Sunday, December 30, 2007

A skilled debut that works at various levels

The diaspora’s experience has been the subject of many recent Indian novels, most notably, the Pulitzer-winning The Interpreter of Maladies, and, to a lesser degree (because it dealt with other themes too), The Inheritance of Loss. Both these works have been beacons of light amid the otherwise unsavoury mass that stares the discerning reader at the bookstore. Now, Nalini Jones’s debut collection of short stories makes a skillful addition to this list.

The setting here is a close-knit Catholic family of Bombay: Essie and Frank Almeida and their three children, Marian, Simon and Jude. The stories flit from one member of the extended Almeida family to the next, and several characters appear in more than one story. Some seek lives in new lands, while others stay put. For everyone though, the angst of separation, both physical and metaphorical, is a bloodless gash that humbles the soul.

“In the Garden” focuses on Marian sneaking into the wardrobe to try the dress her mother has bought for her 10th birthday. Marian’s fear of ruining the family’s surprise is evoked masterfully. Indeed, something happens and the dress gets spoiled, and Marian’s guilt unravels with all the intensity that childhood bestows.

Almost all through the collection, incidents are revealed not in chronology, but at random, so that the reader comes across the fruits of the actions first. In “The Bold, The Beautiful”, a woman returns to India from the US to tend to her mother, Grace, who is to undergo a cataract surgery. Initially, we only learn that Colleen moved to the US many years ago and is now living with a roommate, Vanessa.

But all is not as it appears. Why does Colleen wince when she learns that Vanessa has sent Grace a “get well soon” greeting? Is she trying to hide something? Why has she never married? Is Vanessa more than a roommate — a lover? We don’t know for sure — yet. Then we are told that during a confession before she moved to the US, Colleen had confided in the pastor at the local church, “I am hurting my mother. I’m hurting her badly.” On being probed, she revealed, inscrutably, “I am leaving,” to which the pastor replied, simply, “That’s not a sin, my child.”

It is the unspeakable sins that hover above these stories. In the title story, an old man, Roddy, starts to see his father who has been dead for many years. Jones converts this haunting into a personal inquiry on mortality, as Roddy reflects upon the tenuous relationship he shares with his son Stephen, who is settled in the US.

“Half the story” takes us to Marian’s life in the US, where she marries a white man and settles down to happy, if dull, matrimony. During that lonely first year, she is befriended by the lively Vee, who is herself negotiating the aftermath of a divorce. Vee’s observations (“When it comes to men, never settle”) are typical Jones expressions: daring yet apt. The story works at several levels, including a not wholly connected strand of Nicole, Marian’s daughter. But like elsewhere, there is a curious intermingling of time and space to produce a wholesome effect.

Jones is especially adept at capturing the trials of childhood. In “We Think of You Every Day”, Simon sends home painful letters that depict his harrowing loneliness at a seminary in Mysore. Essie, heady with the promise of her son becoming a priest, does not let him return. She writes him long, ineffectual letters, asking him to look at his time at the seminary as “a sacrifice for your future happiness”. On one of his trips home, Simon performs an act of effortless cruelty — a pointer to his transformation at the seminary, where he went, ironically, to ultimately take Holy Orders.

While the stories stand well on their own, Jones would have done well to amalgamate them into a novel. Now, she ought to contemplate a book that blends the varied, sharp contours that her first work is laced with. If her debut work is any indication, her second work, in the hope that it is a novel, will find many admirers.

This review appeared in Business Standard.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Eros teases old age

J.M. Coetzee does not like to rest on his laurels. Having won the Booker Prize twice (the only other writer to have done so is Peter Carey) and awarded the Nobel in 2003, he has established his mastery at writing small, crisp novels which, while being simply written, give the reader rewarding peeks into their writer's sensibility.

He takes this device to its logical conclusion in Diary of a Bad Year. This book is about C, a middle-age author living in a nondescript apartment building in Sydney, Australia. An immigrant from South Africa, C is the writer of a novel called Waiting for the Barbarians. If this doesn't ring a bell, there is also the Nobel certificate hanging on the wall.

Yes, Coetzee has done something remarkable here. While there are clues that the narrator is not himself (C isn't childless, unlike Coetzee), it is impossible not to read this book as a late-life lamentation of the contrast of the academic life with the pull of Eros, a theme Coetzee has repeatedly broached in his work.

