Novel Review – “Tales from Outer Suburbia” by Shaun Tan

Not really for children, but for adults who remember what it was like to be a child in suburbia.

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“Tales from Outer Suburbia” by Shaun Tan

Hardcover
96 pages
Published October 28th, 2008 by McClelland & Stewart (first published 2008)
Original Title: Tales from Outer Suburbia
ISBN:0771084021 (ISBN13: 9780771084027)
Awards
  • World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Collection (2009)
  • New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award Nominee for Patricia Wrightson Prize (2009)
  • Ditmar Award for Best Artwork (2009)
  • Western Australian Premier’s Book Award for Young Adult (2008)
  • Children’s Book Council of Australia Award for Older Readers Book of the Year (2009)
  • Aurealis Award for Illustrated Book / Graphic Novel (2008)
  • Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for Bilderbuch (2009)
  • Tähtifantasia Award (2016)
  • Australian Independent Booksellers Indie Book Award for Children’s (2009)
  • The Inky Awards Nominee for Gold Inky (2008)
  • Adelaide Festival Award for Children’s Literature (2010)
  • Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) for Illustrated Book (2009)
  • Literaturpreis der Jury der Jungen Leser for Sonderpreis (2009)
  • The Inky Awards Shortlist for Gold Inky (2008)

About

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‘water buffaloes are like that; they hate talking.’

From the publisher, “Breathtakingly illustrated and hauntingly written, Tales from Outer Suburbia is by turns hilarious and poignant, perceptive and goofy. Through a series of captivating and sophisticated illustrated stories, Tan explores the precious strangeness of our existence. He gives us a portrait of modern suburban existence filtered through a wickedly Monty Pythonesque lens. Whether it’s discovering that the world really does stop at the end of the city’s map book, or a family’s lesson in tolerance through an alien cultural exchange student, Tan’s deft, sweet social satire brings us face-to-face with the humor and absurdity of modern life.”

My Thoughts

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‘He was saying the same sentence over and over, ending with “tasoo-ke-te, tasoo ke-te.”‘

This review may come off as a bit biased because I love “The Arrival.” Honestly, it isn’t so much as an “apple to oranges” kind of comparison between the two books, but maybe a comparison of two of the most glorious pieces of fruit one can eat. Each is wonderful in their own ways.

Both of these novels are excellent, but they are different in a slight, albeit essential way. There are words in “Tales From Outer Suburbia”… The experience of Shaun Tan’s illustrations is a bit more on the nose.

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‘It opened into another room altogether… an impossible room somewhere between the others.’

“Tales From Outer Suburbia” is a collection of fifteen nuanced short stories. All are threaded together with an exploration of the vapidness, bewilderment, joy, sorrow, and enlightenment of living in the suburbs; specifically the suburbs of eastern Australia. Each of the stories is captivating and a hell of a lot deeper than the two or three pages devoted to each. For example “Stick Figures,” is a story about wooden stick figures that are part of a suburban landscape. They move unimaginably slow, and their purpose is not precisely known. However, if you think about suburbia and the little bits of nature that come through the manicured lawns and the shopping malls, nature could very much seem like an unknowable creature that exists, but we have no idea the purpose of. As someone who has spent much of their life living in the suburbs and had to travel to visit nature, I get what he is trying to say. Nature can become the unknowable.

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‘How great it must have been long ago, when the world was still unknown.’

Another glorious story was “No Other Country.” This story explores what it means to be a person of two ideals. The unexplored model of what a place should be as one ideal and the current situation you live in as the other.

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‘The fire burned with astonishing intensity.’

What if you could escape to the ideal place at your leisure? Would that change how you felt about your current living situation? Again this taps into a lot of what Shaun Tan writes about in “The Arrival.” The idealized world and the reality. Would you appreciate your reality if you could escape it once in a while? It is a powerful short story, and absolutely worth the read.

