Monday, June 10, 2019

A SEASON AT THE PROMS

This is prom season in our town. The local newspapers feature photos of the various high schools with prom goers displaying their finery. I have noticed that each year seems to produce a certain flair of clothing. Gone are the simple elegant classy gowns and tuxedos. In their place are brilliant electric colors schemes with boys and girls trying to outdo each other.  There are singles, couples, groups. Mixing and matching clothing and mixing in whatever friendship combinations there are. All is joyful even if a bit bewildering to me.

My own prom experience is limited to three proms. First, the one for my high school.  I didn’t go. Why? Many reasons. Partly because I grew up in a conservative Protestant Church environment—no dancing. Along with no smoking, no drinking, no movies, no  ... whatever.

And I wasn’t asked. And back “in those days” you simply didn’t go to the dance unless you were asked. Things seem kinder now. At least I hope so.

Then, there were the proms each of my children went to. Sweet occasions, at least for mom. Watching this boy and this girl, who my husband and I brought into the world, whom we nurtured along the way. And cheering as well as dreading the impending arrival of adulthood. Our son working up the courage to ask someone. Our daughter looking so elegant in her gowns ( both of which I still have hanging in our basement closet). Watching them pull away from the house after the customary photos at home. 

How long have there been proms? I wonder if there’s a connection to the cotillions of days past? Or the debutante balls now opened up to all society. I remember working for wealthy Americans several summers while I was in college. Debutante balls, sometimes called coming out balls, where young women were “introduced “ to society, presumably to be on the marriage market. 

Parenthetically, I should add that high school proms are completely different from 
“Going to the Proms” a la London style. These summer symphony programs at the Royal Albert Hall are wonderfully celebratory. One of the few things on my bucket list (trust me, I really don't put much on my bucket list...seems somehow too limiting) is to attend the Last Night of the Proms--complete with "Rule Britannia."

Back to high school proms. I find it very heartening the way the binary assumptions are falling away. You know, boy asks girl in ever more elaborate ways. Girl accepts. Now I’m not sure who is expected to ask whom. And it is no longer obligatory to pair up. Now girl asks  boy, girl asks girl, boy asks boy, groups of boys and girls OR whatever. Why not? No one who wants to go to the party should be left out.

One of the most endearing experiences of my life had to do with proms. During my work career life, I was involved with health policy analysis and development. In that capacity, I attended a conference focused on the AIDS epidemic and what appropriate policies and actions should be in place to provide proper health care, support and counseling. 

Among the attendees were medical and health professionals, health policy people like me, and advocates for gay issues as well as people who were in fact AIDS patients. It was a rigorous and vigorous conference. One of the most astounding parts of that conference was sitting in a discussion group with health professionals and lay people. At a lull in the discussion, some of the gay men began talking about and reminiscing about buying their first prom gown. I listened in amazement and in silence, with a touch of jealousy. That memory heartens me, even as I rue my own teen years bereft of a season at the proms.

So, here's to the proms in all their glory and in all their permutations. Everybody dance now.
 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

MEET EFFIE

This is a story about a little girl named Effie. She was about 10 years old when I met her, some 50 years ago. Truth is, I don’t really remember what she looked like—only that she was slight, mousey, somewhat unkempt looking, and subdued.

I met her in the hospital. I was in the ob/gyn ward for testing and a surgical procedure. Back then, hospital rooms were either two patients to a room (that was the more private level of care) or a ward of 8 patients. There was no such thing as a private room.

Since the testing I was undergoing was not painful or strenuous, when no tests were scheduled I was “free to roam”—within limits, of course. But I could walk around the ob/gyn area. And that’s how I met Effie.

Understandably, all of the patients in this area were women—and all were there for reasons relating to women’s reproductive health. The gynecological patients (which I was) were separated from the obstetric patients. So, there were no newborn babies or nursing mothers nearby.

