Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The Sunrise

Posted by nliakos on July 23, 2021

by Victoria Hislop (Harper 2015; first published in 2014 by Headline, a Hachette UK company)

I was looking for the Island by the same author, but couldn’t find it in my library, so I picked up this one instead. It’s the story of several Greek Cypriot families and a Turkish Cypriot family caught up in the events of 1974, when proponents of unification with Greece overthrew Archbishop Makarios and Turkey responded by invading Cyprus. The coastal resort city of Famagusta (Αμμόχωστος, [aˈmːoxostos]) was emptied out of its people, surrounded by barbed wire, and rendered a ghost city.

The main characters include Afroditi and Savvas Papacosta, who own two beachfront hotels in Famagusta: The Paradise Beach and The Sunrise, their fancy new hotel; Emine Özkan and her family: husband Halit, sons Ali, Hüseyin and Mehmet; and the Georgiou family: Irini and Vasilis, sons Markos and Christos, and Maria, her husband Panikos and their little son Vasilakis. Markos is Savvas Papcosta’s right-hand man, who is entrusted with the hotel when Savvas and Afroditi flee the city; Markos and Afroditi are engaged in a passionate affair. Emine works in The Sunrise as a hairdresser. Her friend Irini lives with her family on the same street. The friendship between the two, one Greek and the other Turkish, is perhaps unusual; their husbands refuse to meet each other.

When everyone else flees the city, the Georgious and the Özkans do not leave because in each case, one of the sons is missing (Christos, who was involved with EOKA B, the organization fighting for unification with Greece, and Ali, who of course opposed this). Initially, neither family realizes that the other has remained behind, but they find each other and eventually move in together, first in the Georgious’ home after the Özkans’ is broken into and ransacked, and later, when that is no longer possible, in The Sunrise. It is very dangerous to go out in the city; the only people who do so are Markos and Hüseyin, who go out at night to find food. But Markos has other, secret reasons to be out in the city at night, which in the end lead to tragedy.

Readers will learn a lot about the events in Cyprus which transformed the island to this day. The horrors of the invasion, the uncertainties faced by the inhabitants, the atrocities suffered by both sides, the plight of the refugees, are all depicted as the novel progresses. And because we come to know the characters, we care about what happens to them.

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The Hearts of Horses

Posted by nliakos on July 17, 2021

by Molly Gloss (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

Readers also get to know something about the lifestyles, motivations, challenges and desires of the various people living in this part of the country during the Great War. And finally, readers learn quite a lot about horses, most of which I already knew, but others probably don’t.A former horsy kid, I tore through this novel in about two days. It’s the story of 19-year-old Martha Lessen, gentler of horses in 1917 Oregon. Martha has left an abusive home in Pendleton and come to Elwha County, looking for work “breaking” horses. Actually, Martha loves horses and gentles and trains them without breaking their spirits. She has the good fortune to ask for work first at the home of George and Louise Bliss, who not only take her on and give her a place to eat and sleep, but who help her find enough jobs to keep her busy “riding the circle” of their neighbors’ properties, working with the untrained horses at each farm or ranch and then riding one of them on to the next place. As winter turns to spring, Martha gets to know the neighbors; acquires a beau; gets an abusive hired hand turned out of his job and home; saves a family from ptomaine poisoning but is almost killed when the clueless husband and father, on his way home from a drinking bout, frightens her horse off the road. Martha is an appealing character, naive and tender-hearted, terribly shy and awkward with people, but confident and skilled with horses. Another favorite character is Henry Frazer, who is as gentle and patient in his pursuit of Martha as she is when working with a frightened horse. The Blisses, the Woodruff sisters, the Thiedes, the Romers, the Kandels, and other characters all have their own stories, which the reader will follow with interest.

It’s not a love story, although love has a role. There is not a single over-arching plot, unless it’s Martha’s search for community. Some chapters deal with important events, like the death of Tom Kandel from cancer; others just follow Martha’s daily routines or activities like attending a dance or going to a skating party. But Gloss held my interest throughout the book.

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The Little French Bistro

Posted by nliakos on July 13, 2021

by Nina George (translated by Simon Pare; Crown 2017; originally in German Die Mondspielerin published in 2010 by Knaur Verlag)

Marianne has spent her adult life married to a jerk who makes her feel ugly and stupid. One evening on a vacation in Paris, she decides to end her life, but she is rescued and ends up on a train to Brittany, where she finds work, meets interesting people, falls in love, and learns to love and value life again.

