Sunday, August 6, 2017

Book review: IT'S ME, HANNAH

Book review: IT'S ME, HANNAH by Carleen Bunde ( fiction, 2017)

A Novel About Growing Up

Hannah is an eight-year-old girl as the story opens with the sudden death of her mother in a gruesome auto accident in the town of Munich, North Dakota. Her only nearby relatives are her father, Johan, who is a Swedish immigrant farmer, and her maternal grandma, Lieula. But Munich is a small town, where most people know each other, and Hannah has many friends, especially Annabelle Murger, her same age; their mothers were best friends.
This is a well-written series of fast-forwards of Hanna's life, mostly her teen-age years. She and her father are both devastated by her mother's death, but Johan takes charge of his home, his farm, and his daughter's needs. She gets into many adolescent scrapes, tries to hide them, but ultimately can depend on both her father and her grandma for emotional support and help. She does her part well in the farm chores along with her father, and in her studies in the little one-room school; she even copes with a mentally disturbed school teacher whom the school board finally dismisses. She becomes an able cattle herder with the help of her horse Sally, and her dog Maggie.
Puberty and high school in town, both beginning in the same year, are difficult times, shared with her friend Annabelle. Hanna and an older boy are attracted to each other, causing arguments with her father. She gets a part-time job as a car-hop at Nick's Drive-In and loves it, gets along well with the other workers. Gets in trouble driving Papa's pickup without his knowledge, and gets stuck in a ditch in the middle of the night.
She is stressed out when her Papa, after several years as a widower, starts dating Lucy Swan, a newcomer to town. Some weeks later, after work, he tells Hanna, “ Get in the car and go pick up your grandma, I have something to say to you both.” When they return, Papa's best friend, Jacob, is sitting with him at the kitchen table.
Grandma arrives, worried about what trouble her son-in-law may be in. Says, “Johan, do you want us to sit in the parlor?”
No, Lieula, vat I got to say, I can say right here in the kitchen.” He took his pipe out of his mouth, leaned back in his chair . . . “Now jou know as vell as I do dat I've been courtin' Lucy Swan for some time. She's a mighty fine voman.”
He turned to me. “Hannah Marie, you're almost grown-up now.”
I nodded.
All of a sudden, I'm grown-up?
Vell, folks, vat I've got to tell you is: Lucy and I are getting married.”
The news almost took my breath away.
I can't imagine Papa married to anyone but Mama, and I really can't imagine Papa and Lucy kissing or anything like that.
Papa, did you say that you and Lucy are getting married?”
I've asked her and she said yes.”
Grandma's mouth dropped open and her face went white. “Well, I never.”
Jacob scratched his head hard and fast. “The hell you say, Yohan.”
In a faint voice, Grandma uttered, “What's this world coming to? She's half your age. Johan, you could be her father.”
Age is yust a number.”
Don't you care what people will say?”
Papa rubbed his chin and looked over his bifocals at Grandma. “Jah, I care, but I care more about Lucy. I yust told you, I'm marrying her and dat's dat.”
Jacob slapped the table with his big hand. “Goot for you, Yohan.”
Grandma pushed back her chair, stood up and strode right out the door.
Come on, Hannah,” she wailed.
In a hurry to leave the table, I nearly turned over my chair. Papa heaved himself from his seat and walked with me to the back door with his arm across my shoulders.

This story is easy reading (although an author's written version of a foreign language dialect can be a stumbling block for the reader.) It will be of interest to those parents and teen-agers hoping to someday understand each other. Author Bunde relates family conflicts in brief, vivid scenes. The constant theme is that children are much more likely to prosper if there is an adult in their life who loves them unconditionally.
The last ten pages summarize the rest of Hanna's life and end in a surprising sign-off.