In the course of my wandering around the area, I met a Puerto Rican woman, in one of the 8 bed wards. She was in her mid-50s—likely in the hospital for a hysterectomy. The nurses were very concerned about her because she wasn’t eating. Keep in mind, this was in the days before “get you in and get you out” hospital stays. You could be there for upward to a week for even routine surgery. So, her not eating was of concern. Because I am nosey, and was wandering around chatting with other patients, I quickly discovered the Puerto Rican woman spoke no English. The daily food choices were printed on menus in English and given to patients each day to circle their choices for meals. If nothing was circled, the default meat was beef. This woman did NOT like beef. After talking with her a bit (dusting off my high school Spanish), I learned that she had not been circling any choice on her daily menu. So, she constantly was served food she didn’t like. A bit of quick translation on my part—pollo y puerco—and she was able to give her preference and began eating again. (When the nurses discovered my “translating skills,” they asked me to tell the woman not to smoke with the oxygen tanks so close by!)

Back to Effie. As you can see, she was an anomalous patient. She didn’t need ovarian surgery, as I did. She didn’t need a hysterectomy as did the Puerto Rican woman. And, I assumed she wasn't pregnant because this was not the obstetric part of the hospital. So, what was her problem? When I talked with her, all she could tell me was that she understood she had a “growth” in her and needed to have it removed so she could get better.

Well, that piqued my curiosity. Growth? In a gynecological ward? It didn’t take much figuring to work out that she WAS pregnant. I was so stunned, that I asked a nurse—why does Effie think she has a growth and doesn’t know she is pregnant. The nurse explained (note: this was in the pre-HIPPA days) that a) the child had no sexual understanding at all. Obviously, she hadn’t been told “the facts of life,” including what it meant when she began menstruating early; b) she was about 8-10 weeks pregnant; c) she had been impregnated by her father; and d) the hospital was going to use a procedure which would cause her to go into “labor", deliver the fetus, and then go home. BUT she was NOT to be told why she would have all this done—that she was pregnant.

That’s the last I heard of Effie. I have long wondered what happened to her? Did she return home to be abused again? Did she realize, when she reached adulthood, that the pains were that she experienced as a girl in the hospital was actually “labor”? Where did she end up in life?

So, why I am telling you this long story? I am telling you this because this is a sad occasional reality. Pre-teen girls become pregnant because someone impregnates them. A medically safe abortion is a kindness for that young girl.  I am also telling you this story because it happened in 1970—before the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade. Then, without abortion being legal and safely available, women AND girls who became pregnant had few options. Yet, someone found a way to have Effie’s wrong pregnancy terminated. Not that I think it was handled in a way that was psychologically healthy—but it was handled.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions about what criminalizing abortion will do. BUT one thing I can tell you—it will NOT end abortion. But it will end medically safe procedures. Like it or not, you cannot accomplish the end of abortion until you make it impossible for a woman OR girl to become pregnant.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

I'm Making Progress

Now that gardening time has arrived, I find it a bit more difficult to keep up my reading pace.
BUT, I have finished read two more books. So I better get to reviewing them.

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HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS by Bianca Marais
 I was drawn to reading this novel, as I grew up in southern Africa and have a long-time interest in reading non-fiction and fiction about the experience of a country moving from colonial, white-dominated rule to native black rule.


This novel is NOT about that, but within it are references to the seeds of that transition. Nelson Mandela is referenced as someone who will emerge as a leader in the struggle for freedom. What this novel is about the growing realization by two characters that "the other" is just as human as they are.


The story revolves around two people: a young girl named Robin and a middle-aged woman name Beauty. Robin is white living with her parents in a wealthy white area of Johannesburg, South Africa. The time is 1976 in the days leading up to, and then beyond, the Soweto uprising.


In the days immediately before the Soweto uprising Robin's parents are killed. She is taken under the care of her aunt, who is barely able to handle the responsibility of having a child. Robin had been cared for in large degree by her family's black maid, Mabel. When the parents are killed, Mabel disappears.