In the Booker Prize-winning Disgrace, David Lurie, a middle-age professor, falls for a young female student and the scandal this excites is enough to ensure his termination. The play of power that follows this event provides Disgrace its narrative strength, and Coetzee has always been interested in the male-female dynamic.

C has been asked to compile his thoughts on the pressing problems of the day, a project commissioned by a German publishing house in which six world-renowned authors are participating. C's views run on the top of the pages, and make interesting, if sometimes labored, reading. Writing on al-Qaida, C says:

"If there were indeed a devilish organization with agents all over the world, bent on demoralizing Western populations and destroying Western civilizations, it would surely by now have poisoned water supplies all over the place, or shot down commercial aircraft, or spread noxious germs -- acts of terrorism that are easy enough to bring off."

This is laughable, of course. The fact that crimes that require great logistical backup can today be thought of as doable is, if nothing else, a testimony of the power al-Qaida weaves on the popular imagination. There are several such jottings, but they rarely go beyond being bons mots.

What gets the novel going, however, is the fictive plot of C's infatuation with Anya, who lives in the same apartment building as he. As C watches her for the first time in the laundry room, "an ache, a metaphysical ache, crept over me that I did nothing to stem." C's desperation to get Anya close to him by offering her the job of typist has resonance with Coetzee's typically dark evocation of desire.

And thus, we have the story of this "relationship," told from C's perspective, running on the bottom half of the page. As a storytelling device, it's fairly engaging, unless Coetzee decides to crowd the page with a third band, one that speaks in Anya's voice.

Anya is a headstrong young woman who shares her apartment with her boyfriend, Alan. Well aware of the power she wields on C, she is not averse to exploiting it: "As I pass him, carrying the laundry basket, I make sure I waggle my behind, my delicious behind, sheathed in tight denim. If I were a man, I would not be able to keep my eyes off me. Alan says there are as many bums in the world as there are faces."

What is rather fascinating about the idea of three strands running on one page is that it allows us to appreciate Coetzee's genius better. On the top is a truly academic enterprise, lofty in its studied concern. At the center is the lonely rambling of a writer who is losing his gifts. And at the bottom, the rushed monologue of youth, gravid with its concomitant impertinence.

It must therefore be asked: What is Coetzee's metier? Why does he write? The disaffected nature of his prose gives us clues to a will for silence, a preponderant instinct for quietude. Yet, Diary of a Bad Year is a loud book, filled with both verve for life and the enervating prospect of death. It's one of his more approachable reads, and it is a mark of Coetzee's talent that he is able to enmesh the philistine with the profound with such enviable ease.

======

This review appeared in Chicago Sun-Times, along with another, of Andrew Lycett's biography of Arthur Conan Doyle. Besides, my favorite read of 2007 is included in a compilation here. Just scroll down.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Pakistan’s self-inflicting fight for survival

This piece was written in late November. Since then, General Musharraf has given up the Army Chief's post and has also, recently, lifted the emergency in Pakistan.

Democracy in Pakistan has had a checkered history right from the country's inception in1947. A healthy democracy has four pillars: an independent and impartial judiciary, free and fearless press, an honest legislature, and a committed and people-oriented executive. However, in Pakistan, democracy has a zeroth pillar, one which overrules the other four: the military. There, democracy functions only at the mercy of the military. A quick browse through the country's history proves this. The shameful debacle of the Pakistani army in the 1971 war with India, which resulted in East Pakistan declaring its independence, made the army very unpopular with the masses. This prompted a return of democracy. Zulfikar Bhutto, father of Benazir Bhutto, became Prime Minister in 1972. But the then Chief of Army Staff, General Zia-ul-Haq, ousted Bhutto in 1977 and imposed martial law.

Democracy again had a dash at survival when General Zia died in a mysterious plane crash in 1988. However, civilian politicians who came to power after his demise failed miserably. During, prominent civilian Prime Ministers, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, did very little to uplift the living standards of the common man. Instead, they robbed the country. Little surprise then, when General Musharraf staged a coup in 1999, Sharif, who was then the Prime Minister, received no public support. Both Bhutto and Sharif continue to face serious corruption charges. Thanks to the vileness of civilian rulers, it is generally accepted that Pakistan is best governed under a military dictatorship.

