Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (book review)

Another book review from The Movie Snob.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, by John Berendt (1994).  I believe this book was a huge best-seller back when it came out.  It spawned a 1997 movie directed by Clint Eastwood (American Sniper) and starring John Cusack (The Paperboy) and Kevin Spacey (Baby Driver), but I never saw it and don’t remember hearing much good about it.  Anyhow, I finally got around to reading the book, and I quite enjoyed it.  For reasons I have forgotten, New York author Berendt decided to live part-time in the sleepy backwater town of Savannah, Georgia.  In the first part of his book he chronicles many of the very colorful characters who live in the old part of the town, near the historic squares and away from the new mall.  This part of the book was pretty good.  Then there’s a homicide, and the story really picks up in interest.  Once I got to that part, I pretty much couldn’t put the book down.  I was a little disappointed to read in the afterward that the author not only changed some of the names but also took “certain storytelling liberties, particularly having to do with the timing of events.”  Nevertheless, I thought the book was effective at evoking the atmosphere of Savannah and in telling the story of a lengthy murder prosecution.

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Trieste (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Trieste, by Daša Drndić (2012).  Drndić is a Croatian novelist and playwright, and this is a powerful and unusual novel about the Holocaust.  The central character is Haya Tedeschi, an assimilated Jew who lives most of her life in a town on the fluid border between Italy and what eventually becomes Yugoslavia.  She turns 20 during World War II, and she has an affair with a handsome German officer who is stationed nearby for part of the war.  But the novel’s focus doesn’t really stay on her all that much; Drndić stuffs the novel with facts and digressions about World War II and the Holocaust, biographical sketches of various Nazis, and testimony from Holocaust survivors.  She indicts the many bystanders who knew what was happening to the Jews passing through their cities and towns in railroad cars and did nothing.  She indicts the Catholic Church for baptizing Jewish babies to save them from the Nazis but then refusing to return them to their parents after the war.  There’s a lot of information about a secret Nazi project to increase the “Aryan race” by kidnaping promising-looking babies and then adopting them out to good German families.  And near the end, Drndić instructs us about how 5,000 Norwegian women who had liaisons with Nazis during the war were sent to work camps after the war, and many of their babies were adopted out and subjected to all sorts of abuse.  Anni-Frid Lyngstad of ABBA was the daughter of such a liaison (although her mother moved to Sweden in 1946 and they avoided the abuse)!  It is a powerful and disturbing book.

I’ll Be Damned (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

I’ll Be Damned: How My Young and Restless Life Led Me to America’s #1 Daytime Drama, by Eric Braeden (2017).  If you’ve ever watched The Young and the Restless, you know that Victor Newman makes Montgomery Burns look like a boy scout.  Victor, played by the 77-year-old Eric Braeden, is a cutthroat cosmetics tycoon who doesn’t think twice about, say, having his business archrival kidnapped and replaced by a lookalike (who also happens to be a South American drug kingpin).  But Braeden’s real life story, told in this memoir, is almost as unlikely.  Born in Germany during WWII, Braeden (actual name Hans Gudegast) emigrated to America as a young man, bounced around for a few years, became a successful actor playing German heavies in shows like Rat Patrol, did a few movies (including a key role in Escape from the Planet of the Apes), and then found his niche on The Young and the Restless.  He’s a little defensive about being a soap star, and the book occasionally feels like an exercise in name-dropping, but I thought it was an interesting read nonetheless.

From Shame to Sin (book review)

Well, The Movie Snob set out to see Black Panther today, but the movie theater had some technical difficulties and it just wasn’t to be.  So here’s a book review instead…

From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity, by Kyle Harper (2013).  How’s that for a grabby title–subtitle combination?  Harper is associate professor of classics and letters at the University of Oklahoma, and he puts his knowledge of ancient Roman literature to good use as he explores—well, the Christian transformation of sexual morality in late antiquity.  He starts with the state of affairs in the pagan Roman Empire in the first centuries A.D., and it is a pretty squalid state (by Christian standards).  As he repeatedly emphasizes, it was a world built on slavery and the exploitation of slaves.  Christianity had a revolutionary effect on many aspects of life, in sexual morality of course, but also in recognizing that every person, regardless of social status, has the ability and the duty to choose between good and evil.  I thought it was a very interesting book.

The Mountain of Kept Memory (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Mountain of Kept Memory, by Rachel Neumeier (2016).  My cousin Rachel has written another winning fantasy novel.  This one centers on a brother and sister, Gulien and Oressa Madalin.  They are the children of Osir Madalin, the remote and ruthless king of Carastind.  But the kingdom is beset by enemies, and it seems that Osir has lost the support of the Kieba—a mysterious sorceress who lives in a mountain far to the east and who formerly aided Carastind in times of need.  Osir seems disinclined to try to heal the rift, so Gulien and Oressa—who are young adults but sheltered and inexperienced in the ways of the world—take it upon themselves to seek the Kieba’s aid.  This is an exciting tale, and Neumeier keeps the reader guessing about some of the main characters’ true intentions and agendas.  Highly recommended for lovers of fantasy and magic!

Wind Sprints: Shorter Essays (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Wind Sprints: Shorter Essays, by Joseph Epstein (2016).  I’ve sung Epstein’s praises in this blog enough before.  I just really like his writing style and observations about life, literature, and everything.  The pieces in this collection, with only a couple of exceptions, are extremely short—like two pages long.  Many of them, I believe, came from Epstein’s contributions to the “Casual” feature in The Weekly Standard magazine, so I had probably read many of them before.  Still, it was a pleasure to read them again.  If you enjoy good writing, you owe it to yourself to give Epstein a try.

Commonwealth (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett (2016).  A more descriptive title for this recent novel might be “Divorce American Style,” but maybe that didn’t have quite the same ring to it.  I was thoroughly engrossed by it.  In the first chapter we meet two families, one headed by a cop named “Fix” Keating and the other by a prosecutor named Bert Cousins.  Bert meets Fix’s beautiful wife Beverly at a party after the baptism of Fix and Beverly’s baby girl Franny, and things go from there.  After the opening chapter, the other chapter bounce around quite a bit chronologically (over several decades) as we see how the Keating and Cousins kids (six in all) fare after their parents’ bad behavior throws them all together.  I enjoyed the writing and the story, and I highly recommend it if it sounds like it might be your cup of tea.