This year (2024)

Previous years:  2023; 2022; 2021; 2020; 2019; 2018; 2017; 2016; 2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2011; 2010; 2009; 2008; 2007; 2006; 2005

Tan Twan Eng:
    The House of Doors
Robert Galbraith:
    Lethal White
    Troubled Blood
David Grann:
    The Wager
John Banville:
    The Lock-Up
Richard Ford:
    Be Mine
Stefan Zweig:
    Die Welt von Gestern
Michiko Aoyama:
    What You Are Looking For Is in the Library
Stefan Zweig:
    Amok: Novellen einer Leidenschaft
John Banville:
    The Sea
Chibundu Onuzo:
    Sankofa
    The Spider King's Daughter
John Banville:
    The Untouchable
    Marlowe
    The Blue Guitar
Gillian Flynn:
    Gone Girl
John Banville:
    The Infinities
Mieko Kawakami:
    Breasts and Eggs
Junichiro Tanizaki:
    Quicksand
Javier Vinós:
    Climate of the Past Present and Future
John Banville:
    Eclipse
    Shroud
    Ancient Light
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.:
    The Wuhan Cover-Up
Hwang Bo-Reum.:
    Welcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop
Israel Shahak:
    Jewish History Jewish Religion
John Banville:
    Athena
Claire Keegan:
    Small Things Like This
Chetna Maroo:
    Western Lane
Elizabeth von Arnim:
    The Enchanted April
Adam Kay:
    This is Going to Hurt
Roy Chapman Andrews:
    Across Mongolian Plains
Elizabeth von Arnim:
    Vera
Philip K. Dick:
    The Man in the High Castle

The House of Doors, by Tan Twan Eng

     The author is a native of Penang. His two previous books have much to do with that island and the Malaya of earlier times. W. Somerset Maugham visited Penang in 1921 and Sun Yat-sen was there in 1910. And so this story links these two characters in the imagined romance of a woman of English heritage who was also a native of Penang, married to an elegant and successful colonial figure in the legal world of that time. But she finds that her husband is, in fact, homosexual, as is W. Somerset Maugham. On the other hand there is no suggestion that Sun Yat-sen is homosexual, surrounded as he is by hoards of admiring females whose adoration he returns. In her frustration the wife finds satisfaction in the ancient House of Doors and its loving Chinese owner. Ten years later she relates all of this to the visiting W. Somerset Maugham who is seeking exotic stories to work up into plays, short stories and novels. After finishing the book I examined the Gutenberg.org page of Maugham's works, thinking that it must be derived from one of the stories that he heard about during his visit of 1921. I downloaded The Painted Veil, but soon realized that I had read that one a few years ago, and it is not concerned with either Penang or the story of this book. In fact he did write a story about a woman who shot a man dead and then claimed it was attempted rape, but in fact she was put up to it by her husband for other reasons, as related in a subplot of the present book. But I don't know if Gutenberg has that in its collection, and in any case I couldn't be bothered to look further.
    To be frank I have enjoyed reading these books of Tan Twan Eng more than the few W. Somerset Maugham books which I have read. He has a beautiful style of writing. But perhaps he could expand his horizons beyond the Malaya of a hundred years ago, interesting as that time and place undoubtedly was.
    In the book W. Somerset Maugham is continuously referred to, and spoken to, by the name "Willy". Is it true that all the old friends and lovers of W. Somerset Maugham really called him Willy? Of course his official name was William. But he chose to reduce that to "W." for some reason. Did he hate the name William? Or did he think that the name "William Maugham" sounded too common, not something worthy of a great writer. "Somerset" is certainly not a common name. And it would be awkward for his friends to say Somerset to him, such a pretentious name.
    I haven't really done the book justice in writing all of this. But you can get a feeling for the complicated and nuanced plot by reading the many reviews of the book. After all, it was longlisted for the Booker Prize last year.

Lethal White, by Robert Galbraith

     This is the fourth of the Robert Galbraith detective novels. Looking up what I had written about the first three a couple of years ago, I see that I wrote little about the different plots, to avoid spoiling it for others. After all, the main point of these detective stories is to keep the reader guessing what it is all about until the ending where everything is finally revealed. But on the other hand, J.K. Rowling, the author of all those Harry Potter books, who of course is also the author of these Robert Galbraith books, writes so well that we keep reading on and on, just enjoying the telling of the story, not really concerned about how it ends. Nevertheless, the ending of this one seemed to be so disappointing that I will write about it here. So if you want to avoid a "spoiler" then just skip over what I am now about to write.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

The story is concerned with blackmail. An English politician has done something a few years ago which was not illegal then, but it is illegal now. And so Strike and Robin puzzle about this for hundreds of pages, filled with all sorts of various happenings. Although the politician is employing them, he refuses to say what it is that he is being blackmailed about. In the end we discover that what he was doing was having some local carpenter on his estate constructing gallows to be exported to Africa so that all of those Africans could hang one another from them. Each of the gallows was sold for £40,000.
    Of course I have little knowledge of the monetary value of a gallows. The ones illustrated in the Wikipedia article might have cost something. But are Africans really incapable of constructing such things for themselves? Must they spend £40,000 for such a thing? The idea seems simply absurd.
    My only experience with gallows (I've forgotten if I have already told the story years ago in another review here) was the following: This was years before my retirement. It was a cold December morning, a Monday. The Sunday before we had had our Christmas concert, and I had had a beautiful flute solo which was still going through my head as I bicycled into the university for my lecture. The path followed along near a field on the edge of a wood. Suddenly I became aware of a body dangling from a branch of a tree next to the path with a thin rope around its neck. Everything in the body had sagged down. It was obviously completely dead and had been so for hours through the freezing night. It seemed to be a relatively young man. I kept peddling on, not wanting to have anything to do with this disgusting sight. Perhaps 100 meters further along the path a small group of people were standing, and they asked me if I had seen it. I said yes, but I had to get to my lecture. Obviously they had called the police, or whoever else was responsible for dead bodies hanging from trees. Two hours later, after the lecture, riding back, there was no trace of the body or of anything else. It was as if it had never happened. But the thing was that this man had chosen a small tree and a horrible little thin branch, at most 2 or 3 centimeters in diameter, to hang himself from. Just next to the little tree was a magnificent old oak tree with sturdy, noble branches which would have provided a much more dignified exit from this world. But in any case, it is obvious that this sort of gallows costs nothing. Perhaps the thin rope would have involved some minuscule expense, but I can hardly imagine that the poor man had bought it.
    And then, as if this wasn't bad enough, the book ended with a very contrived device to explain the plot to the confused reader. The main villain is holding out in a houseboat on one of the canals of London, holding a gun. Robin finds him there. He says that he will kill himself rather than go to prison. On the other hand, if the evidence against him is too weak to convict him, then he will shoot Robin and throw her body into the canal. And so, holding the gun to her head, we go on for pages and pages, reviewing the plot of the book, Robin and the villain tediously going through all of the details so that the reader can finally understand what it was all about. In the end Robin is saved by Strike bursting in and telling the disappointed villain that the gun wasn't even loaded.

Troubled Blood, by Robert Galbraith

     Despite my objections to the previous book, I have now read the next, fifth, book in the series. And again, I read on through the day and into the night. I'm a slow reader and it is a long book, I think the printed edition is almost 1000 pages. We are drawn on and on, from one episode to the next. The subject of the investigation is a horrible business: how women can be abused, mistreated, tortured by violent mafia gangs or psychopathic murderers. The plot was easier to follow than that of the last book despite there being again many different characters under investigation. Am I giving too much away by saying that the resolution of the puzzle was not what we had expected?
    It is pleasant to live in a book like this for a few days, but then at the end we imagine other ways we could have spent that time. While being an enjoyable book to read, now, after reading it, thinking about what might have been sufficiently interesting in the book to write about here, I can think of nothing.

The Wager, by David Grann

     The subtitle of the book is: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder. The relevant Wikipedia article is here. Years ago, when I was still getting books from the Folio Society, I read The Wreck of the Wager. It simply republished two books which had first appeared in the middle of the 18th century. The first was entitled A Voyage to the South Seas in the Years 1740-1, written by John Bulkeley and John Cummins. Bulkeley, the first and principal author, was the gunner on the Wager. He encouraged some of the shipwrecked men, and in particular the carpenter, Cummins, to enlarge one of the ship's boats to accommodate perhaps 60 or more of the survivors and return with them through the Straits of Magellan to Portuguese Brazil where they would be saved and returned to England. The Captain, David Cheap, had other ideas. He ordered everybody to somehow continue northwards, perhaps plundering some Spanish town, capturing a Spanish ship, and gloriously rejoining the fleet. Almost everybody recognized that this was madness, and so most followed Bulkely. Cheap and a few others remained behind.
    Was this sailing without the captain an act of mutiny? What if Cheap and the others who were left on the desolate island off the Pacific coast of Patagonia were to survive and return to England as well? The punishment for mutiny was death by hanging. And so this first book was written to explain their actions, to clear themselves of criminal charges. It is written in a simple, direct style, unlike the typical writings of those 18th century upper class authors, filled with flowery phrases.
    The second book of the Folio volume is The Narrative of The Honourable John Byron, which was published years later. Byron was a teenage midshipman on the Wager; his grandson was the famous poet, Lord Byron. He initially joined Bulkeley's venture, but then changed his mind and stayed with Captain Cheap. They and a few others were left with a small ship's boat with which they attempted to row northwards through the rough Southern Ocean. Some of the men were lost or abandoned and the remainder were reduced to returning to the desolate Wager Island. But then they were saved by a group of native people who gave them food and transported them in canoes to the Chilean island of Chiloé where they were imprisoned by the Spanish and lingered for years before being allowed to return to England at the end of the war. Of this group only four returned. The three officers: Cheap, Byron, and another midshipman, together with one seaman.
    Captain Cheap immediately accused those who had arrived years before of mutiny. But Cheap himself faced grave legal charges. He had shot one of the midshipmen through the head in cold blood, killing him. He was a murderer, and this charge was beyond dispute. He had sentenced a number of the starving men who had stolen some of the provisions to 600 lashes with the cat of nine tails. 200 on three successive days. Of course this killed them, an indescribably cruel act of murder. I have read somewhere that a captain in the British Navy in the 18th century was not allowed by himself to punish a seaman with more than 12 lashes, enough to leave the exposed back nothing but raw, bleeding flesh, cut to the bone. Only a general court martial, consisting of all the captains of the fleet, was entitled to sentence more lashes than this.
    These details were not described in the book of Bulkeley and Cummins, nor that of Byron. The present book gives us a broader picture of the whole horrible business. In the end a court martial was held on one of the great ships of war in Portsmouth Harbor, and the result was a general acquittal. Everyone was free. We are told that Bulkeley was offered the captaincy of a naval ship, which he declined, instead migrating with his family to the Pennsylvania colony, where he disappeared from history. Cheap, despite his murders, was given another ship to captain, And Byron rose to high office in the navy, becoming an admiral.
    All of this took place in connection with the War of Jenkin's Ear. A ridiculous name for a war which caused much suffering for little of consequence. Anson's fleet consisted of six ships, with about 1900 men. Many of those were forcefully kidnapped and confined on the ships before the voyage started. They included over 250 invalids who had been taken from the Chelsea Hospital, some of them brought aboard on stretchers. In fact the ship's cook on the Wager was 82 years old, and he managed to stay alive up to the passage through the Straits of Magellan with Bulkeley, where he finally died.
    The idea of the expedition was to round Cape Horn, plunder the Spanish Pacific coast, capture the Manila Galleon, and return home triumphantly. Only one ship returned and perhaps 400 people survived. Of the Wager, only a handful. All the rest died of scurvy, hunger, drowning, freezing, torture, murder, and all the rest. And yet Anson did succeed in capturing the Manila Galleon, thus securing him a place in the long and questionable history of needless English wars.

