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Beiträge von Paul McGrath
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Paul McGrath (Sacramento, CA)

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The Cornerstone: A Novel
The Cornerstone: A Novel
von Oldenbourg
Preis: EUR 14,79

4.0 von 5 Sternen Despair in the Middle Ages, 25. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Cornerstone: A Novel (Taschenbuch)
This is a sequel to The World is Not Enough and begins almost exactly where the other one left off. It is a pretty good read and quite a bit better than the first one in that just about all of the stultifying character summaries are gone. Also, the narrative concentrates on just a few characters, so that it is much easier to follow. The bad news is, these character summaries have been replaced by lengthy prayer recitations, which begin about half way through and start to weigh the thing down. "Oh heavenly and most gracious Father, in my blindness I have learned to see, for when I was sighted, I sought the superficial pleasures of the world, and was blinded to the love which . . ." And so forth. Although they are nicely written, they become dull fairly quickly, and I got to the point where I just quit reading them.
But this is a heck of a story nevertheless. The first plot line follows the old baron, Ansiau of Linnieres, as he goes on his last pilgrimage to the Holy Land. With companions he meets and loses on the way, we follow him first to the south of France. There is a war going on against the heretics--if indeed marauding bands of soldiers murdering and pillaging helpless villages in the name of God can be referred to as such--and Ansiau, mistaken for a soldier by the peasantry, barely escapes having his hands hacked off and being nailed to a tree. But he gets through this, and is able to make it, finally, to his destination, where his grim adventures continue. Constantly hungry, footsore, weary, robbed and beaten, they beg for alms wherever they go, along with the thousands of other poor and desperate people. His story ends in the Holy Land, and it is not pretty.
The other story line concerns Herbert, his son, now the Baron, and Herbert's son, Haugenier, now a knight, at Linnieres. Again, as with the first book, their lives are dominated by religion, superstition, and strict societal codes. Nobody in their class marries for love; every marriage is a political alliance. Therefore, true love is always illicit, and with the strict, gloomy eye of the Catholic Church brooding over everything, happiness is very difficult to achieve. It is impossible for anybody to reconcile their basic human desires with the strict codes which govern their lives. Herbert, despairing early of ever achieving goodness, simply abandons the attempt, and becomes a self-indulgent, evil man. Haugenier, the best of them, goes the other way and gives up everything: his home, his child, and his true love, to become a monk.
Don't look for any happy endings here. There are none. As with the earlier novel, Oldenbourg paints a completely believable and historically accurate picture of the middle ages. It can be rough sledding on occasion, and indeed is very sad. This is great historical fiction.

The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita
von Mikhail Bulgakov
Preis: EUR 14,39

5.0 von 5 Sternen Russian Masterpiece, 16. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Master and Margarita (Taschenbuch)
This book is about Satan, who around 1935 and with his minions comes to Moscow to wreak havoc on the population. He embarasses them, humiliates them, sends them hundreds of miles away to desolate areas, throws them into insane asylums, and murders them. All of them, with their venality, avarice, vanity, and arrogance, deserve it.
But the story is really about Yeshua, who in his conversation with the Procurator shares with him his preposterous belief that all men are good. That no men are bad.
But that's really only a small part of it. The real story is about the procurator, Pilate, who becomes intrigued and then fascinated by Yeshua, but yet allows him to suffer and be put to death anyway. He is tormented by this decision that day, for the rest of his life, and for the rest of eternity. Almost.
No, no, no. In reality the story is about the Master, who is in fact the writer of the Pilate story. After years and years of laboring with it, it is stolen from him by those he trusted to publish it. When he tries to claim his rights to his work, he himself is accused of being the plagierer. He loses his mind, burns the manuscript, and is sent to an insane asylum.
As a corollary, the book is also about the undying and faithful love Margarita has for her Master, the love which, "caught us suddenly, leaped at us like a murderer appearing from out of nowhere in an alley, and struck us both down at once." Her love, and his dreams, are redeemed by Satan, who accomplishes this by poisoning them both to death.
But in finality, the book is actually about Bulgakov himself, who is in fact the central tragic figure in this book, this book which would not be published until long, long, long after his death. This magician, this genius, this Bulgakov, knew this, but incredibly his vision isn't bitter or unhappy; it is instead glorious: himself resurrected, riding a black horse on a silvery path to the moon.
And his vision is true. It is true.

