Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, Joshua Green, author; Fred Sanders, narrator

bannonDevil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, Joshua Green, author; Fred Sanders, narrator
This was a difficult book to focus on because the message seemed preplanned simply to demonize the current President, Donald Trump, using Steve Bannon as the means to that end. In addition, as Bannon’s background and life wre explored, the author seemed intent on creating an evil human being, ignoring the positive side of his life. He is presented as ever eager to hurt and bully anyone with whom he came in contact, ruthless in his tactics and oblivious to the ordinary rules of decent conduct in his pursuits. The book is entitled, The Devil’s Bargain, and the author set out to make Steve Bannon the devil incarnate. I had hoped he would present a fairer picture of an election gone awry, but, instead, I was overwhelmed by the heavy-handed hit piece presented. It was filled with propaganda provided by the left leaning pundits and many innuendos that seemed to come from half- truths in order to present the progressive in a more positive light, ignoring their many conflicts, and corrupt behavior. He was intent on making the right seem deplorable in the way they were depicted by someone he respects highly, Hillary Clinton.
When describing the activities of Breitbart and Bannon, he used a term coined by Hillary Clinton which became popular. Suddenly, the left was populated by a group called the alt-right, but those on the right had no idea what that term actually meant. Clinton succeeded in hijacking the term and making it stick while she ignored what could be called the alt-left which represented her side of the aisle, Occupy Wall Street, Antifa, the undocumented who have committed a crime to get into this country. Joshua Green was only too happy to point fingers at the right while disregarding the heinous behavior of the left. Calling the alt-right white supremacists, religious zealots, and members of the rich and elite, he advanced the progressive rhetoric as if it was actual fact, much to the consternation of those conservatives who did not consider themselves a part of that group, and yet they represented Clinton’s opposition, in essence, her enemies.
When describing the right he used negative terms, but when describing the left and their tactics he described them in a positive way. So Hillary was being clever and Obama was logical, but Bannon grinned wickedly and Trump was unhinged. Even though it is now even more broadly known that the Democrats used underhanded tactics in the campaign, cheated and lied, he glossed over their misdeeds and their illegal behavior. Instead he used highly charged descriptions of anything representing conservatives in what seemed like an attempt to make the reader fear and dislike them. He used terms that the left used frequently to defame those they didn’t like. They call comments dog whistles and the GOP racist so often that they risk reducing the impact of the words with overuse. Green referred to the “fringe” element that has taken over the GOP, but never spoke negatively about the “fringe” element of the left that has infiltrated and changed the progressive agenda and the Democrat’s focus, that has caused chaos in their party.
To be fair, the book is not about Clinton and her dishonest cohorts, but it is hard to believe that a book concerned with the participants on the right, in the 2016 Presidential campaign, would so briefly mention the concerns about the opposing party on the left, even if only to compare them justly to make an honest point. It felt like fake news even when the truth was presented because of the obvious biased slant of the presentation of “the facts”. Oddly, at one point, the author even seemed to be praising Paul Manafort, recently indicted, for his effort to try to tame Donald Trump’s behavior. The author seemed to grasp at any straw to defame the current President and his supporters, and I fear that many of his accusations will not prove out, but the damage will be done because it is now in print. People do not often check the facts presented if they agree with the point that is made.

It seemed odd to me that he went after the wealthy Mercers, suggesting nefarious circumstances in their support of Trump, but Green never went after George Soros who may have used nefarious methods to invest vast sums of money into the DNC, using a multitude of groups associated with him, creating a maze which makes it difficult to trace the origin of the donations. He poured money into the DNC in support of Clinton, even as the left complained about the money poured into the coffers of the GOP.
He painted Bannon’s methods as ruthless but glossed over the fact that the left actually incited the violence at Trump rallies and worked actively to defeat Sanders and prop up Clinton who was even provided some debate questions, in advance, to enable her to perform better than her opposition on the stage. I deduced that this was basically nothing more than a “trash trump” exercise in book form. In the attempt to make Hillary a saint and Donald a devil, the left worked hard, but failed to secure the election. Although they demonized Trump for some classless comments, they forgave Clinton for his actual classless behavior against women. The electorate rejected the hypocrisy. They condemned Trump for anything they could think of; he is a germophobe, he is wily and a product of a racist upbringing, he is guilty of sexually harassing women. He is a loose cannon and an anti-semite given to hyperbole. These are just some of the names he has been called while the sins of his opposition were either ignored or not hammered day after day into the public arena. Obama, is described as measured, logical and sophisticated even as he interfered in a Presidential campaign which former Presidents are loath to do; and Hillary was presented as a champion of progressive causes, neither a liar nor a schemer.
The message from the author is so full of propaganda and the agenda of the left that the book, which could have been informative seemed to simply be a hit piece with the sole purpose of destroying the sitting President and those that associate with him. The author is very guilty of presenting a partisan view which I found to be extremely unfair and prejudicial. The left’s attempt to explain why Hillary lost is getting to be a very tired subject. She lost because Americans didn’t want her to win!