I feel like reading a Shaun Tan book is meditative. They are never boring, beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated. However, his work is saturated with a calmness and purposefulness. His words and images are impactful without being jarring. You don’t see that often in any type of literary work. It speaks to a mastery of craft that I as a reader feel privileged to partake in. As you can probably tell, I am a fan and recommend his work. However, it isn’t for everyone. It is fanciful and calm and deep. Sometimes, that is not what one needs in their books. So my suggestion is that if you are feeling self-reflective or full of ennui, give one of his novels a try. I doubt that you would regret the experience.

Review of “I Killed Adolf Hitler” by Jason

“I got to get rid of the body”

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About 1

Jason. I Killed Adolph Hitler. Fantagraphics, 2007. Print.

Awards

2008: Eisner Award, Best U.S. Edition of International Material, for I Killed Adolf Hitler 

#62 on CBH Greatest Graphic Novels of all Time

Book Summary

From the publisher, “In this full-color graphic novel, Jason posits a strange, violent world in which contract killers can be hired to rub out pests, be they dysfunctional relatives, abusive co-workers, loud neighbors, or just annoyances in general — and as you might imagine, their services are in heavy demand. One such killer is given the unique job of traveling back in time to kill Adolf Hitler in 1939… but things go spectacularly wrong. Hitler overpowers the would-be assassin and sends himself to the present, leaving the killer stranded in the past. The killer eventually finds his way back to the present by simply waiting the decades out as he ages, and teams up with his now much-younger girlfriend to track down the missing fascist dictator… at which point the book veers further into Jason territory, as the cartoonist’s minimalist, wickedly dry sense of humor slows down the story to a crawl: for long patches absolutely nothing happens, but nobody can make nothing happening as riotously entertaining as Jason does… and finally, when the reader isn’t paying attention, he brings it together with a shocking, perfectly logical and yet completely unexpected climax which also solves a mystery from the very beginning of the book the reader had forgotten about. As always, I Killed Adolf Hitler is rendered in Jason’s crisp deadpan neo-clear-line style, once again augmented by lovely, understated coloring.”

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Courtesy of goodreads.com

My Thoughts

Spoiler alert, Adolph Hitler dies… Big shocker I know.  The title is very much in the writing style of the novel: minimalist, terse, and concise. No need for grand allusions or literary whatnot; Jason writes very well and does not need to be wordy. The writing could almost come off as cold, but it isn’t really. It is just succinct. Why write a paragraph, when one word will work. Using this terse writing style, he explores themes of love, loss, moving on, and assassination and morality in equal measures throughout the book.

You would think that with a plot like the assassination of Adolph Hitler through time travel via a for-hire assassin, it would be difficult to add in a romance element to it. But Jason makes it work rather well. Again the romance is bare bones, but the emotions are subtle, raw, and very thoughtful.

His protagonist is an interesting choice for the story. He set him as an assassin who kills without qualms on a daily basis without the worry of legal or moral ramifications. However, throughout the novel, he shows morality, and empathy and even longing in other areas of his life. The leads the reader to think of him as a walking, talking, killing contradiction. How can the reader have compassion for his plights and cheer him on in his quest to assassinate Adolph Hitler at the same time? It is a conundrum, but it happens very quickly. Although, calling him a likable character would do him a disservice. You do kinda like him. He has a very macabre sense of humor that we get little wisps of throughout the story. Even with his sparse lines, he says much in the “in-between” panels.

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Kill Hitler. http://www.goodreads.com

What humor there is very macabre and very dry, skimming the line of the ironic. In one scene the assassin is working in his office, that looks very much like a doctors office. He has a line of customers (patients) waiting patiently to see him. The whole scene is bathed in irony and macabre humor.