The Lock-Up, by John Banville

     The title of this book has nothing to do with hysterical people getting colds; lock-ups or -downs; social-distancing; masks; COVID; mRNA injections; adverse events, and all that. It appears that the idea of a "lock-up" in Ireland refers to a garage with a door which can be closed and locked where you can put your car. Two years ago I had a phase of reading lots of John Banville books. This one is a continuation of the Quirke series. It describes an adverse event.
    These Quirke stories take place in the Dublin of the 1950s and early 60s. In a lock-up, a young woman is found dead in a sports car with the windows taped up, a hose attached to the exhaust and led into the interior of the car, poisoning the woman. During the autopsy, Quirke finds small marks of injuries around the mouth, showing that it was murder, not suicide. She was Jewish. Rosa Jacobs.  Quirke's wife who accidentally died six months ago in a gunfight in Spain was also Jewish. He is still mourning her. And then Molly, the sister of the murdered woman, arrives from London. Quirke soon falls in love with her and she with him.
    But who was behind the murder? Suspicion falls on Graf von Kessler, a rich landowner, a German, a lover of horses with a magnificent Irish country estate,who suddenly turned up after the Second World War. Who is he really? What are his connections with the Catholic Church. Was his son in love with the murdered woman? Or was he in love with Rosa? Did she find out something she shouldn't have found out?
    And then we learn that Quirke's earlier colleague, Sinclair, the former lover of Quirke's daughter, has himself moved to Israel, and we learn that Herr Kessler is supplying Israel with material and equipment in its program to build atomic bombs. Lots of explosive stuff for a mystery novel. As always, John Banville's beautiful prose makes for enjoyable reading. In the end we are left with a number of loose threads and unresolved questions.
    But one thing which I found difficult to imagine was the idea that Quirke's new girlfriend, Molly, the sister of the murdered woman, could possibly be attracted to Quirke. After all, she is as young, or even younger than Quirke's own daughter. And then we are continually told about his drinking and smoking. He must be drinking a bottle or two of whiskey every day, together with two or three packs of cigarettes. Continuously hung over. Flabby. Imagine what his breath must be like! How can she possibly lie in bed next to such a man without being overcome with a feeling of revulsion?

Be Mine, by Richard Ford

     This is undoubtedly the last novel in Ford's Frank Bascombe series. Frank is now in his early 70s. He is becoming increasingly frail. Yet his remaining son Paul, who is in his 40s, has suddenly been diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative disease of the nerves and brain whose cause is unknown, usually leading quickly to death. And so Frank takes him to the MAYO clinic where he is examined but not treated. After a few weeks of examination, staying in a luxury house provided by an old friend of Frank's in the real estate business, he sets off with Paul on a road trip across America to look at the statues of the four great presidential heroes of the United States which have been carved into the rocks of Mount Rushmore on a monumental scale. Having neglected Paul and his other children all his life, this provides them both with an opportunity to be together and to experience the wonders of the American West. The dialog is full of cynical, self-centered, aggressive swearing, ignoring one another, all of this delivered in an atmosphere of calm detachment. Is this the way modern people cope with their destiny?
    When reading a book like this I often wonder if the author sees himself in the main character. The Wikipedia page of Richard Ford provides us with a photo of the author. He is 79 years old and he doesn't look at all like the weak, frail, egoist we encounter in Frank Bascombe. He looks like a pleasant man. But does the author share the political views which Frank Bascombe has told us about in the previous novels of the series?
    Although the book came out last year, the time of Frank and Paul's road trip was the early Spring of 2020. Frank does not seem to be at all hysterical about Trump. This was the time of Trump's "operation warp-speed" to get all those mRNA injections approved in no time at all with almost no testing. At the end of the novel we are told that Paul has gone to be with his sister, somewhere out west, leaving Frank to stew in all his unpleasantness back in Haddam, New Jersey. (Apparently this is supposed to be Princeton.) There Paul dies, but not of ALS, rather of COVID. This was in 2020, and therefore it couldn't have been an mRNA adverse event. Instead he was probably injected with Remdesivir which, given his weakened ALS condition, knocked him out, after which he would have been forcefully ventilated, killing him and thus guaranteeing the hospital tens of thousands of dollars more income than would otherwise have been the case. On the other hand some healthy people did survive the Remdesivir treatment, as was demonstrated by Trump.

Die Welt von Gestern, by Stefan Zweig

     The English title is "The World of Yesterday". I had thought that it would be concerned with the world of Vienna at the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries, telling us about what life was like. The elegance, the sophistication, music, arts, the scientific advances which were being made, all destroyed by the First World War. The first three chapters were indeed concerned with that lost world. But then things became more and more autobiographical: the war, the catastrophic 1920s and 30s, and ending as the author is trying to find peace in a quiet apartment in Bath in England in 1940. After finishing the book and writing further things, he finally committed suicide with his wife in Brazil in 1942, depressed with everything that was happening to that world of yesterday.
    Stefan Zweig was born in Vienna in 1881 into a well-to-do Jewish family. He tells us of the stability, the solidity of life in those days. People looked up to older, experienced people. Who could imagine the modern-day cult of youth? Young people were nothing, an embarrassment; what could be worse than being a middle-aged, yet youthful looking person, always looked down upon as being inexperienced, worth nothing. He tells us that a hundred years before this time the Jewish people were down-trodden, confined to their ghettos, but now - in the late 19th century - they have equal rights with everybody else. And so many, including his family, have become wealthy, establishing factories, contributing to the general improvement of life for everybody. He tells us about school, about having to learn various languages, but finding his school in Vienna, as with all schools of the time, to be dreadful. The real learning was with his school friends. They are a literary circle. Literature, poetry, music are everything. The newspapers are concerned with the music of Mahler, literature criticism. The feuilleton.
    When the author was a young man of 20 or so he published a book of poetry, obscurely he thought, but unexpectedly he received a letter from Max Reger, proposing to compose songs to four of the poems. Later he also collaborated with Richard Strauss. He sent some writings to the Neue Freie Presse, the premier newspaper of Vienna, and he immediately was invited to meet with the feuilleton editor, Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism. Stefan Zweig became close friends with Herzl and later published much in the newspaper. Herzl comes across as a very pleasant man. He had originally advocated the complete assimilation of the Jewish and Austrian people, but when covering the Dreyfus affair for the paper he changed his mind. He wrote a novel, Altneuland, (literally: Old-New-Land) which I downloaded and began reading. It is a very readable style of writing, a utopian book, much like News from Nowhere, William Morris' book which I read a few years ago. A vision of a future Palestine, a prospering center of the world where the different religions and peoples live together in perfect harmony. Unfortunately Herzl died soon after meeting Stefan Zweig, and from the Wikipedia article we see that neither he nor anybody else in his family lived to experience the reality of Israel.
    The author soon became a very popular author. He was the most translated author in the world. He tells us of his various trips around Europe and the world and of his friendships with many of the famous people of the early 1900s. He bought a house in the "village" of Saltzburg in 1917, in the middle of World War I. As he describes it, we imagine a small building, dilapidated, a leaking roof. But looking things up in the internet we find that it is in fact a small castle, the Paschinger Schlössl. In the chaos and poverty after the end of the war, the local orchestra organized an open-air concert in order to raise some money. This quickly grew into the Saltzburger Festspiele. and all of the great conductors and musicians of the time pilgrimed the hundred steps up the Kapuzinerberg to visit and become friends with Stefan Zweig.
    We are told about the catastrophe of the inflation, first in Austria, and then very much worse in Germany. And then of Hitler. How his books were publicly burned for no other reason than that he was Jewish. Yet many of the Nazi inner circle were avid readers of his books. He is overtaken with depression. It is a shame that he took his life. If he had lived on another 10 or 20 years, would he have been accepted back into the life of the post-war Vienna, and of Austria? Would he have found it to be a life worth living?

What You Are Looking For Is in the Library, by Michiko Aoyama

     A book written by a Japanese woman. This translation into English renders it into simple, almost childish prose. Does this reflect the style and feeling of the original Japanese? There are five chapters telling us the stories of five different characters, all of them everyday people with their everyday problems. They are unhappy in their jobs. There is no time for doing what they would really like to do. One is a man who has retired and found that life has become meaningless, empty. He has discovered that all of the people he had thought of as his friends were really just connected with his job, and they are no longer friends. A woman has a small child, taking up all her time. A man with a boring job would prefer to have a shop filled with antiques, knowing that it would be impossible to make a living that way. Each of these people happen to go to the local library where the librarian makes a list of books which they might read. And in each of the stories they are led to happy resolutions.
    It is a pleasure to read of ordinary people and their ordinary problems. A change from the usual stories of extraordinary people which fill most of these books.

Amok: Novellen einer Leidenschaft, by Stefan Zweig

     This is also a book of longish short stories, or novellas. There are seven such stories, the first being Amok, the title of the series. The characters in these stories are not ordinary; they are hysterical, they are running Amok.
    The title story is of a doctor in some Far Eastern colonial backwater, perhaps the Malaya of those days. Stationed somewhere out in the jungle, many miles from civilization. He tells us that he is going mad while enjoying the sensual pleasures of life in the steamy bush. Suddenly an arrogant Englishwoman turns up, her driver carefully staying by the car. She avoids saying what she needs, but it is clear: an abortion. The doctor avoids agreeing to the operation, perhaps even hinting of a different kind of reward other than the many thousands of pounds which are openly offered for his services. She drives off in huff. He tries to follow on his bicycle, becoming hysterical. Her husband has been away for many months so it is clear that the pregnancy is a scandal. He follows her to the capital city. Is it Singapore? Does he love her, or does he love the idea of her? She refuses to let him into her palatial house. He tries to send her messages, but then she has gone to a Chinese abortionist in a brothel, or opium den, somewhere in the seedier part of town. She is bleeding to death; he is summoned, but he can do nothing. The husband returns and then sets off in a ship back to England with the dead body, to be buried far away. The doctor is secretly on the ship as well. He must save the woman, or the memory of the woman, from defilement. And in a dramatic scene at the end of the story he falls into the sea together with the coffin, drowning, both of them lost forever.
    Another story is about a man taking his summer holiday on a Swiss Alp. The weather is hot and dry. There are distant thunderstorms, but they do not reach the valley of his hotel. Everything is dry. It is hot. Even the nights are hot. The man is becoming hysterical. It is so dry. When will it rain? Water, where is water? In his delirium he notices that a girl, or young woman, who is also a guest at the hotel with her parents, has the similar look of hot, dry delirium as himself. All of this culminates in an erotic encounter on the hotel bed which, being published over a hundred years ago, albeit in the German language in Austria, avoids titillating details, and which, suggestively, ends with a great downpour of rain and a startling awakening of the young woman. I don't know if this would be a story to satisfy the imaginations of all of those Global Warming enthusiasts, or even of Greta Thunberg, but it is a good thing that the hero of the story was not in Australia, where a good, long, hot drought is usual, and he would have had to wait months, if not years, for the explosive, watery resolution of his hysteria.
    And then there is the story Brief einer Unbekannten. The English translation is Letter from an Unknown Woman. A writer moves into an apartment in Vienna opposite that of a very ordinary family: the parents with a daughter of perhaps 12 or 13 years old. She observes the writer coming and going through the peephole of the door of the apartment. She secretly falls in love with him, or at least with the idea of him. She observes that various women accompany him into his rooms late at night. He seems to have a very active sexual life. We are reminded of Arthur Schnitzler. Did Stefan Zweig imagine himself in the character of this story? On the other hand he told us in Die Welt von Gestern that people in those days had great fears of contracting syphilis. The treatment consisted of massive and continuous dosages of mercury, whose consequences might have been even more horrible than the disease. Anyway, the family moves to Innsbruck and the girl pines after her secret love, the writer. She grows up, leaves home, and returns to the big city. There she hangs about the old apartment, becoming noticed, but not recognized by the writer as the girl of yesterday, and is taken into his bed sufficiently often to generate a pregnancy. She does not want to embarrass him; indeed, she recognizes that he would refuse to have anything to do with her, and he would accuse her of falsely claiming that the child was his. She has the baby in a sordid teaching hospital, barely surviving. The child, a son, is now 10 years old. A perfect child, as beautiful as his father. But he dies. And the mother is also dying. She has recently encountered the writer, in his bed, but again he has not recognized her. After all, how can he place her face among all the hundreds of faces of the women he has slept with over the past 10 years? She writes a letter to the writer, saying that he will receive it only if she has already died. She still loves him and is totally devoted to him.
    I finished reading this story late one evening and found it to be so dreadful that I couldn't get to sleep. What a sad, unpleasant vision of women this story tells us. Could it be that Stefan Zweig was such a misogynist? I hope not.

