Monday, December 30, 2013

26. Bold Rider by Luke Short

Not the copy I read.
I really should have some system for noting where I found books, because some have stayed so long in my on-deck shelf that I have entirely forgotten their origins.  Such is the case with Bold Rider.  I don't read tons of westerns, but I like to dip my toe in the water every now and then as it is usually satisfying.  The cover and date of this one appealed to me.  It looked like the kind of paperback western that would be quickly and easily purchased by the common man looking for a good read back in the 70s, but it was actually written in 1938 and so has some potential for pedigree and solid writing syntax.

It's funny, though, because if I hadn't known, I never would have guessed that it had been written that long ago.  The story has a slightly cartoonish feel to it, where the main character is a roguish good guy who is in constant conflict with the local army garrison.  There is a highly unrealistic over-the-top train stunt that would not be out of place in today's blockbuster movies.  Finally, the ending is also a bit too easy and happy.  All that was juxtaposed against what was otherwise quite brutal and realistic western stuff.  The bad guy was nasty and people get killed and it's real.  So it was kind of an inconsistent read and unsatisfying because of that, but not uninteresting.

The story involved the hero pretending to be someone else to transport a gold shipment from a mine so that he could steal it, while he knew that the other transporter was also a criminal who had posed as well. This is all wrapped up in the protagonist's history and how he was falsely accused of a crime by the cattle baron for whom the gold was being transported.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

25. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts


I wanted to write a longer review, but I just need to get something down here so that I can move forward.

I have been struggling with my reading and am thus casting about for different approaches that will keep my nose in a book and not an attention-shattering tablet.  I thought one long book that I could slowly work my way through might work and two friends recommended Shantaram.  It looked glossy and digestible enough that it would also be easy consuming, like a big blockbuster action movie.  What I didn't realize is that Shantaram is not only a dreaded "trade paperback", it's also a chick book!  My good friend Lantzvillager, with whom I share many literary tastes, took great pleasure in ridiculing me for reading Shantaram.  And thus I found myself torn between friends, questioning my own identity!

I exaggerate for humour, but the truth is that throughout this book I kept going back and forth on whether it should be praised or condemned.  The narrative is great, right up my alley: heroin-addict armed robber escapes from brutal Australian prison and flees to India where with his street smarts and the craziness of the Mumbai crime world begins a life of adventure.  The problem is that all of this is of course in service to his own journey of personal discovery.  So that at the end of each chapter of entertaining craziness, there would have to be several paragraphs of reflection and bad metaphors ("and with each bullet wound, the river of pain that is life reminded me of my own pain and blah blah).  Worse, the whole thing is such an insane white man fantasy.  As a white man, I'm all for white man fantasies of going into one of the craziest most other cities in the world, learning all their languages, getting down with the super poor people in the slums and hanging with the baddest ass gangster bosses in the fancy clubs, but please don't try and frame it in all this self-actualization and awareness bullshit to try and make it more than it is.  [And one part just goes way beyond the pale.  When he is making his way up with the big Mumbai mafia bosses, he is given the responsibility for the currency exchange side of the business.  In an aside, he mentions how he has introduced computers into their business to improve their efficiency.  Please.  Australian ex-con is going to show the Indians how to use computers.  Yeah, right.]

The problem with the above criticism is that while this is not based on a true story at all (according to the other), he really did flee an Australian prison and lived in Mumbai and still lives there today.  So the guy probably is kind of a badass.  Usually when someone is full of shit, you find out about it on the internet pretty quickly, but it does seem like Gregory David Roberts has led a pretty extraordinary and courageous life.  His white man fantasy was no fantasy.

As you can see, I kept going back and forth, though I also kept turning the pages.  The last section, where he goes to Afghanistan, drags on a bit long, but overall it did deliver the kind of reading experience I had hoped for.  And got me at least halfway to my goal in 2013!