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Sasha's book review
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9324
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 8:46 am    Post subject: Sasha's book review Reply with quote

We're all English teachers, in various teaching environments. We all read various books, some related to our locale, some just for pleasure. How about we submit book reviews of books that may be of interest to other teachers? Could be straight up EFL books, course books or methodology. Or could be book on the culture and history where we reside. Or even just books that are good reads for teachers travelling on metros and trains between lessons .

To kick off, here's mine:

Russia - 1,000 year Chronicle of the Wild East, Martin Sixsmith

An enjoyable survey of the last millenium in Russia. Very journalistic, as would be expected from a BBC correspondent, and very high speed. Inevitably, it focuses on more recent history, and reduces some important figures, like Catherine the Great, to about ten pages. Some of the sweeping generalisations are bound to drive Russians mad: might be a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view : ) Is prone to the usual line that Russians are Asians therefore cannot be expected to be anything but despotic, and finished rather negatively on Putin. Indeed this idea seems to be the central tenet of the whole enterprise, and reflects the strained communications between Putin's Russia and the UK today.

Though flawed, this is still a worthwhile read, especially to those who have not had any introduction to Russia and its history before, and even to those who have.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Russia-000-Year-Chronicle-Wild-East/dp/1849900728
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12448
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Sasha,

"Some of the sweeping generalisations are bound to drive Russians mad:"

At the very worst, that'd be a short stroll rather than a drive, n'est-ce pas?

Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy

Regards,
John
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9324
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 8:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Johnslat

Come on, then! Give us a review!!


Sasha
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hippocampus



Joined: 27 Feb 2012
Posts: 126
Location: Bikini Bottom

PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 1:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well damn, Sasha. These last three days I've been wanting to write to you personally about The People's Act of Love (Canongate, 2005) ISBN 1-84195-706-2 by James Meek, but I am shy and ... Embarassed
I know how into Russia you are, and this novel is set in October 1919 for two days in an obscure Siberian town. It's deliciously written and is part thriller, part murder mystery and part historical novel. Of course there is also romance. I just know you will love it. When I finished and had decided to reread it immediately, I finally looked at the review blurbs. One said, 'your instinct on reading the last page will be to immediately return to the first.' Run- don't walk and get this book!


Last edited by hippocampus on Tue Apr 24, 2012 9:19 am; edited 1 time in total
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9324
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 4:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Hippocampus

That is exactly why I thought a review spot on the boards would be a good idea. Thanks for the tip. Hadn't heard of this at all. I'll do my best to track it down, with all this commendation!

Sasha
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hippocampus



Joined: 27 Feb 2012
Posts: 126
Location: Bikini Bottom

PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 5:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Do let me know what you think. I know you will love it. I would quote some of the wonderful prose except I wouldn't know where to begin. One of the main characters, 'the detective', is a Jewish Czechoslovakian soldier. The story touches on the Czech presence in Russia at that time. Mr. Meek speaks of how they control the Trans-Siberian railroad, and hence the Czechoslovakian colony in Russia is described as being two meters wide and six thousand miles long.

The story is so full of surprises I do not dare tell you about it.
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Kofola



Joined: 20 Feb 2009
Posts: 147
Location: Slovakia

PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 8:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

An excellent choice hippocampus! If not for the fainthearted... Captures something of Russia and the times, for me at least. To connect vaguely with your Czech connection,

I like Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Radetzky-March-Joseph-Roth/dp/1862076057/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335255426&sr=8-1

Probably not everyone's cup of tea as it's a bit military, but is beautifully written and reflects the shifting borders of the time. For me, it reminds me of how we are all just bit players in a world perceived very differently on the ground compared to media and historical portrayals. Highlights for me in many ways how successful nation-state ideology has been in influencing our perceptions of the world and provoking absurd language conflicts. (Although that is a current day perspective on a novel written some 60 odd years ago).
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coledavis



Joined: 21 Jun 2003
Posts: 1832

PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 3:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I also liked Sixsmith. Although I have read more detailed books, this one provides a clear and interesting narrative. Other books you might enjoy:
Orlando Figes A People's Tragedy, basically about the Russian revolution from the late nineteenth century until the death of Lenin. Long but very readable. If you like war books, then Rodric Braithwaite's Afgantsy provides a literally blow by blow account of the Russians' war in Afghanistan (debunking many a western propaganda myth on the way).