The Sea, by John Banville

     I started reading Dostoevsky's The Idiot, but gave up about a third of the way into it. The characters are so unpleasant. Everything is obsessed with money. I stopped reading soon after the scene where Nastasya throws a packet of bank notes wrapped in newspaper into the fireplace, expecting one or another of the other characters to grovel in the flames. The packet contains 100,000 rubles. In those days, the ruble was a silver coin, as was the American silver dollar, the English crown, the French franc, and so forth. All of these coins contained similar amounts of silver, and thus they were approximately equal in value. The internet inflation calculator for American money only goes back to 1913, the year the Federal Reserve System was created, initiating this modern phenomenon of inflation. We learn that the value of a dollar today has been reduced to only about 3% of its value in 1913. Thus we can think of Nastasya's packet as if it contained about three million of today's dollars. Perhaps those Russian, Ukrainian, and indeed American oligarchs of today would similarly enjoy throwing such a packet into the fire at a party in order to observe the spectacle of people burning their hands, producing a few laughs for the spectators. It might be that the book emerges from all of these unpleasant scenes somewhere in the remaining two thirds which I did not read. Perhaps Dostoevsky's prose in the Russian language gives the story a sense of meaning, especially in the character of Myshkin. But this translation into English which I downloaded from Gutenberg.org, while being clearly and simply formulated, lacks all character.
    And so, looking for something more stylish, I read The Sea, by John Banville. It won the Booker Prize in 2005. Despite that, it was an enjoyable, coherent read. And Banville's prose is so wonderfully stylish. It is a simple story. The narrator is an old man whose wife has died. It is Banville's Ireland. He remembers a summer holiday he had with his parents 50 or more years ago when he was a young teenager. He befriended a family which had rented a large house for the summer; his parents could only afford a tiny cottage. He secretly falls in love with the mother of the family, and then with the daughter. The transition happens as he is swimming "between two of the green-slimed concrete groynes that long ago had been thrown out into the sea in a vain attempt to halt the creeping erosion of the beach."
    What is a groyne? The Wikipedia can tell us. Without knowing what they are called, I have spent large parts of my life walking, or running, or even swimming between groynes. If you had asked me before reading this book what these things are called, I might have struggled to call them jetties, or perhaps breakwaters, or something. But what an image Banville's sentence gives us for the adolescent imagination. We think of groins. Green-slimed! and the fascinating Chloe.
    Groyne is not the only word I didn't know when reading this book. There were 20 or 30 words, or perhaps much more I had to look up. Many were not in the dictionary of this Kindle. Those that were were often obscurely associated with French or Latin words. Questions for those of us lacking a classical education.
    It was a wonderfully nostalgic book, especially for old people with memories of the sea, with a surprising, enigmatic ending.

Sankofa & The Spider King's Daughter, by Chibundu Onuzo

     The author is a Nigerian who moved to London at 14 for school and university. Her first book, The Spider King's Daughter was published when she was only 21. But I read her latest book, Sankofa, first.

    The narrator of Sankofa is Anna, a mixed-race woman of perhaps 45 years old who has lived all her life in London. Her mother was a woman of Welsh descent, very white, and her father was a West African, very black. But she has never met her father, in fact she knows practically nothing at all about him. Her mother has died about six months ago, and now Anna is going through her things, finding a dusty trunk in the attic. It contains a notebook, or diary, which was written by her father, Frances Aggrey, during the 1960s when he was a student in London. He is a native of "Bamana" in West Africa. Don't try to look up such a land in Google Maps. A reviewer at amazon.com tells us that he/she is familiar with the various geographic details of those regions, and that the imaginary Bamana is, in fact, modeled on Ghana, a country which does exist. In the diary Anna is told about the racism of the English in the 1960s. He is a quiet young man, but he is befriended by other African students who meet and speak about independence, communism. He writes about how he meets the sister of Anna's mother, and then he falls in love with her mother. He must quickly return to Bamana; was it that someone in his family had died? He promises to write, but there the diary ends.
    Gradually Anna learns more and more about her father. How he had fought in the jungle for the independence of his country, how he became a politician and was the President of Bamana for many years. He had assumed a different name, the two middle names of his full name, and he is now a famous and respected elder figure in Africa. She travels to Bamana, accompanied by a professor from Edinburgh, a Scott who was also involved as a student in those communist circles back then in London, and who maintains contact with his old friend, the President. They travel to one of the palaces, or presidential villas, and after passing numbers of guards they have a pleasant lunch on the veranda with the great man, looking out on the peaceful garden. He asks Anna what she is doing in Bamana, and after she tells him he immediately stands up, practically shouting for them to get out. He is insulted that his friend has brought this imposter with such an invented story. But a week later she is summoned from the hotel and ushered into another palace where he tells her that he accepts that she is his daughter. He has read the diary, and he has had the glass she had been drinking from tested for DNA, proving his paternity.
    She would like to return to London, to her daughter and her more or less separated husband, on the flight she had booked. But there is a problem at the airport. She is suddenly thrown into prison. It has become a nightmare.  And then she is let out. It was a terrible misunderstanding. But it wasn't. Her father did not want his daughter to simply go away, as if Bamana, her homeland, was nothing.
    Is she trapped? Her father takes her on a road trip around the country, showing her what he has done, what his country has become. The people worship him, although he has sometimes exercised cruelty. Some call him the Crocodile. After all, how could a president otherwise stay in power for 30 years in a country whose borders were fixed by ignorant European colonial powers, cutting across the boundaries of ancient empires.
    The book ends with dream-like scenes, Anna understanding and accepting her father and her role as his daughter in Bamana along with his other children, each of whom travel the world in various roles. And so she returns to London, a different person and an important citizen of Bamana.
    It was a very enjoyable book to read, but I'm afraid the basis of the story is sadly implausible. We think of similar African visionaries: Patrice Lumumba, or Muammar Gaddafi. Here is a list of African leaders who were assassinated. It is a long list, and many were the victims of the CIA or the similar secret agencies of the French and the British. The President and father of the story does well to be surrounded by armed guards and fortress-like residences. But the influence of the U.S. and the European powers seems to be decreasing rapidly in the world, so we can hope that the countries of Africa and the other areas which have been dominated by these powers will begin to develop a true independence in the future.

    The Spider King's Daughter is a less pleasant book to read. It has to do with the "rich kids" of Lagos. Abike Johnson is 17, she lives in a huge mansion and is driven to and from school in a chauffeured SUV. When the car stops at traffic lights, or slows down in traffic, "hawkers" approach, knocking on the windows, wanting to sell various forms of junk. Abike is fascinated with one of these hawkers, whose street name is "Runner G". He speaks with a refined British accent, just as she does, although he speaks the language of the street with the other hawkers. She wants to have him. He is invited into the mansion of her family, past the countless guards, into the expansive property. It turns out that he was also a rich kid, but his father died in a traffic accident, leaving the family with debts, throwing them into poverty. What does all this have to do with Abike's evil, corrupt father? Things end in a cathartic explosion.

The Untouchable, by John Banville

     This one is about the English spy, Anthony Blunt, and more generally the Cambridge spy ring, of which he was a member. They were together in the 1930s, in the inner sanctums: the Apostles, and all that. The book cannot really be considered to be an historical novel about Blunt since some of the attributes of the narrator, Victor Maskell do not match that of the spy. For example Maskell marries and has two children before discovering his homosexuality. The real Blunt went straight in, presumably experiencing the furtive, random excitement of public toilets, reeking of urine, and the casual, quick sexual gratification which I can hardly imagine but which fills large parts of the present book. Looking at the photo of Blunt in the Wikipedia, he looks weak, slope-shouldered, with a face which has been dragged down by the gravity of his life. Although his role as double-agent, spying for the Soviet Union, was discovered certainly in 1963, but perhaps already 10 years before, shortly after the defection of Burgess and Maclean in 1951, he was never prosecuted, and his past was only made public by Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Such are the advantages of being an insider, a member of the "Deep State", confidant of the Queen and lover of high placed and established homosexuals.
    On the other hand, as with the real Blunt, Maskell began studying mathematics at Cambridge but found it to be too difficult, changing his studies to the History of Art. Well, I am sure that I would also have failed the traditional English tripos regimen; I hate exams. But what a contrast. The book is filled with waffling about art, undoubtedly true to the character of Anthony Blunt. In particular about the French renaissance painter Nicolas Poussin. The real Anthony Blunt actually wrote numbers of books on the subject of Poussin. I suspect that the author, John Banville, is himself a Francophile, and the existence of Poussin, while having a name which allows numbers of suggestive word-plays which the author playfully enjoys, also proves that there did exist a school of renaissance painting in France.
    The characters in the book are continuously drunk, hungover, lungs filled with tobacco fumes. What tedious people they must have been. And Banville's elegant prose and humor only occasionally lighten the narrative. In one scene in the book, the Blunt character is conversing with his secret Soviet contact, casually naming a British spy embedded high in the hierarchy of the politburo. He is told about the consequences of this revelation. The spy will be arrested and slowly tortured to death. Does he have misgivings about this? But the Blunt character, ever the egoist in his pampered life, says it is the fate which a spy can expect and deserve.
    I briefly tried to associate the fictional characters of the novel with the real-life members of the Cambridge spy ring. According to the Wikipedia, even such people as Baron Rothschild may have been in it, and in the book one of Maskell's close friends is Leo Rothenstein, an immensely rich Jewish character. In the book he lends Maskell £100 in order to buy the imaginary painting "Death of Seneca" by Poussin. In real life the real Nathaniel Rothschild lent Blunt £100 in order to buy the real painting Eliezer and Rebecca, a copy after Poussin, which Blunt kept for the rest of his life. It is said to be worth £100,000, which, according to the inflation calculator, would exceed by ten times the amount Rothschild gave him in the 1930s. The original painting by Poussin is in the Louvre, and is therefore, of course, priceless.
    While all of this comes across as being unpleasantly sleazy, I imagine that the present day people in the CIA, MI6, and all of those other ugly agencies are even incomparably more cruel and sleazy than this.

Marlowe, by John Banville

     John Banville clearly had lots of fun writing this one. It is a Philip Marlowe story written in the style of Raymond Chandler. A tough "private dick" in the L.A. of the 1950s. It is wonderful how he can change his style from one book to the next. What could be a greater contrast between this one and The Untouchable, which I just read before? It is more convincing than William Boyd's Solo, which was a James Bond novel, meant to be written in the style of Ian Fleming.
    But Banville does depart in various ways from the original. Chandler's slang of the 1940s includes various derogatory words which refer to women, such as "broad", "babe", "looker", and so forth. In the age of "MeToo", the modern author would use such words only at his own peril. On the other hand, Banville describes Marlowe climbing into bed, and indeed having sex with his female client, something which Chandler certainly avoided at his peril back then. But of course both then and now it has been acceptable to describe horrible acts of violence, even torture, in a cynical, matter of fact way.
    I suppose the actual plot of the novel is secondary to the atmosphere. But as with some of his Quirke books, Banville leaves a few threads of the plot unresolved to the imagination of the reader.

The Blue Guitar, by John Banville

     This one is about adultery, hardly a shocking subject in the modern world. Many people say that adultery is normal; that it is abnormal to remain faithfully together in a marriage, particularly when the married couple are continually in conflict, no longer having loving feelings for one another, even replaced by feelings of hate. If the married couple has children then there is more to the marriage than just the two spouses. Adultery, divorce has serious consequences.
    In the present story we have two childless, middle aged married couples. Everything is related from the point of view of Oliver, one of the husbands. He is a painter who has achieved a sufficient success that somebody has actually written a monograph on his work. But now the muse has left him. He no longer paints. Life has become meaningless. His best friend is Marcus, who repairs wristwatches, peering at them through magnifying glasses using tiny watchmakers tools. Marcus' wife is Polly who has secretly longed for the heroic, artistic Oliver to replace her boring husband. We read little about Oliver's wife Gloria until the end of the story, where she makes her dramatic revelation. At the beginning, and through the story, both couples are childless.
    All of this is the perfect setting for Banville's elegant, witty prose. Oliver is at first reluctant to give in to Polly's urgent advances. And when he does he is overcome with guilt. Marcus visits him in his disused artist's studio, telling Oliver, his best friend, that he suspects that Polly has become unfaithful. What can he do? Who can it be? They drown his sorrow and Oliver's secret guilt in a bottle of whiskey and further alcohol at the local pub. The story continues to the end with more characters and twists of the plot, giving an enjoyable read and many more opportunities for the author to confuse us with obscure Latin words.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

     A change of pace. No obscure Latin or French; not one unfamiliar word in the whole book, just simple Anglo-Saxon language of the American variety. The book was mentioned in one of the blogs of "Simplicius", an anonymous internet entity whose writings I often enjoy clicking into and reading. He (I assume that it is a he) was writing about the degeneration of modern writing, citing the author of this book as someone who has had the courage to risk offending her readers.
    The story of the book involves a married couple, Amy and Nick. Amy's parents are rich, having written a series of books in the series "Amazing Amy". They describe a wonderful character, Amy, who is a child in the first few novels of the sequence, and who gradually grows up, novel for novel. These books are in all the school libraries of the United States, and many people follow them, being amazed at everything Amy does. Therefore the real-life Amy lives a kind of distorted life, living up to all these amazing things. Is she so amazing?
    Nick is also pretty amazing, given the difficulty of being married to such an amazing woman. He loves her completely. But then Adversity strikes. The latest novel in the Amazing Amy sequence is a flop. Her parents have made some bad investments so that they are now bankrupt. They borrow much of what remains of Amy's trust fund, leaving her with just a few tens of thousands of dollars. Nick and Amy can no longer afford to live their lives in New York, the sophisticated Big Apple, the Big Smoke where Amy has been admired by all the Beautiful People. Instead they move to Nick's old home town in the middle of fly-over country, on the Mississippi in Missouri. Nick and his sister borrow the remaining money of Amy's trust fund in order to open a bar in the run-down town. The name of the bar is The Bar. It seems to be doing well. All those Midwestern hicks come in to drink their beers and have a loud, wild time while Amy sits alone in the old family home, thinking bad things about Nick and everything else. Since Nick was a writer in New York, fired, since nobody wants to read all the rubbish in the legacy media any more, he has been given a part-time job at the local community college, giving lectures on how to write. One of his students is a young woman who throws herself into his welcoming arms.
    And so one day Nick returns home in the middle of his fulfilled life to find the house apparently ransacked, blood on the floor, and Amy missing. Has she been kidnapped? Has she been murdered? Where is she? Her devastated parents fly in to the fly-over local airport to join Nick. The police are everywhere. Is Nick a suspect? The story is front page news in the legacy newspapers and it is the subject of emotionally charged woke and not so woke talk shows on American network television. The story takes us through twists and turns of the plot. I read on and on, hardly putting it down, wanting to know how things turn out. But the final twist of the story seems to me to be extremely implausible.
    During his youth, Nick had loved his mother and hated his father, who hated all women, loudly shouting obscenities at them. During the drama of the story, Nick's father is a demented, embittered old man. I imagine that after the final twist of the plot Nick now understands his father, and perhaps he will similarly turn into a bitter hater of woman.

