readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: cut for spoilers )

Reaction: On the one hand, I was really epically impressed by the amount of detail research the author obviously did, and by the light hand with which she distributed the details to draw a clean, memorable picture. I was also massively impressed by the illustrator, Harrie Wood (definitely not the Australian civil servant), who did a full-page illustration in period style for the beginning of each chapter.

On the other hand, after a rather hopeful first chapter or two with spoilers ), the writing kind of devolved into "sympathize with THIS side!", and every single time it was the whiter side. (Except I don't know about spoilery conflict ). Was there a whiter side in that one?) Every time. I quit on the chapter about spoilery name ) the Muslim pirate, because the writing was all about how he was EVILLY EVIL and really he was a pretty cool guy. He just did his pirating at Europeans instead of at brown people, like proper European pirates do. *end ALL THE SNARK*

I learned a massive amount from all the Wiki-searching I did to check things this book was saying, though. It was packed chock-full of references to historical events and characters I'd never heard of before. I wouldn't have wanted to read it pre-Google - there wasn't quite enough background provided to help check anything - but I enjoyed it as it stood.

Conclusion: Three stars, out of five possible. It wasn't bad, it just could have been so much better, and all it would have taken is some more balanced writing. It came so close.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: A young Navajo1 boy grows up in the contemporary Southwest.

1: Please note: There is an ongoing controversy over whether the proper term is "Navajo Nation" or "Diné Nation". ("Tribe" is deprecated.) The current official name is "Navajo Nation"; in 1994, the Navajo National Council voted not to change it to "Diné Nation". I have chosen to use the current official name, "Navajo", here. I apologize for any offense given.

Reaction: The author was apparently one of the first white people to study Navajo customs and beliefs in depth, and the book's tone reflects that. In two different ways about which I feel conflicted -- first, the protagonist's worldview is drawn in remarkable and beautiful detail, with no narratorial condescension about his belief in magic or spirits, which I found very refreshing; second, the protagonist's local Navajo group is shown to be on very, very good terms with the white man who runs the local trading post, and this white man is deeply involved with some of the protagonist's practices and secrets, in a way that made me... a little uncomfortable, because it sometimes felt intrusive / not always quite respectful.

And I really, really, really had to wonder - the whole Navajo village is always portrayed as being fine with the stuff the white trader does, because they know he's a friend and helper and Genuinely Interested etc etc, and I just really had to wonder how much of that portrayal the Native people Mrs Armer interviewed would've agreed with. Were they all really fine with her knowing and writing about their customs and beliefs in such detail? Or did some, even most, consider her a nosy white woman and wish she'd go away? How much of her portrayal of the beloved white trader here is accurate, and how much is her trying to feel better about all the prying she does in the way of research?

I had a hard time deciding on a star rating for this book, because the parts where the white trader doesn't appear seem very respectful and just interested in letting readers know that this group of people the author genuinely loves are awesome people and here's what they are like and see they're totally sympathetic people and not savages or stupid; but then the white trader shows up and the whole tone shifts, and there's an awkward sort of "this guy is being portrayed as awesome and sympathetic and Totally Not Doing Anything At All Wrong, but he says things like 'these Indians will always...' and does things like throw an awkward Christmas party for the Native kids at the trading post?" feeling.

Conclusion: Three stars, I think.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: spoilers )

Reaction: Uh, it's... very, very slow-moving. It reminds me a bit of Albert Payson Terhune's Lad: A Dog books sometimes, with its careful focus on realism and the wisest way to train pigeons (Terhune was a collie breeder with strong opinions on the treatment of dogs; I can't find out how serious a pigeon fancier Mukerji was), but at other times it's very much more like the stories of Thornton Burgess ("Old Mother West Wind", "Jimmy Skunk", etc), with the way it ascribes a slightly awkward combination of totally human emotions and pointedly non-human "perceptive outsider" understanding to the animals, in order to make its points. Overall, I think the only coherent tone it has is "inner peace is Important and here are the Buddhist(?) principles of peace and love and unfearfulness you ought to follow". It does, however, take that tone really solidly.

Conclusion: Three stars. I didn't hate it, weird though it was in places; I didn't love it. I think Mukerji's style, very Indian though the book was (as all Newberys must be) originally published in English, is so unfamiliar to me that I was never really going to appreciate its good points properly, but it does seem to have a good many of them.
readallthenewberys: animated gif of Snoopy writing a story with multiple strange subplots (Default)
[personal profile] justice_turtle
Summary: Attempts to tell the history of the human race from caveman times to 1922, that being "the present". Succeeds in telling the history of white people, sort of, with a strong anti-religion skew.

Reaction: I had high hopes, because it was acclaimed the first Newbery winner by 163 librarians and has remained in print ever since, being repeatedly updated with chapters on the end - my 1980s edition finished with "Looking Toward the Year 2000". And the writing quality is really, really fabulous; if nothing else, I recommend opening the Gutenberg version and reading the author's preface for a large dose of gorgeousness.

But that does not excuse the repeated blatant distortions of history the author pulls out of his hat! Things like asserting that Sparta didn't care at all whether the Persians invaded northern Greece, and then going straight into a retelling of Thermopylae that skips the part where Leonidas - King Leonidas, thank you very - and the fabled Spartan 300 (actually 7,000) were volunteers on a suicide mission DURING. THE. OLYMPICS. I may have flailed a lot about that.

Honestly, I learned a lot via this book, but most of the actual info came from Wiki after I said "WHAT?!" and googled something. ;-) Also, it's very much The Story Of White People, with a few suitably pale brown people graciously whitewashed. :P Black people are almost completely ignored, except for a couple of sentences using them as the nadir of uncivilization - I ditched out after cut for racism ) :P

Conclusion: Three stars. Because the writing really is that good (I do highly recommend reading the prologue, a gorgeous paean to the importance of history books; you can find it here), the history at least attempts to be a lot more comprehensive than the Brit-centric '50s Eurasian history I grew up on, and he did teach me some things. I think toward the end, we were just about breaking even on things I had to google because he was wrong versus things I had to google because I was wrong.

ETA: ...there's a movie. A Marx Brothers movie. With Vincent Price as the Devil, Peter Lorre as Nero, Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc - it sounds like a hot mess. "The council of elders of outer space is deliberating on a very important subject: Must mankind be allowed to survive, or is it so essentially evil that it must be destroyed? A devil and an angel act as prosecutor and defense for the human race", presenting (I assume) scenes from human history as evidence. It's a Cold War moral tale, it seems: if the human race is found wanting, we're going to blow ourselves up with nuclear bombs. O_O

I'm so glad I'm not trying to watch all or any of the movies that have been made based on Newberys. ;-)

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