Profile for S. Becker > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by S. Becker
Top Reviewer Ranking: 442,859
Helpful Votes: 23

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Amazon Communities.

Reviews Written by
S. Becker "sminismoni" (Australia)
(REAL NAME)   

Page: 1 | 2
pixel
Sputnik Sweetheart
Sputnik Sweetheart
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.96
39 used & new from CDN$ 5.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How love changes everything, July 16 2004
This review is from: Sputnik Sweetheart (Paperback)
This is the second novel I have read by Haruki Murakami, and Sputnik Sweetheart has many of the key ingredients of his other works. The narrator is a benign twenty-something male. The girl he is sweet on disappears without a trace. An enigmatic older woman, with a bizarre past, helps him look for her. Greek islands, the idea of escaping into wells and several cat stories make an appearance.
But what made this book different was the real feelings of the characters. They were raw, vunerable and exposed. The three main characters made up a loose love triangle. They were each in love, concerned and anxious about it. Wondering if they should make a move. Confused about their identities and the meaning of life. Living with the thought "if only........"
This book stirred up a lot of thought in me. The discussion of themes like identity, happiness, and purpose in life was really moving. If this is your first Murakami book, you will love it. For those who are familiar with his work, you may have to simply ignore the fact that Murakami uses a character template to display his brilliant themes.

Pavilion of Women
Pavilion of Women
by Pearl S. Buck
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from CDN$ 4.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story about family, duty, and personal growth, June 11 2004
This review is from: Pavilion of Women (Paperback)
Pearl S. Buck's novel tells the story of the Wu family in pre-communist China. Nobel and respected, they have lived for generations in the same tradition. Madame Wu is the mistress of this household, her whole life spent fulfilling the duties of her sex - ministering to her husband, bearing sons, dealing with servants, maintaining a smooth order in the house. But she is intelligent and deeply emotional, and has felt caged by an existence where everyone else come first.
So on her fortieth birthday, Madame Wu decides to "retire" from her duties, to find time for herself. She arranges matters in the house like pieces on a chess board - procuring a concubine for her husband, and marrying off her children, hoping they will no longer demand her attention. But her retreat brings only emptiness, until a foreign priest enters the house to tutor her son.
What follows is not a typical "forbidden love" story. Instead, "Pavillion of Women" uses the plot to explore themes of identity, self-love and what our connections with other people really mean. Madame Wu finds that freedom doesn't mean running away from duty. It involves learning to love herself first, setting her spirit free. It is then that she is able to return to her duties with a new sense of content.
The conflict between responsibility to the group and personal freedom is played out in the family, as a microcosm of China as a whole at the time. But the issues here transcend time and culture - most of us will be able to relate to them. The book is beautifully written, and I recommend it if you want a story that makes you think.

Tsar: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandra
Tsar: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandra
by Peter Kurth
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 31.19
12 used & new from CDN$ 8.44

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Glossy, sumptous record of a lost world, May 14 2004
This large coffee table style book is essentially a visual record of the last Russian Tsar and his family. It features page after page of large photos - the famous black and white family album shots, many not-so-famous pictures of the family at home and their friend and relatives. These are interspersed with colour photographs of relevant locations (e.g. Alexander Palace, site of the former Impatiev House), which are absolutely stunning purely from a visual point of view. Photos of personal objects that belonged to the family - jewelery, letters and toys are also included.
Along with the photos, there is an accompanying text that tells the basic story. It covers the Romanov saga right from Nicholas and Alexandra's childhoods, to their marriage, children, Rasputin, the revolution and the modern day sequel to their story. It is not an academic work, and the information is broad and somewhat lacking in detail. For information on the last Tsar, there are numerous biographies which would serve the inquiring reader better.
But as I said, this is a coffee table book for the lay person.
It is like the "creme caramel" of the Romanov library. Rich, indulgent, a must have, but definately not the main course.

Dune
Dune
by Frank Herbert
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.25
54 used & new from CDN$ 0.40

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A classic perhaps, but certainly not a masterpiece, May 3 2004
This review is from: Dune (Mass Market Paperback)
This sci-fi classic tells the story of the planet Arrakis (otherwise known as Dune). It is a barren place, mainly desert, and water is scarce. But in the sand is a precious spice that controls inter-planetary travel, and everyone wants control. The plot concerns two nobel families, the Atreides and Harkonnens, who fight it out for rulership of the planet. But there is a third, unpredictable force in the form of the native Fremen, who have a plan for Dune all of their own.
The story starts quickly, with relationships and loyalties tested as the main characters take sides. There is intrigue, fighting and double-crossing. But after the initial momentum, the plot slows to a crawl. After a narrow escape from death, the main character is exiled, hiding from those out to kill him. He shelters in the desert with the natives, transforming himself into a mystical demi-god to get them on side for the ultimate battle of revenge. There is more talk than action, and the characters spend a lot of time explaining and analysing the planet Dune, and how it determines their own culture and religion. It goes on like this for the next 350 pages.
When the final battle comes, Frank Herbert dodges the responsiblity of actually describing it. The preparation is outlined, but then the action cuts off the very moment the forces rush into enemy headquarters. The very next scene is the surrender, the terms and conditions of which are described in exhaustive detail. At this point, "Dune" abruptly ends in a massive anti-climax.
Dune is a classic, and as such, should probably be read by any sci-fi fan. However, the book never reaches it's full potential. The themes and plot laid out at the beginning are promising, but they quickly drift into nothingness. By the time you reach the end, you may find that you hardly care about what happens to Dune.