I was looking for the previous novel by the same author, The Little Paris Bookshop, but I came up with this instead. It was enjoyable.

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Autism in Heels: The Untold Story of a Female Life on the Spectrum

Posted by nliakos on July 9, 2021

by Jennifer Cook O’Toole (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018)

I’ve always been interested in autism. I’ve read most of Temple Grandin’s books. I was reading Thinking in Pictures back in the 90s when I first noticed the similarities between Grandin and my then very young daughter, who doctors assured me was “not autistic”. . . until one day the diagnosis ASD appeared in her medical record (It is still there.). But I had somehow missed the work of Jennifer Cook O’Toole, who wrote a book I wish I had given my daughter in those painful adolescent years: The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome (2013). (Two years later, she wrote Sisterhood of the Spectrum: An Asperger Chick’s Guide to Life.) Autism in Heels is O’Toole’s memoir of growing up with undiagnosed autism. Extremely smart, multi-talented, and high-functioning, she was crippled by her inability to understand and follow the complex social rules that govern all of our interactions with others. This led to ostracism, bullying, self-doubt, perfectionism, abusive relationships, anorexia, and more, all of which is shared in painful detail in the book. Jennifer O’Toole never realized that she was on the spectrum until her three children, including her youngest, a girl, received the diagnosis. As she learned more about autism, she began to question her own life story, especially after her daughter’s diagnosis. Since then, she has become a voice for the many girls and women worldwide who are neurologically different, whose sensitivities rule their daily lives, who struggle to make and maintain friendships. Autism looks different in girls than in boys, but it can still make lives difficult and can sometimes result in astonishingly self-destructive behaviors and choices.

Maybe it isn’t too late to give my daughter those books.

Posted in Autobiography, Learning Disabilities, Memoir, Non-fiction | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mother Tongue: My Family’s Globe-Trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic, and Sing in Spanish

Posted by nliakos on June 28, 2021

by Christine Gilbert (Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2016)

Christine Gilbert must have the most accommodating husband in the history of the world. When she decided she wanted to take a few years learning Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish, he went right along with the plan. Gilbert read a lot about bilingualism and language acquisition (her sources are listed in the Notes) and interviewed some of the researchers, and then set off to try and learn some of the most difficult languages for an English-speaking American to learn: Chinese first. Chinese, according to what I have heard, does not have a complicated grammar, but the four tones are very difficult for an English speaker to grasp, and reading and writing require years of memorizing characters. Arabic is one of the most complex of all languages, and the writing system, while easier than Chinese, is very challenging for an English speaker. Compared to these, the third and final target language, Spanish, is a piece of cake. Besides which, Gilbert had already studied Spanish and spent some time in Guatemala.

The family started out in Beijing as winter set in, not realizing that the infamous air pollution is at its worst during the winter. Gilbert, her husband Drew, and their toddler, Cole, immediately got sick and stayed that way. Gilbert found an apartment and a tutor, but not a class, so her opportunities to use the language were actually quite limited. To avoid breathing the horrible air, the family sequestered themselves in the apartment. In the end, they gave up and left. Gilbert did not achieve fluency in Mandarin–far from it.

Next, the family repaired to Thailand, where they had friends, to decide where to go so Gilbert could learn Arabic, and they ended up in Beirut (maybe everything had to begin with Bei-), where they rented a house and Gilbert joined an actual class, which was better, although the Lebanese dialect she set out to learn would not serve her very well in other Arab countries. They loved Beirut, but eventually it got a little too risky to remain there, so they left again, and this time ended up in Mexico, in a little town on the Pacific coast in the state of Jalisco (Bucerias–Bu- instead of Bei. Close!). By this time, Gilbert was pregnant with their second child, a baby girl. Little Stella was born in Puerto Vallarta, a Mexican citizen. And Gilbert’s Spanish did come back and get better. Little Cole also learned Spanish (he had picked up a few Chinese words despite the family’s pollution-induced isolation, and more Lebanese Arabic). For some reason I never fully understood, the Gilberts chose not to remain in Mexico, where Stella’s birth would have enabled them to acquire citizenship, and which they seemed to love, but instead they settled in Barcelona, a diglossic (Spanish/Catalan) city close enough to the Middle East to afford visits to Beirut.

