Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Stranger, by Albert Camus

From the Tea-BookShelf of Stephanie Dodaro

I was reading the book previously mentioned in my blog from last month (Looking for the Stranger by Kaplan) at the same time as rereading The Stranger in preparation for a discussion with a student.   It was through this combination of books that I was really able to look more deeply at the themes of the book and personality of the main character.  The Stranger, read by so many students in school, has as Kaplan says become a sort of “rite of passage” (Kaplan, 2).   It sparks debate on all sides, and leaves us wondering why we sympathize with the main character, wondering why he does not fight for his life, or for that matter even defend himself?  

The Stranger is a classic and in my opinion a novel that everyone must read.  You can read it simply for face-value, as a book about a man who seems disconnected from his world, and as events unfold lead him closer to the murder of a man on the beach. However, I think questions will come up that will cause the reader to delve more deeply into why.  Why do the events unfold in a way that lead him to kill a man on the beach, why in this moment is he prompted to do something so extreme, and yet with such coldness?  Why is he so disconnected from everyone and everything, his mother, his job, his friends?  Why does he not respond to the violence he sees around him, only to then shoot a man completely unprovoked?

Kaplan says something that I have often heard another favorite writer of mine, Dany Laferrière, say in a similar way.  She says that “books have a life.  They come to life as you read them, and they stay alive long after you’ve turned the last page.”  Oh how I know that is true!  The Stranger will do just that to you.  In fact, the more I read this book, the more I feel it with me every day.  Camus’ philosophy, often mislabeled as existentialist, is in fact absurdist.  He sees men as all being condemned to death, all in their own time, of course. He says that as humans we are somewhat meaningless in the world.  Meursault says that we cannot change our lives. That basically describes our main character’s attitude before his own life.  He is indifferent to his own life, saying, for example, to his girlfriend that he supposes that he does not love her, and that it does not make any difference, that it is all the same to him, but that if she wanted him to marry her, he would.  He refuses to give way to the expectations of society, has no ambition to better his job at work, basically refusing a promotion and never justifying himself.  

Camus uses the first person singular to tell his story, thus putting the words and thoughts directly into the mouth of his narrator. This gives us a strange feeling of distance between us and the writer, all while creating a strange relationship between us and the character.  In my opinion it might be why by the end we have a kind of sympathy for him, even while we basically know exactly what happened on that beach.  By the end of the book, I wanted him to fight for himself, to let his lawyer try to save him.  But eventually Meursault more or less condemned himself by saying “the sun made me do it.”

The question remains, of what exactly was Meursault convicted, putting his mother in a nursing home, or killing a man on the beach?  At the trial, the victim was never mentioned, and the majority of the questions to him were related to his mother’s placement in a home, his lack of showing sadness, his behavior before the casket (drinking coffee, smoking and sleeping) and the relationship he began with Marie soon after his mother’s burial. And throughout the days following the death of his mother he repeats phrases like “it’s not my fault” or that he felt guilty.  Guilt over what?  Did he feel guilt as if he abandoned his mother, or did he feel like her placement in a home was what prompted her death, which of course we know is not true since we know she had a fiance while there.  

If anyone here is dying, it is Meursault, whose life seems empty.  We see his slow Sundays where he sits on his balcony watching Life roll by.  We know he has no passion about his job, or even for his girlfriend.  He has no pets, no hobbies except bathing either at a pool or a beach.  He eats at the same restaurant, and when not there will cook something simple like boiled potatoes.  There is no spice or joy in his life from what we can see.  He is a stranger to his life.    Interestingly enough, when talking about strangers, most of Camus’ characters are strangers to us too.  We never know Meursault’s first name, nor the name of the Arab that he shoots, nor the name of his neighbor’s girlfriend, la Mauresque.  We never even know his mother’s name.  
By the time we finish the book, maybe we can come to fully understand Camus’ philosophy, just like Meursault does at the end.  
A truly stunning read, thought-provoking and moving.  It gets better with age, and with every subsequent read!  5 stars indeed.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Looking for the Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic, by Alice Kaplan

From the Tea-BookShelf of Stephanie Dodaro

I talk often of my favorite books and authors to almost everyone I know, sometimes to the exasperation of those around me who are not such bibliophiles.  Among those with whom I share my enthusiasm are especially my students.  I had recently started another read of Albert Camus’ The Stranger for a student who wished to practice French by reading the novel, a great choice for an upper-intermediate due to the rather simple language that Camus uses, deliberately. I have always enjoyed this novel, and each reading has brought new ideas to mind, and has deepened my understanding of his philosophy.  It is always so amazing to me how such a relatively short, simply-written novel can pack such a deep meaning within the pages.  Yet it does this perfectly.  While sharing these ideas with another student during conversation, we began to discuss this book by Kaplan.  Never have I ever seen a biography quite like this, a biography of a novel!  

