Michael Palin – still the intrepid traveller at the age of 79.

No excuses. I’m a huge fan of Michael Palin both during and after his Monty Python days. When he first set off “Around the World in 80 Days” in the 1980’s, for a BBC TV series, I wondered whether the show would be successful or not. The fact that he did several other travel adventures for the BBC and then for other TV companies, the latest being a Channel 5 series and book ‘Into Iraq’, shows how successful he has been. Indeed, how successful he still is, venturing into Iraq at the age of 79…..and he still moves easier than I do.

I came across the book whilst browsing in the Napier branch of Wardini Bookshop – a shop that I use frequently and incidentally one of my favourites – and decided that I had to add another Palin book to my collection.

I read through ‘Into Iraq’ in one sitting as I was spellbound, yet again, by Palin’s love of travel and his love of people. The blurb on the back of the book’s jacket demonstrates this clearly.

I walk a little further on, away from the film crew, and come across two children sitting at the doorstep of what is left of a house. The boy is seven or eight, the girl older. Eleven or twelve, I guess. They sit silently together, he with a shy smile, she impassively, showing no emotion. I ask if I can take their picture. The girl nods, solemnly. It’s then, as I frame the two of them, sitting amongst the debris of a roofless house, the wall behind then studded with bullet holes, that I find myself unable to contain my own emotion.

The copy of the book that I have is the hard cover version. No doubt there either already is, or will be, a paperback version. It’s a very nice book with numerous colour photos of his journey, but this book is a much smaller format than the earlier BBC books and the paper quality doesn’t really do the photography true justice. That aside, I still like the book very much and am happy that I bought it.

Palin’s family were not happy about him going ‘Into Iraq’ on this latest of his travel adventures because of political and military unrest there, despite him surviving quite nicely when he visited North Korea for an earlier book. Casting all concerns aside, he began his journey in March of 2022 and travelled the length of the Tigris River through Iraq, keeping a journal along the way, which became his notes for this book.

He mixes freely with the Iraqi people, contemplates the graffiti-strewn ruins of Sadam Husein’s former palaces, notes the constant presence of armed guards and the lurking threat of militias. But there are lighter moments throughout the book and at the same time, he describes how the river Tigris, which once gave birth the ancient cities such as Babylon and Ur is now a shadow of its former self. Water in Iraq is becoming a scarce commodity. He also discusses how Iraq’s other major natural resource – oil – affects both the wealth and stability of the nation.

In an interview on BBC TV’s ‘The One Show’ Palin had a bit of a dig at his former employer – the BBC – by saying that Channel 5 who funded his trip to Iraq were easier to work with and less restrictive – allowing him the freedom to climb up the outside of the 52 metre tall Great Mosque in Samarra. The climb of 650 steps with no guard rail on the outer edge, a place where Palin found he had to stand several times to allow people to pass by him on their way down. During the interview Palin quipped “If I was working for the Beeb they wouldn’t have let me out of the car, let alone climbing up there,” taking aim at the BBC. And yes, he did go all the way up to the top and down again unscathed.

One of his interviewers noted that had Palin fallen from the Mosque’s tower, Britain would have lost a national treasure. I echo that sentiment. Palin will be 80 next month (May 5th) and I have to wonder how many more years he can remain active enough to take part in other travel adventures. Not only that, but who from the younger generation is waiting in the wings of the right calibre to step into his well-worn shoes?

If you like independent travel, or you’re a fan of Michael Palin – buy the book and take a look for yourselves. I rate it at 4 out of 5 (A one point deduction for the reduced size and the paper quality).

Again, thank you for reading this and your comments etc. are most welcome.

Bythell’s back….cue the Jame’s Bond theme….

Like the title says – Bythell, Shaun Bythell – is back with another in his series of Bookshop diaries. This one is titled ‘Remainders of the Day’ and heralds his return to the diary format that proved so successful in his first two diary style books ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’ and ‘Confessions of a Bookseller’.

Actually, perhaps we should cancel the Bond theme as Bythell and Bond have little in common. Bond of course is an action hero, suavely dressed – ‘women want him and men want to be him’….Oh hang on a minute that was Austin Powers, not Bond. But, either way Bythell is no Bond or even Powers….although he does have ginger hair.

