books2019.jpg

This year (2019)

Previous years: 2018; 2017; 2016; 2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2011; 2010; 2009; 2008; 2007; 2006; 2005


Arthur Japin:
    The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi
Christian Kiefer:
    The Infinite Tides
Arthur Japin:
    Warlight
Rebecca Makkai:
    The Great Believers
William Boyd:
    Love is Blind
Alex Michaelides:
    The Silent Patient
Min Jin Lee:
    Free Food for Millionaires
    Pachinko
Junichiro Tanizaki:
    The Makioka Sisters
Amor Towles:
    Rules of Civility
Yukio Mishima:
    The Sound of Waves
Osamu Dazai:
    The Setting Sun
Lou Berney:
    November Road
Yukio Mishima:
    The Sea of Fertility:
        Spring Snow
        Runaway Horses
        The Temple of Dawn
        The Decay of the Angel
Esi Edugyan:
    Washington Black
Robin P. Williams:
    Sweet Swan of Avon

The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi, by Arthur Japin

     Kwasi Boakye was a real-life person who lived from 1827 to 1904, and this is the story of his life told not as true biography but rather as a kind of historical novel. When reading the book as a novel, the story sometimes seems rather contrived, difficult to believe. And yet in an Afterword the author explains how he has used the personal letters of Boakye and his correspondents, along with many further historical documents, so it must be true to life.
    Boakye's father was the king of Ashanti, a kingdom on the west coast of Africa in modern day Ghana. And thus he was a prince. But he was not the crown prince. Instead his cousin, Kwame Poku, the son of the sister of the king, was the crown prince owing to the fact that in Ashanti, inheritance was passed down through the matriarchal line.
    At the beginning of the story, Kwasi and Kwame are very close friends, doing everything together. They live in great privilege in Ashanti as princes, telling us about their lives, and we see them contrasted with all the slaves in the community. There is a Dutch military presence which had been organizing the slave trade, a fort to hold the slaves which had been bought from the local slave traders before they were shipped off to the Dutch colonies in the Americas and elsewhere. Kwasi's father was much involved in this.
    But then Kwasi's father, the king, decided to send both Kwasi and Kwame off to Holland with a Dutch expedition which had reached their country, presumably in order to allow them to become educated in the ways of Europe and so bring back this knowledge to Ashanti. Thus the two young princes, perhaps 10 or 12 years old, were transported by the Dutch navy to Holland where they were enrolled in a small private school.
    They were treated as princes. Being guests of the Dutch royal family, becoming intimate friends with one or another of the Dutch princes and princesses. And they became highly educated. Somehow the ties with Ashanti became weaker. Kwasi gradually thought of himself as being Dutch, rejecting what he remembered of the life in Ashanti. But Kwame returned. Staying in the Dutch settlement on the coast, he sent written inquiries to the Kingdom, asking if he could come home. But he had forgotten his native language and so his letters were written in Dutch. The King thus refused to answer and wanted nothing more to do with him. After years of vegetating as a guest in the Dutch garrison, he committed suicide.
    Kwasi on the other hand remained in Europe, going on to university in Germany, becoming a mining engineer. He was then sent by the Dutch to Indonesia to be involved in mining operations. But this was extremely unsatisfactory. His superior was an old school rival who treated him badly. He was unable to obtain advancement in his profession. Eventually he learned that the Dutch authorities had decided that it would not be appropriate for an African, a non-European, to be in a leading position in the colony of Indonesia since it was important to maintain the idea that only Europeans could be allowed to be leaders.
    And so much of the book takes place towards the end of Kwasi's life in the tropics of the East Indies, not East Africa. People still respect him as a true prince. He has had a family and children. But somehow he is not fulfilled. Perhaps he could have remained in Europe where he could have followed his profession more successfully as a mining engineer.

The Infinite Tides, by Christian Kiefer

    The story imagines an astronaut, endlessly circling the earth in the international space station. He has a euphoric, almost religious feeling during a space-walk. But then Houston calls and he is told that his daughter has been killed in a car accident. Furthermore his wife has decided to leave him, going off to live with her parents somewhere far away from Houston. He is devastated by all this, becoming wracked by migraines, unable to fulfill his duties in the space station. Only after weeks of delays due to technical problems with the launching of rockets was he able to be sent back to the earth.
    And so we meet him in his empty house in some soulless, half developed suburb of new houses somewhere in the neighborhood of Houston. His wife had cleared everything out, leaving him with a gigantic sofa which he hated. She also left a bare bed and the basics of the kitchen. But he goes to the local diner to eat hamburgers and drink coffee.
    He is alone. Splitting headaches. He drinks lots of beer. He notices a loud-mouthed foreigner, perhaps drunk, at the diner making inappropriate remarks to the young waitress. And then there is a young woman, a mother, wearing tight-fitting clothes, grabbing his attention in the newly built house near to his, separated by a couple of vacant lots. Eventually he winds up in her bed. There are strange scenes. Her business-suited husband returns from some sort of business trip or other and greets him as a friendly neighbor. But it turns out that while the astronaut was up in space he slept with the astronaut's wife.
    The loud-mouthed man at the diner turns out to be an immigrant from Slovakia where he was a technical assistant at an observatory. So he and the astronaut spend late evenings out on the next weed-infested vacant lot, sitting on the sofa which they have moved out there, drinking beer and occasionally looking at stars through an old telescope set up on a tripod.
    The astronaut meditates about his treatment of his dead daughter. He considers that he has a special relationship with numbers. They all have different colors for him. And his daughter experienced that too. So he imagines that she was a genius. But he has pushed her too far. She was supposed to go to a special school for geniuses and devote herself to calculating astronautical things. Despite the fact that she was a "straight A" student in her (normal) high school, she defied him by becoming a cheerleader. And so he went off to space, endlessly circling the world, and she drove her car into a tree, having had too much to drink.
    This depressing story was redeemed by the idea of floating through space.

Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje

    This one takes place in England just after the Second World War. The story is narrated by Nathaniel, who is at first 14 years old. We are not told what the family was doing during the war, but now his parents tell Nathaniel and his sister that they will be leaving for some time, going to the Far East. Singapore or something. The father leaves, the mother stays on for a few extra weeks and then leaves as well. They are not left alone at home. Instead various strange characters seem to inhabit the house.
    Nathaniel takes on a few odd jobs. He washes dishes and gets to know a waitress a few years older than himself and we learn of his erotic introduction to sexual affairs. One of the strange characters about the house is given the name of The Darter, and he seems to be involved in smuggling greyhounds into England in the dead of night in order to manipulate the dog races. Nathaniel becomes very much part of The Darter's affairs, eventually thinking of him as a kind of replacement for his father.
    Suddenly Nathaniel and his sister are attacked by some unexplained, mysterious people, and all the mysterious people who had been living at his house, together with his mother who appears from nowhere, save both his sister and him.
    Then the story progresses 10 or 15 years to the late 1950s. Nathaniel has been recruited into the British Secret Service. He works in a mysterious, anonymous office building in London, working in the archives. He secretly looks up the files on his mother. The story is that after the end of the war she was involved in covering up the war crimes committed by the British, eliminating people who might prove to be an embarrassment to future British history.
    Well, the book was nicely written and it was fun to read of Nathaniel's adolescent adventures. The rest was a bit too mysterious for me. Undoubtedly though, such things are true to life.
    Michael Ondaatje is the author of The English Patient, which was made into a famous movie. I did see the beginning of the movie on television years ago, but after a half hour, the arrogance of the main character put me off and I stopped watching.