And it is as much Camus’ biography as it is a biography of the novel, how it came about, what was happening in Camus’ life that may have led to his writing this book when he did and in the way that he did.  This is exactly what Kaplan has done. Camus worked as a journalist long before he became a writer, and had he not had a health condition, may have become a professor. He studied literature and philosophy in college and kept a close relationship with his professor long after finishing his studies.  As a journalist, he was frequently inside the courtrooms taking notes on cases to report on them later for his papers.  This insider’s view of a court drama may very well have led to the realistic and detailed court proceedings of The Stranger in part two of the book. Camus’ studies on St. Augustine in his college courses may have also led to one of the major points that condemns his main character.  St. Augustine, miserable over his mother’s death, had refused to cry at her funeral and looked for consolation in the baths.  This must have made an impact on him, as it is almost exactly how it happens in his novel, and is one of the most important damning pieces of evidence.

Yet The Stranger was not meant to be his first novel.  He had begun work on another novel and was struggling to get it out onto paper.  This was when characters of another book, of another story, started to creep their way in.  So he started a notebook and kept notes.  Eventually the character of The Stranger started to take shape.  During a trip to Paris to work for a friend at a newspaper, and a dark, dank apartment in Montmartre where he felt himself “a stranger”, the novel practically wrote itself.  He wrote in his notebooks: “Story: the man who doesn’t want to justify himself…” (p 29)  That just about sums it up.  

The main character Meursault has a name that is so intriguing that it could not have been accidentally chosen.  It at the same time contains the two most important elements of the book, mer which in French signifies “sea”, and sol which is a Latin root for “sun”.  But it also contains the French meur(t) which is “death”, saut “jump” (take a plunge) and mère “mother” .  A fascinating combination of significant words, all of which have relevance to the story.  Meursault, our narrator and main character, relates events in a way that comes across dry, simplified and emotionless.  This is Camus’ new take on fiction.  “The true work of art is one that says the least.”  In a way it leaves us free to interpret, makes us fill in the gaps.  And in fact that is exactly what most readers do,  finding many different ways to interpret the plot, the narrator’s motivations, decide whether he is guilty and exactly of what he is guilty. In another post I will try to discuss more of the story itself.  For now, Kaplan’s book leaves us plenty to discuss here.  

It was fascinating to see how many events of Camus’ life show up in his books.  From the funeral of a family member that he attended, to a movie he saw, to his love of bathing the beach or pool, even to a famous crime reported on in the newspapers about a fight on a beach.  All of this was inching its way into his book, even before he knew it.  Meanwhile all of this is happening as war is looking more and more likely in Europe.  The Stranger will eventually, maybe miraculously, find publication during Nazi control of France in 1942, even during censorship and paper shortages.  I say miraculously because during an evacuation from Paris, Camus is said to have left his apartment with only his sole copy of the manuscript (having only just finished it), leaving behind all other personal items and notebooks, all of which would be tossed in the trash when Nazi troops took over the building.

There is so much I can say about this book that I myself could go on to write a book in praise of it.  All I can do to stop myself here is to say, if you are a fan of Camus, The Stranger, or the absurdist movement at all, this book should be on your short list of books to read next.  It gives wonderful insight into the process of writing, the time period in which Camus was writing, the author himself, and the evolution of his greatest novel ever.  If I could give more than 5 stars I would. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

An Aroma of Coffee, by Dany Laferrière (French, L’odeur du café)

From the Tea-BookShelf of Stephanie Dodaro

Yet another delightful book by Dany Laferrière!  For those who do not read French, never fear; I have every confidence that this book will translate well. For, as Dany has said himself, his books are North American, only the words are in French! This is the sixth of his that I have devoured, and with each one I fall deeper in love with the writer, his stories and his unmistakable voice. Sometimes his stories make me laugh, some of them make me daydream.  The scenes, the images that he paints with his eloquence, make me wish I were there with him.  In fact, he asks as much of his reader.  As he says in the introduction of the recent re-edition, “In fact, I do not write, I paint.  All the while dreaming of the art of these primitive painters” whose paintings he remembers well (my translation).  He asks his reader not to “read just to turn the page, but to come stroll down the streets of Petit-Goâve.” (introduction to the 2010 ed. My translation).  I, for one, felt as if I were there.