I found Gilbert’s plan to be kind of wacky but intriguing and marveled at the circumstances that allow this couple to live anywhere they want in the world and enabled her to spend eight hours a day learning foreign languages. I was not surprised at the failure of the plan in Beijing and was impressed by Gilbert’s persistence to carry on with her plan despite that failure. I agree with her conclusion that the key to learning languages is to deeply appreciate and learn the culture of the country where the language is spoken. And I am mostly amazed that her husband went along with it all, even though he did not intend to study the languages (and I wonder just how he is getting on in Barcelona–still monolingual?).

Posted in Language, Memoir, Non-fiction | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Only Girl in the World: A Memoir

Posted by nliakos on June 19, 2021

by Maude Julien with Ursula Gauthier (translated by Adriana Hunter) (Little, Brown 2017; originally published in French with the title Derrière la grille in 2014)

Yet another horrifying account of surviving childhood abuse and neglect (Cf. Educated: A Memoir, I was Number 87: A Deaf Woman’s Ordeal of Misdiagnosis, Institutionalization, and Abuse, Two Memoirs of Abuse: My Lobotomy and A Stolen Life, and several other titles here). I am fascinated with the ability of children to survive extreme abuse. Maude Julien’s father was obviously a nut case, but he was a nut case with a lot of money. He essentially bought a little girl from her poor family and raised and educated her to become his wife and the mother of the enlightened girl child/superior being he wanted to produce. Maude’s mother Jeannine was the unfortunate child who became Louis Didier’s instrument of abuse; Maude herself was the unfortunate product of the Didiers’ strange and unequal relationship.

Maude’s childhood was stolen from her. She was made to do hard physical labor along with exhausting academic, musical, and athletic studies that would have been difficult even for an older child. Explanations were never given; in any case, she was too terrified of her father to ask. The whole point of her mother’s education was to prepare her to home-school Maude, but many of the things Maude was expected to master, like gymnastics, were beyond her mother’s ability to teach, and Maude was expected to master them anyway, and punished when she did not. She was deprived of food and forced to drink alcohol from an early age (to teach her to hold her liquor). The list of abuses is long; and she was deprived of love and compassion by both parents.

So how did Maude survive this hell hole of a childhood? It seems that three things enabled her to keep her sanity: her animal friends (mainly a pony named Arthur, a dog named Linda, and a duck name Pitou); the literature she was forced, then permitted to read, which opened a window for her onto the lives of other people; and a few kind people who helped her, like M. Molin, her music teacher, who tricked her father into allowing her to take her lessons in his school rather than at home, and then to allow her to work in his store. Later, M. Molin introduced Maude to her future husband. It is astonishing that, with the help of therapy, she was able to overcome her traumatic childhood and become a psycho-therapist herself, specializing in mind and behavior control and emotional manipulation. I imagine her to be full of compassion for others who have suffered as she did.

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Wise Child

Posted by nliakos on June 19, 2021

by Monica Furlong (Random House Sprinters, 1987)

Vicki and I read this together a few years ago, and recently I was inspired to re-read it. In this sequel to Juniper, a young girl nicknamed Wise Child is taken in by the doran (sorceress or witch) Ninnoc (aka Juniper). At first, Wise Child is afraid that terrible things will happen to her, but Juniper slowly wins her trust with her quiet kindness and honesty. Juniper also educates Wise Child in languages, herbal lore, math, astronomy, music and poetry. Wise Child comes to understand that she has it in her to become a doran, but only if she so chooses. She also learns that her birth mother Maeve, who abandoned her but who now wishes to have her back, is also a powerful sorceress, but she uses her power to benefit only herself instead of others, as Juniper does. Wise Child is a Christian, though Juniper is not; and the other Christians of the village, influenced by their priest Fillan, mistrust witchcraft (except when they need Juniper’s herbs and laying on of hands, when their own treatments for illness and injury are ineffective) are easily led to accuse Juniper of bringing smallpox to the village, and she is arrested. Torture and execution seem inevitable, but together with her cousin Colman (who has a book of his own, a sequel to this one, which seems not to be available anywhere for less than about $900!), Wise Child manages to liberate Juniper and they escape towards the Western sea.