However, any similarity as far as looks, or style ends there. Bythell’s dress sense leans more toward the secondhand shop disheveled look. He must work hard at developing his look. The just rolled out of bed hair, the obligatory checked shirt and moth-eaten sweater, rumpled trousers and scuffed boots is a look that he owns comfortably, shabbily even.

His book though, at least as far as I am concerned, is another winner. I think that returning to the diary style of book was a good move and once again a chance for him to use his biting wit to berate his staff and customers. And no doubt given the chance he would berate me for my underwhelming use of English grammar.

Although he tries to come across as a bit of a Bernard Black/Dylan Moran from the TV series Black Books – who seems to simply detest everyone and everything – Shaun Bythell is actually a very nice bloke….for a Scot. I deduce this both from the way he always helps his friends and even strangers who come his way and from having met him a few years ago when he was in New Zealand promoting his first book.

I did ask the question, after reading his second diary style book – Confessions of a Bookseller – whether or not Bythell had milked it for all that could be teased from the literary teat and that perhaps he should try something else the next time. Of course, his third book did in fact deviate from the usual format and frankly left the reader – well me in particular – rather flat. Perversely I still enjoyed the book, just not as much as the two before or this latest one. ‘Remainders’, coming back to the diary format was like pulling on a comfortable old woolen jersey on a cold day and snuggling down into something familiar and cozy.

This time he begins every month with an extract from Robert Milne Williamson’s 1904 book ‘Bits from an Old Bookshop’ which, although written almost a hundred and twenty years ago, is still very relevant today. Other than that, ‘Remainder’s’ has a comfortable, familiar feel to it. Many of the old cast and crew are there again including mole-man, Sandy the tattooed pagan, Anna (his ex who seems to have attached herself to Wigtown), Granny (of the acerbic tongue and middle finger salute) and of course Bythell’s friend Eliot, who scatters his shoes around the place for Bythell to trip over and occupies the bathroom for hours, as usual. Even Nicky gets a mention.

Loved the book. Had a good chuckle all the way through from start to finish. The epilogue really made me sit up and pay attention, as we come to learn something altogether new about the writer. New that is if our only exposure to Bythell has been through his books and not through the Bookshop website and blog. No spoilers from me, you’ll have to buy the book and read all about it!

As you can see from the photo at the top of the page, the latest book now sits on my bookcase alongside his other 3 books and that of his ex – Jessica aka Anna – ‘Three Things You Need To Know About Rockets’. The photo below is of me and the author when we met in New Zealand’s Booktown, Featherston, a few years ago.

I wish Shaun and everyone in his life every good wish for the future and sincerely hope that one day I will make the pilgrimage to The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland….where I will be either ignored, ridiculed or possibly accused of being a stalker.

As usual many thanks if you’ve read this far. Any comments, likes or shares are very much appreciated. See you in another post soon.

Hello, hello, I’m back again….

Forgive me readers for I have sinned. It’s been over a year since my last post on here.

And also forgive me for borrowing the title lyrics of a Gary Glitter song as the heading for this post.

I’ve taken some time off writing and reading for a while to pursue other interests. I tend to be a bit of a binge reader. I will read and read and read, one book after another for months and then won’t pick one up with the intention of reading it cover to cover for – what turned out to be – a very long time.

However, I was in the seaside city of Napier last weekend and while my wife was browsing the organic food shop there, I nipped over the road to browse through the books in the Napier branch of Wardini books (website here – https://www.wardini.co.nz/). I was just killing time, had zero intention of buying anything as I had not had any real interest in books for about a year.

So, I was very surprised to find myself buying 2 books and regretting not buying several others that caught my eye.

I’ve long been a follower of Michael Palin – both from his Monty Python days and from his wonderful travel shows (and accompanying books). So, when I saw a copy of his latest travel book “Into Iraq” I felt compelled to buy it. As I was approaching the desk to pay for the book, I saw the 4th offering from author and bookshop owner Shaun Bythell titled “Remainders of the Day” and picked that one up as well, as I had enjoyed his other three books.

