04 May 2012

Library Limelights 6


Joseph Wambaugh. Fugitive Nights. New York: William Morrow and Company. Inc., 1992.
The Toronto Public Library system was shut down for several weeks since March 18th. That means there were no incoming from my greatest supplier. Reduced to leftovers in our recycling room, I picked up this older book by Wambaugh, writer of many entertaining novels on the corrupt workings of the Los Angeles Police Department. He must have knocked this one off overnight as a throw-away. Or maybe the change of venue to Palm Springs did it. After half a book of the main character's consistently corny wisecracking, I just wanted it to be over. The insertion of plaintive moralizing on behalf of beleaguered Mexican police forces was clumsy, I felt, and out of keeping with the story's momentum. Cartoon characters are way over the top. But what do I know? They probably made a movie out of it.

William Boyd. An Ice-Cream War. London: Penguin Group, 1982.
Aligned with a personal interest in the First World War, my Boyd repertoire switched gears again. An Ice-Cream War was shortlisted for the Booker Prize (before it became Man Booker). Boyd shows another facet of his superb skills. The title refers to the original expectation of a very brief war in Africa—otherwise soldiers would all melt in the fierce heat. English, German, and Portuguese colonial territories in East Africa provide the setting, with some family background in England. Fiction blends converging characters with real life figures and events in a region remote from the main war theatre. The generally inept British communications, as presented by the author, created appalling blunders in troop landings, locations, and losses. Drama is always present but Boyd's sense of comedy surfaces, especially with lovely bits of incomprehensible dialect from a loquacious Scot.

On amazement that army organization worked at all:
An Executive Service officer, a captain, approached the officers from the mountain battery and gave them instructions. Felix showed him the sheet of paper that contained his orders.
“Kibongo,” the E.S.O. Captain said. “Umm.” He paused. “5th battalion, Nigerian Brigade ... Ah-ha. Mmm.” He sounded like a schoolboy who didn't know the answers to a classroom quiz.
“Tell you what,” he said. “There's a Movement Control Officer at the railway station. He'll know. I think the headquarters of the Nigerian Brigade is at Morogoro. Yes, Morogoro, that's where you'll be going.”
“No, it's Soga you want,” the Movement Control officer said. Then added, “I think. Get off at Soga, anyway. They'll probably send someone to meet you there. Hang on, I'll get a boy to sling your gear on the train. Soga, remember.”
Felix found a compartment and watched the boy stow his kit. Steadily the other seats were taken up by officers from an Indian regiment. Some of them knew about the Nigerian Brigade, but had no idea where Kibongo was. They told him to get off at Mikesse, not Soga.

Jane Fonda. Prime Time. New York: Random House, 2011.
          ~~ An enduring fondness for Fonda ~~
On viewing life as an arch or a stairway:
Our youth-obsessed culture encourages us to focus on the arch—age as physical decline—more than on the stairway—age as potential for continued development and ascent. But it is the stairway that points to late life's promise, even in the face of physical decline. Perhaps it should be a spiral staircase! Because the wisdom, balance, reflection, and compassion that this upward movement represents doesn't just come to us in one linear ascension; they circle around us, beckoning us to keep climbing, to keep looking both back and ahead.

“It's good to have younger friends. At least that way not everyone dies before you do!”

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