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Glass Houses, Louise Penny, author; Robert Bathurst, narrator.

glassWhen the book opens, Armand Gamache, the man who is in charge of the Sûreté du Quebec, is giving testimony at a murder trial. He begins to explain about the suspicious “thing” that was dressed in a hooded black robe that had suddenly appeared on the village green and barely moved; it simply seemed to be watching. In a short time, it frayed the nerves of the townspeople. It was something called a cobrador, an ancient figure that collected debts, acted as a conscience, and haunted the subjects it came for until they paid in some way for their misdeeds. The government attorney and Gamache did not seem to be on the same page, during this questioning, although they were on the same side, presumably.

In this story, in his persona as Chief Superintendent, Gamache has discovered a major pattern in the drug trafficking industry, and he is willing to risk all to expose and capture the criminals to stop their activity. Drugs are causing the massacre of generations of people across the human spectrum. He created a subterfuge, using the murder trial as a tool, which some may question since it will ultimately have dangerous consequences. The reader will be left to decide whether or not the rule book should occasionally be tossed out, or whether it should always be followed in times of crisis. Also, the reader will have to think about whether or not someone should be punished if they break a rule for a good reason.

Penny has created a character in Gamache that is beloved by her readers. He is gentle, but strong and firm, as well. He is moral, but he is flexible in his thinking. He does not rush to judgment and always seems to err on the side of goodness, even when he is doing something bad. Reine-Marie, his wife, is understanding, warm and friendly. The town where they live, Three Pines, might be everyone’s ideal location with its odd collection of people who are writers, chefs, artists, and more. They come from all different places, different backgrounds and have different needs. They all have some “ghost in their closet”, some secret that they wish to conceal, something in their lives that had caused them shame; they all wondered if the “thing” in the robes had come for them, as “the thing” made them remember their own past sins and guilt. Should people in glass houses throw stones?

The opiod crisis facing all of us today was a major theme alongside the murder investigation. Many of the characters had personal experience with the tragedy of the drug epidemic and it brought home the depth and breadth of its reach into our own reality. I wondered if the fear of the black robed creature that could possibly incite people to act out violently, could be likened to the sometimes irrational fear many have of women in burqas, along with a generalized fear of Muslims because of what the mind conjures up with thoughts of terrorism. These are just some ideas which occurred to me while reading.

I am not sure if the author writes with this remarkably soft touch that conveys deeper messages, as she presents her narrative, or if this very talented narrator interprets the words that way. Regardless, though, it works well. Also, the gentle wit of her prose will sometimes cause the reader to smile quietly, and her text will make the reader think about and investigate her ideas even after the book ends. The devastating effect of opiods and the history and existence of the cobrador will make for interesting future study.

The books create a manageable tension while the problems mount and solutions seem to slip away, as moving back and forth, in the memory of Gamache on the witness stand, the novel develops. The familiar cast of sometimes outrageous characters, in the Inspector Gamache series, will bring the reader back again and again as each new book in the series is written. The narrator, Robert Bathurst perfectly captures the nuances of each of them and will also inspire readers to return.