After coming to power in a bloodless coup, General Musharraf fashioned himself as Pakistan's Kemal Atatürk. Seeking to make Pakistan a modern Islamic state and modernize the army, Musharraf said he was ready to do battle with the jehadis. But fate had other plans for the General. 9/11 intervened and redrew Pakistan's geostrategic alliance with the US. Musharraf committed himself to the war on terror in Afghanistan and as a quid pro quo, political and military aid poured into Pakistan. Since 9/11, financial aid worth $11 million has come to the country from Western powers, primarily the US. While this arrangement has helped Pakistan tide over many financial crises, it has also attached to General Musharraf the rather unwholesome tag of "America's poodle".

9/11 and the US occupation of Iraq have forced the Pakistani ruling elite to accept that democracy is the way of the future. Having said that, the country has to work overtime to ensure that the breeding of terrorists on its soil is stopped. Tough measures are required to curb fundamentalist activities in Pakistan. This, as is only too well known, is easier said than done. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's secret service branch of the military, has been training and supplying arms to militants, right from the time the Soviets were in Afghanistan. Militants were also used and are still being used against India in a bid to snatch away part of the border state of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian territory.

India, Pakistan's neighbor on perpetual watch, is in a fix on how best to deal with the new situation. Musharraf has been wont to running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. On one hand, recent reports have revealed that the General gave serious thought to the use of nuclear weapons during the Kargil war of 1999. Pakistan’s A Q Khan, the disgraced nuclear scientist also known as the “father of the Islamic bomb”, is widely believed to have run a flourishing nuclear black market with the General’s connivance. Pakistan’s naked nuclear ambition and the prospect of its nuclear bombs falling in the hands of the jehadis makes the international community's dilemma manifold.

But the General has shown remarkable ruthlessness to fundamentalism when it threatens his own position. In July this year, he ordered the storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad to flush out Islamist militants holed there. The standoff lasted for several days. Hundreds of Islamist activists and students were killed, but the operation restored the law of the land, and jehadi activities were effectively checked. To India, which has suffered the maximum damage from terrorist activities sponsored by Pakistan, General Musharraf's firm stand was a welcome surprise.

India, on its part, has had ample experience of fighting terror and understands how difficult it is to contain this menace when one's own citizens take violence into their hands. Its experience in containing Sikh militancy in Punjab provides relevant pointers. The Indian army was ordered by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, to invade the Sikhs' holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to flush out Sikh militants who had made the temple their strategic headquarters. Fighting one's own countrymen causes emotional turmoil and may even threaten the unity of a nation. Titled Operation Blue Star, the operation against Sikh militants was undertaken under the cover of night in 1984. A total of 90 shells were fired and the separatists were brought down by the army. However, the holy temple was found to have been riddled by over 300 bullet holes.

The desecration of their holiest shrine caused immense resentment among the Sikhs. Retribution was swift and brutal. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguard within months of the operation. General A S Vaidya, the Army Chief at the time of Operation Blue Star, was also assassinated in 1986 in Pune. But the seemingly harsh decision of invading the Golden Temple resulted in a new era unfolding in Punjab. Today, Punjab is a peaceful state and progressing well in a democratic setup. So, hard decisions are at times essential in the larger interest of the nation, even though, and this is added with extreme caution, they may demand the life of a leader.

To be sure, fighting terror is a long-drawn struggle. It cannot be won in a year or two. This poses fresh troubles for General Musharraf, who is not a democratically elected leader. The crux of the matter is that the General draws his strength from America's support, and not from the general public. Moreover, sponsoring militancy has been ISI's bread and butter for over three decades. If now, thanks to the changed global geostrategic scenario, Pakistan wants to part ways with the militants, it's going to have to walk on a bed of thorns. Recently, many soldiers in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) preferred surrendering arms before pro-Taliban militia and tribesmen rather than fighting and killing them. The morale of the Pakistani army is at its lowest ebb. It would be a Herculean task to rejuvenate the army to fight its Islamic brothers in the guise of terrorists, particularly in the NWFP. For General Musharraf, it is an almost impossible job.

