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The Lonely Sea: Collected Short Stories
Alistair MacLean
Her Benny
Silas K. Hocking
Vedere din Parfumerie
Silvia Kerim
Mysticism and Logic (Western Philosophy)
Bertrand Russell
The Analects of Confucious
Confucius
Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking
William James
Does Anything Eat Wasps?: And 101 Other Unsettling, Witty Answers to Questions You Never Thought You Wanted to Ask
New Scientists Books Staff, New Scientist
Mutual Aid
Pyotr Kropotkin
City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi
Olivia Fraser, William Dalrymple
The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Taras Bulba

Taras Bulba - Nikolai Gogol, D.J. Hogarth As a literary work? Short, fast, and very entertaining. But that's not what makes it great. Its greatness rests in its inspiring the greatest literature of Russia and the world. Almost as an aside, it also provides more detail about Cossack life than I could find online or in Ukraine. In providing accurate details of Cossack life, with its mindless violence and racism, it exposes the roots of mindless violence and racism in the area's recent history.

I've recently spent several months in Western Ukraine. No one there wanted to talk about the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, which may or may not involve Russia on a grand scale. No one tried to answer my questions about Cossacks either. Sometimes I saw men with the sides of their heads shaved, but Gogol tells me they have to have a kind of tail to be deemed fighters. A mix of Wikipedia and local history books suggests that Cossacks were just whatever men chose to fight Lithuanian rulers, making their base in a 15th century "wild area" in some part of Ukraine. That isn't quite Gogol's description. By the time of this book their enemy had become Poland.

As far as I know, Western Ukraine wasn't a Cossack stronghold, but rather, one of Ukraine's only mountainous areas, where Ukrainian militias in WWII killed between 40,000 and 60,000 Polish women and children. Several villages in western Ukraine also killed large number of Jewish residents in the 1940s.

That would be entirely in keeping with Gogol's descriptions. And yet the people I met in Western Ukraine seemed to lack the mad lust for life in Gogol's work. There was indeed a beautiful, baffling joy and naivete in some of the historically most racist areas, but I'd be curious to see more "Cossack" areas in better circumstances.

A study of Russian literature from the 1800s which has just appeared in my updates suggests that Taras Bulba is unique in Russian literature, a romantic novel copying Homer's epic form. Yet I still contend that the impulsive characters are quite similar to, and even inspiration for, the crazed religious zealots in Dostoevsky, although not many characters in Taras Bulba, aside possibly from one son and his mother, spend time in psychological agony.

I know that spending too much time in Western Ukraine, especially after learning about their recent genocides, caused me a certain amount of psychological agony.

I recently wrote more thoughts about Gogol's cultural influence:
https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/466407-idle-thoughts-on-war

Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller

Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller - Tracy Daugherty I started skimming this for 30 minutes, just as I was leaving a library in Croatia. Other reviews tell me there's a good deal of (warranted?) character assasination in the book, but hovering around the beginning of the book, I somehow snatched the meat. Heller was an advertising exec who'd grown up visiting the Jewish vaudeville centers in the Poconos. That helped explain his amazing ear for words and his ability to make the ridiculous sublime.

But truth be told, it appears to have been his editor working with him over the manuscript, rewriting it again and again, which helped tone down the humor and turned it into a "serious" book.

Strange to say, although not apparently mentioned in this book, the same editor rejected rewrites of "Confederacy of Dunces" numerous times for being too funny or pointless, which is said to have lead to O'Toole's fatal depression. Catch-22 is the better book, but I can's see why being incredibly funny is any kind of demerit.

Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood (Works)

Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood (Works) - Sigmund Freud, James Strachey There should really be a Freudian party game. Name the first animal, vegetable, and sexual position that come to your mind. And....go! A duck, a ripe carrot, and a goose.