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The Cuban Affair, Nelson DeMille, author; Scott Brick, narrator

cubanDaniel Mac Cormick, in his mid thirties, owns the fishing boat, The Maine. He is a macho guy, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. His older First Mate, Jack Colby, not as polished as Mac, was a veteran of the Vietnam War. Both, in their separate fields of war, had been injured. When Mac became involved with Cuban Americans, who were decidedly anti-Castro, he was offered an amount of money that was hard to refuse, to  recover and reclaim millions of dollars in documents, jewelry and money that had been hidden in a Cuban cave by a banker, the grandfather of a beautiful woman, who would participate in the recovery. She was Sara Ortega. Mac asked Jack to join him in this possibly dangerous, well-funded clandestine effort to recover property nationalized by Fidel Castro’s Cuban government.

The plan was for Jack to take a group of fisherman to a fishing tournament in Cuba, a tournament that was meant to encourage a warmer relationship between the United States and Cuba. Jack would take this group on The Maine, which would be renamed Fishy Business in order to cover its history in Key West and provide him with an alibi. Mac, on the other hand, would be going to Cuba, presumably on a tour with Yale University. Sara Ortega would be on that same tour, but they would pretend to have never met before. To provide them with their alibi, they were supposed to pretend to become romantically involved when they got there. This is where the novel began to be disappointing. It seemed to devolve from what could have been an action-packed story into nothing more than a romantic escapade.

Although the book was infused with humorous dialogue, an admirable skill of this author, many of the conversations and comments seemed either too melodramatic or too filled with clichés. The story seemed very repetitive and overly long. For the majority of the book, it seemed to go in circles, almost going nowhere, and I kept waiting for something exciting to happen. Near the end, finally, there was some action, but still, it seemed to be more about the budding romance between Sara and Mac than about any kind of thrilling adventure. It seemed to be setting up a series that would follow the two of them into their future.

Although I found the book a bit disappointing, it introduced information I previously knew little about. Apparently, Cuba and Vietnam had participated in a joint effort in which a group of American POW’s were brought to Cuba and tortured before their deaths. Their bodies were never returned. DeMille also inserted his political views into the narrative, indicating his distaste for the CIA and some of its methods, of which I had not been aware.  Even Ernest Hemingway made an entrance with interesting little tidbits about him dropped here and there into the story. Still, I felt that far better than the book, was the narration. Scott Brick does an amazing job interpreting the novels of DeMille and this one was no exception.

 

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Sing Unburied Sing, Jesmyn Ward. Author, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chris Chalk, Rutina Wesley, narrators

This book is very hard to read; aside from the fact that the subject matter is current, as well as historic, it is also about the horrific brutality, that was and still is, often inflicted upon a people, regardless of their guilt or innocence; this behavior is unjustified regardless of the innocence or guilt, color, creed, nationality, religion or any other defining aspect of that victim. No behavior on the part of anyone can justify the unimaginable punishments meted out; the mutilation, the torture or even merely the humiliation of another, should not be tolerated by society, but in an advanced society, this criminal behavior of those in power seems much more egregious.

This book is an intense examination of the racial situation and the victimization they experience in their ordinary daily lives. Avoiding the injustice perpetrated upon them is almost impossible since it is rained down upon them according to the whims of the angry mob mentality of their abusers. It is not, however, I believe, because of white supremacy, a catch term that has taken hold as a rallying cry. Rather, to me, it is because there are simply hateful people with evil in their hearts who will justify their despicable behavior with any excuse they can muster up that will gain the support of other like-minded despicable creatures. This behavior is often obvious on both sides of any conflict, none is defensible.

Each chapter of this book presents the voice of one of the three major characters, Leonie, Jojo and Richie. Most of the dialogue takes place as Leonie drives her friend Misty and her two children, to pick up Michael, their father, from Parchman prison, as he has served out his sentence. On that ride, black life is very fully presented in view of their behavior and approach to life, and the behavior of others in the world toward them. Each of them, in their own way, is a victim of society’s injustice and the injustice of their own cultural environment. Each has to fight a system that overpowers them, that does not provide them with the tools they need to achieve parity.

