July 19th, 2011

Dust Storms

We all know about these, of course:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_Bowl

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Australian_dust_storm

Here's the most recent:

http://money.msn.com/business-news/article.aspx?feed=AP&date=20110719&id=13965348

I think a couple weeks ago there was one that got covered on the late night comedy circuit because it resulted in an immense number of video clips of People With Gravitas saying the word "haboob".

The commentary probably writes itself, if you feel like finding rhymes in history, or indicators of end times. I just kinda like the headline: "Giant dust storm moves through Phoenix area".

Kamila Shamsie, _Burnt Shadows_

I picked it up used on Amazon and was a little irritated that I wound up with an ARC (well, in this case, "Advance Uncorrected Proof"). You are _NOT_ supposed to resell these. *sigh* I will do the responsible thing. Maybe I'll go give the seller nasty feedback.

This is an _excellent_ review of the book. There's no way I could do better, so if you actually want a review of this book, you should go read this one:

http://hungrylikethewoolf.wordpress.com/2010/02/09/burnt-shadows-by-kamila-shamsie/

My reviews are never that good, because they are elliptical, irresponsibly opinionated and personal, not to mention rambling. But if you like that sort of thing, here it is:

Obviously, this was Mayberry's adult reading group pick for the month. I haven't been in a while because of scheduling conflicts (hey, I go when the website says it is and I have childcare lined up. Not my fault they (a) get the date wrong on the website or (b) reschedule it because no one else can make it -- to a date when I have a vacation I've already reschedule once back in _February_). It was a small group (it's July; people go on vacation) but we had a nice discussion.

My habit is to read these books the day the book group meets, because the books are only very rarely the kind of books I would pick for myself to read. Depending on the book, I might start skimming very aggressively at some point. That happened a lot later in this book than usual, which should be regarded as a very good thing.

The relationships between the women are fantastically well depicted -- and not by the cheap means of having the character cogitate about it or discuss it with another character, or by having a highly intrusive authorial voice explain everything. I did, however, have some big problems with the plot structure. Hiroko is a young woman who teaches school in Urakami until her father is accused of some form of not-being-patriotic-enough and the whole family is in the doghouse -- she is conscripted to work at the munitions factory in Nagasaki but has been more or less laid off the day the bomb drops. She survives (her father and the man she loves do not) and a few years later goes to visit her not-quite-fiance's family in Delhi. There, she falls in love with a man her not-quite-fiance described glowingly; they marry and, post-partition, end up in Pakistan (not entirely by choice). After his death, she moves around a bit in Pakistan, and then follows her not-quite-fiance's half-sister (and her own friend) to New York City.

So: Japanese woman experience Nagasaki's bomb AND the Partition AND is in NYC for 9/11.

Really? You call this a plot?

Amazingly, the political bits about contractors in Pakistan and Afghanistan work quite well. The political bits in NYC not quite so well. But as problematic as politics in novels often are, my issue isn't with the politics one way or the other. It's the massive improbability of a Japanese woman born in or around 1924 having this life arc. But even _IF_ someone could have this life arc, the plot involves three generations of people (and each generation is itself quite small in terms of who is on stage) intertwining around each other AND major world events.

Also, the human trafficking section that included the baby gorilla in a cage was just a little too much for me.

The plot arc did not bother my compatriots in book group. But then, this is frequently the case. As near as I can tell, the fact that a book is "fiction" makes this kind of wild implausibility completely okay for them.

I think the author is quite good at her job. If you're ever feeling particularly annoyed by reading books that feel like all the characters are white, middle-class suburban women dressed up in various genders, sexual orientation, time period, skin color, etc., this book should cure you of that real quick.