Book Review: True

True
Greenfield, Karl Taro
2018
Little A, New York

Selected out of the free Amazon Prime Reading options, the book caught my attention based more on genre than content. I’m glad I picked it, as there was a depth to it well beyond my expectations. On the surface it seems a bit like a story about those for whom things fell into their laps, who were provided opportunities others didn’t have and then claimed it was their own efforts that got them there… but digging a little deeper it’s actually more about the fight of someone who didn’t have those advantages yet still fought for their dreams as best they could.

We meet True, more formally known as Trudy, on the adult pickup soccer fields of LA. There, she is simply “the girl.” An aberration in the standard male makeup of the pickup teams she falls in with, but one who has earned the respect of her fellow players. And then we take a big step backward, to her junior year of high school, and pick up her story from there.

Saddled with an excess of challenges – a severely developmentally disabled sister, a mother who died after her sister’s birth, and a dedicated father who works hard at trying to give his oldest daughter the childhood he wanted her to have but given the circumstances has issues of his own – True has found her own personal sanctuary on the soccer field. Unable to control so much around her, she narrows in to the one thing she has a reasonable chance to control: her soccer game, and her goal is to be the best. She is talented, driven, and persistent… and has had the good fortune to have grown up playing with a few other similarly talented girls in an area where girl’s soccer was able to pull good coaches and good opponents.

Together with her friends they became a driving force in the LA area soccer leagues. Although they started off with her father being the main chauffeur of the girls to games and practices, her friends’ parents later chip in to cover True’s travel and registration fees for the various camps and workshops needed to become an elite level player; not so much for her, but for their own daughters on the team as they recognize the chemistry between the teammates. When it comes to individual coaching and development, however, True and her father don’t have the means to cover it – so she makes up with an iron will and self-discipline. While her friends mix soccer and social activities, True lives and breathes for the game… and her sister. While still good teammates, she gradually becomes excluded from the social lives of her friends.

Then it happens. Her coach has sent demo tapes of his best players to the higher organizations, and True finds herself selected as a first alternate to the Olympic Development Program camp, while 2 of her teammates are direct selected for it. Asking her coach why she is an alternate when she played better than the others, he brings up her reputation of being overly aggressive on the pitch, and reminds her that it isn’t enough to be the best player, she also has to be a good teammate, and that means not making silly fouls or getting carded off the pitch.

When one of the direct participants is injured ahead of the camp, True takes her place and rises to the challenge. She impresses the staff enough to get invited to the next level, and the next, yet always carries the stigma of being too rough, perhaps a bit inclined to violence. In the process, one of her former teammates becomes her primary rival of those fighting for spots, and whatever remained of their friendship falls apart. A sports psychologist and the top level coach get involved and help her see she needs to temper things, and she works hard at it.

In the meantime, however, things deteriorate at home. She can’t be there enough to take care of her sister and her father can’t handle it alone, so her sister ends up institutionalized. It doesn’t go well. True tried to do what she can, but issue after issue after issue pop up with incompetent or downright abusive staff. True carries a deep sense of guilt about pursuing her dreams while her sister suffers.

On the soccer side, she excels. Presented with chances to play with the national team, she acquits herself well. Her coaches and teammates like and respect her. She gets playing time, and even a couple of goals. She has her choice of full-ride Division 1 scholarships. And then her sister is rushed to a hospital after having been sexually assaulted and beaten in the institution she was in. She works hard to keep it out of her game, but eventually it happens – in a national team camp scrimmage with her rival, her rival goads her by disparaging her sister. In a moment of blind rage, True loses her composure and exhibits her most violent on-pitch behavior, sending her rival to the hospital. She is kicked off the team, and sees how quickly all of her teammates were to turn against her. Her scholarships disappear.

We met her a few years later working as a waitress in a local restaurant and playing pickup games – the place we first meet her. Her sister is back home, and she starts to date one of the other pickup players. He has a friend who is an agent and thinks one of the overseas professional women’s teams would be interested in her. She thinks about it, but can’t see leaving her sister again.