The Infinities, by John Banville

     On the surface it is a simple story. A famous elderly person, Adam Godley, is lying in bed, paralyzed with a stroke, dying. It is a country house. His son, Adam Jr., comes, together with wife Helen. There is the elderly wife of the patriarch, Ursula, who drowns her sorrows, even those she had when Adam was still coherent, in drink. The daughter, Petra, is somewhat insane. She enjoys cutting her arms with a razor. And then a young dandy arrives who wishes to write a biography of the great Godley, together with another strange character who was apparently some sort of a colleague in earlier times. These people interact with one another in predictable, shallow ways. It is certainly not a book which encourages the reader to read onward from page to page, eager to find out what happens next. I wondered why I continued to read on to the end.
    The deeper story - only vaguely hinted at in a very few passages - was that Adam Godley was a physicist, making some sort of breakthrough in the world of knowledge. To be frank I seem to have missed some of these passing snippets, only realizing what they were when reading the Guardian review of the book which I have linked to above. Owing to the fact that modern physics is formulated in terms of differential equations on manifolds which do not have closed solutions, physicists say that the solutions have "infinities". They were dealt with 70 or 80 years ago using "renormalization" theory. Similarly, in those days something called the "many worlds" theory was proposed. A misunderstanding of the role of probability in physics. This seems to be a favorite with authors of literary books who would like to spice them up with seemingly esoterical words and ideas from the world of science. Thus Adam Godley imagines that at each instant, the Universe splits apart into an infinity of possible alternative worlds.
    The world of this book has split apart from our real world in various ways. Cold fusion, that dream which seems to have been thoroughly debunked, exists in this world. Cars simply fill up with seawater and drive about in the direction of infinity for nothing. Sweden is war-like rather than pacifist and neutral (in fact, to the dismay of many, at the time I write this, in our real, existing world, Sweden has recently decided to discard its tradition and instead go on the warpath, joining NATO). In this alternative universe the theory of the evolution of species, and also the theory of relativity are false. I missed these points when reading the book, otherwise I would have stopped before going on to the end. And so we can thank the sharp-eyed Guardian reviewer for bringing these things to our attention.
    The story is partially told through the narration of Hermes, the ancient Greek god. He is accompanied by his father, Zeus who, we are told, as with all the gods is unable to interact directly with humanity, yet still he lusts after the beautiful Helen, Adam Jr.'s wife, giving her erotic dreams and motivating the dandified biographer to kiss Helen while sitting on a bench in the woods, after which, Helen administers a severe slap to the biographer's face, leading him to leave this whole deathbed scene in a huff.
    All of these elements give Banville the opportunity to fill his pages with elegant and obscure literary prose, but for me he was taking it all a bit too far in this book.

Breasts and Eggs, by Mieko Kawakami

     When reading this book I had the feeling of intruding on something which was not meant for me; could my intrusion cause offense? But still, the world remains sufficiently free for me to be able to download the book and to read it, and write whatever flippant thoughts might pass through my mind at this moment. There are hardly any men in this book. Just a few violent abusers of women as well as some further unpleasant male characters. Otherwise it is about women struggling against the difficulties of life and of the world; even the children and babies in the story are girls. No boys.
    The protagonist is Natsuko, who is living in Tokyo. She tells us about her difficult, impoverished childhood. The father did nothing except to lie about in their tiny, squalid apartment, drunk, abusing her mother. The mother with children secretly escape to some other suburb of Osaka where she works nights at a bar, entertaining the rude, primitive male clientele. Natsuko and her sister help earning a few pennies by washing the dishes. But all of that is in the distant past. Both the mother and the grandmother have long since passed away.
    The book consists of two parts. In the first, shorter part, Natsuko is perhaps 30 years old. She is making a modest living as a writer of short pieces for newspapers and magazines. She is working on a novel, but is making no progress on it. Her sister, who continues the tradition of working as a barmaid in Osaka, comes to visit Natsuko, together with her daughter. The sister is in her late 30s. She is obsessed with the idea of having breast enlargement surgery. The purpose of the visit to Tokyo is to either have it done, or at least to visit some clinics where it could be done. The daughter, who is just entering puberty, finds the idea disgusting. She also finds the idea that she must soon start having periods every month, ovulating, producing blood and eggs, to be equally disgusting. And so we have long meditations on all the different methods of breast enlargement and, as far as the daughter is concerned, the properties of human eggs; the fact that mammalian eggs, in comparison to birds eggs, are so tiny that they cannot be easily found. She tells us about various ways of looking for them with a magnifying glass or a microscope. All of this gory detail is certainly something that I had not encountered before in a novel. An embarrassment. Hardly a pleasant subject. More a subject for a medical treatise.
    Well, O.K. But why do some women want to have their breasts enlarged? The idea seems to me to be horrible and disgusting. Can they really believe that by doing so they become more attractive? Am I alone in finding the idea repulsive? Fashion models, who are considered to be the ideal of attractiveness, are thin, with small breasts. Women athletes, active, fit, healthy people, generally have small breasts, just as they have no excess fat in the rest of their bodies. And active, healthy men also have little fat, unlike, for example the "man boobs" exhibited by such a person as William Henry "Bill" Gates III.
    Part One ends with the sister and the daughter screaming at each other in an hysterical fit, smashing all the considerable number of (hen, not human) eggs from Natsuko's refrigerator on each others heads, after which, the next morning, they depart on the train back to Osaka. It is unclear whether the sister has, in fact, had her breasts enlarged or not. We hope not. And so begins Part Two.
    It is now 7 or 8 years later. Natsuko is herself in her late 30s. She has published a novel with moderate success. She had had a boyfriend many years ago, perhaps back in Osaka, but she had found the sexual act to be so unpleasant as to exclude it, as well as the boyfriend, from her further life. She wonders how she will be able to live on into the future, alone. A fellow novelist - of course without husband or (male) partner - has a baby girl, and Natsuko thinks it is wonderful to hold it, to play with it, smell its intoxicating aroma. She wants a baby of her own. How can she get one?
    We learn that in Japan, donor sperm is not officially allowed for single women. Natsuko becomes obsessed with the idea of artificial insemination. There are online things you can click into; send them some money and they send you an anonymous packet of human sperm. There are men who advertise themselves in the internet, offering to impregnate you either using artificial insemination or else the natural method. Natsuko has a rendezvous in a café and it turns out to be a little fat man with a large hairy mole on his face. He tells her at length about the properties of his semen; how it has been tested, how vigorous it is, and he tells her about how wonderful his penis is. He seems to be grasping under the table to show it to her. She has been paralyzed with horror and fear throughout the meeting, but now she jumps up and flees, distracted, only stopping when she is far away. 
    And then there are people who are the products of anonymous sperm donors. They grow up believing somebody else was their father and are shocked and devastated to learn that it was all a lie. They spend the rest of their lives endlessly and hopelessly seeking their true fathers. In Japan all records of donors are destroyed. As I understand it, in Germany, according to recent law, such children have the right to learn their true parentage. Male donors, perhaps medical students who had long ago donated sperm, must live in the fear that apparent strangers will start coming out of the woodwork, demanding hundreds of thousands of euros for failing to pay maintenance costs of their lost childhoods. Will the often arbitrary, politically correct German legal system support such claims? As a result, donors are drying up and childless couples are perhaps turning to the internet, or to the chaos of Eastern Europe.
    Natsuko meets and has long, intimate talks with Aizawa, a man who has been the result of such a donation and whose life is devoted to trying to find his biological father. Aizawa seems to be overcoming his obsession, falling in love with Natsuko. He writes many messages to her which she ignores. But then they do come  - chastely - together for a day in Natsuko's old hometown of Osaka. And he asks her if she will bear his child.
    The story skips a year or two and Natsuko tells us how horrible the birth was, yet she loves her baby girl. Aizawa is, of course, out of the picture. He is off somewhere else looking after his sick mother with presumably no visiting rights, and Natsuko is thankful that she has nothing more to do with him. (As far as I know, this would not be possible in German law.) But at least in the future her little girl will be able to learn who her biological father was. What an unpleasant, hopeless vision of life this is, and what an egotistical, self-centered woman.

Quicksand, by Junichiro Tanizaki

     This is certainly a contrast with the previous book. Here we have wild passions, not the cold selfishness of the more modern story. Things are narrated from the point of view of Sonoko, a young married woman. She becomes infatuated with Mitsuko, another young woman who along with Sonoko is studying art, the practice of painting. Here in Tanizaki's novel everything takes place in comfortable, established society. Sonoko's family is wealthy, as is that of Mitsuko. Sonoko's husband is a lawyer, but he has hardly any clients. It is more of a hobby to give him something to do while being supported by his wife's family. And so she takes great liberties with him. Mitsuko spends the days in Sonoko's bedroom being painted in the nude and loved by Sonoko.
    But then suddenly we learn that Mitsuko has a completely different life when she is not in Sonoko's bedroom. She has a male lover who she meets regularly in various public houses. He is desperate to marry Mitsuko, but he is infertile, a condition which would seem to exclude marriage in Japanese society. It is said that this was caused by having had mumps when he was a child. Indeed, looking it up, I see that mumps can indeed lead to infertility. In fact I've read that something like one in seven married couples are infertile for one reason or another So the problems dealt with in the previous book are very real for a great many people.
    Both Sonoko and this other man are passionately in love with Mitsuko who enjoys the game of having these two lovers, and to spice things up she falls in love with Sonoko's husband as well, leading to tragedy.

