Saturday, August 28, 2010

Divine Right

Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie
by Jacqueline S. Homan

(Elf Books / 0-981-56794-0 / 978-0-981-56794-5 / September 2009 / November 2009 / 456 pages / 422 pages / Hardcover $27.95 / Amazon & B&N $25.15 / Kindle $5.99)

Jacqueline S. Homan is one of those special authors that I discovered because of PODBRAM. If I had not begun PODBRAM just over four years ago, Jacqueline never would have found me, and therefore I would never have heard of her or her books. Out of the many new authors who have submitted multiple books to us for review over the past four years, Jacqueline is the most improved. Her writing and book production have gone from somewhat crude, repetitive, and only adequately proofread to outstandingly researched and detailed and proofed at a professional level. Her chosen nonfiction subject matter has reflected Ms. Homan as a compassionate muckraker in four separate areas of American culture, and Divine Right is arguably the most important of these to America’s future as a nation of honorable leadership.

Divine Right is a detailed exposure of the deep history of religion in America. If the book has a fault, it is that the author expends a considerable amount of print space on too much detail from the B.C. period and the early days of A.D. time. For example, I could not care less about the birth and death dates of early rulers. The second, much lesser, negative issue with the book is that there are no front matter pages including the technical publication elements and such. I got the ISBN from a sticker on the back and the November publication date from the printer’s notation on the last page. The reason I mention this is that both Amazon and B&N list the book as being published in September 2009 with 34 more pages than are in my copy. I wonder if the front matter has been accidentally deleted from my copy? Regardless, I have no complaints about the 422-page edition I received. I want to mention one final little negative: if you are of the modern, rabid Christian Evangelical bent, I cannot be held responsible if this book gives you a heart attack!

Although Divine Right is not a comedy in any sense, Ms. Homan made me laugh out loud numerous times with her phrasing. Her carefully composed, brief statements of scathing poignancy describing certain taboo religious issues are what pushed this book over the top for me. She is obviously a feminist of the deepest sort, and she knows how to pointedly describe the misogynistic destruction of freedom in America! What is the book about? This is it, the bottom line, and Jacqueline tells the story from the bottom up. Christianity has been a male dominated subculture from its earliest beginnings to the modern takeover of America by Tim LaHaye’s Council for National Policy. Ms. Homan minces no words when she tells us what she thinks of these ideas!

But seriously, folks, Divine Right: The Truth is a Lie is a hell of a book (pardon the apropos expression). I did not find it as singularly engrossing or riveting as her Eyes of a Monster, but the overall significance and comprehensive, professional presentation of Divine Right make it Jacqueline Homan’s best book. Considering that Monster is about the first gay hate crime prosecution in America, but Divine Right is a subject that has been affecting the lives of millions for centuries, I think you get my point. If you are a feminist, have a deep mistrust of what has become of Christianity in modern America, or just want to read a well researched tome on the subject chocked full of irreverence, rather than holier than thou arrogance, then you will love Jacqueline Homan’s Divine Right.

See also: Jacqueline S. Homan's Blog
Nothing You can Possess
Classism for Dimwits

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Noah's Wife

Noah’s Wife: 5500 BCE
by T. K. Thorne

(Chalet Publishers / 0-984-08364-2 / 978-0-984-08364-0 / October 2009 / 366 pages / $16.95 / $15.25 Amazon / $4.99 Kindle)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

The title is a little deceptive, in that this is not a Bible-based retelling of the story of Noah, his family, their animals and an ark that enables them all to survive a flood. It is rather an attempt to recreate a very particular world, that world of Neolithic humans, over 7,000 years ago, living along the shores of a freshwater lake in what is now Anatolia, a world just beginning the transition from hunting and gathering to herding and farming, where tribal peoples are beginning to settle into established towns. It is a new world, torn between worship of an earth-mother-goddess and a sky-father-god, where time is measured by seasons and the phases of the moon, and where a human is old at forty. There is no such thing as a written language; knowledge, traditions, and skills must be passed verbally and by demonstration, and the people living in the villages across the mountains are foreigners. This world is realized very thoroughly and skillfully; the author conveys very well the feeling that this is truly the dawn of civilization, the seed time from which all the rest of human history sprouted. This material was the dimmest of cultural memories to the various writers of the Old Testament books of the Bible – as well as scribes recording in other traditions. A scattering of these traditions and names are worked into the story: Tubal-Cain, Vashti, a garden in Eden. Accounts of a horrific, world-ravaging flood is common currency in folklore; a race-memory which argued such a shattering event had really occurred – and if not extended world-wide, at least happened in a place where humans lived, and survived the experience, passing down the stories to their descendants.

