March 24, 2019

Pachinko, a 2017 novel by Min Jin Lee

A book club-loving neighbor handed me a novel that received much critical praise in 2017. The book was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and was a National Book Award Finalist. In all honesty, a family saga book set in Korea and Japan did not initially scream “Read me,” but I am so glad I read the first chapter which begins in 1910. We are introduced to Hoonie and his wife, Yangjin who are living in a Korean fishing village. Their teen-aged daughter, Sunja takes up with an older shady man named Koh Hansu. Pregnant, Sunja agrees to marry a tubercular Korean Protestant minister who is on his way to a job in Osaka, Japan.

So begins a four generation saga that will take place in a Japan of wars, poverty, illness and Korean discrimination, all the way to 1989. The Korean game of pachinko, a cross between a pinball machine and a slot machine, is a thread that runs throughout the story.

Pachinko not only has stellar writing but it magically puts you into a world that is unlike anything one has experienced, yet universally so familiar as well. I came away wanting to know more about Chinese, Japanese and Korean history. Min Jin Lee has opened that window for me with her gem-like novel, Pachinko.

Bag Man podcast on Agnew’s departure as VP

Sometimes I just want to get away from current political news and escape to……political history.

I confess to being quite ignorant of what happened during Watergate so I’m always open to learning more about that storied time in our country’s history.

I knew even less about Spiro T. Agnew’s departure from the Vice Presidency.
Along comes Rachel Maddow with Bag Man, a seven-episode podcast shedding light on this constitutional crisis that happened 45 years ago.

As Nixon was teetering towards impeachment or resignation, it came to light that our second-in-command was a big-time crook having taken bribes in Maryland and subsequently as VP in DC. Justice Department professionals were horrified at the possibility that Nixon could be ousted, only to have another suspect person slipping into the White House.

Bag Man not only recaps what happened but sheds new light on who was involved and how decisions were made. Particularly fascinating are interviews with members of Agnew’s defense team and the prosecutors who faced off with Nixon, Agnew and crew.

You can download the podcast app on your phone or find Bag Man at the MSNBC site to listen to the recordings or read the transcripts. However you access this fascinating story, you will feel just a little bit more “in the know.”

https://www.msnbc.com/bagman

Circe: Author Madeline Miller tackles Greek mythology

Like many high school and college students, do you remember being required to read Edith Hamilton’s classic book Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes? The Greek stories interested me the most, but it also contained Roman and Norse mythology seen through the work of poets, playwrights and historians.

If you feel like revisiting Greek mythology in an engagingly written fiction format, look no further than Circe by Madeline Miller. I must admit that I did not initially appreciate the florid prose but then I got sucked into the timeless tale of Circe and her world of Titans, Olympians and humans brave enough to fraternize with gods.

I felt like I was reminiscing about long-lost relatives and old school chums as I encountered names such as Daedalus, Odysseus, Hermes, Athena, Medea, the Minotaur and Zeus. Daughter to the sun god, Helios, Circe is the underdog child who is banished to a deserted island where she polishes her witchcraft and entertains the occasional visitor. Just let me tell you that she does not reward “piggish” human behavior.

Miller has a previous book entitled Achilles which goes on my “to read” list. I could stand to be refreshed on the Trojan War, with Helen, Achilles, Hector, Paris and that horse.

Circe by Madeline Miller is Greek to you and me, but in a good way.

John Singer Sargent & Chicago’s Gilded Age at the Art Institute of Chicago

Charles Deering, Sargent’s ardent art patron

With a hundred pieces of art, John Singer Sargent & Chicago’s Gilded Age, the exhibit currently showing at the Art Institute of Chicago features not only Sargent work but that of his art colleagues and contemporaries. Mixed in with the Sargent pieces, the viewer gets to see work by Claude Monet, Giovanni Boldini, William Merritt Chase, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Anders Zorn, a Swedish artist who I plan to investigate further.

