Books read

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner (2003)

Amir grows up with his very wealthy father in Kabul. His best friend and playmate is Hassan, the son of their Hazara servant. Hassan is utterly loyal to him, to point of giving himself up. As Amir wins the yearly kite run, Hassan runs the cut-off kite for him. But in a dead-end he is ambushed by the older and utterly brutal Assef. Assef gives Hassan the choice: Give up the kite or let yourself sexually abused. Since Hassan does not give up the kite, he is raped by Assef. Amir watches the scene, which shall become his personal dilemma for the rest of his life. He eventually leaves Afghanistan und lives in the USA, when a call from Rahim Khan, his late father's best friend, makes him return to Afghanistan, in order to rescue Hassan's little son Sohrab, the only survivor of Hassan's family. Assef has in the meantime achieved a high position within the Taliban and there is a final fight between the two for the child, whereby Amir almost gets killed. Amir escapes with the traumatized child to the USA. It's hard to believe that it is all fiction; the narration is so detailed that it seems to be for a good part autobiographic. The scene, when Amir watches how Hassan is getting raped by Assef is so embarrassing, that you feel as if it had been yourself standing there and doing nothing. Poetic language, fascinating reading and a lot of insight into Afghani culture.

Andrzej Stasiuk, On the Road to Babadag (2011)

The author writes in poetic language impressions, not travel documentaries, about his travels in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Moldavia, Transnistria and Albania. The translation from Polish to English by Michael Kandel is superb. There is, alas, no action, and no red thread through the book. Just impressions, that are wildly thrown together, sometimes difficult to know which place the author refers to. We learn, that the author is fond of decay and of gypsies, that he hates order, organization, cities. Boring and repetitive to read.

John Grisham, The Brethren (2000)

Finn Yarber, Hatlee Beech and John Roy Spicer are three judges that have been sentenced to long jail terms, which they serve in the open prison institution of Trumble near Jacksonville, Florida. As a lucrative passtime, they start to place ads in gay magazines, looking for gay penpals. Those penpals they consider to be wealthy and vulnerable enough, they blackmail by threatening to make their homosexuality public, extorting large sums from them, which are paid to a secret account in the Bahamas. By chance they start a correspondence with the presidential candidate Aaron Lake and learn about his real identity. The CIA, who is backing Lake's running for president, pays the demanded ransom of two million USD each, under the condition they move out of the US. The book ends with them starting the same scam in Europe. Fast reading and an unexpected end. One of the better Grishams.

Noah Gordon, The Rabbi (1965)

When Rabbi Michael Kind's wife Leslie is taken to a mental hospital because of a nervous breakdown, he thinks about his life and that of his ancestors. His grandfather was driven to emigration to the US by the pogroms in what is today Moldavia, while his father was a successful underwear manufacturer in New York, but not a very good husband and father. He becomes against all odds, due to the subtle influence of his "sejde" (grandfather) a rabbi. His first job is a itinerant rabbi in the mountains of Arkansas, where he gets to know Leslie, a christian who converts to be able to marry him. Michael loses his job in the south when he exposes the rampant racism; his second job bores him to death, as the members of his congregation have no spiritual interests. When he is given the opportunity to take a job where he can build his own synagogue, he accepts. But soon the aggressive pressure exerted on the poorer members of the congregation to contribute funds for financing the new synagogue puts him off. Upon completion of the synagogue, he resigns and gets another job in Woodborough, MA. Very well written, excellently researched, giving a good insight into progressive judaism.

Robert X. Cringely, Accidental Empires, How the boys of Silicon Valley make their millions, battle foreign competition and still can't get a date (1992)

The author describes the rise of Microsoft's Bill Gates, Apple's Steven Jobs, Lotus 1-2-3's Mitch Kapor, the development of the IBM PC and PS/2, Novell Netware, and many more IT icons from a historical proximity, as the book was written in 1992. Reading the chapter "the future of computing", one must assume that the author was some kind of a prophet, as most of his - in 1992 most daring assumptions - came true, exactly as he described it. Only his reckoning that IBM would vanish has not come true, yet. A must-read for everyone interested in IT technology.

Dan Brown, Angels and Demons (2000)

Robert Langdon is called in to examine the murder of a scientist at CERN in Geneva. He meets the scientist's attractive daughter Vittoria Vetra, also a scientist. The two apparently have found a technology for producing antimatter. But the antimatter is gone - stolen. The thieves have hidden it somewhere in the Vatican, where it is going to blow up at midnight. Robert Langdon and Vittoria are flown to the Vatican, where they meet up with the camerlongo, who is interim leader of the catholic church, since the pope has died shortly ago. Four cardinals, the "preferiti" of conclave, have been kidnapped and are murdered one per hour. Langdon and Vetra are chasing after the killer, but he is always a step ahead. Eventually they manage to eliminate him, but in the meantime the CERN's director has been flown in and is apparently attempting to murder the camerlengo. In the course of this he is shot. The camerlengo finds the antimatter, grabs the papal helicopter and the antimatter detonates high above Rome. The camerlengo and Langdon have parachuted out of the helicopter. Langdon reveals that the camerlengo is behind it all, so the latter burns himself on the papal balcony.Passionate reading, but the facts don't hold up.

Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time, The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the great American Dust Bowl

This book describes how it came about, that overfarming of dry land caused the wind to erode the central plains of the USA and how the farmers suffered. Very well researched and well written. The movie "The plow that broke the plains" is available on youtube.

Paul Schilperoord, Josef Ganz, the jewish engineeer behind Hitler's Volkswagen

Josef Ganz, a hungarian-born jew living in Germany, was an outstanding automotive engineer and editor-in-chief of the automobile magazine "Motor-Kritik". He kept advocating a small, inexpensive car for the broad public, with independent suspension of all four wheels and a streamlined body. To this extent he held many patents. As his fame grew, he became an adviser to many of the German car manufacturers. But as the Nazis kept purging the jews, he lost his lucrative positions as an advisor and finally also his job as editor-in-chief of "Motor-Kritik". But not enough, his patents were exploitet without remuneration. Ganz fled to Switzerland, where his Nazi enemies kept harassing him. After countless court cases, many of them against Nazi sympathisers, his Swiss residence permit was terminated and he had to leave for Australia. There he died impoverished and unrecognized for his achievements. Well researched and with many historic photographs.

Andrew Martin, The Blackpool Highflyer (2004)

Jim Stringer, a Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways Fireman gets into a railway accident, when somebody places a millstone on the railway lines. He makes his own investigations and eventually finds out, that it was his lodger, George Ogden, who placed it to prevent his girlfriend Cicely to travel to Blackpool without his company. Utterly boring and not all the historical details are correct.

Dalene Matthee, Fielas Child (1985)

The story is set around Knysna in the Cape. Fiela Komoetie finds one day a three-year old white child on her doorstep and brings it up as one of her own. As there is a census, the child is reported to the Magistrate who awards to a white woman, Barta van Rooyen, who claims it is her long-lost Lukas. Despite his protests he is put up at the van Rooyen family in the forests of Knysna, where he is not well treated and has to work hard. He is very close with his "sister" Nina. As he gets older, he moves out of the forest and takes up work in Knysna. He returns to Long Kloof to Fiela, but she senses that he is unhappy and lets him go when he wants to return to Knysna. There he urges Barta to tell the truth. Eventually she owns up that he is not Lukas van Rooyen, which opens the path for a relationship with Nina. Excellently written, historically correct, a pleasure to read.

Robert Guest, The Shackled Continent (2005)

The author asks in the introduction, why is Africa so poor? Zimbabwe is portrayed as an example of a Vampire state, who denies its inhabitants any economic or political freedom. On the example of Congo and Angola it is shown how mineral wealth may only lead to a struggle between leaders for the proceeds, while the broad public is doing slave labour to mine them. Since most Africans have no title to the land they till, they cannot get loans to get fertiliser and seeds. Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases have played a role in reducing the economically most active age group. African leaders keep playing the racial or tribal card in order to be popular. Aid often has little or no beneficial effects, while free trade would have them but is scarcely promoted. Transport is difficult and expensive due to collapsed railway systems, terrible roads and greedy policemen. The advent of cellphones and wireless internet poses a chance. The developments in South Africa are partially encouraging, partially pointing in the same direction as in other African countries. The highly controversial book - some African journalists have slammed it as a piece of colonialist thinking - is a brillant analysis of the African situation and coming to the right conclusions. The sources used to support them are first-class, such as Ayttey. Surprisingly, there is no mention of the problem of the sub-saharan demography.

