In the summer of that year, a 21-year-old British woman, Lucie Blackman, disappeared while on a date. Seven months later her remains were found in a seaside cave. Times (London) Tokyo bureau chief Parry (In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chaos, 2005) paints portraits of both the victim and perpetrator, exploring how Blackman’s past led her to Japan to find work as a “hostess,” a little-understood profession with murky boundaries that defies easy explanation. In describing the months spent hunting for signs of the missing woman, Parry gives readers an inside view of the Tokyo police force. The Blackman family was a constant presence in Tokyo during the search. By explaining their unhappy dealings with the police, use of media appearances to keep attention on the case, and increasingly desperate attempts to find answers, Parry gives the story an extra sense of depth and urgency. The account of the trial of Joji Obara, Blackman’s mystery date, serves as a window not just into Obara’s mind, but also into Japan’s legal system. While much of his life remains a mystery, the author sheds some light on Obara’s character through family history and Obara’s participation in his defense. Though Parry is a journalist, this book often has the feel of a memoir. In the beginning, this disturbs the flow of the narrative, but eventually the author becomes one of the characters and the asides become an enjoyable part of the story.
A fresh, compelling read for fans of true crime and slowly unfolding mysteries.
Hecht debuts with stories woven from seemingly uneventful threads of life that are made as funny, compelling, and rewarding as a reader ever could wish. The nine pieces' narrator is in her early 40s, married, childless, a sometime resident of New York City now living in East Hampton and summering in Nantucket. Such locales might suggest a white-glove elite, but this character is no such type. Money goes unmentioned, it's true (the husband is a university dean), but Hecht's invariably engaging person is far too timid, droll, and bumbling to be a mover or shaker of much of anything. In ``Perfect Vision'' (a slow start), she's certain that an optician is an ex- Nazi, while in the much finer title story her fear of driving leads her to ride the ``South Fork bus,'' an experience as richly peopled in its understated modern way as a ride down the river might once have been with Mark Twain. Hecht's heroine is a strict vegetarian (``I knew that the Swedes liked to commit suicide, and if this was their diet, maybe it was the reason'') and pursues a career in photography that most recently involves photographing ``seven doctors and their dogs,'' the most prominent doctor being the famous ``reproductive surgeon, Dr. Loquesto,'' who always yells, never opens windows (``A Lovely Day''), and performs a ``medical procedure'' on his photographer-patient (``I Couldn't See a Thing''), who's not about to reveal exactly what the surgery is, though hints may be hidden in the gorgeously intricate ``The Thrill Is Gone'' (looking for the source of ``My heart leaps up''), or in the melancholy ``Were the Ornaments Lovely?'' (meeting two strange brothers), or even in ``The World of Ideas,'' with its glance back to the promise of the last century (``But this was the new world. What kind of world was it? It was some other kind of world, and there was no escape''). Droll, intricate, hilarious, sad: a humane, serious, funny, altogether captivating voice.
A gracefully presented narrative of the 1956 John Ford film The Searchers, which was based on a 1954 novel that was based on an actual Comanche kidnapping of a white girl in 1836.
Pulitzer Prize–winning former Washington Post reporter Frankel (Journalism/Univ. of Texas; Rivonia’s Children: Three Families and the Cost of Conscience in White South Africa, 1999, etc.) focuses on the American Southwest and the relationships between American Indians and whites. The author begins in 1954 with a shocking moment—director Ford, well into his cups, punching Henry Fonda in the nose. And away we go on a remarkable journey from Hollywood to Monument Valley and into the past as Frankel digs into American cultural history, unearthing some gold. He spends many pages telling the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, the kidnapped girl. The Parkers searched hard for her afterward, but it was not until 1860 that she was re-captured in the bloody Battle of Pease River. By then, she was in every way but genetically a Comanche. Her transition back to white society was painful, and after some moments of celebrity, she fell into obscurity. One of her Comanche children, though, who came to call himself Quanah Parker, emerged as one of the principal spokesmen for American Indian causes. Frankel pursues Cynthia Ann’s and Quanah’s stories with gusto then, nearly 200 pages later, shifts his attention to Alan LeMay, author of The Searchers and nearly a score of other novels. Then it’s on to John Ford and the making of the film with John Wayne. An epilogue deals with the amicable reunions of the Parker descendants and relatives, white and Comanche.
A thoroughly researched, clearly written account of an obsessive search through the tangled borderland of fact and fiction, legend and myth.
A thorough sifting of the often contradictory life pursuit of Gandhi (1869–1948), from South African barrister to the Mahatma.