The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai

    The story is concerned with the (male) homosexual scene in Chicago in the 1980s. Everybody is homosexual, dying of AIDS. The one exception is a young woman, Fiona, who is the sister of Nico whose funeral introduces us to the story at the beginning of the book. Fiona becomes the caring sister figure to all of these vulnerable young men.
    In order to brighten up this dreary story the author has developed a number of subplots. Yale, not the name of the university but rather one of the "gay" men (to use the currently politically correct euphemism), is employed in an art gallery attached to one of the universities in Chicago. He receives a letter from an old woman, Nora, who happens to have been a great aunt of Nico, living up in Wisconsin, somewhere along that peninsula north of Green Bay. She explains that she was living in Paris back in the 1910s and 20s, dabbling in art and serving as a model for a few famous artists: Modigliani, and so on, and that they gave her a number of drawings and paintings in lieu of money. She wants to give it to the art gallery. But her family thinks that these things might be worth lots of money and so they would like to sell them on the open market - a very reasonable idea, given the ridiculous prices such things fetch.
    So Yale drives up, together with his boss who, although married, is of course secretly homosexual, and, during a later trip also with Roman, the post-doc student assigned to Yale who is more or less secretly homosexual.
    And then, finally, the book jumps back and forth between these doings in Chicago in the 1980s and Paris in 2015, where Fiona, now a mature woman, is seeking her long-lost daughter, Claire. This subplot seems to have even less relevance to the story except perhaps in that Claire hates Fiona owing to the fact that Fiona, pregnant with Claire, unfortunately missed the final dying moments of Yale due to the impatient Claire who chose just this moment to be born. And so Fiona, who really didn't want to be pregnant in the first case, did not really love Claire as a child.
    All of this AIDS and HIV business led me to again click about in the internet, and I found a very interesting newer documentary which can be viewed in full in Youtube. Namely House of Numbers.  A young fellow tells us at the beginning that all his life, AIDS and HIV have been constantly talked about. And so he wants to find out what these things really are. He interviews Luc Montagnier, the discoverer of the HIV virus; Robert Gallo, who went on American national television to proclaim that HIV is the cause of AIDS; Kary Mullis, who won the Nobel prize for the invention of the polymerase chain reaction, which is relevant to the western blot HIV test, and many other experts as well. The person at the WHO who is responsible for all AIDS statistics, and so forth. He submits himself to an HIV test in South Africa. Then is told by leading experts in Germany and in the US about all the different tests and why there is no definitive test.
    The puzzle is that, although we were told in the 1980s that we would all be dead of HIV and AIDS by now, in fact we are still alive. In fact, contrary to what we were told then, and contrary to the hysteria in this book by Rebecca Makkai, HIV is, according to a bulletin issued by the CDC (the Center for Disease Control of the United States) for doctors, "no longer defined as a communicable disease of public health significance".
    In the film House of Numbers, Luc Montagnier tells us that he no longer believes HIV alone causes AIDS. Instead, "cofactors" are needed. So what could these cofactors be?
    The film examines some possibilities. During the 1970s and 80s, when homosexuality was declared to be no longer illegal, many young men went to these centers, in San Francisco, New York and Chicago, and lost themselves in an orgy of self-indulgence. In order to make anal intercourse less painful they continually sniffed "poppers", alkyl nitrites, which while producing a euphoric feeling also had the effect of relaxing the sphincter muscle. While attending the parties and bath houses of the scene, other drugs: heroin, cocaine, liquor...  flowed freely while the men coupled with a hundred or more different men each month. Dysentery, even cholera became rampant, not to mention the usual venereal diseases, and yet the orgy went on.
    Is it any wonder that the result was AIDS, and that people who live a moderate life, whether they be homosexual or not, do not develop AIDS?
    But there is another candidate as cofactor which is perhaps even more potent than these "recreational" drugs. Namely AZT and the other "antiviral" drugs. For example in the film, a woman explains that she had tested "positive" to HIV in one or another of the tests. She joined a group of women who had thus been deemed to have the stigma of AIDS. As I recall, there were 17 women in the group and of those 17 only she and two others refused to obey the urgent advice of the doctors to take their antiviral medicines. Now, years later, just three of the group are still alive. Namely the three who refused the medicine. Many similar cases are also dealt with.
    Could it be that many, if not most cases of AIDS are caused by the medicine which is supposed to cure it? Obviously this is a question which society cannot tolerate. Imagine the consequences if say the World Health Organization, WHO, were to declare that AZT was one of the main causes of AIDS. Sorry. We apologize for our understandable mistake of judgement. Please forgive us.
    An impossible idea. And so anyone who questions the received HIV -> AIDS hypothesis, regardless of how famous and distinguished they may have earlier been, must now be labeled an absurd, insane conspiracy theorist who believes that the earth is flat and the moon is made of green cheese. There is a long list of famous professors who have thus been stigmatized.

Love is Blind, by William Boyd

    At the beginning of the book, Brodie Moncur is working as a piano tuner for Channon, a Scottish piano firm in Edinburgh, in 1896. He is summoned to the office of the owner of the company and offered a job in the Paris branch. And the story develops from there.
    He falls in love with Lika Blum, a beautiful Russian woman who is together with John Kilbarron, a famous concert pianist. There are many twists and turns of the plot. Brodie travels about Europe with Kilbarron, Lika, and Kilbarron's menacing brother Malachi, setting up and tuning Kilbarron's concert grand piano to perfection.
    Things become dramatic in St. Petersburg and at a nearby country dacha. Malachi finally finds Brodie and Lika together in bed in the village hotel; Kilbarron's piano is sabotaged before the opening concert, exposing him before the assembled Petersburg aristocracy. There is an early morning duel with pistols by the Neva river, the escape from Russia. And then we follow Brodie in the years that follow. He is lonely, thinking only of the lost Lika. And finally he ends up at the other end of the earth in the Andaman islands.
    Everything William Boyd writes is enjoyable to read. His style can be so varied. Some of the reviewers have aptly compared the present book to a Chekhov story.