At the other end of the spectrum is the judiciary. The judiciary under Justice Iftikaar Chowdhary has repeatedly run into verbal fisticuffs with the ISI-backed ruling establishment. Earlier this year, the many contradictions within Pakistan's intrigue-ridden power structure set in motion a chain of events that concluded with the imposition of emergency.

This is what happened. On receiving inputs that Justice Chowdhary would not toe his line, General Musharraf sacked the Pakistani Chief Justice in March 2007. Countrywide protests in favor of Justice Chowdhary erupted. A wave of resentment for General Musharraf's policies amidst a feeling that Islamist extremists were being targeted on American instructions, swept Pakistan. Under pressure, Musharraf re-instated Justice Chowdhary on the backing of a majority decision of the Pakistan Supreme Court. With Musharraf's victory at the Presidential election held in October 2007 challenged in the Supreme Court, the writing on the wall was clear. Adding fuel to fire, Justice Chowdhary was to decide this case. The General was left with no option but to impose emergency. Thousands of lawyers took to the streets leading to clashes with the police. Armed personnel roamed the streets and curfews were imposed in several Pakistani cities for days on end.

To his credit, Musharraf has sent feelers he’d give up the post of Army Chief soon. He has named an interim Prime Minister until elections are held in Pakistan. So far so good, but the outcome of an election under emergency rule will largely be decided by Musharraf himself and not the public at large. Will Pakistan's enfant terrible be able to abide the many paradoxical promises he has made to his domestic and international constituencies? Only time will tell.

If, at the end of the day, and it's a very big if, General Musharraf succeeds in cleansing Pakistan's image as the breeder of Islamic extremism, and is able to secure Pakistan's vast stockpile of nuclear weapons from landing into the hands of international terrorist organizations, he will be remembered as a national hero and a world-class statesman. Else, history will dump him and treat him as cruelly as it has the other dictators in Pakistan's troubled past.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The son rises, again

James Murdoch's expanded role may help reinvigorate operations in India and China, write FT's Jo Johnson and Tom Mitchell:

James Murdoch’s expanded responsibility for News Corp's international operations reconnects him to Asia, where he was posted from 2000 to 2003 as head of Star TV, the Hong Kong-based satellite broadcaster.

People who worked with Mr Murdoch in the territory credit him with helping turn round Star, which had been losing money ever since his father first acquired it in 1993 from Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li.

“James is like a magnet. He pulls people’s focus together,” said one Star executive. “He put the focus back on finances and really put discipline into the whole structure. We definitely take risks – it’s part of our culture. But after James we looked twice before we leapt.”

Mr Murdoch concentrated the company’s efforts on India but, like Star executives before and after him, struggled to find an entry into the tightly regulated China market. “He was probably more passionate about India than China,” said a former Star executive.

“He found it tough going there. He just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

News Corp’s most recent quarterly filing painted a positive picture for Star. It showed that operating income rose by an undisclosed amount at the international TV business, which consists primarily of Star, for the three months to September 30 over the same quarter in 2006. This compared with an unspecified decline in the division’s operating income in the full year to June 30.

But Star has lost its lustre in India – its most important market – since 2003, when Michelle Guthrie succeeded Mr Murdoch as chief executive, and insiders at Star say that the return of a Murdoch would mean that the family could step in and stem the internecine management wars that have been such a characteristic of the Star executive suite in recent years.

Star was engulfed by a management feud bet­w­een Ms Guthrie, Steve Askew, then chief operating officer, and Peter Mukerjea, the respected chief executive of Star India. Mr Mukerjea was sidelined when profitability at his unit faltered and left to set up a rival network. Mr Askew and Ms Guthrie left the company earlier this year for no given reason. Ms Guthrie was succeeded by former Morgan Stanley banker Paul Aiello, Star’s recently appointed president.

“There is no one who understood the Asian viewer psyche better than James Murdoch,” said Suhel Seth, chief executive of Counselage, an Indian brand consultancy. “When Star was previously under him, he was not micro-managing it out of London, but was based in Asia and made a point of travelling to India once a month. To my mind there was at that point a far greater consumer connect which was lost [after his departure],” he said.

