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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Squatter cities, slums, housing shortages

I'm currently reading Shadow Cities by Robert Neuwirth, an investigative look at squatter cities in Rio, Istanbul, Mumbai, and Nairobi. These slums, ghettos, favelas grow at amazing rates -- cities within cities, created by individuals who build shacks on public land, usually without electricity, running water, sewage systems, or any other city amenities. On the other hand, also without taxes and landlords. Eventually, residents steal electricity and lay illegal water lines until, in some cases, agreements are reached about public services. In many cases, the governments will pull the houses down, and the squatters will rebuild...again and again, until the governments find they can't keep up with the squatters' determination and perseverance.

Neuwirth, who researched the book while living in the various places he describes, lived in one of the more progressive favelas in Rio, Rochina. About 1/3 of Rio's population live in one of the favelas, or squatter cities, in Rio. The worst squatter city was in Nairobi, Kenya.

Neuwirth gives a more positive view of some of these shadow cities than is commonly the case, and indeed, some of the shadow cities have become almost equal in quality and productivity to legal neighborhoods. While I think Neuwirth attitude is too positive/hopeful, with hundreds of thousands living in squatter villages, within or just outside legal cities, what is the answer? Sometimes, I even wonder "what is the question?" Or rather, that the answer may be to drastically change the way we view the situation and concentrate on what can be done about the population explosion.

At this time there are approximately a billion people world-wide living in squatter cities, that is one of every six people. Predictions are that the number will double by 2030. And as terrible as we may think the conditions of the people who live in these cities, many who live in there are grateful.

I was talking about the book to my friend Nina the other day, and she asked if the Cairo cemetery squatter city was included. I said I didn't think so, and checked when I got home. Not included in the book, the Cairene Cemetery or "necropolis turned metropolis" is another fascinating solution to the shortage in housing. This link (you have to scroll down a bit) shows the Cairo cemetery, which seem a much better situation that most other squatter cities.

Anyway...I am enjoying the book and thinking about some things differently. My thanks to Lotus for sharing this one.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sword & Blossom

Pagnamento, Peter, and Momoto Williams. Sword & Blossom. In 1982 retired school teacher Tesuko Suzuki discovered letters saved by her mother-in-law and dating back to 1904. Over 800 letters survived from her mother-in-law's correspondence with Arthur Hart-Synod, and these letters were the inspiration for the book that relates the love of affair of Arthur Hart-Synod and Masa Suzuki.

More than just a love story, these pages present insights into the world of Japan in 1904 during the early years of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance; commentary on the British military--its traditions and transformation; changing attitudes toward Japan; the Japanese war with Russia; the Manchurian campaign; British colonialism; WWI and its horrors; treatment of the wounded; the rise of Sinn Fein; the commandeering and destruction of Arthur's family home Ballymoyer House in the "Anglo-Irish War"; the design and fitting of artificial limbs; the effects of the 1918 flu pandemic that resulted in 25 million deaths worldwide and over 257,000 deaths in Japan; the destruction of Tokyo by the 1923 earthquake - 44% of Tokyo was leveled after the fires finally burned out and 90% of Yokohama was destroyed by the earthquake, fires, and tsunami; the Japanese war in China; the rise of Japan as a military state and the end of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance; Japan during WWII - propaganda and hardships; the fire bombing of Tokyo in which more than 100,000 were killed - more than died in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki in the atom-bomb raids; and the Japanese surrender.

A remarkable story, skillfully written and researched, Sword & Blossom provides a private view of two individuals from different cultures and the daily details of their lives, set in the broader perspective of the historic events of the first half of the 20th century.

The more I think about this book, the more impressed I am at the detail, personally and historically. Arthur and Masa's affair is not a Romance in novelistic terms, but a glimpse into the private lives of a military man and the woman he loved through his letters (Masa's letters were destroyed in WWII) -- ordinary people who lived through extraordinary events.

I found an interview with Momoto Williams here. Love of is a recent discovery with some great features for book lovers and where you will find some familiar guest bloggers including Debra Hamel and Iliana from Bookgirl's Nightstand.

Nonfiction. Biographical/memoir/history. 2007. 310 pages.