A. Anatoli (Kuznetsov), Babi Yar (1969)

A gripping story of the author's youth in 28 Peter-Paul-Square in Kiev, first under the communists, then under German occupation and the cruelties he had to endure and to witness. Babi Yar was a ravine where the jews, the communists and any other "enemies of the people" were shot and buried, later to be excavated and incinerated. The author describes the terrible hunger that lasted throughout WW2 in Kiev and how the occupieres prevented them from getting food, but also some heart-rendering stories of Germans who spared his life. When they thought it was all over, the communists returned and punished them for having been under German occupation. The author fled in 1969 to London. A historic document, the original manuscript was smuggled to London, thus the censored parts are in bold and the additional parts in square brackets.

John Williams, Stoner (1965)

William Stoner is born into a poor family of peasants in the midwest. He goes to university and becomes a scholar in English literatre. He has no career aspirations and thus stays an assistant professor all his life. His marriage to Edith proves to be extremely unhappy, as Edith hates him and makes his life as difficult as possible. Their daughter falls pregnant at an early age and moves out of the house. With his much younger colleague Katherine Driscoll he has a love affair, but when his enemy Lomax finds out, they have to split up. Stoner dies before retirement of cancer. A well-written, melancholy novel about a typical scholarly career.

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868)

John Herncastle steals the Moonstone, a giant diamond of great value, from a Hindu Shrine in Seringapatam. His grandchild Rachel Verinder is to inherit the stone on her 18th birthday. Franklin Blake is to convey the precious jewel to her. Franklin is actually in love with Rachel and wants to marry her. On the night of her birthday party, the moonstone is stolen from Rachel's room, although the house was locked and nobody could go in or out. Three Indian Brahmans, who were obviously trying to reclaim the Moonstone, have to be released from jail again. Superintendent Seegrave is not able to shed any light on the case. Franklin Blake calls in the famous Sergeant Cuff from London. The cousins Franklin Blake and Godfrey Ablewhite are never under suspicion. Cuff comes to the conclusion, that Rachel never really lost the Moonstone. The servant Rosanna Spearman commits suicide under strange circumstances. Eventually, it is discovered that she was madly in love with Franklin Blake and was hiding his paint-stained nightgown, which was bound to make him the prime suspect, as only the thief can have smeared the paint. Rachel Verinder eventually owns up that she saw Franklin Blake steal the Moonstone, although Blake cannot remember anything of it. The doctor's assistant Ezra Jennings owns up, that the doctor, who lost his mind through sickness, played a practical joke on Franklin Blake by adding some opium into his drink. Jennings repeats this experiment with Blakes consent and indeed, Blake steals the mock-up "Moonstone" again. When Blake tails a infamous pawnbroker, Mr. Luker, he finds out that a dark sailor received a parcel from Luker. The next morning, the sailor is dead. Sergeant Cuff removes the sailors disguises and discovers that he is in reality Godfrey Ablewhite, who has taken the Moonstone from Blake and pawned it. Franklin Blake is now cleared and marries Rachel Verinder. A very complex, well construed novel, narrated by different persons involved, some of them with hilarious comedy, like the hypocritical Miss Clack. Wonderful reading, probably Wilkie Collins best novel.

Dan Simmons, Drood (2009)

The writer Wilkie Collins is a close friend of Charles Dickens, but feels to be permanently in the shadow of the latter's fame. On top of that, he is heavily dependent on Laudanum (Opium), later also on Morphine. When Dickens tells him that he met a strange monster named Drood at the site of the Staplehurst railway accident, the monster takes more and more possession of Wilkie Collins. To make matters more difficult, (former) Inspector Field blackmails Collins into becoming his spy on Dickens, because he suspects Dickens to be in touch with his arch-enemy Drood. As Collins becomes more dependent on drugs, he murders Agnes, the daughter of his servants, when she accidentally gets to know about his plans to murder Dickens. Dickens dies of a natural death, though, while Collins is left to his drug-induced daydreams. Drood turns out to be a mere product of Dickens' fantasy, but real enough for Collins. Collins ends up killing the husband of his former lover Caroline and dissolving the body in a limepit. 771 pages of thoroughly researched, pleasant reading, re-creating the Victorian atmosphere and making the characters of Dickens and Collins very lifelike.

Chinua Achebe, There was a Country, a personal history of Biafra (2012)

The author, a well-known Nigerian author, editor and politician tells the story of the Biafran war and the following years with a view to his very personal experiences. Gives an insight into Nigerian politics and why corruption is so rampant.

David Baldacci, Divine Justice (2008)

John Carr aka as Oliver Stone, a former US government assassin, is wanted for killing two influencial men, a senator and the head of the CIA. On his run from justice, he ends up in a small appalachian mining town of Divine. Strange things happen here, twice he has to rescue someone's life. Joe Knox of the FBI and his friends from the Camel Club are looking for him, the former one for arresting him, the latter for rescuing him. He is eventually kidnapped by the people responsible for the events, the prison guards of dead rock high security prison, who have a drug-running scheme. Knox and Carr are taken to dead rock where the corrupt warden admits them as prisoners. The Camel Club manages to rescue them. In the aftermath, the US president promises to clear Carr from any responsibility for the murders. Excellent, fast reading and this time, all the technical details are right, which makes it a joy reading.

Dan Brown, Deception Point (2002)

Rachel Sexton, daughter of NASA-critical presidential candidate Sedgewick Sexton, is a gister for the NRO. She is called upon by the president of the United States to produce an exposé on a newly found meteorite in the arctic, which contains fossils of animals, this being proof of extraterrestrial life and a justification of the expense on NASA. When she discovers that something is wrong with the authentification of the meteorite and it was rather planted there, she has to fight for her life. In a final showdown she finds out that her boss is behind the conspiracy. She is saved, while her boss William Pickering goes under. The book is full of technical details, which are not always plausible and sometimes downright wrong. But the story is fast and fascinating, despite the weird plot behind it.

Dale le Vack, God's Golden Acre (2005)

A biography of Heather Reynolds who has started a charity taking care of Aids-orphaned children in Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa. Goes from length to length.

Gen. James M. Gavin, On to Berlin (1978)

The famous US General describes in detail the battles of WW2 he has taken part in. Together with his troops, he parachuted into Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium and took parts in the battles in Germany. It clearly outlines the disputes between the English and US commanders, the holding back of forces although they could have gone further, for political reasons and the political blunders. In the last chapter Gavin states his disapproval of Eisenhower's decision not to march onto Berlin, although they were stratetigally in a position to do so. Instead, the Allied troops were halted at the Elbe river, leaving Eastern Germany to the Russians to appease Stalin. He feels that the Poles and the Czechs were given false promises when their independence, granted by Stalin in Yalta, was not observed. Very technical and thus not very gripping to read, but a very valuable historical document, also because of the maps showing the troop movements.

Dan Brown, Digital Fortress (1998)

Susan Fletcher is head cryptographer at the NSA. Her boyfriend is Prof. David Becker. Susan gets called in one week-end to work. Ensei Tankado, a former employee of the NSA, has written a crypting Algorythm, that even the NSA's 3-million-processor codebreaking computer, TRANSLATR, cannot break. Now he died in Spain and left only a ring with a clue on how to break it. David Becker is assigned to Spain to find the ring. He does, with great difficulty, while a killer is on his tracks and kills every person that he came in contact with. When Colonel Strathmore, vice-director of the NSA, is faced with the fact that Tankado's unbreakable code was in actual fact a virus, he cannot stop TRANSLATR anymore. TRANSLATR overheats and blows up. The virus starts to attack the firewalls and intruder checks of the NSA's entire database. Just before they are all down, they discover that the unlock code is "3". The database is saved. The book is well-researched, but shows the sign of an author, that is tackling a very technical topic without having own technical expertise. On wide stretches the technical details are absolutely unplausible. It starts with TRANSLATR having its own generators. Why? This is even in mainframe computing unheard of. Jabba, the head sys-op is soldering somewhere. Nothing is soldered in a IT environment, unless one is in hardware development, all the less by a superior. The motherboards just plug in. TRANSLTR blows up after overheating. When processors overheat, they just get slower until they grind to a stop. The terminals are still on when the mains are off. In 1998, it was likely, even for a not brand-new machine, that the terminals were already personal computers which would be affected by a power failure. TRANSLTR could not be stopped anymore when the virus caught hold of it. Even a number-crunching large computer could basically be stopped at once by pulling the plug or killing the trip switch. The database's firewalls were attacked slowly over hours by the virus. In reality, the virus would kill the firewall at once, at the same time causing havoc in the database if it deleted some system files. So the book was a mixed blessing, regarding the technical details.

Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders (1722)

Moll Flanders is an orphan growing up as a companion to children of a wealthy family. She has an affair with the elder brother, but marries the younger who passes away soon after. She remarries with a draper, who squanders away all her money. She has an affair with a gentleman who dies, marries her own half-brother with whom she stays some years in Virginia, then marries a very handsome and courteous man in Lancashire, who is under the impression that she is wealthy. They decided to part ways when he finds out. She then marries a banker, who dies after a couple of years. Left destitute, she resorts to stealing and doing so gets quite wealthy, but is caught red-handed when she attempts to steal a bale of cloth in a house. Sentenced to death, she is in Newgate prison, when she meets her Lancashire husband again. Her sentence is converted to transportation, he manages to get transported too. With their considerable stock of money they equip themselves well for a life of a planter. In America, they start a farm and grow very prosperous. At the age of seventy, they return to England. Interesting upon reading this book is that of all the children she has given birth to, only one, her son in Virginia features. All the other ones are either given away or disappear from the plot.

Harper Lee, To kill a Mockingbird (1960)

Scout and Jem are the children of a lawyer in a small southern village in Alabama. When a white girl is allegedly raped, a black man is charged with the crime and defended by Scout and Jem's father, Atticus. Despite evidence, that the crime never happened, but had been made up by the victim, the black man is sentenced, whereupon he attempts to flee and is shot dead. The father of the alleged victim, Bob Ewell swears to take revenge and one dark night jumps Jem and Scout on their way home from a pageant. He manages to break Jem's arm, but is killed by the shy neighbour Boo Radley, but it is made up to look as if he had fallen in his own knife in order to protect Boo. In contrast to the last book, this one is a pulitzer prize winner. Intense writing.

Whoopi Goldberg, Book (1997)

The author explains in chapters named Fate, Wind, Trust, Head, Home, Self, Eggs, Space, Cost, Cheer, Flock, Love, Race, Sex, Need, Hair, Choice, Drive, Death, Word, Dick, Talk, Taste, Dream, Help how she feels and thinks. Even if it had not been said, it is obvious that these are transcripts of interviews that were written down by a ghostwriter. Thus the foul and colloquial language. Gives some insight in the thinking of Afro-Americans, but apart from that, no Pulitzer Prize Winner.

Stephen Emmott, 10 Billion (2013)

The author explains in this children's-book-like paperback how we are overusing earth, how our sheer numbers lead towards a global catastrophy because earth cannot feed 10 billion inhabitants, all the less if they all want to own motorcars. I agree with most that is said in this book, but alas, it does not appear sufficiently scientifically founded. I expected a bit more. 

Rudyard Kipling, Kim (1901)

Kim, an Orphan boy of Irish descent grows up in the streets of Lahore like an Indian. He meets a Tibetan Lama and becomes his disciple (chela). Together they travel trough north-west India. The Lama is seeking the "river of the arrow", while the boy was told that his destiny was a red bull on a green field. It turns out that the latter is the coat-of-arms of an Irish regiment, where Kim is picked up and held. Kim is to be sent to school. The Lama promises to pay for Kim's schooling, which he does to everone's surprise. Three years later, Kim completes school and joins up again with the Lama. Together they roam the Ladakh, find out a pair of foreign spies and the Lama almost dies from weakness on their demanding journey. Back at Saharunpore at a wealthy widow's house they recover and the Lama finds his "river of the arrow". A tremendous insight into the early colonial India and passionating reading.

Ken Follett, the Pillars of the Earth (1989)

Prior Philip find the new-born son of desperately poor Tom Builder, whose wife just died in childbirth in the forest. Philip becomes prior of decrepit Kingsbridge monastery. When the cathedral burns down, he hires Tom Builder to build a new one. The work is repeatedly stopped by his spiteful enemies William Hamleigh and Bishop Waleran Bigod. With cunning, William captures the Earl of Shiring, Bartholomew, wo later dies in prison. His children, the powerful Aliena and Richard, escape. Aliena becomes a wealthy wool merchant, until William burns town and ruins her business. Jack, the stepson of Tom Builder and Aliena become a couple but can only marry after many years of hardships. When William and Waleran Bigod conspire to kill the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, they fall out of favour with the king. William is being hanged, while Waleran Bigod loses his office. From the beginning to the end passionating reading, never a moments boredom and the story is plausible and gripping.

 

Joel Rose, Kill the Poor (1988)

Jo-Jo Peltz and his pregnant wife Annabelle buy into a homesteader appartment on E Street in the lower East Side. There is permanent friction between the members of the cooperation. Jo-Jo is elected president. There is enmity with the former squatters, who should pay rent now. Jo-Jo has to fight in particular against Carlos DeJesus, a former wrestler. As he is burnt out, all kinds of grapevine spreads, that Jo-Jo arsoned him. In the end, one of the former tenants falsely accuses Jo-Jo of the arson, resulting in his arrest. A very peculiar insight into the drug-and-crime-riddled lower East Side of New York.

Wilbur Smith, Elephant Song (1991)

The book starts well with a magnificent description of a "elephant culling" and an assault on the ivory stocks of the game reserve, killing everone including the protagonist's Daniel Armstrong's best friend, a black game warden and his family. Armstrong suspects Ning Cheng Gong of being behind the crime, but cannot get hold of him. He accepts a contract with Tug Harrison (modelled on Tiny Rowlands) and takes up an assignment in Ubomo (modelled on Rwanda and Burundi) where the new ruler Taffari is starting to exploit the country's natural assets ruthlessly. When Taffari learns that Armstrong filmed a forced removal, he wants to kill him. Armstrong flees and is found by Kelly Kinnear. They team up with the former president Victor Omeru and blackmail Tug Harrison into financing a counter-revolution.
The first Wilbur Smith book I did not like, although some of the ills of Africa are very clearly described. For one the story gets too steep, too thin and too predictable towards the end, and some of the technical details are not well researched and thus impossible. For instance, in 1991 technical gadgets already used integrated circuits and not discrete transistors anymore. Remarkable is, that this story somehow anticipated the rwandan genocide three years before it actually happened.

Greg Mills, Why Africa is poor and what Africans can do about it, Johannesburg 2012

The author compares sub-saharan Africa to the Tiger states in SE Asia, coming to the conclusion that it is good governance and liberal market strategies that lead to success even in the wake of a population surge. He argues for a reduction of development aid, quoting Zambian-born writer Dambisa Moyo (p. 314). Unemployed youths were a reservoir of undirected energy and thus a source of concern (P. 376). Globalisation was also a chance oout of poverty, which was much more effective than debt relief and aid. Fears about having "Sweatshops" were misleading, because these factories were the first rung up the ladder (p. 412). A combination of population growth, extreme environment stresses and already poor agricultural performance may have catastrophic consequences. Some areas might become totally unviable prompting the movement of up to 350 million people, possibly all the way to Europe (p. 416). The road map for Africa should (1) ensure the basics (of good governance) are in place; (2) targeting specific sectors and multinationals; (3) embracing and championing globalisation; (4) Liberalising access, including cross-border procedures; (5) aligning government, the unions and business in a "shared growth formula"; (6) Tax reform; (7) Food security and diversity, to achieve food self-sufficiency; (8) public service reform and deregulation; (9) empowering labour to encourage new entrants to join the formal labour market, by not adopting minimum wages and keeping red tape low; (10) Incentives for investors; (11) Keeping the currency competitive, because a weak currency makes exports cheaper and imports more expensive; (12) financial inclusion by extending credit facilities to formerly marginalised people (p. 429ff.). I like him describing the "reatreaded sociologists, peddling bankrupt ideas in a humourless, if febrile, manner" who "never have a good word to say about the country they are living off" (p. 343). This is exact description of my own experience. Although this is a non-fiction book, it is easy and pleasant to read. The author seems to draw from the experience of many years of field service , rendering his opinions extremely pragmatic.

Keith Richards, Life, USA 2010

A capturing story of sex, drug and alcohol excesses, violence and a passion for music. One of the Rolling Stones founding members, fame puts him in a position to get unrestricted access to drugs, which almost leads to his destruction. Eventually he gets out of the drug haze and starts living again, starting a family with Patti Hansen. If you were searching for a compendium of fould language - bingo! - you've found it. Mindless violence - you find it too. Opening a window to a world you might not have wanted to know at all. 

