Book Beginnings: True Believer by Kati Marton

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

How does an idealist turn into a willing participant in murder? How does such a person-who is neither poor, nor socially deprived-learn to crush those he loves for the sake of a cause, a promise, and an illusion?

Last week I featured the 2021 novel The Wrong End of the Telescope by Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine. The week before it was the 2012 Kindle release of Lawrence Durrell’s 1960 travel memoir Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island. This week it’s the 2016 biography True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy by Hungarian-American writer Kati Marton.

I’ve been wanting to read True Believer for the last five or six years. However, I had no idea until held a copy in my hands the author, Kati Marton also wrote The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World. I thoroughly enjoyed her 2006 book and had I known she was the author of True Believer I would have read it a long time ago. After starting the book just this morning it’s shaping up to be a winner.

Instead of me blathering on, here’s what novel’s page on Amazon has to say:

This astonishing real-life spy thriller, filled with danger, misplaced loyalties, betrayal, treachery, and pure evil, with a plot twist worthy of John le Carré, is relevant today as a tale of fanaticism and the lengths it takes us to.

True Believer reveals the life of Noel Field, an American who betrayed his country and crushed his family. Field, once a well-meaning and privileged American, spied for Stalin during the 1930s and ’40s. Then, a pawn in Stalin’s sinister master strategy, Field was kidnapped and tortured by the KGB and forced to testify against his own Communist comrades.

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Last week I started and finished the 2021 novel The Wrong End of the Telescope by Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine. Currently I’m still reading Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island and Dzevad Karahasan’s Sarajevo, Exodus of a CityLike I mentioned last week all three of these books are for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge

Articles. With my nose buried in several books last week I managed to read just two articles. This week I’ll try harder and hopefully read more. 

Listening. Like I’ve said before, with so many things going on in the world there’s no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. 

Watching. Right now I’m watching just one TV show and it’s Mr. Robot. Like I’ve said before it just gets crazier and crazier thanks to insane plot twists, great writing and superb acting. It’s been one hell of a wild ride. Unfortunately for me, I have only two episodes left to watch. 

Everything else. Friday, instead of indulging in my weekly ritual of fine wine and conversation at my favorite local winery I drove up to Portland. After a quick trip to Powell’s Books I proceeded to my friends’ place for an evening of beers, fun and frivolity. Our wonderful hosts fired up the grill and put on the soccer game. After watching the home team come from behind to beat our hated rivals the Seattle Sounders a few of us stayed up past our bedtimes conversing on the porch. Saturday on my way home I hit a massive church yard sale and walked away with small stack of books, almost all of which were free. Among the treasures are Pulitzer-Prize winners American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. 

Book Beginnings: The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

He was my people—he and I kneaded by the same hands. He was on the shorter side, my height, not in the greatest of shape. His hair had less gray than mine but was the same shade of dark. We had similar facial features. I would have recognized that he was from the Levant even without the Palestine Red Crescent Society vest he sported.

Last week I featured the 2012 Kindle release of Lawrence Durrell’s 1960 travel memoir Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island. The week before it was Life of Pi author Yann Marte’s 2016 novel The High Mountains of Portugal. This week it’s the critically acclaimed 2021 novel The Wrong End of the Telescope by Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine.

Alameddine’s novel caught my eye back in June when I spotted a copy at the public library as part of its Pride Month display. Sucked in by its cool cover art, upon closer inspection I noticed it’s set on the Greek island of Lesbos during the 2015 -2016 refugee crises. Recently, I was in the mood for even more international fiction and remembering I could apply it towards Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge I grabbed the book during one of my library visits. Once again I’ve deviated from my original 20 Books of Summer but since the challenge is ending in less than a week who cares. LOL!

Earlier I was going to read James Angelos’s The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins to fulfill the Greece requirement for the European Reading Challenge but decided to go with The Wrong End of the Telescope and return The Full Catastrophe to the library unread. But a few days ago I learned Robert Kaplan has a new book out entitled Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age so I placed it on hold with the library. While I’m impatiently waiting my turn I’ll be reading additional books about this part of the world, including stuff on the former Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy. Because nothing takes the sting out of waiting for a good book than killing time reading other good books.

Like I mentioned earlier, The Wrong End of the Telescope received widespread critical acclaim, including winning the 2022 PEN/Faulkner Award. I didn’t remember until this morning the author also wrote my favorite essay from The Best American Essays 2020 entitled “How to Bartend.”  Instead of me blathering on, here’s what novel’s page on Amazon has to say:

By National Book Award and the National Book Critics’ Circle Award finalist for An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine, comes a transporting new novel about an Arab American trans woman’s journey among Syrian refugees on Lesbos island.