And then her sister is abducted and raped while walking in their neighborhood, and redeposited on her own front lawn in a quaking mess. Confronted with the inability of law enforcement to effectively prosecute the case, and realizing that she can no longer protect her sister, she accepts the offer of a pro career – and once more immerses herself in the game, eventually competing against and beating her former national team teammates who were so quick to turn on her.

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Book Review: Middlesex

Middlesex

Eugenides, Jeffrey

2002

Middlesex was a book recommended to me by a friend in the midst of a discussion on  gender roles in different societies. Given the context, I assumed it would be a dry academic study, at best a collection of essays.  Between the title and setting it had been recommended to me in, I assumed it had something to do with gender or sexuality, and those were the areas I went looking in when I moved back to Seattle and once again found myself surrounded by good bookstores.

 

I clearly displayed my ignorance of modern literature.  Eventually I broke down and looked the book up, and I soon found a copy in the literature section. I took it home in the start of a snow shower, which would turn into an event better known in Seattle folklore as Snowmagedden 2.0.  For the next several days the city more or less shutdown, covered by many inches of a pretty, wet, and tenacious snow.  I brewed lots of tea and spent my time watching snow, drinking tea, and reading.  The book won the Pulitzer Prize when it was released, so I needn’t spend more effort on the overall impression than to say that the prize was well deserved – it is a very well crafted book which fully engages the reader and is both familiar and challenging.

 

The basic storyline is a history of 3 generations of a family going backward from the mid 1970’s, but told in generally chronological order. The grandparents were ethnic Greek refugees from Turkey who fled the sacking of Smyrna to his cousin in Detroit, the parents were first generation Americans who grew up in a tightly knit Greek Orthodox  community, and the narrator (and his brother) made up the last years of the Baby Boom. The stories are overly familiar tales of domestic activity in the various places – a pastoral village in the mountains of the Old Country, starting from nothing and working up as immigrants from entry level jobs in the factories to owning a small business; the next generation adapts and adopts the new country and customs as their own, particularly following World War 2, and the next generation deals with the fallout. There are other stories mixed in – courtship, business activities, discrimination and race riots, school integration and white flight, automobiles, religion, …  Tying them all up together, however, is the theme running through the book – the story of the Narrator.

 

It turns out that he was not always who he now, at the time of writing, is.  It started well back in the past, as generations of village lives in Turkey found the selection of prospective marriage partners to be, well, a touch limited.  His grandparents were third cousins. Yet they were also closer… much closer.  As in siblings.  Having kept that secret between themselves, there were no objections on those grounds when their son married their cousin’s daughter.  And of the 2 children of that marriage, one was a perfectly normal boy, the other a perfectly normal girl.  Until she went through puberty, yet didn’t.  An accident led to her being examined in a different medical facility than the family had always used, and the new doctor noticed things were not quite what they seemed. On further investigation, she was determined to be a genetic male but with a hereditary condition which had resulted in essentially appearing as a girl.

 

The last part of the book deals with her / his reaction to learning this information.  It was not smooth.  He decided he was going to live as a male when his parents desired him to have medical intervention to remain as a girl. In the ensuing turmoil he ran away as a 14 year old, eventually ending up in San Francisco working as a peep show freak show attraction. After being arrested during a police raid, he is released to his brother and returns home just in time to attend his father’s funeral, where he takes up the traditional Greek Orthodox role of standing in the open doorway of the house to keep his father’s spirit from entering during the funeral.

 

 

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Random Food of the Day

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Seattle style spicy chicken teriyaki. Large portions, simply presented.  And incredibly yummy.