Illustrated Textbook of Paediatrics, 2e
Illustrated Textbook of Paediatrics, 2e
by Graham Clayden
Edition: Paperback
21 used & new from CDN$ 0.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Succinct, easy to understand, comprehensive., April 25 2004
I used this book for my paediatrics rotation in medical school in Australia, as did many of my colleagues. If you are doing a short stint in paediatrics (2-3 months), this book is short enough to go through cover to cover in that time, while still covering everything you need to know to diagnose and treat children once you graduate.
The book covers everything from neonatal problems to adolescence. Basics like common childhood respiratory complaints are covered, as well as rarer things like neuromuscular and genetic disorders. The chapters are divided into systems: gastroenterology, cardiology, behavioural problems, genital and renal etc. The first chapter is also an excellent introduction to history taking and examination (especially how paediatric examination differs to adults).
All the major concepts are presented in a succinct, easy to understand manner. From a study point of view, the book is nicely set out, with lots of photos and coloured diagrams. This book would suit any senior medical student doing paediatrics, and also residents who need to brush up before a paediatrics term.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
by Patrick Suskind
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
47 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars The witty, horrific, sad tale of a perverted soul, April 11 2004
This is the story of an orphan in 17th century France, Grenouille, who is possessed of an extraordinary sense of smell. He can smell a person coming before he can see them. He can pick the constituents of a perfume by one whiff, and their proportions. As if in recompense for this, he lacks most other basic human senses. He does not feel fear, pain, is unable to become attached to other humans, and ironically, has no personal odour.
Thus "Perfume" tells of Grenouille's attempts to use his sense of smell to make up for what he lacks, particularly the feeling of love. He has been exploited and patronised through most of his life, enduring it only in the knowledge that he will one day be a great, admired man, by creating a personal scent that people cannot resist. And he goes to extraordinary lengths to create this unique personal odour - as the book says, he is a murder. Collecting the personal odours of others and blending them for his own use.
And he succeeds. Where before he was not noticed by anyone, now people loose control in his presence. But in the end, what he thought would make him feel loved, only leaves him contemptous of those who are tricked by his scent.
Grenouille is cold-hearted, self-absorbed and has no regard for animal or human life. The violence is not portrayed graphically, but you get the import of it nonetheless. You will shake your head, unable to understand how someone could be so totally devoid of emotion. Seeing murder as no more than picking a flower for a perfume. But in the end, you pity Grenouille, because he failed in elliciting love, which is all he really ever wanted.
The book is written in a witty, easy to read style, and most of the content is anecdotes of Grenouille's childhood and working life. What made him want, and need to do what he did. Perfume keeps it's pace well, not flagging, and overall it is a highly highly entertaining, original read.

Jude the Obscure
Jude the Obscure
by Thomas Hardy
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars The most depressing book I have ever read BUT......., April 10 2004
Having said that, I think reading Jude the Obscure was a worthwhile experience.
It concerns the young man Jude, stonemason by trade, who dreams of a university education. His hopes and dreams are high at the beginning of the novel. But a series of events ensures that life does not have happiness in store for him. His academic aspirations are thwarted, he marries a vain girl in a moment of lust, and watches his real love - Sue - marry another. When he finally gives everything up, job security, social respect, his ambitions, to live with Sue "in sin", there is a brief, uncertain ray of happiness on them before tragedy stikes again.
The emotions I went through while reading Jude's journey and ultimate disappointment in life were intense. I felt despair, sadness, shock, and was ultimately left feeling quite bitter about his plight. BUT, I enjoy reading books that wrench out your heart and make you feel deep emotion, whether happy or not. Few books do that well in my opinion. That fact that Jude the Obscure did that for me, even though the emotions were negative, was the reason I gave it 5 stars.
If you don't like being depressed by what you read, it is probably wise to avoid this one. If, however, you want a truly momentous emotional experience, you should definitely take time to read Jude the Obscure. Just be aware that the feelings it arouses are not pleasant, but it will definitely leave you deeply moved.

