Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman

I got this tiny audiobook (only 48 minutes) and listened to it in it's entirety on my drive home from work. I really love when Neil does his own voice work.

This is a short story based on Sherlock Holmes mysteries. We have unnamed characters, one having been tortured in the war in Afghanistan against the "gods and men", and one being a consulting detective for the police. Rooming together, the veteran notices odd comings and goings from the detective but never inquires about any of it, instead quietly retreating to his room when a visitor arrives.

We first see the detectives amazing skills when, while eating with the veteran, he announces that a guest will be joining them in exactly 4 minutes. When laying out how he knows this, it all seems simple. That if you just paid attention, you too would know this!

They are visited by Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. He needs the detective's help with a touchy case and the veteran comes along. There is a murder most foul and the detective deduces that it was done by 2 men, one with a limp, and the the victim is royalty. Here's where it gets odd. Royalty, in this world, isn't human royalty. Ahhh, magic and "Great Old Ones".

Since it's a short story it does wrap up rather quickly but in a pretty satisfying way. Another excellent piece of work by Gaiman.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What is the What by Dave Eggers

This is a novelized version of the life of Valentino Achak Deng. It took some time to read, not because it's badly written or particularly long, but because it's gut-wrenching. Deng was born in a small village in Sudan, called Marial Bai. He has a father, several mothers (it's common for the man to have several wives) and several brothers and sisters. I'm not even going to pretend that I understand everything that happened within Sudan during their civil war. Honestly, not a lot of it makes sense to me. I understand that Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan are split and Southern Sudan is ruled by a government in Khartoum, similar to Darfur. The government didn't to anything to help the people of Sudan and ended up making Southern Sudan and Darfur some of the poorest countries out there.

When the rebel groups (the SPLA) came together to fight the government, essentially all hell broke loose. Children like Deng became The Lost Boys aka Unaccompanied Minors because the majority of them who weren't killed or enslaved, watched their families be killed or enslaved by the murahaleen. The Lost Boys banded together, sort of, and walked for months to get to Ethiopia where they were hoping for shelter and food. They got a refugee camp, Pinyudo, that the SPLA picked through to help their ranks. Not a good thing.

After being forced from Ethiopia, when the president was overturned and the natives got pissed, they carried on walking to another refugee camp and then to another. At the last camp, Kakuma, Deng stayed for 10 years.

Interspersed throughout the book is modern day Deng, living in Atlanta. And being beaten and robbed and told to "Go back to Africa". Nicely patriotic.

The story is told somewhat matter of fact but still contains emotion and horror. It seems that Deng is able to describe how boys on the walk were eaten by lions on a regular basis and just dropped dead from dehydration and starvation or any disease imaginable in a "that's just the way it was" manner. Deng questioned often whether God had it out for him, as it does seem that he has terrible misfortune. Through everything, Deng is a survivor. That much is crystal clear.

Deng and Eggers have a foundation to help Sudanese and the web site explains more of what he is doing and how the war in Sudan is fairing.