As the book explores the history and lifestyle of its characters, it uses the dialogue between them, coupled with their individual thoughts and memories, to highlight the injustices that they have had to suffer, and even ignore, to avoid further retaliation. They were often in a position of vulnerability that allowed no bridge to justice. Although it is not specifically addressed in this book, it is this backward and forward looking at the situation that they faced that allows the reader to understand the anger that is boiling over in today’s society, even if they disagree with the methods now being used by some of those who are angry, since they justify their own brutality in ways not very different from the justification of abusive power used by their “enemies”. Those without power often seek not justice, but to overpower those in power to assume the same mantle of superiority, rather than equality.

I listened to the book and thought it might be better to have read it in print. Although the book was read well by several readers, to delineate the characters, I thought some portrayals were a bit excessive. At times, Leonie seemed too sultry and Jojo’s speech pattern, too stereotyped in its presentation. Richie was alternately portrayed as a young boy and as a man, in his tone of voice, perhaps to emphasize the passage of time. There was no way, however, to find any fault in the prose of this author; it is so far superior to that in many books written today. The choice of vocabulary and the way in which the words were combined made for an eloquent and often poetic presentation, painting pictures and images for the reader to see in their mind’s eye, sometimes making some of the scenes almost too horrific to imagine. The influence of the fear and often shame that constantly haunted the life of the victims, created hopelessness and an “underground” lifestyle. Norms in their world were often at odds with the norms in the world of others.
Throughout history, groups that have been abused by the prejudices of others have been blamed for bringing this abuse upon themselves because of their own behavior. If nothing else, this book will disabuse the reader of that fact. Nothing justifies the brutality or bigotry that the people of color have had to deal with because nothing makes brutal behavior toward anyone acceptable. No behavior on anyone’s part, no biological aspect of anyone’s body or cultural and religious choice makes cruelty toward anyone acceptable, in my opinion.  While it may be impossible to prevent the expression of opinions, there is a proper and improper way to express those opinions. No behavior that threatens another should be acceptable. No behavior that intimidates another should be applauded.

Everyone, I believe, has a responsibility to behave in an acceptable manner, at all times, without bringing harm to another, except in cases of unavoidable war to prevent just that kind of inhumane behavior, but we must be fully aware of the fact, that, that makes us guilty of being “the pot calling the kettle black”.

At the end of the book, while I felt I had really learned a great deal about society’s mistreatment of others, specifically, in this book, of those of color, but universally, as well, of all people who are powerless, I did not feel that there was any viable solution offered to make things more tolerable, to right the wrongs of racial injustice, or to bring back a return or an insurgence of common decency. Just as some of the characters were haunted by visions, so our society was and still is haunted by unjustified feelings of hate. Also, while the idea of the injustice and horrific prejudice and hateful behavior toward a group of people was excellently and honestly rendered, I wasn’t certain that the expectation of responsible behavior on the part of those victims was as fully explored.  As both worlds were examined, however, the world of color and the world without, the bias and overt injustice experienced by those who were powerless were horrifying. It is a virulent disease spreading all over the world, as we witness, daily, the horrific violence inflicted upon populations that are weaker or less in favor then the one in power.

Regardless of the victim’s behavior, which is ridiculously, somehow supposed to justify the injustice, there is no acceptable excuse for any of the brutality or expressions of violence and hate that have become almost daily occurrences. Perhaps the haters have mastered the art of making this behavior so common that we have become inured to it and are beginning to accept it as normal rather than what it is, totally abnormal, a total aberration of the human condition and merely an expression of man’s inhumanity toward man.

 

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Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace, Bana Alabed, author, Lameece Issaq, narrator

dear worldThis is a very brief account of Syria’s Assad’s war against his own people. it is unusual because it is written by a seven year old at the time it begins, who turns eight years old by the time it concludes. Bana Alabed’s courageous message will resonate in the hearts and minds of every one who absorbs it. Who else but a child could so clearly see the pain and waste of war? Who else but a child could simplistically describe the brutality and violence, the fear, the danger, the cruelty, the loss, and the implicit stupidity of war, as succinctly?

Bana Alabed was born to parents of the Muslim faith. Their marriage was arranged, but they came to love each other. Their life in Aleppo, Syria, was one they loved. Their first child, Bana, was happy and also loved Aleppo and the friends she made. Precocious, she learned to read at 3 and this gift of intelligence gave her a maturity beyond her youth. As the war broke out, and she spent many years living under the threat of death and destruction, she always questioned the reason and never fully understood why their own country was constantly attacking its own people.

