One-Minute Book Reviews

November 16, 2007

I Belong to the ‘Tribe of Chronic Masturbators,’ Says the Hero of ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,’ Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

By Janice Harayda

Remember how upset some librarians got when the word “scrotum” appeared on the first page of the 2007 Newbery Medal winner www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/19/? I wonder what they’re going say to when they find out that the hero of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian says that he belongs to “the tribe of chronic masturbators.”

Alexie’s novel won National Book Award for Young People’s Literature on Wednesday, so it’s safe to say that it will also receive consideration for the Newbery that the American Library Association www.ala.org will hand out in January. I’ll review the book in the next week or so (along with Daughter of York, originally scheduled for this week).

Until then librarians who want to check out that “good part” can do it by going to the listing for the novel on Amazon www.amazon.com and using the “Search Inside This Book” tool to search for “tribe of chronic masturbators,” which appears on page 217. [Note: All you teenage boys who found this site by searching for “scrotum” or “masturbation,” go back to your Social Studies. That page number was a public service for librarians.]

Oh, am I going to have fun reviewing this book! Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed if you’d like to read my comments.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 15, 2007

“It must be a gift of evolution that humans / Can’t sustain wonder … “ Quote of the Day From Robert Hass’s ‘Time and Materials,’ Winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Poetry

Robert Hass’s Time and Materials, winner of the 2007 National Book Award for poetry, deals with an unusually wide range of subjects for an 88-page collection — trees, a mother’s alcoholism, the war in Iraq. One of its best poems is “State of the Planet,” which marks the 50th anniversary of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. It includes this memorable sixain:

“It must be a gift of evolution that humans
Can’t sustain wonder. We’d never have gotten up
From our knees if we could. But soon enough
We’d have fashioned sexy little earrings from the feathers,
Highlighted our cheekbone by rubbings from the rock,
And made a spear from the sinewey wood of the tree.”

From Robert Hass’s “State of the Planet” in Time and Materials: Poems 1997–2005 (HarperCollins/Ecco, $22.95) www.eccobooks.com and www.nationalbook.org.

November 14, 2007

Alexie, Hass, Johnson and Weiner Win 2007 National Book Awards — Women Shut Out in Sweep for Male Authors

A tidal wave of testosterone at the National Book Awards ceremonyOne-Minute Book Reviews normally doesn’t cover breaking news. But the National Book Award winners announced tonight have been slow enough to appear on the Web that the policy is bending today. Here’s a complete list of the winners and finalists for the awards from the National Book Foundation site www.nationalbook.org. SNAP preview is always enabled on One-Minute Book Reviews, so you can put your cursor on aLiny of the links below and see an image of the page you’ll reach by clicking on it.FICTION

WINNER: Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) – Interview

Mischa Berlinski, Fieldwork (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) – Interview
Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) – Interview
Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End (Little, Brown & Company) – Interview
Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) – Interview
Jim Shepard, Like You’d Understand, Anyway (Alfred A. Knopf) – Interview

Fiction judges: Francine Prose (chair), Andrew Sean Greer,
Walter Kirn, David Means, and Joy Williams.NONFICTION

WINNER: Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Doubleday) – Interview

Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I’m Dying (Alfred A. Knopf) – Interview
Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
(Twelve/Hachette Book Group USA) – Interview
Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution
(Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux) – Interview
Arnold Rampersad, Ralph Ellison: A Biography (Alfred A. Knopf) – Interview

Nonfiction judges: David Shields (chair), Deborah Blum,
Caroline Elkins, Annette Gordon-Reed, and James Shapiro.

POETRY
WINNER: Robert Hass, Time and Materials (Ecco/HarperCollins) – Interview

Linda Gregerson, Magnetic North (Houghton Mifflin Company) – Interview
David Kirby, The House on Boulevard St.
(Louisiana State University Press) – Interview
Stanley Plumly, Old Heart (W.W. Norton & Company) – Interview
Ellen Bryant Voigt, Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006
(W.W. Norton & Company) – Interview

Poetry Judges: Charles Simic (chair), Linda Bierds, David St. John,
Vijay Seshadri, and Natasha Trethewey.

YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE
WINNER: Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
(Little, Brown & Company) – Interview

Kathleen Duey, Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers) – Interview
M. Sindy Felin, Touching Snow (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) – Interview
Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic Press) – Interview
Sara Zarr, Story of a Girl (Little, Brown & Company) – Interview
Young People’s Literature Judges: Elizabeth Partridge (chair),
Pete Hautman, James Howe, Patricia McCormick, and Scott Westerfeld

October 11, 2007

An Overdue Nobel Prize in Literature for Doris Lessing

At last, the Swedish Academy honors the author of the landmark The Golden Notebook

The mandate for the Nobel Prize in Literature specifies that it must go to an author whose works show an “idealistic” tendency. In practice this means that the award www.nobelprize.org sometimes has more to do with politics than literary merit. But the Swedish Academy got it right — if belatedly — in giving the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature to the novelist Doris Lessing, born in what is now Iran and a resident of London. As Motoko Rich and Sarah Lyall write in today’s online New York Times:

“Ms. Lessing’s strongest legacy may be that she inspired a generation of feminists with her breakthrough novel, The Golden Notebook. In its citation, the Swedish Academy said: ‘The burgeoning feminist movement saw it as a pioneering work and it belongs to the handful of books that informed the 20th century view of the male-female relationship.’

“Ms. Lessing wrote candidly about the inner lives of women and rejected the notion that they should abandon their own lives to marriage and children. The Golden Notebook, published in 1962, tracked the story of Anna Wulf, a woman who wanted to live freely and was in some ways Ms. Lessing’s alter-ego.

“Because she frankly depicted female anger and aggression, she was attacked as ‘unfeminine.’ In response, Ms. Lessing wrote: ‘Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing came as a great surprise.’”

The well-organized and comprehensive site Doris Lessing: A Retrospective www.dorislessing.org rightly says that Lessing broke new ground with The Golden Notebook and its portrait of the women of its era: “Anna Wulf, like Lessing herself, strives for ruthless honesty as she aims to free herself from the chaos, emotional numbness, and hypocrisy afflicting her generation.”

Since its inception, One-Minute Book Reviews has had a policy that at least 50 percent of its reviews cover books by women. The Golden Notebook was one of the novels that helped to shape my thinking about the role of women and my belief that the small steps that all of us take in our own lives are the first step toward real justice for both sexes. Would more book clubs were reading this instead of The Manny!

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

September 7, 2007

Thank You All! One-Minute Book Reviews Among Top 10 Book Review Sites on Google

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I don’t thank all the visitors to this site nearly enough, and here’s proof: Just saw that One-Minute Book Reviews is ranked 7th in the world among book review sites on Google www.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/Reviews_and_Criticism/. I have no idea how Google arrives at these rankings. But to all of you who have helped with your clicks, I need to say immediately (via Sebastian in Twelfth Night):

I can no other answer make but thanks,
And thanks; and ever oft good turns
Are shuffled off with such uncurrent pay …

Bless you all.

Jan

(By the way, if you expect to be writing a lot of thank-you notes for wedding or holiday gifts soon, that’s a great quote to save for the moment when your inspiration fails you as you look at that butter dish shaped like a raccoon or — dare I say it? — that book about the history of bungee-jumping in northern Saskatchewan.)

August 15, 2007

Self-Help Books by Quacks, Frauds and Incompetents: Why Don’t They Get the Kinds of Clinical Trials That Drugs Get? (Quote of the Day)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:02 am
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How many times have you read or heard about a self-help book that struck you as pure quackery? Probably a lot. Some publishers make preposterous claims for how their books will improve your physical or mental health, or claims that the Food and Drug Administration would never allow other kinds of companies to make without proof that they were true. But publishers are rarely held accountable for false advertising.

Should some of this snake-oil-in-print be subjected to the kinds of clinical trials that drugs get? The Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating article recently suggesting that this is starting to happen. Here’s part of what it said about health-related how-to books:

” … this category is reminiscent of the market for elixirs, oils and pills before the advent of federal regulation. Despite the growth in research, fewer than 5% of the tens of thousands of self-help books on the market have been subjected to randomized clinical trials. And authors with no scientific credentials are just as likely to hit the jackpot as are renowned physicians. ‘When the book cover announces that it’s a bestseller, that means nothing,’ says John Norcross, a University of Scranton professor of psychology and researcher on the effectiveness of self-help books.

“Now, mental-health professionals in the U.K., the U.S. and elsewhere are determined to distinguish the most proven offerings. The aim is to recommend books that have been shown to be successful in published trials conducted by reputable, independent researchers.”