Not only did I surprise myself by making these purchases, but also more surprising perhaps was that I absolutely devoured Palin’s book in one sitting and I’m now about a third of the way into Bythell’s “Remainders”. I will review both books in another post….shortly! I won’t leave it another 13 months between posts.

Another reason to write and read more is that due to my health – to be specific mobility problems, as I await one or possibly both hips to be replaced – I am unable to do many of the physical tasks that I used to be able to do, such as the upkeep of my rather large fruit and vegetable garden. This is more than just an inconvenience. It’s a disaster!

With the various crises that the world is experiencing at the moment – wild weather conditions, persecution of farmers due to government climate change regulations and the sudden increase in the cost of living (to name but 3), growing your own food has become a necessity. My decline in health and mobility couldn’t have come at a worse time. A food shortage, globally, is coming. Be prepared and start your own veggie patch as soon as you can.

Here in (usually) sunny Hawke’s Bay, on the east coast of New Zealand’s north island we are in the process of recovering from the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle which devastated this area on the 13th and 14th of February 2023 – particularly the low-lying terrain close to rivers. Many homes, farms and orchards are still under several feet of silt and mud now that the flood waters have retreated. Businesses have gone under, in more ways than one, homes have been destroyed and lives were lost.

Things happened very suddenly for people living in areas close to rivers, who were inundated without warning as riverbanks failed and they found themselves with no time to evacuate and spent the night on the roof of their homes, hoping and praying that the water would not come any higher.

My wife and I were among the lucky ones. We still have our home and the water didn’t even get into our garage or outbuildings, but our gardens were submerged under about a foot of water and we were without power and unable to use the flush toilet for 7 days. We are on a septic tank system here which flooded and polluted our entire garden, so now we have to start again pretty much from scratch. So, as I said earlier in this post, my declining health and mobility could not have come at a worse time. It is however but a minor inconvenience compared to what other people face, so in a way I am very grateful.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. I hope that this post finds you healthy and safe in this troubled world. I’ll see you in the next post soon. I am back.

Another rip roaring tale from Jonathan Maberry.

Wikipedia says – Patient Zero is a 2009 novel by American writer Jonathan Maberry and the first book in the Joe Ledger series. It was first published on March 3, 2009 through St. Martin’s Griffin and follows a detective that must help prevent the world from being terrorized by a bioweapon that turns humans into zombies.

See the source image

But it’s much more than that. Don’t write it off as “just another Zombie novel”. As Wiki says, it’s the first book in Maberry’s Joe Ledger series of books, and having already read King of Plagues – the third book in the series, which I blogged about in an earlier post – as a Mayberry and as a Joe Ledger fan….and let’s face it a fan of Zombies, I knew I had to read this book. The one that started it all. There are, by the way, now 10 books in the series. It was initially optioned for a TV series but as of yet nothing has happened as far as production goes.

Maberry researches his technical information thoroughly and for this book consulted many experts in their field, including Michael Sicilia who is the Public Affairs Manager with the California Office of Homeland Security, Exercise and Training Branch. He is the project manager of the Public Officials Initiative, which trains and exercises elected officials on their crucial role as crisis communicators in catastrophic emergencies – Staff at the Philadelphia Forensic Science Bureau – doctors working in the Department of Molecular Pathology and Neuropathology. He likes to get his tech info as factual as possible. Almost everything as regards surveillance, computer and weapons systems are real although some are not yet available on the commercial market.

The science, the prion diseases are also real…but the parasites and disease which cause the “zombie pathogen are fictitious (thank goodness)…BUT are based on and inspired by similar pathogens known about in science.

Getting back to the book….without any spoilers….you’ll just have to take my word for what a rip-snorter of an action packed story this is. We follow Joe Ledger, who at the start of the book is a police detective (ex army, martial arts expert), off duty and enjoying the waves… and the girls in bikinis, at his local beach. His peaceful day is ruined when he is approached by 3 large men with FBI I.D. who ask him to accompany them….in their car to a destination unknown.