Graphically, again the panels are very spare. A limited color palette is used, as well as a very sparse, very flat linework. The main characters are humans, with cartoonish animal heads. You can tell that Jason was very much influenced by the Ligne Clair comic style, à la “Adventures of Tin Tin.” “(Ligne Claire) Uses clear, strong lines all of the same width and no hatching, while contrast is downplayed as well. Cast shadows are often illuminated. Additionally, the style often features strong colors and a combination of cartoonish characters against a realistic background. All these elements together can result in giving comics drawn this way a flat aspect. (wikipedia.com)” Jason nailed this style.

Conclusion

Read it, it will take you an hour at most. Jason comics are among the best graphic novels have to offer right now. They are profound without being egotistical and pompous. Jason gets you thinking about things without it clouding over your day. They are perfect.

“Ligne Claire.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 June 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ligne_claire.

Graphic Novel Review of “American Gods Volume 1: Shadows (Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: The Shadows #1-9)”

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Russell, P. Craig et al. American Gods.

Stats

4 out of 5 Stars
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by Dark Horse Books
Original Title American Gods, Volume 1: Shadows
ISBN 1506703860 (ISBN13: 9781506703862)
Edition Language English

Summary

“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”

― Neil GaimanAmerican Gods

30430From the publisher, “Shadow Moon gets out of jail only to discover his wife is dead. Defeated, broke, and uncertain where to go from here, he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who employs him to serve as his bodyguard–thrusting Shadow into a deadly world where ghosts of the past come back from the dead, and a god war is imminent.

Collecting the first nine issues of the American Gods comic book series, along with art process features, high res scans of original art, layouts, character designs, and variant covers by BECKY CLOONAN, SKOTTIE YOUNG, FABIO MOON, DAVE MCKEAN, and MORE!”

My Thoughts

“Hey,” said Shadow. “Huginn or Muninn, or whoever you are.”

The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes.

“Say ‘Nevermore,'” said Shadow.

“Fuck you,” said the raven.”

― Neil GaimanAmerican Gods

6050678-07Reading “American Gods Volume 1” was a challenge for me. It wasn’t due to the source material or anything like that. It is hard for me to remove my personal bias towards anything that is not the book. I have a similar difficulty with movies where I love the book. American Gods is a brilliant bit of urban fantasy. I mean it is Gaiman, so of course it is. Everything the man touches is fantastic.  The man could write a jingle for a used car salesman, and it would be magic.

This graphic novel was able to add magic to an already magical and well-done story. Since the prose is pretty much word for word of the source material, the magic was in the form of the stupendous graphics that were done by Scott Hampton and many others.

Much like a cinematographer, Hampton added atmosphere and aura to the words and gravitas of the scenes. He used a combination color palette of muted colors and psychedelic hues.  Some scenes, depending upon the action going on took a somber tone that matched the narrative. Other scenes, when the magic was buzzing, the images blaze off the page like a kaleidoscope of otherworldly colors. The whole story seems like a fever dream in a lot of ways. It is beautifully done and effective.

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Other illustrators took a hand in this volume, and they read like a who’s who in current famous comic illustrators and designers. They drew various vignettes and variant covers in their respective styles. Becky Cloonan from “Gotham Academy” fame and Fabio Moon who designed one of my favorite graphic novels of late, “Daytripper, ” among others.  The story lends itself well to many design interpretations, and this was demonstrated well here.

Conclusion

“All your questions can be answered if that is what you want. But once you learn your answers, you can never unlearn them.”

― Neil GaimanAmerican Gods

Volume 1 is grandly done. If you are a fan of the book or TV show, it can only add to your personal experience, and that is saying something. Most of the time, movies, and graphic interpretations screw it up. “American Gods Volume 1” is thankfully not one of those instances.