Mr Seth added: “James has the most non-Murdoch style of operating of all Murdochs in that he’s extremely engaging and humane and appreciates that business in India is done more as if you’re dealing with family members, with a pat on the back and a bit of hand-holding. It’s high time that Star returned to the high ground in India, where they’ve committed corporate hara kiri even though it is a critical market for them in terms of making their Asian numbers work as a group. His experience at Sky will be invaluable at a time when India is just about to start its love affair with pay per view. All these learnings will start to come to life.”

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

As Christmas approaches...

...dip into a "pretty little hardcover book wrapped in an old-fashioned watercolor scene" (in the words of a reviewer), The Last Christmas Ride by Edie Hand. It's out by Cumberland.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

On the eve of Gujarat elections...

...appropriately, a review of Raj Kamal Jha's Fireproof:

Raj Kamal Jha, the executive editor of Indian Express, has been preoccupied with the Gujarat riots of 2002 since he went to the state in their aftermath. He wrote a long piece on the topic in his newspaper after touring the riot-torn state. It has been long supposed that the material of his journey would result in a novel. Fireproof, the result of that effort, is Jha's third book.

The 2002 riots started after fifty-nine passengers, all Hindu, were killed when a train – the Sabarmati Express – was stopped and attacked near Godhra, a town about 150 km from Gujarat's capital city of Gandhinagar. Among those killed were several activists on their way back from Ayodhya where they had been campaigning to build a temple in the name of Lord Ram (this is the same site where the Babri mosque was demolished in 1992, leading to widespread rioting in the country). Against this backdrop, the killing of Hindu activists was looked upon as a blatant provocation. In the riots that followed, over a thousand men, women and children were killed, more than 70 per cent of them Muslim.

The novel begins with the narrator, Mr. Jay, discovering that his just born child is severely deformed. Ithim – that's the name the father gives his boy, a combination of it and him, for the child was barely human – is born prematurely, a child who has no limbs, nose, ears – only eyes. He has large expressive eyes, with perfect lashes and brows. As the book proceeds, Ithim's story becomes less and less important—its relationship to the central theme of the book is, at best, tenuous. Yet, Jha sends out a distinct signal in contrasting Jay's love for his deformed son against the willful murderousness of the riotous mobs. By speaking through a tired, broken man, Jha alerts the reader to the futility of violence and by showing this man's love for his abnormal son in a city of forced abnormality, lifts the tale to a higher plane.

The book comes through as a painstaking process of dwelling into the mind of a man who is at his wit's end figuring out how to look after his infant child in the midst of unforgiving violence. This is where the mysterious Ms Glass steps in. Hounding Jay over bafflingly anonymous phone calls, she invites Jay to a train journey "to set Ithim right". What follows is a hodgepodge of dream-like sequences with a surprising twist at the end.

An easy way to write such a book would have been to recreate the violence – restage the acts of grotesque brutality – which Jha does at one level. But what is noticeable about the violence is its banality. The Muslims who were killed were regular people – doctors, nurses, fruitsellers. Jha's use of the footnote to convey the agony of the dead is a way of showing the heart-wrenching banality of it all. In fact, the people who committed the murders weren't political activists at all. They too were ordinary folk, going about with their daily lives, until Godhra happened and they latched on to it to make a political statement. While Gujarat is one of India's more prosperous states, it is pertinent to question the extent to which economic background, unemployment and illiteracy play a part in the sort of marginalization that breeds antipathy for "the other".

Fireproof is an unusual book because Jha employs several different narrative devices to drive home his point. None of the dead victims seek retribution. All they are worried about is the fate of those who have survived. Jay, on the other hand, comes across as the one bearing the cross of a city, a state gone astray. Nightmares and dreams and mini-acts are Jha's way of seeking to repair the damage.

Jha has a penchant for emblems – acts of devious brutality come alive when newscasts about the killings are interrupted by advertorials for the upcoming Oscars or dead bodies rain from the sky. Scenes of violence couched as dreams jostle for space in this crowded narrative. But what jars is Jha's tendency to introduce rhyme to bring out the victims' suffering. Seeking to draw the menace that four random rioters A, B, C and D wreak, he pens this:

A wears glasses,

B, a striped shirt.

C ties his shoes

And D means to hurt.

A pulls her hair,

C gives a shout,

B just watches

As D lashes out.

So scheming is the violence to embellish which the poems are written, that Jha's efforts at rhyme not only come across as amateurish but also unsympathetic.