The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides

    According to the description at amazon.com, this book lies in the category of "thrillers". There are various possible ways to interpret the word "thrill". Some people say that they are thrilled by something if they find it to be good. A common exaggeration of everyday speech. On the other hand I think that a movie which is categorized as a thriller could be expected to be filled with hectic, abrupt images and changes of scene, wild movements, loud music and crashing noises. But how can a novel be a "thriller"?
    I wasn't thrilled by the magnificence of the plot or the dialogue. It was indeed easy to read, but not thrillingly so. But it did have many unexpected changes in what we thought the story was about. In the end all of the loose threads do make sense and we see that the characters are not at all what we thought they were. So it was a fun read.
    Therefore to summarize the plot as we believe it to be through most of the book...
    The "silent patient" is Alicia Berenson, an artist, whose husband is Gabriel, a photographer. They seem to be a happy couple, but at the beginning of the book it seems that Alicia has murdered Gabriel, shooting him multiple times through the head. Afterwards she speaks no more. Has she gone mad, suffering some psychic illness which inhibits speech? Or is she simply play-acting, consciously refusing to speak?
    While awaiting trial, presumably out on bail, she paints an interesting picture, a self portrait, with the title "Alcestis". This is the name of a Greek tragedy by Euripides, first produced in 438 B.C.
    The main character though is Theo Faber, a psychotherapist. He is also the narrator, and so we learn lots about him without at first understanding why he is telling us so much about himself. He also tells us about his efforts to understand Alicia and get her to start talking. Perhaps she will tell us what the story of Alcestis has to do with the murder.

Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee

    The author is a Korean living in New York, as are practically all the characters in this story. They were born of parents who immigrated to the United States some time ago, perhaps in the 1960s and 70s. They are highly educated: Harvard, Yale, Princeton,... and we follow them as they advance into their professional lives, with lots of ups and downs in the Big City. With the sole exception of Elle, they are all extremely sexually promiscuous, yet they are hard working on their way to success. Reading what the author tells us in her website or on the blurb of the book, she seems to be describing for us, in outline, her life up till now. The main character is Casey Han, quite different from Elle, who we follow for a number of years after her graduation from Princeton in her various jobs and affairs in New York.
    I very much enjoyed the book, reading on to find out what happens to Casey. But there is no great dream, no unexpected twists of the plot. So I suppose one could say that this is a "Bildungsroman". If anything, the author is just trying to tell us what it is like to be a young, second generation Korean living in New York City.
    Indeed, I have read that these days the smartest students at MIT, Cal Tech, Stanford, and all the rest are Asians, in particular Koreans.

    When I first came to Germany in 1975, after finishing my degree in Canberra, I had only a rudimentary grasp of the language and so I decided to take part in a course of German for Foreigners which was being offered at the University. But perhaps the main reason was that I thought that it might be possible to meet some Japanese or Koreans who would be interested in playing the game of go. There were no Japanese in the course, but I did get to know a Korean, and we kept in touch for a number of years.
    Of course he was very much better at go than I was. As I recall he was studying sociology, which meant nothing to me, but in 1976, just after Jimmy Carter was elected to be President of the US, my friend asked me to correct the English of a letter he had written. At that time, South Korea was being ruled by the oppressive dictator, Park Chung-hee. Perhaps that was the reason so many Koreans migrated to the United States in those days. My friend wrote that he represented a group of Korean students in Germany, and he hoped that Jimmy Carter would do something to free his country from the oppression under which it suffered.
    I told him that it was dangerous and ridiculous to send off such a letter to a politician in America. At best it would simply be tossed in the garbage; at worst, and more probably, it would be passed on to the secret police of South Korea. And yet he insisted on sending the letter. (In 1979 Park Chung-hee was assassinated, allowing democracy to prevail and rendering the politics of my friend less dangerous. In fact recently, on a whim, I googled his name and I see that he is also now an old man, a professor of information strategy in Korea.)
    Through him I got to know the Korean students here. I remember a couple of times we had the whole apartment full of Koreans, with 8 or 10 go boards, everybody playing. Many of them had high dan ratings.
    He traveled back to Korea to marry, telling me about the ceremonies involved, the elaborate calligraphy, and then he returned with his wife, a very outgoing, happy person. A year or two later they had their first child.
    I particularly remember the first birthday party. All of the Koreans were there and we were the only "westerners". The first birthday is considered to be very important. Up until then it was thought that the baby was still not a complete person, and so the first birthday party was a welcoming of the baby into the world.
    Reading this book by Min Jin Lee gives a strangely different picture than the one we had of the Korean students here. They had no thought of remaining in Germany, this foreign country. They were concentrating on doing well in order to succeed in the future in Korea, respecting all of their proud traditions. After some years my friend returned to Korea and I lost track of the others. I sometimes think of them, what fine people they were.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

    The story of this book ranges over four generations of a Korean family, at first living in the occupied "colonized" Korea of the 1910s and then later in Japan itself, the homeland of the oppressors. Min Jin Lee describes in endless detail what the Japanese are like when they are dealing with Koreans. Of course during the colonial period, Korean society was devastated, life almost impossible. In Japan the Korean immigrants were treated as filth and we are told that even today, children of Korean ancestry of the 3rd or 4th generation are regarded as foreigners, having to register themselves as such.
    There seems to exist a kind of schizophrenic perception of Japan, at least for we non-Japanese. For example I once read somewhere that as an exercise in German - Japanese relations, young schoolchildren were asked in the respective countries to draw pictures of what they imagined things were like in the other country. The German children drew pictures of smiling children with cherry trees in blossom, pagodas, Buddhas and all those other things. The Japanese children drew pictures of soldiers, tanks, guns, explosions, everything crisscrossed with lines representing bullets, blood.
    Well, Germany must live with its past. But the death marches, death camps, tortures, and all the other horrors Japan inflicted on the lands it invaded during that period are not forgotten. And the Japanese in general seem to be still unwilling to acknowledge their past. But to be fair, the sufferings caused by the European colonial powers should also be taken into account. Not to mention the brutality of the United States in the Philippines at the beginning of the period.
    I have never been to Japan, and I have only known few Japanese people, so I have no particular basis for sympathizing with the grim picture Min Jin Lee paints. But when I was studying at the Australian National University in Canberra, especially when doing my graduate degree, I did get to know one or two Japanese. They came to Australia to improve their English. One friend I knew for a year or two had a name which was well known. One of the big Japanese industrial groups. He told me that he was indeed part of the controlling family. We used to play golf together.
    In Australia golf is a sport for everybody. As I remember, the membership of the Canberra Golf Club, as it was then, cost perhaps 25 dollars for the year. That entitled you to play as much as you wanted whenever you wanted. What a contrast to the expense of golf here in Europe! And I think that in those days the few Japanese students at the ANU thought it would be a good opportunity to improve their golf game as well.
    I also remember taking my friend down to my parents place on the coast at Pambula for the weekend. My parents reminisced about their adventures during the second world war, while my friend had little to say. One day we drove over to the big wood chip operation on the opposite side of Twofold Bay from Eden. Then, as now, people were protesting about the fact that native trees were being chopped up and the chips being sent to Japan to be made into paper. Thus there was much security about the place. We drove up unannounced, I just thought it would be interesting to peer at things through the fence, but my friend seemed slightly angry at not being able to inspect the plant personally. After all, how were the guards to know who he was? He smoked a cigarette or two and then we drove back. Writing all this just now brings back these forgotten memories. And I've forgotten what his first name was.
    Then another story is that I got to know an American who was also doing graduate studies at the ANU. I even remember his name: Larry Brown. Unlike with me, you will get nowhere if you try to google it. He was a really nice fellow, a friend to everybody. I think he was doing physics, or else chemistry. He told me that he had studied with Richard Feynman, and he had even gone camping with him: tents, bonfires and all that, out in the California desert. Whew! Very impressive! Larry was also a very good tennis player and I could hardly give him a good game. A very athletic, healthy type. He told me that he was sometimes playing tennis with the Crown Prince of Japan. Could it have been the current Emperor, Naruhito, who was in Australia as a young teenager in 1974? I certainly never met the Crown Prince and I wondered if Larry was just telling me nonsense.
    But I'm sure it is true that the Japanese are a very insular people. Perhaps things are changing. And one must appreciate the myths people in different countries tell themselves about their existence.