Kevin Helliker in “Bibliotherapy: Reading Your Way to Mental Health,” the Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2007, page D1. I couldn’t link to the article from this site but could find the story by cutting and pasting the following link into the address bar in my browser, so you might try that it if you want to know more: http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB118583572352482728.html. You can also find this article easily by Googling “helliker + bibliotherapy.”

Comment by Janice Harayda:

I’m all for the kind of testing the Journal described. I’d also favor stricter regulation of advertising by book publishers, whether or not clinical trials were conducted. How about you?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

August 13, 2007

Review of Marcus Luttrell’s ‘Lone Survivor’: A Navy SEAL Survives a Firefight in Afghanistan With His Pride — and His Anger — Intact

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“Right here was a 21st-century version of General Custer’s last stand, Little Big Horn with turbans.”
Marcus Luttrell in Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. By Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson. Little Brown, 249 pp., $24.99.

By Janice Harayda

Two years ago Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell survived a disastrous firefight in the mountains of Afghanistan with his pride – and his anger – intact. But the clash took the lives of the three comrades who fought beside him and eight U.S. servicemen whose helicopter was shot down by the Taliban during an attempted rescue.

Luttrell’s memoir of this horrific experience is part war story, part polemic against “the liberal media” and part Valentine to George W. Bush. As a war story, it is gripping, providing a rare soldier’s-eye-view of a guerilla conflict. As a polemic, it is uneven. And as a Valentine to the president, it is likely to appeal only those who already support the administration.

“Right here was a twenty-first-century version of General Custer’s last stand, Little Big Horn with turbans,” Luttrell writes of the firefight that killed his three fellow SEALs, who were on a mission to capture an al Qaeda leader. And if the metaphor is overstated, it contains an element of truth. The appeal of this account of Operation Redwing – like that of the many books on Custer – depends partly on whose side you’re on in the provocative issues it raises.

Best line: Luttrell gives a remarkably candid account of his stateside training as a SEAL in the aptly titled Chapters 4 (“Welcome to Hell, Gentlemen”) and 5 (“Like the Remnants of a Ravaged Army”). The program was so brutal — even sadistic — that the long list of injuries included several cases of pneumonia.

Worst line: “We all harbor fears about untrained, half-educated journalists who only want a good story to justify their fears and expense accounts. Don’t think it’s just me. We all detest them, partly for their lack of judgment, mostly because of their ignorance and toe-curling opportunism. The first minute an armed conflict turns into a media war, the news becomes someone’s opinion, not hard truths. When the media gets involved in a war you’ve got a damned good chance of losing, because the restrictions on us are immediately amplified, and that’s sensationally good news for our enemy.” And it’s not “opportunism” when Luttrell gives interviews to the media to promote his book?

Reading group guide: A Totally Unathorized Reading Group Guide to Lone Survivor was posted on One-Minute Book Reviews on August 13 in the post directly before this one. The guide contains more information on and quotations from the book.

Published: First American edition, June 2007.

Links: You can read an excerpt from Lone Survivor and listen to a podcast at www.hachettebookgroupusa.com. You can find out about other books by Patrick Robinson at www.patrickrobinson.com.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Marcus Luttrell’s ‘Lone Survivor’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
Lone Survivor
The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10

By Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews
http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading programs. Other groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

In 2005 Marcus Luttrell set out with three other U.S. Navy SEALs to capture an al Qaeda leader hiding on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Luttrell and his unit soon became engaged in a fierce firefight with Taliban soldiers that he alone survived. He tells his story in his memoir, Lone Survivor, a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.

Questions for Readers

1. Military books don’t usually become immediate bestsellers unless they have famous authors, such as Private Jessica Lynch or General Colin Powell. Lone Survivor reached the No. 1 spot on the New York Times list quickly even though Marcus Luttrell was little-known. Why do you think accounts for this? What drew you to the book? What do you think attracted others to it?

2. Luttrell is the son of Texas horse ranchers and had something of a cowboy childhood. For example, his father taught him to shoot a .22-caliber rifle at the age of seven. [Page 51] Is Lone Survivor a kind of cowboy story? Why or why not?

3. At times Luttrell rails against what he calls “the liberal media.” But you might wonder whether he means “the liberal media” as opposed to “the conservative media” or “the media in general, which tend to be liberal.” What do you think he meant? Does it matter to his story?

