Monday, September 20, 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

Immersing yourself within the covers of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet is a literary treat. The readers on the audio CD are also very good in their presentation of David Mitchell’s writing expertise. Sometimes the accents do not sound realistic but for the most part it is an enjoyable listening experience.

A mix of historical fiction, suspense, political intrigue, and a touching love story, this novel begins in 1799 in Diejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the farthest outpost of the Dutch East Indies Company. Jacob De Zoet arrives as the new clerk in hopes of earning a fortune so he can wed his wealthy fiancée back in Holland. Japan is a closed country for foreigners and the Dutch are their sole trading partners. In the opening chapters it takes a while to engage and understand the action and characters since the scenes jump around but soon one figures it out. After finishing the novel I was amazed by the quality of its construction. The themes, the action, the setting and the characterization all mesh in a seamless story.

Obviously well researched, the book flows beautifully with countless poetic passages, dialogue with subtle humor, and suspenseful scenes that appeal to both female and male readers. What I found particularly beautiful was the portrayal of men acting honorably amid corruption, greed, lust, and deception. With wondrous writing, Mitchell exposes the love between fathers and sons, respect for women and what it means to be a man.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Not Without Hope

Having just read Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open, I decided to stick with the non-fiction genre and read the account of Nick Schuyler in his book Not Without Hope written with Jere Longman. This is the true story of four friends, two of them NFL football players, who went on a fishing trip that ended in tragedy as Nick was the only one of the four to come out alive. This accident occurred Spring of 2009 and the book was released one year later in March 2010. I remember vaguely hearing about this on the news, but had little recollection of the events, so everything in the book was new to me.

Nick Schuyler, his best friend Will Bleakley, NFL pros Marquis Cooper, and Corey Smith all went out on a fishing trip on Cooper’s boat in Florida. Ominous weather was quickly approaching so the guys decided to head back to shore. As they prepared to head home they realized the anchor of the boat was stuck. In a last ditch effort to free the anchor they tried tying the anchor rope to the stern of the boat and hitting the throttle. The anchor did not yank free, but instead, the stern sank and filled with water causing the boat to capsize. This is where the tragedy begins. Nick recalls his 43 hours at sea waiting for rescue while sitting on the hull of the boat grabbing on for dear life. He describes how his three friends eventually succumb to hypothermia and the elements and die right before his eyes.

It was very easy to get hooked into this book. I’m not a fast reader, but it only took me 2 days to finish the book. It was a very compelling story with very vivid descriptions of what the four men endured out at sea. Even though I knew the outcome of the story I remained glued to my kindle. There were parts of the book that were heartbreaking to read, but as a whole I found it a very riveting account.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This is the one everyone is talking about. I usually stay away from uber-popular titles like the plague, but this was too popular to pass up. And, I believe, it deserves most, if not all, of the hype. But, be warned, it starts slow and ends kind of slow but in-between are some of the most compelling, can't-put-it-down-in-the-middle-of-the-night fair. Like I said, at the start, I was pretty bored. But, once it kicks in (when you find out the essence of the "thriller" part of the story), I was hooked. The "thriller" part (which takes up most of the book, so don't worry) involves a disgraced journalist who is asked by the head of a influential Swedish family to write his memoirs and also, in the process, find out what happened to his niece who went missing over 40 years ago. Be warned…this one is pretty dang gory and graphic in parts. Author Stieg Larsson doesn’t hold anything back when he describes a crime scene. And, I like that…it’s honest. Deliberate when it needs to be and riveting always, Larsson (who passed away after he submitted the final book in this trilogy to his publisher) deserves all of the credit he's getting. Too bad he's not here to enjoy it!