Graphic Novel Review – Revival, Vol. 1: You’re Among Friends (Revival #1) by Tim Seeley

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Stats

4 out of 5 stars
Paperback, 128 pages
Published December 12th, 2012 by Image Comics (first published November 1st, 2012)
ISBN 1607066599 (ISBN13: 9781607066590)
Edition Language English
Series Revival #1
Setting  Wausau, Wisconsin (United States) 

Awards

Harvey Awards Nominee for Best Artist (for Mike Norton)

Best Writer (for Tim Seeley)

Best Cover Artist (for Jenny Frison) (2013)

About

“Subtitle to the book is “A rural noir by Tim Seeley + Mike Norton”

For one day in rural central Wisconsin, the dead came back to life. Now it’s up to Officer Dana Cypress to deal with the media scrutiny, religious zealots, and government quarantine that has come with them. In a town where the living have to learn to deal with those who are supposed to be dead, Officer Cypress must solve a brutal murder, and everyone, alive or undead, is a suspect. The sell-out hit series created by NYT Bestselling author TIM SEELEY and Eisner winning artist MIKE NORTON is collected with bonus material!”

My Thoughts

Revival is one of those odd little gems that you accidentally discover while searching for something to read. I started it on a whim and knew absolutely nothing about it.

It is gorgeous.

It calls itself a “rural noir” whatever that means, and has tinges of the supernatural. But really, it is a story about people put into unusual circumstances. Zombies sound trite. Shuffling dead people who want to eat your braaaaaains.  Zombies seem very overdone as a literary device, but this story puts some excellent twists on things and turns the genre on its head a bit.

“We stood up on two legs
And raised our heads above golden grass
He was there

We sharpened stone and steel
Used tools to harvest grass, beast and brother
He was there

We clustered together
In brick and mud swarming with rats and plague
He was there

We built nations and mistrust
Our fingers hovered over the red button
He smiled

Still we build
To rise above the golden grass
Away from the reach of his scythe

When he will harvest no more”
― Tim Seeley, Revival, Vol. 1: You’re Among Friends

The story is also slightly of the horror genre, slightly urban fantasy. Definite chills and shivers here in there.

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Shudder-inducing panel.

Check it out if you love deep characters and a little supernatural spice in your reading. Fair warning, this is a very adult, very very graphic novel where lack of blood and splayed organs are not an issue.

Graphic Novel Review of “Fell, Feral City” by Warren Ellis #bookblogger #bookbloggers #amreading #graphicnovel

“Ain’t no Jesus in Snowtown, Detective.”
― Warren Ellis

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Stats

4 out of 5 stars

Paperback, 128 pages

Published June 5th 2007 by Image Comics (first published September 2005)

Original Title Fell (issues 1-8)
ISBN 1582406936 (ISBN13: 9781582406930)
Edition Language English
Series Fell #1-8

Awards

2006 Nomination – Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series

2006 Nomination – Eisner Award for Best New Series

“Ain’t no Jesus in Snowtown, Detective.”
― Warren Ellis

About

From the publisher, “Detective Richard Fell is transferred over the bridge from the big city to Snowtown, a feral district whose police investigations department numbers three and a half people (one detective has no legs). Dumped in this collapsing urban trash zone, Richard Fell is starting all over again. In a place where nothing seems to make any sense, Fell clings to the one thing he knows to be true: everybody’s hiding something.”

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My Thoughts

“Cause a cop asking a guy for a discount on his crack, that’s screwed up.
Sign of the goddamn apocalypse is what that is.”
― Warren Ellis, Fell, Feral City

“Fell” was written in 2006 as an experiment by author Warren Ellis to make serial comics more affordable. Sadly the experiment was short-lived, and no episodes have been published since the original 9. That being said, Fell is a worthy ready. Each book is a single story that takes place in Snowtown centered around Detective Richard Fell. It is dark and gritty, and very bloody. There is no real story closure or central theme other than watching Detective Richard Fell. Imagine a pseudo-Sherlock Holmes mixed with Spider Jerusalem from “Transmetropolitan”. It’s absurd but effective read and worthy of consideration. Check it out. Fair warning though, right now there are a lot of hard and awful things going on in the world. If you do not want to briefly delve into some of the dregs of humanity in story form I might give this story a pass.

