This review will be short because, JUST READ IT.
“But, historical fiction isn’t my bag,” he said.
This isn’t that kind of historical fiction—i.e. the kind that binds one in a web of cultural minutiae and reads like a history book writ purple. This book will make you enrapt.
“But, I don’t like war stories. Too violent,” she said.
I bet you’ll like this one. Yes, it’s set during World War II, and war’s ugly face peeks around the corner from time to time, but one also sees how ordinary people do extraordinary things when exposed to the crucible of war. War doesn’t just bring out the worst; it also forces people to be better than they’ve ever had cause to be. The book is largely about a girl living under occupation and isn’t so much about life on the front lines.
How can I so boldly assert that one should read this particular book? (I normally lay out the facts first and only at the end make a recommendation.) Because this is one of the best crafted novels I’ve read. It’s extremely readable and engaging. The characters are superbly developed and one feels one knows them. Even the closest thing to a villain (if you don’t count war as the villain) is a complex and nuanced character who one wants to understand better.
I will tell you something substantive about the novel. It interweaves the stories of two teenage characters whose lives are fated to become entwined through the fortunes (and misfortunes) of war. The first is a blind girl who lives with her father in Paris. Father and daughter flee when the Nazis occupy France and end up living on the coast at Saint Malo with her great-uncle who is a shut-in owing to his experience in the last Great War. Of course, the move to the coast only delays the occupation and the point at which the war comes to them.
The other lead character is a German orphan boy with a gift for science who gets prematurely drawn into the war because of his great intellect and skill with radios. Not only are these characters both people who readers are drawn to, they both experience great growth over the course of the story. Imagine being blind in a war zone–or even just being a young nerd drafted into the war–and you can taste some of the emotional tension that resonates throughout this book. I won’t say that it’s all happy endings. It never is in war.
I’d highly recommend this book for all readers.
This, Henry Miller’s first novel, is about a young man living a bohemian life in Paris in the late 1920’s. It reads autobiographically. It’s often said that literary fiction downplays story in favor of character development. This isn’t necessarily true today, but it seems to be the case with this 1934 novel. There’s not much story—though a little one is packed in at the very end. The book does illuminate the lead character, but the reaction that character evokes is neither love nor hate but more of an “ewww” of disgust. Put another way, he’s like a Chuck Palahniuk anti-hero (e.g. think of Victor from “Choke”), but without out the quirky humor to make him amusing and interesting. This will make more sense in the next paragraph.
This book is often classified as erotica, but many readers might not find it to be erotic. Like a shock-jock, Miller chooses the most vulgar term to stun rather than using descriptive language to arouse. The lead (and other characters) spends a lot of time in bed with prostitutes, but at the same time he’s sleeping on the couch of some acquaintance or grumbling that he can’t afford a sandwich. Lest one think I’m hammering the book because of gratuitous sex, let me say that it’s not the sex that I find dismaying but a guy whose priorities are so askew of Maslow’s hierarchy as to make one wonder if he’s of the same species. There’s an uncanny valley with this character, only not with respect to facial appearance. All of that would be fine if the character experienced change over the course of the book, but the character neither grows nor is destroyed. I should also point out that I like Palahniuk’s anti-hero stories, but Miller takes himself too seriously to be fun, and I think that fun is the only way such a character makes for appealing reading.
So far I’ve made this book sound horrible, but I didn’t savage it with a sour rating. Ergo, there must be some redeeming value. There is. Miller’s use of language is intermittently gorgeous. He gets in these streams of consciousness in which poetry infuses into his prose. During these times, the story—such as it is—disappears even further into the hinterland, but the words can spark. Maybe Miller should’ve forgotten the hype that the novel is the ultimate literary art form and devoted his efforts to poetry.
I offer a qualified recommendation of the book. If you’re a reader of erotica and heard that this was a classic of that genre, then pursue it with caution. However, if you love words artfully twisted into little flashes of light, maybe you should check it out.
