Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Great Influenza by John M. Barry ****

I'm not much of a non-fiction gal, as I've mentioned before. But after a slow start, this book really kept my interest. It's about the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918-19, the deadliest plague in history. I had some personal interest in it as well, since my Grandma Bradley's younger brother, Peter, died of it when he was 8 years old.

Though it doesn't mention the epidemic in St. Louis really at all, it really blows your mind as to how pervasive & horrible this sickness was. It reached an ability to kill that could knock somebody out in 24 short hours. Imagine--getting the flu & being dead the next day.

Much of the book deals with the advances in American medical science in the time period leading up to the Spanish flu. I had a hard time wading through these parts of the book, but I understood why it was focused on--the US went from practising medieval bleeding & purging to modern med science in just a few short years. It's insane how ignorant the typical American doctor was before this time! I totally understand why someone back in the late 1800's would rather just keel over dead that call the doctor--3 pints of blood & some violent laxatives later, you'd be dead anyway!

All in all, a good read.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali ****

This is the memoir of the woman who's most famously known as writing the script for the skit that Theo VanGogh directed & then was murdered for. The short film they made went off on the way women are treated in Islam, basically, & after reading about her life, you can see why she's angry. By the end of the book she's an atheist, even though she was brought up to be a devoted Muslim. After being genitally mutilated, forced into marriage, & a host of other horrible things that a woman such as myself can't hardly imagine, she escapes to Holland & builds a life for herself there. She was a member of their parliament until all this exploded back in 2004 when Theo VanGogh was murdered in the streets of Amsterdam by a Muslim man who was angry at the movie they had made together. She's currently living in the US, in hiding.

I think this book is a must read to understand from an insiders view what the Islamic faith is about. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a very inflammatory person in that she condemns all the violence that has erupted since 9/11 to be due to Islam--her argument is that it is a very violent religion, intolerant of any other belief systems. Whatever you may think, this book will make you think about it in a different way.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell *****

This book was the first in the Chewing the Fat book discussion group. I'm not sure if I have a link to it on this page, but Chewing the Fat is a blog that deals with disabilities of all kinds, & it's written by a wonderful man named Dave Hingsburger. He's worked all his adult life with people with developmental disabilities, & has now recently become disabled himself due to illness & mobility issues. I went to see a conference of his in April of 2007 & I have to say, it changed my life. That's saying a lot, I know, but when I look back I can say with certainty now that it did. My awareness of the issues faced by people with disabilities & my feeling that I have to join their fight for equality & respect is all a direct result of those 2 days in April, hearing him speak with humor & force.

The books discussed on Chewing the Fat will always have characters with disabilities in them, but it's truly amazing to me how many many books that encompasses. A Thread of Grace is one of those books that you don't ever realize has any disabled characters in it at all until you're done & you get to take a breath & reflect on it. There is one pivotal scene that deals with it head on, but for the rest of the novel it is there, yet hidden. And you realize that it's because we're all disabled. You see that clearly, & you understand that just because no one can see your weaknesses & challenges, you still have them. And just because you can see others' obvious ones, it doesn't mean that behind that they are perhaps stronger in areas that you have a deficit in .

The book takes place in Italy near the end of WWII, when Jewish refugees crawled over the mountains to get to what they hoped would be the safe haven of Italy only to find that the German army had come in right behind them & taken over. I honestly can't recommend this book enough--it's going to be one of those ones that I will reference in my mind for a long time, & the characters will be there too with a smirk, making me think WWRD? (What Would Renzo Do?)

Give it a read--you won't regret it.