Book Review: “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami


(Image courtesy of PopMatters)

This is a blog post from last February – I found it in my drafts and decided to post it.

Murakami is like J.K. Rowlings or Stephen King here, and his books are highly anticipated and sell over 1 million copies in the first few days. It is good to find out for myself, why he is so popular.

I read this book over a cold weekend in February of 2014, which in contrast to his last book 1Q84, is quite short. I could not put the book down and was entertained by the story. Murakami usually has a mystery or plot twists that keep readers wanting more. I have now read four books by him and I see recurring themes, as one reviewer noted, with his Murakami bingo card.The reviewer joked you can always find the same things referenced in all his books, like Murakami always mentions songs to form a sort of a soundtrack for the story. 

After reading however, I wasn’t swept away by the book. The main character, Tazaki, has some serious self esteem issues, that I don’t see happening to a financially successful man in his mid-thirties. He also has some emotional blocks about things that happened in high school, which I cannot believe were not resolved or at least explored more at the time. In the story, the pilgrimage is to go find his high school friends after 16 years to discuss an incident that occurred ended their group friendship.

It is nice to live in Japan and understand more his references to daily life here, and it makes the book more enjoyable. He did insert some “magic realism” with a story about a man who carried “death” in a bag, which really had no bearing on the plot. I got burned out on magic realism after 5 years in Colombia and multiple Garcia Marquez books.

I would recommend the book as it is not a big investment in time and a page-turner.  A special thanks to the former OIS librarian Chieko for getting the English translation so quickly in the library.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Eric Larson

Eric Larson is a New York Times best selling author. His books are unique in that he researches historical events and tells the compelling story by weaving actual diary entries or newspaper accounts into the narrative. This is the second book I’ve read by him, the previous (In the Garden of Beasts) being about the rise of the Nazis in Germany from the viewpoint of the US ambassador’s daughter to Germany at the time. “Dead Wake” refers to the wake left by a torpedo ejected from a World War I German U-boat. It is the tragic tale of the cruise ship the Lusitania, a contemporary of the Titanic. It was one of the largest passenger ships in the world at the time.

The Cunard line Lusitania left from New York in May of 1915 heading for Liverpool. The British ship was full of mostly American and British passengers. At this time, the German submarines, called U-boats, were taking down many ships coming to the UK. They did this to stop arms and other supplies from reaching their enemies in World War I. The German embassy in New York warned Cunard publicly that they would try to sink the Lusitania, but with its vastly superior speed and carrying thousands of civilians, no one thought they were in actual danger. The captain was aware of the possibility and they did take some precautions, but not enough. On a lucky shot, the submarine, Unterseeboot-20, sank the boat, killing thousands of civilians, including women and children. Larson describes daily life on the Lusitania and U-20, bringing the two together on that fateful day in May.

There are several villains in this story, the biggest being the U-20 captain Walter Schwieger, who was on his own in charge of the submarine. I don’t know how he could have lived with himself, knowing that his shot killed entire innocent families. Schwieger got his a couple of years later, running into a British minefield with his submarine. There were some arms being carried on the boat, but not enough to make a difference to the war effort. Why Cunard lines didn’t give the boat more protection, why the British navy didn’t warn Lusitania when they had good intelligence that the submarine was in the area, are beyond me. Cunard takes a lot of the blame for in the name of profit, risking the lives of passengers by traveling in an unsafe area during a time of war. It is somewhat like the recent downing of the Malaysian airlines over the Ukraine.

Some of my other notes and vocabulary words are below:

Those weeks of openhearted American hospitality and forth-comingness, of frankly expressed pleasure in meeting one, did something for me that made a difference to the whole rest of my life.

A British passenger describing her time in the USA.

Vocabulary words I want to use more:

  • milieu – social environment of a person
  • pewter – silver or blue gray
  • deposition – a report of evidence; Deposition – taking Jesus down from the cross

Book Review: Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

During the long flights from South America to Japan, I finished the book, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh. Dr. Marsh is an experienced British neurosurgeon. He is an excellent writer with an rebellious attitude and I really was immersed in his world.

I learned a lot of about the life of a brain/spinal surgeon and it is a tough life. He deals a lot with death and illness, and I know it should be common sense, but when one thinks of doctors, one thinks of high salaries and respect in the community. With that however, comes much responsibility and the idea of going into work and someone’s life depends on your performance that day is awe inspiring. It is a demanding career choice, especially doing delicate operations on the brain and spinal cord.

He went through a lot in his over 30 years of practice. Dr. Marsh has come to some revelations through this and he has some interesting reflections on death, illness and medical care. As with other books I have read about death and illness, much of it is just bad luck. I have only known one person with a brain tumor, a teaching colleague of mine when I was in Australia. I was new to the school and didn’t really know him, but he was on and off at the school while he battled the cancer, eventually ending in his retirement and death. So tragic as he left behind a wife and children. Marsh recalls many emotional stories of people dealing with brain tumors. One story of a bicycle rider reminds me to always wear a helmet!