I like Wise Child’s description of a doran, which is part of her testimony at Juniper’s trial: It is someone who loves all the creatures of the world, the animals, birds, plants, trees, and people, and who cannot bear to do any of them any harm. It is someone who believes that they are all linked together and that therefore everything can be used to heal the pain and suffering of the world. It is someone who does not hate anybody and who is not frightened of anyone or anything. This passage makes me yearn to be a doran too.

Posted in Children's and Young Adult, Fiction | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Fifth Risk

Posted by nliakos on June 7, 2021

by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton, 2018) This is a pretty peculiar book. It was really interesting, but I can’t quite figure out what it is about. I mean, it seems to be about some really amazing federal workers and how the people Donald Trump put in place as their bosses didn’t know squat about what they did or what their agencies were charged with. But according to the blurb on the back cover, it is a “narrative of the Trump Administration’s botched presidential transition”. Yes, parts of it mention the transition (the period of time between before the election and the inauguration, when a potential incoming administration prepares to take over, guided by its predecessors), but much of it doesn’t. The way I see it, Lewis focuses on three agencies (the Department of Energy, or DOE; the Department of Agriculture, or USDA; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which is part of the Commerce Department) and some of the individuals who worked there, in order that readers better appreciate the amazing work our federal workforce does, and the role federal workers play in protecting us from various risks.

Oh yes, risks: What is the fifth risk of the title? What are the first four risks? The answer to these questions appears in the first chapter, “Tail Risk” (I have no idea what that refers to!). Lewis asks the DOE’s first chief risk officer what the top risks to the nation are. He lists five: nuclear accidents, North Korea, Iran, the failure of the electrical grid, and project management. Yes, project or program management is The Fifth Risk, “the existential threat you can’t imagine,” “the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions.” I guess the agencies described and the civil servants profiled here are charged with focusing on those long-term risks; from the get-go, Trump and his people had no understanding of the risks facing the country, the work done to mitigate them, or the people who manage them under various administrations, nor did they care to learn.

(The way Lewis tells his story by profiling people in government, bringing the reader along as he interviews them, reminds me of how John McPhee uses profiles of people to explore what they do or study–shadowing and interviewing geologists to write about geology, for example.)

The book starts with “Prologue: Lost in Transition.” This section focuses on Trump’s reluctance to prepare for the presidency. He actively resisted having a transition. Former NJ governor Chris Christie jumped into the void by offering to help, but he was quickly dumped. Trump was so arrogant that he truly thought he had nothing to learn from the people who had run the country for the past eight years! Lewis also writes about Max Stier, who attempted to “fix” what was wrong with the government by recognizing the best work done by federal works with his “Sammie Awards” and creating the Partnership for Public Service, which “trained civil servants to be business managers; it brokered new relationships across the federal government; it surveyed the federal workforce to identify specific management failures and success; and it lobbied Congress to fix deep structural problems.” (It was Stier who lobbied Congress to pass the laws requiring a formal transition from one administration to the next.)

In Chapter I, “Tail Risk”, the focus is on the DOE. This chapter describes the transition, or complete lack thereof. It talks about what the DOE is responsible for: nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, environmental clean-ups, loans to energy startups, and 17 national science labs. Lewis writes, “Some of the things any incoming president should worry about are fast-moving: pandemics, hurricanes, terrorist attacks. But most are not. Most are like bombs with very long fuses that, in the distant future, when the fuse reaches the bomb, might or might not explode. It is delaying repairs to a tunnel filled with lethal waste until, one day, it collapses. It is the aging workforce of the DOE–which is no longer attracting young people as it once did–that one day loses track of a nuclear bomb. It is the ceding of technical and scientific leadership to China. It is the innovation that never occurs, and the knowledge that is never created, because you have ceased to lay the groundwork for it. It is what you never learned that might have saved you.” The two men profiled are the above-mentioned Chief Risk Officer, John MacWilliams, and Arun Majumdar, who created ARPA-E to fund research that could change the world.