It goes without saying that there’s graphic content, but there are other reasons readers might be sensitive to this book. Not that I encourage avoiding a book because a character makes one feel ill-at-ease. (On the contrary, I frequently encourage it.) If a lead who comes off as simultaneously lusting after and despising women is a trigger for you, be forewarned this is such a character. (Note: He may also be anti-semitic, racist, and homophobic as well, but those elements aren’t explored in great detail. It could well be that the character doesn’t like humans in general. Maybe he was supposed to be a robot after all [hence the uncanny valley] and in that case I recant this review.)
5.) Vada Pav (Potato [fritter] on a bun): India
Tip: Try it in Mumbai. While the one’s shown above were fine. The legendary Vada Pav is to be found at a stall across from Flora Fountain in Bombay.
4.) Pad Thai (Noodles Thai Style): Thailand
Tip: Vegetarians beware. Fish sauce is a standard ingredient in this dish. So if you order it vegetarian, it’s not just the prawns and / or chicken one needs to be wary about–depending upon how strict one is. Soy sauce is the substitute.
3.) Kürtőskalács (Chimney Cake): Hungary
Tip: It can be found at little stands in or near Christmas markets during the winter season. Buy it hot when it’s cold outside, and it will actually steam like smoke rising from a chimney. If you’re in Hungary during the summer or you want a savory street food, try lángos .
2.) Banh Mi: Vietnam
Tip: Try this sandwich on a baguette from Banh Mi 25, a famous cart at 25 Hàng Cá, Hàng Đào, Hoàn Kiếm in Hanoi.
1.) Momo (Dumpling): Tibet, Ladakh, and anywhere displaced Tibetans reside.
Tip: Try the spinach and cheese momo of The Wok Tibetan Kitchen on Main Bazaar Road in Leh.
Bonus: Masala Dosa: India, particularly in the South
Tip: If you ask for a “Paper Masala Dosa” you’ll probably get something too big to fit on a plate (as shown.) It will be very thin and the potato-based filling will only be in the central part. (So it’s not quite as insane an amount of food as it may appear.) This one is from Airlines Hotel in Bangalore. Dosa is just the Indian version of a pancake, and it can take many shapes and forms. There are a few varieties, but often it’s a rice & lentil-based rather than wheat-based flour.
Egg coffee is a Hanoi staple. It’s made with egg yolk, condensed milk, and sugar so it’s not exactly low-cal, but it tastes delightful. The scuttlebutt is that it was invented when milk was in short supply during the war. The beverage is said to have been invented at Giang Cafe, but I couldn’t say for certain that it’s the same Giang Cafe we were at (shown above.) However, the place did have the feel of a local institution. Imagine people huddled around tiny tables on stools, the floor coated with sunflower seed shells, and nary an empty stool in the multi-floored establishment.
So, you’re a leader and you’ve experienced Flow. Self-criticism vanished. Time fell away. The task was challenging, but the performance felt effortless. Your attention was rapt, and any craving for distractions disappeared. Maybe you even had a spate of creativity. You come away feeling great. Clarity reigns. Maybe you found Flow at work, but maybe it was skiing, golfing, or composing haiku. Either way, after thinking about how to repeat the feat, your next thought is, “What could my business [or organization] achieve if my people were in this state of mind for even a fraction of each day?” Increased productivity? Decreased healthcare costs and / or disruptions from sick days? Maybe, you’d see fewer complaints between stressed co-workers, or coming from customers? Regardless, you know that Flow is elusive and fickle. It may seem that the harder you seek it, the less success you have. You pick up a couple of books on finding Flow—maybe you watch some TedTalks on YouTube–and they provide helpful tips for finding the state for yourself, but most don’t have much to say on facilitating Flow for others.
