing story”…..and “Post 9/11, everyone watches and is being watched….In Raban’s black and brilliant portrait of this adopted city, all kinds of sinister forces filter and manipulate the truth. A wonderfully ironic, disturbing take on the un-privacy of modern life” – that it would be more about surveillance, about both government and individuals prying secretly into the lives of others – as they do do in real life. That it would be about how, post 9/11, the government – of not just America but of other western nations – imposed “security measures” on their citizens in the guise of public safety, but were actually restricting their liberty and freedom of thought, movement and privacy. AND in small measures it was. But very small measures.

In general, I enjoyed the way that the story and characters developed. By the end of the book I really did care about the characters and wanted to know more about how their lives progressed…..IF their lives progressed. But it was a story with more questions than answers and the further into the book I went, the more questions were left unanswered. I kept looking at the thickness of the book, and how much I had read, and thinking that the author wasn’t leaving much space to round off the story and bring it to a reasonable conclusion…..and then it ended very abruptly. Whether this was his plan all the time, or if he had just received a call from his publisher telling him his deadline had been brought forward, I have no idea – BUT it was a very disappointing ending and I felt cheated.

The story begins with a “terrorist threat practice drill” in which an aging bit part actor (Tad) plays one of the victims walks us through the scene. The smoke and booms and confusion – but obviously not a real situation. Tad is gay – his partner of many years has died from aids a few years earlier and to fill that void he frequents the conspiracy pages of the internet and has become a very angry and distrusting person. He has become paranoid about the governments secret agenda and takes very little at face value – so in this respect the title of the book IS valid and I thought that the story would concentrate on this aspect. He goes home at the end of the day to his apartment in Seattle where we are introduced to his neighbour – our main character Lucy a journalist who is about to do a piece on a reclusive author who survived the Nazi death camps of world war 2.

Lucy lives with her daughter who is now 11 years old and who was conceived during a one night stand a motel after meeting a stranger in a bar. They live across the hall from Tad….who has become a sort of stand in father/grandfatherly figure for the daughter. Enter the mysterious Mr Lee, a Chinese immigrant who has just become their new landlord. and who soon becomes “interested” in Lucy and her daughter. Meantime Tad is trying to find out more about Mr Lee.

So, we have several story lines on the go. There’s Tad’s paranoia, Lucy’s story on the reclusive author, Mr Lee and his mysterious background, the relationship between mother and daughter, the unknown identity of the girls father……all the characters relationships with one another. Raban weaves a multiple relationship story and poses many questions about truths and falsehoods which, as a reader – and having been dragged through these relationships and side stories – I expected to have some answers to at the end.

The ending comes suddenly but not altogether completely unexpected as it is hinted at along the way. But it does leave multiple questions unanswered and leaves the reader feeling cheated. I don’t want to give away any actual spoilers – just in case anyone still wants to read the book. It is a good story – to a point – and as I said I did feel a connection to the characters and had become concerned about them and what was going to happen to them…..and then that fucking ending. Excuse my language but that’s exactly what I thought as I turned the final page. Definitely a WTF moment!

I’ve had a quick look on Goodreads to see what others thought of the book and it looks like I am not on my own. One reviewer who gave it one star said “Passed onto me by two friends, both of them gave up after the first two chapters, but I thought, oh it can not be that bad. Yes, it was. Should have listened, I wasted my time reading this, no ending, no final, a book you pick up and throw against the wall with frustration that time, was wasted.”

Another one – this time giving 3 stars said “I was all set to give this four stars–the characterization was tight, the plot moved quickly, and the social commentary on living in a surveillance society was timely and non-hysterical. “‘We are all spooks'”, says one of the characters, and it is an apt statement. The daughter tracks her mother’s alcohol intake, the mother investigates the autobiographical story of a writer she’s doing a profile on, the next door neighbor runs down information on the new owner of their apartment building, and of course the government investigates us all. But then the ending just….struck.

Yet another one star rater said “Opens with a bang, literally, as Homeland Security films an attack video in near-future Seattle for a public safety film (uh huh, we believe that right away). Lucy, single mom and freelancer, is tasked to score an interview witha professor who is enjoying critical success for his memoir as an orphan in post-WWII Europe. Lucy lies to get the interview, winds up befriending the guy, and then discovers he might have made it all up. Meanwhile, lucy’s neighbor may be dying of AIDS while developers attempt to purchase the building they live in.
And that is as far as I got, sorry. The sense of menace and paranoia–helped along by car wrecks that may or may not happened–was minimal (but maybe ratchets up later), but I was just bored to tears. The reviews say the end is surprising and will “outrage” many, but i just didn’t care enough to get there
.”

The author Jonathan Raban’s usual fare is travel writing – fact rather than fiction. It may be best if he sticks to that in the future…..or learns how not to let down his audience.