Friday, August 31, 2018

Review of "The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain," by Peter Sis

Review of
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, by Peter Sis ISBN 9780374347017

Five out of five stars
 The Iron Curtain fell with a dull thud in 1989 with repressive and dictatorial communist governments throughout Eastern Europe disintegrating with the exciting promise of democratic institutions of western Europe being established in their place. No longer was the powerful Russian bear a threat to issue orders regarding how the countries of Eastern Europe were to be run.
 With the pass of time since this great event, almost two generations of Eastern Europeans have no experience with the way things used to be, and that is unfortunate. The recent rise of authoritarian and near-dictatorial governments in the countries of Eastern Europe is a regression back to the dark time of the interwar and post-war periods. With the fading of the collective memory of what it was like to live under communism, authoritarian governments seem attractive.
 The author of this book is an artist that grew up in Czechoslovakia under communism. His text and images represent his life when saying or drawing the wrong thing could lead to a visit by the police or even worse. There was the brief light of the Prague Spring that was crushed by Soviet tanks pouring into the country, years of darkness and the eventual collapse of communism, when it was finally possible to engage in free expression.
 As the free press and dissent is suppressed in some of the countries of Eastern Europe and the Russian government is actively intervening to destabilize them, it would be very instructive for the people supporting the move to authoritarianism to read this book and be reminded of how things used to be.

Review of "The Break-Up," DVD version starring Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston

Review of
The Break-Up, DVD version starring Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston

Three out of five stars
 While the case claims that this is a “charming and unpredictable comedy,” only one of those three words actually apply. The applicable word is unpredictable, at least regarding the ending. This movie is about a couple breaking up amid tensions, antagonisms and downright petty tits for tats. Vince Vaughn plays Gary, narrator on a double decker tour bus in Chicago and a member of the working class. Jennifer Aniston plays Brooke and she works at a high-level art gallery.
 They share an expensive condo and the relationship is falling apart, Gary is very much into sports, video games, bowling and drinking. Brooke is much more highbrow, she loves ballet and other cultural movements and their friends and families are very different. In many ways the viewer asks the question, “How did these two get together in the first place?” For they seem to have nothing in common.
 Although they still share the same living quarters, the break-up is truly ugly, it is hard to see how people will find what they do to each other comical. The only amusing scene is when Brooke walks naked through the apartment and the expressions on Gary’s and her face as she does so speak paragraphs of quality dialog.
 While much of the action in the middle is predictable after you realize what these two will do to each other, the ending is not. Yet, it is in many ways the way once close relationships should end and the people move on with their lives.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review of "Gems of Murray’s Hill," by John C. Murray

Review of
Gems of Murray’s Hill, by John C. Murray 

Four out of five stars
 The author was born in Fayette Township in Linn County, Iowa in December of 1868 and when this book was published (1941) was living on the farm that his parents acquired in 1880. When he was young, steamboats moved on the Cedar River and the captain would blow the ship’s whistle to let him know it was time to go to the dock and help the crew load prepared wood on the boat. While the movement of steam boats on the Cedar River up to Cedar Rapids and beyond is mentioned in the history books, it is a fact that few modern people in the area are aware of.
 These poems are not spectacular, just good descriptors of life in Eastern Iowa in the decades after the author’s birth. He witnessed dramatic changes, and some are humorously described in verse. “My Old Tin Box” appears on page 32 and describers an early car. On page 43 there is “Mr. Ford Did Not Make a Lady Out of Liz” and is a description of the author’s affection for his car.
 On page 35 there is the poignant “The Closed Bank,” about the only bank in town closing due to bankruptcy. There is no time reference, so the verse may describe a bank closing before the F. D. I. C. existed to protect depositors.  It would be difficult to lose all your money like that.
 As someone that grew up about a mile from the border of Fayette Township, I recognized many of the location references made in the work. That is always a pleasure and it helps to set the context for what was what the author admits was an enjoyable life. That much is clear from the light-hearted and simple nature of the verse.