All the Little Live Things (Contemporary American Fiction)
All the Little Live Things (Contemporary American Fiction)
von Wallace Stegner
Preis: EUR 15,13

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Superb Literature, 1. Juli 2000
The first analogy which came to mind after reading this book was that it was like being in some kind of a heavyweight boxing match. You read the book and you take a pounding and you set down the book and you're dazed. The emotional involvement is almost that physical. The second analogy, which I thought of later, was that of looking at an expensive diamond. You see a new depth of beauty every time you turn it in a different direction.
It is the story of a 64 year-old man, Joe Allston, who moves to a five acre ranch in what is apparently an area south of San Jose, California. He is retired, and he moves there with his wife to escape everyday life, and enjoy his remaining days in peace. It is 1967. But two events occur which shake him out of his quietude. The first is the sudden and unexpected appearance of Peck, a 24 year-old hippie, who asks them if he can camp out on their property. Reluctantly, and out of a sense of repressed guilt over the death of his own 38 year-old son three years earlier, Joe agrees. The second event is the appearance of a new neighbor, Marian, a 30ish woman, with her husband and child. Joe is smitten by her beauty and charm and immediately--in a purely platonic way--falls in love with her.
They have a lengthy discussion on the first day he meets her. He wants to know what she is planning to do with the property, which has gone untended for many years, and she tells him that she's going to do--nothing. She loves nature the way it is, she says, and relishes the wild, untamed, natural beauty of it. He tells her about poison oak, stink weeds, snakes and other vermin, and says to her that it is not possible to not want to change nature. He tells her about the flea-ridden gopher he had killed that morning on his property. "Do you think, for one minute, that that gopher would not rid itself of that vermin if it was able to?"
Joe is unable to change her mind, but he has many discussions like this with her, on his back patio, with his wife, in the summer sun. All of them are very charming and intelligent people, and we grow to like them immensely.
Meanwhile, Peck is taking advantage of him: building a treehouse, inviting friends over, and illegally hooking up electricity and water. As this irritant continues, disaster strikes. Marian has cancer, and only a short time to live. And between her and Peck, Joe finally comes to some realizations about himself: he wasn't merely seeking a pleasant retirement, he was instead trying to escape from life itself, and that it cannot be done. One cannot get off the treadmill--life is the treadmill.
It all sounds very simple I suppose, but the book is rich in everything. The characterizations are detailed and complex, and the plot moves as a result of the character's actions. Nothing is contrived. Joe's observations are original, witty and mature, and the conclusion of the story is unbelievably powerful. Stegner aims high and doesn't miss. This is a superb literary achievement, and possibly the finest novel I have ever read.

Beau Geste (Gateway Movie Classics)
Beau Geste (Gateway Movie Classics)
von Percival Christopher Wren

5.0 von 5 Sternen First Rate Adventure Story, 30. Juni 2000
You have joined the French Foreign Legion and you are stationed at the most desolate outpost in civilization: Fort Zinderneuf, in the Sahara desert. The days are unbearably hot and the nights offer only a dreary, slight relief. The work is back-breaking and tediously repetitive, and several of your comrades have gone insane. Your leader, Sergeant-Major Lejaune, is a vicious, sadistic, disciplinary maniac. The men--dregs of society culled from every dark corner in Europe--have decided to mutiny, and they are planning it the following day. Lejaune, however, learns of this, and decides to move first. And if things couldn't get any worse, both parties have come to believe--rightly or wrongly--that your brother, stationed with you in the fort, is carrying an extraordinarily expensive jewel. They have made plans to see that during the confusion he takes a bullet to his brain, so that this jewel can be stolen.
The sergeant strikes first, the sleepy men are disarmed, and he begins to move them out to the parade ground. At this point, the Arabs attack. A horde of them. Bloodthirsty, fanatical; they swarm down the sand dunes and begin to climb up the walls.
How our hero gets himself into this mess, and how he extricates himself from it, is the subject of this very enjoyable adventure novel. The copy I just read, which I found in the library, was printed in 1926. It is still in print today. What else do you need to know?

