Book review: ‘Three Cups of Deceit’ pours a tale of betrayal in education and charity

Jon Krakaeur is one of my favorite writers. I came upon his writings after the age of 25-years, wherein his sense of adventure and independent idealism struck me as honest and relatable. It is through this lens that the betrayal of trust exposed in Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way resonated within me a sense of disappointment and anger after reading the detail of possibility lost.

Greg Mortenson is shown in Three Cups of Deceit to be a cheat, a swindler, a and a dishonest profiteer with little management skill or integrity. Mortenson had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize based on his work in building schools and funding the operation of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan as director and chief fundraiser for the Central Asia Institute.  The idea and potential of this organization is unique in its ability to bring literacy to a population not adequately educated.

Three Cups of Deceit 2(Greg Mortenson)

Quoting from a New Yorker article published at the time Three Cups of Deceit was published:

“[Krakaeur] quotes former C.A.I. employees who are scathing in their criticism of Mortenson, including board members who resigned in disgust. According to Krakaeur, in 2009, C.A.I. spent 1.7 million dollars to promote Mortenson’s books, taking out full-page ads in publications like the New York Times, and chartering private planes for him to attend speaking events.”

Mortenson had published the books Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace – One School at a Time and Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Education in Afghanistan and Pakistan with ghost-writers, pocketing the profits from the book sales. In Three Cups of Deceit, Krakauer argues with testimony that many of the reported facts in Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools are untrue fabrications that never occurred. The program Pennies for Peace is debunked in Three Cups of Deceit after having raised much money through the efforts of educated children in the United States and elsewhere.

Like with many of books written by Jon Krakaeur, Three Cups of Deceit includes Greg Mortenson as a central heroic figure first fighting for an idealistic pursuit and then going astray. The degree of nobility within the character has varied from one Krakaeur book to another, with Mortenson showing us a noble idea while never coming across as honest or particularly leader-like. The details here were distinct enough from other Krakauer books to hold my interest for the length of the work.

Three Cups of Deceit 3(Jon Krakaeur)

I was not overwhelmingly impressed by new journalism in this piece, though I acknowledge wholeheartedly the newsworthiness of the material. I feel the betrayal that underpinned the subject matter in the book. That Mortenson chose not to respond within the framework of the book was disappointing to me. My overall rating lands at a 3.0-stars out of 5 stars.

Matt – Tuesday, February 20, 2018

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Book review: ‘The City of Falling Angels’ falls short of John Berendt’s earlier work

I was first introduced to John Berendt‘s work as an author when I saw the movie based on based on his earlier book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997). The book that forms prompted the screenplay for that movie was Berendt‘s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story. Based on the eccentric characters of the movie Midnight, along with the suspense of the underlying mystery with the city as a strong central character, I was intrigued to get to know a different story as observed and told by John Berendt that would have me as intrigued.

Walking the shelves of a local independent bookseller last fall, I struck upon Berendt‘s The City of Falling Angels, which came out roughly 11-years after the first. This book reflects not a case of suspected murder with different classes of the city of Savannah, Georgia, but instead it focused on the fire that gutted the opera house Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Italy. The city, its people, the stage that the city is for people that live here and visit were all put under a review that in part felt like tabloid tale and part investigative travelogue.

Falling Angels 3(Teatro La Fenice)

The concept of Venice, its history, and efforts that many have undertaken to maintain the antiquities of the city was a large theme underpinning the story of Midnight. Additionally there was the story of the fire and the assignment of cause and culpability. There too was the story of the papers of expatriate authors that lived in Venice, including the intrigue surrounding possession of the papers once he had died. Tales of property holders, conservators of fundraising organizations intent of preserving art and architecture in Venice, and even the death of a homosexual poet in the city all were scrutinized into a large focal point on the character of Venice as tied together by an American that visited, interviewed, and observed over a period of months extending into parts of multiple years.

Berendt worked at his craft not so much as a police detective, an art historian, or a mystery writer as much as he aimed to tell the story of a city from a few interesting mysteries tied together to show the mask and intrigue underlying how the city of Venice functioned with eccentricities and eccentrics. The basic formula that applied in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story were applied to The City of Falling Angels, but for the mystery being a question of arson, who benefited, and why. Add a similarly strong sense of local color and random unrelated history.

Falling Angels 2(John Berendt)

In all honesty, I never read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story while having only seen the movie that was later based on it. I found much of the conjecture in The City of Falling Angels interesting, though I do not find a great desire to go back and read the first book after having read the second. The City of Falling Angels follows a similar formula and premise as the first movie (and presumably book). It feels like the second suffers from using the same premises again.

