Monthly Archives: April 2013

Book Review: The Dark Road

The Dark Road

The Dark Road, by Ma Jian is a novel about Kongzi, Meili, and their daughter Nannan. Konzi is a direct relation to of Confucius and a school teacher. Things are well for the family until Meili becomes pregnant with a second child. The one child family policy is in full effect and the family does not have state permission to have a second child. The Family Planning Commission enforcers are ruthless. Reminders f the one child policy are all around including a sign “ Severe the fallopian tubes of poverty; insert the IUDs of prosperity.”


There are several themes in the book most notably the Confucian idea of a male heir played out by Kongzi. He also shows the primitive side of the male sex. The dual role of independent and free thinking woman rising in China and a mother who values motherhood and the spirit of her unborn child. Nannan, the daughter, whose name sounds like a boys name deals with the confusion of her sex and her role in society.


Perhaps the most disturbing role is played by the government and its minions. The brutality of the Family Planning Commission’s forced abortions to out right murder and forced serializations and IUD insertions are described in shocking detail. To make matters worse for all of the above the women are expect to pay for the services. Corruption and fraud exist in every aspect life including migrant permits, “tolls”, and fines. The same corruption allows for environmental devastation, work camps, and brothels.


What ever glimmer of hope we in the West see in China are totally and thoroughly destroyed by this book. The Dark Road is very well written and an extremely compelling read. With that being said it is also extremely disturbing. Jian does little to candy coat his views and at the same time the read feels he is not embellishing them either, yet the message is extremely powerful.

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Book Review: A Bigger World: The Life and Times of Wm. Edwy Ryerson

A Bigger World: The life and times of Wm. Edwy Ryerson

A Bigger World: The Life and Times of Wm. Edwy Ryerson, written by Thomas Ryerson, is the semi-fictional account of his great grandfather’s life through the stories grandparents told and experienced. It is semi-fictional in that the major events are true, like serving in World War I but the details needed to be filled in. Stories like these are difficult exciting events from the past often lose their luster in the present. It’s a difficult task and I found it be very well done.


The book is narrated by Tom (the author’s grandfather) and follows three time lines: Edwy’s life of adventure Boer War, World War I, India; The depression in the 1930s; and the 1920s. Although they do all form one lifetime, they are divided in the book and intermixed. The reader needs to pay attention to when the story is happening.


I will admit I was a bit confused at the start of the book. I initially assumed the author was telling his memories of his great grandfather’s stories, then I realized the author was somewhere around my age, so that could not be the case. I took a moment and figured it out and I should have given more attention to the forward. Secondly the time changes were confusing: was it the 1920s or the 1930s? This just forces the reader to pay better attention. The tragic story of Sonny clearly lets you know where you are in the time line. I will take the blame for my initial confusion as everything did work out the further I read.


The writing is clear and well thought out. The stories of the wars and even the Titanic were not “thrilling” is the sense of Hollywood movie, but have a totally different feeling. They were told like someone who was there and experienced it. Talk to a vet about about what ever conflict they were in and you will get the same feeling of gravity. War is not glorious, you do what you have to and deal with it and some times you look away and often times you simply endure. The feelings Edwy had for the Empire are much the feelings that many in the military have for the country they serve. I felt the same way when I joined the Marines and yes it was thrilling…about three percent of the time. I am sure anyone who served can relate to Edwy’s stories.


The story of Sonny is very touching and deals with the reality of metal illness in the 1920s and 1930s; we have come a long way. The characters in the story are all interesting. The stories are all interesting and some moving. The main story is Edwy’s life is amazing: Two wars, Colonial occupation, ship’s steward (on the Titanic no less), and raising a family in the depression. Any one of these events would have been enough for most people. Life was an adventure for Edwy Ryerson and he lived it to the fullest.


A very worthwhile read  

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Book Review: Fighting the Flying Circus: The Greatest True Air Adventure to Come out of World War I

Fighting the Flying Circus: The Greatest True Air Adventure to Come out of World War I

Eddie Rickenbacker an amazing pilot and a gifted story teller. His account as a member 94th Aero Squadron reads like a well written story rather than a dry history. He brings all aspects of the air war into play: the good and the bad. 

The 94th started with members of the somewhat illegal Lafayette Escadrille coming under American control as President Wilson threw his hat into the ring. The hat in the ring would become the painted symbol on the side of the 94ths aircraft. America unprepared for war and proud of its neutrality, had no planes to provide for its pilots. The 94th and other American squadrons had to rely on older French planes. France sold the US its previous generation of planes for American pilots to use. American squadrons took the these planes and excelled. 

World War I was the point in history where America became a major player on the world stage. From being the new player who both France and England want to use as filler for their depleted armies, America walked away from the war respected and its soldiers and Marines decorated. It was a different time; a time when the world moved from the 19th century into the 20th (although few years late by the calendar) and set the stages for all the struggles of the 20th century.

Fighting the Flying Circus is an outstanding read for anyone interested in the air war or someone just looking for a great story of some truly brave men. As a former Marine, I am a bit hesitant to sing the praises of the other services, but these men had what it took and are an example to all that have served.

