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Monday, February 26, 2018

Troutbirder Goes on Broadway

It was the spring of 1959 and leaving St. Paul Union Deport the senior class of Harding High school was heading east to Washington D.C. and New York City by train. I was on board playing poker in the Dome throughout the night. Perhaps I was a youthful version of Sgt. Bilko as the cards kept falling my way. My only other memory was seeing the forges light up the hillsides as we passed thru Pittsburg. In Washington, we saw all the famous sights. Unfortunately, we missed seeing “Ike”  in the White House as he was busy warning the nation against endless wars and the military industrial complex taking over. That hasn’t gone so well….:(

More famous places to see in New York followed. There was a real sense of vibrancy and excitement there.  Staying at the Roosevelt Hotel an evening out to world famous “Coney Island” was planned. Everyone was excited except me.  My mom had advised me that this night might provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a Rogers and Hammerstein musical. The name was “Flower Drum
Song.”. That morning before our tour bus left, I asked the man behind the counter if two tickets were available. “Not a chance,” he replied.  “It’s booked up months ahead, of course, there might be a cancelation. Check back about 5 o’clock.”  I did but no luck. Then Plan B appeared. “If you want to see a Broadway play, one recently opened right across the street from your first choice and within walking distance. It’s called The World of Suzy Wong."   To this day I can still claim I’ve been to a play on Broadway…..

Actor William Shatner has a unique place in the history of the romantic novel The World of Suzie Wong. Shatner, known for starring as Captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek T.V. series, was the first man in the world to “woo” Suzie Wong in the original stage version. Shatner, 27 won the heart of a decent Hong Kong prostitute played by Vietnamese-French actress France Nuyen on Broadway between Oct. 14 1958 and January 2 1960.

I have no real memories of the play itself except between the acts I bought a couple of very small glasses of orange juice for the outrageous price of two dollars a glass. Apparently, the play was roundly panned by the big city critics so it didn’t last very long.  Later, yet a movie version was produced starring handsome William Holden.  I advised my mom against seeing that movie having giving her a somewhat sanitized version of the plays plot along the lines of “love conquers all”



Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Dovekeepers

There is only one ancient source on the story of the Jewish Uprising culminating in the stand at the fortress of Masada. Its veracity has been questioned by recent archaeological evidence. Still the story, whether entirely true or not, is an inspiring one. Novelist Alice Hoffman in The Dovekeepers tells the story from a feminist perspective. Hoffman is a prolific author whose books are both widely loved and frequently damned. Mix feminism with frequent doses of mysticism and controversy may be the result.
The Dovekeepers follows four very different women from the second destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem to the final suicide at the fortress of Masada. There a disparate group of men and women chose death over slavery. Strong stuff indeed. ( A view across the desert of the Dead Sea from the fortress of Masada).

I found the book a little too  long at points. This is because some the points of the beautifully evocative writing are repeated to often, losing their power in the process. Also because  mixing in  dreams, visions and confusing allusions doesn’t always  work for me.  Still  much else about this novel is very good, from the characterizations to the contrast between the shabby, hungry refugees and the magnificence of Herod's abandoned palace at Masada. All in all though I think this book is  well worth reading.....

Monday, February 5, 2018

Storm Front

I’m not often a mystery/thriller type of reader but I managed to get seven book report credits out of twelve required by my 11th grade English teacher for reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes.  Still later, writers like P.D. James, John le Carre, Tony Hillerman, Patricia Cornwell, Scott Turnow and  John Grisham caught my eye. So there I was in a small waiting room at Mayo Clinic waiting for my wife on the 2nd day of three days of testing, apparently looking really bored. A kind secretary noticed and offered access to the departments   lost and found collection of mysteries  This was a first time read of John Sanford. A Pulitzer prize winning journalist and  highly successful author of  mysteries. His stories are often placed in a Minnesota setting. Hey! I live in Minnesota and frequently pick out books with settings I’m familiar with. Set it in Paris (I’ve been there twice) and if the murder takes place on the steps  of the Opera, I’ve been there chaperoning  a class of high school seniors eating a bag lunch. I can still  see it clearly….


Which brings me to John Sanford’s Storm Front.
When John Sandford is traveling around Minnesota, he's got one thing on his mind: Is this a good place for a crime? A veteran thriller writer with more than 40 novels to his name, Sandford has staged crime scenes all across the state, from the North Woods to the Mall of America.  
In this one an ancient relic in unearthed during an archaeological dig. A Minnesota college professor who finds it, returns it to the Gopher State naturally and is followed by two conflicting Israelis ( a Mossad agent and a member of the agency responsible for protecting ancient relics, along with several Hezbollah terrorists, a Turk and several thieves who want to make a killing moneywise or otherwise. The relic could change the world's history as we know it. Virgil Flowers, southern agent of the Minnesota BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) is put in charge.
This is good stuff.  Stephen King describes it as unapologetic guy fiction.  Stop! There is such a thing as Chick Flicks and I've be reading a lot of Victorian and Jane Austin lately so lets all keep and open mind.  It's not smarmy. It's gritty but not in the category of a President claiming "locker talk" to justify grabbing women's privates because he is rich and famous.  I enjoyed the book and will likely find some more  by Sanford at our local library....:) 


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@Barrie Summy