L’odeur du café is about his childhood in Haiti at his grandmother’s home. These are some of his most profound memories, despite his young age.  One might even say these are the years that made him the man he would become.  It is the magic of this coffee that his grandmother served to all her passing neighbors, the odor, the community that this process created, that anchored him.  He tells us about his friends, all the gossip in town, the places he would go (school, cemetery, etc) and even about some of the more memorable conversations he had with his grandmother, Da.  When asked about what Heaven was like, Da showed him her coffee pot, for example. Dany retells us the stories that his grandmother would share with him, stories of werewolves, zombies and devils, and which neighbors could shape-shift into one of these at night; for example, all of Petit-Goâve knew that Passilus could transform into a horse after midnight.  

The folklore and tales of magic are the themes that so endear this book to me.  It is not so unlike what we live with here in New Orleans, with the voodoo influence that came up from Haiti, especially strong after the revolution. When I tell people, especially long-time locals, about some of the stories in this book, the response is usually a matter-of-fact, oh yes, sure. The tradition of the secret name, for example, which no one is supposed to know lest you find yourself at the mercy of the one who knows, the spirituality, the ancestor traditions, the bizarre and strange stories of the inhabitants, the neighbor who “walks under the rain without ever getting wet…”. Interestingly, I discovered a very similar expression in Haiti, one similar to something we here in the South say often.  In Haiti, when it rains while the sun is shining, they say “Baron Samedi is beating his wife.”  The Baron Samedi is a very powerful loa of the Dead, something like a god in Haitian voodoo.  I believe it is only a regional expression in America, in the South in general, or possibly specific to Louisiana… maybe some of my blog readers will confirm this for me?  We have been known to say, “the devil is beating his wife” in that same situation. Coincidence? I think not.

These stories are fascinating and intriguing. They are short stories, vignettes, snapshots of scenes and images of his life.  Divided, and subdivided and divided once again, so that the reader can read just a few paragraphs and then put it down if the time is short, or if the reader needs to reflect after reading a passage.   It is books like this one which enrich my life, ones that are full of life, heart, inspiration.  These are the kind of books which stay with me quite a long time, and it may well be one like this that I eventually reread, only because I remember how much I loved it the first time.
Without a doubt, a full and enthusiastic 5 stars!!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

L’elegance du herisson, by Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog)

From the Tea-BookShelf of Stephanie Dodaro

I might never have decided to read, or even for that matter know about this book, had it not come highly recommended by a friend.  I have to admit that had I read reviews before reading the book, I may have never picked it up.  Some of them are scathing. Or perhaps it is the translation that turns people off.   I think due to my French literature background, I may be better equipped to appreciate this book than others.  I began this book last year but kept putting it down to read other book club selections or to do reading for courses, yet I kept coming back to it because the characters are truly endearing, and I really wanted to know what would become of them.  There was a very strong pull to return to the story, and what a beautiful story it is!  I am not even certain that my review will do this book justice, to be honest.  Muriel Barbery is a philosophy teacher as well as a writer.  Much of this book deals not only with the philosophy that the character Renee is studying, but also the philosophy surrounding her daily life.

We meet first Renée, a concierge and autodidact, who has basically given up on life and love and who hides her intellectual side due to the stereotypes surrounding concierges.  She is very concerned about social games and rank, feeling obligated to hide who she really is and feeling unable to cross social boundaries to befriend those who do not belong to her class.  
We will next meet Paloma, a young girl who is unusually intelligent, but already cynical about life and the mediocrity which seems to afflict adulthood, adults who from time to time “sit and contemplate the disaster which is their lives” for whom the “final destination…[is] the fishbowl”.  She says of her family that they are all “anesthetized, empty of emotions.” Therefore, she is determined to end her life on her next birthday. The book will alternate between Paloma’s journal entries and Renee’s daily life stories.  Their stories will converge when Mr. Ozu moves into the building.    

