Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Great Recession or Who Farted?

the great recession

The “Great Recession” began in 2008 after two terms with a Republican in the White House and very opinionated Republicans all over Washington and the media (Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, et al). I am finding it mind-boggling to comprehend how the American people have become convinced that Republicans know how to economize and I can’t fathom why they should have been given control over the nation’s purse strings once again.

Republicans opened those strings (and I don’t care if they were in control of Congress or not because they questioned people’s patriotism and used fear to get that money) to finance an unnecessary and very expensive (with costs in both lives and dollars) war, and used the war to line their own pockets by choosing businesses in which they had a personal interest to funnel American dollars into private projects that supposedly supported a war effort launched on lies. No wonder Republicans are so paranoid as to imagine that Democrats lie about everything.

In addition these folks cut taxes and let the Democrats take power just as their poor economic decisions collapsed the American economy. All the excesses of the real estate “boom” and the bad actions of banks combined with the costs of the fake war and a real war in Afghanistan and the events of 9/11 and the flight of industry almost bankrupted America. And then the GOP found ways to blame this all on Democrats and many Americans believed them.

We made it through the empty factories but only because of the shenanigans in the real estate market. As foreclosure after foreclosure performed a dismal version of the wave all across American it looked like our economy would not be able to recover. Empty factories and empty houses do not say all is well in America.

Under President Obama we are recovering. Our economy is quietly stabilizing if not exactly prospering. But our economy is thin and vulnerable right now, as the Industrial Age has ended in the Western Hemisphere, and the Tech Age that has taken its place is not as robust a provider of prosperity for all. We are ready for the end of fossil fuels but have no viable alternative, only supplements so far. Without the next new thing, and given that we want to hold on to our comforts, we are in a big fat bind (unless we are in the top 1%).

Republicans seem to promise a return to the old industrial cash cow and to promise to keep the fossil fuels flowing. This is especially appealing in a time when no new innovations offer the steady predictable growth Americans are used to.

However, I know, in our hearts, we understand that even the mighty GOP cannot bring our factories back or keep sucking fossil fuels out of the earth forever. We hope we can maintain our current life styles until a new genius delivers us onto the shores of a new clean energy source. We had better be a lot more generous with all of our young people because one of them could be that new Einstein. (Let’s have free higher education for all who need it.)

In the meantime I hope we Americans do not continue to place our economy in the hands of the very people who ran it into the ground and then blamed it on anyone who is not a member of the Republican Party. It’s sort of like (and excuse my vulgarity) that elegant social game (not) of “Who Farted?” with the culprit walking away and making it seem as if any one of the innocent people in the vicinity is to blame. Really, how did the GOP pull this off? Hopefully someone will make a study of how the GOP fooled so many Americans and will deconstruct their propaganda menu. It would make a great topic for a dissertation. Maybe it’s still too soon to see all of their strategies.

Meanwhile, we need to take the purse strings out of the hands of the rapacious Republicans and hope that the rapacious Democrats will be able to exercise some control, perform a little magic, inject a little compassion into the dialogue and get serious about mucking out our bloated budget.

I dearly love post-apocalyptic literature and authors have been providing us with some great examples, but I hope they are not being prophetic in this case. I cannot believe people would vote to put the very people who devastated our economy back in charge of our money. The idea that the people in the GOP don’t see the value in preserving our fresh water (they want the Keystone Pipeline to cross a crucial aquifer in Nebraska) is enough for me to vote against them every time. I continue to be shocked that the middle class in America has not tipped to the Republican blame game.

By Nancy Brisson

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Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich – Book

Top Secret 21 2

A vacation and a Janet Evanovich novel are a perfect match. Of course, some people don’t like the parts of the Evanovich “formula” which hardly vary from book to book and the rest of us are the reason that certain elements of the Stephanie Plum books must not be lost or changed as the series continues.

We are the fans who love Stephanie and Morelli and Ranger and the Burg. We love Lulu and Connie and Stephanie’s family, Grandma Mazur in particular. We expect Grandma to tote that heavy gun in her purse. We expect her to attend viewings and to have a social life that centers around a funeral parlor. Stephanie’s apartment has to get blown up at least once and at least one vehicle has to be demolished. We love the big old indestructible Buick she is forced to resort to again and again.

Not every Plum book contains every element but Top Secret Twenty-One pretty much has them all, all the funny klutziness we expect in a Janet Evanovich/Stephanie Plum tale. All those familiar comic bits are both soothing and entertaining.