Chapter II, “People Risk”, focuses on the USDA, which is in charge of U.S. national forests and grasslands, conducting scientific research, inspecting meat, fighting fires, lending money, managing rural programs, administering free school lunches, protecting animal welfare, and lots more. The people profiled are Kevin Concannon (Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services; he was in charged of school-provided meals and the food stamp program), Cathie Woteki (chief scientist at the USDA under Obama, she was responsible for the science underlying nutritional standards, food security and the safety of the food supply, and biofuels), and Lillian Salerno (Rural Development, funding loans to small towns).

Chapter III, “All the President’s Data”, is the longest chapter, taking up a good third of the book. Focused on NOAA, it profiles DJ Patil, who first hacked into NOAA’s weather data to use for a project when he was a graduate student at UMD and ended up at NOAA as Chief Data Scientist of the United States. We learn how weather forecasting changed from guessing to modeling forecasts using many different conditions to come up with a cone of likely forecasts (“ensemble forecasting”); about threat reduction and chaos theory and how to design a system so that the failure of one part of it doesn’t cause the failure of the entire system (Think: Challenger disaster). (Lewis describes Trump’s man Barry Myers being put in charge of NOAA, when Myers, who was CEO of AccuWeather, used the data provided free by NOAA to compete with it and disparage it. Also profiled is Kim Klockow, NOAA’s first social scientist, who studied how to get people to heed warnings that could save their lives.

Afterword: “The Drift of Things” profiles Art Allen of Coast Guard Search and Rescue, who developed a way (SAROPS, an algorithm that uses what Allen learned about leeway, how things move in ocean currents) to better predict where to look for something in the open ocean.

I guess the point of the book would be that an extraordinary amount of expertise has been developed in government agencies over time by professional civil servants who disregard partisan concerns to do their jobs to make things better and safer for all of us, and Donald Trump’s (and his people’s) refusal to acknowledge that expertise, to appreciate it, and to use it for the common good constitute a serious danger for the country and for all of us. (Not only did they not appreciate what these people knew and did; they actively worked to remove them from their jobs, to get them to quit or to transfer them to jobs that did not utilize their expertise.)

But I still don’t know what “tail risk” means.

Posted in Biology and environmental science, History, Politics, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Patchwork Planet

Posted by nliakos on May 28, 2021

by Anne Tyler (Fawcett Ballantine 1998)

All of Anne Tyler’s protagonists are quirky, and Barnaby Gaitlin is no exception. Born into a wealthy family, Barnaby has turned his back on the family foundation after an adolescence rife with bad choices and petty criminality. A good soul and honest to a fault (now that he is an adult), Barnaby works at an equally quirky little business called Rent-a-Back, which essentially provides a combination handy(wo)men and Jacks-of-all-Trades to mostly elderly clients who are aging in place, as we like to say today. They do odd jobs, move furniture, clean out cupboards and storage areas, fix broken items, lift heavy objects, rake leaves, shovel snow–whatever needs to be done, sometimes singly and sometimes in pairs. Barnaby often teams up with a female co-worker named Martine.

A failed marriage to Natalie has left Barnaby with a daughter of about nine, Opal, who lives with her mother in Philadelphia; the book opens with Barnaby about to take the train from his native Baltimore to visit Opal, but he is distracted by a fellow passenger, a sleek-looking woman who agrees to take a forgotten passport to a stranger’s daughter with an international flight to catch. Barnaby becomes obsessed with the woman, Sophia Maynard, who also lives in Baltimore but visits her mother in Philadelphia every weekend. He contrives a meeting, and Sophia, favorably impressed, arranges for her elderly aunt, Mrs. Glynn, to use Rent-a-Back’s services. Before long, Barnaby and Sophia are immersed in a torrid affair. Sophia appears to overlook Barnaby’s checkered past, and Barnaby half believes that Sophia is his guardian angel. But after a while, Barnaby realizes that it is actually his crimes that make him so attractive to Sophia; she doesn’t really trust him, but enjoys the risk dating him provides. Tyler keeps the reader guessing as to whether Barnaby and Sophia’s love will endure, so I won’t spill the beans here.

I always enjoy Ann Tyler’s novels. I am more the Sophia type (good girl, always doing what is expected) than the Barnaby type (quirky, preferring to live on the boundaries of a settled life than to compromise values), but she makes her characters personable and appealing (if exhausting at times), and I always enjoy following their foibles and triumphs.

