Ann Patchett, Bel Canto. An opera with plenty of bel canto, may still end with all the singers in a bloody mess. I rather enjoyed this best-selling account of the hostages and the hostage-takers who form a common cause, but confess that I read it more as a fairy tale than as a plausible construction of events. The young terrorists are not ignorant and cruel but full of unrecognized talents. Would it were so. The ending had to be expected, but was painful nevertheless.
Ivan Turgenev, Torrents of Spring. Since I read this short Russian classic on my Kindle I have no cover to show you. Instead I am providing. Turgenev’s benign and elderly visage. Thus he may appear, but he was young once and understands that a foolish young Russian land owner may sincerely and idealistically love an Italian confectioner’s daughter. The torrents of spring do not run comfortably in the usual streambeds. The love was real enough and so is the pain which comes after.
Robert Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins. That’s who Harry Hopkins was to me — the shadowy figure in the background at all the big conferences and dealings during World War II. For many, he was not a figure to be trusted. This account of the relationship between Hopkins and Roosevelt was written by Sherwood in 1948, with the memories and emotions of the war still fresh. Sherwood worked as a speech writer for Roosevelt and with Hopkins. When Hopkins died, the family asked him to take over preparing the memoir Hopkins intended to write. It’s a paper brick — over 900 pages — and a very full account of the wartime years, with the text of many cables, memos and letters given in full. Because Sherwood was a professional writer it is also very readable. Not a cliff-hanger exactly, but all the pages and incidents are important to the story. They give us a picture we would not get otherwise of how Roosevelt and Hopkins interacted, with Hopkins acting as first assistant and principal doer of Roosevelt’s will.
Rose Macaulay, The World My Wilderness. This novel, written by Macaulay shortly after the end of World War II is set in formerly-occupied France and in the ruins left by the London Blitz. The young people who come to maturity in a dangerous world learned to survive in ways their elders could not approve. I felt surprisingly detached about their situation, perhaps because Macaulay was mostly expressing her own grief at the changes the war had brought.
Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger. The “stranger” in this bitter tale is Satan. He is not the old and ugly and menacing Satan you see here, but a seductive young man who charms the simple Austrians with his beauty and his tricks. Twain’s verbal humor does little to relieve a story in which mankind is an evil mistake in a creation which may or may not exist.
Michael Connelly, The Gods of Guilt. The members of a jury are the gods of guilt for defense lawyer Mickey Haller, the “Lincoln lawyer” in this series set among the usual miscreants of Los Angeles. The plotting is a bit tricky in places, but Haller continues to interest me with his cynical surface in which a certain idealism occasionally leaks through. His half-brother, LA detective Harry Bosche, does not appear in this novel.
Angela Carter, Wise Children. One of the bloggers I read has been praising Angela Carter, so I thought I would try one. This novel is an amusing account of several sets of related and theatrical twins. Nice tricky language here, but it wears a bit thin at the end.