The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy by Masha Gessen

The Brothers is not Masha Gessen's best book, but it sure is an interesting and quick read, like most of Gessen's stuff.

It may be incomplete and not investigative enough (published before the final sentence was pronounced for the surviving marathon bomber), the storyline may be not too polished – but nonetheless the first two parts (out of the total of three) are page-turners.

The first is history – in particular, Chechnya and Dagestan history – well, rather the Tsarnaevs family story against the Soviet background – and later growing up in Boston of the two future perps.

The second focuses on the day of the marathon and how friends, family, cops etc reacted to the fact that two perfectly ordinary boys turned out butchers.

The trial part of the book is its weakest. It has tons of non-pertinent data, discussions, thoughts etc – but mostly, it's just pure speculation by the author. Why did they do it? Radicals? Oppose U.S. Foreign policy? Like hell we find out. The cops and FBI did quite a number of strange and spooky things? Well, who could've guessed otherwise. Capital punishment is wrong? Damn it ,in this very case I'm fully on board with the most liberal state of MA who has decided to put this curly baby to sleep with a proper pinch of potassium chloride in each of his arms. Собаке собачья смерть. A cur's death for a cur.

 


Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

A brain dead fellow on vacation a couple of weeks back, I downloaded Masha Gessen's latest book on the Tsarnaev brothers and patiently started reading it. But in the sun and all, it kinda felt wrong.

So I went to kindle store again and kept on browsing. For whatever. Simpler, I guess. And simpler I found.

About two years ago I dwelled and dwelled in various airport bookstores over buying Stephen King's Joyland novel – liked the film noir cover a lot – but in the end, never had the guts to do it. Don't get me wrong, Mr. King is undoubtedly a good writer, the one who builds a story that gets a grip of you and doesn't let go. Biggest problem – the last time I read King's stuff, I was in my teens, mid-teens, to be exact. Dead zone, the Shining, etc etc. So buying and reading King seemed, ummm, grossly inappropriate and childish for a bit older fella. Well, it did and it didn't.

I also remembered that a year or so ago I read a praise in, what was it, the Guardian, on King's Mr. Mercedes, a crime novel, a novelty for King, as there were no dead clowns creeping in the shadows. Pure crime stuff. And here I was, sun and all, finally reading King. Felt the same as watching crime TV series, the Wire, Sherlock, Breaking Bad stuff.

The beginning and mid part are totally better than the end, if you ask me – as I don't like even a shred of comical in a crime book, and this Holly character was put there for that reason. Other than that, the book has typical King's wit, but it's pulp all right. Burn after reading. Lazy as I am, still I decided, hell, I'll try the sequel Finders Keepers anyways (googled it – better reviews), as at least one thing is true – pulp reads fast.

 


Blitz by David Trueba

Blitz is a short novel by David Trueba, a Spanish film director and screenwriter. Una historia de amor, it turned out in the end, and a strange one. A quick delightful read, eh.

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En la tele emitían resúmenes informativos del año. Todos hablaban de la crisis económica. En el recordatorio, la presidenta alemana Merkel, con su rigidez, daba una mano fría a los presidentes sucesivos de España, primero Zapatero con sus cejas de bebé asustado y luego Rajoy con esa ausencia de personalidad idéntica al muñeco abandonado de un ventrílocuo. Ambos parecían pedir de ella más que un apretón de manos, quizá ser acunados, que los acercara a su pecho para darles de mamar. Pero ella no era la madre que buscaban.

 


Dotter of her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot

Bought it in Sipur Pashut bookstore in Tel-Aviv – a short one, less than one hundred pages, an-hour-and-half kinda read. At the beach, where else.

A strange story. It’s part memoir, part fictiotionalized drawn narrative about Lucia Joyce, James Joyce’s daughter, from her birth through career in dancing, at the backdrop of her tough relations with her mother Nora, and ending with Lucia being confined to a mental institution.

The story is told in juxtaposition with the memoir of Mary Talbot herself, a daughter of a renown British Joycean scholar, and her difficult relationship with her own father.

What gives this book special flavor of sorts is the fact that the drawings are made by Bryan Talbot, the cartoonist who is also Mrs. Talbot’s husband. A family enterprise, so to say.