It is Mr. Ozu who will make it possible for young Paloma and Renée to meet.  Mr. Ozu does not hold to Renée’s beliefs and is thus unconcerned with her class issues.  He will help her to understand that friendship breaks down those boundaries.  He sees beyond the outer shell she puts up around her. He is able to see her for who she is. Thus, Renée will discover in these two tenants kindred spirits which will help her come out of her shell.  They too discover the wonderful elegance of the concierge who appears rough on the outside (like the hedgehog) but who is so eloquent, well-read and elegant on the inside.  Unmasked, her secret is out!  

Besides the thread of the characters’ lives, the philosophy within was what I found most satisfying and rich. Paloma wants to end her life, but before doing that very undoable thing, going down that one-way road, she wants desperately to find a reason to live.  She starts two journals, each one alternating chapters with Renée’s life story.  The first one is “Pensée Profonde” (deep thought), and the other is “Journal du mouvement du monde” (journal of the movement of the world).  In these, as well as in Renée’s musings, we find discussions on art, beauty, the importance of pets as companions, the importance of grammar and its uses, routine and ritual, and the absurdity or meaning of life.  What is the purpose of art?  It is to make our emotions visible.  It is life, but “on another rhythm”.  (346)  It is through a minor character that we get one of our biggest philosophical awakenings.  Jean, the troubled son of a family living in the building, once asked Renée the name of these beautiful flowers growing in the garden around the building.  She tells him the name, which he forgets.  But it is the flowers that he holds on to, even at his lowest moments.  He tells her that it is these flowers, the camellias, that he held onto, contemplated, and which made him feel better. Renée believes that even a camellia can change destinies.  There is a point to it all.  Can beauty in this life, this world, change one’s life?  Can it make it more livable, easier to cope with, to swallow the horrors around us?  
Then the discussion of Paloma’s defense of grammar comes to mind.  What is the point of it, why do we learn it?  It is as she says the way to beauty.  Maybe you have read something so beautiful that you stopped to contemplate it?  It can move one’s emotions, fill the heart, create images and paint a beautiful picture.  It is painting with words.  As Renée said, “what more noble distraction than that of literature.”

Some reviews said that the book was light on character development and too heavy on philosophy. What I think people misunderstood about this book is that the character development is in the philosophy.  These characters are searching for meaning in life. They basically live in their heads, observe the world around them and see this life as pointless.  They feel that it is their destiny to never escape being like their parents: their families' mistakes will be their own; their families' pointless existences will be their own.  Yet, it is through this mediation that they find their way out of the destiny to which feel they are doomed.  It was meeting the great-niece of Mr. Ozu that Paloma, for the first time ever, finds she is unable to foresee the destiny of someone.  This gives her hope for herself.  “If you want to heal yourself, heal others” (365), so she goes on a quest to heal Renée.
It is a wonderful story to remind us all that life, love and friendship never come too late.  We can always change our lives, beat the odds, live and love again.  We must know that we are worthy and remember not to hesitate when the time comes; we must do it while there is still breath.  Sometimes the end comes too soon and unexpectedly.  The ending to this novel must be disappointing for some, and I will admit that I cried.  Yet I know it had to end this way. This is life. Always the unexpected will happen, and life is always, always too short to do everything we want to do. In the meantime, we have camellias.  We have art, and music, and cats, and literature, too.  

There is so much more here that there is not enough time or space to relate it all!  Absolutely 5 stars!!!!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China, by Paul French

From the Tea-BookShelf of Stephanie Dodaro

Following in my ongoing theme and ever-growing love of historical fiction, I recently acquired this little gem in a coffee shop that has a bookshelf full of books from the nearby used bookstore.  I know very little about old China, so I was intrigued not only by the historical time period and location, but also by a crime that “haunted Peking”, and the unusual circumstances that I would soon learn about it.  In fact, and a reader would learn this by simply reading the back so no spoilers here, it went more or less unsolved for the last 70 years until Mr. French pieced together the facts during his research to give us, the readers, something of a conclusion.    