And so begins the recruitment of Joe Ledger into the newly formed and highly secret DMS – The Department of Military Sciences (answering only to the President….or is the leader of this organization, the mysterious Mr Church, answerable to no one?). These are the guys responsible for snuffing out terrorist plots before they happen….the terrorist plots that never make it into the news media reports. We’ve all heard of black ops…..this department deals with a much, much darker shade of black.

Ledger has been brought in to lead an elite team of terrorist hunters, and in this story Zombie hunters, who threaten the existence of human kind, planet wide.

Even before Ledger can get settled in and start to train his team, he’s thrown in at the deep end…straight into one death defying mission after another. It’s fast paced stuff!

As the blurb on the back of the book cover says “When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.”

Yes…as you can see by that short smidgen of dialogue from the book, Maberry writes in the first person. He becomes Joe Ledger…or does Joe Ledger become him? Either way, and I noticed this in the King of Plagues book too, in some parts of the story it makes the writer (or the Hero) sound like a bit of a big head….a know all….a big I AM. To put it in a really cheesy / corny way – All men want to be Joe Ledger and all women want to be with him! That’s the way that Maberry wants his readers to view the hero of the hour. But, if you can get past that aspect of Maberry’s writing, you will enjoy this action packed story…..3 zombie slaying missions in 24 hours is as full on as it gets believe me!

Of course there is also a little dark humour, plus the all important romantic link to a female team member, a smattering of merciless terrorists, a power crazy multi-billionaire (think Bill Gates on steroids) and a mad, but very lustful scientist thrown in for good measure. …Oh and hundreds of bloodthirsty, brain munching zombies. You don’t have to think very much reading the Joe Ledger series….frankly he doesn’t give you the time to think as he barrels you along from one burst of action to another. This is definitely not a book that will exercise your grey matter, but for pure adrenaline rushing entertainment I loved it and got through it in 2 reading sessions…..not a lot of work achieved by me during that time, but worth it.

I’ll end with a few quotes of recommendation for the book …. but other than that, thanks for reading. Comments are always welcome.

Deserves to take his place among the best suspense writers of recent years” – John Connoly

His writing is powerful enough to sing with poetry while simultaneously scaring the hell out of you” – Tess Gerritsen

Scary, creepy and gripping…Patient Zero is Night of the Living Dead meets Michael Crichton” – Joseph Finder

A must for Zombie Fans

I’ve just finished reading The Return Man, by V.M. Zito. I borrowed it from the public library 4 days ago and given the chance I would have read it in one sitting, except of course life gets in the way of reading time. The book is an excellent take on the tried and tested Zombie story and is loaded with action, thrills and spills. If you’re a fan of Zombie books or movies, this book is an absolute must!

It’s not only me who writes in praise of this novel either. Here are some words by others to encourage you to read this book.

“Thrilling… crowd-pleasing.” –Publishers Weekly

“Hands down one of the best zombie novels I’ve read in a long, long time.” –David Moody, acclaimed author of AUTUMN

“A harrowing, haunting, and beautifully written novel…” –Library Journal

“… an action-packed, plot-driven thrill ride that is frightening and savage.” –Rue Morgue Magazine

“Highly accomplished… bloody excellent.” –Financial Times

“In a word: relentless.” –London Telegraph

“A hair-raising quest… Zito expertly piles on thrills, cliffhangers and numerous twists.” –The Guardian UK

“Compelling, captivating and at times hauntingly scary.” –Fantasy Book Review

OK, so for those of you who haven’t stopped reading this blog post and rushed out to buy a copy….here’s a brief outline of the story without giving up any spoilers.

Henry Marco…..formerly known as doctor Henry Marco….is now a bounty hunter of sorts. He finds himself living in the former state of Arizona, in what are now known as the Evacuated States of America – west of the great divide. The eastern states are known as the Safe States. Safe from what you may ask?…..Well go on….ask! Zombies are what. The eastern states being the Zombie Free Safe Zone and the western states, being handed over to the living dead, has supposedly been evacuated of all living humans….except of course for Henry Marco.