The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki

    Tanizaki wrote this book in the 1940s, serializing it between 1943 and 1948. The story takes place a few years before then, the late 1930s and early 40s, in Osaka and Tokyo. We read of timeless traditions. The story could just as well have been placed 50 or 100 years before, or even in the more remote, poetic ancient times. There is no hint in the slow development of the story, with all its subtle emotions of the characters, that Tokyo and Osaka will soon be subject to massive firebombings from high flying B-29s, accompanied by Mustang fighters. Or of the death camps and all the sufferings Japan was causing in the countries of Asia which it was occupying. At most, we are told that the occasional celebration at a restaurant was to be more subdued than usual in order to respect the "national emergency". There is no anticipation of all the suicides at the end of the war, and the fiery obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombs. The author preferred to write about more peaceful times and the reader can imagine that the seemingly bizarre placing of this story in the midst of the War in the Pacific was an aberration to be best ignored.
    The four sisters were of the Makioka family of Osaka. The father was a wealthy industrialist of some sort, but now the business is in decline, or perhaps it was sold. One way or another the family still thinks of itself as being upper class despite now living in somewhat straightened circumstances. The oldest sister lives in the "main house" in Osaka, but during the story the "main house" moves to Tokyo. We imagine that the main house is some sort of mansion, but then we learn that it is a rather rundown old place in need of repair. Later, the oldest sister and her family - husband and six children - move to Tokyo into a totally ramshackle, flimsy house. The second oldest sister is also married and living in the much more comfortable second house in Osaka. She has just one daughter who is perhaps 8 or 10 years old. Finally there is the third sister, Yukiku, who is still unmarried, and then the youngest sister, Taeko.
    The rule is that a younger sister is not allowed to marry before all her older sisters have married. And Yukiku is a problem. She is already 30 years old and she has refused one suitor after the other. Only occasionally now do possible suitors for Yukiko appear. When they do appear they are "investigated" by private investigators. For example towards the beginning of the book the negotiations with one possible suitor go on and on, with formal meetings, proper ceremonies. After much time, energy and expense has been incurred, the investigator reports that the sister of the candidate had suffered from depression some time ago, thus indicating possible weaknesses in the candidate's family and so ruling him out. During all this, the "main house" must be asked for permission for each possible step. And the main house is always slow to answer and is reluctant to make any decision.
    Poor little Taeko already has someone to marry her if only Yukiku would hurry up and marry herself. She becomes more and more independent, earning money herself by sewing and making dolls, much to the disapproval of the main house.
    We follow all the ups and downs of Taeko and Yukiku, thinking more and more about how they should lead their lives, becoming by turns angry and yet understanding of the main house. I enjoyed the book, reading on to its resolution at the end. It has nothing to do with war. But in reality I am afraid that the main house would have been consumed in a horrible firestorm.

Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles

    The author, with his strange name, also wrote A Gentleman in Moscow, a book which I found to be too silly to finish reading. This one was his first novel. It describes something he knows about - living in Manhattan - and, at least according to the review in the New York Times, the experiences of the heroine, Katey, are not so unlike Towles own initial experiences of the Big City. The story is placed in the late 1930s, the end of the depression, but still a time we imagine to be more elegant than the hysterical present.
    We are told that Towles was for 20 years an investment banker on Wall Street and that now he lives in the elegant Gramercy Park district of New York. The story is full of rich young people traveling about from the "Hamptons" to the City. We have the feeling that the author panders to these riches. Indeed, I also wonder what it must be like to own billions of dollars, thousands of millions. We think of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Was the world of those people in the 1930s more elegant than that of the rich of today?
    A story about modern billionaires would disgust me, but I enjoyed this one.

The Sound of Waves, by Yukio Mishima

    A simple story about two young people on an island in the strait at the entrance of Isa Bay in Japan into the Pacific. The island corresponds, more or less, to Kami-shima. The boy, Shinji, is perhaps 17 or 18 years old. He is a hand on a fishing boat which goes out every day. He is strong, upright, honest, a true child of nature. Hatsue, the girl, has grown up on another island. She has become an Ama, a traditional Japanese diving woman, diving for kelp or abalone, and she joins the other diving women of the island. The time of the story is just after the Second World War and we learn that Shinji's father was killed when he was out on a small, open fishing boat, machine gunned by an American warplane.
    The author is famous not only as a great writer who was nearly awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, but also for the fact that he committed seppuku, the traditional Japanese suicide, in 1970. I had always thought that somebody who was so fanatical as to do such a horrible thing in peacetime, for "fun", could not write anything really worthwhile. But this book surprised me. A wonderfully lighthearted little tale, capturing a beautiful moment in time.

The Setting Sun, by Osamu Dazai

    A very dark story about an aristocratic family in Japan which has become almost destitute after the upheavals of the Second World War. The narrator is Kazuko, the daughter. She is about 30 years old and has left her husband to return to her mother and the family home. The mother has tuberculosis. There is not enough money for them to stay in the home in Tokyo and so an uncle has arranged for them to move to a smaller house out in the country. No servants. She must help, working in the fields.
    Her brother Naoji has been away in the army, stationed in the South Pacific. But he returns to the dismay of Kazuko. He is a drunkard, obtaining what little money is left from the sick, doting mother to lose in debauchery with his pals somewhere in Tokyo. When he is sober, Naoji thinks of suicide, but also vaguely of literary ventures. He has a friend in the city, Uehara, a degenerate, obscene man who is a recognized author. And so, in her hopeless anguish, Kazuko decides that her mission in life is to have a baby from Uehara.
    Eventually Naoji does succeed in killing himself and the mother sinks into a diseased oblivion, but Kazuko lives on, pregnant with Uehara's baby.
    The author perhaps saw himself to some degree in the character of Naoji. He attempted suicide many times in his life, becoming an alcoholic, and eventually he succeeded, dying in 1948.

