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The Distant Land Of My Father by Bo Caldwell

The Distant Land Of My Father

My Goodreads friend Chrissie recommended this book to me, and from the opening pages I was hooked.

My father was a millionaire in Shanghai in the 1930s.  Polo ponies, a Sikh chauffeur, a villa on eight acres in Hungjao, in the western part of the city.  Nights out with my mother at the Cercle Sportif Francais, the Venus Cafe, the Cathay Hotel, the Del Monte – these were the details of his life.  He was also an insurance salesman and a smuggler, an importer-exporter and a prisoner, a borrower and a spender, leading, much of the time, a charmed life, always seeming to play the odds and for a long time coming out on top.

Anna tells a story of her father that is a fascinating look at Shanghai just prior and during World War II, in addition to a heartbreaking memoir of a child’s need to understand and forgive a man who would love a city more than his daughter.

This is Bo Caldwell’s debut novel and it is truly fantastic.  The sights and smells of Shanghai come alive as history unfolds and lives are broken.

I am grateful to Chrissie for recommending this marvelous novel and look forward to reading more by this author.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2001
378 pages

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A Fortunate Life by Albert Facey

A Fortunate Life

Albert Facey was a storyteller.  Australian born in the late 1800’s, his mother abandoned him at just two years of age.  From then on, he led a remarkable life from being farmed out at a young age (to cruel and kind families alike), working in agriculture and lifestock, serving during World War I at Gallipoli, surviving the Depression and the loss of a son during World War II.  Facey often told these stories to his children, who begged him to write them down for future generations.  As it happened, the publisher convinced Facey to release his story to a wider audience than just his family, and I’m so glad he did.

Although an Australian story, it reminds me of stories I’ve heard from older American men who had similar experiences.  Poverty creates situations where parents can no longer care for their children, and in the old days, these kids were vulnerable and forced to grow up quickly.  As a mother, I was horrified at the circumstances this young boy found himself in and how terribly people can treat a child.  But he also had good moments – he persevered and seemed to understand how important education was in order to for him get ahead.  Not only did he adopt vocational learning, but he sought out people who could help with simple reading and writing skills as well.

I loved Facey’s story because it was a piece of history and because it showed how a person can appreciate one’s life – even one that is filled with trials and tribulations.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1981
331 pages

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A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton G. Malkiel

A Random Walk Down Wall Street

A classic work explaining everything you ever wanted to know about investing, A Random Walk Down Wall Street has been touted in so many investing books I’ve read, I thought I definitely should take the time to read it.

There is a lot of great information here, explaining why different strategies of investing don’t work, and why buying and holding a diversified portfolio is ultimately the only strategy one should use.

Unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing new in this book that I haven’t already learned.  Malkiel’s book is often used as a textbook in Finance classes and I already have a degree in Finance.  I will also note, that his writing is a bit dry –  even if you don’t know this information, his method of delivery might put you to sleep.

So, be warned, you might be bored.  But there is important and excellent information inside this book.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012 (originally published in 1973)
490 pages

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The Power Of One by Bryce Courtenay

The Power Of One

Peekay is a young English boy brutalized at a South African boarding school when World War II breaks out.  The prejudices, indignities and suffering Peekay endures become a light that fuels an inner drive to become something stronger and smarter and more important.  With help from some fantastic characters along the way, Peekay is able to harness “the power of one” and succeed beyond all the odds.

The book is a marvel on so many levels.  First, Courtenay does a wonderful job of incorporating history, childhood angst and amazing characters into a well-thought out and terrific story line that leaves the reader cheering for young Peekay.  Second, the author’s theme of discrimination is well-played out from the Boers vs. the English, the Germans vs. the Jews, the South Africans vs. the Germans and of course, the white Africans vs. the Black Africans.  The perspective is poignant and insightful.

This was a five star book that shed light on inter-human tensions and those beautiful souls who can rise above it to help and love their fellow man.

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1989
513 pages

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A Case Of Curiosities by Allen Kurzwell

A Case Of Curiosities

This is a book about a French inventor, Claude Page, who spends his youth with a former priest, a bookseller who sells pornography, engages in an affair with a married woman of Parisian society and is befriended by a carriage driver.

While Page has an unusual and somewhat interesting life, there was nothing that really made me enjoy this book.  I just couldn’t figure out where it was going.

2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2001
360 pages

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The Heart Of Everything That Is by Bob Drury and Tom Cavin

The Heart Of Everything That Is

An excellent account of the life of Red Cloud, the Sioux warrior who took on the American Army in battle and win.  This impressive work is an excellent and in my opinion, unbiased account, of the life of northern Native Americans during the age of American manifest destiny.

There are so many modern accounts that downplay the Indian violence, that make it seem as if American settlers senselessly murdered peaceful native tribes in the name of self-righteousness.  This book is different.  It shows Red Cloud as a mighty and impressive warrior, highly intelligent, and culturally the polar opposite of the enemy he was dealing with.  It was highly unlikely that the Native Americans and westward expanding Americans would ever live peaceably, side by side, respecting each others cultures.  It simply wasn’t possible.  Something would have to give.

Red Cloud hoped the settlers would bypass their hunting lands and leave large swaths of the the middle United States alone for Native Americans following the herds.  The President understood that settlers would continue to come by the thousands and saw the writing on the wall.  The Native American way of life would come to an end, because the settlers were going to keep coming.  Early on it was suggested that Native Americans be taught to farm and given land.  Of course, the Native Americans were having none of that – it wasn’t their culture, that was European culture.

What made Red Cloud so amazing was his ability to earn respect among the various tribes and unite them against the United States Army.  This was virtually unheard of in Native American culture.  And he had many successes.  But only one side was going to win, and technologically and by sheer numbers, the Americans had the Natives beat.  The Heart of Everything That Is is a wonderful telling of fierceness and cunning of Red Cloud and how he bravely took on the American military machine.  Excellent reading!

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013
432 pages

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