Marco’s new job is to locate specific zombies – ex family members of people living in the Safe States – and to make that zombie dead again…..permanently. To give the tortured soul, of that former human being, everlasting peace. He has a colleague who lives and works in the Safe States, who get the job contracts for Marco and who receives payment for the jobs as, when and if, they are completed.

The main reason Marco remained in the west, despite efforts to evacuate the living, is that he is desperately trying to find his own wife, who he suspects is dead….Zombified. Why does he think this? He thinks this because he found her car with bloody hand prints on the windows inside her car, AND a pile of entrails on the floor beneath the driver’s seat.

The story is set 4 years after the zombie apocalypse began and Marco, once a doctor who’s job was to save people, has now transformed into a Zombie Hunter. He sort of likes being his own boss and being responsible for his own destiny while being of service to others. But then he is given a mission by the head of Homeland Security…..a mission unlike any that he has been involved in so far.

Will he come out of this one alive? Will he complete the mission successfully? Will he find his wife and put her soul to rest?

You’re going to have to read the book to find out. It’s a brilliant page turner of a book. I hurried along the adventure with Marco, eager to find those answers and many more….but was extremely sad to finish the book. I want more. More Marco missions.

I was most upset to find out that V.M. Zito has only written one other Zombie story – a short story at that – which is a prequel to The Return Man with the title of Waiting Room.

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To quote Fantastic Fiction website “In the eerie abandoned corridors of St. Pius Hospital, professional corpse-finder Henry Marco is on a dangerous mission — to track and dispatch the Resurrected corpse of a man named Tim Patterson. The hunt will end in the dark waiting room of the sixth floor maternity ward, where Marco must confront the ultimate question: What meaning does life have to the dead?”

Waiting Room is not available at the library, but is available as a kindle download. I hate Kindles and don’t use them, but for V.M. Zito I will make an exception.

Many thanks for reading this blog post. Your comments are always appreciated. I shall endeavour….or for the Americans among you… endeavor….to write more regular posts.

The King of Plagues – Book Review

This is a brief book review for Jonathan Maberry’s novel The King Of Plagues – the third book in his Joe Ledger series of stories.

Joe Ledger was a Baltimore cop until he was enlisted by the DMS – the Department of Military Science – a crack team of investigators created to thwart bio terrorists and headed by a mysterious man called Church….or the Bishop…..or Deacon…or any other name related to the clergy. Everyone seems to know him by a different name

Ledger is accompanied by his white haired Alsatian dog by the name of Ghost, a dog almost as deadly as Ledger himself.

Ledger and Ghost are on the trail of a secret society known as the 7 Kings, who are lead by their self proclaimed Goddess, and who are determined to release weaponized versions of the Ten Plagues of Egypt in order to destabilize the world economy. The lives of millions of innocent people are in the balance unless Leger and his special ops team can bring down the Kings.

It’s a rip roaring, action packed story that will keep most Action/Military/Special Ops fans happy. Bad guys who kill without conscience, blood, guts, bullets, explosions and bio weapons galore….a fast paced story and a few twists and turns along the way to add enough uncertainty to make it interesting. Of course there is also a glamorous femme fatale or two to add a sexual angle to the story. Will Ledger and his team find out who the Seven KIngs are and stop them in time, or is this one fight that is unwinnable?

One particular Kings assassin, Santoro, has some good lines that enforce his reputation as a bad guy without a conscience….

“…when I kill for the Kings I am not committing murder, nor am I participating in acts of terrorism. Those are subjective concepts, and our worldview is grand. It is our mandate from heaven. As a result we are above all of that……because we have the power to enforce our own and particular set of rules”.

Anyone would think he was a politician, not an assassin. There are similarities I believe….they both think that they have the power to create their own set of rules that sets them above the common folk. Or am I just letting “Covid and the New Normal” bring out my petulant side?

He has zero remorse whether he kills thousands in a fiery bomb blast, or takes apart an innocent child.

The Kings set about wreaking havoc and Ledger and team always seem to be just a step behind, so close and yet so far from bringing a halt to the Kings dastardly plans. Will they get there in the end?

Read the book and find out.

The King of Plagues will never be looked upon as a classic piece of literature, but it is good entertainment and a light read. I give it a 3 out of 5.

