Saturday, September 29, 2012

Six Months in Sudan

Reading the journeys that others decide to embark on is always inspiring to read about, especially when one does so to help others in our society.  Enter the world of James Maskalyk, a doctor from Toronto who leaves his hospital to venture to the Sudan... this is the story told in his book Six Months in Sudan.  Dr. Maskalyk has completed a number of humanitarian trips prior to this one but he informs the reader that this may have been the hardest one to date.  For six months, Dr. Maskalyk works for Doctors without Borders in Abyei, Sudan, a territory that is caught between a number of military factions, though during his trip is not the site of a current war.  The reality of the life in Abyei reveals that few medical personnel can make it, mainly because of the climate (exceedingly hot), coupled with the lack of medical supplies for the people.  The people are very wary of the free medical treatments and expect doctors to perform miracles in a place with limited food, malaria, malnutrition, lack of education, and inner-strife between warring factions.  Dr. Maskalyk has his own inner torment of not allowing himself to connect to others from home, giving the idea that he is constantly running from something (ability to love others) and trying to solve problems beyond his abilities (solving all medical issues in a place that is incapable of helping itself).  I have read many of these stories (or it seems like I have) and this was a bit of a disappointment compared to “Paul Farmer” stories, as I wasn’t able to connect with this author like I was for many of the other “save the world doc tales.”  Dr. Maskalyk did receive some concern from the medical group for his “blogging” of the experience and I think it would have been beneficial to go into a bit more detail.  His characters were presented on a superficial level, I never got close enough to feel their experience.  Overall I am amazed at his conviction to help others, just felt the characters and his story were ho-hum.  Providing a bit more depth of the 480 paces he “ran” from his tukul (sleeping hut) to the medical units and the various ways he was touched wasn’t there.  Hitting the highlights but not in a way that moved the reader.  I’d say there are a few better reads than this “tell-all” volunteer doc, though I respect the work he completed!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Waves

There are some books that just don’t connect with a reader.  For whatever reason this was one for me…  I will admit I am not a big fan of the author and this “experimental” book was not one that flowed for me.  Yes, I like beginning, middle, and endings, though many may say there is an ending.  For me, this was a complete book of symbolism, poetry, and beautiful writing, yet made little linear sense.  I understand there were six characters who provided long soliloquies about nature, life, each other, and the death of a seventh character, whom we miss being around to speak with, but I found little enjoyment in the characters or their stories.  The one thing I really did like was the description of their surroundings.  So goes the book written by Virginia Woolf, The Waves.  The reader is brought to the edge of a beautiful coast off England where these characters share this very personal experience longing for their friend, connection to nature, and are presented with very long internal thoughts of each character.  OK, maybe I am not the most prolific writer or reader, but I just didn’t connect with this book.  There were many moments of brilliance of Woolf as a writer painting a brilliant detailed picture, but some of the rambling internal thoughts lost me often.  Anyone with ADHD or any other condition that has their mind wonder this will be a very difficult read, for sure.  For those brilliant English majors, this will be a read of a lifetime!  Linear novel readers, this one is not for you!!!

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Circa 1992… enter the story of Ubik by Philip Dick, a sci-fi fantasy where technology plays a role in this magical story where having a can of “Ubik” might just save your life from the “half-life” and beyond. Glen Runciter has a company that hires people with the ability to block certain psychic powers to provide privacy by request, what a nice company to run when others are trying to know all about you and your life desires!  Runciter is assisted in his company by his wife Ella, who is now in “half-life” by the help of a company who keeps people in that state.  Runciter’s company is hired by Stanton Mick, a rich mogul, to keep his company (located on the moon) safe from others who are desiring to get the company’s secrets.  Runciter assembles 11 agents to help with the task, but not all are on Runciter’s side.  While on the moon a bomb explodes, which was set by the evil enemy Hollis, and Runciter is rushed back to earth to be placed in “half-life.”  This is where it gets really complicated and strange things start happening to the other characters.  We get into time traveling and going back into the 1930s and find a mysterious product, Ubik, which allegedly gives a person the ability to fight off the illness that is killing the group of 11.  Is Runciter really dying?  Is he dead?  How does his wife Ella fit into it after she fights off her “half life” existence and the evil spirit “Jorry,” who enters the spirits in “half-life?” This is a complicated plot with a few spins that cause one to pause for a second to ask, is this for real?  And don’t forget the “commercial moments” for Ubik at the beginning of each chapter.  I’d say for those who enjoy the sci-fi fantasy stories, you’ll like it.  Not my favorite as this one was a bit more far-fetched and complicated with all of the telepathy, travel to the moon, and going back to 1939… a bit much…  I’ll take a pass on this one.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Secret of Platform 13

