Mary McKay Maynard
(Lyons)Maynard's father operated a gold mine --- the Mindinao Mother Lode --- in the Philippines. When the Japanese invaded in 1942, mother, father, and daughter hid in the jungle.Word was that the war would be over very soon, but the days stretched into months and the Japanese patrols began to come into their area looking for Americans. Because of "the bamboo telegraph" (jungle news transmission) they knew that if they were caught, they would be killed or sent off to prison to starve to death.Maynard was six years old at the time of the invasion. Her war stories are interesting, but she's best conveying the magic that a child finds in the jungles of Mindanao.
From deep in the jungle a call often came: Buu-saaw, buu-saaw --- a mournful descending minor third...I was learning that the earth is full of spirits. When the busaw called to me from the darkness behind the trees. I reminded myself that we were living in the Diuata Mountains. If the mountains were named for the good-luck spirits, then surely their shy powers would defeat the chilly call of the busaw.Some parts of the jungle were less kindly: there were mosquitoes, lemurs, cobras, civets, and pythons --- one of which stole her kitten. When the family bathed in a nearby pool, they came away with leeches:
We lifted the leeches off our bodies by touching them with an ember burning at the end of a stick. Matches were too precious now to use for leech removal.
Along with several Americans, the McKays lived in hiding for almost three years. Mary's childhood friends were mostly young Filipinas, and she not only spoke pidgin, but amused her family with it:
Aaah, my podder is bery seeck, and my wipe is fregnant. We hab no rice, we hab no feesh. Only pity me, sir, you hab flenty money, bery reech, and we hab notting!
In late 1943, the American Navy sent a submarine to leave arms and medicines for the guerrillas and to take off the Americans who had been in hiding. To Mary, the miracle of being aboard the submarine wasn't the technology but the food: "Hot oatmeal with butter and sugar! I had forgotten. Corn flakes. Bacon. Strawberry jam."
I played Cribbage and Hearts with the men in the wardroom. Our cards at Gomoco had been limp and worn; the submarines cards were crisp, and I could shuffle them like a Reno gambler. I stunned the officers when I shot the moon in a game of Hearts, and they played more warily after that. "That's some nine-year-old," one young officer muttered, but he didn't know how many hours I had spent playing cards under a mosquito net at Gomoco.
What we like about My Faraway Home is the gentle writing, the revival of memories for many of us who lived through those times --- old Life Magazines, "Lucky Strike Green Goes to War!" the Bataan Death March, and the strange names of islands from the "Pacific Theatre." We learn techniques of survival for those who, before, had been used to colonial-style living with servants and foods imported from America. Then there are the rôles that each member of the family played: dutiful daughter, tough father, long-suffering mother (whose one agony, after disappearing into the jungle was the loss of her lipstick).
When the crises was over, when they were back in America, Mary became scornful of a father who walked so painfully (he had lost all his teeth and developed tuberculosis during the lean years). Her parents had subsumed their antagonisms during the time in the jungle, but --- as is typical when the stress of emotional and social imprisonment is gone --- once they returned to the island, the system fell apart:
I lived with tension and muffled arguments between my parents --- I often heard my mother's voice rising toward hysteria and my father's voice grown silent.
After her parents died, and Maynard had moved to Canada, she reflected that
the war years were perhaps their happiest years. In hiding from an implacable enemy, they had faced uncertainty and fear together.--- Cathy Weise Phillips
(Houghton Mifflin)Professor David Kepesh is a famous New York scholar. He appears on NPR and weekend PBS book and literature programs. He is sixty-three, and an unrepentant masher. Over the years, he has learned to select out a lady student and after the course is over, at the class party he gives, late at night, after everyone has left, he begins "the chaos of eros,"
We sat side by side...a stirring quarter hour in which we both learned something --- she, for the first time, about Velázquez, and I, anew, about the delightful imbecility of lust.
"These are," he tells us, "the veils of the dance."
His latest passion-pot, at least for the purposes of this novel, is the all too lovely, Consuela Castillo. The professor is the narrator, and we --- a la Portnoy --- are his confessors ("she was sitting where you are.") Only something goes haywire. The old letch, whose seductions are legion, gets into something strange with Consuela. It's probably love, but he is too sophisticated to think of it in those terms. He calls it "that poison." Which is? "The Jealousy."
§ § §
Roth is no slouch in the writing department. After all these years, he has trained himself to ensnare us quickly with his wit, to pull us into his milieu. Our author is on a campaign to seduce the reader, as much as the professor is with his hapless students.
We know that Kepesh will get Consuela into his bed, but, as with any seduction, what keeps us going is the chance to participate in the diversions, the asides, the impending fun, and finally, the denouement.