Another Hemingway DNF

Although this was meant to be a book review, DNF being of course Did Not Finish, it would be hardly fair to review a book, in any depth, that I only read half way through. I mentioned in one of my very early blog posts how I struggled to get interested in Hemingway’s books and how much I wanted to like his writing. At the time I had been reading A Moveable Feast – his book of essays about life in Paris when he was a struggling writer. I said at the time of reading it that I enjoyed books, documentaries and movies about Hemingway, but couldn’t bring myself to a state of reading bliss when it came to books written by him.

I thought I would give him, and me, another chance and when I saw The Sun Also Rises on the shelves of Minton Booklovers – a most excellent second hand book store in the city of Napier, New Zealand – I felt compelled to buy it.

I had read, somewhere, that The Sun Also Rises was “a Hemingway masterpiece that salutes The Paris Cafe Scene, Spain and the Lost Generation”. Since all three of these subjects interest me I thought it would be a good read. BUT once again I struggled with Hemingway’s style of writing.

So, what is Hemingway’s writing style? It has been described as “economical, minimalist and sparse with few adjectives or adverbs”….OR “simple, direct and unadorned prose”. He writes giving little or no background information and often refers to it, he, or she without being specific about which it, he or she he is talking about. It has been suggested that his style developed from his days of being a journalist – giving just the bare bones about what happened and nothing else. He certainly doesn’t elaborate about anything. It was almost like stepping into the middle of a story rather than having a beginning and introducing us to the characters, setting the scene etc.

Many proclaim him a genius – a masterful writer. I honestly don’t understand why he is lauded by so many. He tends to provide the reader with the very basics necessary and leaves it up to us to add flesh to the bones of what the character means by what they say or deciding how they feel emotionally. I enjoy stories where I care about what happens to the characters, but it’s difficult to care about a character who is presented as all bones and no substance. There are, at times, occasional pages of conversation between two or more characters where it is difficult to follow who exactly is speaking….kind of like you’re listening into a conversation that you’re not part of, or not even meant to be part of. I felt like the book was some sort of “in-joke” that I was being deliberately excluded from.

I didn’t quite reach the half way mark of the 224 page story before I’d decided that enough was enough, for now at least. I’ll leave the bookmark in there and may get around to finishing it at a later date…..perhaps a bottle of whiskey would help?

Speaking of drinking, Hemingway is often associated with being a hard drinker and a tough fighter, but he claimed to rarely drink while writing. He would usually drink afterwards as a way of relaxing, to subconsciously work over the story in his mind, so that the following day he could continue to work with a clear head. Sometimes I wish he had partaken of a tipple or two while actually writing The Sun Also Rises as it may have relaxed his writing style, made his characters more believable, less wooden and far more interesting.

The Sun also Rises, I’m sorry to say, did not make my enthusiasm for Hemingway novels rise at all.

The Plot Against America – Book Review.

The Plot Against America was written in 2004 by American writer Philip Roth. It’s a novel, but told in the first person, using his own name along with real people from the 1930’s and 40’s – the time in which the story is set. So, in a way it reads more like an autobiography….but not one that is factual. In this story, rather than Franklin D Roosevelt winning the presidential election for the Democrats, it is taken out by Republican Charles Lindbergh (the famous aviator…..and Nazi sympathiser). This of course puts a different spin on world war 2 and which side the USA is leaning toward supporting.

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Roth is an American of Jewish heritage and in this book he writes a story featuring himself as a child in Newark living in a very Jewish neighbourhood. His main concern and his main passion, at the beginning of the story, is his stamp album….collecting stamps and keeping them safe for posterity. This of course is the period of history where Hitler comes to power in Germany, endeavours to conquer Europe and bring about the “final solution” to what he sees as the Jewish problem.

Once Lindberg looks like becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency, the world of the Jewish population in America takes a distinct turn for the worse. The persecution of the Jews becomes an accepted thing.