Until then we have a good deal of Freud's nonsense in the original, which never quite seemed nonsense until I finished reading this. I still admire the attempt, with so little historical detail to go on. It's just funny and gratifying to find that Freud sounds like a prude. Maybe he had his nose operated on so many times to really dig the id out of there.

First, Freud is lying to himself if he believes that da Vinci was strictly a celebate homosexual with all those "beautiful" apprentices he hired. Nevertheless, this leads Freud into some of the strangest contortions yet, wherein he analyzes some simple book keeping of expenses paid to demonstrate repressed expression of desire. You have to read it yourself, if you like comedy.

That brings us to the next major problem, which is Freud's claim that repression aided da Vinci's art. Freud even goes so far as to call this a common phenomenon. Aside from the fact that da Vinci was no monk, well, no monk has ever produced da Vinci's art. Assuming da Vinci was a monk and Freud's theory is right, well, it's Freud himself who points out that da Vinci gradually struggled to finish most of his art. Freud's answer might be that it was repression which made da Vinci a scientist. Poor Gregor Mendel.

Things you'll find interesting:
--da Vinci painted the Last Supper in oil, which he knew was wrong for wall art, which is why it's falling apart.
--the "Mona Lisa smile" shows up everywhere, including the art of his students. Seeing it on a very weird John the Baptist really makes you shudder.
--da Vinci's only recorded dream was of a vulture's tail feathers brushing his lips as an infant. Guess what this means. And...go!

Freud said:
"The desire to take the male member into the mouth and suck it, which is considered as one of the most disgusting of sexual perversions, is nevertheless a frequent occurrence among the women of our time...that disgusting sexual fantasy."

To be fair, it might be unclear whether he is referring to the fantasy of women or da Vinci's dream.

At least in this short work, which strangely enough, turned out to be repetitive, Freud's method is to make outrageous claims in quick succession, backtrack a little, then repeat them as a bland hodgepodge which we're now supposed to take for granted. I almost stopped reading, so thorough was the repetition, but I would have missed this choice sentence, suddenly added without explanation:

"Leonardo's physical beauty as well as his left-handedness furnish here some support." Support of what? I am physically beautiful and left-handed, but, frankly, I am no da Vinci.



Physicians

Physicians - Henry Denker This rare find was an utter relief after reading endless, labored "humour" and folk tales. I can't say that modern humour or ancient fables respect the reader's intelligence much, but this author accomplished the nearly impossible feat of mixing medical explanation, legal machinations, and political intrigue, without making it tedious or unbelievable. I even suspect that my ability to make medical predictions owes its self-satisfaction to subtle hints provided by the author.

That said, it begins to seem by the end of the book that one or more of the protagonist doctors should indeed have seen the medical problem sooner than I did. I have a great deal of sympathy for the self-taught "villian" who spends time in a medical library in order to ferret out and understand malpractice. The villian loses his irresponsible enclosing quotes by the end, but one hopes the author isn't suggesting that patients shouldn't take a degree of control in their own care.

As an aside, the effect of UV light, blue spectrum in this case, which breaks down biliruben in the body, is something I'd learned of recently in a separate book. It would be interesting indeed if markedly lower cancer rates which occur near the equator could be ascribed to the effects of UV light rather than simple vitamin D.

I have some doubts that this genre is effective for more than simple medical analysis, but am curious if modern versions of the same quality, covering something such as cancer might still exist.

Tortilla Flat

Tortilla Flat - John Steinbeck At least I can thank this book's financial success for inspiring the exceptional sequel "Cannery Row", many years later. I'd like to say that I saw Steinbeck's explicit reliance on tales from King Arthur. Maybe I got very close, noticing the parallel between a quest in the forest and scenes from a famous Monty Python movie. But even with epic chapter descriptions and formalized, old English proclamations from alleged paisanos, no, I didn't make the connection. The King Arthur connection is possibly the only explanation for Steinbeck's pulling his punches during one grand quest which was intended to enrich the Catholic church.