Mina Simpson, a Lebanese doctor, arrives at the infamous Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, after being urgently summoned for help by her friend who runs an NGO there. Alienated from her family except for her beloved brother, Mina has avoided being so close to her homeland for decades. But with a week off work and apart from her wife of thirty years, Mina hopes to accomplish something meaningful, among the abundance of Western volunteers who pose for selfies with beached dinghies and the camp’s children. Soon, a boat crosses bringing Sumaiya, a fiercely resolute Syrian matriarch with terminal liver cancer. Determined to protect her children and husband at all costs, Sumaiya refuses to alert her family to her diagnosis. Bonded together by Sumaiya’s secret, a deep connection sparks between the two women, and as Mina prepares a course of treatment with the limited resources on hand, she confronts the circumstances of the migrants’ displacement, as well as her own constraints in helping them.

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

I finished Frank Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting: A Memoir of World War II   as well as Adam Hochschild’s Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939. I read both books for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. 

Late last week I started David Gilmour’s The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples. So far it’s shaping up to be an excellent book and perfect for the European Reading Challenge. I’ve also resumed reading Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School

Listening. With so many things going on in the world there’s been no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. Despite this extensive list I feel I should be listening to much more. 

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain with its crazy plot twists, great writing and superb acting. I also caught a few episodes of Stranger Things. On Thursday after watching the January 6 Hearings I followed it up with an entertaining and informative episode of the Lincoln Project’s The Breakdown.    

Everything else. Yesterday my professor buddy and I had some great wine as we took in the amazing view at our favorite local winery. The weather at my place has been nice of late so I’ve been reading on my porch.  While I’ve been drinking coffee in the mornings, in the evenings with my book I’ve been known to enjoy an adult beverage or two.

 

 

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

 

After putting aside both Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School and Frank Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting I started Adam Hochschild’s 2016 Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939. So far it’s been very good.

Listening. At least for one day last week the January 6 Hearings were back at it again. In addition to the many other ongoing political developments this has provided no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. 

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain with its crazy plot twists, great writing and superb acting. I also caught a few episodes of Stranger Things. Tuesday I took in the January 6 Hearings.

Everything else. Met my professor buddies for wine yesterday at an area winery. The weather has been nice so I’ve been reading on my porch. All good things. 

 

 

 

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Earlier this morning I finished Lea Ypi 2022 memoir Free: Coming of Age at the End of History. Hopefully, within the next few days I’ll get my review up and posted for that as well as Karlheinz Deschner’s God and the Fascists: The Vatican Alliance with Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, and Pavelic. I’ll be applying both books towards Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge

I also made major progress with Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School. I put Frank Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting on hold but I hope to finish it in the next few days. 

Listening. With the The National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex proceedings (AKA the January 6 Commission) on hiatus until Tuesday I didn’t do my usual deep dive related podcasts. However, that didn’t deter me from indulging in some of my favorites. 

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain with its plot twists, great writing and superb acting. I also caught an episode of Stranger Things. I haven’t seen a movie in a month or two but last Sunday night I took in the thoroughly entertaining film Everything Everywhere All at Once. (Since any description I’d cobble together could never adequately explain this movie I suggest you just watch it.) 

Everything else. Monday was Independence Day and one of our neighbors hosted a terrific BBQ for the community at his event venue down the road. Even though gas is damn expensive right now yesterday I made a trip to my favorite adult watering hole for a beer. 

 

20 Books of Summer: The Attack by Yasmina Khadra

I’ve mentioned from time to time I enjoy books on the Middle East or novels set in that part of the world. Therefore, it was hard to resist borrowing Yasmina Khadra’s 2006 novel The Attack when I came across a copy at the public library. After putting it aside for a couple of weeks I dived right back into it and whipped through it in no time. I’m happy to say it’s yet another pleasant surprise of 2022.

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, Yasmina Khadra is the pen name of Mohammed Moulessehoul. While serving as an officer in the Algerian military in the late 1980s, Moulessehoul adopted the the feminine pseudonym to keep his superiors from censoring his writing. Even though his true identity was revealed in 2001 he continues to write under the pen name. Just like his fellow Algerian novelist Amara Lakhous, he lives abroad in Europe. (Lakhous lives in Italy and writes in Italian. Moulessehoul lives in France and writes in French.)

All things considered, life’s been good to Amin Jaafari. A successful self-made man by any standard, the highly skilled Arab-Israeli surgeon is well-respected by his Jewish colleagues at the hospital in Tel Aviv where he practices. Happily married to Sihem, an intelligent and lovely woman, the two share a home in one the city’s poshest neighborhoods where their frequent get-togethers attract well-healed guests from across confessional lines. Bedouin by birth, he’s since embraced an urban, cosmopolitan lifestyle.  Both an Israeli citizen and non-practicing Muslim, his outlook is wholly secular with one his best friends a high-ranking Israeli police chief.