Novel Review – Night and Silence (October Daye #12) by Seanan McGuire

The world had changed. The world wasn’t changing back.

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Awards

None specifically for this novel, yet. However, Seanan Mcguire has won numerous Nebula, Hugo, and Pegasus awards for her novels.

About

From the publisher, “The twelfth installment of the Hugo-nominated, New York Times-bestselling Toby Daye urban fantasy series! Things are not okay. In the aftermath of Amandine’s latest betrayal, October “Toby” Daye’s fragile self-made family is on the verge of coming apart at the seams. Jazz can’t sleep, Sylvester doesn’t want to see her, and worst of all, Tybalt has withdrawn from her entirely, retreating into the Court of Cats as he tries to recover from his abduction. Toby is floundering, unable to help the people she loves most heal. She needs a distraction. She needs a quest.

What she doesn’t need is the abduction of her estranged human daughter, Gillian. What she doesn’t need is to be accused of kidnapping her own child by her ex-boyfriend and his new wife, who seems to be harboring secrets of her own. There’s no question of whether she’ll take the case. The only question is whether she’s emotionally prepared to survive it.

Signs of Faerie’s involvement are everywhere, and it’s going to take all Toby’s nerve and all her allies to get her through this web of old secrets, older hatreds, and new deceits. If she can’t find Gillian before time runs out, her own child will pay the price. One question remains:

Who in Faerie remembered Gillian existed? And what do they stand to gain? No matter how this ends, Toby’s life will never be the same. “

My Thoughts

“The world had changed. The world wasn’t changing back.” ~ Night and Silence

I know that because it is book 12, it seems like it would be hard to jump into the series. It isn’t. Mcguire does an excellent job of providing enough backstory to understand the basics of what is going on. You may not get all the subtle nuances, but you will enjoy the story.

This is my hands down favorite series next to Dresden Files. Much for the same reasons. Both worlds have fantastic characters, great plots, and a wonderfully interwoven universe of fantasy and reality. October Daye is a likable character but more than that, she is a developed character,  especially by book 12. Some writers, after twelve books, rehash the same story over and over. You know exactly how it is going to end every time and it is boring. This series is not like that at all. Twists and turns are Mcguires modus operandi. Book 12 was just as well written and entertaining as book 1, and it is a nod to how well Mcguire writes that she is able to achieve that. Also, unlike a lot of Urban Fantasy out there where romance becomes the main plot the October Daye world has romantic elements, but the stories are never about that. They are formed around a fleshed out problem that she tackles with intelligence and the help of family and friends.

This book is explicitly about family and motherhood. Toby is a mother, but she stepped away from her daughter Gillian and allowed her to remain human as it was what her daughter wished. Toby herself is dealing with the after-effects of what her mother Amandine did to her and Tybalt in the previous book. There is Miranda, Gillian’s stepmom, who is much more complicated than we have seen her in the past. There is The Luidaeg who is a mother of a long-dead race of Fae. All the mothers’ stories intertwine. Gillian is missing, and these women must come together and put aside their differences to save her. Even then, sometimes despite your best efforts things do not work out like we hope they would. It is a painful experience for Toby who just wants her life to go back to being calm.

Many of the plot threads that Mcguire has been weaving since book 1, Rosemary and Rue, are coming to fruition. It is exciting as a long time fan to see forethought that Mcguire has put into this series play out excellently. We learn about The Luidaeg’s back history, more about Tybalt, and most importantly about Miranda. (I am keeping a bit vague as to not spoil anything)

I am bummed I am going to have to wait another year for book 13. This was a seriously excellent addition to the series. Read it from book 1, or 12. Whatever, it is an awesome series and well worth the time and effort.