When the story switches to Beauty, who lives in the Transkei, we learn that Beauty is an educated black woman who leaves her remaining family, two sons, to go to Johannesburg to find her daughter who is living in Soweto.


By focusing on these two characters, we get a highly charged account of the unfolding events that pull these families apart and disrupt the lives of both. 


The author is very successful in creating believable characters--who operate with motives entirely consistent with their natures. At least, through the first half of the novel. As events move toward a climax, the believability factor, particularly where Robin is concerned, goes awry. I had a great deal of difficulty believing that a 9-year-old girl would proceed as Robin does.


Had the author kept the characters staying true to their natures, I would have rated this book higher. At the outset of the novel, the plot unfolds because it grows out of the characters' natures. BUT, toward the latter part of the novel, the plot takes over and drives the actions of the characters.


One of the hallmarks of a well-constructed novel is that the novelist creates the characters and THEN lets them develop the events that unfold. A novelist who uses characters as a puppeteer would manipulate a puppet is less believable, for me.
I must add that the novel is a GOOD READ--and I read it quickly, pulled forward by story being told.
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 JUDAS by Amos Oz
 When I first began reading this novel, I was annoyed at the central character, Shmuel.
But through marvelous story telling, his character grows on the reader.


In many ways, the novel is a very interior work. Plot is spare (I'm fine with that). Characters are very well drawn (I am thrilled about that). And dialogue goes on for pages (very interesting, however) because that is part of the point of the book.
The setting is Israel in the mid-1950s, after its creation as a state and the 1948 war. The question of the validity, urgency, and justification desirability as a separate nation state has been debated and settled, and then defended by military action. Some knowledge of that setting is essential to understanding the themes of the novel.
Judas, of course, refers to the disciple of Jesus who betrayed him, leading to the crucifixion. Shmuel is a student wrestling with a thesis--the essential premise is that Judas was the first Christian, believing in Jesus Christ even when Jesus had no intention of being anything but a Jew. But Shmuel's studies stall. He is somewhat estranged from his parents, is very close to friendless, so he answers an ad. The ad is for a companion for an elderly man.


Shmuel answers the ad and is introduced to Gershom Wald, who is an invalid aged man in need of company. In turn he meets Wald's daughter-in-law, Atalia Abravanel. As the story unfolds, we learn of Atalia's history--she had married Wald's son who was then killed in the 1948 war.


Shmuel's duties are to spend several hours a day with Wald, converse with him, give him porridge, and feed the goldfish. The rest of his time is his own. 


As these conversations between Shmuel and Wald unfold, we learn many aspects of the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel, of interaction with the Arab population that inhabited Palestine, and the politics of establishing Israel. Atalia's father Shealtiel Abravanel opposed establishing Israel as a separate Jewish state. He argued to a single country shared by Jews and Palestinians. 


One can glean some of the seeds to today's present conflict over whether to have a one state or two separate states. 


There are several narrative techniques that I enjoyed--one is that the novel is a journey--for Shmuel. And it is a discourse on the merits of modern day Jewish/Arab relations. It is also a coming of age story for Shmuel. AND it is a bit of a romance story. By the time the novel ended, I was deeply attached to Shmuel, and wonder how his life unfolded.


OK-- because this novel is so richly layered, so informative, and so engaging, I highly recommend it. It may feel like it's slow going at the outset, but stay with it.
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The next two books I am working on are THE FISHERMEN and HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Two More Books

So, as you can see by the number of books I have described thus far, I am well on my way to meeting my self imposed goals of reading 25 books. 

Here are the two latest books read--one fiction, one non-fiction.


THE NIGHTINGALE
By Kristin Hannah

I usually like fiction that is literary—i.e. the author does not have a plot driven approach, characters are well-rounded, dialogue is not stilted, and descriptions are not passé.
And, I do enjoy fiction based on historical events.
For example, I love ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE.

