Tag Archive | bigotry

Book review: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

A Colony in a NationA Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clear-eyed analysis of the current state of racial tension in the United States. Chris Hayes is aware of his privilege as an educated, relatively affluent, white male, and uses that privilege to elucidate his premise that, for all its lip service to equality and justice for all, the US is a divided society — the Nation, generally composed of white people excessively concerned with public safety and “law and order;” and the Colony, constituted in the main by people of color who are increasingly the targets and victims of the “law and order” mindset of the Nation.

Hayes’ premise is easily confirmed by recent events in which people of color just going about their own business have had the cops called on them for what amounts to breathing while black. Not that the Philadelphia Starbucks incident or the Oakland barbecue incident are anything out of the ordinary for black folks in this country: we just hear about them now because of the ubiquity of smart phones and use of social media.

While Hayes doesn’t offer any solutions, that’s not the point of his book. The whole point here is to raise awareness. Look around. Take notice of the many ways the Nation oppresses the Colony. And, if you’re white, do your best to recognize your part in the oppression — because we all do it, despite our best intentions. Recognition leads to self-awareness leads to a change in behavior.

Because black lives matter.

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Book review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s 1962. Having lost World War II, the United States is now under the control of The Third Reich in the East and Imperial Japan in the West, with a no-man’s land/neutral territory — the Rocky Mountain States, governance unspecified — in between. Naturally, the Germans continue their extermination of Jews and other undesirables in their own territory and, due to the treaty between Japan and Germany, those found within Japanese territory, as well.

In San Francisco, Mr. Childan, a dealer in American antiquities, vintage handicrafts, and Hollywood memorabilia, is mortified to discover he has a forgery in his inventory, putting at risk his reputation and his entire livelihood of catering to the Japanese obsession with Americana. He consults the I Ching to enable him to choose a correct selection for his client, Mr. Tagomi.

High in his office in the Nippon Tower, Mr. Tagomi despairs he will find an appropriate gift for a client flying in from the Reich. He consults the I Ching to determine if Mr. Childan will provide any useful items from which to choose.

Elsewhere in the City, Frank Frink and his partner Ed set themselves up as creators of handcrafted metal jewelry, hoping against hope to find a market within a dominant culture with no interest in contemporary American work, only in the leavings of the past. Frank consults the I Ching for guidance in this new endeavor.

In the Rocky Mountain States, Juliana Frink — Frank’s ex-wife — takes up with a truck driver named Joe, an Italian who fought on the Axis side of the war. She consults the I Ching about everything.

And in both the Japanese Territory and the Rocky Mountain States, an underground novel titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy makes the rounds of society. Said book, banned in the Reich, describes an alternate history: one in which Germany and Japan were defeated and the United States became the most powerful nation on the planet.

This novel appears in each our characters’ daily routines, eventually becoming an obsession with Juliana, who determines she must seek out its author. And when she does, his answers to her curiosity will make the reader question everything previously read.

One of the gifts of a great writer is the ability to leach in backstory and build a world without grand expository passages. Philip K. Dick is a great writer. He assumes the reader already knows this information and drops in nuggets of world-building data as ordinary bits of thought or conversation. We glean an extraordinary amount of knowledge about the Japanese-German controlled world in this way: Japan controls all of the Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand; the African continent is a wasteland due to Nazi policies; black slavery is commonplace; the American South is a hellhole…in fact, anywhere the Nazis are in control is a hellhole by contemporary standards, although if one is of Aryan heritage and/or appearance, life can be fairly pleasant. By comparison, life in Japanese territory, while rigidly governed by protocol, honor, and maintaining “face”, is nearly halcyon and idyllic. The Japanese will punish lawbreakers harshly, of course, but they’re not interested in punishing people for their heritage or ethnicity on their own inclination, only as part of their agreements with the Reich.

The Man in the High Castle is a marvelous story, simply written in elegant prose, full of depth and meaning and questions without answers. First published in 1962, it’s a subtle piece of metafiction from before the word was even coined.

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

Book review: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death, #1)Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town’s Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry II is no friend of the Jews — or anyone, really — but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily — whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe — and asks for his finest “master of the art of death,” an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia — the king has been sent a mistress of the art of death.

Adelia and her companions — Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor — travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king’s tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia’s investigation takes her into Cambridge’s shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again… (publisher’s blurb)

Medieval Europe — especially medieval England — fascinates me. It’s almost a given I’ll like any novel set in that milieu. That being said, this is an exceptional story with an exceptional heroine.

Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar is the adopted daughter of a prominent Jew in Salerno. Having decided at an early age she was not meant for marriage, and so indulged by her family, she devoted herself to the medical arts, specifically the art of forensic autopsy. Upon being sent to England at the request of her King, she and her companions join a train of other travelers on their way to Cambridge — a train which contains an ailing Prior Geoffrey, who subsequently reaps the benefits of Adelia’s medical knowledge, albeit in such an embarrassing fashion he goes along with the conceit that her Moorish companion Mansur is the doctor who treated him. This aid to Prior Geoffrey, however, provides a small measure of protection and oversight to the foreign trio upon arrival in Cambridge, as they step on toes and break class boundaries in their quest to uncover the truth of the children’s ghastly deaths.

And ghastly they are. The clues on the bodies and the manner of their deaths lead Adelia and her companions to a specific local geographical feature, but it’s a dead end. Thus frustrated in their efforts, Adelia and Mansur more or less set up shop as a physician and his assistant while Simon — who, although Jewish, has an easier time asking questions and acquiring information — mingles with the community and pursues the investigation. Then Simon turns up dead. And Adelia and Mansur are no longer even relatively safe.

Franklin has created some lovely memorable characters in Adelia and her companions, as well as in the townsfolk: Ulf, the young boy who steals his way into Adelia’s affections; Gyltha, his grandmother, hired to cook and care for the trio in their rented accommodation; Prior Geoffrey, alternately bemused and bewildered by Adelia’s uncommon and forthright manner; Rowley Picot, tax collector, king’s man, suspect, and thorn in Adelia’s side. Lots of period detail, an amazing depth of research, and stellar writing make for a wonderful medieval whodunnit.

I already have the second book in this series, and intend to purchase volumes three and four. I had hoped it would continue for many many years, like Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series, but sadly Ms. Franklin passed away in January 2011.

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