Overall conclusion is that the pictures were great, but for me, it didn’t went anywhere past my beach read. Maybe it will, for devoted Joyce fans, but not for me. But I also suspect, it might just as well sparkle their anger. Who knows, huh.

 


Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time by Hope Larson

I haven’t read the original A Wrinkle in Time, so hard for me to compare. Seems like a decent sci-fi story for teenagers, beautifully drawn and all.

But I won’t give it more than that, a children’s book, an old and renowned one, but still.

 

 

 


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

God gracious, I can't believe I finally finished it. Such a long book, for lazy readers like me, it's pure nightmare, these 775 pages.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad one overall, but my opinion of it went down as the pages went. Could've been and probably should've been shorter.

The beginning and the first half are absolutely stellar, and I see why so many people can see the Catcher in Rye echoed there. The joy of youth, then the tragedy and the soul searching – well, these New York and Las Vegas parts are just stunning, cunning, entertaining, can't get my eyes off that kind of thing. It's a Pulitzer Prize winner, and for a reason it is.

But after that, with Theo coming back to New York again in his twenties, and then to Amsterdam, well, these bits are much less appealing. At first the novel lacks action, and then the action is just too much that it becomes klyukva. All the pretty little cranberries, if you know what I mean.

And the very ending, the long tedious passages, the moral of the story – uff, that made me sweat even. Lame. Unnecessary. In want of something else. Brrr.

To sum it up – when I started it in February (well, I think it was February), I was totally mesmerized by it and thinking – damn, it's so good, I will have to read more of Donna's stuff, maybe all of Donna's stuff. Wanted to buy a copy for my dad. When I finished it yesterday night, May already, in a hotel room in Tel Aviv, I'm not sure I want any more. No, not sure at all.


Red Notice by Bill Browder

It's a page turner indeed. And a well written that one. I still can't believe that Browder did it without a ghostwriter – or maybe he just paid a bit more, and the ghost remained unnamed. Anyways.

This book is a play in three acts, and each act is very different from the others.

Act one, the beginnings of Bill Browder and Hermitage Capital, to my mind, is the best part of all. It is (as rotten tomatoes would put it) certified fresh, a dazzling success story in Russia's raving 90s, a tale how Browder believed in what others did not believe in, doubled down on his bets and in just a few years became the legendary fund manager and shareholder activist he was both famous and notorious for.

Act two, where all the trouble with the Russian government starts, has a feel of a Litvinenko / Tinker Tailor spy novel – only, quite unfortunately, we all know how act two ends, a bruised corpse in a solitary cell, and it ain't pretty. A true scare for the Russian middle class of bankers, lawyers and the rest. No justice.

And, finally, in act three Browder tells his tale how he took the House of Cards down – a detailed recount how he was greasing the wheels of the U.S. lawmaking machine to piss his enemies back in Moscow. His cause was undeniable, and, frankly, I do believe that his results went far ahead of his own expectations.

What this book lacks, though, is a critical view of Browder persona and explanations of certain events.

  • Why was he expelled out of Russia? For past Gazprom shareholder activism? Seems too far fetched. There was a fact that he somehow doesn't want to explain in detail.
  • Did he try to help Magnitsky get out of prison, really tried? Or did he need a postcard boy jailed to justify his cause, and then this posterboy suddenly became a martyr? The fact doesn't exonerate prison butchers who should be in prison in quite another role, but still.
  • Who are the masterminds of the crime? The villains in the book are two policemen – a strange twist for all the people who followed Browder's YouTube campaign, where these policemen as alleged to be acting on orders of a certain Mr. Klyuev. He is named as the main villain on untouchables websites, still up and running – and not even one (!) mention in the book! Huh?

Also, Mr. Browder paints a way too splendid “knight in shining armor” picture of himself – the man who puts people before business. Will that reputation hold in Moscow business circles, with men who knew Browder for years? It's hard to be shareholder activist and successful investor in Russia and not become a hard gutted cynic.

Nonetheless, and despite all that – it's a great book, which is best when read in one day, like yours truly did – I even decided that I will put my Goldfinch reading on hold for a bit, as I've been reading it slowly for over a month and a half already, and here I knew I needed a just day…

 


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