Veronica Decides to Die – Paulo Coelho

As morbid and depressing as the title seems, this Coelho book takes the usual turn for understanding of the universe and an inspiration for readers to strive not to settle into the kind of routine they don’t wish to be in.  Coelho’s books have been NY Times Best Sellers and translated into dozens of languages, he’s one of the top selling modern authors.  It just takes one book to understand why, and this book certainly fits into that category.

Veronica is a young woman with a happy life.  She has loving parents and a nice job.  She lives in Ljubljana, the capital city of the newly formed country of Slovenia (after the Yugoslavian civil war). With as many positives points in her life, Veronica found nearly as much sadness.  She believed the routine of her life was inconsequential and secretly vowed to kill herself to leave the world behind.  After feigning sleeplessness, she collected strong sleeping pills and went about the deed.  She slowly fell into a drowsy state, but the peaceful death was not coming, a burning throughout her body led her into a coma and she woke in the infamous Villette hospital for the mentally insane.  Upon waking, the doctor told the girl she would survive, but her heart had taken the toll from the suicide attempt.  The state her heart was in, she could expect a week of life before she succumbed to the death she had wished for.

Not to give too much away, Veronica reluctantly made friends, and rediscovered her passion for the piano.  In fact, her piano playing was said to lift many spirits in the gloomy hospital.  With a week left to live, what would you do? Veronica searched her soul and others joined.  Her weak heart pushed the limits and she found herself having heart-attacks through the week.

In a previous interview, Coelho explained his need to write this book.  He had been put into a mental asylum himself as a young man. Coelho even modeled a character in the book after himself. His parents expected him to become an engineer, but his thirst for writing could not allow him to complete the studies the family expected of him.  He made his way out and the rest is history.

Whether you’re feeling ‘in a rut’ or just enjoy Coelho’s books, this is a good read.  Coelho never lets you down. Enjoy.



The Adventures of Huckleberry Hashimoto – Jack Douglas

A couple of years ago, I saw a simple paperback book listed on eBay, which was selling for over $200.  I was intrigued as I had got into a little buying and selling, so I’ve always kept my eyes out for this book: The Japanese-Jewish Sex and Cookbook and How to Raise Wolves by Jack Douglas.  I’ve never seen the book, but I have found a few other books by the author and I have finally got around to reading one- The Adventures of Huckleberry Hashimoto.

The name of the book is based on a nickname a family friend gave the Douglas’ son, Bobby.  Jack and his Japanese wife, Reiko, (20 years his junior) take their infant son on a summer tour of the Orient in the early 1960s.  The family takes the train from NYC to LA, then a ship from the California coast to Tahiti, fly to Honolulu, then fly to Japan to meet Reiko’s family.  If you can imagine what a comedy writer would write in the 1960s, that just about covers the bases.  He [lovingly] complains about wife, kid, locals, etc.  At one point he even calls a friend’s 16 year old daughter ‘sexy’.  I hadn’t heard of Douglas before these books, but apparently he was a popular comedy writer in those days.  He mentions a lot of ‘famous’ people he knew, but I hardly had heard of any of them.  I think I’ve heard of Jack Paar, but I can’t be 100% on that.

Apart from the apparent change in taboo topics from that era, there were many funny parts of the book.  He tells of the way strangers address each other when approaching on a cruise ship: “Well- We meet again,” (followed by a small chuckle), “You’re not walking a straight line,” and “Well- drunk again!” Douglas tells of a short anecdote of cold coffee in Tahiti.  None of the coffee pots have lids, so it cools faster.  The shipment of coffee pots was separate from the lids, and unfortunately, the lids ended up in Samoa where they were sold, then sold again to tourists as the top of Robert Louis Stevenson’s last coffee pot.

