The Impossible Rescue – Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed “The Impossible Rescue” by Martin W. Sandler, published in 2012.

This ebook describes the 1897 disaster in which eight whaling ships were hemmed in by mid-autumn ice for months when unexpectedly severe weather struck Point Barrow, Alaska. The total 265-member crews faced starvation, as they had insufficient food supplies for surviving more than a few months. They were subjected to darkness day and night, and temperatures tens of degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The whalers’ volunteer-rescuers consisted of a few small parties of local natives and men from the United States who, at different intervals, coming from different directions, braved blizzards in trekking more than 1,500 miles overland with varying numbers of dogs, sleds, reindeer and hundreds of pounds in supplies. [It might be recalled that America purchased the territory of Alaska in 1867, and Alaska became a state in 1959.]

What the men did entailed life-threatening risks and extreme sacrifices. One of the groups was traveling with both dogs and reindeer simultaneously.  When sleds are pulled by both kinds of animals, “…the dogs follow their natural instincts to attack the deer.” Even keeping the dogs as far back from the deer as possible proved quite difficult.

Read the book to learn what happened to the rescuers and the rescued.

No-Man’s Lands – Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed the book, “No-Man’s Lands” by Scott Huler, published in 2008. In this ebook, Huler recounts the myth of Odysseus and his own actual travels to the places visited by the protagonist in the myth.

Huler writes, “For three thousand years, we’ve been telling each other the same story.” Nevertheless, there are a vast number of versions and interpretations of it. His solitary peregrinations covered the Mediterranean regions of Malta, Greece, Turkey, Sicily, Tunisia and Italy over the course of six months. Some people might look askance at the timing of his trip– when his wife was pregnant with their first child.

Read the book to learn of Huler’s adventures in this combination of yet one more myth-retelling, and travel writing.

On the Wings of Eagles

The Book of the Week is “On the Wings of Eagles” by Ken Follett, published in 1983. This ebook recounts how a group of employees from the American company EDS, stationed in Tehran, underwent an incredible, life-changing experience in early 1979, at the start of the Iranian revolution. H. Ross Perot, CEO of EDS, got “down in the trenches” with his men, and toward the end of the story, was portrayed as a Daddy Warbucks character; his endless money and friends in high places helped him magically remove bureaucratic obstacles to get things done in a hurry.

The Iranian government was EDS’s sole client in Iran. In mid-1978, it started to default on EDS’s multi-million dollar bill for engineering social-security and health insurance software. The extremely suspenseful series of events was focused on two EDS men in particular whom one Iranian in particular from the old (Shah’s) regime had arrested and jailed. He set their bail at an outrageous $13 million in a petty power game. There were three ways the company could get those two employees released from jail: “…legal pressure, political pressure, or pay the bail.” Or a few other ways, which were illegal.

Assistance and sympathy of the officials at Tehran’s American Embassy for EDS were less than forthcoming. There were many more serious problems to deal with.

Initially, the aforesaid Perot exhibited an American mentality, thinking that he and the bad guy could settle the matter with legalistic negotiations. However, Iran was not playing by the same rules. He then came up with a hare-brained scheme, which would involve breaking various federal laws if certain of its components were to occur in the United States.

As an aside– this blogger found it hard to get used to the vocabulary that Americans used at the time of the book’s publication– “…what the McDonald’s girl said to me…”  “…blond Swedish girl in her twenties,” “stewardesses” and “knapsack,” among other old-fashioned terms. There was also a funny scene late in the group’s emotionally traumatic saga. After surviving many serious threats to their lives over the course of weeks, the EDS group was on a plane that was having mechanical trouble in the air. “I can’t believe this,’ said Paul. He lit a cigarette.”

Read the book to learn the fate of the individuals involved in this riveting thriller.

The Story of the Waldorf-Astoria – Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed the book, “The Story of The Waldorf-Astoria” by Edward Hungerford, published in 1925. The Waldorf-Astoria was originally “The Astoria,” built by the Astors, a super-rich family.

For most of the 19th century and before, Broadway was the favored location for hotels. However, the 1880’s saw congestion from a street railway and cars. The thirteen-story, 450-guestroom Astoria was therefore originally located at 35th Street at Fifth Avenue. Construction started in 1891. “From the first the idea was to create a hostelry with as little of the typically hotel features in evidence as humanly possible… Haste was not permitted… The house was well-builded. And thoroughly. This ideal became an obsession on the part of the men who built it.” It opened in March 1893. In 1895, construction began on another hotel next door, of sixteen stories. In November 1897, the completed complex became known as the “Waldorf-Astoria.”

The hotel’s restaurant served partridge and lobster. Its general manager, George C. Boldt, believed in “management by wandering around.” In the summer of 1898, he commissioned a classy steam-yacht, the “Calypso” that could be booked by up to 25 guests for a day. He also offered car rides around town before common people drove. Boldt trusted all the guests, even those who asked to cash personal checks. No other hotels were so trusting.