It is the true story of the murder of a woman named Pamela Werner, the adopted daughter of E.T.C. Werner, in 1937 at a time when China was beginning to change.  The Japanese are encroaching on their territory, and the atmosphere of fear and dread is growing.  Part of China’s 1.5 million residents included two to three thousand foreigners, many of whom lived in or near what was called the Legation Quarter, a gated area where most of the embassies and consulates were located.

The murder took place, however, just outside of the Legation Quarter, at the base of the Fox Tower, believed to be a place of sorcery and magic, haunted by fox spirits, a superstition so fearful that normally the area is deserted at night. Such spirits are believed to possess the power to beguile men, cunning spirits that seek victims to steal their energy.  Of course this particular location for the victim meant that most Chinese were nervous.  There were many false confessions with blame on the spirits, but also a lot of false accusations.  Many looked to her father as a possible suspect. However, at 72 years old could he really be capable of such a crime?  The strange and disconcerting facts of this murder were the fact that the body was horribly mutilated, almost beyond recognition, drained of blood, heart missing, yet her very expensive watch was still on her, eliminating the possibility of a robbery gone wrong.  The notes about the autopsy were in fact quite unsettling.  It seemed as if a madman or a sadist had committed this crime.  The problem was that with no blood at the scene, the next step was to find the scene of the crime which will take them a very long time indeed.  

In fact, due to doctored testimony, false leads and misleading testimony, even unverified testimony by the Chinese police, the case would eventually go cold.  Pamela’s father would not give up on his daughter, and refused to let the men who did this go free.  Despite the brewing war and the Japanese invasion, Werner hired his own detectives and began his own investigation.  Fluent in Chinese, and publishing notices for information in Chinese, he got much further than the police ever did, even despite the current situation in China at the time.
This book will take the reader through all the police investigations, witnesses, leads both false and otherwise, all the dirty little secrets of both victim, father and anyone involved, and all the politics involved until the trail goes cold.  It then picks up with Werner’s informal investigation, lasting five years and his continued pleas with the police with all his new evidence to try to reopen the case. Finally French will put it all together for us.  
                                              Pamela Werner

With an Edgar Award and high praise from John Berendt, a must-read for any lover of history, crime and detective novels! 5 stars!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, by Wesley Stace

From the Tea-BookShelf of Stephanie Dodaro

I was very curious about this novel since I had known the writer as a musician under the name of John Wesley Harding back in the 1990s.  As I was a fan of his music, I was very curious about what he could do as a novelist. This novel does not disappoint, even though you may read lukewarm reviews online.  I will say this though, there is a lot of music terminology and description on which I am not well versed.  It is less about the music and more about the mystery that drew me into the book.  It is a thrilling novel, with a twist that I never even imagined possible.

It is a story within a story because of the similarities not just of the main character’s name, but of the way his own story unfolds, and that of the opera he writes.  It begins in 1910 in England, with a music critic, our narrator Leslie Shepherd, who meets a brilliant young composer Charles Jessold at a party.  He sees potential in the composer and wants to build a career for him.   He intrigues him and the entire party with the story of a man, a composer, with a similar name, Carlo Gesualdo. The story of Gesualdo is a true and gruesome tale of a musician in Italy 1590, who murdered his wife and her lover when he caught them together.  From that day, Shepherd and Jessold become fast friends, and they begin to collaborate on musical compositions together.  

The book is divided into several parts. Part one is entitled, Charles Jessold, as I knew Him and is prefaced by a news article detailing the facts of the murder case against him, as well as a message from our narrator explaining the reasons he has decided to write this account of Jessold’s story, a kind of personal memoir, from the person who may have known him best.  This section gives the story mostly from the point of view of their professional and working relationship.  We do learn about Jessold’s drinking more and more as his work continues and about being imprisoned in Germany for several years during wartime. Part two, Post-Mortem, is written years later where we start to learn more of back story, the personal relationships that unbeknownst to us were playing out simultaneously, which seriously pulled the rug out from under me.  This section really comes more from the perspective of Shepherd.  He is urged to write the biography of Jessold by the family, and after resisting for a period, feels compelled to cooperate, to set the record straight.  The final part is quite short, entitled Ars Moriendi, and only suggests without stating directly the fate of our narrator who has finally completed his biography.