4. Luttrell says that on an earlier assignment in Iraq, he realized that some people thought “we who put our lives on the line for our nation at the behest of our government should be charged with murder for shooting our enemy.” They included “the liberal media, which knows nothing of combat, nothing of our training, and nothing of the mortal dangers we face out there on the front line.” [Page 37] Was this a fair comment when so many reporters are embedded with troops? Why or why not?

5. Luttrell also lashes out against provisions of the Geneva Conventions that prevent civilians from becoming targets of attacks. He argues that these are unfair in wars such the one SEALs were fighting in Afghanistan, because soldiers often disguise themselves as civilians. [Page 367 and elsewhere] How well does Luttrell make his case against some provisions of the Conventions?

6. Nations clearly have several options if some provisions of the Geneva Conventions don’t work in wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq: 1) Obey all the provisions, even those put soldiers’ lives at risk; 2) Ignore provisions that would endanger soldiers (even if this would anger other countries); 3) Don’t get involved in wars that would require soldiers to make such choices. Luttrell seems to favor a variation on the second option: Either repeal some provisions or allow soldiers to disregard them. Which option makes most sense to you?

7. Some of America’s greatest books involve sole survivors of disasters. These include Moby-Dick. (Its epilogue includes a line from the Book of Job: “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”) What accounts for the appeal of these survival narratives? Do Americans tend to see themselves as “alone” in some fundamental way and identify with their characters? Or is something else at work?

8. In an interview with the New York Times, Luttrell said his main goal in writing Lone Survivor was to tell the story of the SEALs who did not survive. ”Now I think the American public knows who they are, and now they are forever immortalized,” he said. ”Their memory will never die out, and that’s what I wanted.” [“He Lived to Tell the Tale (And Write a Best Seller), by Motoko Rich, in the New York Times, Aug 9, 2007, page E1.] Did he achieve his goal? Do you agree that his friends’ memory “will never die”?

9. Many studies have shown that schoolchildren today have trouble identifying major battles of the Civil War or World War II, let alone their winners, losers, and individual participants. In that context, do you think that people will remember Operation Redwing years from now? Or will they forget it after other military memoirs appear? Why or why not? What does your answer say to you about our country?

10. Luttrell says early in his book, “I am not a political person.” [Page 39] After reading Lone Survivor, do you agree? Why or why not?

Vital statistics:

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. By Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson. Little Brown, 249 pp., $24.99. First American edition: June 2007.

Links: You can read an excerpt and listen to a podcast at www.hachettebookgroupusa.com. You can learn about other military books by Patrick Robinson at www.patrickrobinson.com.

Your book group may also want to read:

Return With Honor (Doubleday, 1995). By Captian Scott O’Grady with Jeff Coplon. This gripping bestseller tells the true story of a U.S. Air Force caption who was shot down while enforcing a NATO no-fly zone over Bosnia in 1995 and eluded capture for six days until rescued by Marines. Return With Honor lacks the angry political rhetoric of Lone Survivor, and for that reason, some people may prefer it to Luttrell’s book.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. She does not accept free books from editors, publishers or agents, and all or her reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark One-Minute Book Reviews or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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June 8, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Peter Godwin’s ‘When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
By Peter Godwin

This guide for reading groups was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

“In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue,” Peter Godwin writes in this elegant memoir of the terrors of the nearly 30-year regime of dictator Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. If those words sound melodramatic, consider a few of the facts offered by the author, a former foreign correspondent for BBC TV who grew up in what was then the British colony of Rhodesia. Godwin’s sister and her fiancé were killed in 1978, just before their wedding, when they ran into army ambush during the war for independence. Mugabe later sent hit squads into the countryside to abduct and murder his opponents. The husband of Godwin family friend was forced to drink diesel oil before he was killed. The author’s father was beaten outside his home. A woman had worked for 20 years as the family housekeeper returned soon after her retirement with enforcers and demanded money. As Godwin tried to help his parents stay safe, he uncovered a family secret that he believes helps to explain a question at the heart of his memoir: Amid the terror, why didn’t his parents return to England, where they had lived before settling in Africa?

Questions for Readers

1. The title of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun comes from the belief among some Zulus that a solar eclipse occurs when a “celestial crocodile” eats the sun. [Page 201] Godwin is clearly using the eclipse as a metaphor. At least two kinds of eclipses – personal and national – occur in this memoir. What are the eclipses?