Pulitzer Prize–winning former New York Times correspondent and editor Lelyveld (Omaha Blues: A Memory Loop, 2005, etc.) tackles the paradoxes inherent in Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha, or “firmness in truth”—his version of passive resistance in the face of social injustice, which he honed from his first journalistic writings in South Africa to his epic final demonstrations for Hindu-Muslim harmony shortly before his assassination. The author painstakingly examines the primary sources in Gandhi’s life to provide a rich, multilayered portrait of the evolution of his thought and action—no easy feat, since the Mahatma’s philosophy changed constantly, especially in the early days in South Africa, which served for two decades as his “laboratory” in which to test his ideas of civil disobedience, chastity, communal living, vegetarianism and winning rights for minorities, especially the untouchables. The last months of his stay in South Africa proved crucial, as he put himself on the line for the “coolies” he had heretofore defended in print by organizing a collective strike of indentured servants in Natal. This unleashed “a collective spasm of resentment and hope” that he took back to India in his larger crusade against the strictures of the caste system. Although he claimed always to believe in the equality of all men, Gandhi did not make the leap in the early South African struggle between the plight of the blacks (the “kaffir”) and the Indian untouchables, and only later took up the cause of the minority Muslims (for which he was killed). “To say that Gandhi wasn’t absolutely consistent isn’t to convict him of hypocrisy,” writes Lelyveld. “It’s to acknowledge that he was a political leader preoccupied with the task of building a nation, or sometimes just holding it together.” The author delves deeply into the episodes that tested, and tightened, his convictions along the way: challenging the concept of “pollution” by infiltrating the Vaikom temple in a mass demonstration in 1924; his determination to “fast unto death” to ensure untouchable representation in Congress; eight years practicing what he preached at the Wardha ashram.
An impassioned, carefully executed work of research.
A Fulbright fellow immerses himself in the remarkable history of circuses.
For generations, people have run away to the circus; in 2003, Wall followed suit. In his debut memoir, the author recounts the unique circumstances that led him down this unexpected path. After receiving a fellowship to study “contemporary circus,” Wall enrolled in the National School for the Circus Arts in France, where he soon learned the stark differences between the American circus and the European model. Historically, European circuses were known for their intimate performances, while American circuses placed their focus elsewhere. “In the big American circuses,” Wall writes, “all this familiarity and precision was gone, sacrificed for other pleasures: spectacle, pageantry, sensory stimulation….” Simply put: American circuses were more interested in turning a profit than a perfect backflip. Wall sought to train alongside the world’s best circus performers. His immersion into the ranks of acrobats, jugglers and clowns provides a behind-the-scenes look into a world spectators know little about. While readers likely have some familiarity with the traditional circus performance, they will be surprised to learn the level of dedication required for performers to hone their skills. This proves particularly true in Europe, where performers are considered artists and masters of their craft. Upon his entrance into the National School, Wall was soon humbled to learn that he was no master. At the start of the semester, even a somersault proved too complex. “It was, after all, why I had come,” he writes: “to get a glimpse of the incalculable amount of effort, embarrassment, and pain behind the seemingly effortless skills.”
Blending cultural history with biography, memoir and travelogue, Wall’s carefully balanced book is, in itself, a successful tightrope traverse.
How honest New York State Trooper Ed Croswell crashed a special meeting of gangster elites in 1957 and exposed organized crime to a dozing American public.
Screenwriter and playwright Reavill (Aftermath, Inc.: Cleaning Up After CSI Goes Home, 2007, etc.) vividly recreates that miasmic era of ignorance and innocence with all the blunt-end aplomb befitting coldblooded killers and crooked lawmen. In the fall of 1957, a cadre of "fourteen-karat hoodlums" decided to meet and talk business at the rustic estate in Apalachin, N.Y. It was a mistake that would forever cost the mob its coveted mask of anonymity. Much has been written about how the authorities managed to find out about the secret Apalachin gathering, but Reavill argues that none of the complex conspiracy theories involving insider betrayals and double crosses are true. Instead, the author constructs a compelling case that the landmark bust was all due to a little luck and one man simply doing his job. Lively, detailed reporting sets intriguing characters on both sides of the law on an inexorable crash course for the sleepy woodlands of upstate New York. Some of the intimate portraits stretch back before World War II and from as far away as Sicily, but the colorful writing makes the events as accessible and immediate as if they were unfolding today. In addition to requisite stories of bloody mob hits and ruthless grabs at power, there are shocking reversals of fortune, incredible examples of collusion between the mob and the U.S. government, and an eye-opening look at how the Mafia built its highly durable and lucrative narcotics trade. While none of that came to a screeching halt on that fateful day in Apalachin, Croswell’s dogged determination forced law enforcement agents to confront the mob like never before.
An exciting, comprehensive chronicle of one of the most pivotal events in mob history.
The author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own (2003) returns with a tour de force about Johann Sebastian Bach and a description and assessment of the recordings that have made his work an essential part of our culture.
Elie, a former senior editor with FSG and now a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, tells a polyphonic tale, weaving throughout his narrative a history of the recording industry and brisk biographies of Bach and the 20th-century performers who first recorded his work for mass audiences, including Albert Schweitzer, Leopold Stokowski, Pablo Casals and Glenn Gould. The author begins with a snapshot of Bach’s pervasive presence today, then takes us back to 1935 and Schweitzer’s recordings of Bach’s organ works on wax cylinders. Throughout the text, Elie moves us forward in the history of technology—from 78s to LPs to tapes to CDs to MP3s, showing how Bach managed to remain relevant. We also follow the careers of his principals; Elie’s treatment of the talented and troubled Gould is especially sensitive and enlightening. Occasionally, the author enters the narrative for a personal connection, perhaps nowhere more affectingly than in his account of the time he danced in the rain on the Tanglewood grass while Yo-Yo Ma played a Bach cello suite. Elie also tells us how other cultural figures have employed the music and the man—e.g., Douglas Hofstadter’s 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach, the 1968 album Switched-On Bach and the use of Bach in films and on TV.