Beloved Tie In
Beloved Tie In
by Toni Morrison
Edition: Paperback
59 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars I don't like being patronised by fiction, April 9 2004
This review is from: Beloved Tie In (Paperback)
I gave "Beloved" 3 stars because it has a theme, which is always a good feature in a book as far as I'm concerned. "Beloved" looks at slavery not only in terms of physical restriction, but emotional restriction as well. It makes the point that slaves were not expected to have human emotions - especially love. Many times the characters tell of families split up, children lost, until they become afraid to love anything at all, except inanimate things that won't disappear (a tree, in the case of Paul D, a former slave). The book also talks about self-love, self-esteem and worth, which was denied them as well. Paul D oftens muses what it means to be a "real man".
The theme is illustrated in the actions of Sethe, a slave who has run away with her four children. She has been able to keep each one since birth, nurture it and love it. She loves them with all the more intensity because she herself has never really known the love of another person or love of herself. So when the slave catchers eventually track her down, she makes a drastic decision. Sethe knows that her children face emotional death at the hands of the white man, and she decides physical death would be kinder. She kills one of her toddlers "out of love".
This theme certainly got me thinking, as I believe it was true and valuable. But when I stepped back from the book, what bothered me about it was the way it was delivered. The undertone seemed to be dogmatic, intended to arouse shame rather than sympathy or understanding. Reading between the lines, I felt like an ignorant child that was being reproved and educated. The author assumed I was apathetic and ill-informed about what happened during the time of slavery in America, and therefore needed pointing in the right direction. So I found the presentation of the theme a little patronising.
Also, the writing was on occasion confusing. Sometimes you had no idea who or what was being referred to, as Ms Morrison tried too hard to sound literary and symbolic. The characters, I felt, were little more than manequins on which to drape the book's message (can't spell, I know). They aroused no emotion in me at all - you would think sympathy for Beloved, killed at the hands of her mother, or for Sethe, forced to make the decision she did. Nope. Not at all. So read this book for the thought-provoking theme, but be prepared to be left feeling a little flat.

The Anatomy of Fascism
The Anatomy of Fascism
by Robert O. Paxton
Edition: Hardcover
12 used & new from CDN$ 13.80

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, even if you don't like politics, April 7 2004
This review is from: The Anatomy of Fascism (Hardcover)
Robert Paxton has written a comprehensive, intelligent overview of fascism in all its forms. Among the topics covered are:
1. A comparison of fascism with the three main political movements that preceeded it: liberalism, conservatism and socialism. It is highlighted that fascism was more about aesthetics and emotion than intellectual philosophy or reason (particularly compared with communism).
2. How and why fascist movements sprang up in certain countries and not others. There is a great explanation of the disillusionment after WWI and the longing for a new sense of national pride in people, which highlighted a political "gap" for fascism to emerge in.
3. How incumbant liberal and conservative governments made political deals with fascist parties out of fear of a communist onslaught. This gave fascisin Germany and Italy political legitimacy.
4. Whether or not fascism still exists today, and if it could make a resurgence. An alternative view of the Israel/Palestine conflict is presented.
This book is written in a highly intellectual style, and yet all the arguments are easy to understand. Each paragraph and chapter flows in logical procession. Little prior knowledge of fascism (or politics in general) is assumed, and the explanations and background information are well presented.
I bought this book as a present for my husband, since I normally read literary fiction, romances etc. The fact that I picked it up and was hooked (finished it before he did), is a testament to it's comprehensible style and content. It will appeal just as much to the lay person who likes to think, as to the scholar in the field. Get it, read it. You won't regret it.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
46 used & new from CDN$ 3.39

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Weird events - fine. No reason for them - not fine., April 7 2004
I should start by saying that I usually like bizarre fiction. Well, "Wind-up Bird Chronicle" is certainly that. A "regular Joe" for the main character, surrounded by the weird and inexplicable - psychic sisters named after islands, a healer and her mute son (named after spices), a well with no water in it, and an alternative reality set in a hotel.
The beginning of the book sucks you in, written in a crisp, modern style, with no high-brow literary waffle. Very quickly you realise that something strange is happening to our "normal" protagonist, Toru Okada. The events don't seem to be connected in any way, but they are portrayed as clues, and you are batting for Toru to figure them out. The random, bizarre happenings make you excited, curious, desperate to read on.
So then you read on. And on. More strange characters and events get introduced. There are large forays into the Japanese occupation of Manchuria before WWII and gruesome stories of violence there. But still, you think (or rather hope, by now) that this will all be explained. Somehow. But alas, it isn't. And you begin to suspect that many of the things you thought were significant "clues", were actually just there to increase the "weird and quirky" factor.
At the end, several important people and occurances had just disappeared out of the novel (Malto and Creta Kano?), or were left hanging without explanation or resolve. I don't want the meaning of everything spelled out to me, I'm happy to use my imagination to figure some things out. But this book didn't even leave me with a skeleton on which to build my thoughts at the end. Only one of the themes (good vs. evil - how original) was resolved to my satisfaction.
Read Murakami's book for an introduction to his style, read it if the words "Japanese" and "bizarre" in combination sound good. But don't expect to finish it feeling contented.

Page: 1 | 2