The book alternates between messages from Bana and her mother. The terror they faced, the kidnappings, the ransom, the deaths, the destruction, and their eventual desperate escape, are all vividly expressed in their words, but in the words of Bana, they are like arrows which enter directly into the reader’s soul. At seven, this child has more common sense and a greater ability to analyze the futility of conflict, than any adult around her. She grows obsessed with the desire to tell the world about the tragedy of what the Syrian regime was and still is doing, the crimes it is committing against its own citizens, and her voice, asking the world to help, asking the people everywhere to pray for peace, to help the victims, rings out loud and clear.

Her effort has placed her in danger. It is hard to imagine that a vicious regime and leader would target the voice of a child, but this child has become an enemy because she is a voice for freedom and not the yoke of the tyrannical rule of the Syrian dictator. Her mother is aware of the danger her child is in, but she believes she has a greater purpose she must serve and will not stop her voice from ringing out and reaching others with her message of hope and peace.

In her innocence she is eloquent as she describes the waste of life and limb, the unspeakable pain of loss, of the death of relatives and friends, the destruction of buildings whose inhabitants have no chance of surviving and no place to run, of schools blown up that could have been filled with innocent children, of people being hunted as they simply try to hide to escape from the violence. There was no way out; there was no place to go, however, Bana, a mere child, is trying to do what others have failed to accomplish. She is trying to give them an escape route.

It is very heartbreaking to hear this plain truth as it is expressed in the voice of a young child. It is heartbreaking in its innocence, and horrifying to think of her as a potential target because she does not really have freedom of speech. Her message speaks volumes more than that of any scholar. Hope and peace are the simplest of requests, and she implores everyone to work toward those goals.

 

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Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng, author, Jennifer Lynn, narrator

little firesIf I had to use one word to summarize this book, I would use motherhood, motherhood in all of its possible definitions. What does it mean to be a mother? What makes a good mother? Who has the right to decide what is or who is a good mother? Who has the right to decide the timing for motherhood?

The story has several interesting female characters. One, Elena. Richardson, basically unconsciously, picked mercilessly on her last born child, daughter Izzy, because she was afraid she would suffer from health issues as she grew up. She was premature, and the doctor had warned her of possible repercussions in her future. Her overly critical treatment of the child hurt her emotionally. Her other children were self-confident, privileged and a bit irresponsible, assuming everyone lived in the comfortable way that they did. Mrs. Richardson (Elena) can be described as a creature of habit and structure. She expects others she has been kind to, to return the favor. She is a bit of a good-natured busybody. Therefore, one has to wonder if her intent is truly kind. She has been a local reporter for a small neighborhood paper for years and would like a good story to help her break out into real journalism. The Richardson’s live with material excess, what today is called “white privilege”. Is that a fair term of description?.

Mia is unconventional and her mothering is as well.  In her youth, struggling to pay for her education in photography, Mia agreed to be a surrogate mother, but, instead, after a change of heart, she ran away and kept the baby, named Pearl. She continued to run for the rest of her life to avoid dealing with what she had done. Her parents rejected her because they believed she was selling her baby. Was that what she was doing? Mia and Pearl subsist on what she earns from selling her work or from odd jobs. They move when the mood strikes Mia and are not attached to material possessions. They live minimally.

Mrs. Riley wanted a surrogate mother to bear a child for her, one that looked like her. She and her husband had the wherewithal to pay someone to have a baby for them. Should that contract be binding legally and subject to criminal charges if broken?

Mrs. McCullough could not conceive a child. She had had several miscarriages. She and her husband desperately wanted a baby. Many attempts at adoption had been unsuccessful, until, one day, they were offered an abandoned child to adopt. What happens if the biological mother shows up and wants that baby back? Who should raise that child? Who is the rightful mother?

Bebe, a Chinese immigrant, is impoverished. She abandoned her baby because she could not afford to care for her when she was abandoned by the father. Her English was poor and she was unable to care for the child properly, although she tried her best. Did she do the right thing? Was it criminal? Did she give up her rights to the child in the future?