We follow the Roth family – Philip, the youngest child, his older brother Sandy and his parents – through a disturbing turn of events in an American history that didn’t happen, but could have very easily. Philip’s parents take in cousin Alvin to raise as their own ( a troubled youth) to try to straighten him out and set him on the right path, but he runs away to Canada to join the war effort against Hitler’s Nazi tyrants. Within a short time, Alvin is badly wounded, losing half a leg from the knee down….(what a stupid statement….it’s not likely to be from the knee up is it?) and returns to the Roth household broken and dejected. Young Philip shares a bedroom with Alvin and helps to dress his stump and look after his welfare.

Roth writes a very believable story of ordinary citizens turning against the Jews in late 1930’s early 1940’s America. The phrase “it can’t happen here” rings out….but fact is, it can happen anywhere and often does. In Nazi Germany, German Jews who had lived quite happily with other Germans for years and were considered friends and acquaintances were abandoned and attacked by their former neighbours and handed over to the Nazi’s and Gestapo. And in “The Plot Against America” the Jews are once again the target of hatred, but this time it’s in the “land of the free”.

Lindberg initiates the Office of American Absorption (OAA)- programs to separate Jewish youths from their families and place them far away from home with gentile families on “work experience” where they become more Americanized. Philip’s brother Sandy is sent away to a farm in Kentucky during the 6 week school holiday to return home later a changed character who has no respect for his father and mother and has become an admirer of Lindberg.

I don’t want to talk in any detail about the plot as I’d like to encourage you to read it for yourselves and so don’t want to give away too much and spoil your reading experience.

Leaving talk of this particular book just there, many of us look at the slaughter of the 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany and question how anything like that could happen, where right thinking people initially turn a blind eye and then actually support the persecution of a particular group of people based on race, religion, or political beliefs – but it happens a lot. It is often seen as convenient to blame a particular set of people for causing problems to make them scapegoats for something that they were never responsible for. A way for the government, ruling classes, or crazed dictator to drive a wedge between other once peaceful parts of the civilian population. It happened to anyone of middle eastern origin/Muslims after the 9/11 tragedy. It’s happened more recently in Europe with eastern Europeans moving to the west and taking western jobs….and more recently still with Syrian refugees fleeing conflict in their own country and escaping to Europe and Britain in particular. The established residents take an instant disliking to the “invading refugees” and eye them suspiciously because they don’t understand their culture and most people fear, and therefore hate, what they don’t understand.

It worries me that more division, hatred, bullying and other means of victimization will occur, and be encouraged to occur, between those who accept the official narrative and take the covid-19 vaccine and those who question or refuse a vaccination. Already rival factions are attacking one another verbally on social (or not so social) media. The vitriol was already heated with threats of violence even before the various vaccines were approved for use. I wonder and worry what will happen now that the vaccinations have begun in earnest.

Going back to Roth’s book. At the end of the story is a post script in which Roth provides true details of some of the real life characters who appeared in his story. It’s actually uncanny how close Roth’s fictional events came to happening in reality having read the details in the post script. Scary stuff.

There is a 2020 HBO TV mini-series based on Roth’s book. I haven’t seen it yet, but judging by the trailer – link below – it appears to stick closely to the original story.

(408) The Plot Against America: Official Trailer | HBO – YouTube

“Anything can happen to anyone, but it usually doesn’t. Except when it does.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Plot Against America

My TBR list.

It’s been a while since I put out a to be read list. Some of these I have had for a while and have been meaning to read for some time.

I’ve never read any Philip Roth, but have heard good things about him….and a few bad things…so I’ll have a read and make up my own mind. I picked up Sabbath’s Theatre at a book sale in November and the other 2 books I bought today at a used book store that I’ve never been in before by the name of Minton Booklovers, in Napier…..which probably warrants a post of its own at a later date.

As you can see there are a few classics there among my picks, all of which I have never delved into before so have been languishing for a while on my shelf begging to be picked up and opened. I have no idea what order I will read them in, but since I have 3 of Roth’s there I guess I should start with one of his.

If anyone has any advice or opinions to share on any of these books, please feel free to comment.

Many thanks.