Well, I finally finished reviewing my backlog of books, all of which were read in May and the first week of June. For the last two weeks, I've been busy with a lot of things and have not felt the usual reading compulsion, a strange kind of bio-rhythm my brain goes through every once in a while.

I am almost finished with Sword & Blossom by Peter Pagnamenta & Momoko Williams. It is nonfiction, and although there is not a lot of action, I find the story of the British soldier and Japanese woman fascinating both from the personal and from the historical aspect. Another one from FSB Associates and Anna Suknov, who send me lots of excellent nonfiction. I've been reading this one slowly for the week or so, but the conclusion is approaching, and I hope to review it tomorrow or the next day.

I've stuck to my intention of limiting purchases and library visits, and only have about 3 left to finish before I can begin again. All are nonfiction, which are always slower reads, so I might have to supplement with some good fiction.

Still dealing with my temperamental prima donna of a computer. She sulks, and I whine.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Iyer, Pico. Abandon. I first heard about this novel on an NPR book review several years ago and tried the library a few times with no success. I found and mooched it recently from Bookmooch. The NPR reviewer had recommended the book, and I thought I'd like the idea of a search for new Rumi manuscripts. However...

John Macmillan, a graduate student, searches for lost manuscripts that were supposedly smuggled out of Iran. In the process, he meets Camilla Jensen, who has a few problems. The two fall in love (although Camilla's fears, insecurities, and childish behavior would have put most men off).

I was truly disappointed in this one, but struggled through to the very end.

Fiction. Mystery? Romance? 2003. 354 pages.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Book of Fate

Meltzer, Brad. The Book of Fate. Wes Holloway, a presidential aide is wounded in an assassination attempt. President Manning survives the attempt, but his deputy chief of staff, Ron Boyle is killed. Holloway whose own serious injuries have left his face terribly disfigured, must deal with his own injuries, long recovery, and shattered appearance...and his cripplingly guilt at having included Boyle in the president's car at the last minute.

Eight years later (just realized eight years was the time that elapsed in Killer Weekend as well), Holloway, accompanying the former president on a trip to Malaysia, believes he has encountered a surgically altered Ron Boyle. Receiving help from an old friend and unexpectedly, from a local gossip columnist, Wes begins unraveling a complicated conspiracy.

Quick read. O.K. Far-fetched doesn't quite cover the plot and some of the characters. The first person recounting of Wes' story felt artificial, the elaborate contrivances of "The Three" and the codes and ciphers, the Free Masonry angle seem too much. The manipulation of Nico, his escape from prison, well...a bit hard to swallow.

While I kept seeing italic question marks and exclamation points in my head as I read this novel, I have to admit to being moderately entertained.

Fiction. Mystery/thriller. 2007. 616 pages.

Killer Weekend

Pearson, Ridley. Killer Weekend. An ARC from G.P. Putam's Sons, due to be released in July. Attorney General Elizabeth Shaler, bound and gagged with duct tape, faces a killer with a knife. Noticing an abandoned bike and a damaged wooden screen, alert young patrolman Walt Fleming investigates. He manages to save Shaler, but suffers a serious knife wound in the process.

Eight years later, Shaler returns to Sun Valley as the keynote speaker at a conference where she is expected to announce her candidacy for president. Walt Fleming, now the county sheriff, joins the FBI and Secret Service in an attempt to foil a threat on Shaler's life. The groups are not fully cooperative, and added to the difficulties, are the complications added by Patrick Cutter, the billionaire who has organized the conference.

The assassin has managed to establish a clever disguise and presence at the conference. His machinations are interesting and creative. Other complications include the murder of the wife of a wealthy and influential conference attendee, a tense relationship between Fleming and his father, and the fact that Fleming's ex-wife is sleeping with his deputy.

A fun read, the novel speeds along. Fleming's character is likable and interesting; Shaler's character, however, never seems developed. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable thriller.

Pearson, who has written a number of thrillers, is also the author of the award-winning children's novels Peter and the Starcatchers and Peter and the Shadow Thieves, both of which have been on my TBR list.