But then one day this comfortable world comes crashing down. Not long after a suicide bombing flooded his hospital with dozens of casualties he’s told the bomber was none other than his wife. Overnight his colleagues and neighbors no longer see him as a “good” Arab. At the very least he’s seen a clueless moron, negligently oblivious to his wife’s murderous intentions. (Much like the parents of America’s young mass shooters.) At worst, he’s some closeted radical who secretly assisted in his wife’s deadly act terrorism. Instead of mourning his deceased wife he’s forced to undergo humiliating interrogations, invasive home searches and police detentions.

Initially, in hopes of clearing her name he leaves his upscale Tel Aviv home in search of evidence to clear her name. Visits with his in laws eventually lead him to a radical imam and his acolytes. Slowly connecting the dots he begins to see how Sihem secretly evolved into to suicide bomber. At the same time, he’s gripped by feelings of betrayal, like a faithful husband confronted with the growing evidence of his wife’s infidelity. Feeling increasingly alienated by both Israelis and Arabs he begins questioning his religion, nationality and allegiance to the Jewish State.

Like I mentioned earlier this is a surprisingly good book, one of many I’ve stumbled across this year. Don’t be surprised if you see more novels by this talented author featured on this blog.

Sunday Salon

About a month ago the first time I took part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Last week I finished both Yasmina’s Khadra’s The Attack and Karlheinz Deschner’s God and the Fascists: The Vatican Alliance with Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, and Pavelic. Hopefully, I’ll get my reviews up and posted by the end of the week. Since both are translated works I’ll be applying them towards The Introverted Reader’s Books in Translation Reading Challenge

After putting aside Jay David’s anthology Growing Up Jewish I started Lea Ypi 2022 memoir Free: Coming of Age at the End of History.  Ypi’s recollection of life in Albania during the implosion of that country’s oppressive communist regime is shaping up to be a winner. I also went back to reading Frank Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting as well as Stuart Jeffries’s 2016 Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School

Listening. With the The National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex proceedings (AKA the January 6 Commission) serving up a bombshell special session last Tuesday I once again dived into some of my favorite podcasts for helpful insight and commentary. With so much stuff out there it’s hard knowing where to begin but Deep State Radio’s “Showstopper” is a good place along with The Lincoln Project’s “The Emergency Hearing.” The Bulwark never ceases to satisfy so I’d recommend both “A Damning Witness” and “Mea culpa. Really.” Opening Arguments is a recent find of mine and the episode “Surprise Jan. 6 Hearing – Bombshells Within Smoking Guns Within More Bombshell” is definitely worth a listen. The Lawfare Podcast can get a bit dry and wonky but “The Jan. 6 Committee, Day Six” episode is good. During the Trump administration Vanity Fair’s Inside the Hive was my go-to source for place intrigue. I thoroughly enjoyed the recent episode “If You Bite the Head Off of the Snake, the Rest of the Snake Will Die”: Daniel Goldman on Prosecuting Trump.” If you wanna learn more about the assorted far-right militia groups in cahoots with Trump and his crones then check out the Fresh Air episode “Investigating The Far-Right Militia Groups Of Jan. 6.” Lastly, round things out with Talking Feds and “This is (Trump’s) America.”

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain with its plot twists, great writing and superb acting. Last week we were treated to a special session of the January 6 Committee sessions which blew myself, and much of America, away. I look forward to watching more once they resume latter this month. I also caught an episode of Stranger Things. After a bit of a slow start it’s shaping up to be as dark and entertaining as I’d hoped. Like last week I checked out The Lincoln Project’s web series The Breakdown. Hosts Tara Setmayer and Rick Wilson (and special guest Harry Litman) did a fine job breaking down the last Tuesday’s bombshell January 6 hearing. It’s well worth your time. 

Everything else. Even though gas is damn expensive right now I did make a trip to my favorite area winery for some friendly discussion with my professor buddy. Weather-wise, after recently experiencing a mini heat wave temperatures have considerably moderated. 

Sunday Salon

A few weeks ago for the first time I took part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Last week I finished Ruta Sepetys’s 2022 historical novel I Must Betray You.  While it’s only June I’m betting it makes my year-end list of Favorite Fiction. I put aside  Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting, Khadra’s The Attack and Margolius Kovály’s Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street and started two new books. For Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge and Introverted Reader’s Books in Translation Reading Challenge I started Karlheinz Deschner’s God and the Fascists: The Vatican Alliance with Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, and Pavelic.  Originally published in 1966, it’s shaping up to be quite the polemic against both the Vatican and the Catholic Church in general. (Not sure if that’s what I originally bargained for. I’ll just have to see where the book goes.) The other is the 1969 anthology Growing Up Jewish edited by Jay David. One of my original 20 Books of Summer, since a number of the pieces are translated from Yiddish and German I’m hoping to apply this book as well to the Books in Translation Reading Challenge. 