Going to Kiev? Then there's Anatoly Kuznetsov's Babi Yar. This describes the biggest Nazi atrocity to occur in a single day. The communists are not spared either, in spite of the fact that this was written while the author was still in the USSR.

Hungary. Bela Zsolt. Nine Suitcases. What happens when a country's desire to get rid of a minority turns into a reality. Victims and perpetrators of the holocaust all behaving badly.

To get away from men with mustaches. For a short but quality read, how about the 2012 Booker Prize winner, Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending. Relationships, memory, aging.

Somerset Maugham - Of Human Bondage. Long but very readable. Downloadable for free!

Enough for now; so many things to do (and read).
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12448
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 7:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Sasha,

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

By now, most Vietnam war narratives have become the worst kind of cliché, one that trivializes real life by turning it into a series of familiar beats. The main character is always a wet-behind-the-ears, college-educated guy eager to prove himself. There’s always a gruff-but-loveable veteran around to show him the ropes and keep him from getting killed. There’s the angry black man, the guy who can’t stop thinking about the girl he left behind, the good-natured schmuck whose clumsiness could get someone killed. And of course, there are the ambitious but clueless officers, ordering their men on suicide missions to further their careers and generate good publicity back home. Battles are fought, lessons are learned, people die, and somebody smokes pot. Rinse and repeat.

Matterhorn, the first novel by Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes, hits all these points, but thankfully, Marlantes hits them so well, and with such compassion for nearly all parties involved, that the familiarity ceases to be an issue after the first 30 pages. The book is largely plotless, focusing on second lieutenant Mellas, newly assigned to Bravo Company in South Vietnam. Mellas is looking to trade combat experience for political points, and he’s scared out of his mind. He gets to know the men he serves with, struggles with racial conflicts, starves, bleeds, and shoots strangers in the face, while the men under and above him suffer and die for honor and whatever sense of purpose they can maintain.

The cast is huge, and while the characters are winnowed down over time, some names blur together. Marlantes packs his book with technical details, from the Kool-Aid packets the grunts use to cover the chemical taste of their drinking water to the logistics of arranging air support in the middle of the jungle, and the jargon can be intimidating. But it’s combined with such strong pacing and momentum that the glossary at the novel’s end seems hardly necessary; who wants to stop long enough to check what “poag” actually means? Matterhorn isn’t subtle, and some soldiers turn into talking heads when the author wants to get a point across. But it doesn’t matter. This is a generous, terrifying, thrilling, and miserable story of men who deserved better, but gave their all anyway. Flaws and all, it’s impossible to put down.

Regards,
John
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horse



Joined: 25 Apr 2005
Posts: 37

PostPosted: Sat May 12, 2012 3:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It has precious little to do with where I'm currently spending the most of my time, and less to do with teachery, but I can certainly recommend Comanche: The History of a People by T. R. Fehrenbach. Epic in it's sweep, the book covers the entire known history of the Comanches from a marginalized and despised people to the lords of the great plains. Fehrenbach writes with professorial authority, but his style is deft, pithy and engaging. A damned good read.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9324
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 7:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Roots of Revolution - Venturi, Franco

http://www.amazon.com/Phoenix-Revolution-Populist-Socialist-Movements/dp/B000I0RRB2

For all you would ever want to know about the most important dates of events and the struggles in the long decades before the glorious revolution in the Motherland, get your mits on this, the classic account. A touch on the heavy side, so Piggies may not have the intellectual wherewithal to appreciate it.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9324
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2012 9:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chechen Diary - Thomas Goltz

http://www.amazon.com/Chechnya-Diary-Correspondents-Story-Surviving/dp/0312268742

Total rubbish from the first miserable page to the last. How I regret buying this book, even second-hand. Here we see a barely literate photo-journalist venture into a war-torn region with extremely complex issues at every turn and what do we end up actually reading about? Thomas Goltz! And then some more Thomas Goltz! And as if that weren't enough we get a dollop of Thomas Goltz and his pop-philosophical ramblings about the US media. A personal diary it may be, but that is not enough of an excuse for his attempts to portray himself as a heroic correspondent risking life and limb when HE obscures the real story. Chechnya barely features, and even when he deigns to offer some 'insight', his remarks betray an extremely skewed view of everything. Excruciatingly boring, all the way through. By the end, you really end up wishing that a sniper, on either side, had taken this chap out - thus sparing the reading classes this insult.