While many historians had placed the source of the Noachian flood tale in pre-historic Mesopotamia, in the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, T.K. Thorne moves it to the shores of the present Black Sea. Recent explorations have pretty well proven that the lake was once much smaller, and river-fed, rather than a salt-water body, open to the Mediterranean, although it is still a matter of conjecture as to whether it filled gradually, or in one catastrophic rush of salt-water. The author builds her plot around the catastrophic-rush scenario; but takes the time and the most of the book to relate the lives of Na’amah, the wife of Noah, her family and her friends, and the circumstances which lead to them and their herds and working animals, all taking refuge in a house built like a boat. Besides being a wife, Na’amah is also shepherdess, seer and priestess – and afflicted with Ausberger’s syndrome, a relatively mild form of autism. Na’amah sees and notices much, being almost inhumanly observant and hypersensitive to certain stimuli. She relates very well to animals, obsessively well, but less well to people. Being a story written in the first person has its limitations, in that we hardly ever see the character telling the story from the outside, but in this case, it makes for a tightly focused tale, and a singularly unforgettable character.

See also: The BNN Review
Theresa Thorne's Website

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Brimstone Papers

The Brimstone Papers
by David Chacko & Alexander Kulcsar

(Foremost Press / 1-936-15440-4 / 978-1-936-15440-1 / June 2010 / 244 pages / Amazon $13.47 / Kindle $5.99)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

The Brimstone Papers is a worthy successor, or perhaps more accurately, a worthy predecessor (though published later) to Gone Over, reviewed by me for PODBRAM on September 16, 2009. Taken together, the two books amount to a fictional narrative of the adult life of a real historical character of note during the American Revolution, Israel Potter. The Brimstone Papers deals with Potter's life as a young man as the Revolution lurches into motion. Gone Over opens with Potter as a captive of the British and his recruitment by them to spy on his countrymen. It is an extraordinary life, and Mssrs. Chacko and Kulcsar have rendered it in a highly readable and absorbing fashion.Recapping the Wikipedia entry, "Israel Potter (1744-1826) was... born in Cranston, Rhode Island. He had been a veteran of the Battle of Bunker Hill, a sailor in the Revolutionary navy, a prisoner of the British, an escapee in England, a secret agent and courier in France, and a 45-year exile from his native land as a laborer, pauper, and peddler in London." Such a man is clearly a fine subject for fictional treatment, all the more so because most details of his life are largely unknown.

The two books flesh out Potter's life in most convincing and stylish manner. Perhaps their finest accomplishment is conveying the sense of the times – grand times, we think today: revolution was in the air. Great deeds were being done, by our worship-worthy forefathers. But few people would have thought that at the time. The colonists would have felt terribly over-matched against the mighty British Empire, sandwiched between British Canada and the (mostly) British Caribbean, threatened by large, well-equipped armies (including German) conquering American cities at will. Spies and loyalists were everywhere. Everything was in doubt, living was hard, and fear and anxiety would have been the order of the day. Chacko and Kulcsar convey this ambience well, much better than conventional histories— but then ambience is one of the strengths of good historical fiction, or it should be.

As The Brimstone Papers opens, Israel Potter is a young man who obtains some land at long odds and is beginning to work it and make a life for himself (after an unhappy episode as a sailor, not described in the book). Harshly raised by his grandfather and inclined to oppose British oppression by whatever means necessary (rendering him a lapsed Quaker), he is sent to report to a relative, a rich, domineering merchant opposed to independence in Providence, Rhode Island. The events which follow result in his joining the militia and seeing action at the battle of Bunker Hill, splendidly described and perhaps the most riveting section of the book.

Gaining a measure of responsibility from his experiences, Potter joins the crew of a hastily prepared warship, badly outfitted under a captain of dubious effectiveness, and sails into a complete disaster. This is the point at which the companion volume, Gone Over, opens. The venality of war profiteers, the incompetence of authority, and the turning of the coats of those of feeble loyalty make today's diplomatic snarls seem tame, however similar. Even Israel Potter was not immune. If he is a hero (I wouldn't call him one), he is a hero with an asterisk by his name.

Both The Brimstone Papers and Gone Over are first-rate, worthwhile reads. I would rate them with the Aubrey/Maturin series of historical novels by Patrick O'Brian, surely the touchstone of the genre.

See also: David Chacko's Echo Five
David Chacko's Devil's Feathers
David Chacko's Website