Marsh is a really Brit, and for those Americans who have spent a lot of time around them, you’ll know what I mean. I had to laugh out loud when he wrote what he learned from his American residents that he trained at his hospital. “…I love their optimism, their faith that any problem can be solved if enough hard work and money is thrown at it, and the way in which success if admired and respected and not a cause of jealousy.” I admire the honesty of the Brits.

It is truly awesome to be able to cut into and work on the human brain. His descriptions of the procedures are amazing. The operating microscopes and technology that allows doctors to cut through the skull and repair the mass of jelly which is the brain is incredible. 25% of our blood from the heart goes to the brain which makes it even more complicated and dangerous. He liked his job because “it seemed to involve excitement and job security, a combination of manual and mental skills and power and social status as well.” He sees medicine as a form of craft, neither art nor science.

Many of the cases are really depressing. When patients are terminally ill, it is difficult to accept it and to decide how to proceed. As he asks, “will I be so brave and dignified when my time comes?” I too wonder about my death. He reckons the perfect death is to die in one own’s home, after a long life, quite quickly, looked after by her own children, surrounded by family and free of pain”

He refers to Daniel Kahneman’s book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and writes that errors of judgement and the propensity to make mistakes are built in to the design of the human brain and gives him comfort in thinking about the mistakes he has made in his career.

He really hates the British public health system and the way modern hospitals are managed. There seems to be a shortage of beds in the UK and I am glad I have private health care, which he also uses. I hope I can afford to keep private health care as I get older.

I am not sure if I would like a job that deals with death and disease all the time. I think I would be good at it however, except for my fine motor skills, which are not great.

Some of the other quotes and vocabulary words I got from the book are as follows:

“…as I become more and more experienced it seems that luck becomes ever more important.”

“…the long working hours and the self-importance it produced in me would lead to the end of our marriage 25 years later.”

“to treat some of the keynote lectures at conferences with a degree of skepticism”

pineal gland – a cone-shaped gland under the brain that releases melatonin, regulating sleep and circadian rhythms. This is known as the “third eye” and some quacks believe the gland can be managed through meditation or other means.

aneurysm – the wall of the artery gets weak and bulges out

pithy – adjective meaning concise and forcibly expressive language

ignominious – causing public shame or disgrace

paroxysms – sudden violent attacks

Book Review: El Cartel by Don Winslow

Being in Latin America for the summer and with El Chapo, the Mexican drug cartel king in the news, I wanted to read something about the drug trafficking business. Don Winslow’s El Cartel fit the bill. It is a novel, but based on years of research on the Mexican cartels, and having lived in Colombia, Bolivia and Venezuela through the years, the book really rang true with me. Winslow certainly knows Latin America. Mexico despite being neighbors with the USA, is one of the few countries of Latin America, I do not know much about. The novel gave me a good background in the history, politics and geography of the country.

I was shocked at level of sick violence in the battles between the drug cartels. In the novel, it mentions a blog detailing the gruesome and awful violence of the cartels, and in looking at the real blog, Blog del NarcoI immediately was repulsed by what I saw. I could only watch for a few minutes, but there are poor souls being tortured, with beheadings, limbs being chopped off, etc., This is much worse than what I saw in Colombia in the 1990s when I was living there and on the level of the ISIS thugs.

The book got me thinking again about the “war on drugs”. I have seen the effects of this first hand in Latin America and with more America putting more people in prison per capita than any other country, it does not make sense to continue down the path of prohibition. If I was czar of the US, I would legalize all the drugs involved in the trade, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines and even prostitution. When these products are illegal, it brings high profits (fact – cocaine alone is a $30 billion market in the USA annually and a kilo of cocaine costs over $50,000 in Europe)) and violence and a corruption of societies. The money and efforts being spent on curtailing this can be used for better purposes. The author came to the same conclusion and explains some of this in a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. He mentioned the large percentage drop in the Mexican cartel’s profits from legalization in Colorado and Washington.

Winslow is a thriller writer so the 600-page novel has lots of action and not much analysis or deep philosophical or emotional insights into human nature. It does give some basic background on the politics of Mexico which made me do some more research on the history of the country. I really want to make a visit to Mexico someday!  There are a few tidbits however:

  • “how corrupt does a society have to be when its citizens need to get high to escape their reality, at the cost of bloodshed and suffering of their neighbors?”  – The eternal question of the drug trade, who is more to blame, the users or the producers?
  • Drug cartel members are “sociopathic murderers whose sole contributions to the culture has been the narcocorridas sung by no-talent sycophants.” – It is sad that Latin America is known for the drug trade when it does have great writers, actors, artists, musicians, etc.
  • “So it’s chaos here now, and the people who pay the price for it are the people who always do, and who can least afford it – the poor, the powerless, the ones who can’t lock themselves up in gated communities, or commute from El Paso” (describing the  effects of the drug war in the border city of Juarez)

New vocabulary

  • pocho – An Americanized Mexican
  • ennui – pronounced an-wee, listlessness
  • inchoate – pronounced (in-ko-it), newly formed, not quite ready
  • assignation – a secret meeting with a lover

In Favor of MSG

Bags of MSG on the shelves of the local supermarket.