November Road, by Lou Berney

    This is a kind of "thriller", or criminal novel, dealing with the Kennedy assassination. Or maybe one might even call it an historical novel, since Kennedy really was assassinated and we don't know the details. But dignifying the book in such a way would really be ridiculous. Thus, since I am a great fan of the more "serious" (a vague term at best) speculations about this whole business, I was disappointed.
    The story is based on the idea that the New Orleans mobster, Carlos Marcello, alone, with no help from any other quarter, arranged the hit on President Kennedy. Then, fearing the wrath of the FBI, CIA, and all those other secret-state organizations, such as they were back in 1963, he tried to eliminate all possible people who were concerned with it: the hit-man, the people who drove the hit-man to the scene of the crime at Dallas, even the man who drove the getaway car a couple of days before the hit and parked it in a convenient parking space near Dealey Plaza. All of these people must be eliminated before the FBI and all those other secret police people could get to them, and thus get back to Carlos Marcello himself.
    So the main character of the book is a man named Frank Guidry, a low-level lieutenant in Marcello's organization. He was the one who parked the getaway car in Dallas without knowing what he was doing. The assassin sent to kill Guidry is somebody named Barone. Thus the book consists of a corpse-littered chase from Texas to Las Vegas, with things lightened somewhat by Guidry picking up a woman with her two small daughters along the way and falling in love with them.
    Of course the precise details behind the Kennedy assassination remain a mystery. But given all the facts that we do know, for example as explained in the book "JFK and the Unspeakable", by James Douglas, it is simply not believable that Carlos Marcello could have been alone responsible. And even if he, or Santo Trafficante, or Meyer Lansky, or some other mobster was assigned the task of arranging the details of the hit, it is clear that they would have known that J Edgar Hoover and the FBI would give them no trouble.

The Sea of Fertility, by Yukio Mishima

    This is a series of four novels which are so closely linked as to be one single, long story. It takes place in Japan in leaps of 20 years. In the first novel the time is 1912, then 1932, and so on. The character Shigekuni Honda is at first finishing his schooling in 1912 with the aim of studying law. In 1932 he is a respected Judge in Osaka. The upheavals in the second novel cause him to resign his position and become a practicing lawyer. And they lead to a break from the 20 year cycle in the third novel, where Honda travels to India in 1940 to be confronted with mystical philosophy. He has become wealthy and glides through the Second World War in a world apart, meditating on the meaning of existence. In 1952 he has unexpectedly become extremely wealthy, his legal practice having benefited from some technical changes in the laws of Japan during the American occupation. Then in the final novel, Honda is an old man. To preserve the 20 year cycle the time should have been 1972, but the author, having declared that upon completion of this entire work he intended to commit suicide, killed himself using the horrible method of seppuku on November 25, 1970.
    The whole thing is concerned with reincarnation, the transmigration of souls. Mishima studied what has been written on this subject and he gives us elaborate descriptions of the history and the philosophy of the idea. We learn that, according to one school of Buddhist thought, the soul doesn't exist. Instead we are all part of the wholeness of the Universe, which is eternal. Another school of thought has it that after death, the soul becomes like a 5 or 6 year old child, flitting about throughout the world, invisible to us, for a period between 7 and 77 days. Eventually, certainly within 77 days, it sees a man and a woman copulating and, despite being somewhat repelled by the sight, enters the woman's womb and its next life.
    Who knows what awaits us after death? The author was most impatient to find out. But I'm sure that most people share my view that there is no need to hurry matters along more swiftly than would otherwise be the case.
    In the first novel, Honda is a relatively minor figure, being the friend of the main character, Kiyoaki Matsugae. Kiyoaki seems to live in a dream world and he keeps a diary, recording all his dreams. Upon his death, Honda is given the diary, reading of various seemingly prophetic things. And so, in the second book, when Honda meets the main character, Isao Iinuma, he suspects that Isao might be the reincarnation of Kiyoaki despite the fact that Isao's character is totally unlike that of Kiyoaki. His suspicion is confirmed when he observes a small pattern of three moles under Isao's arm, similar to the moles on Kiyoaki. These three moles become the sign of the reincarnation of Kiyoaki through his subsequent lives.
    I think I mentioned somewhere here that the idea of reincarnation does not really appeal to me. My present life has been so satisfying that any other life would be a disappointment. On the other hand, apart from the child version of Ying Chan, none of Kiyoaki's subsequent reincarnations were aware of their previous lives. Therefore it seems to me that in some basic sense, the idea of reincarnation is quite unnecessary.
    Leaving aside such esoteric thoughts, on another level these novels describe the feeling of Japan during four completely different periods of the last century. Times of upheavals, but also times of suffering for the lands neighboring Japan. Another interpretation might be that the four different characters of the reincarnations of Kiyoaki represent four aspects of the individual character of Everyone.

    But before describing the novels individually, here a small rant:

    I began to read these novels of Yukio Mishima by "buying" the first one, Spring Snow, via Amazon, having it downloaded onto my Kindle. It cost nine euros and forty nine cents. But then, when clicking into the Wikipedia to learn more about The Sea of Fertility, I noticed that at the bottom, under "External Links", there was a link which, when clicked upon, gave a free download of the entire sequence of all four novels. Investigating further, I see that the file was offered by the website archive.org. On the other hand, Amazon was offering the complete series for 35 euros and 48 cents.
    What is going on here? Will the police come in the middle of the night to arrest me on the instructions of Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, for failing to pay him the remaining 25 euros and 99 cents which he seems to expect? And anyway, what does it mean to "buy" an ebook via Amazon? The money paid does not buy anything. Instead I have simply paid for the possibility to read something on my Kindle which belongs to Amazon. At any time, Amazon could decide to withdraw this ability, and thus all of these books which I have been describing for the past 5 or 6 years could simply be permanently erased. Unlike with a real paper book, I do not have the right to lend it to a friend, or to sell it, or to give it away.
    I do understand that in the case of a living author, this rental fee paid to Amazon does, at least partially, find its way to the author. But as we have seen, Mishima is long since dead. And I don't imagine that any possible reincarnation would benefit from the Amazon fee. One might think of the translator, Edward Seidensticker. But he is also no more.
    Of course publishers retain copyright even after the deaths of authors. In the case of real, paper books, I can understand this. The publisher hopes to produce more books and then sell them at a profit, thus supporting all the people involved in printing the books, binding them, distributing them, and so on. And he would like to secure the right to do this without competition from other publishers for a reasonable time. But what does this have to do with ebooks? There are essentially no costs at all. Nobody profits except for Jeff Bezos and perhaps the apparent copyright holders: Alfred A Knopf, Inc., or perhaps Random House, or perhaps Vintage Books, or some other of the names which appear at the beginning of the books. They are simply raking in the money for nothing. Thus I applaud archive.org for breaking out of this stranglehold of the established publishing industry.
    Of course the situation with academic publishers is much worse and so I decided long ago to ignore them and instead to simply make the few papers I have written freely available on my website in the Faculty. They will thus remain obscure and unknown, reflecting in some degree the philosophy which Honda encountered in India.


