**** 1/2
Very good
**** 1/2
Just okay
Not for me
Definitely not for me

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Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

amsterdammcewan Winner, 1998 Man Booker Prize

I'm not a huge fan of McEwan's so I had put off reading this book until my sister read it and enjoyed it. I have a commitment to reading all the Booker Prize winners and this was short so that also made it easier to start it.

I was surprised to find it much easier to read than Atonement , where I really bogged down in the initial chapters. It's a darkly comic novel about four men who've all been lovers or married to Molly Lane, who is recently deceased. The book starts out with her funeral, the interactions of the four men during it, and their thoughts on how much they all appreciated Molly.

We then go on to their professional lives. Clive is a composer, Vernon a newspaper editor, George (the husband) is on the board of that same paper, and Garmony is the Foreign Secretary. All of these men and their vocations intersect throughout the story. It was hilarious to hear how the men see and think about themselves. McEwan pokes fun of all these men and their professions, and even of fellow writers.

"He had a number of friends who played the genius card when it suited, failing to show up for this or that in the belief that whatever local upset it caused, it could only increase respect for the compelling nature of their high calling. These types-novelists were by far the worst-managed to convince friends and families that not only their working hours but every nap and stroll, every fit of silence, depression, or drunkenness, bore the exculpatory ticket of high intent. A mask for mediocrity, was Clive's view. He didn't doubt that the calling was high, but bad behavior was not a part of it. Perhaps every century there was an exception or two to be made. Beethoven, yes; Dylan Thomas, most certainly not."

I was enjoying the book for the most part when suddenly I saw what was coming at the end, and thought, "It's not really going to go there, is it?" It did go there. I put off reading the last 50 or so pages because I knew I wouldn't like the ending. Although, the sequences "in the haze of confusion" were quite funny. As was the modern duel.

I don't know. I guess I didn't like how Atonement began but appreciated how it ended, and with Amsterdam it was just the opposite. I liked the beginning and not the ending, though it did have its humor. I didn't like On Chesil Beach at all. Not sure I'll read another McEwan novel, but I was happy to check this one off my list.


1998, 193 pp.

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi


"Now I realized that the least deluded of all women was the prostitute. That marriage was the system built on the most cruel suffering of women."

Woman at Point Zero was written by Nawal El Saadawi in 1975. This feminist Egyptian author has quite a resume. She became a doctor in her early twenties in 1955. She campaigned against female circumcision in Egypt for over 50 years, with the practice not becoming illegal until 2008. Early in her career she lost her job as Director of Public Health because of her campaign. Later, she was even imprisoned by the Sadat regime over a political matter. And, not only that, she has written at least 16 books on women's issues.

This book was written as a result of her visiting a woman in prison. While she was studying neurosis in women, another doctor told her about a prisoner who refused to ask for a pardon from the President for the crime of killing her pimp. After the author heard the woman's story, she couldn't sleep for days until she started writing this book. (Source: BBC interview below)

Firdaus tells her life story from the beginning, from being touched by her uncle inappropriately, to being married off and beaten by her 60+ year old husband, to being raped and then finally becoming a prostitute. It is a harrowing story and one I won't easily forget. The book is short and it is structured to repeat in a few places, but this was intentionally done by the author to good effect. Highly recommended for those interested in women's issues and feminist fiction.

"Everybody has to die. I prefer to die for a crime I have committed rather than to die for one of the crimes which you have committed."

Author interview with BBC World Book Club:

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(1975, 108 pp.)

Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo


Click for Amazon info

Heaven Is for Real is about a small town, Christian, 4 year old boy's near death experience as told by his father, Todd Burpo. I saw this book on the bestseller list on Amazon and wanted to read it for several reasons. First, I grew up less than 40 miles from Burpo's hometown in Imperial, Nebraska, and that town is even mentioned in the book. Second, I have had a close family member who had a NDE and saw himself/herself lying on the operating table. Third, I am a Christian as well so I was interested in this perspective. And, I do believe heaven is very real.

It is an amazing story, but I do have questions about it. That doesn't really mean I believe or disbelieve the story as I'm not sure how I feel about it and probably never will be sure. I hesitate to express any doubts about the story because I know it has given several Christians hope and a renewed faith. Also, and most importantly, if it is true I wouldn't want to go against God in any way, shape, or form. However, after thinking about it, I decided to go ahead and write a review of the book detailing my questions.