The author’s passion, thorough research and imaginative heart produce one revelation after another.
A straight-arrow Imperial Roman hydraulic engineer on assignment in Naples plumbs into the corruption of the waterworks as Vesuvius begins to rumble.
How do you breathe life into a 2,000-year-old catastrophe? If you’re the thoroughly capable British novelist-journalist-columnist Harris (Archangel, 1999, etc.), you conjure up an unassuming but utterly trustworthy civil engineer, Marcus Attilius Primus, have the Emperor send him from Rome to the steamy south to fill the mysteriously vacated shoes of the longtime overseer of the Aqua Augusta, the local water supply, throw him up against embedded proto-Mafia corruption, bring in real-life polymath admiral Pliny the Elder, stir up a pen of man-eating eels, sketch a long-legged lass about to be wed to one of her criminal father’s tame politicians, and steam everything in sulfurous vapors of the continent’s great sleeping volcano. Although they may be in Imperial drag, Harris’s slaves, masters, bureaucrats, and soldiers move through the streets of Pompeii, a pretty little city on the make, like . . . well . . . Italians. And who ever would have thought the ins and outs of an aqueduct would work to knit everything together? Engineering may be geeky to some, but you’ve got to respect a public work that works, bringing water over arches and through tunnels hundreds of miles from the mountains to greater Naples, where it plashes through fountains and baths. But the water has suddenly stopped west of the Pompeii junction. Did Attilius’ predecessor skimp on the maintenance? Hard to say since nobody will talk about him. And just what did nouveau superrich ex-slave Numerius Popidius Ampliatus, proud owner of a garish villa next to Pliny’s naval base, have to do with the water supply that feeds his fancy fish farm? And how did he make that fortune in little old Pompeii? And why is the ground steaming? And that wine glass—it’s trembling.
Fast, fact-filled, and quite fun. A blast, really.
In her debut, Pulitzer Prize–winning New Yorker staff writer Boo creates an intimate, unforgettable portrait of India’s urban poor.
Mumbai’s sparkling new airport and surrounding luxury hotels welcome visitors to the globalized, privatized, competitive India. Across the highway, on top of tons of garbage and next to a vast pool of sewage, lies the slum of Annawadi, one of many such places that house the millions of poor of Mumbai. For more than three years, Boo lived among and learned from the residents, observing their struggles and quarrels, listening to their dreams and despair, recording it all. She came away with a detailed portrait of individuals daring to aspire but too often denied a chance—their lives viewed as an embarrassment to the modernized wealthy. The author poignantly details these many lives: Abdul, a quiet buyer of recyclable trash who wished for nothing more than what he had; Zehrunisa, Abdul’s mother, a Muslim matriarch among hostile Hindu neighbors; Asha, the ambitious slum leader who used her connections and body in a vain attempt to escape from Annawadi; Manju, her beautiful, intelligent daughter whose hopes lay in the new India of opportunity; Sunil, the master scavenger, a little boy who would not grow; Meena, who drank rat poison rather than become a teenage bride in a remote village; Kalu, the charming garbage thief who was murdered and left by the side of the road. Boo brilliantly brings to life the residents of Annawadi, allowing the reader to know them and admire the fierce intelligence that allows them to survive in a world not made for them.
The best book yet written on India in the throes of a brutal transition.
Using the life of one man as his framework, Sheehan (The Arnheiter Affair, 1971) has written the best book on America's involvement in Vietnam since Frances FitzGerald's Fire in the Lake.
John Paul Vann was a visionary as well as a gung-ho army officer. Arriving in Saigon in 1962 as a Lt. Colonel, Vann soon perceived something amiss in the US approach to the blossoming war. The American-backed ruling family, the Ngo Dinhs, were considered foreigners by most of the population; the ARVN existed primarily to protect them and generate graft; and American-supplied weapons were going almost directly to the Viet Cong. Vann was quick to realize that until the US took the loyalties and traditions of the population into account, it would be pouring lives and money into the quagmire to no avail. Vann was to retire and return to Vietnam as a civilian in the Foreign Service before he was listened to; eventually, he was regarded as one of the best minds in the field, and his ideas were adopted (too late to change the outcome) at the highest levels; he died there in a helicopter accident in 1972. Sheehan, a friend of Vann's and one of the many newsmen whose understanding of the war was shaped by him (changing the press's relationship with the military), conducted close to 400 interviews and did exhaustive research to put together this brutal, honest, exciting, often funny book.
His canvas is broad, filled with neatly integrated historical information, sharply observed portraits (from policy level on down), tactical and logistic detail, and insightful political analysis, along with the biography of a fascinating and uniquely American character.