What varies in each adventure are the individuals Stephanie has to pursue as a skip tracer. This episode also involves a more serious and dangerous pursuit in partnership with the very sexy and mysterious Ranger whose Rangeman business has gained an international reputation. The accident-prone Stephanie and the very competent and edgy Ranger are always an interesting combination.

If you add into this adventure a very short guy who has fallen out with his “business” associates and who appeals to Stephanie for help what you get is another good Stephanie Plum book, over too fast, but like a movie you can watch over and over, very satisfying. How many more adventures await us? The number could be infinite, but for now it is enough to know that there most likely will be an adventure number Twenty-Two ready in time for my next vacation.

by Nancy Brisson

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7 Days of Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving


I enjoy Facebook because it allows me to keep in touch with friends and family even when they are far away and cute little tidbits float out of the ether to make me laugh or brighten my day. When the holidays arrive our Facebook chatter sometimes gets a bit mushy and hokey but it is a heartwarming thing. Since it is Thanksgiving I thought I would share one of these family tidbits with y’ all. (I can say that now; I went South).

One of my nieces (I have many) decided to get her two boys (2nd grader and 1st grader to tell, over the course of the week before Thanksgiving, what they are thankful for, and since she is a good mother she also told her sons what she is thankful for. Their choices are nothing super precocious or even noticeably   creative but I enjoyed hearing what they chose each day and thought you might also enjoy it on this Thanksgiving which finds us in the middle of uncertain times.  It is looking like simple things might be best to keep us from panic and to guide us straight and true.

Day 1

Triston is thankful for his family. Liam is thankful for mac and cheese. My niece says “I am thankful for my amazing family.”

Day 2

Triston is thankful for Super Smash Brothers (the new one). Liam is thankful for family. Mandy says “I am thankful for my wonderful husband who I love more than words can say.”

Day 3

Triston is thankful for playgrounds. Liam is thankful for stuffed animals.  Mandy says “I am thankful for Jay (brother-in-law) fixing our van because now we won’t need a jump every time we go somewhere.”

Day 4

Triston is thankful for his home. Liam is thankful for Star (the dog). Mandy says “I am thankful for my mom.”

Day 5

Triston is thankful for food. Liam is thankful for our home. Mandy says “I am thankful for friends.”

Day 6

Triston is thankful for drinks. Liam is thankful for our car. Mandy says “I am thankful for my awesome dream about my Dad last night and getting to hug him.”

These are the kinds of things, among many others, that I look forward to each day when I open up my Facebook page. Some people suggest that there are mean people on Facebook but not on my wall so far. I am very thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

(Thanks to Vintage Belle for the image above)

More of Our Southern Journey

Our fourth day in Gulfport, MS, Tuesday November 11th, we headed back to New Orleans and, although we wanted more beignets we were trying to get to a cemetery tour at 10:30 am. We rode the streetcar, but alas, we went the wrong way because we did not know that there were cemeteries at both ends of the streetcar route. It was interesting to view the actual downtown in New Orleans, the business center as opposed to the tourist sections and to see real New Orleans people heading off to their jobs.

The driver finally told us that we would have to get off and take the trolley back the other way to get to Lafayette Cemetery. He implied that we were pests and that he couldn’t wait to get rid of us, but was just being funny (I hope). Lafayette Cemetery is in the Garden District so after roaming around that antique treasure (which is still a functioning cemetery) we were able to take in the flavor of the Garden District which is a lovely residential neighborhood. We went to Magazine Street next to shop and to eat lunch. Guy Fieri has left a trail through the area of places to eat that have been visited by Diners, Drive-ins and Dives so we went to one nice little café that had his mark.

I won’t bore you with all the sisterly discussions about where we would go next and how we would get there but we did finally learn which streetcar to take to get back to our parking lot. One sister wanted to find the Palace Café so that we could have Crème de Brulée. The Palace Café is a place with European flair, very comfortable with lots of dark wood and mirrors and quite spacious by New Orleans standards. Desert was wonderful and a bit pricey but quite elegant with very nice servers.


Don’t take the red streetcars to Lafayette cemetery


Take a green streetcar to Lafayette cemetery

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In Lafayette Cemetery

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On the sidewalk outside a locksmith shop on Magazine Street

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A house in the Garden District


Bread Pudding at the Palace Cafe


The front section of the Palace Cafe


A server preparing Bananas Foster at the Palace Cafe



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The Cathedral behind Jackson Park – back where we started from

By Nancy Brisson

Pictures of streetcars and the Palace Cafe pictures including the food are from the internet, the rest of the photos are mine.