Fiction. Thriller/mystery. 2007. 323 pages.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Completed Challenge

Books completed for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge:

*Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
*On Basilisk Station
*The Honor of the Queen
*Off Armageddon Reef
*The Book of Lost Things
The Silent Tower
The Book Without Words
Evil Genius
The Amulet of Samarkand
*Spirit Gate
Summers at Castle Auburn
*The Road

Indicate my favorites. There are some fantasy, some science fiction, some YA, and one nonfiction (Mirror, Mirror). Only one from my original list got sacked for lack of interest, and I added quite a few others. I still have a list of books that would meet the Challenge requirements that I want to read; I'll get around to them eventually.

This Challenge was a lot of fun as I enjoy all of the genres Carl allowed, but broadened my horizons and read some new authors. Thanks Carl for a great experience!


Visit My Individual Take on the Subject to view a remarkable video on women in fine arts.

I still have 2-3 books to review and am back to reading Flannery O'Connor's letters which have been set aside for too long. I'm also still trying to catch up with all the blogs I've been missing.

The daylilies have been gorgeous this year.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Bernheimer, Kate, ed. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales. The last of Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge? No, I think I'll be continuing to look for books that fit into at least one of Carl's "quests." This book of essays by such writers as Ursula Le Guin, Julia Alvarez, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Midori Snyder, and Terry Windling offer memories and discoveries involving the dramatic effect of fairy tales on the lives of women writers. By the way, we are not talking of the Disney versions of fairy tales, but the older, gorier versions eventually collected and recorded by the likes of the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. These darker versions have fueled many writers, both men and women, in a way that the sanitized, pastel Disney versions could never achieve.

Here is what I learned (and perhaps, what I already knew) -- fairy tales have some universal meanings, some psychological interpretations, and obviously, literary significance, and these aspects alone are fascinating, but they are far less important than the circumstances and personalities of the young girls who read them and the emotional impact of the fairy tales on their sensibilities. Each essay is dramatically colored by the events, family members, and circumstances of the essay's author. Timing also carries weight and adolescence and pre-adolescence seems to be a factor in the likelihood of the fairy tale burrowing into the author's heart and mind, creating an alternate reality and a kind of yeast that eventually helps initiate a new creativity.

Maybe I'm reaching here, but it seems that an unusually large number of these writers had childhoods that were far below any version of "the happy family." It makes me wonder what we have lost by cleaning up and prettifying fairy tales to the point that they can no longer perform a service for those children who are unhappy, neglected, abused, and misunderstood. The fairy tales seem to have provided a remarkable support system for many of these women and to have bestowed a method of coping, a fertile imagination, and a kind of inspiration as well.

Some approaches are largely analytical, some interpretative, some literary, some...almost entirely personal, but each one is an education and a treasure. I was going to try and list my favorites, but that proved too difficult. I will mention my enjoyment of Linda Gray Sexton's essay because her mother, the poet Ann Sexton, had such a brilliant and shadowed life suffering as she did with manic depression. The fairy tale influence cast its sway over both mother and daughter in interesting ways.

An excellent read and well worth reading again.

Non-fiction. Essays on fairy tales. 1998. 358 pages.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Allingham's Campion Mysteries

Allingham, Margery. Mystery Mile. Albert Campion (a man of many names) appears to be a sort of buffoon (and is referred to as a "silly ass" in The Black Dudley Murder in which he is a minor character) but is actually much more capable than appearances indicate. Campion is supposedly a parody of Sayer's Peter Wimsey, by there also appears to be a bit of the Scarlet Pimpernel in his personality. Mystery Mile is the first in the series featuring Campion, although he appeared as a minor character in two other Allingham novels.

Set in the 1930's, Mystery Mile begins with an attempt on the life of Crowdy Lobbett, an American judge who has survived several attempts on his life. When Campion saves him from yet another attempt, he is enlisted by the Lobbetts to protect the judge and hopefully apprehend those intent on his murder.

1930. 254 pages.