Climate of the Past Present and Future, by Javier Vinós

     A previous book about the climate of the past which I read a couple of years ago imagined that the entire history of the Earth be compared to a single day. Then each hour of our imagined Earth day would be a bit less than 200 million years. There are hardly any rocks to be looked at by geologists which are older than 600 million years. Multi-cellular life started not much before that so that the direct evidence of past climate, which can be obtained by studying fossils and the properties of rocks, peters out beyond that time. That is to say, in our Earth's day, we only have direct evidence of past climate for the three hours from about 9 p.m. to midnight. A million years lasts just about 18 seconds in this Earth's day. It is only in the last 3 million years or so that the Earth has become so cold as to be in the present ice-age epoch. That is to say, the present, very unusual state of climate, where the world is generally half frozen with water locked in massive ice shields, has only lasted for about the last minute before midnight in this Earth's day, only relieved by fleeting warm events lasting a fraction of a second, a blinking of the eye. We are in the middle of such a blink, an inter-glacial period, which is - on human time scales - gradually coming to an end. Nevertheless, the present book is exclusively devoted to the problems of describing and understanding the climate situation which the Earth happens to be in during this very unusual and non-typical last minute of the long Earth's day.
    For most of the last 600 million years - perhaps 70% or more of that time - the Earth's climate was much more stable and warm than it is now. The temperature at the equator was only a degree or two on average greater than the situation today; the temperate zones around the latitudes of Europe or North America which now have cold, freezing winters, had continuous, balmy summer weather all year round; the poles, while having six months of night and six months of day, nevertheless were no colder than this cold, rainy, unpleasant April day which I am experiencing at the moment. Since the temperature gradients were much less, there were fewer storms. The Earth was full of teeming life. It seems that the reason the climate was so much better in those past times was that the ocean waters could circulate freely from the tropics to the poles, efficiently distributing the warmth of the sun. The problem with today's climate is that the South Pole has a continent sitting on it covered with ice, blocking the ocean water from transporting warmth to the south. Instead the currents in the southern ocean go uselessly around Antarctica, remaining cold. The North Pole has the Arctic Ocean, but it is stuck there, blocked by the shallow Bering Strait which during most of the present ice-age epoch is a land bridge. It is connected to the Atlantic Ocean in the passage between Greenland and Norway, but that is the only connection, allowing little circulation, so that the cold stagnates in the Arctic.
    The Earth is dangerously cold. There is a positive feedback: the colder it gets, the more ice there is, which being white reflects more light and warmth out into space, making things still colder. Thankfully, very gradually, over hundreds of millions, billions of years, the Sun is getting hotter. Eventually it will expand, enveloping and consuming the Earth before its final explosion as a nova. But it is now sufficiently hot that even with the continents arranged as badly as they are, there's still enough heat for the Earth to escape a descent into a "Snowball Earth" scenario where almost all life, and certainly all human life would perish. And thankfully, as Vinós shows, the average temperature seems to have leveled off about 600 thousand years ago, not descending further.
    The Earth orbits the Sun in a nearly circular ellipse and the axis of rotation of the Earth is tilted about 23° to the plane of the ellipse. So the Earth is like a giant gyroscope, perturbed by the gravity of the other planets and of course the Sun and the Moon. The ellipse wobbles about, becoming more or less circular, and its axis rotates slowly around the Sun. The gyroscopic Earth experiences precession with a period of about 23 thousand years as well as nutation, a kind of nodding up and down. This is dealt with when working out the Milankovitch cycles. When all of these things occasionally happen to line up in a favorable position then it is just enough to allow the Earth to briefly break out of the ice into an inter-glacial phase. People have thought that things like the average energy from the Sun reaching the Earth at the latitude 65° north during the northern summer having an unusual peak may be the mechanism allowing the start of an inter-glacial period. But Vinós shows convincingly that the true mechanism is the variation of the Earth's obliquity, or axial tilt. It varies between about 22° and 24.5°, cycling back and forth with a period of about 41 thousand years. The greater obliquity allows the Earth to melt its ice. At the present time the obliquity is 23.44° and it is decreasing. A million years ago every phase of high obliquity produced an inter-glacial period, but now, with the Earth still colder, only about half of these obliquity maxima are sufficient to melt the ice.
    Vinós devotes also a chapter or two to the Dansgaard-Oeschger events and also the Heinrich events, and so on, showing that they are probably not caused by some catastrophic collapse of the Atlantic currents. Rather they occur when the sea level is between 30 and 100 meters below today's level and warm water gradually builds up under the extensive ice sheets floating on the North Atlantic. Then during extreme tides the warm water might break through, causing the temperature to suddenly warm the atmosphere a number of degrees in just a few years. Thus they are irrelevant to the climate of today. As the book progresses it deals with shorter and shorter time frames, getting down to the end of the Little Ice Age 150 years ago and even the cooling between the 1930s and the 1970s, with subsequent warming and all the the human hysteria about all of this.
    The book is long and often difficult to read, with very many charts and diagrams from the published literature; every third or fourth sentence of the text seems to reference one or another academic paper and its authors, with extensive discussion of the assertions and results. It is a shame that no politician or personality in the legacy media has the time or interest to devote to studying this book. On the contrary, their interests rest on an ignorance of the facts. They are all invested in the money and corruption of the CO2 narrative. And so we lurch from one unnecessary crisis to the next.
    Years ago I read a book about the ice ages by the controversial astronomer and cosmologist Fred Hoyle. His theory was that they were caused by the impact of large comets into the ocean, releasing huge amounts of initially cold water into the atmosphere which then fell as snow, leading to a runaway cooling caused by the positive feedback mentioned above. That theory is hardly compatible with the facts presented in this book. Still, Hoyle's suggestion was to power the Earth by means of the endless renewable energy which could be obtained by pumping the deep cold water of the tropical oceans to the surface and using the perhaps 25° difference in temperature to the surface waters to power some sort of heat engine. Of course with such a low temperature difference the efficiency would be low. Still, the net effect would be to warm the deep oceans and thus, following his theory, prevent future catastrophic glaciation events. But it would take an immeasurable amount of time, even if all the electrical power of humanity were to be thus produced, to warm the oceans just a little bit. And even if it might contribute somewhat to the warming of the polar zones it would hardly be enough, and fast enough, to prevent the onset of the next glacial cycle.

Eclipse, by John Banville

     The story centers on Alexander Cleave, a famous Shakespearean actor (do they still exist?) who has toured the world to great acclaim, but who, during a performance, had suddenly frozen up, speechless and impassive. He had not forgotten his lines. Instead the world had become unreal. What was he doing here standing in this strange world in front of all these people?
    We first encounter him some time later. He has given up acting. He has left the family home, presumably in London, and has returned to his childhood home which we later deduce must be in Cornwall, or at least South Devon. Near the sea. He still owns the old house; wealth is the least of his problems. He seeks solitude, time to write, bent over a table in a small room high up in the house. We have the feeling that the story we are reading is the product of these solitary hours. It is a rambling story, following tangents, thoughts, scenes from his childhood. We read about the constant conflicts he has had - and is still having - with his wife Lydia. Is he escaping from her? And then we read about his daughter Cass who has the kind of schizophrenia in which she hears loud, aggressive voices saying terrible things to her. They seem to be in the real world, but they are not. Is this so different from the world Alexander himself is in?
    In all the years that Alexander has had the old house, it has been looked after by a lawyer as a kind of caretaker whose name, strangely enough, is Quirke. But this Quirke's attributes are very different from those of the Quirke in all those detective stories which Banville has written. Is Quirke such a common name in Ireland? And if so why has this Quirke suddenly become a rather disreputable lawyer in Cornwall? Anyway, Alexander soon discovers that Quirke has been surreptitiously living in his house for years as a kind of squatter, together with his teenage, barefoot, daughter Lily. Gradually he accepts the arrangement, with young Lily becoming a sort of slovenly maid. And so the narration continues from one idea to the next. Thoughts about life; about Quirke and Lily; his wife Lydia; how he was close to his daughter, the sensitive Cass who was always reading. It seemed that he and Cass were together and opposed to Lydia. But Cass is away somewhere and Alexander awaits news of her return.
    All of these meditations are disrupted by the appearance of Lydia, demanding to know what is going on. Rather than returning to the house back in London, she stays on for a few days. There are arguments, fights. What is this girl Lily who is living in the house? A circus arrives in town and Lily wishes that Alexander will take her to it. He wanders out of the house with Lily, not immediately going to the circus, and while outside they experience a total eclipse of the sun. But the weather is cloudy so that the spectacle is obscured. The book was first published in the year 2000, just after the eclipse of 1999 which must have motivated Banville to include it in the story and which localizes Alexander's childhood home to the southwest of England.
    Suddenly we learn that Cass has died in Italy. Alexander and Lydia visit the scene of her death near an ancient church, the priest saying that she fell off the high cliff into the sea. Did she jump to escape the voices in her head? Was she pushed? The book ends on the flight back to England with the disfigured body of their daughter in a coffin in the hold of the plane.
    Only after finishing the book did I realize that it is the first novel of a connected trilogy of books. I am now in the middle of reading the second book, enjoying Banville's wonderful prose, following Cass in her encounters with a strange, perhaps dangerous, old man in Turin.

Shroud, by John Banville

     The second novel in Banville's Cleave trilogy. The hero, or at least protagonist, is Axel Vander, a very unpleasant man, philosopher of literature, whatever that might be. He is rude to everybody. Somehow he has dark secrets which if exposed would ruin him. He emerged in New York from somewhere in Europe just after the Second World War, writing brilliant essays within his obscure field of academic endeavor, insulting the meek figures in one American liberal arts university after the other, eventually ending up as a famous professor in the fictitious Arcady, California. He now lives as a recluse in retirement, having gotten rid of his wife of many years, She had become demented and he fed her a load of sleeping pills which her addled brain was unable to distinguish from candies. He consumes massive amounts of alcohol and smoke, an aged wreck despite the fact that we calculate his age to be not much more than 70 at the time of the story, around the year 1990.
    Suddenly he receives a message from somebody in Antwerp in Belgium, a woman, who claims to have discovered his hidden secret. What should he do? Perhaps dispatch himself with the rest of the sleeping pills?
    Eventually he decides to travel to Turin where that famous shroud is. He can kill two birds with one stone. The woman can come to meet him there and also he will attend a conference where the professors have for years been wishing that the famous Axel Vander might illuminate the halls of their ancient University with his presence. He stays in a suite at the best hotel in the city while the woman spends the last of her pennies on the expensive train ride all the way from Antwerp to Turin. He is surprised to find that she is young, tentative, attractive. It is Casandra, or Cass Cleave, the daughter of the actor Alex Cleave who we met in the last book. She died by throwing herself from the balcony of an Italian church over a cliff into the sea, killing herself and her unborn child. So the present story takes us a step back in time, and we wonder what the evil Axel Vander had to do with the tragic death of the poor suffering Cass. But for now Axel arranges for Cass to take a room in the hotel which he will pay for. They go to the room and she almost immediately throws off her clothes, lies on the bed, and the ancient Axel, with his trembling, flabby limbs and unpleasant breath, climbs on top of her with a sufficient degree of virility to complete the act... Somehow it seemed to me that Banville's artistic license exceeded the bounds of rationality at this point. But anyway, the story continues with Cass telling Axel how much she loves him, and we emerge into Part 2, where Axel tells Cass and us about his great secret.
    We had suspected that this would turn into a Holocaust story, but it departs from the usual norms of the genre. Was Axel a Death Camp Kommandant? an SS killer in his earlier life, parachuted into modern society by the Catholic Church or perhaps by the CIA or something? No. As we saw in Banville's most recent book The Lock-up, the accepted narrative for Holocaust stories is that those death camp commanders cultivated a refined, superior, exact politeness, the antithesis of Axel Vander.
    In fact we learn that Axel Vander, or at least the person who is referred to as Axel Vander, was the Jewish victim of the story. This person, whose Jewish name we do not learn, was living as a schoolboy in Antwerp in the 1930s. His best friend was the real Axel Vander who, presumably, was not Jewish. Caught up in the excitement of the times, and with the ambition of becoming a newspaper reporter, the real Axel wrote and had published in one of the more extreme organs of the Antwerp press of those days, some articles criticizing Jewish people. And the person who was not Axel, the hero of our book, allowed himself to be interviewed by the real Axel, the text and accompanying photos of the two youths appearing in the paper.
    Time passes, the Nazis have occupied Antwerp, our hero and his family and all the other Jewish people live in fear of a knock on the door in the middle of the night. He somehow learns that his friend, the real Axel Vander, has died somewhere. Was he a soldier? Was he in the Resistance? One day, a mysterious message appears under the door of the family apartment. Our hero is instructed to take the train to Brussels tomorrow, sitting in a specific compartment, and then upon arrival to immediately take the return train to Antwerp. He does this, arriving back at night to find the ghetto crawling with Gestapo and SS people. Withdrawing unseen, he spends the sleepless winter night on a bench somewhere, returning in the morning to find the streets deserted. He knocks on the apartment door and it is opened by a man taking stock of the situation. Gestapo? Our hero is asked his name, and on the spur of the moment he says it is Axel Vander. The mysterious agent does not send him off to join the rest of his family in "The East". Rather he is passed on to the Resistance, making his way from station to station to Lisbon and then a ship to London. Banville entertains us with descriptions of the newly-named Axel Vander's erotic encounters along the underground railway. He climbs into bed with the teenage, or even sub-teenage daughter of one of the Resistance families. Is this a tasteless and frivolous representation of people in distress? Upon arrival in London he is taken into the care of Lady Laura, the immeasurably wealthy daughter of the Duke of something or other where he spends two years acting as a kind of gigolo, satisfying her sexual desires and receiving only sufficient pocket money in order to make him presentable to Lady Laura's posh aristocratic friends. At the end of this time he is mugged by two English thugs in a London park, smashing and blinding one of his eyes and ripping open his leg so that it remains partially paralyzed for the rest of his life. It turns out that he had stolen some of Lady Laura's money, and she had engaged the thugs to teach him a lesson. But she does pay for his stay in a posh London private clinic until he recovers, and then gives him sufficient funds to make it to New York where his subsequent life begins.
    For some reason, more of a whim, but also because he has obtained a successfully forged passport with the name, he keeps on calling himself Axel Vander. To be frank, I find all of this to be almost ridiculously contrived. Why is it such a great secret? According to the Guardian review, the story is partially based on the case of Paul de Man who was not Jewish and who wrote some articles critical of Jewish people for a Belgian newspaper during the Nazi occupation, subsequently moving to New York and becoming famous in the style of our Axel Vander. But I hardly see the parallel. What was to stop Axel from resuming his real name? The article in the obscure Antwerp newspaper made it clear that he was not the author. Many people adopted pseudonyms in those days and kept them for the rest of their lives. For example Willy Brandt was born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm, but changed his name when going into Norwegian exile, and he proudly retained the name, becoming Chancellor of Germany.
    In the concluding third part, Axel drinks himself into a catatonic stupor and he is faithfully looked after by the poor, newly pregnant Cass who, we are told, is suffering from Mandelbaum disease. This must be another imaginary invention of the author since the Wikipedia only comes up with something else. In fact she suffers from schizophrenia accompanied by epilepsy. After Axel recovers she disappears along the coast of Italy using some funds she has been given, finally throwing herself over the cliff. When Axel discovers what has happened he visits the site, musing on the fact that the unborn baby which has died in Cass's body would have been his contribution to the continuation of his race of people.
    Despite the unsatisfactory nature of this book I have continued on into the third and final part of this trilogy. I'm already half-way through and I can say that happily in this third version of the story I have yet to encounter any of those obscure, pretentious, Latin words which Banville reserves for his "literary" oeuvre.

