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Archive for the ‘nonfiction’ Tag

Investing in Justice   Leave a comment

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Red Notice by Bill Browder is a true-life tale involving financial investments, conspiracy, Russian intrigue and, ultimately, murder. A look at how U.S. laws are enacted is also included. A red notice is essentially an international arrest warrant. Putin tried, unsuccessfully, to have one placed on the author. The political climate with Russia makes this a timely read.

Browder recounts his experience as a foreign investor in Russia following the breakup of the Soviet Union. He discovers a motherlode, secures investors and founds his own capital management firm. Initially, the focus is on Browder’s financial acumen. Then, things get ugly for him and his associates when he exposes corruption in – surprise! – the Russian government.

Browder’s visa is revoked, but he’s able to covertly move his company’s holdings out of Russia saving his clients’ fortunes in the process. However, this isn’t where the author reveals his valor. That comes in the narrative’s final third as he seeks justice for the abuse and murder of his friend/attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, who revealed a multi-million dollar fraud committed by the Kremlin.

Browder’s efforts, along with assistance from U.S. government officials, helped put in place the Magnitsky Act, which, initially*, blocked Russian officials and business leaders from entering the United States and froze their assets held by U.S. banks.

Guilt motivates Browder’s actions, but the true hero of the story is Magnitsky who steadfastly believed truth and fairness would prevail.

With some exceptions, such as occasional extraneous details, the rapid-fire pacing makes Browder’s story engaging.

Red Notice: A True Story of Finance, Murder, and One Man’s fight for Justice
Four Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2015
396 pages, includes notes and index

*The act was expanded in 2016 and now applies sanctions to human rights abusers worldwide.

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Engulfed in Grief   2 comments

Wave
In Wave, Sonali Deraniyagala writes with intensity and candor as she describes the tsunami she survived but which her family did not.

The memoir begins in the minutes before one of the most deadly forces of nature hit the Sri Lankan coast Dec. 26, 2004. She is initially incredulous that she should survive; it only makes sense that her husband, their seven- and five-year-old sons, along with her mother and father also made it through alive. Unlike the 2012 film, The Impossible, about the same topic, Wave does not have a happy ending. Neither does it have a happy beginning.

Deraniyagala slowly moves through the stages of grief and gets stuck in denial. She is angry, she is depressed and though her narrative extends to 2012, she can’t wrap her heart or mind around the loss she has endured. Yet, she brings her family to life in the memories she shares. She vividly details her sons’ antics and dissimilar personalities. She recounts her courtship with her husband, Steve, and their life in London before and after kids. It takes longer for her to deal with the loss of her parents, so they aren’t as fully portrayed.

Gradually, she’s able to revisit family homes, places her children played, friends and even the devastated Yala resort. The author moves from the present to the past, from her childhood in Sri Lanka to Cambridge, from Yala to London. At each juncture pain is never far from the surface; fortunately, it becomes less raw.

Wave
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
228 pages

Never Too Old to Play   Leave a comment

Legocover
I ‘m somewhat uncomfortable admitting that for all the years LEGO were scattered throughout my house, I used the plural and lower case (Legos) to identify the multi-colored blocks. Thankfully, Jonathan Bender has set me straight in his comprehensive book LEGO: A Love Story.
Lego
None of my sons live at home, but their LEGO are safely stored in multiple readily-accessible bins. I still have an MOC (My Own Creation, not from instructions) made by one of my sons as a gift on my dresser. Recently, my husband and I’ve been told it’s not Christmas without LEGO to build. I share this because LEGO have long been a part of my family. And we are not alone. According to Bender, in 2010, when his book was published, there were 62 LEGO bricks for every man, woman and child in the world.

Bender recalls his childhood fascination with the Danish-made pieces and his personal transformation to an AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO). He explains that LEGO developers acknowledge the Dark Ages, when kids quit playing with the bricks. However, Bender’s focus is on AFOLs and their worldwide presence. He travels to LEGO conventions, he visits LEGOLAND, the LEGO factory in Denmark, and interviews an assortment of LEGO designers, builders and collectors. Who knew of the various LEGO-related web sites, nor the impressive number of LEGO User Groups (LUGs – acronyms are big in this world).

Legoboat

Bender nimbly details the evolution of his passion for LEGO while also revealing a personal side-story about creating family.

LEGO: A Love Story
Four Bookmarks
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010
270 pages, including notes

The Value of Cheese and Friendship   Leave a comment


It’s interesting that I’ve recently read two nonfiction books that both include the word betrayal in their subtitles. After all, it’s a powerful assertion.  Michael Paterniti shares his in The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese. Initially the last word, the cheese, is what caught my attention more than the previous three. Those are experiences most of us know on some level, but the best cheese in the world? That’s something outside my realm.

Paterniti tells three stories: that of Ambrosio Molinos, a Spanish farmer turned cheesemaker; of life in rural Spain; and of the author’s own infatuation with the subject of his book, which isn’t the cheese at all, but the man behind it. Although Paterniti’s self-revelations are the least interesting, they’re fun to ride along with since he does such a magnificent job of bringing the larger-than-grand Ambrosio to life off the pages. It’s easy to see how he became so enmeshed in Ambroiso’s world, which is described in rich and vivid detail.

A combination of greed, poor business decisions and, ultimately, different versions of the same story result in Ambrosio’s fall from grace as a gentleman farmer to a man plagued with debt who is no longer able to produce the cheese that garnered worldwide attention.

The Telling Room could easily have been subtitled the power of friendship. It is power that comes from the beauty of reliance, fun and sharing to the more destructive and sad aspects that emerge when friendships fail.

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese
Four Bookmarks
The Dial Press, 2013
349 pages