Friday, July 14, 2017

book review: BLIND MAN'S BLUFF by Sontag and Drew

Book Review: BLIND MAN'S BLUFF by Sontag and Drew (1998)
“The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage”

Obviously, no book available to the public is going to be up to date on this subject. Never mind; this book is a vivid history of the Cold War years between USA and Russia, and their strenuous efforts to stay ahead of each other in submarine warfare capability. It has enough detail and documentation to enthrall (and alarm?) any history buff.
The first submarine purchased by the US Navy in 1900, could hold six men. [That was three years before the Wright brothers flew their plane at Kitty Hawk.] A sub's purpose, in the century's first half, was to sink ships carrying supplies to enemy nations. In the latter half, the purpose was to spy on enemy naval activity and communications. A diesel-electric powered sub could travel underwater for up to 24 hours, navigating by periscope and sonar, surfacing only to recharge its batteries. Later, with nuclear power, subs can now stay submerged for three months or more, limited only by the bulk of food needed to feed a crew of 100 to 150 men and women. Presumably they extract enough oxygen and pure water from the surrounding ocean.
Admiral Hyman Rickover pioneered the first nuclear subs, with a vigor unfazed by cost or Congress. He recruited young naval engineers (future president Jimmy Carter among them) by challenging their imagination and abilities. He ordered one candidate,“Piss me off, if you can.” Without a word and with a single motion of his arm, the candidate swept all the contents of the admiral's desk onto the floor, papers, pens, books and all. (and was accepted into the program.)
Silence and stealth are the keys to discovering what the other side is up to. The Sea of Okhotsk, between Russia and Japan [the book includes good maps] has little shipping activity, and an American nuclear sub sought and found the undersea cable connecting Russia's easternmost naval base with the rest of Russia. The sea is shallow; the sub could settle on the bottom while divers attached a monitor to the cable and recorded telephone conversations for months.
The Soviet navy had some “firsts” too. One commander took his sub under the polar ice to the North Pole, and surfaced by breaking through the ice there. He confirmed that his nuclear missiles survived and could still be accurately programmed to reach almost any part of North America below him to the south. Russians regularly patrol international waters off American coasts, just as American subs do off the coast of Russia and other nations.
In 1986, with both nations realizing the increasing danger of nuclear war and total annihilation, President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met in a diplomatic conference at Reykjavik, Iceland. Both nations had, by that time, developed their espionage to the point where their submarine forces were second lines of nuclear war defense, able to fire missiles from unpredictable spots in answer to the other side's land-based missiles and air force, in the event that either would attempt to start a war. The expense of maintaining defense readiness was a growing economic problem. Negotiators agreed that they could cut ballistic missiles to 6,000, and delivery vehicles to 1,600 for each side to start with, and further reductions to come.
In 1991, The Soviet Union dissolved, into fifteen independent republics, including Russia. Gorbochev handed over the Union's powers, including the Soviet nuclear missile codes, to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Two years later, American CIA director Robert Gates visited the Kremlin with, among other matters, a video tape of the recovery of six Russian sailors' bodies from a sunken Russian submarine and their burial at sea, years before. “Two weeks later, the tape appeared on Russian television. The families [of the long-missing Russian crew] got to see American sailors standing at attention as both national anthems were played and as the Americans added Russian prayers to the naval service for the dead. . . . They were astonished and moved that Americans, their enemies for so long, would treat their men with such respect.”
In the years since that time, new leaders have brought new distrust, and no one except perhaps the spies and the intelligence services, know how close we are now to a huge World War III, from which relatively few humans would survive. But Sontag and Drews' well-documented book will give the reader hope and desire for a diplomatic solution. “Trust, but verify” seems the best watchword we have for now.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Book Review: The Shepherd's Life

Book Review: THE SHEPHERD'S LIFE by James Rebanks non-fiction (2015)