Gavin Menzies, 1421, London 2003

The author claims that a huge Chinese fleet of more than 800 vessels set out in 1421 to explore the world, long before the Portuguese, Spaniards and British did. The Chinese were to discover South- and North America, Australia, New Zealand, the Antarctic and the circumnavigated Greenland. As all records of this journey - which is almost certain to have taken place in some form or other - was to be destroyed upon returning back to China, we do not have any written Chinese evidence. The proof the author offers is not always obvious and some of it seems far fetched. But if the DNA tests hold, it is not completely ruled out that the Chinese indeed did travel all over the world and settled in the Americas. As mainstream science is very possessive and does not tolerate any differing opinions, they might just have turned a blind eye on the evidence Menzies offers. There is a lot of controversy about the author and whether he wrote the book by himself, but apart from them, it was fascinating reading and opens the mind to a possible turn of history, which could explain quite a lot of the enigmas of South America.

Peter De Rosa, Rebels, The Irish Rising of 1916

Beginning with the ill-fated journey of the SS Aud/Libau, which was to deliver German arms to the Irish rebels and ended up blowing itself up on the Irish coast, it tells in much detail the reasons and the course of the Irish rebellion of 1916 and how the leaders were executed by the British in the aftermath, setting the cause for more hard feelings which led eventually to Ireland's independence. Very detailed and interesting told, it offers deep insight into the Irish soul.

 

John Le Carré, A Murder of Quality, 1962

Ailsa Brimley, the editor of the Christian News, receives a letter of her reader Stella Rode, in which she claims that her husband plots to murder her. Brimley contacts George Smiley. They learn that Stella was murdered recently. George Smiley travels to Carne, where he is venturing into the world of the old and prestigious college where Stella Rode’s husband was teaching. The victim turns out to have been a plotting devil behind a humble facade. Eventually Mr. Terence Fielding, senior housemaster of Carne, turns out to be the murderer. A gloomy picture of a typical English college and its internal tensions, enmities and class prejudices.

Wilbur Smith, Assegai

Leon Courtney is a subaltern in the army. He survives a ambush of the hostile Nandi tribe and saves his Masai tracker Manyoro, whereupon he is made a honorary son of Manyoro's mother, the witchdoctor Lusima. Back in Nairobi he is court-martialled and only closely escapes a severe sentence, as his story is not believed. He quits the army but is recruited by his uncle Penrod Ballantyne into the secret service. He joins Percy's hunting safaris, where he quickly becomes a good hunter and indespensable to the company. When Percy is killed tragically by a buffalo, Leon inherits the company and assets. Penrod makes him taking on German guests in order to learn from them secrets concerning the German warfare in East Africa. He is eventually set up to host Otto von Meerbach, a aircraft and car manufacturer. The quirky industrialist is accompanied by his girlfriend, young and pretty Eva von Weissenberg, an English spy, with whom Leon instantly falls in love. Otto von Meerbach teaches Leon to fly his aircraft. When von Meerbach is critically injured in a risky attempt to spear a lion, Leon absconds with Eva on a two months honeymoon. When Penrod finds out the whereabouts of Leon, the latter is marched back to Nairobi in handcuffs while Eva is pressed back into secret service duties. Von Meerbach plans to carry money and weapons to the Boere in South Africa in order to start an uprising and rides his airship across Africa. Via Eva Leon finds out about the scheme and intercepts the airship at Lonyoro Mountain, where he damages it beyond repair. Eva parachutes out and is saved by Leon, who also manages with Lusima's help to hide away the GBP 2M gold on board the airship. Leon and Eva get married. This is the first Wilbur Smith book that I did not thoroughly enjoy. The research was not properly done; many facts are outright wrong. First of all many of the places are invented; there is neither a Lonyoro mountain, nor is there a village of Weisenkirchen on Lake Constance (in English NOT Bodensee) and Friedrichshafen (where the Zeppelins were actually made) is Baden-Wuerttemberg and not Bavaria. It is impossible that in 1910 or 1912 there is a old and timeworn Bakkie around as in these days cars were still a novelty and there was not sufficient time since the advent of motorcars to provide cheap second hand bakkies. Vauxhall was in these days a manufacturer of famous sports cars (for instance the Prince Henry), not of simple bakkies. The only old Vauxhall that would be around this time was the Vauxhall 5hp, which was still a vis-a-vis. So it is pretty impossible that there was an old and timeworn Vauxhall bakkie around in 1912 or 1913. The airplane of Otto von Meerbach is supposed to have four engines and to be 60 feet long. Looking at old pictures of pre-WW1 planes one quickly grasps that airplanes were in these days mainly small byplanes with single engines. The airplane is supposed to take three to four passengers, but those airplanes took a pilot and maybe a passenger, but nothing more. They were very feeble instruments and it is unlikely that they were already capable of making landings in rugged territory on top of a mountain, all the less considering the lacking engine performance. The Zeppelin airship that von Meerbach steers across Africa is certainly taken from the journey of the L59 in November 1917, but if that flight is taken as a model, please don't make the airship a 1939 Zeppelin LZ129 with panoramic windows, but a WW1 airship with open gondolas. All in all, all the technical equipment seems to be from the 1930s, while the story takes place during WW1.

Palmer, William J., The Detective and Mr. Dickens

(Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins hunt a gentleman murderer in Victorian London) Charles Dickens meets Inspector Field of the newly formed Metropolitan Protectives and is commissioned as an informal assistant, whereby Wilkie Collins acts as his sidekick. When Irish Meg Sheehan reports a murder that she witnessed, they successfully find out the murderer, Mr. Paroissien of the Covent Garden Theatre. But the murderer gets killed before he can be apprehended. Mr. Dickens gets more and more obsessed with the girl actress Ellen Ternan, while Wilkie Collins is involving himself with Irish Meg. Inspector fields investigations point to Ellen Ternan as murderess of Paroissien, but she disappears. They get on her track at Lord Ashbee's house, where through a skylight, they watch her being auctioned to the highest bidder. They step in, free Ellen Ternan and Dickens convinces Field to drop all charges against her. Lord Ashbee manages to wriggle himself out of everything. Very well written and capturing victorian life quite convincingly, but there are a few very explicit pornographic scenes which seem not to match the rest.

Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist is born in a workhouse, grows up in dismal circumstances under the cynical supervision of the beadle, Mr. Bumble, whose only objective is to save expenses on the poor. When he is to be apprenticed to an undertaker, his fellow apprentice teases him cruelly, until Oliver hits him and subsequently has to flee. He ends up in London, where he is putting up with a Jew, Mr. Fagin, who is the head of a gang of petty criminals. On his first errand for Fagin, he is caught by the police. Despite being acquitted, he collapses and is taken in by the friendly Mr. Brownlow, who has him nursed back to health. Upon delivering books for him, he is caught by his old gang and held captive in Fagin's lodgings, as Fagin is concerned about being found out. In a housebreaking, Oliver is shot and wounded. He is taken up by the occupants of the burgled house, the Maylies, and nursed back to health. In the meanwhile, in a nightly meeting, Nancy discloses a conversation of monks on the subject of Oliver to the Maylies. She is overheard by Noah Claypole, who had been sent by Fagin to tail Nancy. He reports it to Fagin, who informs Nancy's violent boyfriend Sikes. Sikes kills Nancy, flees and is hounded by an angry mob. In the course of his attempted escape, he dies. Fagin and the entire gang are uncovered and arrested. Monks, who sought to destroy Oliver, is captured by Mr. Brownlow and discloses all his secrets: Oliver is the illegitimate son of the same father, who was of course a nobleman, and Rose is Olivers aunt. Oliver thus inherits land, Rose and Harry Maylie marry. The crux of the book is the question, whether it is antisemitic or not. Being half-jewish myself, I take the liberty to say that there are many signs of antisemitism, but that there might be some explanations for them. For one, it is probably not antisemitic to say that Jews were engaged in crime since medieval times, as after the progroms these were the only societies where Jews still could exist. Hence the "Rotwelsch" language which is dotted with hebrew expressions. The assumption that Fagin is taken from real life, cannot be entirely negated. Then, despite using all the stereotypes on Jews in this story, Fagin is pictured fairly human. It is quite obvious to the reader, that he and many of his accomplices have not chosen this career. He is not pictured as a wealthy crime-lord, but as a miserable old man, who ekes out a living training boys to steal handkerchiefs and now and then a pocket-watch. And in his relation to Monks, Fagin is little more than an accessory. Last but not least, there was no concept of political correctness in the mid-19th century, when the book was written.