    Kiyoaki Matsugae is 18 years old. His father is the Marquis Matsugae, an ultra-rich, but good-natured man. The grandfather was General Matsugae who distinguished himself in the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-05. Or perhaps it was the Chinese-Japanese war of 1894-95. The family lives in a huge estate in Tokyo. We are told that when the Marquis goes to visit his mistress who isn't allowed to live in the compound, he must walk half a mile from the main house to the main gate in order to reach the mistress's house just outside the gate.
    But Kiyoaki is not of a military character (and his father the Marquis isn't either). He goes to the Peers School for the children of the aristocracy. Yet he finds the loud, rude members of the kendo (the traditional Japanese bamboo sword fighting) club at the school to be in all ways repugnant. At least he is good friends with Shigekuni Honda who, although not himself an aristocrat, also attends the Peers School, and he comes from a solid family, his father being a respected judge. There are also two Siamese (that is to say, of Thailand) Princes: Prince Pattanadid and Prince Kridsada, who attend the school and who are friends of Kiyoaki and Honda.
    Despite the exulted title of Marquis, Kiyoaki's family is considered to be nouveau-riche. Thus Kiyoaki, as a small child, spent much time with the family of Count Ayakura, a family of ancient aristocratic traditions, in order to become familiar with the forms and traditions of the aristocracy. As with Count Ayakura himself, Kiyoaki is vague, arrogant, impractical. He lives in a world of vivid dreams which often seem more real than reality, and which he records in a diary.
    As a child, Kiyoaki spent much time playing with Satoko, the girl of the Ayakura's who is a year or two older than Kiyoaki. But now, when he is 18 and she is about 20, he has the feeling that she is making fun of him. She professes to be in love, but he thinks she is really just mocking him. He takes his anger out on Iinuma, a student who has been engaged as Kiyoaki's tutor.
    And so Satoko becomes engaged to Prince Harunori of the Japanese Imperial Family. She is still in love with Kiyoaki and writes him desperate love letters before becoming formally engaged to the Prince, but Kiyoaki has thrown them in the rubbish, unopened. The engagement is a very serious business. Kiyoaki's father, Marquis Matsugae, unaware that Satoko still loves Kiyoaki, undertakes to support the whole elaborate, expensive, tradition-filled engagement process financially, in order to help the Ayakuras.
    But then, in his dream-like state, Kiyoaki suddenly decides that he is now hopelessly in love with Satoko. This is the degenerate, irresponsible style of the old Japanese aristocracy. They meet secretly, passionately, on the beach at the Matsugae's beach-side villa where also Honda and the two Thai princes are spending a few days. Then a few days later Honda drives Satoko from Tokyo and then back, to another secret, night-time rendezvous with Kiyoaki on the beach. She becomes pregnant with Kiyoaki's child. But this is impossible.
    And so the book ends with a secret abortion to avoid scandal, Satoko deciding to become a Buddhist nun in an ancient monastery, and Kiyoaki dying of a broken heart, bequeathing Honda his diary of dreams.


    It is now 1932. Honda is a judge in Osaka. The Chief Justice is an enthusiastic practitioner of kendo and there is to be a tournament, with religious overtones, at a shrine somewhere near Osaka. But he has an appointment in Tokyo which he can't put off. So he asks Honda to take his place, making a speech and supervising various ceremonies.
    As a student, Honda had had only disdain for kendo, that aggressive fighting sport. But now, in a changed world, he is prepared to be part of the ceremony. When sitting on the tribune he becomes aware of a young man who seems to be a magnificent picture of splendid youth. Although only 18 years old, he is already a third dan master of kendo. He is to lead one team in its competition with the other team. And one after another, he defeats five opponents in a row, each with a full-blooded, manly shout accompanying the winning stroke. Honda is impressed.
    Later Honda is invited to climb a sacred mountain, and on the way down, in order to wash off the persperation, he accompanies his guide, taking off his clothes and bathing under a sacred waterfall. He finds himself next to that magnificent youth, and he notices that he has a pattern of three small moles under his arm, just like his old school friend, Kiyoaki. And then he remembers what Kiyoaki had said to him before dying: "We shall meet again under the falls."
    The young man is Isao Iinuma, the son of Kiyoaki's former tutor who has now become the head of some sort of school to promote the ideals of Japanese nationalism. Honda is fascinated with the idea that Isao might actually be a reincarnation of Kiyoaki, and he gets to know Isao, having long talks with him, but of course not telling him of his suspicions. Isao tells him that his favorite book is a pamphlet entitled, "The League of the Divine Wind". There follows a long sequence of chapters, being the text of the imagined pamphlet. The author, Yukio Mishima, was apparently inspired by the Shinpuren Rebellion of 1876 when writing this pamphlet into the book.
    I found this a bit tedious to read, and so I skipped through these pamphlet chapters. It has to do with a group of samurai who were unhappy with the fact that after the opening of Japan to foreign trade at the beginning of the Meiji period, many of the old traditions were done away with. As a kind of hopeless protest, they attacked an army base using traditional Japanese swords, losing hopelessly, then committing seppuku as a demonstration of their old way of life. And so this becomes a romantic myth of an imagined earlier Japan, a land of purity and honor.
    Isao contrasts this with the Japan he sees in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression. As everywhere else, there are many bitterly poor people, and yet a small number of the very rich. He sees these as a poison on society, polluting Japan, destroying the ancient customs and traditions. And so he assembles a group of like-minded students who have the aim of emulating the glorious deeds of the League of the Divine Wind. Each of them has been assigned a different one of the hated, ultra-rich capitalists, and on an appointed day they will strike, killing with a traditional Japanese samurai sword and then committing seppuku.
    This is rather like the Baader-Meinhof gang (the "Red Army Faction"), or the Italian "Red Brigades" of the 1970s. They also wanted to kill the evil capitalists and their fawning politicians. But there is a difference, and this was illustrated in a scene of the novel.
    Before the appointed day, Isao's gang is arrested by the police and they are taken to jail. They have been betrayed by Isao's father in the hope that that will save him. The police are very kind, and even admiring of Isao and his goals. He is soon released and the charges are dropped. But during one session of questioning, Isao hears a repeated, dull thumping sound in the distance. At first he thinks it sounds like a bamboo sword striking the leather armor of a kendo opponent. But then he realizes that a violent bamboo stroke on leather has a sharper sound. This is the sound of a prisoner being systematically beaten. The police officer tells Isao with a smile that it is one of those horrible "reds" which are being tortured. But Isao, the perfect, beautiful young man, is one of us; not them.
    I am reminded of one of Naipaul's novels, was it "A Bend in the River"? Naipaul explains that in Africa it is essential for survival to belong to some group, some tribe, or family. If you are alone, you are lost. This must be a deep and essential property of the human condition. And this is why the "reds" can be so hated.
    The "Reds": communists, socialists, say that we are all equal. All of humanity is the same, and these artificial groupings should be disbanded so that we will become part of a single, unified communal, utopian whole. This idea may appeal to people of a certain disposition (despite the fact that it led to the millions of destroyed lives under communism in the last century), but it would seem that the majority of people prefer to be inspired by their heroic national myths, demonstrating their superiority in comparison with other nations, or races, and so feeling the protection of belonging to a strong group of people like themselves.
    Honda has resigned his position as judge in Osaka and become a lawyer in order to defend Isao. In the end, Isao is free, but unsatisfied. He makes his way to the most hated capitalist of the land with a sword and a dagger, stabbing the fat little man, then running out into the night and killing himself with the dagger in a seaside cave. In his fantasy, the author, Yukio Mishima described the scene in the last sentence of the book: "The instant that the blade tore open his flesh, the bright disk of the sun soared up and exploded behind his eyelids."
    I wonder if poor Mishima himself had such a pleasant, euphoric, real-life experience?