In Japan, Douglas told of how he learned to gain patience as the Japanese side of the family had many customs to adhere to.  One involved the changing of shoes.  Shoes worn outside are not allowed to be worn indoors, so slippers are worn when walking through hallways (bare or stocking feet only in bedrooms), the bathrooms have separate bathroom slippers, then the commode has built in ceramic slippers one has to stand in to do their duty.  Another story involved Reiko buying a hair barrette.  The announced her intentions to her parents, who discussed it with her for 15 minutes.  It was decided. They would buy the hair barrette (four cents).  Then another 15 minute discussion was presented to find where they would go to buy the barrette, and another 15 minutes to decide which store to buy it from.  At the street outside, they had another 15 minute discussion to decide if they would walk the two blocks or take a taxi (walking was decided because it didn’t make much sense to spend more on a taxi than a barrette).  When they reached the market, another 15 minute discussion took place to decide to go a few more blocks to the cheaper market, which upon arriving they found that a four cent hair barrette was no cheaper, and they did not have the gold colored one Reiko wanted.  The shop owner provided drinks and they had another lengthy discussion and it was decided Reiko would get the silver barrette and if she was not happy in a couple of weeks she could return it with a full refund.  They took the taxi home.

This was a book I had looked forward to, though there were some funny parts, I can’t say it was my favorite.  I have another book by him, ready to read, but not necessarily at the top of my list at this time.  It was a short book, a quick read, and I think I will read more of his work one day, but it might be a while before I ‘find the time’ for it.

Nathaniel’s Nutmeg – Giles Milton

In the times of European colonization, the Spice Islands were a hot spot of trade.  The small archipelago is found surrounded by the Philippines to the North, Indonesia to the West, Papua-New Guinea to the East, and Australia to the South.  The islands are protected by reefs and steep, rocky coastlines, but their soils produced a wealth of spices, mainly nutmeg.  In the Sixteenth Century, European nations were pointed in the direction of these islands by traders near India.  Portugal, Spain, Holland, and Britain were the major countries pushing to find the source of the spices, which would reduce their cost and increase their profits, if the ships could survive the journey in between monsoons, hurricanes, and a murderous reef protecting the shoreline.

Nathaniel’s Nutmeg took a strong focus in the English accounts of the period, but also provided a lot of Dutch perspective as well. These were the two main forces battling for control of the small islands.  Stories in letters from the time and company records were used to research and piece together the perilous adventures the seamen made.  While both sides were apt to brutality, this account puts the brunt of accusation on the Dutch, who even forced false confessions of an English uprising through relentless torture in Amboyna.

The book’s namesake, Nathaniel Courthope, a British subject, held control of the island, Run. For over four years, his forces starved as the nearby islands were controlled by the enemy Dutch forces.  With three ships left in the harbor, guns unloaded to fortify the island, two sailed away to secure provisions and were captured by the Dutch.  Nathaniel was trapped.  He attempted to sneak over to a nearby island to rally some troops and he was ambushed in the middle of the night in his small boat, never to be seen again.  The handful of British men left on Run gave up the island to the Dutch unopposed.

Much of the world’s history has been involved in the tale of these small islands. The book delved into the stories of adventures to find the fabled shortcuts to the islands, the Northeast Passage and Northwest Passage.  It told the story of the creation of the East India Trading Company, and the Dutch East India Trading Company, better known as the Seventeen.  It also told of how the Dutch and British came to a final agreement to settle ownership of the spice laden island of Run.  British forces captured New Amsterdam in the late Seventeenth Century, and both sides agreed to hold the respective colonies they acquired and to give up claim for the lost land in the Treaty of Breda.  This gave the English full sovereignty of New Amsterdam, which they quickly renamed New York and the rest is history.

The book was well researched and told of many aspects of the adventures seeking fortune in the spice trade.  With over two hundred years of stories, it was at times difficult to follow all of the names of the merchants and captains, along with the names of the distant islands, some now so small and insignificant they are hardly mentioned on maps. Even so, I really enjoyed learning about this subject and the book was a good source for that.


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