The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson is a children’s fantasy story.  Always fun to dream a bit and enter the secret passageway from one place to another, add in a mixed-up identity and some interesting unique characters and you have an engaging kid’s story. There exists a “Platform 13” of King's Cross Train Station that has been closed for years within the London common area and hides an opening that opens once every nine years for nine days that leads to a mystical island.  The Queen of the island has just given birth to her son, the Prince, and her nurses bring the baby prince to London when the secret passage opens during the nine day interval.  Guess what happens during the nurses’ visit, on the ninth day the prince is kidnapped by a woman who is unable to get pregnant and she takes the child. When the nurses return to the island, the King and Queen are horrified and plan on returning to London nine years later, when the opening is next able to be entered.  The Queen assembles an interesting cast of characters to help with bringing her prince back home.  The group finds the home of the missing child, whom they believed to be named “Raymond” – who nine years later has grown to be an overweight, lazy brat.  The group of “misfits” from the island are assisted in the search for Raymond by a young boy of the same age, Ben, a wonderfully helpful servant of the household whom Mrs. Throttle (the woman who took the child) verbally abuses.  Ben does what he can to help the group.  Raymond is talked into traveling through the passageway but spills the plan to his mother before he is to leave back to the island.  Mrs. Throttle hears of the plan and escapes with Raymond.  The passageway is about to close!  But alas, a twist of fate… we learn that Ben is really the son of the Queen as it is revealed on the deathbed of Mrs. Throttle’s children’s nanny, Mrs. Brown.  All ends well that didn’t begin well when they take Ben home and lazy Raymond gets to stay with his real mother, Mrs. Throttle, who actually got pregnant soon after Ben came into her life.  Ahhh, what a nice way to end this fairy tale!  A cute fantasy story.  Fun characters, evil nasty mother and son, and the good “guys” win in the end.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tales of Ordinary Madness

Short stories are often fun to read, especially when they have some rather “border-line” content matter.  This was certainly the case with Charles Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness.  To give you a little about Bukowski, just read what Time magazine stated about the author:  “Bukowski, a laureate of American lowlife”...  and so it goes in his book of short stories.  One could smile, laugh, get enraged, or close the book quickly.  For me, Bukowski is providing an autobiographical view of his low level of esteem as a person by turning to alcohol, seemingly incapable of being sober when sharing his writings.  This is best exemplified in a few of his stories where he served as a guest speaker on the circuit and got so intoxicated he vomited moments before he was to be televised for one such session.  Bukowski shares his thoughts about the superficiality of Los Angeles, where he lived during this time.  He also characterizes work as “something he is forced to do when he needs money,” but when he has money he has no intention to work, as he shares in his story about quitting the meat packing factory or when he is invited to be a writer for a magazine and then has no intention of working hard. Bukowski, in many ways, is clearly addicted to sex and alcohol.  His continual close-line between sex and rape were a real turn-off for me and were some of the most forgettable parts of his stories.  I can only imagine how difficult it is to be a writer, especially when it appears you aren’t inspired to be one, or you don’t feel you have the abilities to do so well.  Crude, lewd, and at times on the verge of brilliance, Bukowski crosses lines without thought.  He often likes to describe his approach to woman and the act of physical engagement with any women.  I guess being in the 1960s, Bukowski captures a time in our history where licentiousness is common place.  I did really like his short story on people who annoy you and how he handled it, awesome!  Many of the other stories, not my idea of enthralling writing.  To each his own…  if you read one of the shorts (5-6 pages long, you have read them all), very repetitive!