Another way of saying the last paragraph is that the problem of sequels applies. You lose your audience when you perform the same notion more than once, even if the story deals with different subject matter. For The City of Falling Angels, my rating is 3.0-stars out of 5.0-stars.

Matt – Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book review: Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad found a way

We as readers of Diana Nyad‘s book Find a Way learn that a boldly lived life offers much in terms of striving, sacrifice, and perseverance. While the recently begun 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics reminds us that the life-questing championships sometimes engender disappointments like not competing in an Olympics, the life lessons Nyad teaches us with Find a Way fundamentally get outweighed for Nyad in showing us that life often is about our responses to setbacks.

The Goodreads book review service introduces Find a Way with three life lessons that Diana Nyad carries through much of her determined steps to endurance swim 111-miles from Cuba to Key West, Florida. Those lessons are quoted here:

1.   Never, ever give up.
2.   You’re never too old to chase your dreams.
3.   It looks like a solitary sport, but  it’s a Team.

It did take a team of dedicated support and professional support to finally succeed in crossing the Atlantic Ocean between Cuba and Florida in September 2013. The book that chronicles the five attempts to cross the shark infested waters along with an overwhelming childhood of sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of her stepfather and a high school swim coach were dramatic and compelling of their own accord.

Find a Way 2 (Diana Nyad)

In the October 2015 interview with ABC News when Find A Way was first published, Nyad reflects on some of her fuller life lessons in overcoming that abuse as well as having the tenacity to cross the Atlantic Ocean at age 64. In addition to the endurance of the 111-miles of crossing without stages or sleep, Nyad gets into the pain and mortal fear of death from being stung by jelly fish, the “playlist” of songs that Nyad recalled in her head for timing, and the things that motivate her now that the dream of swimming from Cuba to Key West is behind her. From the ABC News interview:

“Life is short. It is fleeting,” [Nyad] said. “This life that we’re living here on earth has an end, we’re all on a one way street. Why not live it big? Why not live it with dreams and aspirations and be everything you can be? Tap every ounce of potential and courage that’s in you.”

Find a Way becomes a contemplation of a strong will, intelligent support, and strong will in boldly living the hopes rather than the tragedies of life. The narrative style of the book is straightforward and engaging. Diana Nyad offers many life affirmations in ways that make a lot of sense. My rating is 4.0-stars out of a potential 5.0-stars account for much of that uplift.

Matt – Sunday, February 11, 2018.

Time and Place Transcend in the 2013 book TransAtlantic

Colum McCann weaves a transcendental mediation in the book TransAtlantic. This experiment in time, historical figures, and the stories of a maternal line of one family spans the years 1844 to 2012 in a non-linear way, leaping from era to era in North America (Canada and the United States) and the western Europe (Ireland and England).

The reader is immersed in historical fiction with an insight into two British airmen, Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown, making the first non-stop aerial crossing of the Atlantic after the first world war in 1919, Frederick Douglass speaking in Ireland with bewilderment at being treated with human dignity while observing the ravages of the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1849, and finally former Maine Senator George Mitchell helping negotiate the Northern Ireland peace accord between 1995 and 1998. The first movement of TransAtlantic is a meditation on history and identity with two regions connected in spirit and identity.

TransAtlantic 2(Colum McCann)

These disparate events are brought closer together and made more intimate not by any logical connection but by looking around and seeing a single family of ladies on the periphery of Douglass, Alcock, Brown, and Mitchell taking on a larger role in making the world smaller. The second major movement of the book opens with this quote from Wendell Berry‘s poem The Rising:

“But this is not the story of life.
It is the story of lives, knit together,
overlapping in succession, rising
again from grave after grave.”

The historical figures connect to The Rising by being the interconnection of the three threads made by the historical figures. There is Lily Duggan, mother to Emily Ehrlich. Emily Ehrlich is the mother to Lottie and grandmother to Hannah. It is Lily that is moved by Douglass’ words about possibility and freedom that prompts her to head to America with a child who dies in the Civil War. Emily is born of Lily’s marriage to John Erlich.

Emily learns to read and write, and writes a letter of thanks to Isabel Jennings, who had hosted Frederick Douglass in Ireland all those years ago. Emily had asked Jack Alcock to deliver it with his transcontinental flight. Alcock failed in this deliver, and returned the unopened letter from 1919 to Emily ten years later when Lottie with her mother Emily were writing an anniversary story.