But, as in all good seduction campaigns, there have to be glitches. For our horny hero, it's a matter of age.
What do you do if you're sixty-two and you realize that all those bodily parts invisible up to now (kidneys, lungs, veins, arteries, brain, intestines, prostate, heart) are about to start making themselves distressingly apparent, while the organ most conspicuous throughout your life is doomed to dwindle into insignificance.
Roth is the master seducer. After twenty-four novels, we know he will know how to get us in bed with him and his book. But, alas and alack, he, like Professor Kepesh, seems to have lost some of the old technique. Here we are, preparing to get laid, and we find ourselves yawning, and we think, "It must be us. It can't be him. Not the guy who wrote Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint." Perhaps, we think, like the professor, we just need a nap, and then we can come back again, and it'll be just as lusty and fun as before.
Don't get me wrong: there are some ripping passages here. Like this one, about you and me, about our fate at living in a country where we are free to create our own pain:
It would be another matter if you were living in Nazi-
occupied Europe or in Communist- dominated Europe or in Mao Zedong's China. There they manufacture the misery for you; you don't have to take a single wrong step in order never to want to get up in the morning. But here, free of totalitarianism, a man like you has to provide himself his own misery.
With these asides, we are still on the bus with our old friend, but we often feel that it's running out of gas. Take Consuela. She's just too beautiful, and our narrator can't seem to figure how to get that beauty down on the page (he finally calls up Le Grand nu by Modigliani to do it for him). Perhaps our old professor (and our old author), unlike our beloved Portnoy, no longer have what it takes to get us involved in his wretched journey. Portnoy's story was continually I don't want to be doing this but I am doing this and I can't stop doing this. It was a trip we wanted never to end.
Alas, for Kepesh, the animal is dying; there is nothing that the professor, nor Consuela, nor Roth, nor any of us can do to stop it before it finally runs off the road.--- Ignacio Schwartz
Geoffrey Parker, Editors
(Houghton Mifflin)The Reader's Companion contains almost 600 articles about warfare, contributed by over 150 military writers, historians, biographers and journalists.Some of the more interesting entries include.
- The largest naval battle in history? It didn't happen during WWI or WWII, but in 256 B.C., in the First Punic War.
- One of the most destructive wars from the 19th Century? The War of the Triple Alliance, 1865 to 1870 (Brazil, Argentine, Uruguay against Paraguay) which almost managed to murder as many men in battle as the American Civil War.
- World War I is described as "an accident," because "international rivalries were not worse in 1914 than in earlier years," but the statesmen, "worried about a belligerent public... may have been less frightened of making a war than of not making a war."
- The Battle of Talas River (751 AD) was the only major engagement ever fought between the Chinese and the Arabs.
- The Taiping Rebellion (1851 - 1864) was the most murderous of conflicts: "perhaps twenty million people died in this war, which ranks among the bloodiest in world history."
- Curtis LeMay was the militarist who made his name by instituting firebombing in Europe and Japan. During the Viet-Nam war, he called for "all-out air strikes." When asked about moral considerations, he replied, "Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral, and if you let it bother you, you're not a good soldier."
- Carl von Clausewitz defines war as "an act of violence to compel the enemy to do our will." The only way it differs from other conflicts is that it must be resolved "by bloodshed." The tendency of all wars is to escalate: "Once war begins, each side will force the opponent to use the maximum available physical force, which in turn forces the other to do the same." Thus, Handel paraphrases, "war acquires its own momentum, which operates independently of political logic and rational cost-benefit calculations."
§ § §The editors state in their introduction that they will give greater emphasis to wars of this era, and wars in the west. Yet they give short shrift to two of the most important seek-and-destroy missions of the 20th Century --- the coup in June 1954 that overthrew Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala and the one in Chile in 1973 that murdered Salvador Allende. These two, among the most pernicious operations of the CIA, are remembered even today with terror by the people and the governments in Central and South America. That two duly elected presidents were dispatched in order to ensure perpetuation of an American agenda is still seen as brutish and wilful.The Reader's Companion sports a few fine asides, including "Ten Best Works of Historical Fiction About War," "Ten Greatest Sieges," and "Ten Greatest Military Disasters." Our favorite is the list of "The Ten Most Overrated Commanders:"
- Atilla the Hun
- Joan of Arc
- Louis-Joseph de Montcalm
- Robert E. Lee
- Heinz Guderian
- Douglas MacArthur
- Bernard Montgomery
- George S. Patton, Jr.
- Vo Nguyyen Giap
- H. Norman Schwartzkopf
--- B. L. Roderick, PhD