AN Instance of the Fingerpost
AN Instance of the Fingerpost
von Iain Pears

3.0 von 5 Sternen Brilliant Scholarship, Weak Execution, 19. Juni 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: AN Instance of the Fingerpost (Taschenbuch)
This is a novel with an interesting or even perhaps a unique concept. It is a story, or a sequence of events, told by four separate narrators. Each of the narrators brings his own set of perceptions and misperceptions to the mix, as well as his own sense of what of importance should be related.
The story takes place in Oxford, England, in the 1660's. A king has just been restored to the throne after several years of Cromwell, and the country is still bitterly divided. Pears has clearly done his homework. Not only does he have an understanding of the history of this era, he also has a thorough understanding in the way of men's thinking in general during these times. To varying degrees, all of their thoughts and actions were guided by what they perceived was the will of God; even their debates and discussions with one another were heavily influenced by their religious upbringing. Indeed, their efforts to improve their understanding in the sciences and other technical areas was impeded by it.
And this brings about the first problem. These men are so backward in their thinking- to be sure reflective of the times-that it becomes very tedious to wade through their obviously outdated musings. The first narrator, for example, a physician, debates endlessly with other physicians the medical procedures of the day, such as applying dog feces to a swollen eye or bleeding somebody to get their bad blood out. Yes, it is important that we get an idea of the kind of the backward thinking that went on then, but do we really need to read page after page of it? And the other narrators, with their dopey ideas of religion and philosophy and the place of women in the world are just as lengthy, and just as tedious.
The second problem is in the nature of the novel's concept itself. With four narrators, you not only get four different views of events, but also, by necessity, four self-centered views entirely. Thus, with each narrator, we not only get a slew of additional characters, we also get a whole new set of plots, counterplots, and subplots. To further complicate matters, none of these fellows are entirely reliable, so keeping track of all of this, and then trying to determine what of this we should retain and what of this we can safely discard, is extremely difficult.
Mr. Pears should be highly commended for both his elegant and articulate writing style, and his magnificent scholarship. And he does, finally, put everything together with the last narrator. But, sadly, instead of breathlessly turning pages to find the answers to the vast number of perplexing questions posed, I instead found myself simply glad that the darn thing was coming to an end.

A Farewell to Arms
A Farewell to Arms
von Ernest Hemingway
Preis: EUR 16,81

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Not Hemingway's Best, 30. Mai 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: A Farewell to Arms (Taschenbuch)
I read this in high school about twenty years ago, and recently decided to revisit this work. I think this is an important thing to do. As our lives change, quite often the meaning of great books change to us also, and we can gain an even richer experience. I am sorry to report that this is not the case with this novel. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, I would suggest that this book is a long way from resembling the great canon of work that is Hemingway's.
Now don't start screaming yet. Please bear with me. To begin with, don't we seem to have a rather idealized version of our hero's girlfriend? She is blonde, slender and beautiful; falls in love with him immediately; and without any complications. Every time she is with him, everything is just "grand." Isn't this just a little too perfect? We know she is Scottish, but what else? She has no brothers, sisters, or mother and father that we know of. What indeed, is she doing in Italy, other than simply being available? She's not much of an idealist. After all, it didn't take much convincing for her to leave the war, just as our hero did. Who is she?
For that matter, what about Mr. Henry? He is an American fighting in the Italian army as an ambulance driver during World War I. Yes, I know this is true of Hemingway's life, but as fiction, we need more clarity. Isn't this a little unusual? Why is he there? He never explains. He's there, he gets wounded, he fights again, he gets sick of it, he leaves. Even more annoying, his family always seems to send him money when he gets in a jam. The perfect out. Who are they, and why do they do this?
Even worse is the contrived ending. I won't give away the details, but wow, he sure comes away clean. As George Carlin said in a comedy routine: "Boy, you ARE a good sport!" It is a bit much.
Don't get me wrong. Hemingway was a great writer, and there is a lot of good stuff in here. His relationships with the Italians and his description of the retreat ring true. But there is too much missing for this to be considered a great novel on its own. If you want the best of Hemingway, you have to go further. Start with "For Whom the Bell Tolls," if you don't believe me, or any of the hundreds of great short stories he has. Even this one is a very good read. But remember, he wrote it at the tender age of 30, and clearly, his best work was yet to come.