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Book Review: A Life on the Road

A Life on the Road

Kuralt, Charles

Putnam, New York, 1990

 

Charles Kuralt is one of the few authors I’ve stumbled across whom I have actually met, though met is perhaps too strong.  In May of 1996 I found myself enlisted as Maylene’s stand-in boyfriend during her “senior week” and graduation at Colby College in Maine after she had shortly before broken up with a mutual friend. I had time, she didn’t want to spend the week capping off her undergrad experience alone, and so at the last minute I found myself in a tight-knit group of small-college seniors on the edge of graduating.  At some point prior to the actual ceremony, perhaps the day before, perhaps the day of, I found myself exchanging passing comments with an older man who was also there for the graduation, and as one or the other of us headed off we shook hands and he introduced himself as Charles Kuralt.  The next time I saw him he was on the platform giving the commencement address; he was somehow related to one of the graduates and, though at the time I had never noticed him, was sufficiently well known to have been selected as the speaker.  Of all the commencement speeches I have heard, his is the only one that made it into my memory – and of that, only the recommendation to always travel with a book, which seemed such a good idea I have done so ever since. For a few weeks after that I made a point of watching his segment of “Sunday Morning” on CBS, then gradually lost interest and he slipped from mind.

 

Christmas 2008 found my me snowbound in Seattle’s heaviest winter storm in years and a family Christmas gifting plan of “nothing new.”  Opening up the last-minute Christmas box from Mom and Dad which arrived on Christmas Day, this book was among the items.  A pleasant enough book, a nice shade of green, an amusingly fitting title, and then I noticed the author and remembered the graduation in Maine.

 

The book is an autobiographical narrative of a career, and it’s identifiable with my current situation.  Written nearly 20 years before, and at the time when I was just beginning to think of becoming an independent traveler (my first flight was when I went to Germany in 1991), much of what he wrote still rings true.  Regarding commercial air travel, he laments the passage from it being an experience to a headache, from “friendly stewardesses serving real meals on plates with smiles” to “non-smiling flight attendants mechanically handing out poor meals.”  My experience could be summarized as “flight attendants serving reasonably decent meals” to “airlines selling overpriced bags of peanuts as meals”.  The basic story is the same.

 

It’s a book that could be seen as portraying individual travel; working on the road; journalism; television; world events; but in reality it’s all and none of these.  It’s a book of an aspect of life lived fully within the available parameters.

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Random Food of the Day

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Ahh, the multiple joys of a proper Ramen on a cool and rainy day… this one from Kizuki in West Seattle.

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Random Food of the Day

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Cumin Lamb at Wild Pepper in Tukwila.

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Book Review: Glimpses of Siberia

Glimpses of Siberia

Nikolai Yanovsky, compiler

1972, Progress Publishers, Moscow

This is a collection of verbal pictures of Siberia with a pictorial foreword.  The propaganda focus of the book clearly comes through, promoting Siberia as a wonderland of resources, center of technological and academic development, and the backbone of the USSR’s invincibility while at the same time portraying it is a misunderstood wilderness vacationland where a person could easily spend days without ever seeing anyone or follow a walk through the dense woods with a night at the opera.  Additionally, a deep love of the Siberians for their land clearly shows through.

Seen in this, or any, context, the book is a perfect hit on my senses.  There is incredible, and rather unfortunate, irony in reading these heroically worded  episodes and the hopes that Siberia was to become a center of economic power and compare the situation to what little reliable information I have obtained about conditions in the former USSR today [2001].  Here was a land begging to be settled, explored, and respected; a land beckoning the youth of the Soviet Union in a great patriotic cause.  Hope is abundant in the pages, from a Fleeter-esque research professor who, having built a highly acclaimed research institute with hand picked staff and students from basically a cleared forest, sees no end to the advancements in technology his institute is capable of producing to the Moscow based writer who, while unexpectedly spending the night in a mining camp during a vacation, finds that even the miners have organized literary circles and marvels at the possibilities for this land when even those engaged in rugged work in harsh conditions take time to ponder over literature and even write respectable works themselves.

Every so often, an unabashed praise of the land comes through, perhaps as the writer describes his first day in a boat on Lake Balkali or as another writer describes the painstaking work of the early geologists in their search for oil.  Were it feasible, I would have been on the first plane headed to Novosibirsk after finishing the book….

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