Dan Brown, The Symbol

Professor Richard Langdon is summoned by a mysterious call to the Capitol in Washington D.C. believing to meet here his old friend Peter Solomon. Instead, he finds Peter's severed hand, pointing to the cupola, adorned with strange tatoos. The CIA, in particular its director Inoue Sato is entering the scene. The mystery caller wants Peter to decipher a strange pyramid. They explore the basement of the capitol, where they find a mason's shrine with a tiny pyramid. The golden capstone is found in a sealed package Richard was asked to bring along. Richard is shuffled away by the Architect of the Capitol, also a high-ranking mason. At the library of congress, they meet Peter's sister Katherine, who just barely survived an assault in her laboratory. Hunted by the CIA, they move to Washington Cathedral, where they manage to decipher the inscriptions of the pyramnid. The kidnapper, who calls himself "Malakh", tricks Richard and Katherine to his flat, where he overpowers them and submerges Richard in a tank and lets Katherine slowly bleed to death. The CIA just in time finds the two, frees them and they move on to a Mason's temple where they witness how Malakh tries to force Peter to "sacrifice" him to the demons. It turns out that Malakh is the long-lost son of Peter, who completely lost his mind, thinking he was destined to become a demon. The story is quite gripping, but is estranged from reality. The plot is not very plausible, the personality of Malakh is never quite discovered and in the end there are a lot of open ties which never get resolved. I checked up some of the technical details and it turned out they were not real.

Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

The father of Nicholas Nickleby, a member of the minor gentry, is urged by his stupid wife to invest all his money on the stock market. He loses it and with it his smallholding. He subsequently dies (possibly by suicide) and leaves his family, Nicholas, his pretty sister Kate and the mother destitute. They look to their only relative, Nicholas’ uncle Ralph, which is an usurer in London, for support. Ralph is only interested in making money and loathes the destitute family. He sends Nicholas as an assistant teacher to a boarding school in Yorkshire, while Kate has to work at a fashion shop. The circumstances in Yorkshire are grim and Ralph soon finds out that the schoolmaster Squeers regards his pupils as little more than cheap labour, does not feed them enough and lets them shiver in the cold in winter. When Squeers is about to punish dim-witted Smike severely, Nicholas beats Squeers and absconds together with Smike. On his escape, he meets John Browdie, a stout Yorkshireman, who helps him. Nicholas and Smike walk back to London, where Nicholas gets help from his uncle’s good-hearted employee Newman Noggs. He continues to Brighton, where he and Smike join a theatre company. When Kate is set up by Ralph with some drunken gentlemen and assaulted by one, Nicholas returns to London to get things right. He finds employ with the pleasant Cheeryble Bros, where he meets beautiful Madeline and falls instantly in love with her. Meanwhile Arthur Gride and Ralph are plotting to marry young Madeline to Gride, as she is to receive a substantial estate which she is unaware of. Newman Noggs and Ralph rescue Madeline from this plot, whereas Ralph is now determined to destroy Nicholas. He sets Squeers upon Grides maid, who has stolen a chest of papers from Gride. The two get caught red-handed, though, and sentenced to transportation. Ralph hangs himself, Kate and Frank Cheeryble, the nephew of the Cheeryble Bros, as well as Nicholas and Madeline get married, the Yorkshire school closed down. A well-constructed plot, sharp characters and some first-hand 19th century life make this novel pleasant and interesting to read.

Ilja Trojanow, der Weltenbummler

Richard Burton is an English soldier in India, who learns the local languages easily and almost without an accent. He is thus able to adopt the role of a local Indian, which he uses to collect information about the rebels. As he is transferred to the Sindh (between Pakistan and Afghanistan) he converts to Islam, in order to play his role more convincingly. His military career is fouled, though. Years later he embarks on a Hadj to Mekkah and Medinah, which he completes without being detected, apart from compromising himself in a drinking spree with an Albanian. Again years later, he embarks with Speke on an expedition to discover the great lakes in Africa. They reach Lake Tanganyika, but he stays in Kazeh while Speke discovers Lake Victoria. Burton dies at a high age in Italy as a British envoy. Picturesque, sometimes elaborate language. Interesting how the story is related from the point of view of several of the people involved.

Charles Dickens, Hard Times

The story takes place in Coketown, a fictitious industrial town near Manchester. Thomas Gradgrind is an utilitarian, who bases his life and that of his children on "facts, facts, facts". His model school is joined by Sissy Jupe, daughter of a circus artist. When her father disappears, she may remain with Gradgrind. Josiah Bounderby is a industrialist, who is boastful of his humble upbringings. Nevertheless, he looks down on his "hands". He is assisted by Mrs. Sparsit, who has some distant relations in the nobility. Furthermore, there is Stephen Blackpool, a honest worker, whose wife is estranged and a alcoholic and whose girlfriend Rachael he cannot marry. Louisa, the daughter of Gradgrind agrees to marry Bounderby, 30 years her senior, in order to be able to cover up for her brother Tom's (the "whelp") gambling debts. When the bank is broken in, the blame falls on Blackpool. Sissy, Rachael and Louisa go on a quest to discover the real culprit, which turns out to be Tom. On his way back to Coketown, Blackpool falls into a disused mine shaft and dies. His name is cleared by Gradgrind himself, who nevertheless helps his son to escape to South America. Bounderby's mother turns up and lifts the veil on Bounderby's "humble upbringings". Louisa divorces Bounderby and Sissy takes care of the remaining Gradgrind children as Mrs. Gradgrind dies. This novel has often been criticized for its lack of social criticism. But in my opinion, the antagonists Blackpool and Bounderby have been pictured very lifelike, not the expected "socialist realism" picture of the charismatic labour leader and the diehard capitalist, but of a honest-to-himself labourer and an unsuccessfully love-and-attention-seeking industrialist.

Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Christo

Edmont Dantes is unjustly accused and thrown into a dungeon for 15 years. In prison he meets the Abbe Faria, who bequests an enormous hidden treasure to him. He escapes and collects the treasure. He first gratifies the people who helped him previously. He subsequently takes up living in Paris and with his enormous wealth subtly pulls threads until all his former enemies are ruined. A drawn-out, comprehensive epos.

Joseph Roth, Hiob

The teacher Mendel Singer has four children: Jonas, Schemarjah, Mirjam and the crippled Menuchim. He lives in the Schtetl. When the sons drafted to the army, the family spends all their savings to send Schemarjah to the USA, while Jonas gladly joins. Schemarjah becomes a successful businessman and has his parents and sister sent over, while Menuchim has to stay behind because of his ill-health. Schemarjah perishes in the WW1, Mirjam gets mad and Mendel falls into a deep depression, when Menuchim visits New York, a famous conductor in the meantime. Excellently written.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

The cain and abel theme and the good and bad, predetermination in the story of the two brothers Charles and Adam Trask, Adam marrying a stranger girl, Cathy, and moving from the East Coast to the Salinas Valley in California. Cathy turns out thoroughly wicked. She shoots and leaves him to establish a whorehouse in Salinas. He is left alone with their twins and falls into an agony. Sam Hamilton, the author's grandfather, a poor, intellectual inventor, gets him out of this. Adam Trask moves to Salinas where his two boys, Cal and Aron, grow up. The family is held together by Lee, the learned Chinese servant. Eventually Cal finds out about his mother. When he tells Aron about it, Aron enlists with the army and gets killed. The father suffers a stroke and dies, not without absolving Aron.

Wilbur Smith, Hungry as the Sea

Nick Berg, former chairman of a large shipping company and now owner of a salvage firm, rescues the pretty Samantha when towing a passenger vessel in Antarctica. He uses part of the rescue money awarded to him to have his two tugs stay on alert when a large supertanker, which he deems unsafe, is passing through the Caribbean sea, carrying his son from his first marriage. He ends up rescuing son and ex-wife, while the tanker sinks and gets a huge award for the salvaged oil pods. Quick and passionate reading, as usual well researched.

Charles Dickens, The Battle of Life

An old daughter has two pretty daughters. Marion is waiting for Alfred, the doctors warden, to return from his studies abroad. On the day of his return she disappears. Alfred ends up marrying her sister. She returns to admit that she withdrew to be out of the way of her sisters happiness. Not one of the best of Dickens's stories.

O. Henry, 100 short stories

The author, who drank himself to death early in life, was exceptionally gifted. His characters are so vivid, one imagines living at the turn-of-the-century USA.

Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Audiobook)

Huckleberry Finn runs away from his alcoholic father and teams up with Jim, a runaway slave. They float down the Mississippi river on a raft. When they become separated, Huck gets right in the middle of the Grangerford vendetta. They meet up with two scams, the duke and the king. When the two sell Jim to Sally Phelps, Huck is mistaken by her as Tom Sawyer and he quickly slips into this role. When Tom really does arrive, he poses as his brother Syd. As Jim is held in a way that he could walk off anytime, the two devise an adventurous plan to rescue him in the most daring and complicated way. This succeeds, but as Aunt Polly arrives, she discovers the plot and they tell her everything.

Robert Cooper, Around the World with Mark Twain

The author has retraced the steps of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) around the world, describing what Clemens did, saw, how it looks now. The journey takes him across the USA, to Australia, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and South Africa on the eve of the Boer War. Pleasant to read, most places mentioned I have visited too.

Herman Melville, Typee (Audiobook)

Tom and Toby skip ship on the Marquesa Islands. They end up exactly where they never wanted to, with the Typees, known to be cannibals. Toby soon disappears while Tom with a painful sore in his one leg cannot move much. He is a protege of the great chief Mahavi, but he is not allowed to leave the place. He starts to enjoy life with the Typees and explains it's particulars in detail. And he seems to become romantically involved with Fayaway, a beautiful maiden. When an English ship anchors in the bay, he asks for his departure, which Mahavi is willing to grant him, but the other chiefs not. He departs nevertheless. A gripping, credible story of the South Seas, Herman Melvilles masterpiece. For it's time surprisingly unbiased.

Scholem Aleichem, Jewish Children (Audiobook)

A series of short stories of Jewish childhood's in the Schtetl in the Ukraine, some of them mischievous, some of them like sequels (Busie and Shemak, who loves his sister Busie, actually his niece, madly). Most of them narrated in the I-form. Great Jewish literature.

Edgar Allan Poe, Black Cat (Audiobook)

A horror story about a man who kills his cat.

Rudyard Kipling, Children of the Zodiac (Audiobook)

A fable just like an Indian tale, equally not very gripping.

O. Henry, the duplicity of Hargraves (Audiobook)

An amusing and well-told story about an actor, who uses an old Major as a role model, becomes famous and eventually supports him financially.

George Macdonald, the Golden Key (Audiobook)

A fairy tale about a boy and a girl in fairyland.

Robert Louis Stevenson, Markheim (Audiobook)

A gripping story of a murder and the devil, who appears to the murderer.

Henry Tyler Bunner, The nice People (Audiobook)

An amusing story about a freshly married couple who tries to mimic a long-time married couple.

Alice Parker Butler, Pigs is Pigs (Audiobook)

A hilariously funny story about two guinea pigs who are not collected at the mail office and start multiplying.

Edgar Allan Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum (Audiobook)

A gruesome story about a frightening torture of the Spanish Inquisition. Mark Twain, taming the bycicle (Audiobook) A self-ironic story about learning to ride a bicycle.

Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart (Audiobook)

A story about a murderer, who buries his victim, but when the police interviews him, ends up admitting the murder, because he believes he hears the heart of his victim.

Jack London, White Fang (Audiobook)

White Fang, half wolf, half dog, becomes Great Beaver's sled dog. Great Beaver becomes an alcoholic and sells the dog to Beatty Smith, who uses him in dogfights. Scott takes him on when he is half dead, nurses him back and takes him to California, where White Fang kills a murderer who crept into Scott's father's house.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War (Audiobook)

Quite trivial truths about war, but just about everyone has copied from here! Listened to it during a full moon night without sleep.

Jack London, Call of the Wild (Audiobook)

A dog is sold to Dawson City and becomes a sled dog. He is sold several times. When his last master dies, he returns to the wolves.

Jules Verne, Gil Braltar (Audiobook)

Gibraltar is attacked by an army of monkeys, lead by Gil Braltar. The british General disguises himself as a monkey and leads the monkeys back to the monkey rock.

Jules Verne, Drama above the clouds (Audiobook)

A famous balloonist takes off in Frankfurt, when suddenly somebody jumps into the basket. It is a maniac who relates the history of ballooning, but wants to commit suicide by crashing the balloon. The history of ballooning mixed with a critical review of science.

Jules Verne, Meister Zacharius (Audiobook)

Master Zacharius is a famous clockmaker, living wiith his daughter Geronde and his servant Scholastica and his apprentice Aubert in Geneva. One day, all the clocks he has ever made, stall. He ends up buying all of them back except one in Andermatt castle. He travels there to buy the clock. The clock belongs to an evil little man who is also driven by a clockwork. Zacharius wants to marry him to his daughter, if he makes him live eternally. When Aubert calls for the help of an eremite, the clock breaks and Master Zacharius dies. A critical review of the relationship of science and religion, strongly influenced by catholicism.

Charles Dickens, A tale of two cities (Audiobook)

France 1790. Lucie Manette and Jarvis Lorry of Tellsons Bank travel to Paris to take her father, Dr. Manette, who was imprisoned for 18 years, to England. There she meets Charles Darnay, whom Sidney Carton gets off a trumpet-up charge of treason. She marries Darnay, who is in reality Count d'Evremont who has relinquished title and lands. When he gets a letter that in the course of the Revolution one of his former employees is imprisoned, he travels to Paris to have him released. He is thrown into prison himself. After more than a year, Dr. Manette gets him released, but the same day he is re-arrested. When Sidney Carton learns about it, he travels to Paris, exchanges places with the prisoner and is executed in his place. Like a thriller to read, a lifelike picture of the French Revolution.

Charles Dickens, Trial for murder (Audiobook)

The ghost of a murdered man appears during his trial, until the murderer is sentenced to the gallows.

Isabel Allende, Zorro (Audiobook)

Diego de la Vega, born in 1795 to Alejandro, a Spanish hidalgo, and the Mestiza Regina, daughter of a Spanish deserter and an Indian shaman, grows up in (still Mexican) California. He is sent, together with his milkbrother Bernardo, to Barcelona, Spain, to continue his studies. Diego develops a strong sense of justice and uses his talents to free some of his friends from prosecution, amongst them his teacher Manuel Escalante, who introduced him to the secret society La Justicia. Within the society, Diego becomes Zorro, the avenger of injustice. When his host family is prosecuted, he embarks on a journey across Spain and returns to California just in time to reclaim his family's estate. Fascinating reading. The story, though entirely fictional, is quite credible. Except, so noble and skilled a person could hardly have existed.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House

Esther Summerson grows up in a loveless environment, but nevertheless becomes a very caring person. She is taken into the household of John Jarndyce, her guardian, as a housekeeper. At the same time Ada and Richard, two cousins of Jarndyce join his household too. Ada, Richard and Jarndyce are involved in a never-ending chancery suit over an inheritance. Richard ends up ruining his life pursuing this lawsuit. Mr. Skimpole, an ever-broke acquaintance, ends up playing a rather nasty role and Mrs. Jelliby neglects her children over her zest for Borrioboola-Gha. Esther finds out that she is the illegitimate daughter of the haughty Lady Dedlock. When the lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn blackmails Lady Dedlock, she commits suicide. Esther is set to marry her much older guardian, but in the end when he notices that Dr. Woodcourt would be a much more suitable husband, he gives her up for his sake. Passionate, ultra-realist reading.

Stephen Fry, The Hippopotamus

Ted Wallace is an old cynical, sarcastic alcoholic, sacked from his job as a theatre critic, who is sent by his neglected godchild to spend a summer with his other godchild and spy on the wealthy family. He eventually gets the grasp why he is there and what is happening. David, his godchild is regarded by everyone as a miracle healer and they are very surprised when Ted finds out that this 'sexual healing' is without any effect. By far too much foul, putrid language, and too explicit descriptions of sodomy, but a quite workable plot. The author seems to enjoy shocking his readers. Some critics say this makes it genuine and funny. Well, a whole lot of open-mindedness is required to read this. If you get too disgusted and flush it down the toilet, no great loss, but I found it quite entertaining, nevertheless. Certainly no Charles Dickens, but it helps you appreciate other books' language all the more.

Saul Bellow, Herzog

Moses Elkanah Herzog is a professor of 47 years of age, in his midlife crisis. His second marriage to beautiful Madeleine just failed, when she absconded with his best friend Valentine Gerspach. Although he still has a relationship going with Ramona, he is disorientated, destroyed, cannot work anymore. He keeps writing (mostly imaginary) letters to the ghosts of his past. Very difficult to read, an in-depth psychology study.

Stephen Elliott (Ed.), Jason Roberts, Eric Martin, Andrew F. Altschul, Peter Rednour, Greg Larson, Jesse Nathan, Where to Invade Next

Description of the United States' archrivals Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Syria, Sudan and North Korea and how they could be neutralised. Full of prejudice. No other country would ever be so blunt in it's ambitions.