One of the things that I loved so much about this book would definitely have to be the language. Stace has such a vast vocabulary and is not afraid to use it. His colorful use of language wove some of the best descriptions I have ever read.  I found myself reading aloud to friends certain passages that I thought were simply brilliantly written, perfectly said, memorable, occasionally hilarious. From describing the mess at Jessold’s house as a “steeplechase”, to describing an armrest battle in the theatre as a “border dispute” which he does not expect to “reach a détente”, Stace is a veritable wordsmith.  He is also a genius at plot twists, keeping his reader completely in the dark, without even a hint or nod in the direction of where it is going until we are there, mouth gaping open in disbelief, characters we believed existed but did not, murders or innocents who were in fact not, mystery tickets to the theatre, secrets whispered in the dark.  All of it surprising, all of it unexpected.  All of it brilliantly woven together.

Despite the detailed musical descriptions that I had difficulty following, I think this book deserves high praise. I, for one, thought it was fascinating, entertaining, and extraordinarily well-written.
⅘ stars!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane by Erik Larson

From the Tea-BookShelf of Stephanie Dodaro

I once again have found myself under the mesmerism of Erik Larson.  His first and maybe shortest novel, Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, found its way into my possession at the annual po-boy festival, where the book fair always puts out their millions for us to peruse.  Having already read the three that follow this one, accidentally in chronological order, I was overdue to read this one.  I am, as usual with his work, amazed at the wealth of information, attention to detail and research contained within his stories.  This particular gem retells the story of the 1900 Hurricane (before naming practice) that made a direct hit on the coast of Galveston.  
What is important to note here is that for many people who live in areas of turbulent weather, keeping track of, talking about, and/ or being aware of (and in awe of) the weather means life or death.  It is more than a pastime. Americans, particularly but not limited to those in the South, are somewhat obsessed by the weather, with good reason.  Our weather can be devastatingly dangerous.  
What many people probably misunderstand, myself included in that lot until I read this book, was that the devastation of this storm is not a direct result of officials and forecasters being  unaware of storm. It was simply that many were convinced that the storm was going to take another path and was nothing to worry about.  They even believed in fact that it was not even such a serious storm to begin with.  They were also convinced that they were somehow protected from storms taking a path in their direction, that it was scientifically impossible.  Thus, few, if any, residents were warned of the storm’s approach until it was literally too late.  Cuba, who apparently had pioneered hurricane detection (who knew?), had been right all along, that the storm was something to watch, but no one listened to them (9).
Throughout the book there is some brilliant writing.  As someone who appreciates good writing, I look for very colorful language in the books that I love.  To make a fan of me, all you need to do is come up with something like this:  “In Galveston, the humidity was nearly 100 percent.  To move was to drip.” (25).  Or another, “The air was like a moist sweater.” (132) Absolutely brilliant, and descriptions I can completely relate to, living not so very far from there in a place every bit as humid. He is even more colorful, while creating a tragic image,  when he describes the flooding of Galveston as “a gigantic ship sinking beneath the sea.” (149)

The one criticism I could have about this book was the way it would occasionally jump around in time, previewing what was to come or backing up to pick up a timeline already started.  I sometimes had trouble keeping up with the chronology.  That would be my only critique.  Otherwise, the story is riveting, captivating, fascinating and very scientifically intriguing.  I learned a lot about these storms that I have literally grown up with.  A lot of the science was quite a bit beyond my grasp to understand, but I still found myself fascinated with it.  Some of the storm statistics recounted here were absolutely stunning, so much so that I found myself unable to resist reading them aloud to anyone who would listen (just ask my parents!). In the end the 1900 storm, Isaac’s Storm (named for the forecaster most closely associated with it) would take the lives of 8000 men, women and children and change its history forever (16).  We will also learn about the formation of storms from a wave off the coast of Africa, to the evolution of killer storms like this one, of Columbus’s encounter with a killer storm in 1492, and of other killer storms that have made history, named and unnamed.  
An intense, gripping, suspenseful and dramatic tale that I found hard to put down.  As we witness the play by play, of approach to inundation, Larson puts together events that few witnesses survived to tell.  It is his first book, and it clearly shows that he has developed his style and refined his writing greatly since then.  Obviously I give this high marks, if only events were told consistently chronologically, it would be full marks.  ⅘ stars. 
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