Although John Singer Sargent was an American, he was born and raised in Europe which makes his influence on Chicago’s Gilded Age all the more remarkable. From 1888 until his death in 1925, Sargent’s work was featured in 20 Chicago exhibitions including the 1893 Colombian Exposition.

Street in Venice – 1st Sargent work to be shown in Chicago 1888

Sargent greatly benefited from the patronage of many wealthy art aficionados including local businessman, Charles Deering (CEO of what would become International Harvester). This exhibit includes AIC possessions, work from private collections and other museums. Alas, his most notorious painting, Madame X, owned by the Met in NYC is not part of this art assemblage.

Sargent worked in water color and charcoal on everything from nudes to landscapes, but his oil paint portraiture was his absolute forté. This exhibit beautifully supports that opinion.

I will include the AIC link for admission info, but you may consider going on a Thursday evening when the museum is open until 8 pm. When leaving, I saw charming tables with umbrellas in the AIC’s central courtyard. One hour in the exhibit and then perhaps a cool beverage in the “plein air?”

http://sargent.artic.edu/

Janet, Jackie and Lee by J. Randy Taraborrelli

The sub-title of Janet, Jackie and Lee is “The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and Her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill.” Author Taraborrelli who has written a handful of other books on the Kennedys scopes in on the Bouvier sisters and their indomitable mother, Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss Morris.

There are some titillating revelations like sister Lee having an affair with Aristotle Onassis well before her sister, Jacqueline Kennedy married the Greek shipping tycoon. Lee frequently was seeing other men while married to Prince Radziwill. Despite the tell-all quality to the book, Taraborrelli’s writing and research are impressive. He seems to have spoken with a myriad of family members, staff, friends and colleagues to paint an accurate picture of the relationships between mother Janet and her two famous daughters.

Lee Radziwill is still very much alive in her 80s and did not want friends to talk to Taraborrelli. Nevertheless, the book contains much information on her surprising friendships (Truman Capote, Andy Warhol and Rudolf Nereyev among others) her romances and her varied career choices.

The book is long but the chapters are short so the pages fly by. Two sections of photos add to the enjoyment. We continue to be fascinated with the Kennedy family and their friends, lovers and in-laws.
Janet, Jackie and Lee definitely feeds that hunger.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story on Netflix

My mother was movie-mad and one of her favorite actresses was the beautiful Hedy Lamarr. Hedy had an accent but I knew virtually nothing about her background.

A documentary on Netflix, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story will surprise and enlighten you about this Hollywood star’s vertiginous journey.

Like German-born Marlene Dietrich, Hedy, an Austrian Jew left her Nazi-leaning country for California to pursue a movie career. She became an ardent supporter of the U. S. cause selling millions of dollars worth of war bonds.

Her scientific interest and natural talent at devising inventions was the real shocker. This gorgeous dame was also smart. She shared a patent for frequency hopping with composer George Antheil, a concept that is used in both civilian and military applications in current day. Unfortunately, she earned not one penny from this brilliant invention.

Her beauty was also her curse. Six failed marriages were perhaps a result of men falling in love with the Hollywood image but not the actual woman. As she aged, she became one of the first devotees of plastic surgery in an attempt to hang on to her storied face.
Her last years were spent in seclusion, much like Garbo and Dietrich. Were these beauties unwilling to let the public see them as older versions of their movie images?

If Hedy Lamarr had been born with average looks, would a scientific career have resulted in a more stable life and even more successful inventions?
The documentary allows the viewer to ponder the remarkable life of Hedy Lamarr and draw their own conclusions.

A trusted friend recommended the documentary and pointed out these words quoted by Lamar towards the end of the movie. An internet search indicates that the quote was erroneously attributed to Mother Teresa. The full quote was actually written by college student Kent M. Keith in 1968. Here are all ten of the inspiring ideas:

1: People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
2: If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
3: If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
4: The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
5: Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
6: The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
7: People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
8: What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
9: People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
10: Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.