James Rebanks dropped out of school at the age of fifteen, disgusted with teachers who wanted him to “make something of himself.” Totally uninterested in meaningless school lectures, he looks forward to working full time as a farmer, raising sheep alongside his father and his grandfather. He is proud to be part of an ongoing family, honest working folk who have lived on the hills and lakes of northwestern England since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Shepherding hundreds of sheep is more than just leading them along a country lane. There are tups (rams) to buy and mate with the ewes, with all the attention to future performance that a race horse would be given. Swaledales and Herdwicks are the two breeds of sheep best suited for the high hill country. Sheep must be sheared, lambs birthed, diseases prevented. Hundreds of sheep must be moved to the high country grass in summer so that valley fields can produce enough hay for winter. Rock walls to be built and repaired, ears to tagged for identity. Lost sheep to be searched for, flocks to be sheltered during winter blizzards and springtime rains. Every day, rain or shine. This was the life James had chosen, and loved.
But something was lacking in his life. Drinking, fighting, hanging out with friends wasn't enough to look forward to. Then he met Helen, his sister's friend. He was 21, she was 18. “She had worked hard at school, read books, and knew all the stuff that I didn't. She believed I could do anything I set my mind to. That made everything possible.”
One of the pubs in town had shelves lined with books that no one ever read. Occasionally, James would borrow one, quietly with the landlord's permission. It wasn't cool to be into books.
A Korean War vet noticed James was carrying a book one night, and said that young guys knew nothing about war; he challenged the pub crowd to even name the plane on the book cover. The crowd looked blank. “Messerschmitt one-oh-nine,” James said. He gradually discovered he knew more about things than his pub-mates. One of them told him “What are you doing here . . . with us idiots? You should go to university and do something smart . . . .”
“Sometimes you can't go back when people know something new about you,” James discovered.
“My two younger sisters turned out far smarter than me: straight-A students. Sometimes I'd help the elder one with her homework. One night she challenged me to do her history homework. I think she had a hot date or something, so she left me to it. A few days later, she was seriously pissed off because the essay came back with a rave review from her teacher. I laughed. She told me that was it, no more goes at her schoolwork. From then on, I knew I could do A-levels if I wanted, or needed to.
“I went to the local adult education center when I was twenty-one, and got straight A's. It was easy if you had read the books I had. The instructor asked me all sorts of questions, ending with “Had I thought about applying for Oxford or Cambridge?” It seemed ridiculous that I might get in. But they were apparently looking for people from 'different backgrounds', which secured me an interview. I needn't have worried. It was easy if you weren't really bothered. So, much to the amusement of the other professors, I got into a row with one of them. I like arguing. I'm good at it. When he went too far and said something a bit silly, I teased him and said he was losing his grip. As I left when my time was up, I smiled at them as if to say, “F-you. I could do this all day.”
“They all smiled back. I knew I was in.”
But he went back to full time farm work after University. His book mentions study trips to foreign lands, but doesn't doesn't say how he found time for them. He divides a year into its four seasons by detailing the work load each season demands, and most of the book is about sheep, and quite interesting. He tells about a blizzard when he trudged through a chest-high snowdrift, to break trail for his best sheep dog, leading a band of sheep to safety at lower altitude.
He and Helen married, and have three young children, all aiming toward working the farm as they grow older. He describes a springtime afternoon in lambing season, guiding his six-year-old daughter, Bea, while she manages a difficult delivery of a lamb. She is exhausted at the end, but tells him, “We have to go for breakfast, Dad, and tell Molly I lambed one. And its bigger than the one she lambed.”
This is a book to be read to the very end, including the acknowledgements. He ends his story with his father's code of ethics: “Work that needs doing should be done.”
And he adds, “This is my life. I want for no other.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Review: A Gentleman In Moscow


Book Review: A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW, by Amor Towles (historical fiction, 2016)