I've had Mexican friends and girlfriends, but I was seldom reading these Steinbeck characters as Mexican. It was one chapter which ends with a woman made pregnant by any one of the paisano men which brought me up short, probably for the same reason a professor once said that Steinbeck's characters share women in a way which is not common to Mexican culture.

I might have forgiven the book its traces of race blindness if the ending weren't so sad and abrupt. I didn't in general see the depictions as racist. Rather, it seems like the epic form twisted into comedy isn't intended for rich character development on several levels.

I will say this: the Gaulish French who wrote the first tales of King Arthur, the Welsh knights under King Arthur, and parts of Spanish Iberia which were involved in the settlement of Mexico all have Celtic heritage. This Laissez-faire existential life of parties and defending one's honour seem to have a long Celtic heritage.

Addendum: I have to add that I typically find Steinbeck's forays into descriptive foliage really tiresome. Here, the proximity to the beach, along with the attendant flies, is emphasized a bit, but somehow his descriptions miss the point about beach bum life. The only exception being his observation that the incessant waves rolling in create an altered sense of time.

This book was the main inspiration for this essay:
https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/464252-comedies-constructed-from-fables-need-less-plot

Amintiri din copilărie

Amintiri din copilărie - Ion Creangă This worked a lot better than I'd expected. I bought it in Suceava, Romania because the bookstore employee told me it was "very famous", although his familiarity may come from being closer to its Moldavian setting, which several other locals urged me to visit, than someone, say, in Bucharest. I was more than a little worried I'd be reading a dull hagiography about life in Romania's nineteenth century mountains, but it turned out to be the memoirs of an unrepentant scamp.

I wouldn't have wanted Ion as a friend growing up, no matter how old he'd been when he pursued his minor sins. From the first, I found myself tut-tutting at his stealing of cherries from his aunt's cherry trees. Somehow I can't accept that I did worse as a child, or that stealing fruit from your neighbors' trees quickly turned up in two other books I'd been reading, "Good Omens" and "Tortilla Flat". Somehow it sounds worse when its being told with relish by the antagonist. Only once does he blame the devil by name, but it now sounds like sarcasm. Is this a book for children or only Romanian children?

I remembered Ion's stories a lot longer than stories and fables in a half dozen books I'd been reading at the same time. I wish that Ion had listened to his old driver who was warning him that life on the plains, which Ion was moving to, was intrinsically worse than their mountain village. But I fear that Ion died too young, at 52, in Bucharest.

This was one of the humourous books which "worked".
https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/464252-comedies-constructed-from-fables-need-less-plot

The Pig Scrolls

The Pig Scrolls - Paul Shipton This had a seemingly spectacular opening, alive with concepts, but all too quickly trailed off into tedious adventure, especially so because it's consigned to describing narrow escapes by a pig under fences, etc. Having the entire pantheon of Greek gods and philosophies, it manages to cover very little historical ground, although more than most young children have. Still, I seem to remember children have the attention for greater detail and/or glorification of epic details.

This is one of the comedy books which didn't quite "work":
https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/464252-comedies-constructed-from-fables-need-less-plot

The English Neighbour

The English Neighbour - Mikhail Veshim This was a hot mess. I barely finished it, although there was a strange hour when it seemed like a work of genius compared to "Tortilla Flat". I will say this in its favour -- it was unfailing optimistic, that the actual characters tried to make actual jokes, without a condescending authorial voice doing all the heavy work of seeming humourous, and that it humanized apparent Bulgarian idiots (around Varna?) quite a bit more than Steinbeck did for his pseudo-Mexicans.

Port of Call

Port of Call - John Morrison Picked this up initially because it was written about a port, while I am "docked" as it were in some kind of beach port. But this book was shelved beside a collection of Aussie short stories, put together by one of those west-struck maniacs in Soviet Russia. Wouldn't you know that Morrison shows up in that collection as one of Australia's greatest short story authors? He's called, somewhere, a master of "social realism", which left me suspicious that I'd be buying into some socialist rant about union struggle on the docks. Far from it.