Lexi is a teenager who engaged in unprotected sex and decided to have an abortion when she discovered she was pregnant. She was supposed to go to Yale and the baby would have negatively impacted the lives of herself and her boyfriend. She wondered, did she make the right decision? Should she have discussed it with her boyfriend? Did he have the right to know? Did her mother have the right to know? Should she, as the adult and guardian have been consulted? Will Lexi carry that decision with her for the remainder of her life, always wondering if it was right or wrong?

For me, the title holds several meanings. One would pertain to an actual fire, one would pertain to creativity, coming up with a new idea, and one would pertain to the idea of encouragement, to figuratively lighting a fire underneath someone to propel them into action. This book, explores those ideas with regard to motherhood and life, in general, through the experiences of the characters.  It also exposes the different ideas that define all types of motherhood. Should class, status, social standing, culture or ethnicity influence any of the choices regarding motherhood, behavior and rights?

The story takes place in the community of Shaker Heights, an affluent community in Cleveland, Ohio. It is essentially a bubble filled with similar people who have similar goals of upward mobility. The Richardson family lives there. Mia and Pearl Warren arrive there looking for a suitable community to settle in with good schools and a safe environment. Mia has decided that Pearl would benefit from a less nomadic life. They rent an apartment from the Richardson’s. They live in a minimalist way while the Richardson’s live with obvious abundance. The Richardson’s and the Warner’s learn about and react to each other’s way of life.

Moody Richardson and Pearl Warren are high school sophomores. They become fast friends as they are the same age and are in many of the same classes in school. Pearl loves her new home and also becomes friends with Lexi Richardson who is a senior. When she meets Trip Richardson, a junior, a romance develops. Izzy, is the youngest Richardson child who has always been singled out as a troublemaker by her mom, and so she has subsequently taken on that persona of a troublemaker. She becomes close to Mia Warren who opens up her mind to being less rebellious. She is kind to her and accepts her as she is, but her advice is often ill thought out. Izzy remains “a loose cannon”.

The ideas of abortion and unwanted pregnancies are examined along with the idea of who is the real or true mother in a custody battle between a parent who abandoned her child and the parent who hopes to adopt the child, the surrogate or the one engaging her. What rights does a surrogate mother have when she signs an agreement to deliver the child to the family? Which idea of parenting is more beneficial to children, the structured or unstructured approach? When an underage female has an abortion, who should decide whether or not it is appropriate, who should counsel her?

Each of the female characters in the book engages in behavior that is not always by the book, ethical or even legal. Yet they all seem to get away with pushing the envelope. The person who behaves least responsibly seems to come out the winner, in the end, although that irresponsible behavior was the catalyst that caused many catastrophes that can not be reversed. I wondered why that has become acceptable behavior. I wondered, also, who was the greater villain of the mothers featured. Was it the busybody Mia, who chose her nomadic life over her daughter’s need for structure, or the busybody Mrs. Richardson? Was it the would-be mother seeking a surrogate or the mother seeking to keep an abandoned child after the biological mother wants her back? Does the mother who abandons her child retain any rights? The meddling of others, the lies told and the secrets kept continue to come back to haunt many of the characters, but they are resilient and seem to find ways to adjust.

One parent taught with compassion and by example, not always good ones, and the other seemed impetuous, rushing to judgment and meting out acts of retribution. The children learned from those parents, imitating their behavior. The Richardson children learned self-confidence, but they also learned to be arrogant and to feel entitled, entitled to what they possessed and to use others to serve their needs. Pearl Warren, on the other hand, learned patience and consideration from her mother. She learned to appreciate and accept what little she had, but was amazed and enthralled by how the Richardson’s lived. Although Pearl’s life of a drifter seemed the more unstable than the structured life of the Richardson’s, was it really less stable or was it actually more enduring and flexible?

The paramount idea of breaking out of one’s “box” and beginning again, seemed to work for all of the characters with minimal repercussions. The book intensely examines motherhood, with regard to surrogacy and biology, the idea of giving up a child, losing a child and the rights to a child is dissected. Family values with regard to class, culture, wealth, poverty, parental influence and legal rights and the bubbles within which we all live are explored. Behavior, often illegal, seems to be encouraged in some ways, and I found that confounding. Did the book bite off more than it could chew? Are there too many social issues introduced? In an attempt to be progressive and open minded has common sense sometimes flown out the window.