Ancient Light, by John Banville

     This one consists of two stories which have little to do with one another. The Guardian review seems to find that both are weirdly disrupted and they are tenuously connected at best. The main story, which continues the trilogy, is that we are now 10 years further on from the situation at the end of Shroud. Axel Vander has long since passed away. Alex is 10 years into his retirement and both he and Lydia have still not come to terms with the death of their daughter Cass who jumped over the cliff at Portofino in Italy. Why did she do it? Who was she with? So many questions. Unresolved. A mystery, an enigma.
    Suddenly Alex receives a telephone call from Hollywood, inviting him to play the leading role in a movie titled "The Invention of the Past", about the life of Axel Vander, based on a biography written by somebody named JB. Alex has never heard of this Axel Vander, and so reads the book, finding it to be rhetorical and unnatural in the extreme. I just had to laugh about all of this. The poor Alex, starring in a movie as the mysterious figure behind the life of his beloved daughter Cass, and not knowing it. And John Banville making fun of himself in this passage. According to JB's biography, Axel Vander was together with Cora, a young woman, about this time. And also according to the biography, Axel Vander visited Portofino near the time of Cass's death. What does Alex think of all of this? Alex - Axel, an anagram. But he is flattered to be offered the part despite the fact that his career was as a stage actor; he has never before acted in a movie.
    The actress who is to play the part of Cora is named Dawn Devenport, not her real name. A fragile, wispy thing, yet a famous movie star whose fans throng the studio. Everywhere she is recognized, the center of excited crowds, her face and figure are everywhere. It is the dream of ordinary people to be near her. Even - could it be possible? - to obtain her autograph. I find this difficult to imagine. Do people still go to the movies? If so, surely they go to things like Mad Max where the action is everything and the people are just there to shout and scream meaningless things. Who knows who those forgettable actors are? Of course there is Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, and all sorts of other fragmented streaming services, streaming countless disjointed offerings. We are signed up with Netflix, but after being in it for a year or two, watching a few interesting series, none of which featured people who had pretensions of being famous Hollywood stars, we have not watched anything for at least the last six months. We recently received a message saying that they will be increasing the monthly fees, and if we do not reply then our subscription will be automatically cancelled. Thank goodness.
    On the other hand there do seem to be very recognizable stars of entertainment these days. In order to keep up at least some contact with the legacy media I click into the BBC news website most mornings. And very often there is a picture of an extremely thin woman named Taylor Swift. I don't read the stories associated with these photos, but I understand that she is a singer, not an actress. It seems that singers are the stars of today. I'm sure that this Taylor Swift experiences the frenetic adulation that is attributed to Dawn Devenport in the present book.
    After most of the film is shot there is a dramatic development when Dawn Devenport tries to kill herself, taking lots of sleeping pills. She is revived and Alex suggests that she accompany him on a trip to Italy, to Portofino. It is as if she is his lost daughter, Cass, and she sees in the aging Alex her father who has recently died and to whom she was closely attached. And so the story takes us on a journey through all of this. We imagine Alex and Taylor Swift traveling through the grey winter of Italy with Swift hiding behind large, Hollywood dark glasses and a hooded, full length fur coat.
    But for some reason the author found it necessary to jump back and forth from this story to something entirely different and which has nothing to do with the story at hand. Perhaps he was unable to fill in enough of the narrative in order to make up the 300 odd pages which we expect to find in a respectable novel. In order to pad things out and to titillate the reader who might find the real story to be lacking in sufficient sexual content, he tells us about the adventures of the 15 year old Alex Cleave all those years ago, back in the 1950s or 60s, in Ireland.
    The young Alex has passionate, daily sex with Mrs. Gray, the mother of his best friend at school. This is described in great detail endlessly throughout the book. Mrs. Gray is not really like Mrs. Robinson, the sexual mother figure in The Graduate. It is also different from the 14 year old Roland and the controlling, frightening Miss Miriam Cornell in Ian McEwan's Lessons. Perhaps the best parallel we can think about is the 15 year old schoolboy, Emmanuel Macron and his 39 year old teacher, Brigitte Trogneux, the mother of his school friend Laurence. While Emmanuel Macron's Wikipedia page goes on and on in ridiculous length about all of his attempts to portray himself as a glorious hero of France, I am sure that if John Banville were to tell us a story about this strange President then, in contrast to the Wikipedia, Mrs. Macron would not be consigned to a mere afterthought at the end.

The Wuhan Cover-Up, by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

     Looking at the first couple of pages brought up by the DuckDuckGo search engine, I couldn't find any serious reviews of this book, and so for amusement I have linked to a "conspiracy site", namely "politfact.com", whose purpose seems to be to tell everybody to just turn on your televisions and recline in a comfortable sofa and be lulled to sleep. Such sites throw about the phrase "conspiracy theory" at everything. The most obvious definition of a conspiracy theory would be that it is a theory that two or more people are getting together to do something or other. But the definition that politfact.com and its brethren give to the phrase is that the assertions which are so denominated depart from the approved narrative which is being broadcast on television and the rest of the legacy media. While these two different definitions are not mutually exclusive, nevertheless they describe two completely different things. Apparently this second definition was implanted into the minds of people, based on a sort of Orwellian "double-speak", in the 1960s by a group in the CIA in order to deflect criticism of their agency in connection with the murder of the uncle of the author. Thus both this, and also the present book, satisfy both definitions of the phrase "conspiracy theory".
    The reader who is looking for elegance and wit will certainly be disappointed. The book is endlessly long, often repetitious and boring. But I did find a number of interesting thoughts in it. It seems that William Henry "Bill" Gates III, that person who is associated with various kinds of unpleasant viruses, both those that sicken people and also those that sicken computers, has established close ties with China. This was new to me. According to the book, back then when Google was really getting started and Apple cultivated an elegant, groovy image, all the top people dreamed of landing a job with them. In contrast, Microsoft had the image of a money-grabbing outfit whose products were largely bought or even stolen from others. It was run by a controlling, unpleasant figure, Gates, and thus it failed to attract sensible employees. It was put to Gates that in order to continue to exist in the ever-changing world of computer technology, they would have to find some way to have good people working for them. The solution was for Microsoft to transfer their research and development programs to China and its vast number of highly qualified engineers. And so, over the years, Gates has become more and more closely tied to China.
    Of course his other interest is medicine and vaccines, owing undoubtedly to the immense riches which can be extracted from such things. Of course I have no idea how vaccines are made, and certainly not those horrible mRNA things. I had thought that the vaccines for bacterial diseases were made by taking a live culture and perhaps bombarding it with ionizing radiation, or soaking it in alcohol or something in order to kill it, yet retaining enough of the structure for the immune system of the person being vaccinated to recognize it, or at least to recognize some of the proteins which it is made up of. Maybe something similar is done with viruses.
    But we learn in the book that, bizarrely, making vaccines has something to do with the opposite idea, namely making bacteria or viruses more virulent. Who knows? And so we have lots of people taking well-known disease germs, or looking for disease germs of animals, and trying to alter them either by breeding them to become more virulent or else by altering their genetic structure using gene editing techniques. All of this has to do with biological warfare.
    We are given a sketch of the history of this kind of warfare. Primitive things like throwing dead bodies into water wells and so forth were the methods used in olden times. The First World War saw poison gas and perhaps some germs. For the Second World War we are told all the horror stories of the Nazi experiments on concentration camp victims and of the equally, if not more horrible dealings of the Japanese Unit 731 in China. For example the Germans sprayed hoof-and-mouth disease microbes on Russian fields. The Japanese spread cholera bacteria in wells and bred ticks to transmit hemorrhagic fever and other things. It is thought that a half million or more Chinese died as a result of Japanese germ warfare. We revile the names of Joseph Mengele and Shirō Ishii. But of course history is written by the victors. The history of American, British, and all the other countries with their chemical and germ warfare programs remains "top secret". Certainly we do know of the CIA programs such as MKULTRA, and also Operation Paperclip. There are seemingly hundreds of further, similar projects which have become known, which are endlessly described in the book. In any case it is clear that having suffered so much from Japanese germ warfare, the Chinese have a vital interest in keeping abreast of what is being done with all these programs.
    I can understand that these spy agencies might like to have something like powdered anthrax to kill specific people and blame it on the Arabs or whatever. Something fast acting and not very infectious. But what is the sense of trying to make common cold viruses such as the corona viruses or influenza viruses more deadly? You may kill some of the enemy, but then the disease spreads and comes back to you. With this Covid-19 business, right at the beginning a mysteriously large number of leading Chinese, but also Iranian people died. One theory is that this was a hit organized by the American secret services. Then, after this short, initial deadly hit, passing along from infection to infection, it naturally mutated, becoming less and less virulent so that when I got it a year or two later it was nothing more than a mild cold. But what do I know? The more generally accepted theory is that it was just an accident. Somebody in the Wuhan lab got infected by mistake. One way or another, by accident or intention, Gates and those other drug oligarchs knew exactly how to increase their riches at the expense of all the rest of us.
    The narrative we are being told by Gates' WHO is that all of those wild animals lurking in their caves have lots of diseases which are just waiting to spring over into us, causing half the people in the world to suddenly drop dead. But Kennedy quotes one or another researcher who asserts that that is nonsense. It is only very seldom that new forms of disease cross from other species to humans. They say that almost all the recent instances of new diseases can be traced to leaks from these biowar labs. After all, we have learned that alone in Ukraine there were something like a dozen America biolabs. What were they all doing there? Are there really hundreds of other such clandestine sites throughout the world? How many other countries other than the United States are also involved in such a business? While the book has seemingly thousands of references to the literature to support all of the assertions which are being made, many of them, such as this one about the probability of a disease crossing to different species, are only references to books or statements of other people. For example another book might be written by somebody else on this subject, referencing something in the present book, then perhaps a later, updated version of the present book might come out, referring to the other book. A circle of self-reference. I would like to know exactly what is known about diseases crossing the species barrier, and whether or not what is known refutes the hysteria which Gates is trying to generate.

Welcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop, by Hwang Bo-Reum

     This is a novel written by a South Korean woman about a bookshop in a suburb of Seoul. For years now I have been paying for books to be downloaded into my Kindle by Amazon, and so I have had little to do with bookshops. It's so convenient. Bezos - is he still the richest person in the world? - is certainly not as pleasant a character as Yeongju, the owner of the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop, but on the other hand, in the days before Amazon when I often did go to bookshops, it was not at all as described in this book. You just anonymously walked in, looked at a few titles, chose something and paid at the cash register before leaving. Nobody asked any of the employees which books might be recommended in order to solve the emotional problems which one or another of the customers might be suffering from. I'm not aware of any small bookshops here, but I did recently go into the bookshop in town looking for a birthday present for a grandchild. It is a pleasant atmosphere. Sofas and armchairs. There is a cafe where you can also order a slice of cake and perhaps other things as well. The staff are helpful, on a professional level. There is no suggestion of being personal. How could that be when there are a hundred or more people going in and out of the shop and the staff constantly being asked about one thing and another? I can't image that anybody would consider the place to be a kind of home away from home. After all, they are in the business of selling books. It is not a corner pub, or a simple restaurant where lonely people go in order to find company.
    Typical of the people in the book is Minjun, a young man who runs the cafe in the bookshop. He spent all his years as a child working hard at school and in the evenings working hard at the "cram school", memorizing reams of nonsense in order to get the highest marks and enter university where he continued with this relentless "work". After graduation he applied for a job at one after another of the big companies in South Korea, being always rejected. Why was he being rejected? Why is his mother disappointed in him for not having a proper job? He drifts into the bookshop and the idea of brewing coffee for the customers. He applies himself to this, experimenting with different methods of brewing coffee, different sorts of coffee, different methods of roasting it. Different people prefer different kinds of coffee, and he perfects individual blends for each of the different characters in the book. He becomes a master of coffee. Perhaps the book could be called Zen in the Art of Coffee Brewing, in memory of those other classics: Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. And then we learn that Yeongju herself, in her former life, was a computer programmer for a big South Korean company, working 18 hours a day together with her husband who worked similarly, if not more. It was too much. She quit, leaving her husband to all his work, and followed her dream, opening the bookshop, working not quite 18 hours a day but nevertheless becoming exhausted with reading all the books in the shop, organizing various book clubs to meet in the shop, inviting authors to give talks in the shop, writing columns for a newspaper and an internet blog about books, and so on and so forth. Everybody seems exhausted, burned out. They gather in the bookshop to console one another. There is also a schoolboy who has rebelled against all of this constant "work", and his mother, at wits end, says he must go to the bookshop and sit there for so many hours a day.
    I found it difficult to relate to this story since I have almost never done any of this "work" in the "real world". Instead I have simply been meditating on thoughts of mathematics which are of interest to almost nobody and wiled away the time with music and reading all of these stories. For years I was in a reading group where we met every month or so, in turn hosting the afternoon discussion at our different houses. But then the married couple who were at the center of things passed away, and also most of the members were expatriot Americans so that things degenerated into heated discussions of American politics which repelled me. I think the final death knell after I had left was the Covid hysteria. I was for a short time in another book reading group which met in the pleasant rooms of the city library in town. But for various reasons I gave that up too. I'm sure that nobody in those groups would have been comfortable with the idea of meeting in a bookshop where one would have had the feeling of having to buy the books in the shop, or at least to buy an expensive cup of coffee during the discussion. In our group the host of the meeting provided coffee, tea, perhaps cookies or a cake, for everybody else.

Jewish History, Jewish Religion, by Israel Shahak

     The author was born in Warsaw in 1933 and thus he survived not only the Warsaw ghetto but also the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. His father did not survive but his mother whose health had deteriorated did. She brought him to Israel where he became Professor of Chemistry at the Hebrew University and also a scholar of the history of Judaism. The subtitle of this short book is The Weight of Three Thousand Years. Given the present state of hysteria in the world, prudence prohibits me from writing anything more here. Since Professor Shahak has long since passed away and is thus unable to answer his critics, his entry in the English version of the Wikipedia deals with him as being a liar; the much shorter entry in the German version doesn't.
    The world would be a better place if there were more people like Israel Shahak.

Athena, by John Banville

     After reading the Book of Evidence two years ago I thought it would be better to avoid reading the other two books in this "Frames" trilogy. But now I have read the third book of the series. The protagonist, not named but clearly The Freddie Montgomery of that earlier book, has been released from prison and is asked by some Irish underworld figures to examine eight paintings which have apparently been stolen from the same house as was involved in the earlier novel. There are seven chapters of the book, each beginning with an elaborate description in the style of an art historian of an imaginary renaissance painting by an imaginary renaissance painter. Chief Inspector Hackett, Quirke's friend in those later detective novels of Banville, turns up and starts investigating. The idea is that those seven paintings were fakes painted by two other shady characters, and the originals were sent off somewhere to be sold for high prices. One further painting was original.
    But what would be the point of someone buying a stolen original painting of the renaissance by a well-known master? It could never be openly displayed and it would have no further value for the person buying such a thing.
    Banville livens up this banal story with long, dream-like sequences of the interactions of the protagonist with a female character which he names "A". Why did I continue reading on to the end? Do we really want to read all of these endlessly earthy fantasies concerning sex and the other bodily functions of the human condition? It is a commonplace in literature to read about the pleasures of dining. Of course the consequence of that which is eaten eventually finds its way to later being expelled into the toilet. But do we really want to read about this and all the rest of it in Banville's elegant, flowery, Latinised prose? Perhaps some of the scenes are vaguely related to the imaginary paintings described in the beginnings of the chapters. At least Banville's later works, after his masterpiece, The Sea, as far as I have read them, do not overly dwell on these subjects. Can we say that John Banville - although he is an old man - has grown out of this adolescent style of writing?

Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan

     An Irish Christmas story. A short novel, but a sad story concerning the Catholic Magdalene Laundries. They also came up in one of Banville's novels, so I imagine the story is based at least to some extent - hopefully not too much - on reality. It seems that unmarried mothers were put into these laundries against their will, the babies were sold for large sums of money to wealthy childless couples seeking to adopt a baby, and the mothers were imprisoned behind high walls topped with shards of broken glass, abused by the nuns and priests, forced to work endlessly.
    The story centers around Furlong, a man with a strange name who has a business delivering coal to the houses and institutions in this small Irish town, dominated by the Catholic Church. It is Christmas Eve, some time in the 1980s. His business is struggling and he works long hours. It is a cold December and many are in need of coal for heating. He makes a delivery to the Church with its attached laundry, being let in through the gate. When opening the door to the freezing coal cellar he is astonished to find a lightly clad, barefoot woman who had been locked in, evidently for a long time since she was not only dirty and freezing in the cold, but there was evidence of excrement on the floor. He brings her out and takes her into the warm rooms of the convent where he explains to the Mother Superior that he had found her so. The Head Nun pretends that she must have locked herself in by accident, and makes a show of sitting her by the fire and giving her a good dinner.
    Furlong drives away, delivering coal to further customers. He thinks of his three daughters who are doing well at the Catholic school in town. He thinks of his own life. His mother was unmarried and remained unmarried until she died. She was the maid in a large country house, serving a Protestant woman who kept her on despite her becoming illegitimately pregnant. And she saw to it that Furlong grew up and went to school in a protected house. He had always wondered who his father was. In the end he discovers it was the gardener who had always dealt with him in a fatherly way. During one of his deliveries on this Christmas Eve, a woman takes him aside and quietly tells him that she had heard that he had gotten on the wrong side of the Mother Superior. He should be careful.
    It is now evening. The time for Christmas Mass. He should go home to his family and take them to church. He finds himself walking in the direction of the laundry. Somehow he enters and opens the door to the coal cellar to find the young woman again locked in, barely clothed, barefoot in the cold. And he leads her away.
    So ends this "Christian" story of love and charity. How will it end? Will he be able to escape with his family and this woman he has saved to somewhere safe, away from the church?
    Lucretius wrote long ago about how "man's life lay for all to see foully grovelling upon the ground, crushed beneath the weight of superstition". Who knows what deeds the gloomy myths and visions of religion might lead people to do? But at least the Wikipedia article on the Magdalene laundries leads us to believe that the treatment of the woman in the story might not have been typical of the inmates of those institutions.

Western Lane, by Chetna Maroo

     Both this book as well as the previous one was short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize despite the fact that they are simple, understandable stories written in a coherent style and devoid of pretentious, obscure words. Perhaps people had been complaining about some of the monstrosities which have recently been awarded that prize. But on the other hand I don't know what distinguishes these two simple books from the hundreds and thousands of other books which are published each year. At least I enjoyed both of them.
    This one is concerned with the game of squash. The (absent, but implied) hero of the book is Jahangir Khan who is widely recognized as being the greatest player of all time. From 1981 to 1986 he won 555 consecutive matches against all opponents, remaining unbeaten during this time. In the period just before this, the end of the 1970s, the Australian Geoff Hunt was the greatest player. You can watch a video of a match between Khan and Hunt at the British Open of 1981. Of course they both play extraordinarily well, but surely I would be forgiven for favoring Geoff Hunt, both because of the fact that he is Australian and also that his name is Geoff. In fact this was the last match that Jahangir Khan lost before his incredible winning streak. In the book we are told that at those big tournaments all the Pakistani players tried to develop strategies to defeat Hunt. But we are also told of Jahangir Khan's philosophy of life and how it could improve the lives of the characters in the story.
    As a student I occasionally played squash, and when I first came to Germany I played a few times with a friend in the Faculty at a sport center with squash courts near here. It certainly is a difficult and strenuous sport, especially for those who only very occasionally play. In Canberra in those days one of the Lecturers in the Faculty - an expert on group theory, which was the thing back then - wore small, delicate glasses, somewhat in the style of John Lennon. The glass in his glasses was not hardened. And one day when playing squash his opponent accidentally hit him, the racquet smashing one of the lenses of his glasses and so rendering him blind in that eye.
    Squash can be dangerous. In one scene of the present book the young girl who is the center of things is training with her father and she hits a hard drive directly into his face. Although the squash ball is hard when it is cold, after it is warmed up, hitting the walls repeatedly, it becomes warm soft rubber - squashy - but still if you hit it hard enough even soft rubber can hurt. And her father's face became swollen. Luckily no bones were broken and his eyes escaped damage.
    The characters in the story are all of Pakistani origin, living in England. There is an extended family with aunts, uncles, cousins. The girl is one of three daughters. Her mother had died, leaving the father to care for them. The father's brother and his wife are living up in cold Edinburgh, childless, and they offer to take one of the daughters to bring up as their own. The father thinks about it but thinks that it would be good to have his daughters training seriously for squash. This is one of the traditional national sports of Pakistan, and it would be good for building their characters and learning self-discipline. The two older daughters gradually tire of the game but the youngest, the heroine of the story, Gopi, has become an advanced player. She takes part in a tournament, and we follow her through to success, winning the title in a special glass court with the spectators arranged all around, not the usual situation of a small gallery overlooking the solid concrete walls of a normal squash court. But her triumph is in vain. It has been decided that she will be sent to the straight-laced home of the aunt who has declared that squash is not lady-like, and thus Gopi will no longer be allowed to play. Perhaps as she grew older she could have advanced to become one of the champions. Maybe her father sent her away to his brother and wife because of the shock of being hit so brutally by the ball played by Gopi. What a shame, and how sad.

The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim

     A wonderfully light-hearted romance. The rather complicated plot is sketched in the Wikipedia article so I will not bother to repeat it here. The author was born as Mary Annette Beauchamp at Kirribilli in Sydney, Australia, in 1866. In 1891 she married Count Henning August von Arnim-Schlagenthin, thus becoming a countess, and eventually she adopted the pseudonym Elizabeth. The book which was first published in 1922 was inspired by a holiday spent in the Castello Brown in Portofino, northern Italy. Perhaps the great success of the book was the reason that Portofino has become such a popular and exclusive resort.
    Some of the characters are caricatured to such an extent that we just have to laugh. Poor Lady Caroline suffers from being so beautiful as to be beyond beauty. Will she succumb to the smitten Mr. Briggs? And how calculating and devious is Mr. Wilkins, despite being married to his wonderful wife Lotty.

