So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Barefoot Gen Volume Seven: Bones Into Dust

Barefoot Gen Volume Seven: Bones Into Dust by Keiji Nakazawa

The Barefoot Gen series of 10 graphic novels tells the story of the World War II atomic bombing of Hiroshima Japan through the eyes of a young boy Gen Nakaoka who relates the events lived through by the author Keiji Nakazawa. Book 7, Bones Into Dust takes place more than three years after the war has officially ended. Gen's father, sister and brother were killed during the blast, and his mother now suffers from radiation sickness. Gen's older brother Koji has left to work in a coal mine to earn money for the family, leaving Gen and his younger brother Akira to care for their sick mother and find food and medical care. Gen has befriended an older man and a group of street orphans who develop scheme after scheme to find food, raise money, or steal what they need. The old man has written a novel called The End of Summer about the atomic bomb and its effects on Hiroshima that he wants to have published before he dies of radiation sickness.
The book opens with the orphans devising a plan to get the book published. When all the regular publishers have turned them down because they fear reprisal from the Americans, Ryuta, one of the orphans, suggests asking the prison print shop to print the books. All they need to do is find the money to buy the paper for the printing. Finding the money is a challenge that they solve. Once they have the book published and are distributing it, they are picked up by the local police and taken to a U.S. military base for interrogation.
Meanwhile Gen's mother continues to decline from her bomb-induced radiation sickness, and Gen's older brother Koji, now a depressed alcoholic, returns from the mines. The last section of the book reunites the family as the boys try to make Gen's mother happy in her last days. The subtitle Bones Into Dust refers to the cremation remains of Gen's mother as the family deals with yet another loss.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Taffy of Torpedo Junction

Taffy of Torpedo Junction by Nell Wise Wechter
Taffy of Torpedo Junction is a children's book originally published in 1957 that tells of the time German U-boats preyed on the shipping routes off the North Carolina coast in 1942, sinking tankers, and other vessels bound for England. Taffy was based on the real life Carol White Dillon (1928- ), who is now the owner of the Outer Banks Motel in Buxton, NC, when she was a girl of 13. In 1942 the author Nell Wechter was a school teacher living in a boarding house run by Carol's mother.
At that time Hatteras Island was served by a ferry rather than a bridge and had no tourist industry. Mainlanders on the island were rare. In 1942 the Coast Guard and Nazi submarines brought the war to this tranquil setting with the sinking of more than 60 ships in a six month period. Taffy and her friends experience the war right off their shore as tankers explode in the night, bodies are washed ashore, and talk turns to saboteurs and spies. Although this is a children's book, it can be of interest to adults interested in this unique part of the war. Dennis Rogers of Raleigh's News and Observer called this book "The best piece of children's literature ever produced in this state."
Readers can see a picture of the current day Carol telling of the war here: and hear her talk about about it online:

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

I started reading The Man in the High Castle after watching the Amazon series of the same name. While all the main characters are present in both, I was drawn to reading the novel when I found the ending of the online series unrewarding. The book is well worth reading even if you have seen the Amazon series. However, the I Ching (or, The Book of Changes), which plays a minor role in the movie, plays a much more significantly part in the book. I counted eight separate times the oracle is consulted and the results described to the reader. In fact the very first sentence of the Acknowledgments tells readers what version of the I Ching is used and quoted in the novel.
The novel is an alternate history set in the early 1960s in which the United States and its Allies lose World War II, and the east coast of the United States is run by Nazi Germany while the West Coast is run by Imperial Japan. Besides the I Ching, the other main plot device is a popular but banned novel written by Hawthorne Abendsen, the titular man in the high castle, which is called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. The title of this book within a book is taken from Ecclesiastes 12:5. This inner book is also an alternative history, only here the Nazis and Japanese lose World War II and the details are different from the readers' real world history of events.
Readers are left with a view of reality where no one knows what is real, and people use 50 yarrow stalks and an ancient Chinese oracle to make sense of things. While I found the ending of the novel much more satisfying than that of the online series, those unfamiliar with the I Ching or uncomfortable with questioning reality may find the novel unrewarding.