So, I approached reading THE NIGHTINGALE in that frame of mind. The novel is focused on two sisters in occupied France during World War II. The older sister, Vianne, is married with one daughter. She and her husband live in a village outside of Paris. When the war begins, her husband is called to military duty and shipped off to fight the Germans. That leaves Vianne and her daughter alone. All is manageable until the Germans occupy France and take over life everywhere. Eventually, a German office comes to Vianne’s house, and billets with her—and of course she has no say in the matter. She tries to stay inconspicuous, not wanting to anger the German occupiers. 

Meanwhile, the younger sister, Isabelle who has always been rebellious is searching for a way to resist the German occupation. She finds it when Allied pilots are downed over occupied France and need to survive and escape.  That becomes Isabelle’s focus. She is, in fact, the Nightingale. The inspiration for this character is based in history on one particular woman who helped rescue many Allied airmen.

But, on Goodreads, I rated this book as three out of five stars. Why?

I wanted to like all aspects of this story—but the narrative technique kept getting in the way. For example, the details that are given, sometimes in excruciating repetition, are banal. Frequently, what Vianne is cooking is described—odors, sounds, appearance, all. Again, and again. Further, both Vianne and Isabelle are described repeatedly as beautiful. OK—but so what? Would they have been more or less courageous if they were ugly?
The novel is still a good read—maybe best as a beach book.

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FOR ALL THE TEA IN CHINA by Sarah Rose
I also gave For All the Tea a 3 star rating, but maybe 3 1/2 is more accurate.
Here's why.

Parts of the book are very good--if you're a history buff this is for you.
But other parts drag--extensive details of the protagonist (Robert Fortune) as he makes his way to inland China. Some portions I found tedious and extraneous. An example--encounters along the way of ruffians, opium users, etc. Of course, those details are needed to understand the risk Fortune was taking--but, page after page?

The two distinct parts to this book are intertwined. The obvious one is the adventures of Robert Fortune, an Englishman who was sent to China to "steal" tea plants, bring them to India, and shift the geography of tea growth and production. He succeeded. 

In turn, tea grown in India under the auspices of the East India Tea Company displaced completely China's prior dominance. The East India Tea Company in turn became one of the first global businesses. It also manifested the pattern of colonial domination--power intermingled with disregard of native populations.

Fortune worked with Chinese laborers, who had to help him penetrate into the interior of China to find where tea grew. While he depended on these workers, he displayed a paternal, dismissive and colonial view of people who were "natives." 

That same attitude was displayed when Fortune succeeded, and tea became an established crop in India. Once again, colonial power ruled over native populations. When the Indian rebellion of 1857 occurred, and British people were slaughtered at Cawnpore, the disastrous result spelled the end of the East India Tea Company--and it solidified England's place as an empire. Tea production was simply taken over by the British Empire, with India as the jewel in the crown.

The other part of the book is the way in which stealing tea from China helped spur the modern world. The best part of the book, for me, was the concluding chapter. Not because the book was over--although, there were times the narrative lagged, and I just wanted things to move on--but because Sarah Rose, the author, outlined the various ways in which tea advanced people. 

Those benefits remain today...and, I think, I'll go drink a cup of tea.

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Friday, March 29, 2019

MORE READING

...continuing the Year in Books. (See my prior blog of February 9, 2019 for the first entry).

So approaching April, here's what I have read since early February.

NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND by Bill Bryson The primary premise of this book is to recount the author's walking over what seems like all of England, and a bit of Wales and Scotland. There are part of Notes from a Small Island that are truly engaging, interesting and informative.

And I really wanted to read this book--being a confirmed Anglophile. Also because my daughter and her family live in London (while we live in Pennsylvania, USA).

Some of the events described, conveyed in the author's droll inimitable style, are laugh-out-loud funny. Other parts made me want to send him a train ticket, or offer him a lift. Those parts seems to deal primarily with slogging here and there. After a while, I just wanted the journey and hence the book to end.

