Monday, June 25, 2018

Review: Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fascinating and unique little book. The frame is a set of ten letters written by the author to a Palestinian neighbor. He does not know this neighbor, Halevi explains, and doesn’t know to whom to send these letters. And that is part of the story of the letters: the need for these neighbors to speak to each other, but there is seemingly infinite distance to reach each other. The letters to an anonymous neighbor express a sense of hope although one that is shadowed by the vast distance that remains: a hopeful despondence? A despondent hope?

This paradoxical situation is the leitmotif of the book. It is a deeply personal expression of paradox and ineluctable tension of ideas and people. The modern and premodern; religious and secular; Israeli and Arab; Israeli identity and Jewish identity; Judaism and Islam; East and West; the past and the future; and Jew and Jew.

As a book of letters to his Palestinian neighbor, the book is hardly directed at me and yet it is important for an American Jew to read to this book—indeed for anyone looking for some measure of insight into the Israel-Arab conflict—and also for insight into Jewishness.

Halevi’s goal here is to tell the Jewish/Israeli narrative. His hope is that if both sides can express their narratives, there can be some mutual understanding that can be the basis for moving forward. So Halevi presents his personal statement about what Jewishness is and what Israeli life is about. He talks about how these identities connect. And how this relates to the land of Israel and to the Palestinians.

Halevi is reaching out to an audience which may not and mostly will not accept it or appreciate it (An Arab translation is available free online). But he tells the narrative with the intent of trying to respect that Palestinian need for that denial while calling for them to move beyond it. He doesn’t ask for agreement or affirmation; just the space to tell his narrative. He invites Palestinians to tell their narrative and wants to grant them the same space: the space to tell each other our national narratives without dismissal or rejection. The idea is that if we can start there, we can start to see and hear each other; and then we can start a dialogue that might lead to some kind of mutual understanding.

Interestingly, Halevi is also writing to the Israeli far right. They know the Jewish narrative. But they need to see it in relation and conflict with the Palestinian narrative. Halevi is arguing that both narratives have some measure of validity and that both sides need to understand and deal with these perspectives. If we are to see each other we have to stop ignoring, downplaying and denying each other.

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Review: The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man's Fear The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second novel in the Kingkiller Chronicle. The first novel was amazing and the follow-up is as good, if not better. It takes us much deeper into the world and culture of Temerant (and beyond). We learn more about Kvothe and see his abilities and character develop more as well. We learn more about the Adem, about naming, about the Chandrian, and about the Fae and their world.

The depth of the world that Rothfuss has created is on par with the greatest of fantasy series. He does a great job of taking the standard tropes of the genre and using them with his own little twist to make the familiar seem novel. He weaves in together many familiar elements to create something new: for example, the Lethani is a sort of mix of the Dao, phronesis, and Falun Gong. I love what he does with the Adem language and culture.

The writing is crisp and creative. Although the book is quite long, it is so well paced, it doesn’t feel long. The character development, the world development, and mythos development are top-notch. If you like fantasy, you have to read this series. It really is not to be missed.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review: The Watchman

The Watchman The Watchman by Robert Crais
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fast-paced and well-crafted. Crais twists his Cole series by telling the story primarily from Pike's point of view (it is, though, still third person). Cole was, up to this point, very much Spenser in LA, but by telling us a mystery from Pike's point of view, Crais takes his Cole series to a place Parker never did.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Review: The Foundations of Eastern Civilization

The Foundations of Eastern Civilization The Foundations of Eastern Civilization by Craig G. Benjamin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a broad, sweeping, Big History course. The lectures span from Neolithic migrations into Asia up to present day. While mostly focusing on China, Benjamin has several what he calls mini-courses on other regions, including Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. He examines how these regions developed on their own but also under the influence of China. The course explores what is meant by 'foundations,' by 'eastern,' and by 'civilization': how should we and how did each of the many cultures and peoples understand and express these? Benjamin looks at the impacts of geology and climate on the cultures and peoples. He looks how the economic and political systems developed and evolved: both from internal developments and external influences.

Each lecture is interesting and well-presented. Benjamin is an excellent lecturer and story-teller. There were many things I learned, but the most surprising for me was how ancient and deep rooted some of the divisions in the region are. For example, like many I presume, I assumed the division between North and South Korea was a Cold War, modern phenomenon, but come to learn that Korea has often historically been divided in a north/south arrangement.

I am doubtful about my recall of much of the detail: the names, places, and dates and so on. But the course provides a grand schema to think about Eastern civilizations. In this way it is a good structure to have before pursuing more close study of a particular time, place, or people.

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