Morrison, like Jim Morrison of "The Doors", has an Irish surname, and seems just as baffled by his crazy Irish impulses. The realism of the book is its depiction of a man so short-tempered and irresponsible that he lets poor old women and sailors run his life, often just to test his patience. There's some hint that Morrison sees at least part of the problem, as described by the main character's girlfriend, but even such explicit warning from the latest saint or whore is just another excuse for self-serving freedom, which barely touches the man's core. By the end of the book, predictably, nothing has really been resolved or changed.

British novelists, unlike, say, a few modern Bulgarian ones, have a talent for putting outrageous events into a slightly bemused, soothing order which doesn't jangle the reader's judgement. The soothing mechanics of the delivery might even be called "entertaining" if you don't want much responsibility at a beach. The pity of this novel is that is falls squarely in a middle that wasn't much described in the 40s. It's slightly too racy and disjointed for the 1940s, slightly too conservative for the 60s. You'd have to be exceptionally familiar or exceptionally unfamiliar with this type of rogue Irishman to consider him worth following.

But in hindsight, the real failing as entertainment is that an Irishman wrote a book about an Irish sailor which is accurate, pointless, and surprisingly humourless. Granted, it probably doesn't matter that Morrison couldn't explain an Irish man's incessant, contradictory demands for both justice and freedom. Whereas Jim Morrison the singer died at 20 something, with a body puffed out by drugs in Paris, the writer John Morrison, according to the back blurb, spent most of his life as a gardener in the mountains of Australia, probably alternating between short stories and pointless adventures, late into his 80s.

History of Ukraine

History of Ukraine - Yuriy Aleksieiev Sometimes it helps to see just how badly a country's intellectuals describe their own history. This was originally published in Ukrainian and then translated into an absolutely ham-fisted English version. But I don't think the superficial nature of the content is the translator's fault.

Even if the primary audience is Ukrainians, would not the process whereby Stalin starved to death millions of Ukrainians warrant more than a paragraph? Because that's just one of the places where we are provided historical references without further explanation. The writer is a professor with a Ph.D who has served as director for any number of institutes of Slavonic Studies in Ukraine, but I am reminded, as I learn about the Ukrainian backgrounds of both Gogol and the author of Master and Margarita from other reference books, that there seems to be a pattern of Ukrainian intellectuals providing turgid detail without perspective. This author describes the first Ukrainian historians in the 17th century "trying to move from enumerating the events to their thorough understanding", but hasn't picked up the process himself. It's still far more explanation than I can get from average Ukrainians.

What's potentially valuable for foreign readers:

-- The main international trade route, the "route from the Varangians to the Greeks" started to lose its importance in the 12th century. Another book tells me that the Greeks and then the Genoese settled the Crimea, and that it was possible to navigate the river from the Crimea to the Baltics or vice versa.

-- Lithuania, then Poland overran large parts of Ukraine at one time. Ukraine is the second largest land mass in Europe, which finally explains how Lithuanians claim that they were the largest empire in Europe at one time. I've just read that Hitler's secret plans also included taking the industrial center of Donetsk, which is a source of ongoing battles as we speak. You'd think being a land with just 5% mountain would be automatically hopeless for Ukrainian defenders, until one reads in Shirer's account of the Nazis that the Swedish King and Napolean were also stopped on the endless Russian steppes.

-- The book hints that serfdom imposed by the Lithuanians may have led to the rise of Cossacks, or individual rebels fighting for independence.

-- Cossacks were first mentioned in the 15th century, guiding the Polish army against the Tartars. "A Cossack's main pursuits included 'obliging' (various trades and crafts) and 'pillaging'.

-- Cossacks are mainly glorified here, with the exception of a wayward hetman or two.