I confess--there were enough unfamiliar place names that sent me scurrying off to Google maps--just to see where they were.

All in all--my reaction is a very mixed one. I liked the book AND I desperately wanted it to end.
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GOD’S SECRETARIES:The Making of the King James Bible By Adam Nicolson

This is the second time I have read God's Secretaries. I first read the book when it was published in 2001. I loved it then! And I loved it now on this re-reading.

What strikes me is what I recalled from the first reading, and what impressed me on the second reading. On the first reading, I was taken with the description of actual process. Who were the translators, how were they assembled, how did they go about their work, etc.

The second reading I saw more on the historical context. How the translation came to be, why James I would want such a translation, what was the political and religious milieu of the time. I had completely forgotten that the infamous November 5 Gunpowder plot occurred while this translation process was underway. That plot is emblematic of the religious conflicts that in part helped produce the King James translation of the Bible. The second reading was every bit as satisfying as the first.
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LETTERS TO MY PALESTINIAN NEIGHBORBy Yossi Klein Halevi

While the subject of this book is supremely important, the title does not deliver on the promise that it raised. It does present "letters" to the author's Palestinian neighbor--not one specific person, but Palestinians who live in various places with Israel--the West Bank, Gaza. Etc. Perhaps, I misunderstood the book's purpose. I presumed the letters would show an understanding and sympathy for the Palestinian neighbor--and to some extent the book does that. But as to who is at fault, Halevi puts the blame on the Palestinians.

Do not think this book will deal with BOTH sides of the seemingly intractable issue. True, the author deals extensively with persecution of Jews through the ages. And he deals with how modern Israel came into being. Understandably, the author who now lives in Israel is most sympathetic to the Jewish perspective. He touches on aspects of the Palestinian perspective. 

But in the end, I came away with the sense that the Jewish perspective is right, and the Palestinian perspective is derailed by frequent attacks on Israel. 

Perhaps the most powerful chapter is titled "Isaac and Ishmael." This chapter deals with the seemingly intractable path to peace. For one side to win, the other loses, and vice versa. But for on side to not give, the other side won't either. It's like a Moebius strip--you start on the inside and as you follow the path you end up on the outside. And vice versa.I am no more hopeful that this ever simmering conflict can ever be or will be resolved.
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BECOMING By Michelle Obama

What an enchanting memoir to read. It is in many ways an autobiography...not so much detailing the pace of life chronologically. But Michelle Obama does give you wonderful insight into her family beginnings--growing up in South Side, Chicago; being inspired and challenged by her parents and her older brother. She also recounts her education.

As she moves through the account of her life--her childhood, her education and early career, her meeting Barack Obama, then getting married and having children--she gives insight into each of these steps. You learn what motivates her, what gave rise to her very discipline drive, and what is important to her. During her sections on the White House years, you see a more personal family side of what it means to be the First Lady. 

The latter portions of the book deal with philosophical aspects of the events in her life. So, in addition to autobiography and memoir, you get to see how Michelle Obama thinks.Perhaps understandably, the earlier portions of the book are more straight forward, filled with details, while the latter portions of the book are more contemplative.

Well worth a read--and I can say--I miss someone with such grace and class helping to lead our country.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

...and the Oscar goes to

In my prior blog (scroll down to see it if you haven't read it), I gave my ever so brief reprise of this season's Academy Awards.

Perhaps one of the greatest controversies is which movie won "best picture."  As you know, Green Book won. Various critics have suggested that it was a "feel good movie" and that it "got race wrong." That it was a new iteration of Driving Miss Daisy, but this time the white person in the front and the black man in the back.

Here's the issue--the Academy Awards purport to be about the best. The best in each category across the entire spectrum of movie making.  But, frequently that is NOT the way the voting works. Obviously, preference is a personal thing. What I like, you may not. And the Academy is made up of people voting. So, you get the most popular, not necessarily the best.

Remember the list of which movie won in the previous blog? Here are the answers.  The winner is in bold italics.