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Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst – Book

Midnight in Europe

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst is a story of how ordinary people did extraordinary things when Europe was headed into the darkness of fascism and communism just before Hitler really began to power his way through Eastern and then Western Europe.

Some may see this novel as being about as exciting as watching paint dry, because the events described are not the action-filled spy thriller fare we are used to. But to me this plays out as a period piece in 1930’s costumes. It is suspenseful but in quiet ways that strike fear in our hearts because we can imagine circumstances in which we might be called upon to test our mettle and our dedication to a cause in similar ways.

Cristiàn Ferrar is our unlikely hero. He works for the Parisian branch of an American law firm that represents the interests of wealthy Europeans. He is just approaching middle age, just on the edge of losing his attractiveness to the types of ladies he has enjoyed in the past. He is an upper class Spaniard watching his country as it is taken over by fascists led by General Franco.

Here we come at the encroaching threat of Hitler sort of sideways as Ferrar is enlisted by a diplomat (Molino) at the Spanish Embassy in Paris to take the place of Castillo, a museum curator, executed while trying to broker an arms deal. The forces of the Republic in Spain are starved for weapons which are provided to Franco’s forces by the Germans and Italians (under Mussolini). Europe is flirting with the communist/fascist movement as an opportunity to supposedly upend the aristocracy and distribute power and wealth more equally.

Watching the glitches and near misses of this arms deal provides the tension in this novel but even more important, shows us those moments when Hitler is extending his regime and Russia under Stalin has become a frightening place where the slightest action can precipitate execution or imprisonment.

We can see that these men, our heroes, are just regular people pushing past their fears. We can also see that their efforts are like building a short dam just before a monstrous deluge. This small heroism cannot stem the tide that is rising over Europe. But it also reminds us that ordinary people all over Europe will keep performing these small acts of defiance which will eventually help to undermine the tsunami that is Hitler’s Germany. Hitler will out-bully all the minor fascists rising throughout Europe and will plunge Europe into that “midnight” mentioned in the novel’s title. Fortunately we are already aware as we read that these daring people, the people who love liberty and loathe a mad master, will prevail.

This is one small story of Europe on the edge of that Hitler madness, just a peek behind the curtain before the full horror plays out on the European stage. If our way of life in America were at stake would we be part of the small army of ordinary people who dared to resist?

A poignant and famous quote sums up this image of a continent being plunged into darkness. Just behind the title page Alan Furst quotes what Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary said on 3 August 1914, the eve of the First World War, a statement that was even more prophetic as a description of the Second, “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We will not seem them again in our time.” But we did, although barely.

By Nancy Brisson

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Six Sisters Loose in New Orleans

Third day of our trip to Mississippi and New Orleans, Monday November 10th, we drove into New Orleans and began with beignets and beverages at the Café du Monde (delicious as advertised). We shopped at the French Market, walked to Jackson Park and looked in the Cathedral at the back of the park (visited by John Paul II), shopped some more, listened to some street musicians and went to the Court of the Two Sisters for a luncheon buffet. The courtyard is lovely and miles in atmosphere from the busy streets with jazz musicians, playing jazz that was mellower than what we heard in the streets. Then a mule named Gus and a driver named Mike drove us in a carriage through the French Quarter and pointed out who lived where and told some of New Orleans history. This tour was well worth the cost, especially as we were very tired by then. After pictures with Gus we went back to Gulfport. Created with Nokia Smart Cam   Created with Nokia Smart Cam   Created with Nokia Smart Cam   Created with Nokia Smart Cam   Created with Nokia Smart Cam   Created with Nokia Smart Cam   Created with Nokia Smart Cam   Created with Nokia Smart Cam   Created with Nokia Smart Cam   Pictures top to bottom: Building across from Café du Monde, Sign for French Market, side street by Jackson Park, Cathedral behind Jackson Park, Statue of Jackson at center of park, wisteria above the courtyard at the Court of the Two Sisters Restaurant, wisteria again, fountain in the courtyard, Gus who took us on a tour of the French Quarter narrated by driver, Mike, the Esplanade in the French Quarter By Nancy Brisson <a href=>Nancy Brisson</a>

NBD – Much Ado About Very Little


I can’t believe the fuss being made about President Obama’s possible executive action on immigration. It is such a limited action and really will change very little for undocumented immigrants in American. The people whose concerns are being addressed are people who have lived in America for years, have had children in American, children who have attended American schools, have had jobs in America, but who constantly anticipate (and not in a good way) being deported. They know that if someone turns them in or finds out about their undocumented status they could easily be torn from their jobs and their families. They may have done something “illegal” but they did it years ago and they have lived productive lives since then, productive lives that could unravel at any moment (as could any of our lives, although not in this particular way).