Accchh!! He has driven me to drink.
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cmp45



Joined: 17 Aug 2004
Posts: 1375
Location: KSA

PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2012 12:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

[quote="Sashadroogie"]Chechen Diary - Thomas Goltz

http://www.amazon.com/Chechnya-Diary-Correspondents-Story-Surviving/dp/0312268742

Total rubbish from the first miserable page to the last. How I regret buying this book, even second-hand. Here we see a barely literate photo-journalist venture into a war-torn region with extremely complex issues at every turn and what do we end up actually reading about? Thomas Goltz! And then some more Thomas Goltz! And as if that weren't enough we get a dollop of Thomas Goltz and his pop-philosophical ramblings about the US media. A personal diary it may be, but that is not enough of an excuse for his attempts to portray himself as a heroic correspondent risking life and limb when HE obscures the real story. Chechnya barely features, and even when he deigns to offer some 'insight', his remarks betray an extremely skewed view of everything. Excruciatingly boring, all the way through. By the end, you really end up wishing that a sniper, on either side, had taken this chap out - thus sparing the reading classes this insult.

Accchh!! He has driven me to drink.[/quote]

I enjoy reading your book reviews, but what I don't understand is that in your opening line of your review, you stated that the book was rubbish from page one...so why bother to continue reading it? It makes me wonder what compelled you to keep reading to the finish. There must have been something worth while to keep you from tossing it after the first few pages, no?

According to this one person from your link provided, wrote a very glowing review...

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Excellent portal into a hellish conflict--and more February 18, 2004
By Heather Lowe
Format:HardcoverChechnya Diary isn't your typical book about war. For one thing, it reads more like an adventure or a novel than straight history. It's also much more philosophical than I would have expected. The book begins with the quote, "The observer affects the observed," and boy is that statement ever borne out as the story unfolds.
Author Thomas Goltz sneaks into the country to cover the war, and ends up in a small town called Samashki, where he depends on the hospitality of a man named Hussein. Ostensibly there to record the fighting, Goltz soon becomes intimately involved, raising many tough questions about journalistic ethics and the effects of media war coverage.

The book really picks up steam in the second half, as Goltz returns to Chechnya to discover the damage his participation has caused, and tries to rectify it.

It's a thought-provoking book that provides background on the Chechnyan war but also goes far beyond that to dwell on how our shallow media culture affects our understanding of world events (and beyond that, how media coverage actually determines the course of those events as they play out). Goltz is a likable narrator who doesn't shy away from implicating himself when it comes to the sticky moral questions. He brings to life real Chechnyans in such vivid fashion that you'll remember them every time you hear about Chechnya in the news.

I had tears in my eyes as I finished the book. Highly recommended.

BTW you should have said...He has driven me to drink more.
Given your reputation for the 'drink'. Laughing
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9324
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2012 12:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I paid five quid on the damned thing! Cash which could have been better spent on a drink. Industrial alcohol, even. I persevered as I don't believe in not finishing books once committed to starting them. And I had hoped that the writer might redeem himself somewhat. He didn't.

...and I suspect Heather Lowe was paid by the author to write that glowing review. I suspect this because if she possesses enough literacy to type a few lines, she must have notice what a steaming pile of manure this offering was.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9324
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hopes and Prospects - Noam Chomsky

Love him or loathe him, Noam is a great read. No one, not even the editors of Pravda, bashes the hypocrisy of imperialist adventurism with greater aplomb. True, his style may be a little staid for some, relying on facts and solid information to communicate his main idea, rather than emotionalism. His dry, clinical tone - which never employs over-the-top language even once, wink wink - belies a deep revulsion for what is being done in his country's name.

This book is a collection of lectures, so there is a little repetition, and some jarring changes of focus. However, if you want to keep up to date with the Leftist analysis of the main events of the last decade or so, then this is a good place to start.

Noam, we the EFL teachers of the Motherland love you! The Party adores you! Never mind the Piggies!



http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/hopes-and-prospects-by-noam-chomsky-2027378.html


Last edited by Sashadroogie on Fri Jun 08, 2012 6:52 pm; edited 1 time in total
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