-- Kruschev was of Ukrainian descent, which apparently helped Ukrainians in some ways. Another book I have mentions that Kruschev reassigned the Crimea to Ukrainian lands.

-- In the early 19th century, meetings for Ukrainian independence were held in Masons lodges. The Mason "eye", I notice, appears on the Ukrainain 500, although it was only a Ukrainian who suggested recently that it was conspiratorial.

-- What seems like a typical 19 century process to define nationality by formalizing the Ukrainian language and recording its folkore. It having happened late in a country that was seldom independent, not even this modern professor sees it as a dubious process yet.

-- I'd always wondered what happened in Austrian history to make the Balkans such a hot spot for ethnic wars. This book suggests that the revolution of 1848 which overthrew the government of Vienna coincided with nationalist activism in Ukraine.

WWII era: "It should be mentiond that the main role in the process of Ukrainian liberation was played by the regular Soviet Army."

Under Russia, "many Jewish writers, scientists, and artists were blamed for 'cosmopolitanism'. The case of the so called 'Jewish intellectuals plot' that presupposed splitting Crimea from the USSR was set up." What? No further information provided. This book makes reference to the misuse of farm land as industrial land, which in one sense, might be the problem or argument which made Stalin's collective farms and industrialization so disastrous. But I also get a sense that Ukraine is an immense, mostly flat farm land still keen to remain tradition-bound.








Horribly Hilarious Joke Book (Horrible Histories)

Horribly Hilarious Joke Book (Horrible Histories) - Terry Deary, Martin Brown No one gets enough credit for inventing a good joke, but here we have evidence of half a dozen original but highly specific yakkers. One wishes there were more, but I have to agree with the stately drawing of Queen Victoria on endspiece: "We are amused."

The Royal Readers

The Royal Readers - Nelson Thomas and Sons I have no idea how common these little readers were, in schools or wherever, although I do know that Thomas Nelson was recently the largest publisher of Bibles in the world.

I've somehow made it through most of volume V, including the poems and several accounts of pointless battles.

I don't know of any publisher who prepares readers of this variety and reading difficulty anymore. I may be getting too old to read so many short pieces on wildly different topics, although I'm badly out of practice reading magazines.

I started looking for patterns. Here are some: excerpts of battles exclusively where the peerless English won, except for a sad poem about Poland's partition or two. Might be explained by the fact that these books were printed in England, but I thought Thomas Nelson came from the southern U.S.

Lots of Scottish references, possibly inspired by the Scottish influence in the southern U.S. Perhaps every poem Thomas Cambell ever wrote is here, and generally it's not to his credit. Longfellow, however, has written some astonishing stuff, including something called "The Slave's Dream," which ends with a metaphor regarding a chain which is so evocative that chain references pepper every other excerpt. Christopher Columbus, for example, was buried with his old prison chains, per his request. Perhaps it was a throwback to Bronze Period, when, so this reader says, soldiers were buried with their swords broken, to symbolize a well-deserved rest.

Crazy stuff about settlement of Pennsylvania taking place without Quakers in conflict with "Penn's Children", the Native Americans. Wikipedia informs me that George Washington may have mistakenly wiped out just one of Pennsylvania's extinct tribes, in mistaken retaliation after colonist troops were massacred there. The Brits were recruiting Native warriors in the Revolutionary War, something one parliamentary speech here rages against. I almost suspect that the British mindset caused most of the Native massacres, but given the British background the colonists brought with them, that would be a truism.

The apparent opposite is Virginia, which was apparently settled by notorious scoundrels (well, that could included Walter Raleigh himself) and kept seeing its settlements decimated. Apparently, most prominent Virginians can still trace their heritage to the son of Pocohontas, which makes the fact that Donald Trump has been using "Pocohontas" as an insult all the more ridiculous.

A story about the "Mayflower". Who knew that the pilgrim Puritans lived for more than a decade in Holland before heading out to sea? Can it really be true that the U.S. is Puritanical just because the Pilgrims arrived on the east coast first?





