Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sunday Morning Review of Book Reviews: April 3, 2011

As usual, the NY Times Book Review has a few reviews worth reading:

This is a great review of a harrowing book about the monstrous one-child policy in China, and how a patriarchal culture has created a society where men outnumber women. My somewhat social science fiction "prediction" for the 2020s or 2030s is that if the US continues to economically fail, and China continues to economically succeed, you will see mail order brides coming from the US to China, with blond haired women being a "premium." This book of stories by the Chinese writer Xinran are as important a window in the life of Chinese people as Chen Ruoxi's "The Execution of Mayor Yin" was when it was released in 1978 (It was published under her more traditional spelling of her name, Chen Jo-Hsi).

This is a strange review, one which focuses on a supporting historic figure in a book about Julia Child and her husband as members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, and the aftermath of the government's hounding of the radicals who were so important to the success of the OSS. I admit, though, that the story of Jane Foster, described in the review, should be made immediately into a film. A glamorous radical in US intelligence during World War II who becomes a target of the Red Scare, and who was definitely a person who traveled in the circles of the American Communist Party. Here is a Wikipedia entry on Foster that strikes me as a little too pat in its conclusions and statements. For example, what did she provide Soviet intelligence? Did she merely--but importantly--provide information which helped the Soviets defeat the Nazis in Europe, which was the goal of the USA, too? Anyway, there's something else about Jane Foster, and that is Jane Foster was glamorous--and daring. Angelina Jolie and Uma Thurman, your agents are calling for the bio-pic...Nevertheless, one wonders and is amazed at Julia Child being an intelligence agent, and we are left wanting to know far more after reading the review.

This review highlights a book that also deserves a fictional historical novel, and then a film based upon it. The reviewer writes succinctly, but movingly, about the work of relief workers helping "displaced people" (DPs) after World War II. It is the story of human suffering, some who deserved it, and most who didn't, including those who endured the Holocaust only to be hounded again after hostilities supposedly ended, starting in benighted battlegrounds such as Poland. My uncle, a Holocaust survivor who lived in the woods in Poland for four years with his families and relied principally upon two Christian families who stealthily helped them, has told publicly about how he and another Jewish boy of 16 or 17 returned to their village, only to be confronted by a mob. My uncle escaped, but the friend was caught--and killed. The post-World War II DP story is one that again deserves the eye and feeling of a skilled novelist.

Finally, here is a compelling and brilliant review of a new biography of Otto Bismarck, the man who shaped Germany into a true nation in the late 19th Century, and who was a man who understood the value of peace and economic development. The review is nearly perfectly drawn in explaining the virtues and limits of the Bismarck biography and reveals a deep knowledge and sophistication that should not be missed. The thing is...well, this essay is written by a war criminal who is responsible for the murder of more people in Southeast Asia and Latin America (and for the most politically crass and imperial reasons), as well as parts of Africa and the Middle East, than nearly anyone else besides the presidents under whom Kissinger served and advised.

Henry Kissinger, born in Germany, deeply admired Bismarck, and it shows in his masterful explanation of the differences between Bismarck and Hitler. But one wonders, how could Kissinger not see how much he fell short of his hero, and how his hero would have been appalled at the mass killings of people and destruction of land which Kissinger supported and promoted? Still, if one wishes to begin to understand the personal appeal and charisma of Henry Kissinger, his book review is a great place to start. It is really outstanding in its prose and insight.

2 Comments:

At 6:41 PM, Anonymous hip703 said...

"his essay is written by a war criminal who is responsible for the murder of more people in Southeast Asia and Latin America (and for the most politically crass and imperial reasons), as well as parts of Africa and the Middle East, than nearly anyone else besides the presidents under whom Kissinger served and advised."

Believe me, I am no fan of Kissinger, but is he worse than Pol Pot?

(Also, while I agree that he is a war criminal, I'd rather have a realpolitik foreign policy than a neocon foreign policy. Looks like you've thrown in your lot with the liberal neocons, Mitch).

 
At 2:36 PM, Blogger Mitchell J. Freedman said...

A person who holds up a bank is a criminal. So is a mass murderer.

Kissinger is not as bad as Pol Pot, though let's carefully consider how many people were killed through his policies. Kissinger knew he was committing illegal acts of expanding the war into Cambodia, and advised Nixon to saturate the land and people of southeast Asia with bombs. The same with his acts in Chile, and in Angola among other places.

I don't know why we think one has to be Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin or Mao to be a war criminal....

Also, have I thrown in my lot with liberal neo-cons on Libya? Maybe so, but very uneasily. We'll see how the Neo-liberal in the White House handles the next week or two...

 

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