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Two book reviews . . . [Aug. 7th, 2007|11:12 am]
Don't have remotely the time/energy to do two of the books I want to review justice, both of which are both quite excellent and highly problematic/arguably not-excellent at the same time. Those would be Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks. don't have remotely the time/energy to do two of the books I want to review justice, both of which are both quite excellent and highly problematic/arguably not-excellent at the same time.

Infidel is Hirsi Ali's autobiography. For those who don't know, she grew up in, variously, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and (very briefly) Saudi Arabia. Her childhood will not make any of you wish to move to any of these places (whilst the least poverty-stricken of these places, Saudi Arabia arguably comes off the worst). As I've said previously, her struggle to maintain a sense of self is genuinely heroic, and there's also the more classicly heroic (i.e. fitting the actual definition of the word in the sense of risking oneself for others) when she returns to Somalia and helps get what turns out to be a lot more people than she planned out of the ountry as it is disentegrating. From there, she escapes an arranged marriage by moving to Holland and lying on her asylum application (escaping an arranged marriage not being a valid reason for asylum there, not so much because of sexism as because of the whole "floodgates" issue), eventually gets her degree and along the way to becoming a member of Parliment works various jobs and has all sorts of interesting experiences. Then she makes a short film w/Theo Van Gogh called "Submission" about the plight of women in Islamic societies, Theo gets killed, she is more or less forced into hiding (at one point her neighbors successfully petition the government to evict her from her home because of the combination of danger to them from her presence and their annoyance at having to live next to the (government-insisted) security measures around her house, which just goes to show not only in the US are people craven and selfish to a point that makes you wonder whether our species deserves to exist), there's a move to kick her out of Parliment and the country because she lied on her asylum application, around this time she gets a job offer from a conservative think tank in the US and even tho she got to retain her Dutch citizenship she is now here.

It's an awesome story, and she deserves kudos for the understanding she shows her relatives and allows us to have as well, her examination of the fundamentalist mindset (I had frequently thought that there are amusing similarities between what a former aquaintence of mine called "sub-space" and what some conservative types view as the proper mindset of the true believer; this seems rather more explicit in fundamentalist Islam), for not hiding her own imperfections (I wanted to scream at her for not recognizing the clear signs of depression and bi-polar disorder in her sister, and some of her comments to same) and her observations of different cultures. There's true stuff that's both telling and incredibly funny, such as how, among other things, the writings of authors such as Danielle Steel and Barbara Cartland gave her an idea of how nice, progressive and woman-friendly the West was. There's a great description of the above-mentioned movie and its genesis.

Then there's the lack of analysis about all sorts of things, such as the assassination of a popular Dutch politician who was about to electorally destroy the two main parties right before his election (this was attributed to a crazed animal rights activist; maybe it shows my conspiracy-inclinations but sounded suspiciously like a political hit to moi), and the complete oppresive stupidity of the way she was treated by the supposedly protecting her government when she was in hiding. And her *infuratiating* analysis of other things -- when someone achieves their position in great degree because of the welfare-stateness of the welfare state she takes refuge in (free college education, great job placement services that I *wish* existed in the US, very generous treatment/aid until the job placement gets there) then complains about this same welfare state being a poverty trap for people who have no incentive to better themselves because of its excessive generosity, I want to scream. Long and loud. This is already too long so I'll leave out further details. In sum: A very compelling, worthwhile read, and an important book, but also a very mixed bag.

The Traveler, by John Twelve Hawks. Funny that I finished reading this last week,and that yay!wiretapping vote happened last weekend. Set in a couple-of-years-down-the-road society in which all the things the current US administration would like to fight terrorism, have already been put in place. Terrorism now equals, more less, anyone/anything who threatens the powers-that-be or their ideas of social stability. A secret society called the Tabula (or "the brethren, as they prefer to call themselves") is very fond of this ordered, controlled stability, and have used it to almost completely eliminate another secret society, called the Harlequin, who are essentially a bunch of highly individualistic, exceptionally ruthless warriors whose primary purpose for existence is to protect Travellers, people who have the ability to travel into different levels of reality. The Tabula have also almost--perhaps completely--wiped out the Travelers. It's sort of William Gibson meets Carlos Castenada in world that's Orwell meets Huxley (control through consumerism as well as surveillance) but actual prose by Octavia Butler (for some reason, the spare, efficient style reminded me of her). The story itself consists of one of the last Harlequins, a young girl named Maya who is rather conflicted about whether there's any point to Harlequins anymore, being drafted by her father to seek out and protect the recently discovered children of the last known Traveller just in case they manage to show any such astral-projecting abilities themselves.

Really good in a lot of ways, but somewhat didactic in places, and the villains struck me as way too simple-minded and heavy-handed, even though (or perhaps because) I suspect a lot of them were directly modelled on real life villains who do indeed seem that simple-minded and heavy-handed.

(I also finished Deathly Hallows, which I liked, but has been discussed plenty elsewhere, and Simon Green's Paths Not Taken and Sharper than A Serpent's Tooth, which I also liked, Sharper much more than Paths, but as with the HP book, anyone getting this far in a series probably already likes it and so what do I say? maybe later if anyone actually wants to talk about any of these here).

From: josieburns
2007-08-07 10:31 pm (UTC)
I haven't heard of Hirsi Ali but Infidel sounds interesting.
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