Lottie meets a man that she later marries while conducting the Alcock anniversary interview and photo shoot with her mother. The family fortune for Lottie and her daughter Hannah is comparatively small when measured against the wealth enjoyed by Emily. This partly happened because Lottie’s husband was less well-to-do. Hannah’s son Thomas is killed setting decoys for a hunting event at the cottage where she and Thomas lived. As Thomas theoretically died at the hands of soldiers that would swear by the peace negotiated with George Mitchell, Hannah finds some measure of peace after the loss.

Finances grow devastatingly worse for Hannah. Hannah wants to sell the letter written by Emily since it might reveal something that would damage the reputation of Frederick Douglass. The sealed letter was forthcoming with only the mysterious answer of a slight thank you for services offered while visiting the Jennings household. Hannah’s stay at the cottage was further coming to an end, and she waxes reminiscent of the lives of her lady ancestors who came before her:

“The tunnels of our lives connect, coming to daylight at the oddest moments, and then plunge us into the dark again. We return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing mobius strip until we come home, eventually, to ourselves.”

TransAtlantic becomes a contemplation of the endeavors, struggles, and sad tragedies of life. The narrative style of the book will challenge many readers with an intellectualism that almost defies the transcendentalism that it feels like the author, Colum McCann, was pursuing. It feels like this book will mostly be appreciated by bookish, professorial types of readers. As a result, my rating is 3.5-stars out of a potential 5.0-stars.

Matt – Wednesday, January 24, 2018.

 

Vladimir Nabokov’s joke in 1955’s ‘Lolita’

It might sound funny to learn that the first thing that prompted me to read the book Lolita by Russian Vladimir Nabokov was a song by the British pop rock band The Police. The shoddy technique used to rhyme cough with Nabokov starting at the 2:13 mark in Don’t Stand So Close to Me prompted me to go to a 63-year-old book 38-years after the release of the lyric that sparked the interest.

Lolita 2(British pop rock band The Police)

The foreword to the book Lolita by John Ray, Jr., Ph.D. makes it clear that you are about to get into morally objectionable, taboo subject matter of sexual relations between 37 year old Humbert Humbert and 12 year old Dolores “Lolita” Haze. In admiring the execution that Nabokov had in developing something he deems commendably executed, Ray excoriated Humbert Humbert, or H.H.

“No doubt, he is horrible, he is abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, but is not conducive to attractiveness. Hr is ponderously capricious…A desperate honesty that throbs through his confession does not absolve him from sins of diabolical cunning. He is abnormal. He is not a gentleman.”

While obscene terms are not used in this book, the story tells of criminality and obscene thinking and behavior. The fact that this is so clearly the language and thinking underpinning the moral depravity of the subject matter is clearly deliberate from the authorial perspective. As pointed out by reviewer Ian “Marvin” Graye on Goodreads, emphasizing the initials of Humbert Humbert (H.H.) in German initiates the concept that we as readers are the subjects of a joke.

“To this day, I cannot look at Humbert’s initials “H.H.” without pronouncing them in German, “Ha Ha”, and wondering whether the joke is on us.”

The framing of the narrative of Lolita has it that Humbert Humbert was due to stand trial so had the luxury of time to prepare a defense with his lawyer. The detailing of the death of Dolores “Lolita” Haze’s narcissistic mother Charlotte, the ongoing sexual contact between a predatory H.H. and a wayward Dolores across state lines, and H.H.’s murder of Clare Quilty for subsequent sex with Dolores are all tales of confession that we as readers are ostensibly cast as jurors, thus allowing us the “joke” of dignity for working through the moral objections of reading difficult subject matter.

I came to the book Lolita because of a remembered lyric from a song by The Police. The investment in the song was one of less than four-minutes in the random times it would come to the radio. The book prompted an emotional and intellectual investment of a measured duration closer to 12-hours worth of reading. While ostensibly both deal with inappropriate relations, the book feels like it has taken a fuller measure of hurt for prolonging the investment.

Lolita 3(Humbert Humbert words to Dolores “Lolita” Haze)

If the investment truly was one of a joke on the reader, than I feel poorly played as a receiver of the joke. In execution, I must indicate a well-played articulation of language, structure, and the aims of executing sympathy for a character I fully want to consider unsympathetically. That H.H. dies in prison as a part of the novel feels almost satisfying.

I give the book a rating of 3.25-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Movie review of The Shawshank Redemption

A pair of good friends have listed the movie The Shawshank Redemption (1994) in their top ten movies of all time. I am so glad that both my friends Cobra and Airport Friend recommended this movie in their top ten lists of movies because I found an entertaining movie with strong messages of hope, friendship, and perseverance in what Fandango called a “humane prison drama.”