All the Pretty Horses: Border Trilogy (1) (Vintage International)
All the Pretty Horses: Border Trilogy (1) (Vintage International)
von Cormac McCarthy
Preis: EUR 15,05

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5.0 von 5 Sternen McCarthy's Best, 26. Mai 2000
This is the first novel in the set of McCarthy's so called "Border Trilogy," and by far, the best. It stands on its own as a classic American novel.
It is the story of a taciturn 16-year old Texan, with a love for horses and a gift for training them, who sadly (or so it seems; his emotions are never explicitly revealed) comes to the realization that there is nothing for him in Texas anymore to keep him there. With a friend, and on horseback, he embarks upon a journey to Mexico. Plotwise, the story is unusual in that, unlike the usual standard western, it takes place in 1947, an era way beyond cowboys and Indians. Reminders of this are contained throughout, such as the sudden appearance of a noisy automobile, or the description of a line of telegraph poles stretched across the distance, as far as one can see.
Yet Mexico even in 1947 is still in many ways a savage land, and the young men's adventures there are the subject of the novel. I can tell you that when I use the term "adventures," I mean exactly that. This is an exciting novel, a page-turning novel.
The lads finally reach a place they wish to call home: a large, sprawling ranch in central Mexico, where they become hands, and where the protagonist ultimately achieves a somewhat exalted position training and breeding horses. I'm not going to give away too much of the plot here, but it's moved to a large degree by the presence of the ranch-owner's daughter, a well-educated, headstrong, black-haired and blue-eyed 17-year-old beauty. Suddenly confronted with the arrival of this lanky, brave, adventurous and mature-for-his-age American . . . well, you can almost guess what will happen, but the story nevertheless veers from cliche and instead becomes fresh, believable and extremely moving.
More than the plot, though, is the simple, almost sparse nature of McCarthy's prose. His descriptions of the landscape through which his characters travel is poetic, almost dreamy: "They'd ride out along the cienaga road and along the verge of the marshes while the sun rose riding up flights of ducks out of the shallows or geese or mergansers that would beat away over the water scattering the haze and rising up would turn to birds of gold in a sun not yet visible from the bolson floor." The spare language, and also the lack of punctuation, lend to the almost surreal nature of his prose, which, I should add, is never difficult to digest.
It's similar in many ways to the best of Hemingway both in style and in subject matter. Both authors write rough-and-tumble, outdoors adventures; both of them use stark prose; both of them spare the reader layer after layer of psychological analysis, and simply tell the story. Hemingway may have had a better grip on character development, but McCarthy is by far the more poetic. This is fiction of the first drawer, and not to be missed.

von Ross Leckie

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1.0 von 5 Sternen Pretty Thin Gruel, 9. Mai 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Hannibal (Taschenbuch)
Hannibal, the Carthaginian general, had one of the most spectacular careers in military history. At the time of his birth there were two major powers in the world: his, and the burgeoning Roman empire. Hannibal correctly foresaw that his people would eventually be swallowed by the Romans, and therefore decided to go on the offensive. As every schoolchild knows, he assembled an army in Spain, fought his way across southern Europe, and with his huge army crossed the Alps in the middle of winter. His appearance in northern Italy in 218 B. C. caused widespread panic in Rome.
During his first two years in Italy, he inflicted crushing defeats against the Romans at Trasimene and at Canae. These successes were to be shortlived. He was heavily outmanned by the Romans, his supply was indifferent if not non-existent, and the leaders in Carthage refused to send him the support he needed until it was too late. Nevertheless, Hannibal spent 15 years in Italy, gaining and losing alliances, fighting, struggling, and never giving up in his effort to conquer Rome. He was never defeated in a face to face battle with the Romans in Italy. Finally, in 204 B. C., he was forced to return home when the Romans invaded Africa.
Interestingly, the name Hannibal means "Favorite of Baal:" Baal being the chief Phoenician deity at the time.
You won't learn this from Leckie's book. In fact, all you really need to know about Leckie's book is that Hannibal gets to Italy on page 165, and leaves again for Carthage on page 219. Thus, 15 years of Hannibal's Italian campaign is reduced to 54 pages.
I hope you enjoyed my review. You now know as much about Hannibal as you would have if you had wasted your time with ridiculous book.