Wilbur Smith, River God

Taita is an Eunuch, slave and toyboy of the immensely wealthy Lord Intef in Pharaonic Egypt. He is also a genius doctor, architect and engineer. In his custody is Lady Lostris, the Vizier's beautiful daughter who is madly in love with the warrior Tanus, son of Intef's late enemy. When Tanus speaks out about the dismal situation of Egypt, he is banished to rid Egypt of the Shrikes, a tribe of robbers. With the help of Taita, he succeeds and finds out that Intef is their head. Intef manages to flee. In the meantime, Lostris was married to Pharaoh and has borne him a son, in reality fathered by Tanus. Intef returns with the Hyksos, intent to destroy Egypt. The Pharaoh gets killed, Lostris becomes Queen. The Egyptian army is technically inferior to the Hyksos. The Egyptians flee into Cush (Sudan), where they start breeding horses, developing carts and find some Sudanese tribes who willingly become their warriors. Taita is captured on a excursion into Ethiopia, manages to escape and returns with the Egyptian army, to destroy his capturer and free the beautiful Masara, whom the Crown Prince has laid his eyes on. Memnos and Masara marry, the entire Egyptian state moves back from Khartoum to Elephantine, which they capture without trouble. They then march onto Thebes, where Taita infects the horses of the Hyksos with the 'yellow strangler', so they die and the Egyptians manage to defeat the much stronger Hyksos army. Queen Lostris dies in sight of her beloved Thebes from cancer, Memnon is crowned the new Pharao. Well researched, passionate reading.

James Clavell, Noble House

Ian Dunross is Tai-Pan of the 'Noble House', Hong Kong's largest trading company. His liquidity is poor, he has large committments which he cannot fulfill. The raiders Linc Bartlett and Casey Tcholok arrive from the USA and plot to take dvantage of the situation. Gornt, his enemy, also plans to bring the Noble House down. At the same time Hong Kong is in the focus of Sevrin, a secret KGB network. And the son of the compradore, John Cheng, is kidnapped and killed. Gornt short-sells Struan's in order to destroy the company and spreads rumours of an impending crash of Ho-Pak Bank, both of which causes a bank run and a stock exchange crash. Casey organises new finance for Dunross, the Ho-Pak Bank is taken over by the Victoria and a new boom is impending. But a landslide destroys Gornt's high-rise and with it many of the protagonists. Gornt and Dunross survive, Bartlett gets killed. A must-read with much background information about Chinese thinking. With sharp political and economical analyses. Many of the prophecies in the book - written in the 1980s - have in the meantime come true.

The Bible

Genesis: Adam and Eva, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Ark, Abraham, circumcision, Jacob and Esau, Joseph in Egypt. Jacob renamed Israel.

Exodus: Moses becomes leader, Aaron his mouthpiece. Seven plagues of Egypt. Passover instructions. Moses leads the sons of Israel out of Egypt, the Pharao pursues, the Red Sea splits. Manna, Sabbath laws. ten Commandments, criminal law, three annual festivals. Covenant. Tabernacle, sanctification. Golden calf, Moses shatters stone tablets. Tablets remade, tabernacle built.

Leviticus: Instructions on offerings, sin/guilt/burnt/grain offerings, no eating of fat and blood, Aaron installed as priest, clean and unclean animals, dead bodies, leprosy, sexual discharges. Atonement day, sex and miscellaneous laws, eating holy things, Festival of Booths, 50th year jubilee, no idolatry, blessings for obedience, chastisements for disobedience, tenth parts.

Numbers: Tribes registered for the army, obligations of Levites, Gershonites. Test of faithful wife. Naziriteship. Commissioning of the altar. People want meat. Spies enter Canaan. Judgement of the 40 years. Earth swallows rebels. Fire and scourges. Contribution laws. Moses strikes rock for water. Snakes. Og killed. Balaam's prophecies. Inheritances allocated. Offering procedures. Midian, Balaam killed. Gad, Reuben, half of Manasseh settle. Levite cities, cities of refuge and laws of avengers of blood.

Deuteronomy: Recollection of exodus, Moses urges obedience, instructions to kill the inhabitants of the Promised Land. Preparing to cross over Jordan. Disobedience recalled. Wipe out false religion. The share of the Levites. Debt releases. Cities of refuge to man-slayers. Rules of war. Miscellaneous laws. No temple prostitutes. Criminal law, labour law. Results of obedience, disobedience. Covenant renewed. Joshua is to be new leader. Song of Moses. Moses dies.

Joshua: Rahab hides Israelite spies. Water stops when Israel crossing the Jordan. City walls of Jericho brought down. Ai destroyed. Agreement with Gibeonites. Sun stalls. Five kings killed. Conquest of Promised Land. Assignations of territories to tribes. Boundaries, cities set. Protest over Altar on Jordan river.

Judges: Conflicts with remaining inhabitants. Judges as leaders . Deborah. Sisera killed. Midianites rule. Gideon becomes a leader, refuses kingship. His son Abimelech kills his 70 brothers, rules Israel. Jephthah fights against Ammonites, vows daughter. Samson gets married to Philistine woman, angers with his riddle, burns down fields, kills them with a jawbone. Delilah has him shaved, he loses power, is captured, blinded. Pulls down house. Danites take Micah's priest and images. A Concubine is raped, killed. She is dismembered and sent all over Israel. Then the Benjaminites are almost wiped out, but saved as a tribe.

Ruth: Ruth, a Moabite widow, stays with her mother-in-law, supports her, marries wealthy Boas.

1 Samuel: Samuel is apprentice to Eli, the priest. Becomes a prophet. Philistines capture ark but are scourged by piles. Return ark. Israelites demand a king. Samuel warns, discourages. Saul anointed king. He fights the Ammonites, makes a sacrifice without Samuel, is reprimanded. Jonathan skirmishes with the Philistines. Saul spares Agag, King of Amalek, instead of killing him. He is now rejected by Samuel, who kills Agag himself and anoints David. David sings to Saul, strikes down Goliath. Jonathan, son of Saul is David's best friend. Saul is envious of David, seeks to kill him. David flees to Samuel, then further on. Saves town of Keilah. Spares Saul. Marries Abigail. Spares Saul again. Is given Ziklag. Joins the Philistine army, but sent back, finds Ziklag burned down but pursues the Amalekite marauders and gets women, children and wealth back.

Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Walter Hartright, a drawing-master, is given an assignment by the immensely wealthy Fairlies. He falls in love with Laura Fairlie, but is told to step back as she is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde. Laura marries Sir Glyde, but the marriage is a single catastrophe. Sir Glyde urgently needs her money to cover his various financial embarrassments. His friend, Count Fosco, shares the same financial problems. The two of them connive to get hold of a mysterious woman in white (actually Laura's half-sister, as it turns out later) who looks just like Laura, she dies while captive and they have it recorded as Laura Fairlie's death. Thereafter Sir Percival and Fosco both get enormous sums of money paid from the estate. Hartright, returning from self-imposed exile in Honduras, helps the real Laura to hide, and like a sleuth discovers all the mysteries of the two villains. He ends up marrying Laura and living with her and her sister Marian in London, until Frederick Fairlie unexpectedly dies and he can take possession of the family mansion Limmeridge. The book is excellently written, very unusual is the form of protocols of the various actors, like a court case, which makes it even more plausible.

Richard Branson, Losing my Virginity, Autobiography

A live business case study that shows: You can make a helluva lot of mistakes in life if you have one or two cash cows that make up for it. And some mistakes will turn out to be none at all! But you have to be in the right place at the right time, know the right people, have the right co-workers. And never panic, never lose hope, when times were tough. Richard Branson tells his story with amazing honesty. Well written, a must-read for every economist.

Leon Uris, Mitla Pass

It is 1956 and Gideon Zadok is possessed by the idea of writing a book about the war in Israel and takes part in a very dangerous operation in Mitla Pass. We learn about his family, his father Nathan, a no-goodnik Communist party organizer and his mother, Hannah Balaban, a bitter, promiscuous woman who neglects her son. He nevertheless becomes a famous writer, but cannot follow up his first novel which became a best-seller. With strong autobiographic contents, a thrilling book with lots of background information about the Shtetl life.

Bill Cullen, Its a Long Way from Penny Apples

An rags-to-riches autobiography. Liam Cullen (confusing: he is Bill) is born into a desperately poor family, where the father's income is just nominal, while the mother and the kids feed the family with their income as traders. He becomes one of the countrys leading businessman, owner of a chain of Renault dealerships. The book does not use sophisticated language and the grammar is really Irish, which makes it appear quite genuine.