    It is 1940. War is breaking out everywhere. Honda has become a successful lawyer and he is in Bangkok, representing a Japanese firm in a law suit against a Thai firm. During his stay he recalls the two Siamese princes who were his companions, together with Kiyoaki at the Peers School, and he thinks about visiting them. But the Thai royal family has fled in exile to Switzerland. Except that there is one young princess, Ying Chan, who has been declared to be insane, and she remains, living in one or another of the palaces under the supervision of some older women. Ying Chan is the daughter of Prince Pattanadid.
    Honda visits Ying Chan and she immediately runs to him, telling him tearfully that she is really Japanese. She is the reincarnation of someone in Japan, and she begs Honda to take her with him back to her homeland. The next day they all go happily to a temple on the outskirts of Bangkok. The young, seven year old Ying Chan takes off all her clothes to go swimming, and Honda observes again the sign of three small moles under her arm. He asks her a number of questions about the details of the lives of Kiyoaki and Isao, and she knows the answers.
    But he doesn't take Ying Chan back to Japan, even if that were to be possible. Instead, since he successfully won the law suit for the Japanese company, they offer to pay for a further holiday, and Honda travels to India in order to meditate on this whole reincarnation business, the meaning of life and death, and everything else. There follows a collection of obscure chapters in which Mishima explains to us various points of Indian philosophy, combined with all of his thoughts about death.
    Back in Japan, Honda has sufficient private wealth in order to spend the war years simply meditating on life, death, the universe... It becomes 1952. He learns that Ying Chan has come to Japan as a student. But she knows nothing about reincarnation. It doesn't interest her and she has no memory of the nonsense her seven year old self said on the subject back in 1940. But somehow, Honda must get to the heart of the matter, find what is in her deepest soul.
    Honda has become much more wealthy, profiting from some investments he had nothing particularly to do with. He builds a large house with a spacious garden in a summer resort out in the country. His neighbor, Keiko, is a sophisticated woman, also in her 50s, and he gets to know her well. His wife doesn't really like the new house, preferring the old house in Tokyo. They remain childless.
    This new wealth and perhaps all the esoteric philosophy have led to a decline in Honda's morals. He is a voyeur, going secretly in the darkness of the night to the Meiji Gardens, hiding behind trees, watching couples on the grass having sex. And in his new house he has a peephole in the wall from his study to the bedroom on the other side. In order to explore the character of Ying Chan more deeply, he arranges for her to sleep in the bedroom, and Keiko has organized a nephew to come and try to have sex with her. But Ying Chan throws him out and flees in the night to Keiko's house. Finally, at a later party, Honda has success with his peephole, observing passionate sex between Ying Chan and Keiko.
    What is this supposed to mean? The degeneration of morality in post-war Japan? Or more to the point, Mishima is describing his basic philosophy; namely that life is best when you are young and vigorous. If you hang on to life after that you will become old and degenerate, a hateful, disgusting object. It is best to commit suicide before that happens.
    And so, perhaps happily for Ying Chan, she returns to Thailand, is bitten by a poisonous snake and dies at the age of 20 while Honda lives on into the next book and old age.

    This book seems shorter than the other three. It is 1968. Honda is an old man, approaching 80. His wife has died and he spends much time with Keiko. Two wealthy, ancient people in a young world of flower power and hippies.
    After an evening together they go to the beach near Shimizu and notice a raised building for observing the ships coming and going from the harbor. Looking in, they find the 16 year old Tōru Yasunaga. We have already learned quite a bit about him. He is an orphan; he is often visited by a strange young woman; he works through the night, observing ship movements through a telescope, keeping records, telephoning to the docks.
    Honda and Keiko are in their elegant evening dress, and Tōru wonders what they want, visiting him like this in his station. He finds Keiko repulsive, but helps her to take a book down from a shelf, raising his arm and exposing the pattern of three small moles. Is this the next reincarnation of Kiyoaki?
    Honda, who is childless, resolves to adopt Tōru. And so Tōru, a self-confident but poor young man, is adopted into the house of a rich old man with the prospect of inheriting everything upon his death. What better recipe is there for corruption? And Honda himself becomes more corrupt, resuming his Peeping Tom activities, being caught by the police, and the scandal reported in the papers. Thus the situation with Tōru runs out of control, he even hits Honda with a poker from the fireplace.
    Keiko then has a talk with Tōru, explaining the reason Honda has adopted him, this whole reincarnation business. She also explains that the defining attributes of these reincarnations are the three moles and the fact that they each die at the age of 20. Then, for some reason which was unclear to me (I was beginning to tire of reading about all this), Tōru decides to kill himself. He takes a poison which his girlfriend has given him, but it is only methanol so that he survives, blinded, in a wheelchair, ever more bitter with himself and the world.
    In the end, the ever weaker Honda resolves to go to the convent in the mountains where Satoko is the abbess. As with Kiyoaki all those years ago, he refuses to take a taxi (or rickshaw) all the way up the mountain, and walks - or rather staggers - the last few hundred meters. The saint-like Satoko eventually sees him; he blurts out the whole story of Kiyoaki's reincarnations while Satoko listens in peaceful silence. After Honda has finished, Satoko calmly tells him that she never knew this Kiyoaki Matsugae. Honda protests. There are written records, histories which prove that he existed.
    She says, "Such documents might solve problems in the other world. But do you really know a person called Kiyoaki?"
    She claps her hands and a novice leads them to a room where they can contemplate the garden of the convent and the mystery of Satoko's seemingly senseless words.
    And thus the book ends, finally allowing Yukio Mishima to meet his, personal end.

    We are left with the title of the whole: "The Sea of Fertility". What does it have to do with a story beginning with an abortion and continuing on, describing a barren man and his fantasies of death?

Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan

    George Washington Black is, at first, a young boy, a slave, on a plantation in Barbados. The master is an old man and the conditions are dreadful, but not totally unbearable. The old man dies and eventually the two sons of the English family owning the plantation arrive. The eldest son is horrible. The worst sort of people are appointed as overseers. The slaves are tortured, maimed, killed. They begin to commit suicide with the idea that their souls will be reborn in the lost paradise of Africa. But the brother puts an end to that by chopping off the head of the corpse of one of the suicides, sticking it on a pole, and telling the slaves that the soul cannot be reborn without its head.
    All of this makes very unpleasant reading. Undoubtedly there were such horrible things. But it would hardly be in the interests of the owner of the plantation to treat his slaves like this. Within a very short time the plantation would have become bankrupt.
    And I wonder whether the first generation slaves which still had a memory of Africa considered that to be a paradise. After all, they were slaves in Africa, either captured by raiding parties from enemy tribes, or else born into the slave class. Then they were sold by African slave traders to the European slave traders on the coast, to be shipped across to the Americas on the dreaded "Middle Passage". Were the Europeans, and the eventual plantation owners, more brutal than the African slave holders? Perhaps. In any case the author's ancestry apparently was free of such experiences, since her parents immigrated to Canada from Ghana.
    But to return to the book. The younger brother of the plantation owner family, Titch, was an abolitionist. A scientist. An inventor. And he decided to take on Washington Black to be his assistant. He taught him reading and writing, and also drawing so that he could draw specimens. He constructed a hydrogen-filled balloon, and during a dramatic nighttime storm, they were both carried away in the balloon to eventually crash into the rigging of a passing ship.
    Thus Washington Black became an escaped slave, and Titch a criminal who had stolen the property of his brother. But the year is 1830, and happily slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1834.
    Both fled, via a short stay in the southern slave states of the United States, to the ice and snow of northern Canada, where Titch's father was a scientist, studying something there, becoming also a good friend of Washington. But eventually, Titch wandered off by himself in a snow storm, leaving Washington at the camp. The father dies. Washington moves to the coast at Newfoundland, meets a famous English biologist, falls in love with his daughter; they move to London and set up a marine museum. Finally he, together with his girlfriend, travel to Morocco where they find Titch camping in the desert, and some questions about his motivations are resolved.
    It became a nice, lighthearted adventure story. Nothing serious. I wondered if the author was thinking of that book by Olaudah Equiano when writing this one.

Sweet Swan of Avon, by Robin P. Williams

    As I have learned, there is nothing professors of literature find to be more offensive than The Authorship Question. Of course this is concerned with William Shakeapeare. Did he write all those plays, or didn't he? If you google the words "the authorship question" then only links to Shakespeare come up. Nobody questions other authorships. Obviously Dickens wrote Dickens; Hemingway wrote Hemingway; Samuel Clemens wrote Mark Twain; Sophocles wrote Sophocles. So why didn't Shakespeare write Shakespeare?
    The science is settled say those professors. If you don't believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare then you are a cooky conspiracy theorist who also believes the Earth isn't warming, Lee Harvey Oswald didn't murder JFK, and 911 wasn't the sole responsibility of the 19 terrorists.
    I suppose they want to get on with what is actually written in the plays and the sonnets. Examine the characters of the plays, the motives, the background of Elizabethan England. This is the stuff of Ph.D. theses. All of those conspiracy theorists simply get in the way of them doing their jobs.
    But when I read a book, I want to look at a picture of the author. I want to know something about him or her. What was the motivation for writing the book? If I know nothing about the author then who knows what is behind it? Some anonymous committee, or perhaps even an inhuman artificial intelligence with no real feelings at all. Who knows?
    In the case of Shakespeare, if William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon was indeed the author, then, given the few things that are actually known about his life, which seem so unpleasant and degrading, then, at least for me, I would be put off, thinking about entering the mind of such a man. But happily, for anyone who is prepared to delve into the authorship question, it becomes obvious that this William Shakespeare could not have been the author.
    Surely the best debunking of the Stratford Shakespeare was given by Mark Twain in his Is Shakespeare Dead? Look at the semi-literate epitaph on the tombstone on the supposed grave of William Shakespeare of Stratford on Avon. Look at his testament. Not a single book is mentioned in the list of his possessions. The will is not in his hand, although there is some sort of signature. His wife and daughter were unable to sign with anything other than an illiterate X. Mark Twain remarks that although no one would compare him to Shakespeare, still, even in his life, the town of Hannibal Missouri where he was raised celebrated his life and works with monuments and celebrations. And even now, Hannibal still remembers Mark Twain. How curious then that when, 50 or 60 years after the supposed death of William Shakespeare, the greatest, most famous poet and playwright of his day, the first of his admirers ventured out into the wilds of Stratford on Avon to pay their respects, none of the natives had heard of him!
    This book describes clearly the few facts which are actually known, and describes in great detail the supposed facts which the professors of literature cite, using such expressions as: "we may suppose", "seemingly", "we can imagine", "it may be assumed", and so forth. All of this described in great, scholarly detail.
    The standard candidates for the Authorship seem to be: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Frances Bacon, and Christopher Marlowe. After reading Mark Twain's book, I had thought that perhaps the name "Shake-Speare" might have been a pseudonym adopted by a group of these possible authors for some reason or another in order to avoid associating their highly placed names with the London public stage. Mark Twain sensibly avoided settling on any one possible author, a subject of mere speculation. Instead he showed how preposterous was the idea of William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon as the author.
    I was surprised to see that Robin P. Williams thinks that the two long poems attributed to William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece, were actually written by the Stratford actor. Perhaps she is right. After all, he was an actor, and so he could not have been totally illiterate. One or two times I have started reading them, but soon got bogged down with the boring details and gave up. As she writes, these books of poetry were quite successful when they were first published in 1593-4, going on through further editions. And they were more popular than the Shakespeare plays, despite the fact that the style is totally different from all else attributed to "Shakespeare". Indeed, the historical Shakespearean plays which were performed before 1593 were not attributed to Shakespeare at that time.
    Many people have concentrated on the Sonnets. What are they about? What do they mean? Was Shakespeare secretly homosexual? How wonderful! Everybody seems to want to be a homosexual these days.
    And then there are the great theories. For example I spent some time clicking through this website, which claims to have found the HIDDEN SECRETS of the Sonnets. But after a while it seemed to become more and more far-fetched.
    Then we have the theory that Edward de Vere impregnated Queen Elizabeth who then secretly had a baby boy, and the Sonnets are about that. Well. Ok...
    This book gives a completely different theory which, at least for me, totally makes sense. It is that Mary Sidney, the Countess of Pembroke, was the author. I had never really heard of her before. (A later Countess of Pembroke was a student of the viola da gamba, generations later, and that great virtuoso, Carl Friedrich Abel, wrote some simple sonatas for her which I try to play.) You can read about the Shakespearean Countess at the website of the Mary Sidney Society, and of course in this book. There is much more than can be described here in this already overly long review. It is a fascinating and convincing theory which provides me with a real human being behind all those plays, making them come alive.