2. Godwin returns to the crocodile when he visits his godmother in a nursing home. She is reading a magazine that has a quote from Winston Churchill, who says, “Appeasement is feeding the crocodile, hoping it will eat you last.” [Page 326] We may assume Churchill was referring to Hitler (the crocodile) and the Munich Pact (the appeasement), which allowed Germany to claim parts of Czechoslovakia. Who is the crocodile in Godwin’s book? How does this image relate to the memoir as a whole?

3. In his memoir Godwin tries to draw parallels between the treatment of whites in Africa and Jews in other parts of the world. How effective were his efforts?

4. When a Crocodile Eats the Sun begins when Godwin gets a call saying that his father has had a heart attack and he needs to fly to Harare, Zimbabwe (formerly Salisbury, Rhodesia). At this point, his sister and her fiancé have already been killed. Godwin often seems to put himself in serious danger to provide aid or comfort to his parents. Do you see him as brave, crazy or something else? Would you have done what he did in the frightening situations in the book? Why or why not?

5. If you have lived in the U.K. or watch the BBC news regularly on cable, you know that the British media cover international events more extensively than their American counterparts do. Godwin seems to be reacting to this when writes: “Africa seldom makes it into the American media; even the venerable New York Times mostly smuggles in its Africa coverage as soft features on slow news days, or six-line bulletins in the news-in-brief section. Yet every single day, newspaper headlines can legitimately announce: ‘Another Five Thousand Africans Die of AIDS.’” [Page 204] Do you agree with Godwin’s comments on Africa and the American media? After reading his book, would you encourage American editors and producers to change their coverage? How?

6. If you agree with Godwin that the American media slight Africa, why do you think this is so? Is it racism, pure and simple, or do other factors come into play?

7. Godwin often suggests that for all the terrors his white parents faced, Mugabe’s despotism hurt black Zimbabweans the most. Do you agree? Why? What cruelties did blacks suffers under his dictatorship?

8. As Mugabe’s stranglehold on Zimbabwe tightened, a group of women from Women of Zimbabwe Arise! (WOZA) were attacked while demonstrating against the regime. “They are middle-aged black ladies – the pillars of society, normally to be found at the Women’s Institute or organizing church teas,” Godwin writes. “Yet here they are, their arms in casts, patches over their eyes, bandages around their heads. And still they are spirited and indignant. This, it seems to me, is true courage.” [Page 224] Does this recall any episodes in American history? Which ones? Would the American women you know, white or black, have the courage to do what those of WOZA did?

9. Flashes of humor appear even in parts of this book that deal with bleak subjects like the AIDS pandemic. At a backpackers’ hangout at Victoria Falls, Godwin sees a huge jar (with one condom in it) that bears the label “AIDS Kills So Don’t Be Silly, Put A Condom on Your Willy.” [Page 107] How do details like this help When a Crocodile Eats the Sun? Without them, might this book be almost too painful to read?

10. “It is sometimes said that the worst thing to happen to Africa was the arrival of the white man,” Godwin writes. “And the second worst was his departure. Colonialism lasted just long enough to destroy much of Africa’s indigenous cultures and traditions, but not long enough to leave behind a durable replacement.” [Page 155] Do you agree or disagree? How did Godwin’s memoir affect your view of this idea?

Extras:
11. You may have been taught that writers use symbols only in fiction or poetry. This clearly isn’t true (given that the crocodile stands for more than a reptile in this book). The use of symbols, metaphors and other literary devices has become common in works of narrative nonfiction such as When a Crocodile Meets the Sun. For example, rattlesnakes are a recurring motif in Joan Didion’s early books. Have you read other nonfiction books that make effective use of symbols, metaphors or similar literary devices? What are some other symbols or metaphors in Godwin’s book?

12. At least one American university, Michigan State, has given an honorary degree to Robert Mugabe. Apparently the school is reconsidering the award. What would you say to the university administrators?

Vital statistics
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa. By Peter Godwin. Little, Brown, 344 pp., $24.99. First U.S. edition: April 2007. www.hachetteookgroupusa.com

A review of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com
on June 6, 2007, and is archived with the June posts and in the “Memoirs” category.

Contact the author: Peter Godwin, Author/When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, Hachette Book Group USA, 237 Park Ave., New York, New York 10169. (Yes, publishers do forward the letters.)