This is Going to Hurt, by Adam Kay

     After graduating from medical school in England the author worked for six years, between 2004 and 2010, as a junior doctor in the hospitals of the National Health Service. At the end of that time he couldn't take it any longer and so he resigned and began a career as a writer, writing this book and also screenwriting for the BBC. He tells us that after receiving the notification that he would no longer be licensed to practice medicine he went about throwing away all of his old medical papers. But then he rediscovered a sort of diary he had kept of his daily hospital life and he realized that it would be amusing to publish a selection of those entries, thus giving us this present book.
    Many of the episodes are very funny. You just have to laugh. But the humor begins to wear thin and we appreciate what the author is trying to tell us. In England, and I suppose in most other countries - at least here in Europe, there are laws regulating how long an employee is allowed to work, what the minimum wage can be, the minimum number of days of paid holiday each year, and so forth. Things to protect workers from being exploited by shady, unscrupulous employers. Such laws are enforced, and an employee who has been a victim of the infringement of such laws can have recourse to legal settlement. But for junior doctors all of that counts for nothing. They are made to work beyond all reasonable limits, often being so tired as to be practically intoxicated with sleep deprivation, the mental equivalent of a drunken driver, and yet in this drunken condition they are expected to treat seriously ill people without making any mistakes. I suppose this is considered to be a rite of passage. The goal, at least in the English system as described in the book, is to become a "consultant", suddenly transformed from being an underpaid slave of the system to being a wealthy gentleman with all the time in the world to enjoy pleasant hours at the golf club or sailing a yacht. This then is the motivation for the junior doctors to accept their unfair, even illegal working conditions. The public, politicians, see only the wealth of those doctors at the top, drawing perhaps false conclusions.
    I suppose conditions are somewhat similar in Germany. Many, perhaps most hospitals are private enterprises, often loosely associated with the church. But also, as in England, there are hospitals run by the government. As I understand it, beginning doctors must also begin with years of difficult hospital work. The people at the top usually have the title of professor, despite not being associated with a university, and they are certainly well off. But I think that most doctors try to specialize quickly in order to work in a private practice with ordered working hours and a sensible income away from hospitals. At least half of the doctors in the hospitals doing the difficult work are foreigners who have studied elsewhere and have come to Germany either to escape the situation in their own countries or at least in order to earn a sensible wage. This is certainly unfair since other countries have invested much in their educations, and here those skilled doctors are being obtained for free.
    Well, to get back to the book, Adam Kay decided to specialize in gynecology. And so the episodes he describes in the later part of the book, trying for humor, are about the reality of birth and all the rest of what happens in those nether regions of the bodies of the women he has treated. It's all about blood and other substances spurting about the place, making incisions, cutting and sewing everything, describing the various curious and disgusting objects people insert into their body cavities, all of this using the earthy language of the street. Is it true that doctors in earlier times were more dignified, or is that just my imagination? I do remember that as a child all those years ago, whenever we got sick the family doctor came to our house with his black doctor's bag and his stethoscope. There was no question of visiting his practice, wherever that was. After all, how absurd it would have been to sit in the waiting room, spreading the germs to others.

Across Mongolian Plains, by Roy Chapman Andrews

     The author was born in 1884 in rural Wisconsin and led an outdoor life as a child. He worked his way through college and began as a janitor at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, advancing to lead expeditions about the world collecting specimens and eventually becoming Director of the Museum. It is said that he might have been the inspiration for the character Indiana Jones in the movies. This book which was published in 1921 is a description of the Museum's Second Asiatic Expedition which he led. His wife, Yvette Borup Andrews, accompanied him as photographer, and the book contains selections of her photographs.
    How different was the world back then in 1921 when compared to our 2024!, especially for an American. China, which had long been the center of civilization, under the pressures of the Opium wars of England in the 19th century, along with the other European colonial powers and the rising Japan, had sunk into disarray, discord, yet still retaining vestiges of the old order. Europe had exhausted itself in a long, incredibly bloody and senseless civil war, and the United States, practically untouched by any of this, possessing vast natural resources, invention and resourcefulness, was setting out on its century of greatness which is now coming to a close. Somehow a figure such as Roy Chapman Andrews embodies all of this. I wish this was also a great book, but it wasn't.
    Things start off with a sketch of the history of Mongolia and its position between Russia and China. We have glimpses of Peking (now politically correctly spelled Beijing). Peeks into vast palaces, comments on the costumes the people wear. But soon we are entering Mongolia, crossing over at a place called "Kalgan" which, if I am to believe Google Maps, is actually called Zhangjiakou. The author then drives across Mongolia with his companions to "Urga", which, in fact, is Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, in a convoy of Dodge automobiles, which were called "motors" in those days. Heavy open carriages with balloon tires. He is fascinated with the Mongolian antelopes and marvels at their speed. They race along and everybody brings out their rifles and starts blasting away. We are told that the antelopes really put on speed. Looking at the speedometer of the car he estimates that they reach even 55 or 60 miles an hour. (The internet reduces this to the slightly more sober 80 kph.) We are told that the purpose of the expedition is to obtain specimens for an exhibition room on Asian fauna at the Museum in New York, but they seem to be shooting hundreds, if not thousands of animals. Yevette is also caught up in the exhilaration of the hunt, shooting not only pictures but guns as well.
    And so the book goes on, telling us about one hunt after the other. The author is soon fitted out with a wonderful Mongolian pony named Kublai Khan which has a true hunting instinct. Yevette unfortunately has an ill-tempered pony which kicks and bites her. We are told how clear the rarefied Mongolian atmosphere is so that a shot at 300 or even 400 yards is an easy kill, as if it were only 150 yards or so in the lower regions of the world. From chapter to chapter we have one hunt after the other, only occasionally interspersed with other subjects. Stalking the huge mountain sheep, killing all sorts of birds, boars, and everything else. I lost track of everything they killed, beginning to just skim over the text to see if there was anything else of interest. Oh well, I'm sure that this Second Asiatic Expedition did indeed furnish the American Museum of Natural History with a large assortment of stuffed animals.

Vera, by Elizabeth von Arnim

     The Enchanted April was lighthearted, this one is the opposite. It starts off with Lucy, a small, timid young woman of 22 vacationing with her father by the sea. After breakfast he suddenly keels over and dies. Two older women from the village are in the house looking after things, waiting for the doctor to come. Lucy is outside looking blankly out to sea, leaning on the gate. How will she live without her father? He was always reading, having many friends and discussions, bantering with them, things which made the simple-minded Lucy confused, lost, but which her loving father tried to explain to her. But now he is gone and we learn that his estate was only sufficient to provide Lucy with an income of £200 each year. (According to the inflation calculator the £200 in 1921 when this book was published would be worth £8,179 of today's devalued pounds). Not very much to live on.
    But her empty mind has not been filled with such thoughts in this initial scene. An older man, Everard Wemyss, wanders by and begins speaking with her. He tells her that he is beset with tragedy. His wife Vera fell from an upstairs room of their large house, fatally landing on the flagstones underneath. There has been an investigation of whether it was an accident or a suicide, and the coroner's inquest produced an open verdict. A scandal which has led to the people he had thought of as friends avoiding him. He explains all of this tearfully, seeking solace with Lucy.
    Lucy's aunt comes from London and assumes that Mr. Wemyss must have been a close friend of her brother, Lucy's father. We move to London. Lucy is staying with her aunt in her small town house. Wemyss, who is a rich stock broker, old enough to be her father, attaches himself to Lucy, and she loves him completely. He is so easy to understand. No complicated thoughts. She can just fall into his arms.
    Some of the old friends of her father visit, imploring her not to marry Wemyss, but for her this is only more reason to do it. He marries her quickly, an indecently short time after his wife Vera had so tragically died. After a honeymoon on the Continent they arrive at Wemyss' house in the country and suddenly he changes dramatically. He is a bully, abusing the servants. Lucy is practically his property, alternating between extreme abuse and love. How long will she last? How could Vera have survived for the 15 years she was married to such a man?
    Somehow this abrupt switch of character from Jekyll to Hyde was difficult to believe. The author's second husband was Frank Russell, the 2nd Earl Russell, the older brother of the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, and it is said that he was the basis for the character Everard Wemyss in this book. When Elizabeth von Arnim learned of the death of Russell in 1931 she said that she was never happier in her life.

The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

     A couple of years ago we became connected to the internet via a telephone line about 800 meters long to a street box with higher capacity. I was astonished to find that this simple, paper-wrapped telephone wire was able to transmit almost 10 million bits to us each second. This was enough to enable us to watch even two simultaneous video streams. One of the first things we tried watching was the series in Amazon Prime based on this book. But after one or two episodes of the confusing, disjointed narrative we gave up. It was just a typical Hollywood, World War II, Holocaust production with goose-stepping, costumed Nazi GESTAPO characters torturing people and sending them to concentration camps, with the addition of frightening Japanese Kempeitai characters in yellow uniforms also torturing and killing people. Whether or not a story was actually being told was totally unclear... But then recently I happened to read an essay which referred to the present book; it seemed to take it seriously; so now I have read it. The book could not be more different from the Amazon Prime rubbish.
    It is an alternative history story. What would things be like if Japan and Germany had won World War II? Everything is centered on the United States which has been split up into different regions: the Pacific States are ruled by Japan, the Rocky Mountain States are neutral and the Eastern States are ruled by Germany. The story takes place in the Japanese part, with a subplot wherein a kind of guru in the Rocky Mountain States has written a book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is an alternative history novel imagining what it would be like if the United States and England had won the war, written by somebody living in a High Castle somewhere. In Germany, and in all the territories it controls, this book is strictly prohibited, but the Japanese, being nice, reasonable, open-minded people, let everybody do what they want, as long as they pay the proper respect to their Japanese occupiers. Of course all of this is nonsense. It was not the United States and England. The Russians were the ones who fought the Nazis in the war. The United States and England simply sat on the sidelines doing nothing until the Russians had worn down the Nazis into near submission, at which point they crossed the English Channel on D-Day with a token force in order to also enjoy the spoils of the war. But why nit-pick about these details?
    Something called the I-Ching plays a big role in the book. You throw sticks or coins or something and then look up the results in the Book of I-Ching. Sort of like asking a yes-no question and flipping a single coin to determine what it is. The Ancients killed animals, ate the flesh, then tossed the bones into the fire to divine something or other. At least that method had the advantage of giving you something to eat. But in the book the method of I-Ching has great esoteric powers. At one point the nice, sensible Japanese official in his office in San Francisco defends himself and two others from a group of violent German GESTAPO thugs storming his office by shooting them dead with his antique, Civil War Colt .44 Revolver. He falls into deep remorse, finding solace in his I-Ching which seems to magically transfer him for a few moments into the world of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Also at the end of the book, Juliana, the beautiful and courageous heroine, saves the author of Grasshopper from a horrible Nazi GESTAPO killer. The author of Grasshopper is now living in a comfortable bungalow in Cheyenne Wyoming, having abandoned the High Castle. Subsequently Juliana throws the sticks of the I-Ching and suddenly the whole world seems to have changed into the Grasshopper world. I suppose these devices of Philip K. Dick are typical for him, and they transport us into some sort of "science" fiction fantasy world.

    What would the world have been like if Japan and Germany had won the war? Following Robert K. Wilcox' speculations, perhaps Japan could have obtained an atomic bomb before the Americans. (As I noted in reviewing that book, Germany could not have gotten an atomic bomb since Hitler rejected modern science as being Jewish, and therefore worthless.)
    So following the story of the book it is now 1962 and the war has finished 15 years ago, having ended with the complete capitulation of the Allies in 1947. According to the book, Germany goes mad, exterminating all the Slavs, the Jews, and all those other groups: Gypsies and so on. This is plausible when we read the diary and notebook entries of Hitler's close circle as they were described by David Irving in his Hitler's War. The Germans also go berserk in Africa, exterminating all of those dark people and enslaving the few which are left. The civilized Japanese are astonished with the rapidity of this extermination. After all, the Anglo-Saxons needed 200 years to exterminate almost all the aboriginal population of North America.
    So to summarize the situation according to Philip K. Dick's imagination: Germany would have been pure evil, tormenting the rest of the world in increasingly brutal excesses of demented cruelty while Japan would have floated along in peaceful harmony, I-Chinging its way to fulfilled enlightenment.
    Somehow this vision seems to me to be unlikely.
    It is said that Hitler's idea was to expand his Reich eastwards to the line from Arkhangelsk to Astrakhan. This would seem to be similar to the modern-day dreams of NATO officials. Perhaps - as with them - Hitler's plans were to split up Russia into a collection of small states whose riches could be plundered. On the other hand, as David Irving showed, Hitler considered the English to be the second Master Race, and he assumed that they would continue to rule over the lower races of people in Africa and Asia. Perhaps, considering that the English had kept themselves mostly out of the war, a victorious Nazi Germany would have reinstalled Edward VIII as the King and given him free rein to do as he pleased in Africa and all those other places. (On the other hand, given the massive carpet bombing of civilian cities by the British and Americans, something which even now is considered to be a war crime, perhaps such a scenario would be unrealistic.)
    Given that Japan gets atomic bombs and is thus able to bomb the rest of the world into submission while Germany doesn't, then Germany would be very much the junior partner; the Japanese would be the rulers of the world. When we consider the behavior of the Japanese in China, the various Death Marches, the Burma railroad, and all that, I don't see the Japanese floating along in peaceful harmony as described in the book. In fact I can't see them ruling much of the world at all. They might be able to maintain colonies in sparsely populated regions like Australia and Siberia, exploiting the riches to be obtained there, but how could they control all of China, or say the western half of the United States?
    So it seems to me that the world in this alternative version of history would be such that Russia would be broken up into small pieces, perhaps the United States also; Germany would control Eastern Europe, having exhausted its blood lust - with Hitler, by 1962, long since dead of massive overdoses of various drugs; Japan struggling to control a few colonies with terrorist violence, and the rest of the world remaining more or less as it is now.
    But of course this is all idle speculation.