The hotel boasted a number of “firsts.” It was the first building to have a passenger elevator in the United States. Boldt had the brilliant idea of carving a street at the rear of the combined hotels to ensure no one could ever take away their light and air rights between 33rd and 34th Streets. The Waldorf became the first hotel in Manhattan to take up a whole city block.

In 1776, in order to collect extra revenue, government official Peter Stuyvesant established the liquor license for taverns. “It was especially forbidden to sell strong drinks to Indians.” The hotel obtained a liquor license. Unfortunately, the passing of Prohibition cost the hotel lots of revenue. It re-purposed its bar. The Waldorf also offered a roof garden, which became an ice skating rink in the wintertime.

The author wrote, incredibly (italics added by this blogger), “Upon the broad open desk lie the registers, three or four of them so that in a pinch, as is frequently done, guests may be received and assigned rooms at the rate of sixty to ninety to the hour.”

Read the book to learn further details of the hotel’s existence through the mid 1920’s.

The Hoax

The Book of the Week is “The Hoax” by Clifford Irving, published 2006.

This is a personal account of an incredibly talented, savvy phony and writer, who, starting in 1969, with a co-conspirator, Dick Suskind, proceeded to write the autobiography of reclusive businessman Howard Hughes; phony, because he had never met Hughes.

McGraw Hill, Irving’s publisher, believed Irving when he told them he had actually spent time with Hughes. McGraw wanted to believe that it was going to produce an exclusive work on a billionaire businessman who, up to that point, had refused to let anyone publicize significant information on his personal life.

Irving and Suskind perpetrated their deception because: trying to get away with preying on the gullibility and greed of the publishing industry was a challenge that would make them feel alive.

Pursuant to the writers’ scheme, the book was “…based on fact and yet we had the freedom and power to infuse fact with the drama of fiction.” The writers did extensive research– spent hours poring over old city telephone directories, old maps, surveys, society columns and classified documents in order to perfectly embody Hughes’ voice in print. When they were concocting anecdotes, they inserted (real) people who were dead because dead people couldn’t sue for libel.

Incidentally, a whole other book could be written on the name for the marital anguish: soul-vomit, that Irving caused his wife with his adulterous behavior– that has so much female appeal on the big screen and in books.

Read the book to learn what was becoming of Irving and Suskind when Irving was heard to say, “You know, I’ve had a lot of experience in this past year burning manuscripts. It takes a long time and it’s not easy.”

Yes, Chef

The Book of the Week is “Yes, Chef” by Marcus Samuelsson, published in 2012. This is the autobiography of a famous chef. He was born in Ethiopia at the start of the 1970’s, but when he was three, he and his five year old sister were adopted by a Swedish couple.

Samuelsson grew up in Goteborg, Sweden. He enjoyed the suburban lifestyle of an industrialized country, including youth soccer. There were three posters on his bedroom wall: Michael Jackson, the king and queen of Sweden, and Pele. After ninth grade, Swedish schools channel students into a career-oriented or a university-oriented curriculum. In early 1989, after graduating, Samuelsson went to work in one of the fanciest restaurants in Sweden, “Belle Avenue.” At 21 years old, he supervised ten interns at a restaurant in Switzerland.

Because he was dark-skinned, Samuelsson encountered discrimination all his life– in the schoolyard and in employment. When he approached the restaurant “Bouley” to ask for a short-term internship, he was summarily turned away. The only famous black chef he had heard of during his training was Patrick Clark, who was ever rated only two stars by the famous restaurant guides Michelin and Zagat. Samuelsson writes, “When I had my own restaurant someday, I thought, I would never rule out someone based on race or sex or nationality…” He would hire all walks of life, due not to aiming for impartiality, but because he would achieve maximum cultural diversity.

To pursue his dream, Samuelsson thought he needed to continue to “pay his dues” in France. In order to get promoted, an aspiring chef has to “…completely give yourself up to the place. Your time, your ego, your relationships, your social life, they are all sacrificed.” In France, there were no intermediaries between farmers and chefs. The former were direct suppliers to the latter. In Switzerland, “We relied on shipments of shrink wrapped or frozen specialty items and that resulted in chronic separation between our product and seasonality.” The traditional French chefs’ training included brutal bullying of underlings by the upper echelons–who were the only employees who had job security.

In February 2008, Samuelsson opened his own restaurant, Merkato 55, which had an African theme. This blogger thinks it’s an insult to people’s intelligence to use the name “African” to describe an eatery, or use it in a book title, for that matter. This blogger theorizes that the labeler thinks people are too ignorant to recognize the name of an individual African country. African countries are all different, regardless of stereotypes.

Samuelsson and his business partners were pursuing a growth strategy. “In less than twelve months, we were scheduled to open eight new restaurants…” There were nine hundred guests at Samuelsson’s wedding in Ethiopia. Read the book to learn about Samuelsson’s take on cuisine, his successes and failures in connection therewith, and his unusual familial relationships.

In the Heart of Life: A Memoir – Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed “In the Heart of Life: A Memoir” by Kathy Eldon, published in 2013. This repetitive ebook begins engagingly enough, but turns into a catharsis for the author.