One mad scientist is all it takes…

I’ve just finishing the 3rd book in Margaret Atwood’s trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake (2003), continued with The Year of the Flood (2009) and finally concluded with MaddAddam (2013). Individually great stories but together, an exceptional epic story. Atwood has an amazing, imaginative and complex mind and this certainly comes out in her stories. I must say how much I respect her as a writer. She’s brilliant.

The first book, Oryx and Crake sets the scene for the other books. It begins in the aftermath of a devastating global pandemic (quite apt given recent circumstances with Covid-19) and is told from the perspective of a man named Snowman, who wears a bedsheet and lives in a tree by a lake. A strange ‘tribe’ of people known as Crakers appear to idolize him and seek guidance from him.

The story moves back and forth in time from present day post apocalypse, with Snowman telling the Crakers stories of the mythical Oryx and Crake who are seen as their creators and god like beings, and past times when Snowman was known by the name Jimmy. His parents worked for a science research company that made genetically engineered hybrid animals capable of growing extra organs (hearts, kidneys etc.) for transplant into humans.

We follow Jimmy’s life from his school / university days during which time his mother becomes disillusioned with the work that her company is doing and leaves both her job and Jimmy’s father and disappears. It is believed that she may be working for some underground subversive movement. Jimmy meets a very intelligent fellow student who calls himself Crake who is quite brilliant at both mathematics and science. They share an interest in online gaming and pornography. Jimmy’s passion though are words, so while Crake lands himself a top job in the science field, Jimmy ends up working in advertising. However they keep in touch and eventually their paths cross again when Crake offers Jimmy a job, at the company he works for, to promote a new pill called BlyssPluss which is meant to enhance both male and female libido, but also had a number of unrevealed side effects, one of which was to make the taker sterile. So you’ll have an amazingly multi-orgasmic sexual experience, but thereafter be incapable of reproduction.

Crake was also in command of a special secret experiment to produce genetically engineered ‘perfect’ humans. This all happened in a high security dome called Paradice, which was a secure home for this new breed of humans who Crake, never one for modesty, named after himself as Crakers.

I don’t want to give too much of the storyline away, because I don’t want to spoil things for you. There are many things that unfold during the story. One thing to bear in mind though is that all of the science involved is factual, is being done, or can be done, or at least in theory can be done. That in its self is quite a scary thought. Anyway it becomes clear who, why and how a major pandemic was released on an unsuspecting public…..and why Jimmy becomes Snowman, living in a tree, wearing a bedsheet and acting as some sort of guru for this new breed of humans.

The second in the trilogy – The Year of the Flood – introduces us to a whole new cast of characters many of whom are members of a group of eco-warriors known as God’s Gardeners. Again the chapters shift between present day and past to bring us a new focus on the pandemic, about the way people live, the way that society seems to have sunk to an all time ethical low and about the multitude of genetically engineered animals, now common place.

The new characters are many but the main focus is on former or current members of God’s Gardeners and their wish to live as natural a life as possible without government interference. They soon find themselves on a list of undesirables and face persecution. We follow several of the characters, Ren, Toby, Zeb and Adam One being the primary ones and examine their relationships with one another and their reliance on one another when things turn bad.

The shit hits the fan and people are separated from their loved ones, no one seems to know who has or hasn’t survived and roving bands of bandits and wild animals test their survival skills.

Again I don’t want to get into the plot too much as I’d rather you read all 3 books and hopefully enjoy them as much as I did.

The final book MaddAddam skillfully brings the characters and the plot lines of both of the earlier books together in a climactic finale where you find yourself saying “Oh I see….that’s how they’re related”. There is a coming together of long separated characters, happiness, surprises, the tying up of a number of loose ends left dangling in previous stories, as well as unexpected death and destruction….of course there is death and destruction – it’s a dystopian novel.

It’s a kind of warning, I guess, as to the direction that humanity seems to be heading and how we somehow yearn for self destruction. BUT it’s also about resilience, about unification and respect between the species. Let me just say that you’ll never look at a bacon sandwich in the same way again.

And it’s also a warning about how the actions and perceptions of one mad scientist…or should I say Madd scientist….can change the world forever.

If you’re into dystopia, read and enjoy these three books. Again, thank you for reading my blog-post. Likes, shares, comments and re-posts are all very welcome.