First, the background. Colton gets very very ill (I don't want to spoil the reason why) and nearly dies. Several months after his recovery, Colton begins saying things about his time in the hospital that make his family believe that he has, in fact, been in heaven. The details don't come all at once but over a course of months and even years. Colton not only gives descriptions of heaven, but also of family members he should know nothing about. The tale is inspiring and amazing if true, but the questions I have about the story are these:

  1. This is a minor mistake, but in the book Mr. Burpo stated that North Platte was 3 hours from Denver and 8 hours from Omaha. Not true -- I've driven I-80 and I-76 along this route many many times. It's more like 3.5 hours from Denver and 4 from Omaha. On the map below, you can clearly see that North Platte is almost directly halfway between the two cities. This mis-statement was the first that raised a tiny red flag in my mind. If he was wrong about this, could he be wrong about other facts?
  2. Colton said that in heaven Jesus still had the holes in his hands, feet, and side. I don't dispute that that may well be the case. However, there is some debate in Christian circles whether the nails were actually in Jesus' hands or his wrists. I don't know the correct answer to this, but Colton pointed to his palms when describing them. I'm just saying that some Christians would have a problem with this.
  3. Colton said he remembered clearly what Jesus looked like. He would always say that all the pictures he saw of Jesus were wrong, until he saw one painted by Akiane Kramarik, another child who states she has seen visions of heaven. However, the painting is of a 'Western' Jesus, where in reality, Jesus was Jewish and should have Jewish/Middle Eastern features. Then, when I went to Akiane's site and blog, it appears she's not really Christian in the sense that most Christians consider themselves to be Christian. She talks about goddesses of earth and water and her opinion that we can find heaven on earth now. Both are views that most Christians would surely deny.
  4. Also, it bothered me a little bit that actual people's names (other than the family's) were used. Maybe they gave their permission, but I know that most people in very small towns wouldn't want that. I wouldn't, but that's me.

It's not for me to determine if the story is true, only God can know that. The story is interesting, and I'm sure it has given a lot of people comfort and hope. It has to be up to every reader to decide.
Here is the map I talked about:


Denver, North Platte, and Omaha. Imperial is circled southwest of North Platte.

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa


Amazon info

He first came to the Iris one day just before the beginning of the summer season.

I was really excited when I received Hotel Iris from Picador in the mail. I hadn't requested it, but because I loved The Housekeeper and the Professor so much last year, I knew I would want to read this one. The problem was, though, that I didn't know what it was about. It has a very different 'love story' -- one that didn't appeal to me at all.

Mari is a seventeen year old girl working at the front desk of her mother's hotel when she meets a middle aged man whose voice and manner intrigue her. As they get to know each other, it leads to a sexual relationship involving SM. It wasn't extremely graphic, but still just not my cup of tea nonetheless.

I still enjoy Ogawa's writing style and the translation was great, but I just didn't like the subject matter so unfortunately I was extremely disappointed. However, I'd still read another Ogawa novel -- I just would learn more about the storyline first.

1996, 2010 for the English translation; 164 pp.


Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

siddhartha "Listen well, my dear, listen well! The sinner, which I am and which you are, is a sinner, but in times to come he will be Brahma again, he will reach the Nirvana, will be Buddha--and now see: these 'times to come' are a deception, are only a parable! The sinner is not on his way to become a Buddha, he is not in the process of developing, though our capacity for thinking does not know how else to picture these things. No, within the sinner is now and today already the future Buddha, his future is already all there, you have to worship in him, in you, in everyone the Buddha which is coming into being, the possible, the hidden Buddha. The world, my friend Govinda, is not imperfect, or on a slow path towards perfection: no, it is perfect in every moment, all sin already carries the divine forgiveness in itself, all small children already have the old person in themselves, all infants already have death, all dying people the eternal life. It is not possible for any person to see how far another one has already progressed on his path; in the robber and dice-gambler, the Buddha is waiting; in the Brahman, the robber is waiting. In deep meditation, there is the possibility to put time out of existence, to see all life which was, is, and will be as if it was simultaneous, and there everything is good, everything is perfect, everything is Brahman. Therefore, I see whatever exists as good, death is to me like life, sin like holiness, wisdom like foolishness, everything has to be as it is, everything only requires my consent, only my willingness, my loving agreement, to be good for me, to do nothing but work for my benefit, to be unable to ever harm me. I have experienced on my body and on my soul that I needed sin very much, I needed lust, the desire for possessions, vanity, and needed the most shameful despair, in order to learn how to give up all resistance, in order to learn how to love the world, in order to stop comparing it to some world I wished, I imagined, some kind of perfection I had made up, but to leave it as it is and to love it and to enjoy being a part of it.--These, oh Govinda, are some of the thoughts which have come into my mind."

Ummm, no. I'm afraid I can't quite agree with this philosophy. However, I am always glad I've read books like this so I can be knowledgeable about the ideas they espouse. I've long wanted to read more by German authors so that was a plus as well. In addition, I can also count it for the 1001 list. So although I did not care for the philosophy of the book, it did meet several of my goals.

1922, 102 pp.


A Short Guide to a Happy Life

shortguide But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.

This (extremely) short guide to a happy life by Anna Quindlen is a very quick read with quite a few nuggets of wisdom. Encouraged to get a 'real' life that we can enjoy in addition to our obligations, we are also treated to some outstanding photos of people doing just that. The book is so short that I'll keep my review short as well.

Recommended for Quindlen fans and those needing a 'Q' author or a short non-fiction title for reading challenges.

2000, 50 pp.

4/5 stars