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Book Review: To the Last Man

To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War

To the Last Man, by Jeff Shaara is the semi-fictional account of several men in World War I. The book covers two main three main areas of the war. The Lafayette Espadrille and The Red Baron, General Pershing, and a Marine; Private Rosco Temple.


The first section of the book lays the ground work and the second section brings the air war into play. The air war is covered from the point of view of French born America Raoul Lufberry telling the story of the Lafayette Espadrille and Baron von Richtofen telling the German side in alternating Chapters. The writing compelling, telling both personal thoughts and giving an history of events and information on the planes. It is easy to forget you are reading a novel and not reading a memoir.


In the middle of the second section General Pershing is introduced and becomes part of the alternating chapters. His story continues into the third section which primarily covers Private Roscoe Temple. As much as I am a sucker for Biplane stories in World War I, this Marine is much more taken in by Shaara’s story of Pvt. Temple. First, Shaara does what few people outside of the Marine Corps do, and that is capitalize the “M” in Marine. Secondly, every story I heard from bootcamp was in the book “Retreat, hell we just got here.” to the Marines at Belleau Wood and the renaming of the woods in their honor. Shaara does a wonderful job of capturing the Marine spirit in the book. Everything from Marines complaining they are issued army uniforms without a Marine insignia bravery in battle. Pvt. Temple is a filler in a army squad that is mostly gunned down. The army sergeant wants the squad to hold their position because there are too many Germans to fight. Pvt Temple speaks up that if there are to many Germans we need to fix that. The sergeant is taken back and assumes Temple is an officer. Temple replies “ I’m not an officer, just a Marine.”


Overall a great read.

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We’ll Miss You, Maggie

But, February made me shiver with every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep – I couldn’t take one more step


Not February, but today bad news was on my Twitter feed. A Canadian friend posted that Margret Thatcher died. That took me back to the 80’s and my idealism of the time. Young, out of high school, Reagan was president, I stepped up and joined the Marines, because after all, it was the right thing to do. Reagan and Thatcher was the political match that would make the Soviet block tremble. Then our mutual enemies were easily identifiable. There was no mistaking a Soviet soldier for a civilian. Our militaries in several places looked eye to eye at each other. The crisis of of Soviet domination of the world seemed more than just an idle threat. And two leaders stood up to the Soviets and promised victory and better times for all.


Yes, I was quite idealistic at the young adult age. I saw the decay of the Carter years (something that he inherited, but did little to fix) turn into the boom of the Reagan years (much to do with the flow of newly discovered North Sea crude and cheap fuel). But, I think, every generation has that political hero. My grandmother talked on and on how no president would ever be as great as FDR, she died believing that too. For my parents it was JFK. He was the hope for the future, but as they grew older they learned more and more about Kennedy and that he was not perfect, and made some bad mistakes. My infatuation of Reagan lasted for even less time. Graduate School political science pretty much killed most of my youthful memories. For my son, it was Bill Clinton. It was a boom time and Bill was a pretty cool guy. Although young to idolize Clinton, he still has a Clinton memorabilia and thinks he would make a great “first lady”. Time will tell. Hopefully, it will work out better for him than previous generations.


I would like to think that if I was British back then, I would be a serious punk rock hooligan, but who am I kidding. I probably would have joined the Royal Marines and went to the Falklands. That brings me back to Margret Thatcher. She sent her forces half way around the world to retake some craggy islands, occupied mostly by sheep, from Argentina. Well there is little doubt that Argentina was the bad guy this time. Military juntas are rarely the nice guys. But for England, it was a great under taking (Vulcan 607, by Rowland White is a very worthwhile read), but today I look and see and nation who once held a empire mustering everything it could to hold on to its last bit of its former grandeur… much like an old man chasing kids off his lawn.


Margret Thatcher (and Ronald Reagan) will always bring warm memories of the 80s, the good old days young, living in southern California, training to kill Communists in Central America…Now get the hell off my lawn.


 And the people I admire the most, Reagan, Maggie, and Helmet Kolh all took the train to the coast…  – Singer in a bar in Bonn, West Germany mid 1980s


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Book Review: Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War

Dreadnought by Robert K. Massie

Dreadnoughts. Looking for information on the Battle of Jutland, or the design or evolution of the Dreadnought, or role of navel power in World War I? Look elsewhere. However, If you want to learn more of Queen Victoria’s offspring and the evolution of European relations up to the start of World War I, then this is the book for you. Two sections of photo inserts show all the major players in the upcoming war and a single picture of H.M.S. Dreadnought (the last picture in the second section of photographs).


Anything you want to know about crisis leading to the war are covered. Also covered is England’s Splendid Isolation and it’s fall, and why England had to align against Germany. The complex entangling alliances are also covered. Primarily the book is a history of England and Germany and it their leaders and officials. Also covered is the challenges (politically at home) of growing a navy. Massie backs up his book with almost one hundred pages of bibliography. To call this book through would be a gross understatement. It is probably the most detailed account I have read on the subject.


World War I is what many historians call the start of the 20th Century because of epic changes that the war brought about, politically and militarily. Dreadnoughts, takes you right up to the door step of that change. Dreadnoughts is well worth the read if you are interested in the period coming to the start of World War I. It is a long read, but explains much of a very complex time without over simplification.

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