Monday, April 17, 2006

The Kiko's House Book Club

Will the fourth meeting of the Kiko’s House Book Club come to order. Thank you.

We have for your perusing pleasure today five books recommended by visitors to Kiko’s House and Yours Truly. The books marked with an asterisk (*) are available in paperback.

The books at our first meeting tended toward the spiritual. They ranged from the earthy to the feminine at our second meeting, while the selections at the third were very much a mixed lot. This go round includes one long and one very long novel and three books with geopolitical themes, two of them pertaining to the Indian subcontinent.
America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy
By Francis Fukuyama (Yale University Press, 2006)

Probably no recent book about politics has ignited so much controversy as Fukuyama's sayonara to neoconservatism. He traces the history of the neocon movement from the 1940s to the present and argues that the Bush administration's application of neocon principles, notably in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, has been disastrous.

Fukuyama says that he remains committed to the promotion of democracy, but not through the Bush administration's policies, which he believes have relied too much on force. He perfers what he calls "soft power," less coercive means from foreign aid and election monitoring to the kind of civil affairs expertise so lacking in post-invasion Iraq.

A Dance To The Music Of Time (*)
By Anthony Powell (Mandarin, 1997)

These 12 novels were published over a period of more than 20 years. Clive James says in the jacket blurb that this super novel " . . . is going to become the greatest modern novel since "Ulysses," and he may well be right. (Mind you, he's an Australian, so . . .)

The protagonist is Nicholas Jenkins, whose life and relationships we follow from his schooldays before World War I until well after world War II. The extraordinary thing is that in all 3,000 pages, almost nothing happens. We do not attend dramatic events affecting the thousands of characters; we hear what happened in the conversations which Jenkins has with other people. Jenkins' outstanding character trait is his detachment. He never gets excited, never criticises, always observes. He is almost bloodless, yet his viewpoint and analysis bring life to the people of these books, especially Kenneth Widmerpool who comes to a sticky end -- and we're glad.

A truly amazing work, hard to understand at first if you're other than British, but it gets better as it goes on.

Daniel Martin (*)
By John Fowles (Jonathan Cape, 1977)

This arguably is the greatest of the late British writers' five acclaimed novels. (The others are "The Collector," "The French Lieutenant's Woman," "The Magus" and "The Aristos.") In some respects, Daniel Martin mirrors Fowles' own life, which we follow through shifting points of view from childhood into middle age as an ex-pat Brit, philanderer and successful Hollywood screenwriter. Fowles has said in so many words that "Daniel Martin" was a way to get back at the Hollywood establishment for mutilating the screen version of "The Magus," for which he wrote the screenplay. "The Magus" was so bad that it was withdrawn shortly after release and except for extremely rare bootleg versions is impossible to find today.

Fowles tends toward the self absorbed in "Daniel Martin," but his mastery of language is on full display. Only the most erudite will be able to avoid repeated trips to the OED. The first chapter is stunning for its beauty and the surprise that Fowles springs on the reader at the end. Go back and reread it when you've finished the book.

Freedom at Midnight: The Epic Drama of India's Struggle for Independence (*)
By Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre (Simon & Schuster, 1975)

Thirty years on, "Freedom and Midnight" takes on new relevance as the Iraqi people struggle to build a viable democracy with a cast of characters not unlike those involved in the closing months of India's stormy transition from British colony to independent nation in 1947.

The authors draw rich portraits of Prime Minister Clement Atlee, who was determined to end the Raj and appointed Louis Mountbatten, a member of the royal family, to be the last viceroy of India, as well as the two extraordinary Indian revolutionaries, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan (*)
By Ben Macintyre (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005)

This fascinating little book recounts the story of Josiah Harlan, a Pennsylvania Quaker who sailed to Calcutta on a merchant ship in 1822 to erase the memory of a fiancée who jilted him and married another man. Harlan eventually ended up in Afghanistan with the dream of carving out a kingdom for himself.

Amazingly, Harlan sort of succeeded, albeit temporarily, by becoming a confidant of Afghan warlords and a player in the "Great Game" between Russia and Britain. Macintyre draws heavily on Harlan's beautifully written but unpublished journals, which include accounts of his introduction of Western medicines and doctoring. Incidentally, while Quakers eschew violence, Harlan never let that get in the way of pursuing his goals in a fierce backwater that was dominated then -- as today -- by superpowers. By the way, he made it home without a crown on his head, but very much alive.

Whenever you read a good book or may have read one in the past that you'd recommend to your fellow visitors, e-mail me at

Include in the body of the e-mail the book's title, author and type (fiction, nonfiction, bio, advice, etc.) and a few words about why you enjoyed and would recommend it. I'll post your recommendations at the next Book Club meeting.


The Assassin’s Gate: American In Iraq By George Packer (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005)

Candide: Or Optimism By Voltaire (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 2005)

The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror By Nathan Sharansky with Ron Dermer (Public Affairs, 2004)

Falling Through the Earth: A Memoir By Danielle Trussoni (Henry Holt, 2006)

The Fall of Lucifer (Chronicles of Brothers) By Wendy Alec (Realms, 2005)

The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, The Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves By Andrew Levy (Random House, 2005)

Grand Days By Frank Moorhouse (Picador, 1994)

I Am Charlotte Simons By Tom Wolff (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2004)

In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing 'The Second World War' By David Reynolds (Random House: 2005)

In the Company of the Courtesan By Sarah Dunant (Random House, 2006)

The Life of Pi: A Novel By Yann Martel (Canongate, 2001)

Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality By Richard Slotkin (Henry Holt and Co., 2005)

Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel By Arthur Golden (Vintage, 1997)

The Playmate Book: Six Decades of Centerfolds By Gretchen Edgren (Taschen, 2006)

The Seashell on the Mountaintop: A Story of Science, Sainthood and the Humble Genius Who Discovered a New History of the Earth By Alan Cutler (Dutton, 2003)

The Second World War By Winston Churchill (Houghton Mifflin, 1948-53)

What Is Life Worth? The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11 By Kenneth R. Feinberg (Public Affairs, 2005)

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