It’s not easy being a blogger. It means one is supposed to post a photo, a comment or two, a story, a pithy observation, more photos…be present. Sometimes work or family or friends or the gym or cleaning or shopping or sleep keeps one otherwise occupied. And sometimes…it is a completely irresistible book.
Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century by George Packer in this case. What’s so special you may ask? For me it is the history of a time, starting in early days Vietnam and ending with the protagonist’s death a few short years ago. It is Packer’s writing, smart and easy, a story well told about just who we (Americans) are and are not. It is Richard Holbrooke, the brilliant guy, the good guy, the outsize character with outsize flaws; not sure why but I’ve always been interested in him, only as the dashing diplomat, without a whole lot of additional knowledge. It’s all of that.
The first quarter or so of the story concerns Vietnam so it’s not that I’m learning so much new about the big picture (thanks to Ken Burns, Andrew X. Pham, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Tim O’Brien; oh yeah, and living through that time with Dylan as soundtrack) but it is filled with details, vaguely or not at all familiar, that enrage me all over again. Somebody said another of Packer’s books was almost novelistic in the telling and it’s true of Our Man as well; rich in detail and insight and little asides straight from the writer to me, the reader. Packer has written a number of books; I even own another…sadly unread…but now next on the agenda. He’s somebody new to collect from the past and anticipate for the future.
I’m excited to move on in a few minutes into the other adventures and misadventures of American diplomacy in Holbrooke’s lifetime of which I know so much less, especially the Balkans and Afghanistan (I am ashamed to say).
An evening and a whole day lie ahead with only writing and reading projects on the want-to-do list. Living room scrubbed and dusted today, all else put off until next week. There really is nothing as fine as a good book. Yay books, yay weekends, yay life.
And then there was Selma, Last Days in Vietnam, Finding Vivian Maier and Ida. All important, intelligent and wildly different. Selma, an engrossing film from any political historical perspective. Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Baines Johnson as flawed but powerful men. MLK was steadfast in his quest for voters’ rights for African Americans…pretty much. President Johnson was supportive but reluctant…maybe. And yes, as one critic, said, it is more political maneuvering than action, much like Lincoln two years ago, which is a welcome change. Still I wasn’t quite as engaged as I had hoped to be.
Which leads me to Last Days in Vietnam and Finding Vivian Maier. Already talked about Virunga—the best of all—and missed Citizen Four at the Guild. Can’t find The Salt of the Earth. While Last Days in Vietnam is exactly what it says; it is less gripping than one might imagine given all of those old newsreels. It avoids the politics of the era altogether which seemed a little strange to me. Finding Vivian Maier was delightful. There is this ordinary nanny/brilliant photographer, completely unknown, generally rather unlikeable, who collected a mass of photographs of everyday people going about their various businesses that is almost unbelievable in quantity and quality.
Ida, a Polish Jewish Nun. Yes that’s what I said. A haunting tragic story. The Jewish orphan saved and deposited at a Catholic nunnery by the Polish farmers who murdered the rest of her family during the reign of the Nazis. She is in the process of becoming a nun when she learns the truth through a relative. It has the look I always expect from foreign films, maybe because I see too few. None of the emphasis on speed and action and too-muchness of many American films. Ida was the one foreign film I managed to see. I must keep my eyes open and make dedicated plans to go to the Guild more. The only place to see almost anything outside of the main stream in this town. I will. I will. I will. I’m voting for Boyhood for sentimental reasons and Selma for meaningfulness. And The Grand Budapest Hotel for fun-with-history.