What Obama is able to do through executive action is so small that it will not even cause a ripple in the surface of American culture or the American economy. It sounds like he plans to issue temporary work permits to parents of “dreamer” children so that these parents can continue to work and support their families while their children get an education. These workers, who may not have been paying taxes, who may have been paid “under the table” will now contribute tax money and they can more confidently seek to climb the employment ladder thus offering more skills to the American workforce. They are not taking American jobs away from citizens because they are already working.

The real issue here is not immigration. Republicans are determined to turn the Obama presidency into eight empty years in American history. It is their intention to stop anything that might give President Obama a legacy. They are not too keen on any Democratic policies and they are still just stalling until the next election. They are aware that Presidents have used executive actions in the past. Executive actions are not even the real issue. The real issues is to prevent America from moving too far to the left so that when they get a Republican President elected they will not have to move so far to swing right.

They have a back-up plan in case they don’t win the Presidency in 2016 and their back-up plan is to turn as many states red as they possibly can, a strategy with which they are having a great deal of success. We have already seen Republican politics in effect in Wisconsin and in Kansas and it is clear that their policies will not work out for anyone but the very wealthy. Things are not going well for the middle class in either of those two states. We need to passionately oppose the GOP because the ways in which they want to change America are wrong-headed and unacceptable. I know that I haven’t backed this up with many facts, but read about those two states, read about Wisconsin and Kansas, and you will see where the policies of the GOP lead.

What the President says he plans to do about immigration reform is very small and should be “no big deal” except that the GOP is just so angry whenever Obama tries to accomplish anything and their threats are so disproportionate to the actions taken by Obama that we know their threats are political and have nothing to do with the topic of immigration. I don’t believe Obama should fear impeachment because, one, the job of being President in these circumstances has been very stressful and our President has been demeaned, and, two, if the GOP impeaches this President, history will not be kind to them.

By Nancy Brisson

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A Democrat in Mississippi

While I was not really surprised by the outcome of the election I was still shocked that Democrats got so few gains for their efforts. Actually Democrats got spanked. It was demoralizing, especially considering how many states were added to the 23 states that already tally on the red side. Now we have 30 red states and it looks like the goal of turning all states red is well within grasp. Stunning and scary!

Most bizarre of all, I had to head out almost immediately to travel to two very red states, Mississippi and Louisiana, to meet my sisters and to celebrate the birthday of one of my sisters. She wanted a sister trip for her birthday and I was determined to be there, and equally determined to leave politics out of it (for the most part).

We stayed at a villa (condo) in Gulfport, Mississippi, one of the nicest places I have ever stayed, although hardly at the level of luxury of the resorts many privileged travelers enjoy. We were quite comfortable and very near the gulf coast. Although we did not have a water view from our condo, the beach was only one block away. We did have a full kitchen, breakfast room, dining room, living room, 3 bedrooms, 2 full baths, a laundry room and a garage with remote door opener. Even though some of these amenities did not always function properly these lapses (except for the caught-in-time gas leak) were not serious and management did address most of them. My sister wanted to use the hot tub, but by the time management gave directions for its use it was too cold outside to get in it.

We stayed in Gulfport for one week and spent our time like this:

1st day we arrive, settle, make a grocery list, and shop, visit, watch a movie, and take a walk to the beach. In the evening we went to a very delicious Southern restaurant, destroyed by Katrina and rebuilt on stilts, the Blow Fly.

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Blow Fly Mary

This photo was taken by my sister-in-law Mary.

2nd day (Sunday) tour of Bay St. Louis, a quaint nearby town which was mostly closed because it was Sunday and there was a Saints game, but we ate at The Blind Tiger on the bay and enjoyed the local beer (Abita Amber) and food made with only fresh ingredients. We shopped a bit, but most shops were closed.

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  This is the view from The Blind Tiger.

My Southern adventures are to be continued….

By Nancy Brisson

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November, 2014 Book List


November is a month when book sites look back over the year and create their “Best of” lists, in this case for 2014. New books are still arriving in book stores as they do each month, and there are books that continue to show up on book site lists (which attests to their enduring popularity). I will include all three categories of books on this list because I love to keep track of this stuff and it helps me choose my next book, in fact, since I began keeping these lists I never run out of titles. Lately I also find myself somewhat attracted to great nonfiction titles that are arriving in book stores, but since I can’t even read all of the fiction I want to get to, nonfiction reading has to wait (perhaps forever). For what it’s worth I will share my reading list once again.