Listening. With the The National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex proceedings (AKA the January 6 Commission) continuing to be televised I once again dived into some of my favorite podcasts for helpful insight and commentary. With so much stuff out there it’s hard knowing where to start but I would begin with The Economist’s Checks and Balance episode “Insurrection Retrospection.” From there it’s pretty wide open. Deep State Radio’s “The Trial of Donald J. Trump” is particularly good as is The New Yorker’s Politics and More episode “What the January 6th Committee Uncovered This Week.” I’d also recommend Angry Planet’s “Proud Boys, January 6, and When a U-Haul Is a Clown Car.” Lastly, round things up with The Lincoln Project’s “The DOJ is Watching” with guest David H. Laufman and from The Bulwark “How the 1/6 Committee Could Succeed” with Denver Riggleman and “Why We Were Alarmed” with Bill Kristol. 

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain, throwing head-spinning plot twists at me right and left. As I mentioned earlier, I’m knee deep into the January 6 Committee sessions and look forward to watching more once they resume next month. At long last I started watching the much-anticipated season 4 of Stranger Things. After a bit of a slow start it’s shaping up to be as dark and entertaining as I’d hoped. Finally, I decided to check out The Lincoln Project’s web series The Breakdown. Hosts Tara Setmayer and Rick Wilson did a fine job breaking down the last January 6 hearing. It’s well worth your time. 

Everything else. Even though gas is damn expensive right now I did make a few trips into town. I returned to my favorite an area winery to for a bit of friendly discussion with a couple of my professor buddies. Yesterday, while out running errands I dropped by one of my favorite watering holes to have a beer and read my Kindle. Weather wise, we’ve been experiencing a mini heat wave but temperatures should drop starting tomorrow. 

Sunday Salon

A few weeks ago for the first time I took part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I hope to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Last week I finished up Kitty Veldis’s 2018 historical novel Not Our Kind  and like I mentioned earlier, if it doesn’t make Favorite Fiction list in December it’s a shoe-in for a future honorable mention. After putting A.C. Grayling’s Descartes: The Life and Times of a Genius on pause I dived headfirst into The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko. Scott Stambach’s 2016 dark yet hilarious novel is set in Belarus at the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children. Pleasantly sick and wrong, it’s great reading if you enjoy the twisted fiction of Chuck Palahniuk, Iain Banks or Gary Shteyngart. Currently, I’m about half-way through Alexander Münninghoff’s 2020 family memoir The Son and HeirAn alternate for my 20 Book of Summer reading challenge it’s applicable to a number of others including the European Reading Challenge. I also started two other novels and it’s too earlier to tell how much I’ll end up liking them. Yasmina Khadra’s 2006 The Attack shows early promise. Since I’ve yet to finish the introduction to Heda Margolius Kovály’s 2015 Czech crime novel Innocence; or, Murder on Steep Street who knows if I’ll like it or not. 

Listening. With the The National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex proceedings (AKA the January 6 Commission) at last being televised I dived into some of my favorite podcasts for helpful insight and commentary. On Fresh Air Terry Gross interviewed New York Times Congressional reporter Luke Broadwater on the episode “The Jan. 6 Insurrection: Understanding The Big Picture.”  Another must listen is the recent Daily podcast “The Proud Boys’ Path to Jan. 6.” Recorded the morning after Thursday’s opening session, Charlie Sykes and guests Sarah Longwell, Tim Miller, and Bill Kristol did a fine job on The Bulwark breaking things down with the episode “This Is What Democracy Looks Like.” Deep State Radio’s “A Life or Death Moment in the History of US Democracy” with guests Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Harry Litman of the Talking Feds podcast is also a must listen. Speaking of Talking Feds, recorded a few days before Thursday night’s session the episode “At History’s Edge” with guests Julie Zebrak, Josh Marshall and Rep. Ted Lieu also makes for great listening. Lastly, Molly Jong Fast and Andy Levy on The New Abnormal as expected served up insightful and irreverent commentary on the opening session. But what helps makes the episode “Liz Cheney Is Ready to Follow Donald Trump to the Gates of Hell” a true gem are the interviews they did with Pod Save America co-host Dan Pfeiffer, and my favorite thought leader Ian Bremmer.  

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain me and has been a fantastic find. As I mentioned early, Thursday night I watched the opening session of the January 6 Committee and I’m excited to see more. 

Everything else. Like last week I once again snuck out early on Friday and joined my buddy the semi-retired sociology professor for beers and some pizza at a local watering hole. Yesterday on Saturday there was a break in the rainy weather so I snuck out again for another beer. On Wednesday I took part in a weekly Facebook group chat with two librarians from the New York Public Library. I’ve been doing this for months and it’s a great way to get book recommendations as well as learn about new books months before they’re officially released.