And more books

BLACK AND WHITE by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge is a good super-hero novel (I think I have to reconsider my insistence that I don’t like this genre) set in a near future world where super-heroes provide services through a powerful, seemingly benevolent corporation (it comes off as a more sinister version of Marvel’s 50 State Initiative), focusing on Jet and Iridium, who become friends during their long years of training, then enemies after Iridium goes rogue in the belief the corporation is the wrong side. While this uses a lot of familiar super-hero elements (Jet’s struggles with her dark powers aren’t that far from Marvel’s Cloak) the authors manage to give them a fresh spin. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel eventually.
RITES OF PEACE: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski actually starts with the Austrian diplomat Metternich’s efforts in 1812 to both build an alliance that will not only neutralize Napoleon, but will prevent either Russian or Britain from taking France’s place as European overlord. The following years of negotiation seem eerily familiar as the Great Powers try to draw up national boundaries to suit their self-interest, despite the awareness that they can’t completely ignore public opinion (while monarchs were often fine with trading and swapping provinces as long as they ruled as much land, the residents weren’t so thrilled), Tsar Alexander keeps insisting all his decisions are for the Greater Good, and the dream of a New World Order frequently turns out to be an excuse for power-grabs. A good example of the complexity is after Napoleon’s escape from Elba and subsequent defeat at Waterloo, after which the allies punished the Louis XVIII’s government in France, even though they’d technically fought on Louis’s behalf. The book also has moments of humor, such as Metternich pining over his unfaithful mistress and one Italian monarch who upon reclaiming his country from Bonaparte voided all government acts of the previous 18 years, including marriage (so all children during the interregnum became retroactively illegitimate). Zarnoyski concludes that contemporary critics assessed the Congress’ failures more than later revisionists: It didn’t create a pax Europa and in many ways stifled reform, as most of the allies came to see any attempt to challenge their new system as subversion.
KAFKA ON THE SHORE by Haruki Murakama is a magical realist novel in which a teenage runaway finds himself falling for the ghost of a living librarian’s 15-year-old self while a mentally handicapped senior and possible murderer is driven to set out on a mission to find a mysterious “entrance stone” that he can’t explain. This gets a marginal thumbs up——it resolves the A plot on a satisfactory emotional note, but the backup with the senior ends up not amounting to much.
SIDESHOW USA: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination by Rachel Adams focuses primarily on how 20th century artists and authors——Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison, Diane Arbus and Tod Browning in the film Freaks——have used the freak show as a symbol to explore racial “othering,” sexual nonconformity, or the boundaries of normality. The book also covers the change in the meaning of “freak” in the sixties (until I read that chapter, I don’t think it had ever occurred to me how big a change that was) and the boundaries between science and freakishness (pointing out, for example, how much the display of the primitive tribesman Ishi a century ago resembled the freak shows’ Wild Men of Borneo and the like). Very good.

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  1. Pingback: I haven’t picked on David Brooks in a while … | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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