The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson

Us: A Novel by David Nicholls

The Happiest People in the World: A Novel by Brock Clarke

Mystery and Thrillers

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta

The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Café: No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

A Clean Kill in Tokyo by Barry Eisler

The Monogram Murder: The New Hercule Poirot by Sophie Hannah, Agatha Christie

Perfidia by James Ellroy

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

The Fever: A Novel by Megan E. Abbott

Amazon’s Best Books of 2014 – Selected titles

The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel by Cristina Henriquez

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Nora Webster: A Novel by Colm Tóibín

We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel by Matthew Thomas

Euphoria by Lily King

Lucky Us: A Novel by Amy Bloom

Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks

Five and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre

In Paradise: A Novel by Peter Matthiessen

Publisher’s Weekly

Best of 2014 – lots of interesting foreign titles in here

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Bk. 3 of Neopolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, trans. from Italian by Ann Goldstein

The Dog by Joseph O’Neill (Dubai)

The Wall: A Novel, 3rd and final book in the Shoah trilogy by H.G. Adler

A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Belaño, trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer

Puskin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov, trans. from the Russian by Katherine Dovlatov

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

Euphoria by Lily King

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch, trans. from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (already completed)

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

The Corpse Exhibition by Hussan Blasim, trans. from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu

Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga, trans. from the French by Melanie Mauthner

This is the Water by Yannick Murphy

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

The Antiquarians by Gustavo Faveron Patriau, trans. from Spanish by Joseph Mulligan

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink

November Picks

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper (Graphic Novel)

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

A Map of Betrayal by Ha Jin

Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

Easy Death by Daniel Boyd

Street of Thieves by Mathias Enard

The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, trans. from the German by Susan Bernofsky

The Trace by Forrest Gander

Jim’s Lion by Russell Hoban, illus by Alexis Deacon (graphic novel)

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews


Best Books of November

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni

Independent Booksellers

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford

The Peripheral by William Gibson

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, Indie “Great Read”

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King

Aimless Love by Billy Collins

As Close as Sisters by Colleen Faulkner

The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café by Alexander McCall Smith

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Adultery by Paulo Coelho

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

Havana Storm by Clive Cussler, Dirk Cussler

Personal by Lee Child

The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jon Karon

Us, David Nicholls

Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella

Deadline by John Sandford

Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schmacher

Falling from Horses by Molly Gloss

Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Gluck





Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett – Book


Ken Follett took on the enormous task of writing a book about the entire 20th century in 3 volumes: Fall of Giants, Winter of the World, and Edge of Eternity. He chose historical fiction because that is his genre and because, I’m guessing, he believes that creating relatable, memorable characters to play out history will breathe life into history in ways that a simple recitation of events cannot. It definitely works for me. Follett gives us a mining town in England to represent the end of the aristocracy and the rise of the middle class. A family of aristocrats (The Fitzherberts) and a family from amongst their poor workers who live in the nearby town and who toil in their mines get intertwined because the Earl sexually exploits his servant, gets her pregnant, and accidentally falls in love with her.

Follett gives us Russia just when the Bolsheviks make their move and Germany as World War I begins, with love and duplicity playing roles in both. These personal stories while not historically accurate are representative of the human interactions that happen in all eras and the people Follett creates bring these events to life for us.

We have American characters also with ties to the folks we met in Europe. In America we read about an African American child born of a mixed relationship and this child is also tied to the other characters we have followed to America from Europe. We follow families through their generations, families who are related both genetically and socially. These families are present at all the major events of this century: the Industrial Revolution, the Russian Revolution, World War I, immigration to America, World War II, the rise of Communism and the partitioning of Berlin with the eventual construction of the Berlin Wall, the Civil Rights movement in America, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and of Martin Luther King and the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall. We move through the Vietnam War, the Nixon years and we end with the election of Barack Obama, although these later events are only touched upon.

It’s long, a real investment of your time, but it’s engrossing and it actually moves us through an entire century fairly quickly given the depths of our interactions with the various characters and events. I used to love those James Michener books describing in sweetly agonizing detail the creatures living at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay or the contents of the various levels uncovered in an archeological dig in the Holy Land (The Source). Some people have no patience with painstakingly long descriptions. They want to get right to the narrative. But when Michener was good he was very, very good. Ken Follett’s book, Edge of Eternity and, in fact, the entire trilogy reminds me of those James Michener books. “God is in the detail”, isn’t that what they say?

By Nancy Brisson

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