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Wolf season, Helen Benedict, author

wolf seasonThis book is a wonderful examination of the social, moral, and political conflicts and concerns facing society today. The marvelous cast of characters touches on and exposes the issues with honesty, clarity and a force that will grab hold of your heart and make you look into your own thoughts and beliefs about our enemies during wartime, our friends and family at home, and those impacted by a war they may or may not wish to be involved in, but geographically find themselves in the middle of, experiencing the battles, facing the danger, and dealing with the death and loss of property, family, and life as they once knew it.

It is a terribly painful and emotionally draining story to read as you learn of the debilitating effects of the war on the returning soldiers, on their families and on their friends. As you learn of the devastating effects of the war on those who helped America, essentially, those who then became the enemy of their own country, those who collaborated in some way to rid their country of injustice who were then also considered enemies by those who disagreed with the need to rid the country of the tyrants, those who did not see the injustices perpetrated upon their neighbors everyday, but rather turned a blind eye and forced those that helped America to succeed to become the enemy of both, the vanquished and the victor, the weak and the strong, you will feel overwhelmed, at first, but at the end, you will feel the hope that the author has tried to convey, the hope that all people will one day rise above their differences and unite as one, with love in their hearts, rather than harboring hate for and fear of those that are different.

The brutality our own countrymen inflicted upon each other and our enemies is difficult to put on paper, but Benedict has communicated the full force and effect of the battle-scarred complete with the pain they feel when they are in the field of war as well as when they attempt to return home to the field of peace. The distance from their families, the nightmares and their inability to communicate, in contrast, comes across loud and clear to the reader. The victims of this life, these wars, are carefully laid open so the reader can identify with each of them and experience their individual suffering and scars of war. From the child to the adult, the soldier to the wife, we are enmeshed with them in their loss, their pain, their confusion, and their grief. We are in their flashbacks, their dreams and their nightmares. There are several important characters, in this novel, but even the minor ones are dealing with the difficulty of their wounds of war.

First there is Rin, a mentally, battle-scarred soldier who was unbelievably, brutally raped by her fellow soldiers after her husband was killed on the battlefield. She was already pregnant with her husband Jay’s child when she was attacked. She is always afraid for her safety and that of her daughter, Juney. She keeps wolves on what was once Jay’s family’s property, to fulfill the dream she and Jay had once shared. She also believes they protect her, in spirit and in life, and they are necessary for her well-being and her thin hold on her sanity. She protects both herself and her daughter, fiercely. She has hostile reactions to people, and has visions, what I would call “daymares”, that influence her behavior and made her seem bizarre, but was she really bizarre, or were those who attacked her more sinister in nature? Who was really the sick individual, Rin, her fellow soldiers, the sheriff, the Iraqis, the Americans, the war widow? What made each of them tick, and which of them ticked to the beat of normal and which to the beat of the mentally disturbed?

Juney, Rin’s daughter, is 9 years old and blind. She also has some odd behavioral issues that make her susceptible to being bullied, but she is gentle in nature and very helpful to her mom because of her great insight, her ability to feel things, which is essentially a “sense” for her, like sight is for others. Juney is aware of changes in her mother’s moods and is able to calm her.

Naema is a doctor from Iraq. She is a devoted mother who wishes to protect her son from any further violence from the war she was unwillingly dragged into, in Iraq. Her family was killed by American bombs during the war. Her husband was murdered and their son Tariq lost his leg when their car was blown up by those who resented his collaboration with the Americans. He was an interpreter.  Naema was working in a pediatric clinic in upstate New York, in an effort to be recertified as a doctor in the United States. Juney and Rin were in the examination room of the clinic, at the same time that a hurricane was raging. In a flood as a result of the storm, Naema almost drowns, and Rin is consumed with guilt because of her part in that tragedy.