Most Americans think of Twentieth Century Russia in terms of its Communist government. That is certainly the background scene throughout this novel, but in the foreground is Count Alexander Rostov, a man under house arrest for most of his adult life.
The story begins with Rostov's appearance before the People's Commissariat prosecutor in 1922: “Our inclination would be to have you taken from this chamber and put against the wall. But there are those among the party's senior ranks who regard you as a prerevolutionary hero. Thus, you will be returned to the Metropol Hotel where you live. But make no mistake: should you ever set foot outside the Metropol again, you will be shot.”
The hotel moves Rostov from his suite to a single room 10 x 10 feet on the unused fifth floor. He is permitted to keep certain personal articles; the rest become “property of the people.”
Well educated, polite, rarely at a loss for words, Rostov is cordial to all. A nine-year-old girl sits down uninvited, at his table in the hotel restaurant. “Is it true you are a count?”
“'Tis true.”
“Have you ever known a princess?”
“I have known many princesses.”
Her eyes widened. “Was it terribly hard to be a princess?”
“Terribly.”
Several days later, the girl, Nina Kulikova, has more questions. “What are the rules of being a princess? Those things expected of her?” She explains that her Papa is wonderful, and knows all about tractors, but he knows absolutely nothing about the workings of princesses.
Count Rostov patiently explains the basics of good manners and behavior of princesses, and a bond of friendship gradually grows. In return, the nine-year-old knows everything about the hotel, having purloined a pass key from somewhere, allowing access to everywhere in the hotel, from wine cellar to spying from the grand ballroom balcony, to the view of the Kremlin from from the roof. And the Count gains allies in Vasily the concierge, Andrey the the head waiter, Marina the seamstress, Emile the chef, and many others.
Months and years pass; 1930; Russia's first five-year plan has begun, which will change the nation from farming to an industrial power. Rostov is now head waiter in the exclusive Boyarsky restaurant on the hotel's second floor. Nina, now age seventeen, is part of a young team heading eastward into a farming province to oversee the exile of farm owners to Siberia; their farms now belong to the laborers. The province has only eight tractors, but factories are booming and the workers need bread. Alas, the combination of mismanagement and one of the worst droughts in history results in many deaths from starvation across the nation.

In 1930, a Colonel Osip, apparently part of the Foreign Affairs office, had required Rostov to meet with him for lunch once a month not only to learn French and English, but to help Osip understand the customs of those people.
It was a couple of years later that Nina showed up again. She had married one of her team, and has a 6-year old daughter. Her husband had just been arrested and sentenced to five years at hard labor. She needs to find lodging to be near him but needs someone to look after her daughter.”Only a month or two. I have no one else to turn to. Please!” With years of friendship between them, there can be only one answer. He crosses the hotel lobby to be introduced to Sofia. He has no idea what to do with a six-year-old, but noticing that the doll she clutches has no dress, he takes her to Marina, the hotel seamstress, who bonds with her easily. Sofia will stay with the Count for eighteen years.
She is easily her mother's equal in intelligence. And in mischievousness. At age thirteen, racing up the hotel's service stairs, she falls and hits her head on the cement steps. A chambermaid finds her unconscious and bleeding and calls Rostov. Rostov picks her up carefully and hurries down the stairs, across the lobby, out the door. It's the first time in twenty years he has been outside. He tells the taxi driver “St. Anselm's Hospital!” They arrive in minutes, but in the thirty years since Rostov was last there, the hospital is no longer Moscow's finest. The young nurse receptionist drops her magazine, summons the doctor on call, who calls a surgeon. But it is a different doctor who appears. “I'm Lasovsky, chief of surgery at First Municipal. I will be seeing to this patient.” He turns. “Are you Rostov?”
“Yes,” says the Count, astounded. Lasovsky takes a brief, competent history, assigns everyone their task, reassures Rostov, who must wait in the corridor.
It's perhaps two hours later when the surgeon comes out again, with a favorable report . Simultaneously, a guard opens the door for Colonel Osip, who confers with the surgeon.
Then he led Rostov down a back stairway to a metal door. “This is where we part. It's best if you never mention to anyone that either of us were here. You have been at my service for over fifteen years. It is a pleasure for once to be at yours.” Then he was gone.
It will be another ten years before Rostov and Sofia will each find freedom. But the depth of insight shown by author Towles will lead the reader to a satisfying end, including why Osip had rescued Sofia.