---. The Gyrth Chalice. (Also published as Look to the Lady)The Gyrth family have been the guardians of an ancient chalice for centuries, but there is an organization that revels in stealing objects of this sort and the Gyrth Chalice is on the list. Albert Campion, the rather mysterious adventurer from Mystery Mile, finds himself trying to safeguard the chalice with the help of some diverse friends - his manservant (and former burglar) Lugg, an American professor, a master forger, gypsies, and his old friend from Scotland Yard.

1931. 191 pages.

---. Police at the Funeral. A family with a matriarch who rules with a firm hand, first one murder, and then another. When the fiancee of an old friend requests his aid, Campion agrees to come to Cambridge and see what he can do to help.

1931. 252 pages.

These are the ones Jill sent me. Short and fun, they feature an eccentric protagonist who matures and evolves through the series. Allingham wrote 18 novels featuring Campion, and I will be pursuing his adventures. The Strand published this interesting article about Allingham's favorite character and the BBC featured two series of adaptations starring Peter Davison as Campion and Brian Glover as Lugg. They are going on my Netflix list. Thanks, again, Jill!

Fiction. Mystery.

Computer Woes

Computer is still freezing up. It behaves normally for a few minutes, then freezes, and I lose connection to Firefox. Replying to emails is difficult to impossible, I've lost several comments that I've tried to make responding to your comments. Arggghh!

I've got 6 books to review: the 3 Allingham mysteries, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales, Abandon by Pico Iyer, and Killer Weekend by Ridley Pearson.

Right now, though, I'm going to give it a rest, close it down, unplug it, and hope it recuperates!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

:) I'm Back

I've been gone for quite a while! Thanks again for all the comments and emails. I really appreciate it! Things are going remarkably well...except that I've been having some serious computer problems., and Fee has been out of town. Since I've been so busy lately, it hasn't bothered me as much as it normally would, but it is amazing how addictive blogging is and how much you come to depend on it.

Laddie's surgery went smooth as silk, and the pacemaker is working quite well. Leaving him in the care of my brothers, Fee and I left on Friday afternoon to go to Natchez and then to Baton Rouge for Mila's birthday - a fun-filled and hectic party with 4 year olds! Then returned on Sunday night.

Laddie was released from the hospital on Tuesday, and we had made arrangements for him to go to The Cottage at the Glen, an Alzheimer's Unit. It is a marvelous place, and he thought he was in a hotel and wanted to tip the staff! The place is huge and beautiful, and everyone is professional and caring. For the first few days, I went twice a day and watched television (huge, flat-screen), interacted with the "guests," sat in the sunroom, listened to a lady who can't remember much other than how to play the piano (and she plays beautifully... all the old tunes that generation love), had disconnected conversations with the friendly residents/guests, sat on the patio, exercised, etc.

As the days have gone by, Laddie has seemed more and more comfortable, less shy, and more content, although he never protested, as Dr. Liu told him it was for rehab. And he is receiving physical and occupational therapy several times a week.

The kitchen opens up into the "great room" and people sit around the bar that surrounds it as if at a counter at a diner. The dining area has lovely tables and looks like a nice restaurant; the food looks and smells delicious. It is all beautifully furnished and tastefully decorated...puts my house to shame. There are 15 apartments with microwaves and small refrigerators (a state requirement, but the guests are hardly aware of them). We put a queen size bed, a chest of drawers, a desk, and two of the chairs from home in Laddie's apartment, distributed family pictures all around, brought lost of his magazines (Ducks Unlimited, travel magazines, the Smithsonian, etc.) for him to browse through when he feels like it.

On Sunday, when I was visiting, he said, "Why don't you spend the night?" I said that I'd love to but that I couldn't right then...maybe soon. He must think he's on vacation and maybe he is. Lots of socialization, although they frequently introduce themselves anew each day. What thrills me is that I don't feel sad when I'm there - I'm amused and interested and happier - and confident that he is cared for and safe. The other guests (Mrs. D., Mr. W., Miss D., Mrs. A., Mrs. V, Mrs. J.; these are the most active and sociable) are friendly and sweet and remind me of the 4 year olds at Mila's birthday party!

I know this is a long post, but so much has gone on since I posted about ten days ago. Fee worked on my computer last night and things are better, but still not quite right. He had to go back to Texas again today, but made sure I could play on the computer before he left.