Independence Day
Independence Day
von Richard Ford
Preis: EUR 12,75

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Lighten it Up a Little, Okay?, 1. Mai 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Independence Day (Taschenbuch)
This is a pretty good read, although too long. It is the story of a New Jersey realtor, living and working in an upper middle class town. The plot takes place over the course of the three day period leading up to July 4, 1988. The narrator is mid-fortyish, divorced, and spends these days: trying to sell a house, meeting his girlfriend, arranging to take, and taking his troubled son on a little vacation, and in general coping with life's minor and major tribulations. While the plot is moving, his comments on the characters involved and the events which occur are truly excellent and insightful, but too often, much too often, in fact regularly throughout this frustrating book, he transgresses into lengthy philosophical new-age ruminations which are bafflingly complex and ultimately meaningless.
For example, he describes the current period of his life as his "existence period," and discusses what this means to him ad nauseam. He runs into his long lost half-brother late in the book, and his brother's prevailing philosophy is that of "continuation." Every adult in the book eventually has a conversation like this with him, in which they confusedly try to understand the world around them and their part in it, but once again, in language that is far too obtuse. Some of the conversations are laughable--people just don't talk like this. I will admit that there are some occasional valuable insights, but the overriding problem of the book is that these people just take themselves too damn seriously.
The narrator is a very nice guy, and you know you'd like him, but on the back of the book is his picture, actually the author, okay? He is a skinny guy, with longish hair, hollowed out eye sockets, and a permanently raised brow. Here is a guy, you think, who worries too much.
Take it easy. Cheeez.

Complete Brigadier Gerard (Canongate)
Complete Brigadier Gerard (Canongate)
von Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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5.0 von 5 Sternen Vive L'Gerard, 30. April 2000
Everybody knows about Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous Sherlock Holmes stories, but I suspect a lot of people don't know that he was also an outstanding writer of historical fiction. Sir Nigel and The White Company are two examples that come immediately to mind. Both are superb novels about English knights and soldiers in the 13th and 14th centuries. And this one, Brigadier Gerard, is a collection of stories written in the first person by a fictional French cavalry officer during the Napoleanic wars.
If you're looking for a historical overview of Napoleon's achievements, this is not the place for it. What you do get, though, is a series of singular adventures which take place in the villages, cafes, forests and fields of the Europe visited by invading French armies. There is Gerard's trip of revenge to the "Castle of Gloom" in Austria. His ear is chopped off in a Venetian dungeon. He is captured by guerrillas in Portugal, and manages to escape from a hideous death. He is double-crossed by a beautiful vixen in Germany. There is his murderous midnight meeting with Napoleon. And yes, he is present at Waterloo, but spends the battle in the second-floor loft of an inn, after the first floor is commandeered by enemy wounded.
The book is loaded with interesting tidbits of military folklore. He recognizes a ford in the river, for example, by noticing the placement of two buildings on either side of it. Here is his comment on travelling through enemy territory: "I should not have feared to ride by the road through the wood, for I have learned in Spain that the safest time to pass through a guerrilla country is after an outrage."
And Gerard himself is as enjoyable a character as we could wish for in relating these tales. He will tell you that he is unfailingly handsome, loyal and brave, but he does have his foibles. He doesn't seem to realize that he is a bit of a braggart, and he's often not quite as smart as he thinks he is. However, it is Doyle's triumph that we look upon Gerard's weaknesses with fondness, rather than contempt, or disbelief. For Gerard, more than anything, is honest. He recounts his failures as well as his successes, and there is a great sense of pathos when we often hear the regret in his voice recounting specific events in his life. Here he is, for example, reflecting on an old love: "Etienne Gerard has his sword, his horse, his regiment, his mother, his Emperor and his career. A debonair Hussar has room in his life for love, but none for a wife. So I thought then, my friends, but I did not see the lonely days when I should long to clasp those vanished hands, and turn my head away when I saw an old comrades with their tall children standing around their chairs."
This book has everything: adventure, romance, military lore, horses, swords, beautiful women and blood. If you like Flashman or Hornblower, you will love this.

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