Monday, April 10, 2017

book review: A Lawyer's Journey, by Morris Dees

Book Review: A LAWYER'S JOURNEY by Morris Dees (biography, 2001)

A tame-sounding title of an attention-gripping story. Those of us who lived in northern Idaho in the 1990's might have called it “Stifling The Swastika In America.” We remember Richard Butler and his militant white supremacist Aryan Nation compound in the town of Hayden Lake, just north of Coeur d'Alene. Claiming their First Amendment rights, they would parade down the street behind a Nazi flag. Many people on the sidewalks would turn their backs to them in disapproval.
In 1999, a woman and her son were driving past the Aryan compound when their car happened to backfire. Guards on the compound immediately fired live ammunition, and the pair found themselves surrounded at gun-point. Though unharmed physically, they had several bullet holes in their car.
The resulting public indignation attracted Morris Dees, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Alabama, who assisted the woman in suing Butler and his organization “for gross negligence in the selecting and supervision of his armed guards.” The six-million-dollar legal judgment bankrupted Butler, putting him out of business without bloodshed.
This was not Butler's first encounter with Mr. Dees. Butler had gone south in 1981 to assist the “Grand Dragon” of the Texas Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Louis Beam, to drive out – violently if necessary – the South Vietnamese who had immigrated to the Texas coastline after the Vietnam war ended. Many were now citizens, and some had shrimp boats in Galveston Bay. The unofficial leader of the Vietnamese in Texas, Colonel Nguyen Nam, had fought the communist North Vietnamese for years. Now the KKK leader accused Colonel Nam himself of being Communist, and accused lawyer Dees of being an agent of Satan.
The federal judge in Houston was not impressed with these assertions, and granted an injunction against the KKK, its leaders, and its illegal armed militia. The Texas KKK was forbidden to harass the Vietnamese fishermen, forbidden to ram or burn their boats, or commit other acts of violence.
Dees's book, essentially a declaration of war against racial violence, goes on to follow the Southern Poverty Law Center's activities in defending various victims of violence or threats by white supremacist groups. Son of a small-time cotton farmer in rural Mount Meigs, Alabama, he grew up working with his family's black hired hands. He saw a future as a country preacher, but his Daddy set him straight: “Bubba, you can do that on Sundays. But you need to do something you can make a living at. Be a lawyer. No boll weevil ever ruined a law book.”

His turning point came in 1963, when the dynamite bombing of a Sunday school class in Birmingham killed four small girls. Married, and back home from law school, he and his wife were good Baptists; he spoke to his adult Sunday school class about giving financial and spiritual help for another Baptist church in trouble. The class members nodded, sympathetic. “Where is the church?” someone asked.
“The Sixteenth Street [black] Church in Birmingham.” The members in the room quickly fell into two camps – those angered by even the suggestion of helping blacks, and those too shocked to be angry. Dees closed his eyes in silent prayer. When he opened them a few minutes later, only he and his wife were left in the room.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which Morris Dees helped establish, provides free legal help for those who need it, charging only those who are able to pay; financed in part from income from his private law practice and his previous businesses, or books he has published, and mass mailings soliciting contributions. The book details many of his legal battles with white supremacists. The most dramatic one pits the black mother of a young man selected at random and beaten to death and then hung from a tree by members of the United Klans of America, with the knowledge and consent of the Klan's national commanders. Dees showed the jury photographs of the victim, printed in the Klan newspaper. His questioning of those commanders [the defendants] reveals their methods of training and arming Klan members with military weapons. It took the all-white, southern jury only about four hours to bring a verdict == “guilty on all counts”, and setting damages at seven million dollars.
Dees often moves back and forth in time between chapters, mentions many clients, colleagues and opponents (but provides a detailed and helpful index.) He freely expresses his emotions, sometimes anger, sometimes sadness or amused disbelief, but rarely fear. He does his research thoroughly. Conflict neither slows him down nor keeps him from doing what he believes is right. In my opinion, he himself exemplifies the best of both Christians and social activists.
At one point he hired armed guards 24 hours a day to protect his home. The scene in his first chapter is the floor of a room where he and his fourteen year old daughter crouched in the night, while the guards, one inside and one outside the house drove off two armed invaders. “Why do you do this work?” the girl asks him. In the last chapter; now age 17, she is in the balcony of the courtroom as the verdict against the Ku Klux Klan is announced and she sends him a note: “Good work, Daddy.”