The English: Are They Human?

The English: Are They Human? - Gustaaf Johannes Renier There is a (culturally) very telling scene in one Austin Powers movie, written by a man whose father is, I believe, British. The villian is trying to find a polite way to kick Mini-me out of the dining hall, until the bizarre Dutch character on roller skates suddenly blurts out "The little one doesn't realize!"

The Dutch/French author of this book, true to a certain Dutch stereotype, is a kind of hanger-on, an outsider, a proverbial little one, there at the table to state trivialities, without having any greater focus or purpose.

With this author's stated ideal being "the Belgian burgher", it's the equivalent of sitting at a table and getting a menu published in Germany for a British McDonalds, which offers burgers "baked in Holland". Mmm...

What's the point of even reviewing a meal like this? Well, it's because somewhere along the way the Benelux countries, mainly the Netherlands?, became the legal foundation of the modern EU. It's as if they invited the people of Europe to come to Amsterdam, relax their inhibitions and be harangued by Dutchmen in the street.

But,returning, unfortunately, to the book. In truth, the title is meaningless. The author wants to change everything and nothing about the English character. The English are in fact superhuman in his racist mind, even "beautiful", the men he says, who sustain an empire which is such a model for international relations. Also, their civil servants are a permanent improvement on democracy, according to him.

True, the author does believe that the English have buried their humanity in repression and ritual, learned for the most part in English public schools, which were created to teach nothing but empty formalisms to future officers. The fact that he admires a military empire run by civil servants instead of having the country of impulsive farmers he'd rather see is a contradiction which seems to challenge the intellect of this particular bright spark. But, hey, he also says briefly that anarchy and Tolstoianism are the only ways to live. Typical of a burgher to hang out uniformly, trying to look right from every side.

Asides about language as evidence of English humanity: exactly one example provided, the phrase "swing a dead cat", a phrase which seems strange to this man who was once harangued by some repressed animal rights lover when he pushed a cat out of the way.

Asides about the genuine character of real Englishmen: exactly two examples, farmers telling sex anecdotes in a round, then letting him drink from the same glass where they put their lips. He really begins to sound like a creepy little Dutchman, and one wonders which side of the fagging tradition he appreciates in English public schools. I won't even mention that he publishes his book in a Dutchman's rhetorical enemy, Germany.

Overall, the English and every pertinent nationality knew perfectly well that it was time to party after WWI and honestly, what's more martial and repressive in its bearing than time spent in the military itself? He seems to have come late to the 1920s party. Nor does he anticipate political upheaval of the 30s and 40s; at most he says that Churchill would be a fascist and that neither Ireland nor women would accomplish much with the vote.

What's honestly the most troubling are his concluding pages suggesting that all truth, being subjective, is just an art, just so many forms to be played with. Aside from being the nature of burgher cowardice, it sounds highly reminiscent of certain postmodern schools taught badly.





Julie of the Wolves

Julie of the Wolves - Jean Craighead George, John Schoenherr A friend at university had a comic book with one of the world's greatest titles: "Beautiful stories for ugly children."

Here we have another one, a Newberry Winner no less.

Two forebodings that dogged me throughout were 1) It read like research that wasn't fully understood. 2) The author has a very English-sounding name.

So...I have some idea how wolves raise their young, how Eskimo compasses are built, and how sleds are made from nothing but ice and string, but this book doesn't give enough explanation to safely do any of those things.

That's not the point of course. She was never going to let a 13 year old girl stay in the wilderness any length of time.

It's the last line of Julie's last song on the last page which is the most troubling:
"That the hour of the wolf and the Eskimo is over."

My Russian(?) reference book tells me that the Inuit are still spread out across Greenland, Russia, Canada and the U.S.

