Thursday, July 13, 2006

What I've been reading

  • The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky -- Ken Dornstein writes about his brother David, who was killed on his way back to the US from Israel in the Pan Am bombing. I didn't expect it to be terribly good -- too often these books just tend to idealise the terrorism victim (for understandable reasons) and are too predictable -- but this one was touching because it was so honest.
    David, who was in his mid-20s when he died, had been obsessed with becoming a writer and with fame. When he died, he left hundreds of boxes of notebooks with his writing, and Ken, who was several years younger and had always looked up to David, decided to go through them and publish some of the material.
    To his horror, he discovered nothing publishable -- just half-baked ideas and unfinished stories. Gradually the picture of David becomes rather sad. He emerges as a charismatic and idealistic dreamer, but a dreamer nonetheless, who died without achieving his potential as an artist -- and who probably didn't really ever have the potential. Strangely, in several of his notebooks he wrote that perhaps his life would only have meaning if he died young and even foreshadows death in a plane crash. It is ironic that in the end, he does achieve a form of immortality through art -- that of his brother.
    Another element is how Ken deals with the aftermath of the bombing and of-course with his renewed understanding of his brother. He struggles to emerge from David's shadow and to work out how best to keep his memory alive. For a while, he actually dates some of his ex-girlfriends -- and even marries one of them (they are still married). His openness about this emotional journey is what makes this book worthwhile.
  • The Lie that Wouldn't Die: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion by former Israeli judge Hadassa Ben-Itto -- I'm still in the middle of this one so I won't say too much about it, other than that a. it is a pleasure to read a 'Jewish' book which isn't about the Holocaust / women / Israel / a small handful of other topics which seem to dominate the 'Jewish book' scene b. So far, it is an absolutely fascinating account of the Protocols' origins and dissemination as well as the various Protocols-related trials that took place in the past century. I'm not sure how much here is new -- not much, I suspect -- but I didn't know most of it. C. One of the enjoyable aspects of this book is that it includes a relatively personal account of Ben-Itto's encounter with the forged document. She begins by explaining in detail how she became aware of its continuing influence and importance and intersperses some of the history -- particularly the accounts of the trials -- with her own thoughts. This is somewhat unconventional in this kind of book but it seems to work here, mainly because of her judicial past and her experience on the international diplomatic scene.

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