Monday, April 3, 2017

book review: Baa Baa Black Sheep

BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP by Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, Bantam Books 1977
Book review: World War II in the Pacific, non-fiction

The name Flying Tigers was unknown to us when we were quartered in an obscure hotel in downtown San Francisco, waiting for a Dutch motorboat that would transport us to the Orient to join the American Volunteer Group.” Boyington's story begins in September 1941, before America was in the war. He temporarily left his Marine Corps job (captain and flight instructor) for the promise of action and good pay in China. The group's passports identified them as “missionaries”. President Roosevelt had approved this aid, but not publicly yet. Other passengers on the boat figured pretty quickly that they were anything but missionaries.

Their ship reached Rangoon, Burma, about a month before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing America into the World War that China had already been fighting for years. They joined Colonel Chenault's Flying Tigers, about a hundred American pilots attached to Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek's Chinese army in Kunming, Southern China. Supplies came via the “Burma Road” connecting with British India. Japan outflanked their supply line by invading all of Southeast Asia in January 1942. Boyington returned to USA with six downed Japanese planes to his credit and an injured leg.

His service record in the Marines was lost in red tape for a year, reducing him to taking a job as parking lot attendant in Seattle. As one reads further into his life, a unique type of personality emerges. A thirty-year-old independent who not only figures situations out for himself, but acts on his conclusions, divorced, alcoholic, chain-smoker, often ignoring his physical pain; caring about his subordinates, unafraid to go over the heads of incompetent superior officers to reach someone who knows what the score is. Observes details. And gets results.

When Boyington got back to the war in 1943, the battle for Guadalcanal was winding down and his squadron was based on the Russell Island group while the Japanese were gradually being forced to retreat northward. The Japanese “zero” plane was the equal of any of the American planes of the time, and battle outcomes depended on the skill and experience of individual pilots. Boyington, already an ace, and several years older than his squadron mates, earned the nickname “Pappy”, or “Gramps” from his guidance of his fliers. His squadron named itself the “Black Sheep” for their independent manner of fighting, both in the air and off duty.

His attack on Kahili, the well-armed air base on Bouganville caught the Japanese entirely by surprise. With twelve planes staying high in the sky, he led three others at a low level up the east side of the island chain, as though inspecting the coastline; then on farther north and around to the west of the airfield, flying back at tree-top level, four planes wing-tip to wing-tip, strafing the length of the field, reversing and strafing again, then up and homeward, leaving his other twelve planes to bomb the harbor at will.

He soon approached the Allied Forces' shoot-down record – twenty six planes. Buddies and news reporters alike were urging him to get one more before his third and final tour of duty was up. He did, but was also shot down himself. He bailed out into the sea with multiple injuries. He inflated his life raft and was picked up by a Japanese submarine next day. The pharmacist mate spoke English, “You have nothing to fear on this sub.” A six-hour trip brought them to Rabaul, the regional Japanese headquarters. Pappy was a prisoner of war for the next two years. Americans presumed him dead.

He experienced brutality from some guards, kindness from others. Japanese had respect for a hero, no matter what his nationality. And some were already seeing the inevitable outcome of the war. Pappy learned to understand and speak Japanese during his internment, and continued to observe and reflect. His story is worth reading thoughtfully.

To us in the Northwest, he is a local author, having grown up near Okanagen, Washington. Coeur d'Alene, Idaho has named its airfield after him.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

