Tournament of Books 2019: Warlight

I just finished reading the fourth Tournament of Books 2019 book, Michael Ondaatje’s “Warlight“. It’s in the first round of the competition, running against Azareen Can Der Vlier Ollomi’s “Call Me Zebra“.

This book should have been named “Utter Drivel”. It’s not a bildungsroman, not a war story, not a spy story, not a story about post WWII London or Britain. It’s not a story at all, just a collection of unbelievable and uninteresting scenes, repeated again and again, and connected by wild circumstances that are yet again, unbelievable. The characters are, you guessed it, unbelievable phantoms with nothing to make them feel real, likeable, or anything really. It’s as if you’re wandering in the fog with Ondaatje, neither of you having any sort of clue where you are and where you’re going. It’s not even truly bad, it’s just boring and pointless, which is what makes it so frustrating.

I’m surprised that it was published, and even more surprised that it made it into the first round of the Tournament of Books 2019, while excellent books like “Speak No Evil”, “A Terrible Country” and “America Is Not the Heart” were left to battle it out in the Play-Ins. I haven’t yet read “Call Me Zebra,” but it’s going to have to be terrifically bad to lose against this pointless book.

Tournament of Books 2019: Warlight

Tournament of Books 2019: America Is Not the Heart

I just finished reading the third Tournament of Books 2019 book, the final play-in contestant “America Is Not the Heart” . It’s up against “Speak No Evil” and “A Terrible Country“, which are both excellent books that I highly recommend that you read, and I’m pretty sure that it’s going to win.

“America Is Not the Heart” is an immigrants’ tale, a romance, a family saga, and a bildungsroman met in a Filipino restaurant and “America Is Not the Heart” came out.
Ignore the reviews that say that this is a difficult or confusing read. The characters have flashbacks every once in a while. That’s the big challenge of reading this fascinating book, full of rich characters and interesting glimpses into the history, culture and lives of Filipinos both in the Philippines and in the US. It’s a also a touching love story (with some pretty graphic sex scenes), a story about the importance of family, especially the one that you create for yourself, and a story about women overcoming PTSD (whether it’s from growing up starving poor or from being held captive and tortured in a military camp for two years). What’s amazing is that the result is an interesting book with a lot of heart that you just can’t put down, despite the tough topics it deals with. It’s a testament to the skill of Castillo that she manages to pull all that off, and in her first novel too.

 

Tournament of Books 2019: America Is Not the Heart

This Week’s Long Run: A Day Early

It was supposed to rain heavily on Saturday morning (of course it only drizzled), so I pushed my weekend 10k from Saturday morning to Friday evening. There was a very brisk wind and I could see the storm clouds gathering as I ran (it did rain heavily throughout the night), but otherwise it was perfect running weather, not to hot, not too cold, and dry.

There were a lot of people out and about in the park, so I had less wildlife photo-ops than usual. An Egyptian goose taking a nap at the riverbank:

The “sea scouts” taking their distinctive green boats out:

Cormorants getting ready to sleep on a eucalyptus tree:

All in all it was a good run, even though I still prefer to get my long runs in in the morning. And to those who listened to this week’s “This American Life”: Tootles!

This Week’s Long Run: A Day Early

Tournament of Books 2019: A Terrible Country

I just finished reading my second Tournament of Books 2019 book, the play-in contestant “A Terrible Country“. It’s up against “Speak No Evil“, which I’ve already read and was excellent, and “America is Not the Heart,” which I’m about to start reading. I’ll comment which of these three needs to win this round once I finish reading “America is Not the Heart,” but I can already tell that it is going to be a very hard decision, and I don’t envy the judges.

It’s very rare to find a book that is so stylistically innovative, and yet so readable, so familiar that it’s kind of like an out of body experience to read it. This novel is a work of fiction that reads entirely like a memoir/travelogue written by the main character Andrie. It’s so convincingly well done that several times I checked the author’s name and the book description to make sure that it was a work of fiction that I was reading.
This feat of technical mastery is entirely at the service of a moving and relatable plot, wherein a young American man, completely out of depth, tries to take care of his 89 year old grandmother in Putin’s Russia circa 2008. It’s the heroics of everyday life, with its triumphs and tragedies, enmeshed in memories of the Soviet past, great Russian literature, and the dangers of living in such a terrible country, and it is well worth the read.

Tournament of Books 2019: A Terrible Country