Eldon grew up in a Methodist household in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She writes, “Sometimes I think my entire family went deaf in the 1950s, when we weren’t allowed to discuss anything unpleasant in polite company. Nor, for that matter, were we allowed to argue, swear, or even cry in our household, not to mention say anything that might disrupt the perception that ours was a perfect home.”

A graduate of Wellesley in 1968, the author came of age in a generation of women who were expected to take up fabulous careers. The following year, she married and moved to London, and later had a son and a daughter. Her husband’s job took the family to Nairobi, Kenya.

The author tried to start a career but found that Kenya was stingy when it came to issuing work permits to expatriate wives. She soon got bored of the “…bridge parties, Swahili classes and tennis dates” in which other similarly situated individuals participated. Fortunately, she soon met some high-spirited, fiercely independent people.

Sadly, two major parts of Eldon’s story become a very detailed pity party; the first part– marital anguish– is similar to other females’ stories such as “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” (the book by Suyin Han), “Bridges of Madison County” by Robert James Waller and “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The second part is truly a more traumatic occurrence, but her endless description of her reaction to it still becomes quite tedious.

Perhaps the author appears to be so self-absorbed to this blogger because she rambles on and on through a large part of the book about the aftermath of the incident. She admits that her awareness that her own and another person’s behaviors before the fact, are hurtful and/or life-threatening and worrisome to others, but the selfish behaviors continue, anyway. During the healing process, she overcomes her skepticism of psychics.

After the tragedy, the author helps to create a press conference of her own and the media’s self-importance at which famous newscasters, such as Dan Rather “implored the audience to be aware of the individuals who risk their lives every day to bring us the truth.” This blogger thinks this is a self-evident message, especially in war zones (and has its exceptions). Eldon writes that by the late 1990’s(!), increased awareness of this issue prompted press outlets to provide certain correspondents with life insurance and to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by news personnel.

Nevertheless, the first half of the book is suspenseful. The author deserves credit for revealing embarrassing, even shameful details about her past.

Read the book to learn what the author and her daughter do in their attempt to get some closure with respect to their pain.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria

The Book of the Week is “First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria” by Eve Brown-Waite, published in 2009. This is the personal account of an adventurous idealist.

Although Brown’s late 1980’s Peace Corps experience in Ecuador prompted a painful realization about her interactions with a certain adult when she was an adolescent, there also occurred growth. Previously, she had fallen in love with her Peace Corps recruiter, who got a micro-financing job with the international aid organization, CARE. In August 1993, they ended up in Arua, Uganda.

They brought with them two pet cats, a cappuccino machine, a TV and a VCR.  They had to have shots or medication to protect against malaria, yellow fever, typhoid and cholera. Brown was afforded a mentor who taught her the culture of the locals. She was advised not to purchase the cows in the open-air market with no flies on them– those cows had been sprayed with insecticide. Poisonous grasshoppers made holes in the laundry on the clotheslines, but other ones were edible.

Brown and her husband lived richly compared to Ugandans. Instead of cooking over an open fire, they used a propane-powered stove and refrigerator. Her expatriate multi-family compound had electricity from 7-10 nightly– absent a war, political crisis, or thunderstorm. The expats drank gin and played badminton and tennis. Sometimes goats wandered onto the court.

“It was common for men to hold most of the positions of authority in rural Uganda, even thought it appeared the women did most of the work.” The women did the domestic chores and the childcare while the husbands were out of the country on business for long periods. Brown searched in vain for work in her field of AIDS-prevention education. Once, she happened upon an alternative-medical facility. The doctor there believed that AIDS could be contracted through sex, which was curable, or through voodoo hex, which was incurable.  Meanwhile, she did a lot of cooking and shopping. The expats enjoyed culinary diversity that included “…fish, chicken stews, curries, rice pilaf and fresh bread.” The area’s gardens yielded tomatoes, mangoes, potatoes, rice and okra.

Brown’s husband financially supported the kids in the community who begged most aggressively. There were food, clothing, medication and school fees to pay. On occasion, the couple took long road trips and were compelled to take kids to a family member, in the CARE Land Rover. The ultimate destination was an urban area with better medical care than Arua (which isn’t saying much). The roads were potholed, “…clogged with bicycles, pedestrians and dangerously overloaded commuter vans.”

The civil service appeared to consist of lazy bureaucrats. In the month of February, Brown needed to pick up packages at the post office. Those packages had been sent to her back in December. She was told to go to the customs house, reachable by a very short walk. The customs officer told her he needed to go to the post office with her. However, it was 4:42 and the post office closed at 5:00. Ugandan bureaucrats never walked anywhere, and the officer didn’t have access to a vehicle.

In 1996, the civil war in Uganda was serious cause for concern. Anti-government guerrillas were engaged in bombings, hijackings, and chopping off of facial features of villagers. Read the book to learn of whether Brown ever got her post-office packages, about her medical and family adventures, the terrorist incidents that occurred in Arua, and about other aspects of living in a rural village in Uganda in the mid 1990’s, as seen through American eyes.