Your book group may also want to read:

Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa (Harper Perennial, $14, paperback). By Peter Godwin. Godwin writes about his childhood and the events that preceded those of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun in this earlier memoir.

A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide (Harper Perennial, $14 paperback). By Samantha Power. Godwin tries to forge links between the treatment of whites in Africa and Jews everywhere. You may want to see how Power handles a similar subject in this Pulitzer Prize–winning book, which compares the Nazi atrocities to genocide in Rwanda, Cambodia, Iraq and elsewhere.

“Showing Mugabe the Door.” By Peter Godwin. The New York Times, April 3, 2007, page A21. In this op-ed page article, Godwin provides an update on what’s happened in Zimbabwe since he finished When a Crocodile Eats the Sun. He also explores how the U.S. and other democracies could get rid of Mugabe.

“The Future Is Black.” By Anthony Sattin. The Spectator, March 24, 2007. www.spectator.co.uk. This is an unusually intelligent and well-written review of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun. (Search the site for “Peter Godwin” to find it.)

For a brief history of the Mugabe era in Zimbabwe, search the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia www.wikipedia.org for “Robert Mugabe.”

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of The Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please consider linking from your blog to One-Minute Book Reviews. Thank you for visiting this site.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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April 3, 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Speaks Out in ‘Infidel’ Against ‘Honor Killings’ and Other Injustices to Women

A Somali-born former member of the Dutch Parliament writes about her circumcision at the age of five and other events that shaped her life

Infidel. By Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Free Press, 353 pp., $26.

By Janice Harayda

In November 2004 a Muslim fanatic shot the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh on an Amsterdam street and used a butcher knife to stab into his chest a letter to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, then a member of the Dutch Parliament. Hirsi Ali had worked with Van Gogh on a film of about female oppression under Islam, called Submission, that included shots of a naked, battered woman covered with writings from the Koran.

Infidel begins with a gripping account of the murder. And the scene sets the tone for much of the rest of this memoir of Hirsi Ali’s childhood in Somali and elsewhere, her flight to Holland to escape an arranged marriage, her election to Parliament and her eventual move to the United States and her work for a conservative think tank.

Much of the coverage of Infidel has focused on some of its more harrowing events. These include the day that 5-year-old Hirsi Ali and her 6-year-old brother and 4-year-old sister underwent circumcisions arranged by their grandmother, with the job done in the author’s case by a man with scissors “who was probably an itinerant traditional circumciser from the blacksmith clan.” But Infidel has equally memorable portraits of later events, such as the treatment Hirsi Ali received after asking for asylum in Holland. The Dutch government, until it could act on her request, gave her free meals and housing in a tidy bungalow in a compound with a swimming pool and tennis and volleyball courts. It also provided her with free laundry services, legal representation and health care, and a “weekly allowance” to cover her basic needs. Does this help you understand why so many people want to emigrate to the Netherlands and other welfare states?

For all its insights into such topics, Infidel isn’t always credible or persuasive in its arguments. Hirsi Ali admits that she lied to Dutch officials to get refugee status for herself and, later, for her sister, which raises questions about whether she is always telling the truth elsewhere. And while she waged a brave and admirable campaign to get the authorities to keep track of the “honor killings” of Muslim women who had been raped or otherwise “stained” their family honor, she adds: “I am also convinced that this is the largest, most important issue that that our society and our planet will face in this century.” More important than nuclear war?

Some people have called Hirsi Ali “the new Salman Rushdie” because she has received death threats. But her fascinating memoir has much more to offer to most American readers than the frequently opaque magical realism of The Satanic Verses. If you belong to a reading group looking for books that will inspire passionate debate, you could hardly find a memoir more likely to ignite sparks.

Best line: On what the author learned at a Muslim center in Nairobi: “There were so many rules, with minutely detailed prescriptions, and so many authorities had pronounced on them all. Truly Muslim women should cover their bodies even in front of a blind man, even in their own houses. They had no right to walk down the middle of the street. They should not move out of their father’s house without permission.”

Worst Line: Quoted above, about how the registration of honor killings is “the largest, most important” issue of the century.

Reading group guide: A reading group guide to Infidel for book clubs appears in the April 3, 2007, post directly below this one. The post is archived under “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides on One-Minute Book Reviews.

Published: February 2007

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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