A book that deals with an issue as pertinent as religious violence should ideally explore what drives otherwise sane people to become casual murderers. What makes them reject "the other" and how this notion of otherness is played out during normal times. Given Jha's profession, it would have been interesting to see the media's role in all this. Does it sensationalize events to boost readership or does it promote genuine debate? How far is the media responsible for stoking passions? Do reporters for television news channels present things in a more vile way than they ought to? What are the pros and cons of excessive media intrusion? All of these questions would make for fascinating fiction. Jha's response to the tragedy is one of, deservedly so, immense shock, but his book fails to address these questions.

Perhaps the narrative technique employed is to blame for this, since the book is ultimately a personal response to the tragedy, which Jha witnessed first hand. Jha seems to deliberately shun the political to embrace the personal, conveying to the reader the private tragedies that get drowned out in the din for big answers. The book, from start to finish, is a requiem to a world that Jha sees as having vanished for good. This attitude may inspire both people willing to engage themselves in readings about the riots as also the common man who faces the brunt of violence. Jha has directed his anger towards constructing something that can surely aim at making a difference.

Monday, December 03, 2007

"DIY cataloging"

Via the Sunday Inquirer page, I was introduced to this charming website called LibraryThing (at the time of posting, the site's down for maintenance). Katie Haegele gives you the lowdown:

It's kind of like playing librarian. You use the site's software to catalog your own book collection, and for free you can list up to 200 books. But maybe the point of cataloging your book collection isn't immediately manifest to you. It wasn't to me. I read a lot, but I don't keep all the books I read, nor do I keep a record of them. I do, however, treasure my zine collection, both for the zines' content and for their value as cultural artifacts. I thought it might be interesting to account for the ones I've hoarded over the years, so I sat down at my laptop with a mug of tea and a few teetering stacks of these handmade, homemade publications and got to work.

Read here on how Katie found a way to catalog her zines.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Review—Gods Behaving Badly

Aphrodite as the girl next door? Greek gods get a taste of mortal life in modern London


Imagine that the Gods have descended on earth, not to fulfill some suitably divine mission, but to eke out an existence in a dilapidated London home. This outlandish premise is the basis of Marie Phillips's uproariously funny Gods Behaving Badly. Saddened by their declining authority, the Gods make a last-ditch effort at engaging, literally, with humans.

So, we encounter all the heroes (and heroines) of classical Greek mythology crowded in a house near Hampstead Heath. There is Apollo, who is trying desperately, and somewhat successfully, to discover his calling as a TV psychic. There is his sister Artemis, formerly goddess of hunting and chastity (ironic, given her family's concupiscence), who is now reduced to the rather pitiable state of walking dogs.

Dionysus runs a night club; Aphrodite, understandably, runs a successful phone sex agency, much to the bewilderment of her righteous son, Eros. Athena's wisdom shines through in the rather literary way she continues to address the household, much to the chagrin of the other, long-dissipated Gods.

The Greeks live amidst such squalor (they are Gods, not sweepers, they remind us) that it becomes imperative to hire a cleaner. Enter Alice, the innocuous mortal who has the nerdy, Scrabble-obsessed Neil for a boyfriend. Trouble brews when Apollo sets his sights on her, and Alice, attracted to the lusty charms of the classic Greek hunk, returns his advances.

Phillips is obviously at home with Greek legends, and the artifice of plotting one God against another to ensure the survival of mortal love is a likable guise. Artemis extracts a promise from wayward Apollo to never harm mortals, but when circumstances deem otherwise, she is not averse to the idea of Olympian justice.

In this endlessly funny novel, some scenes manage to stand out. Especially endearing are moments of desperate confusion worked upon Neil and Alice as they divine that they are at the center of unearthly affairs. Neil's reprising of the tale of Orpheus to rescue Eurydice, accompanied by all the trappings of sneaking into the underworld, is absurdly droll.

Perhaps the only weakness this book can be faulted with is too much action, a frantic tendency to humor at all costs. Hermes, the Olympian God of travelers, may have a role to play in this, bringing on and casting off coincidences at his sweet will. But that, given the originality of Phillips's idea, is a minor irritant in an otherwise deeply rewarding read.

====

Here's a YouTube video on the book