Emile Zola, Le Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies Delight)

Written in 1883, it is an outstanding and excellently researched book about the setting up of the first department stores in Paris. Starting in 1867, Octave Mouret is the owner of the magnificent "Bonheur de Dames". Denise Baudu starts as a salesgirl, is mobbed, laid off but eventually re-employed. She becomes his confidante, but the two of them cannot communicate their love of each other. They just about make it to get engaged on the last page! Reading the book, I thought of Arthur Healey, probably Zolas literary heir...

Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

A hilarious and outstandingly well written story about Mr. Pickwick and his disciples Mr. Winkle, Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Tupman (and Mr. Pickwick's uneducated but clever manservant Sam Weller), how they manage to get themselves time and again into trouble. Mr. Pickwick always wanting the best and ending up in trouble, permanently being rescued by faithful Sam. A wonderful account on the 1830s, so lively as if it happened in reality. There are many subtle allegations with regard to lawyers, courts and religion, prudery and hypocrisy.

Henry Fielding, Tom Jones

An excellently written, bitterly ironical insight into the 18th Century (it was written around 1750), and the then prevailing huge differences between noble and common birth. Tom Jones is born a foundling, brought up in the house of country squire Allworthy, a wild but conscious child. His rival is the son of the squire's sister, Blifil, a scheming and nasty character. Jones is extremely good-looking and has consequently many affairs with women, impregnates one the servants' daughters' and confesses his love for the neighbour's daughter, Sophia, who is out of bounds for him as he is not of noble birth. Blifil plots against Jones and convinces Allworthy to turn Jones out of the house. Jones then goes on a journey which eventually takes him to London, where he becomes the Gigolo of a noble lady and eventually stabs a man in a duel. The man doesn't die, though, the charges are dropped and Allworthy discovers that Jones is in reality his sister's illegitimate child, so that he consents to his marrying Sophia.

Charles Dickens, Oliver Cromwell

The amazing life-story of David Copperfield, who loses both parents, is abused by his stepfather, flees to his aunt and makes his way up to become a proctor and a famous writer. His difficult passion for the frail Dora, who dies shortly after the wedding and his long restrained passion for the rational Agnes. Masterfully written, a joy to read.

Christopher Hurdon, Dith Pran (ed.), The Killing Fields

A collection of heartbraking stories of how Cambodians were put into labour camps, some from the age of five. They were starved, abused, mistreated and often killed.

Sarah Quigley, Shot

A poetic story about Lana Domanski, a stand-up comedian, who starts her career at the age of seven. When she gets hit by a stray bullet at the age of 28, she quits and starts as a photographer and writer in Alaska.

Peter Ustinov, The Old Man and Mr. Smith

A wicked story about God (the old man) and the Devil (Mr. Smith) visiting the world, travelling to USA, England, Russia, China, Japan and India. Referring to Gorbie, Clinton... but who is Matsuyama-San? Ustinov narrates with his usual twinkling of an eye, very funny, very satirical. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Zadie Smith, The Autograph Man

A story about Alex-Li Tandem, an autograph dealer who gets obsessed with a withdrawn American actress of the 1940s, Kitty Alexander. He visits her in NY and convinces her, that he should accompany her to London where he auctions four letters of hers off for GBP 150'000. The author expands on Alex's yuppie drug- and alcohol habits. I like her bringing Jewish customs into the story, though. Very uncommon are the typefaces, drawings and boxed texts in a novel. But the story is too long and drawn out, it gets boring with time.

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

A gripping story about a few noble families in Russia during the reign of Csar Alexander, fighting against Napoleon. A subtle testimony about the uselessness of heroism - the most brave characters are killed need- and senselessly. Thus probably also a subtle criticism of the Russian system, which obviously has been in existence much longer than the Soviet Union.

Leo Hamalian/Vera von Wiren-Garczynski (Editors), Seven Russian Short Stories

Nikolai Gogol (1835), The Story of how Ivan Ivanovich quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich; Ivan Turgenev (1846), The Duelist; Feodor Dostoevsky (1866), The Gambler; Anton Chekhov (1892), Ward No 6; Leo Tolstoy (1898), Father Sergius; Leonid Andreyev (1902), The Dilemma; Boris Pasternak (1917), The Childhood of Zhenya Luvers Seven wonderful stories, one better than the other, a fine insight into Russian realism.

Cathy Reichs, Cross Bones

A gripping story (cashing in on the "Da Vinci Code") of the find of the bones of Jesus Christ, towards the end losing a bit.

Mikhail Sholokhov, Short Stories

The stories are a pleasure to read, but the author is too propagandistic of the Soviet Regime. Nevertheless, he gives us a excellent image of what was happening in the Russian Civil War in the 1920s.

Alexander Solzhenytsin, August 1914

A profoundly researched history of the needless destruction of General Samsonovs second Russian Army during its Prussian campaign in WW1.

Sam Wellman, Corrie ten Boom, heroine of Haarlem

Biography of a Dutch lady who saved many Jewish lives during Nazi occupation and was eventually imprisoned and sent to Vught Concentration Camp and to Ravensbrueck concentration camp. The story is interesting and genuine, but heavily doted with Christian rhetorics.

Jan Johnson, Madame Guyon

Biography of a French Catholic mystic. But: Not only is the story entirely contradictory - starting with two different birthdates (p. 14 and 134) and the constant talk of God's kindness while complaining that everyone went behind her back, the strange behaviour and the apparent mindlessness of the narrator and the poor language make this book a complete waste of time. Don't read it. The world would be better without it.

Don Delillo, White Noise

An intelligent analysis of the American way of life, with it's stereotypes, wastefulness and it's exposure to brand names and PR. Narrator is Jack Gladney, Head of the Department of Hitler Studies of the otherwise unimportant local college. His everyday family life stands in stark contrast to his public appearance. The plot is abstract in the sense of Ionesco, without the humour of Bulgakov, grim and exposing. The book goes from length to length and fails to captivate the reader. The detailed description of the American lifestyle contrasts to the shallow and fragmentary description of the protagonists and places.

Wilbur Smith, The Sound of Thunder

A historically correct fictional account of the Sean Courtney family in Boer war South Africa.

Mario de Carvalho, A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening

The author has in-depth knowledge of Roman times in Portugal, but the story lacks zest and it is dead boring.

William Shakespeare, Othello

I would love to translate this into German or Afrikaans! The defty language, the swearwords - I did not expect this.

Eric Prokosch, the technology of killing, A Military and Political History of Antipersonnel Weapons

A not-so-up-to-date history of antipersonnel weapons. I was hoping to find some information about the landmines used in Africa, but as the author only writes about American weapons and almost completely leaves out Russian weapons, it is of limited use to learn more about how to protect yourselves from antipersonnel devices in Africa. One probably just has to trod very, very carefully...

Victoria Hislop, the Island

A gripping story about a family being torn apart and having to live in a leper colony in Greece.

Raymond Khoury, Scriptum

A passionate novel, much in the style of the Da Vinci Code, but no depth and not quite so well researched as Dan Brown Novel.

Larry Adler, It ain't necessarily so

A grippingly honest account of the world's most famous mouth organist, his rise and his fall during the Mc Carthy era in the US and his subsequent exodus to the UK.

Christopher Hope, A separate development

Hope is an undiscovered gem of South African literature. With his book, he exposes the times of great Apartheid which I never witnessed myself, giving a good idea of how it was. Nightmarish the thought that in such a system, a white person suddenly darkens up and drops out of all systems, neither fitting into the black nor in the white world.

Michail Bulgakov, Master and Margarita

Bulgakov is a master of the absurd, his story is interesting from the first to the last page and he subtly exposes the Stalinist system. His humour is so dry, it could almost be English!

Qiu Xiaolong, A Loyal Character Dancer

A gripping story and an excellent insight into Chinese culture.

Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

Passionate, historically well-researched and quite within the scope of possibilities. I just loved it.

Arthur Hailey, Moneychangers

Like all books by Arthur Hailey, excellently researched, giving a thorough insight into the world of banking and so modern, that you keep paging back to page 1 saying that it was written in the Seventies!

J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace

This book helps to understand why some white South Africans don't defend themselves when they get assaulted at their homes. It explores the feeling of underlying guilt.

Philip Caputo, Horn of Africa

An only too realistic story of three CIA mercenaries who get involved in the Eritrean war against the Ethiopian Derg government.