Mantissa

Mantissa - John Fowles "Mantissa" means essentially an unnecessary verbal addendum. Mildly amusing, mildly erotic, mildly neurotic. It mostly seems like the work of a dirty old man treading water, mildly undecided between putting sex or love, or some combination of the two, at the sole apex of life, while suspecting those same impulses for trapping him in boring dialogues and marriages. I thought his suggestion to this imaginary woman that she try working as a reviewer was ugly and uncalled for.

Fowles had unaccountably been in England too long, after several early years believing he was somehow Greek. But we're still treated to a lot of nonelucidated namedropping of Greek words, Greek authors, etc., etc. Per my, verbally, far more interesting book, "Are the English Human?", written by a Flemish/French immigrant to the UK in the 1920s, Fowles has become thoroughly English here; he has become indifferent to the English language, although he's still enthralled by a long Greek trainwreck of a word or two. It seems Brits of a certain age can write these unobtrusive, non-explicit stage plays, one after another, if they're less honest than Fowles.

Happily, the "meta" part of this meta-novel seems largely subdued. Just as happily, the hilarious and pointed asides about deconstructionists, postmodernists and other weirdos of 80s academia who "proved" that authors don't write their own books are barbs now missing their target, since I can see no evidence that readers bother to even buy postmodernist books.

Suspicion #1 confirmed: this was the last novel Fowles wrote
Suspicion #2 uncomfirmed: he was only middle-aged, not old
Suspicion #3 unnecessary: Was he (happily?) married at the time?

Between the Woods and the Water

Between the Woods and the Water - Patrick Leigh Fermor, Jan Morris I have to believe that Fermor's reputation as one of England's greatest writers must rest on many of his earlier books. Or maybe it's the the recommendation of lesser writers like Morris. This book gets three instead of fewer stars merely because 1) I'd recently passed through some of the same terrain 2) He told me something about my family history I never would have guessed, although I'd spent days in the same city bequeathed to Teutonic Knights, entirely unaware of its history.

I CAN see how his technique would become soothing or mysterious to readers who'd never seen precisely the same foreign lands. His writing is a singular collection of strange nouns, which become clunky and tedious unless one is instantly mesmerized by exotic locations and words. But when he describes the next city on the trip, Sibiu, which neither he nor I have really seen? Both of us become mesmerized.

The nice thing about his obsession with nouns is that you begin to notice an astonishing variety of cultures packed into quite a dense area of Europe. This he can accomplish because he whips back and forth among the castles of Austro-Hungarian archdukes, Jewish mountain homes, and island mosques. He also claims that the astonishing variety of costumes represent well-established, intricate hierarchies in each tribe's work life. Perhaps it is invaluable as a memoir of what was lost between the wars, aside from his dubious virginity and most of the notes and notebooks he'd sent or kept at the time. All of the costumes seem to have vanished by now, along with the water buffalo.

I was going to say that this book works best as a history lesson, but in hindsight it seems that rivalries between mountain tribes and Austro-Hungarian or Rumanian royalty seem quite insignficant compared to two world wars and their aftermath. By no means have Romanians forgotten Vlad the Impaler, but I wonder if there's a point in dredging up bickering over Transylvania? Vlad conquered Ottoman forces, for example, but Turks still live quite openly in the population centers of Bucharest and Transylvaina.

Fermor never seems to touch much on conflict, including the world wars, although his writing is sometimes so elliptical it's hard to tell. I did make a special note to mention that his one page synopsis about the history of anti-semitism in Europe is one of the greatest, most balanced explanations I've ever seen.

But as memoir? He only expresses strong emotion about three things: the loss of his notebooks years after his travels, the loss of updates he sent to his mother, also years later, and the loss of Trajan's bridge, along with the strange rapids it once bridged and the last island refuge of ancient Turks, all of which happened when bordering countries created a lake between the Carpathian and Balkan mountains. None of that strong emotion shows up as regret for the host families lost in the war and other tragedies, or the melancholy joy of drinking strange liquor to gypsy music, or taking another man's wife deeper and deeper into the woods.