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Birds Without Wings

Posted by nliakos on May 27, 2021

by Louis de Bernières (Vintage International, a division of Random House, Inc.; copyright 2004)

Since Corelli’s Mandolin is one of my favorite novels, you would think I would have sampled some of de Bernières’s other novels: The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord, The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman, Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World, Red Dog, and this one. But no. Until now, thanks to my friend Carmen, on whose book shelf I found it and begged her to lend it to me. (What a joy not to have to hurry through a book so as to finish it in time to return it to the library!)

The book has similarities with Corelli’s Mandolin in that different chapters have the point of view of different characters (some in first person, others in third); they are grouped with others featuring the same character, e.g., “I Am Philothei” (1) through (15) and “Exiled in Cephalonia, Drosoula Remembers. . . .” Those chapters which feature Mustafa Kemal, father of modern Turkey, are mostly historical with a few references to what the fictional characters were doing relative to what Mustafa Kemal was doing in this or that time frame. If you separated out all the “Mustafa Kemal” chapters and removed the few references to the fictional characters, you would have a little biography of the man who dragged the reluctant Turks into the modern era, along with an accounting of Turkey’s transition from empire to nation.

The fictional characters are mainly the inhabitants of the fictional town of Eskibahçe, located in what is now southwestern Turkey, a few days’ walk from the modern city of Fethiye (formerly Telmessos). They include ethnic Turks, Greeks, and Armenians, but all of them speak Turkish, and they consider themselves Ottomans. The story takes place as the Ottoman Empire is ending and breaking up and nationalism is forming the new country of Turkey. The non-Turkish people residing in the part of the Empire that is Turkey today are being driven out and the ethnic Turks (and Muslim Greeks) are coming to see themselves as Turkish. The First World War contributes to the carnage. There are battles of course, the Gallipoli campaign, death marches, genocides, atrocities, and population exchange. All of this happened. De Bernières’ genius is to see these historical events through the eyes of ordinary people living in one small town: the potter, the imam and his wife and his beautiful beloved mare Nilufer, the priest and his wife (who is best friends with the imam’s wife), the Greek revolutionary schoolmaster, the goatherd who is in love with the most beautiful girl in the town (despite the fact that he is a Muslim and she is a Christian–it didn’t use to matter that much), the beautiful girl’s homely friend, the mutilated hermit, the Armenian apothecary, the two friends (one a Muslim, one a Christian, but who cares?), the local agha and his wife and his mistress. . . . What befalls them in the course of the story makes up the essence of the book.

And what befalls them is mostly horrific. There is a war, after all, and the goatherd and the two friends go off to fight (in the case of the Christian, to the “labour battalions” because only Muslims were permitted to fight for the Empire). First the Armenian community is expelled, then the Greeks, most of whom are disbelieving because they don’t think of themselves as Greeks; the Greeks live in (what is now modern) Greece, and they are an uneducated, backward people compared to the Ottoman Greeks. They can’t even speak Greek, and when they arrive at their final destinations (those who do not die or are not murdered on the way), they will be reviled by the Greeks they despise.

(It reminds me of Jane Elliott’s “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” experiment, where children were told that their privileges and their position in the class would be determined by their eye color. Children suddenly found themselves either privileged or oppressed, and they came to believe in this inequality. The same happened in the birthing of Turkey, according to de Bernières; people who did not see themselves as better or worse than their neighbors came to see themselves and others according to how they were treated by the nation-builders.)

The various characters are believable and (mostly) likable, and readers come to care for all (or most) of them as the story unfolds. And alongside their human stories, we learn a great deal about the end of one era and the start of another, as well as about one man who felt himself destined for greatness, who made himself a dictator but planned for democracy to follow his reign–which it has, mostly, until now.

I should add, however, that whereas de Bernières writes that everybody committed atrocities against everybody else at one time or another, my (Greek) husband assures me that some atrocities were worse than others; he sees the Muslim Turks’ actions as worse than those of the Christians and Jews who were targeted, expelled from the former Empire, mistreated and robbed and slaughtered. He knows a lot about this history, whereas I know only what I have read here, so he may well be correct. But it is true that atrocities were committed by many different factions, and they were all horrific.

Highly recommended!

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