Monday, September 30, 2013

The under side of history

Even though I studied History in my undergraduate, I have vast holes in my knowledge base. There are just too many eras to learn about, though I have tried. I largely focused my knowledge on the medieval dynasties of China and Japan since I felt those nations were horribly misrepresented in my high school education. It was a great learning experience that sparked my research of other nations outside the typical suburban educational experience. This is what makes historical fiction a genre that draws me for me "fun" reading. It blends my reading passion with a love for learning. 


The Code Bearers by John Westwood

Brilliant piece of historical fiction. Mr. Westwood takes a moment in history and builds a relationship to the modern reader. He invests the audience with a sense that this really did happen and it was more involved than a textbook can explain. Instead of boring stoic fact (while having their purposes in recording the "truth" of what happened, they can be dreadfully painful to read and hold in the memory), he uses the power of creation to build depth to what we already know. 

This book made me truly realize for the first time how futile our understanding is, of other cultures, human interaction, how people react, etc. However, it certainly had a slow start and took much too long to get to the goodness that made the ending so brilliant. Bruce Sterling and Yegor Fyodorvich Martynov did not draw me into their world right out of the gate. I had hit the half way point hoping it turned around soon because I do not stop reading books yet really hate being forced to slog through slow narrative. The character development up front was important but could use a little editing on setting a proper hook. All of the leading players meet in off chance circumstances that are much too obvious to the reader. It is quite clear you are going to know these people but not right now. 

After the initial slogging, the book takes a sudden turning point. I'm not entirely sure when it happened. Suddenly I was unable to put the book down as I emotionally connected with the story and realized a whole side of war that has never stood out to me before. The concept of spies and diplomats, social snafus, and language barriers and poor interpreters just really brought home that we have never learned, and can quite possibly never learn, global understanding because of our cultural pride. This book's brilliance did not lie in the writing but in the wisdom it brings out in the reader. I highly recommend this story as a building block for understanding the bigger picture.

Here is to some more ARC galley reading!