  • The Ten Commandments             Around the World in 80 Days
  • Ordinary People                        Raging Bull
  • L.A. Confidential                        Titanic
  • The King's Speech                     The Social Network
  • Chicago                                      The Pianist
  • Zero Dark Thirty                          Argo
  • Goodfellas                                  Dances with Wolves
  • Brokeback Mountain                    Crash
  • How Green was my Valley          Citizen Kane
The last one is, of course, indicative of popularity winning out over quality. When various movie buffs are surveyed and asked--what is the best movie of all time?  Citizen Kane frequently tops that list. Yet, it is edgy, enigmatic, pure genius, and sometimes depressing. So feel good wins over quality.


Going to the Movies

...not so much.

If you have been reading this blog for several years, you may recall that I love movies and try each year to write about some of the movie contenders for Academy Awards.

This year has been a dry season. First, not that many of the movies sounded interesting. Second, we just didn't get out to see that many.


  • Bohemian Rhapsody--NOPE
  • The Favourite--NOPE
  • Black Panther--NOPE
  • BlacKkKlansman--NOPE
  • Green Book--YUP
  • Vice--HOPE
  • A Star is Born--NOPE
  • Roma--NOPE


So, you can see--a real drought of movie seeing. Oh, we did see Mary Poppins Returns-which got piddling nominations, and we saw The Ballad of Buster Scruggs--which was fun, funky and a Coen brothers typical (if there is such a thing for the Coen Brothers) movie.

So, Green Book was it. 

I was very pleased when Mahershala Ali won for best supporting actor. I have admired his work in all of the movies he has been in.

I had no opinion on the other "best actor/actress" in the respective categories--best actress, best actor, best supporting actress.

I confess--it was a bit strange watching the Academy Awards. You may recall that I have been watching this award ceremony most every year since 1964. YIKES!  A long time.

So, two questions--why didn't we see more movies?  And what did I think of Green Book?

The main reasons for not seeing more movies might simply be inertia. Or distraction--too many other activities. Or alternative entertainment. We have been watching Victoria. Also watched The Crown. And we watch various series, almost always ones from the UK.  

Pathetic, right?  Oh, well.

OK--Green Book.  I liked the movie--in fact I enjoyed it very much. I know the various criticisms. Other movies were better--maybe, but that happens with some regularity at the Oscars. Remember Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan.  All you need to do is search for "which movies won Best Picture that shouldn't have".

Do you want to try your hand at which ones won? Here are ten (gleaned from a website).
Pick between the two--which one won:

  • The Ten Commandments             Around the World in 80 Days
  • Ordinary People                          Raging Bull
  • L.A. Confidential                        Titanic
  • The King's Speech                       The Social Network
  • Chicago                                      The Pianist
  • Zero Dark Thirty                          Argo
  • Goodfellas                                  Dances with Wolves
  • Brokeback Mountain                    Crash
  • How Green was my Valley           Citizen Kane


....and go. Pick the winners.

OK, folks.  I will keep you in suspense. Answers--tomorrow.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

The Year in Books

You may recall that one of my New Year's resolutions was to read more. And to help keep me motivated, I vowed to reprise them as I go. So here are the first four.

EDUCATED by Tara Westover--
I am a bit cautious in rating this book. First, on one hand the story is stunning--painful, extraordinary, a testament to the human spirit and the will to survive, and in the end triumphant. On the other hand, the story is deeply troubling--the power of brainwashing, the dangers of extremism, the sheer lunacy of the family's story.
My caution is also fueled by having read past books that were so breathtaking enthralling me with the story, that I was crushed when the story turned out to have been ... not true? Made up? Understand, I am NOT saying that is what this book is. It is just that the events are so alien to my existence, so astounding, that it is hard for me to imagine their veracity much less believe it.
I will forgo the details of the story--many reviewers describe them.
Eventually, I just got tired of reading of the lunacy of Westover's parents and the ways they subjected their children to what would be called child abuse. I applaud her surviving. And her triumph in pursuing education as a pathway to a new life.

THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen--
The Sympathizer is a very challenging read. At times brutally violent, at times almost humorous, at times satiric. All the while, the book is infused with the love of one's country. The reader gets a mix of history, political conflicts, personal insight--and a deeply moving story about BOTH sides in the Vietnam war. Both north and south are portrayed. And, not surprisingly, the U.S. as well--when the war ended many Vietnamese came to the U.S. as refugees. 
So the narrator's observations about life in the U.S. give the reader an insight into the experience of those who fled Vietnam. Another way the reader gets an insight into the U.S. is through the telling of the narrator's work as an advisor when a famous Hollywood (clearly Coppola) makes a movie about the Vietnam war (clearly "Apocalypse Now".  It is not an insight the reader expects--instead of making an authentic representation of the war, the director makes a HOLLYWOOD acceptable portrayal of that war. 
The core of the book is the narrator (unnamed), and his experiences. He is a North Vietnamese agent who has infiltrated the South Vietnam's army. He is a double agent.  When he too flees to the U.S., it is for the express purpose of being a deep agent, sending news of the potential South Vietnamese effort to retake the country. The narrator--never named--has a handler to whom he sends coded reports.
Eventually, the narrator decides to return to Vietnam--where he is still masquerading as a loyal South Vietnamese. He is captured, imprisoned, and forced to be reeducated. He has to write a confession--which he eventually re-reads, after a nervous breakdown. He has a final epiphany--and the reader is left with the understanding of the futility of the ENTIRE venture--from the Chinese dominance of Vietnam, to France, to the U.S., to the South Vietnamese who want to retake their homeland.
My epiphany as a reader is that when the narrator is rereading his 300 some page confession--it is really the book that I am reading that he means. At least, that's how I took it.

MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON by Elizabeth Strout
My Name is Lucy Barton is a very low key incisive portrayal of a mother/daughter relationship. The title character--Lucy--is in the hospital following an unnamed procedure after which she acquired a bacterial infection. Her stay in the hospital is extending far beyond what she expected. She and her husband have two small daughters--that fact alone makes it difficult for her husband to visit her.
Lucy yearns for someone to talk to--so her husband calls Lucy's mother. Mother and daughter have been somewhat estranged, though still civil.
Lucy awakens to find her mother in the hospital room with her. And they begin to talk. Over the several days of the mother's visit, they talk about all manner of things. Family dynamics--with some deep issues only hinted at: poverty, abuse, a sibling who is homosexual. Additionally, they talk about former friends and neighbors. These are the "whatever happened to so-and-so" that we sometimes have with family members.
Through the course of the book, a great deal of Lucy's life is explored. She does recover and is discharged from the hospital. Her mother has returned to her home. Her husband and children reconnect in her life--this was one of the puzzling things for me, the almost complete absence of any sense of family relationships in Lucy's current family.
At the close of the book, Lucy Barton completely owns her own story, even though there is recognition that this could be so many women's stories.

THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES by Peter Wohlleben
I began reading this book with great enthusiasm. I am a tree lover....maybe even a tree hugger. I periodically battle, gently, with a neighbor about trees. We have many trees bounding our property. Some extend branches across the property lines. And my neighbor, whose yard is ALWAYS spotless, hates raking leaves or having to remove anything that vaguely resembles dirt. One day, a tree trimming truck rolled, and began to prune OUR tree. Well, I do understand why. But I did exchange a few words with the neighbor. I ended rather inelegantly by saying "We need trees, because they provide us with oxygen."
So, with that frame of mind, I read THE SECRET LIFE OF TREES.  In many ways, it is a scientific work written for non-scientists. At times it is circular and repetitious. Eventually, I got to the point where I was thinking "all right, already, trees are living organisms. Got it!"  
I enjoyed it, but also got tired of it.

Off to continue the reading for 2019.