That’s where FLIGBY comes in, and “Missing Link Discovered” is a companion to FLIGBY. [Note- “FLIGBY” is short for “FLow is Good Business for You,” which ties it into the work of positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who both coined the term “Flow” and wrote a book entitled “Good Business” about both achieving Flow in the workplace and how some businesses succeed in the simultaneous pursuit of profit and virtue. Csikszentmihalyi was actively involved in the development of the FLIGBY game. The “missing link” referenced in the title is between leadership and Flow.] FLIGBY is an educational video game in which the player assumes the role of General Manager (GM) of a winery. The last GM was a hard-driving pursuer of profit who left the winery’s mission and values in a muddle and its employees stressed out and at each other’s throats. The player makes about 150 decisions over the course of the 23 scenes that map to a timeline of one’s first half a year as GM. While the player still has to consider the usual business objectives–such as profitability–to succeed one also has to help one’s employees find Flow. The game is used by both by professors of business education courses (e.g. in MBA programs) and by corporate trainers.
As this is a review of the book and not the FLIGBY game, I won’t talk too much more about it beyond this paragraph. However, I did have an opportunity to play the game and found it to be both educational and engrossing. The scenes are live-action, and the cast did a great job of creating the emotional tension necessary to make one feel a stake in the decisions. There’s a narrative arc that unfolds over the course of the game, and so it appeals to the way our brains best take in information. Of course, the game also pays attention to those factors that facilitate Flow, such as offering immediate feedback and an increasing challenge such that the difficulty rises with one’s skill.
I’ll now clarify what I mean by the book being “a companion” to the FLIGBY game. It’s not a game manual. [i.e. The nuts and bolts of how to navigate the game as well as general background information are provided within the game itself as well as through a series of digital appendices—a list of which is included in the book.] Rather, “Missing Link Discovered” is intended to bring readers up to speed in three areas relevant to the FLIGBY game. These areas are delineated by the book’s three parts. Part I (Ch. 1 – 3) introduces Flow and explains how its pursuit fits into the larger scheme of leadership responsibilities. It begins with an introduction to Flow and Csikszentmihalyi’s research, then links Flow and leadership, and—finally–describes the set of leadership skills used in the game.
The second part (Ch. 4 – 8) introduces the game, situates it in the context of serious games (those for which entertainment is a secondary concern), and discusses the topic of feedback in great detail (Note: feedback is a crucial issue because delayed or inadequate feedback is one of the major reasons that people have trouble achieving Flow–particularly in a workplace setting.) The last chapter in this section is a collection of captioned photos that charts the development of the game from the first meeting with Professor Csikszentmihalyi to the game’s use for both instruction and research.
While the first two parts of the book are relevant to all players, the last part is aimed at Professors, corporate trainers, and researchers. It consists of two chapters. Chapter 9 discusses such issues as where in an individual’s education or training the game should be situated, and how it should be presented. The last chapter (Ch. 10) is a bit different in that it opens up a discussion about the research potential offered by FLIGBY. Given the game’s widespread use in both academia and the corporate world, a great deal of data is collected that can be used anonymously by researchers to study interesting research questions (e.g. how players in differing demographics or job positions make decisions.)
The book offers a number of ancillary features that increase its usability and clarity. The first of these features are two single-page summaries that introduce readers to Flow and FLIGBY, respectively. Besides the aforementioned photo chapter, the book has many diagrams and other graphics to clarify concepts addressed in the text. The book is footnoted throughout, and provides a glossary of key terms. It should also be noted that there is an introduction by Professor Csikszentmihalyi in which he describes his involvement in the project and presents his thoughts on the value of FLIGBY.
I recommend this book, particularly for those who will be playing FLIGBY or who are in the process of determining whether FLIGBY is right for one’s students or employees. From corporate programs in mindfulness to interest in Flow-based leadership, all signs point to a workplace revolution in which there is a long overdue convergence of incentives and objectives between employees and employers. It’s been a long road from Henry Ford’s plan to make sure all employees could afford the cars the company made to the explosion of Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” program and others like it, but this revolution is picking up steam and if you’re unaware, you might want to look into it.