Graphic Novel Review – “Habibi” by Craig Thompson

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“The Sufi saint Rabi’a Al-Adawiyya was seen carrying a firebrand and a jug of water – the firebrand to burn Paradise, the jug of water to drown Hell…

So that both veils disappear, and God’s followers worship, not out of hope for reward, nor fear of punishment, but out of love.”
― Craig Thompson, Habibi

Stats

5 out of 5 stars
Hardcover, 672 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by Pantheon (first published September 2011)
Original Title Habibi
ISBN 0375424148 (ISBN13: 9780375424144)
Edition Language English

Awards

  • Harvey Awards Nominee for Best Graphic Album-Original
  • Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best Writer/Artist (for Craig Thompson) (2012)
  • IGN Award for Best Original Graphic Novel (2011)
  • CBH – Best Comics of All Time #94

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About

“From the From the internationally acclaimed author of Blankets (“A triumph for the genre.”—Library Journal), a highly anticipated new graphic novel.

Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. We follow them as their lives unfold together and apart; as they struggle to make a place for themselves in a world (not unlike our own) fueled by fear, lust, and greed; and as they discover the extraordinary depth—and frailty—of their connection.

At once contemporary and timeless, Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.”

My Thoughts

 

“You’re more than a story.”
― Craig Thompson, Habibi

When trying to make an argument about why graphic novels are richer, deeper, and more complex than the spandex-clad superhero saving the day; this is the book I hand you. A tome that is nearly 700 pages long and it is filled to the brim with an intricately woven tapestry of middle eastern lore, myth, and culture. It isn’t perfect, but it is incredible.

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First, let us talk about the good and when I say it is good, it is really good. This book, if it is anything else is an ode to calligraphy. Calligraphy or caligraphic images permeate the story and the pages. The shape of calligraphic characters is just as important as the number itself.  The flow and richness of characters and words change form with the direction of the plot. For example, The word for bird changes the shape of the characters and flows into the shape of an actual bird. Caligraphy fills the scenes, gives shape to the plot, gives meaning to the characters struggles, and fleshes out their personality.  The abstractions are weighty and deep but at the center of the swirling calligraphy is a love story. One that spans decades.

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It revolves around Dodola and Zam. Two individuals who at the beginning of the story are eking out an existence on a ship buried in the sand stranded in the desert. To feed them, Dodola prostitutes herself out to traveling caravans to bring food to their home. Zam is said to have the power to find water so his family job is to bring water home to them. Both jobs are equally necessary and symbolic in keeping them alive. Like two halves of a coin, this duality is present in much of the book. Armstrong deftly jumps from character to character creating this universe that they live by switching back and forth chapter by chapter. As the story progresses Dodola and Zam are parted after Zam witnesses Dodola getting raped. Zam, contextually, does not understand what he has seen so he renders himself psychologically. This culminates in a choice that he can never come back from.

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After their parting, each individual desperately yearns to be with the other so that they are complete. By themselves, they represent only half a person or half a soul. Again the theme of duality is present.

It is hard to believe that Craig Thompson does not know calligraphy, nor has he extensively traveled the middle east. His book is a love note to the beauty of calligraphy as much as it is anything else.

Let’s talk about the not so good. This book is long. Exhaustingly over-long. Even worse, it is so intricately detailed that putting it down will culminate in a lost plot for the reader. I feel like he suffers from what I call Jordanism. Aptly named for Robert Jordan who can never get to the damn point. For me, it was too many side stories and rehashing of similar events. But It could have been edited down and it still would have punched me in the gut. But exhaustive detail is an Armstrong characteristic. It was present in “Blankets” and it is present here. It isn’t bad, just know what you are in for.

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Also, there have been write-ups about this being orientalism. I am not going to pretend that I can talk about that effectively. I do not have the experience to be able to relate or review it in that light. However, if you are interested there are scads of articles written about that and regarding Armstrong’s other works. Check it out.

By the end of this book, I guarantee it will be like nothing that you have read before. Whether classifying it as a love story, religious text, or historical doctrine; the story will resonate.  Just know what you are in for. You will be rung out by the end of it.

 

 

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