Who knew?

I feel very British all of a sudden. I just put down Rogue Male, by Geoffrey Household. Even the author’s name makes me feel as if I am keeping a stiff upper lip for no reason whatsoever.  Who knew that this obscure little read is considered to be a classic of modern suspense – the kind of suspense that Hitchcock would have made into a movie with Cary Grant – because only Cary Grant will do. . .

Anyway, this is a strange read. The protagonist is never given a name – in a 1st person narrative, he never feels it incumbent upon himself to grace us with a name. And really, in this work, names are completely irrelevant because they are, for the most part, not one’s real name. This protagonist-who-must-not-be-named will henceforth be referred to as “Our Hero”, although “hero” is quite a strong term here. The only name I can really trust in this whole work is the name of the cat.

There are no heroes in this book, including Our Hero, who sets out to commit a daring act – which could, theoretically result in a big huge international assassination. Although his target is named only as “the great one”, given the time frame and setting of the book, one can only infer that his target is a major figure in European history in about 1940. It is only a daring act, in the beginning. No harm. No foul. Except he is caught, tortured, and manages to make his way, by various and nefarious means, to his homeland, where he is run to ground (literally) by a fellow whose name is completely and totally false.

Rogue Male is a very cerebral experience, written completely from the narrator’s point of view. Almost no dialogue. Just a long series of complex thoughts, plans, and machinations that ultimately lead to a set of circumstances that I could almost believe had happened. It is a strange story. Very strange. How Our Hero suffers as much as he does without complaining, going completely mad, or just giving away his location is beyond me. There is something very noble in suffering for one’s actions or thoughts. Job, I think, got off lightly.

And Our Hero’s motivations – so unclear, even to himself, that the brief flashes of insight are alluring but answer no questions.

This is an action story without overt action. This is a spy story without a spy. The true struggle is in Our Hero’s mind – and it is very much a case of mind over matter at all times.

Hearts: 7/10. I have to read it again. And again. And again. To even understand the beginning, I have much work to do.

A Potload of Coincidences

I just finished reading this book. I don’t exactly know what to think. It started out like a Little House in the Big Woods played out in Stalinist Russia. The stories jump around, so sequencing is a problem. But if this really happened to this woman, and I can’t say for sure if it did or did not, it is nothing like The Diary of Anne Frank. Instead, it is a much more active account that ranges anywhere from being neighbors and visitors of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn to hiding in a frozen Ukrainian basement as the Germans advance on the Russian front to deportation to a German labor camp.

This is where the coincidence comes into play. The German labor camp was located in Kassel, Germany. I lived in Kassel as a teen. The diary talks about the Kaiser Wilhelm Schloss, which has been the wallpaper on my computer for quite some time. I have been there. It also talks about the bombing of Kassel, in which 90% of the town was obliterated in 30 minutes. I have seen the pictures of the aftermath in the museums. In Kassel. Those two things I know are true. So it lends a level of credibility to the whole work, for me.

So, I have walked in Nonna Bannister’s footsteps unknowingly. I have seen places she has seen. I have heard stories that she told. I found it to be a shocking experience. It never entered my mind, at any time, that I would read, at some point, a memoir that unexpectedly brings me back to my own youthful experiences. We were even about the same age. I recall scouting around places, looking for evidence of Nazi activities while I was in Kassel. I never found any.

Until now.

Anyway, as far as the story goes, it is irregular, jumpy, and disturbingly matter-of-fact. It is unclear which evil was preferable – Stalin or the Nazis. The author is not Jewish; rather, Eastern Orthodox Catholic. She just got behind the German lines on the Russian front and could neither stay in Russia nor go to Germany without facing grave consequences. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On the heart scale: 6/10. The writing is disjointed. The story jumps around. But there is a basic human truth to be had at the end. It also gets extra credit for hitting me in the personal experience department, taking me completely unaware.

I didn’t see that one coming

But maybe I should have.

After I said I was still hungry, I continued in a rather compulsive manner through Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.

As I picked up Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and the rest of the crew, I rapidly sank deeply into the story. This particular book was a page-turner, for sure, if I actually had pages. I read it on my Kindle and I couldn’t punch the next page button fast enough. The character development in this middle section of the story is incredibly important down the line. I alternate between liking Katniss and not liking her, but that could be because she reminds me of me all too often, particularly when she is disparaging toward those trying to help her. She is always the last to know everything, so I really relate. The background on Haymitch is also welcome, since it allows me to understand him and his actions better. An uprising, a set of games, and a surprising twist at the end of the book left me nearly screaming – the ending was so abrupt that I literally gasped. If I had had to go to a bookstore to get the next book, I would have really screamed.

Hearts: 8/10. I took two off because I was left hanging so abruptly at the end.

Luckily for me, I had the foresight to download Mockingjay at the same time I downloaded Catching Fire.

 

It has been a very long time since I stayed up until 1 a.m. reading a book. I was up until 1 a.m. on a school night reading this book. As with Catching Fire, I could not get to the next page quickly enough. The story moved at the speed of light and often I had to back-peddle to make sure I had the sequence of events right. Betrayal, hijacking, mayhem, madness, and marriage – every aspect of humanity is explored and one is left with the sinking feeling that the human condition might never change. There will always be another tyrant. And, on the flip side, there will always be the human desire to live. Let me say that, in my sleep deprived state, I really see Katniss as the Mockingjay – the mutation between old and new. It is not easy journey but perhaps it is not about the journey – it may very well be about the destination.

Hearts: 9.5/10. I dropped half a star because action almost overshadows the real story here.