Alternative history: Strangelove, 1962

Strangelove, 1962mrblo

1945: During post-war efforts to bring scientists who worked for the Third Reich into the United States, the US War Department obeys President Truman’s order to exclude scientists who supported Nazism, rather than rewriting candidates’ files to conceal the evidence. The United States and the Soviet Union divide the German scientists with more equality. In particular, the Soviet Union acquires Arthur Rudolf, former operations director of the Mittelwerk factory at the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camps.


January, 1946: Rather than anticipating a post-war crisis of overproduction in the USA, Soviet economists predict that the United States will try to avoid the crisis by maintaining its wartime military industry and trying to open the new Europe and Asia to free trade. Based on their advice, Stalin now views the United States as the chief threat to the Soviet Union, instead of the reemergence of Germany or Japan. Continue reading

You are My Moon in My Night

Haruki Murakami. trans. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel

1Q84At the great risk of sounding insufferably pretentious, I am a fan of Haruki Murakami. I first received Kafka on the Shore for Christmas in 2005, when I had just recently returned from my first trip to Japan as part of a high school study tour. My mind thoroughly blown, I searched for other Murakami books and have enjoyed most of them. It must be confessed, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle sits half finished on my shelf. But I loved A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance and Sputnik Sweetheart. And I read Norwegian Wood at precisely the right time of my life, in my early 20s and on holiday. Though it remains one of my favourite books, I’m afraid to reread it and lose the magic of that first emotional sweep. So with all that said, of course I wanted to melt similarly into 1Q84 in all its expected weirdness, letting the musical references sail over my head like I usually do.

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Only a Shadow Remained of Him

Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury, 2009) ISBN: 978 1 4088 0087 4 14

If you’d like to (I’m not your real mom, I can’t make you), this video I’ve attached seems thematically appropriate. The song, a cover of Wishful Thinking’s Hiroshima by German band Puhdys–though it is of course about the wrong city–ran through my head a number of times as I read Burnt Shadows. Because this book is, amongst other things, about a nuclear world, the Cold War, and the constant two minutes to midnight. I’ve provided an original, literal and probably poor translation of the German lyrics, which are themselves a more poetic translation of the original English lyrics, below the video.

Only a shadow remains of him*, in Hiroshima
Silent as fire
But nobody knows, in Hiroshima,
Stone becomes a scream.
And it cries, “Remember well,
Or you will bring the embers** like here.”

Fly, my song, to Hiroshima
Fly to the shadow stones
And promise the man in Hiroshima
That it will never happen again
Because the world remembers*** well —
Or they will bring embers like Hiroshima****.

*This may also be “it”, ie, “the bomb”, which is a feminine noun, but changes in its dative form.
**The original word, “Glut” has a number of possible appropriate meanings, including “blaze”, “glow” or “fervour” as well.
***It’s possible there’s an imperative attached to the word “remember” that I’ve missed.
****The delivery of this line suggests a pun on here/Hiroshima.

Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie is a story about the world’s unluckiest woman. Hiroko Tanaka is caught up in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. After recovering from her injuries and accepting her grief, she finds her way after the war to an India on the cusp of Independence and Partition. Later, as the blurb reveals–so no spoilers here–she spends some time in Pakistan before managing to be present in New York in time for September 11. Crikey. Yet she survives it all and, truth be told, the story is not at all as melodramatic or contrived as it might sound.

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The Scandinavian Wit


Blum, William (Common Courage Press, updated edition October 2008, ISBN 978-1567512526)

In 2009, President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” [1]

Many thought the prize undeserved – on the grounds that Obama appeared too much the enemy of peace. Had he won it, they asked, for prosecuting a war in Afghanistan? Or instead for his proposal to expand the United States military? Or for his plan to send “at least” two additional American combat brigades to Afghanistan? Continue reading

The Bygone Glories Of The Spring


Lian Hearn (Hachette, 2007) ISBN: 978 0 7336 2144 4 Heavans net is wide

At last, we’re here, Heaven’s Net is Wide, the prequel to the Tales of the Otori trilogy.  And, it should be added, I am sufficiently backlogged that I feel comfortable in saying my reviews will now be a weekly event.  You may celebrate in whatever way you feel appropriate.

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The Mighty Fall At Last, They Are Dust Before The Wind


Lian Hearn (Hachette, 2006) ISBN: 13 978 0 733621 26 0

The Harsh Cry of the Heron is set some 14 years after the close of the original Tales of the Otori trilogy.  The story features Takeo’s three daughters to Kaede, Shigeko, Miki and Maya, and his illegitimate son Hisao, as well as Takeo and several other of the characters we met in the previous trilogy.  Takeo and Kaede have a united the Three Kingdoms as co-rulers, protecting the Hidden from persecution and driving the mercenarial Tribe into hiding.  Unfortunately, the seeds of conflict planted over the past 14 years are coming to a head.  Takeo must tread carefully if he wants to maintain everything he and his wife have struggled for.

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This Lone Boy Sets Off On A Journey


Lian Hearn* (Hodder, 2002) ISBN: 0 7336 1565 1

As a child and teenager, for no discernible reason, I was a total weeabo.  I loved Japan.  I loved Japanese clothing, I loved learning about Japanese language and culture, and I was determined to go to Japan as soon as I could.  I don’t know where this obsession originated.  The obvious contenders are Sailor Moon and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, a tv series and book respectively, which were likely my first encounters with Japan–even though I believe the latter was written by an American.  I’ve been to Japan twice now, and I’ve also made a conscious effort to ramp down my adoration because I’ve learned that fetishising cultures like that is not a cool or respectful thing to do.  Nonetheless, Across the Nightingale Floor, first in the Tales of the Otori trilogy**, represents a perfect union of three of my great loves–Japanese culture and history (albeit in a fictionalised Japan-like society), fantasy, and beautiful writing.

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South Central Idaho



Brother Andrew, Elizabeth Sherrill, John Sherrill and Pope John XXIII (Chosen Books, 2001, ISBN 9780800793012), Thomas Knox (W. A. Wilde & Company: Boston, 1896, ISBN (reprint) 9781409970385), Peter Townrow and Ron Martin (editors) (Routledge, 2002, ISBN 9780117023659)

A wearisome ancient practice requires the journalist to begin his description of any country or region by describing it as “a land of contradictions”.

The charitable view sees this as the journalist’s admission that he hasn’t comprehended his subject. That he views the disparate facets he’ll go on to describe as contradictions, comprehending too little about the country or region to harmonise them. Continue reading

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