THE ART OF HEARING HEARTBEATS by Jan-Philipp Sendker
book review, fiction, 2006

Julia Win's father disappeared the day after the family had celebrated her graduation from law school. He had waked her early that next morning to say he was flying to Boston and would be back in two or three days. That was four years ago.
      Investigation showed that he had bought a ticket, not to Boston but to Los Angeles and onward to Thailand. Investigation by both the FBI and American embassies in Thailand and in Burma, his country of birth, had no record of his arrival, except his discarded passport.
      Now, she finds a package from her mother waiting at her New York apartment. A collection of her father's old letters and papers her mother had found in the attic; her mother didn't need them anymore. Among them, a love letter dated 1955, addressed to “My beloved Mi Mi”, in Kalaw, Shan State, Burma.
      Although Julia knew her parents' marriage was lukewarm at best, she had missed her father very much these past four years, and was perplexed at where and why he had gone. This clue was the first that offered a way to find out. She had never been to Burma, but she went now.
      Kalaw is a medium-sized town near the end of a branch railroad line, and shares an airstrip with a larger town of Taunggyi; both are vacation spots for people to escape the tropical heat of cities down on the plains. Julia finds herself in a small, squalid tea-house under the scrutiny of townspeople curious about why this foreigner has come. All except one elderly man who has watched her since she entered.
      He politely introduces himself, U Ba, addresses her by name, and says he has been waiting for her arrival for four years. Yes, he has known her father, almost since birth. He can help her find him, “but first I must ask you a question: Julia, do you believe in love?”
      Julia shakes her head, her lawyer's mind wondering what kind of scam is coming . But U Ba continues, “Your father's words were, 'I am not a religious man, and love, U Ba, is the only force I truly believe in.'” He got up and left, after suggesting they meet again the next day.
      She got up to pay her bill. The waiter did not want her money. “U Ba's friends are our guests,” he said, and left her tip on the table.
      U Ba returned next day to tell her about Tin Win (her father's Burmese name). His mother's little brother had drowned while she was watching him. She never got over her sense of guilt and worthlessness. She married Khin Maung, a kind man and a good worker, but a man of few words. Two weeks after Tin Win's birth half of the chickens got sick and died. It was custom to consult the local astrologer to find out whether the child's birth was the cause. The astrologer said the child would bring great sorrow. Something in his head. He also foresaw great talent in the child, but the stunned parents were no longer listening. They accepted the prophesy as inevitable and never expressed much love for their son. Especially after the father died in an accident, the mother distanced herself from her son.
      When Tin Win was eight, she packed her few belongings and left, telling him she would be back “soon.” He sat on a tree stump and waited, refusing all food a neighbor brought him. On the fourth day, he sipped some water. And waited. On the sixth day his eyesight began to blur. On the seventh, the neighbor thought he had died. She took him into her home and gradually she became Tin Win's first ally. But he was now blind, distinguishing only light and darkness.
      He compensated by developing his hearing and his touch. He knew every obstacle in his daily path. He could hear the heartbeats of those around him, and could tell much about their owners' mood and personality. He did well in the village monastery's school, One day he was waiting at school for his neighbor to return from the market, he heard the soft steady beating of a heart he didn't recognize; he took a few steps forward, heard it louder. “Is someone there?” he whispered.
      “Yes. Right at your feet.” It was a girl's voice. “You're about to trip over me.”
      “Who are you? What's your name?”
      “Mi Mi.”
      Thus began a lasting friendship. She was a cripple from birth, unable to stand or walk. Her brothers or mother would carry her on their backs. Tin Win learned to do the same, and she would guide him where to go. He was her feet; she was his eyes, as she rode on his back. They went everywhere together.
Julia had never known her successful American attorney father had been blind in his youth. “When are you going to let me see him?” she asked U Ba.
      “You are not yet ready,” he told her. First she must know how Tin Win had had an obligation to fulfill. At age eighteen,Tin Win was summoned to Rangoon, the capital city, by an uncle he had never met. To a Burmese Buddhist, such a summons by an aged head of family must be obeyed. He went with the two men his uncle had sent, expecting to return in a few days. But it was fifty years before he saw his loved one again. Tin Win's story is a poignant but serious examination of the many aspects of human love.

Note to my new subscribers: I do not sell books, except the few I have authored. I review others to improve my writing skill, but do not want to spoil the ending for my readers. You can find most of the books in your local library, or favorite bookstore, or online.  I welcome discussion and questions, but am still learning the basics of operating this gadget, and communicate best through email.