Beth is Flanner’s mother. Flanner was Tariq’s friend. While Tariq is calm and gentle, Flanner is angry and has begun to act out. She is an unhappy woman who wants more out of her life and resents her husband’s constant absence and redeployments, but also fears his violent returns on leave. She drinks too much and Flanner has begun to resent her because she often forgets that her first responsibility should be to his welfare and not her own. She is vindictive and takes no responsibility for her own behavior which has caused her decline. Both Beth and Flanner want to hurt someone because they can’t hurt the person really responsible for the pain they feel. Both seem obsessed with hurting Rin Drummond. Both seemed consumed with their own needs and do not try to understand the needs of others.

Louis is another soldier who has survived the battlefield with scars. He is in love with Naema, which is ironic since she is Iraqi and his scars are from that war. He thinks, shouldn’t she be his enemy? Their relationship crosses all lines of conflict and reaches a state of harmony all people may aspire to, but never achieve.

We know that Tariq’s dad, Khalil, was killed in Iraq, Juney’s father was killed in Iraq, and Flanner’s dad is a marine who has been severely damaged, mentally, by his many redeployments. He can be cruel and mean, brutal and violent. His own violent future awaits him in Afghanistan. Louis is a survivor who has learned, with great difficulty, to control his irrational impulses and deal with his war wounds, in ways that the others have not.

The story is filled with the irony of relationships, child to child, man to woman, enemy to enemy, animal to human. The line between enemy and friend is blurred and scrutinized. Through the use of wolves, the reader discovers the meaning of trust and mistrust, safety and danger, fantasy and reality. The reader views logical, common sense responses that are contrasted with impetuous, irresponsible behavior. The interpretation of ideas is paramount. While a wolf may be friendly, its nature is to survive and that comes before your safety, so a wolf may become your enemy, through no fault of its own. In the same sense, in a war, the instinct is to survive, and the soldier sometimes has to cause collateral damage. Friends are put in a position of being the enemy and vice versa. Expedience rules, oftentimes. During the hurricane, there was collateral damage, too. In a confrontation, there is often collateral damage before reconciliation takes place. The line between right and wrong may not often be clear. As the reader continues tp read, the idea of supporting American values or confronting them is imprecise; it feels like America’s actions are being questioned and the jury seems to judge it poorly.

Can your enemy transmogrify into your friend? Are their ramifications for choosing one side over another? What makes a friend or an enemy? What makes a friend of an enemy or an enemy of a friend? Who was the greater friend, the Iraqi Naema or the American Beth? Who had better values? Why must someone be an enemy? Why did it feel like the Americans were the least able to handle the results of the war on their homes and families, while the ones who were different or foreign seemed better equipped and able to deal with the after effects? Was one group more desperate than the other or perhaps more resilient?

The two children who were damaged physically show the reader how different life is when viewed through their eyes or their emotions. Juney saw the world through the colors she made up in her own mind since she could not see. She, in her way, saw more than anyone sighted. Tariq made up for his handicap by treating it as natural, and then by reaching out to someone who had a greater handicap. He recognized that they were both lonely and both bullied. Both of these children were able to view the wolves as beings with power to be respected and admired, not feared unnecessarily, but respected for their strength. Both seemed able to identify with the needs of others and were unselfish. Their relationship with the wolves was spiritual and a bit magical. The book is a tender and tragic tale. It is at once, juvenile and sophisticated, simplistic and complicated, poetic and straight forward. It is authentic and surreal. The author has infused herself into each of the character’s lives and spit out their essence.

It is both anti-war, and pro democracy. It is both anti-American and pro American. All sides of the issues are illuminated and all promote the reader to think about the victims of war everywhere; the communities and the families that are compromised, the families that lose their loved ones, the families waiting for their soldiers to return, the soldiers far from home, the fields of battle, the idea of an enemy and an ally. All have to cope with loneliness, loss, anger, fear, frustration, violence, lack of hope, and broken dreams. Can life ever return to normal for any of them?

My one negative comment is the author’s note at the end in which she specifically casts blame on Trump for the situation of those Iraqis who collaborated with America as interpreters. They are between a rock and a hard place, but to blame Trump, when 8 years of Obama did nothing for them, seemed disingenuous and politically biased. I realize her book is antiwar and anti many American policies, but that is a point of opinion. Blaming Trump is “fake news”.

The book was a Library Thing Early Reviewers Giveaway.

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