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, The Shawshank Redemption was adapted into the Oscar-nominated screenplay by Frank Darabont. The screenplay itself is based on the Stephen King story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, one of four “novellas” included as part of the book Different Seasons.

The central humanity of the story comes from the growing bond forged over years of incarceration at the Shawshank prison that purportedly exists in New England generally and most likely Maine specifically.

The Shawshank Redemption 2(Andy Dufresne, left, and Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding)

The character Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding narrates the story and plays a large role, both parts portrayed by Morgan Freeman. Red is guilty of the crime that put him behind bars, though acts of common decency through the film make him sympathetic to the movie viewer.

Andy Dufresne as played by Tim Robbins is brought to prison after falsely being convicted of the murder of his wife and her mistress. Dufresne was first imprisoned in 1947 through a false imprisonment, though the truth of this outcome is unclear for the movie viewer through much of the film.

Two of the primary antagonists pitted against Andy and Red are Warden Samuel Norton as played by Bob Gunton and Captain Hadley as played by Clancy Brown. The two authority figures proved themselves corruptible, corrupted, and from their first scene incorrigibly abusive of their bent of religion that they saw fit to proselytize upon a prison population in a false and contemptible way. Norton and Hadley were culpable for two murders, extortion, tax fraud, and other crimes within the prison.

The Shawshank Redemption 3(Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding, left, Warden Samuel Norton, center, and Captain Hadley)

The Shawshank Redemption was not ranked in the Matt Lynn Digital listing of movies prior to this review. The message about common decency leading to redemption is a strongly American story. That those in the wrong were given their comeuppance extends that trope further. From these perspectives, you will complete a viewing pleased satisfied. For this reason, I recommend that you see The Shawshank Redemption soon.

Matt – Tuesday, January 02, 2018.

The Year 2017 in Reading: 35 Books (The Gold Books)

In joining a friend in the aim to read 24 books, or two books per month, you learned with my last blog that we exceeded that goal. 17 books received a bronze rating. On a rating scale of 1-star to 5-stars, Matt with Matt Lynn Digital rated three books with a rating of 4.5 stars or higher.

Ranking at 5.00 stars in 2017 included this one (1) top ranked book that stands alone as the most significant and accomplished book that I read this year:

winesburg-ohio-1

As I said in the opening paragraph of the review that you can link above still holds true for me now.

“Sherwood Anderson really accomplished something in tone, language, structure, and accessibility with Winesburg, Ohio that really tickled me. The detail and insight into character here are contemporary because they influenced 20th century American literature.”

If for no other reason than enjoying a book with honest narrative, consider reading Sherwood Anderson.

Ranking at 4.50 stars in 2017 included these two (2) books:

The truth-telling of Night by Elie Wiesel is the emotionally-wrenching firsthand telling of survival through unspeakable psychological trauma when faced with the most atrocious forms of hate and violence perpetrated by humans against humans.

The overriding purpose of the material in Night is that you need to feel and experience it firsthand to truly emotionally connect; these emotionally real and dark qualities that Wiesel shares honestly with raw detail demand the high-rating granted this book.

Do not allow the lack of detail with the included review diminish your consideration for reading Night. For the graphic and psychologically necessary quality of the learning, engage this book with one or more readings.

night

The ground of The Noonday Demon contemplates entrenched taboos of culture and place from a different though also truth-telling perspective. This firsthand sharing of Andrew Solomon‘s depression, mental illness, and anxiety bring in other people’s experience while also incorporating scholarship. The overriding sense of advocacy combined with sincere attempts to convey the depressive experience connected with me.

The linked review includes perhaps a bit more information than I would want to include if reviewing the book again. Capturing detail on the nature of depression and anxiety, the causes of depression along with Solomon‘s disagreement of said causes, and other subjects like self-medicating, suicide, and the role of society in supporting those who suffer are all relevant advocacy items.

The goal to understand the real human quality underpinning disease makes this sincerely offered book worth the reading. That my high-rating props up the book by advocating for its quality, if nothing else, should offer you some curiosity and interest in reading The Noonday Demon.

Noonday Demon 1

The above listing of books reflects the gold listing of books that I read in 2017. The bronze listing was published on Friday. A silver listing followed yesterday. In a bit more positive tip of the hat to my year in reading than Joan Didion experienced with The Year of Magical Thinking, I found this to be a year of magical reading.

Matt – Sunday, December 31, 2017