Since moving to Japan I have been bothered by the possibility of effects of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) in my diet. I was reminded of this when I saw packs of MSG on the shelves of the Fidalga supermarket here in the barrio Las Hamacas. I know that MSG associated with Chinese, Japanese and other Asian cuisines. There has been lots of negative press towards MSG and Chinese restaurants in the US advertise as being “MSG-free”.

I was relieved to listen to The Gist podcast, The Telltale Story of MSG. I trust Slate and Maria Konnikova because she has read the research studies done on MSG. Basically, she tells us that MSG is not bad for us. It is found naturally in tomatoes, parmesan cheese, mushrooms among other foods. It is the umami taste. MSG was first isolated and identified in seaweed, as scientists were wondering why it tasted so good.

I now feel better about MSG and am a bit annoyed at people overreacting and creating a scare about it. I guess that is human nature and is true in many human endeavors, not only in eating healthy.

Pope Francis: From the End of Earth to Rome

Marc Chagall’s 1938 “White Crucifixion”

With Pope Francis (Papa Francisco) visiting Santa Cruz this week, I have been thinking about the Catholic church and his work in the church. I was raised in a devout Catholic family so know much about the church. I read the perfect book to coincide with his visit. “Pope Francis: From the End of the Earth to Rome” by the staff of the Wall Street Journal. The electronic book was about 200 pages, more than a cover story in the paper, but less than an exhaustive biography. It gave me the perfect amount of information I wanted about his life, his beliefs, how he became pope and the future of the Catholic church. I highly recommend it.

The citizens of Santa Cruz went a bit crazy for the pope’s visit. I think in part because the city is up and coming and someone of his stature coming to visit here was a novelty, in part the strength of the catholic church in Latin America and finally, Pope Francis is a charismatic leader who champions the cause of the poor and is from neighboring Argentina. The president declared a national holiday yesterday in honor of his visit.

Mario Bergoglio is from Buenos Aires Argentina, the son of Italian immigrants. Like many immigrants to the Americas from Europe, his family was fleeing poverty in between the wars of Europe. The thing that impresses me most about his career in the church as a priest and bishop, is his dedication to the poor. He is a Jesuit, the largest order of over 17,000 priests, and they are known as the “foot soldiers” of the church, going out into the community. Father Bergoglio worked in the worst neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, helping single mothers, drug addicts, gang members, etc. For someone to devote their life to the service of others, especially the most downtrodden in our society, is something to be admired. It makes me inspired to do more for the poor. It is also essential for humanity to be focused on income inequality. I certainly saw it in Los Angeles and it is even more dramatic here in Santa Cruz.

When he became pope, he has continued faithful to his beliefs, getting rid of the ceremony and emperor-like trappings of being the pope. He lives in a simple apartment, dresses simply and takes public transport often. The Vatican has the economy of a mid-sized European country ($7.8 billion in assets).

I liked also that he was the rector of Colegio Maximo, Argentina’s top Jesuit school. Some of the priests complained that he brought in lay professors who were generally more conservative than many of the progressive Jesuits wanted. It is tough to be the head of school. I like his management style, personally being involved in many aspects of the church, tackling tough issues and dealing with the big problems of the church today and being accessible to all. This is what the catholics need in a leader. He also has many interests and is well-read and thoughtful.

The book discussed the future of the catholic church. In Europe and the USA, it is dying because of people are more secular due to high economic status and in my opinion, a more informed life with the rise of the internet. The catholic heartland is Latin America, where most everybody is catholic. The evangelical protestant churches, like the Seventh Day Adventists, the Mormons and others have made inroads here in Latin America, because they are more like the Jesuits. They deal with everyday lives and are out meeting people. This has gained them a following and several of Nadia’s friends are no longer Catholic, but have become evangelical.

I have a hard time believing in the dogma of the bible as an educated person, but I do believe in humanity and want to see social justice and the church can help in this area. I am much more liberal in thought than Pope Francis, who is center-right conservative, but we are in agreement to call for “health, food, education, housing and work guaranteed for all” and to fight rising income inequality. I think the church can grow and do a lot of good in this area.

It was interesting to read about his time as a priest during the Argentina military dictatorships of the 1970s. He is criticized for his lack of action towards the leaders, but it was a tough time and I am not sure how much he could have done. I would like to read more about this time in Argentina’s history.  The book also touched on the child abuse scandals of the church, and it didn’t put him in a good light in his handling of these situations. I don’t know enough about it to comment.

The new vocabulary I learned in reading the book, or words I want to use more often follow:

  • rector – the head of certain universities, colleges and schools
  • raconteur  – a person who tells anecdotes in a skillful way
  • catechism – a series of fixed questions, answers or precepts used for instruction in other situations
  • anathema – something or someone that one extremely dislikes; a formal curse denouncing a movement or excommunicating someone
  • ombudsman – person who investigates citizens’ complaints against a government/administration/organization

Latest Reading: “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea”

During the fall break holiday, I completed Barbara Demick’s book about North Korea. Demick. She is the Los Angeles Times Beijing bureau chief. Nothing to Envy focuses on the lives of six North Korean defectors over 15 years. They are all from the city of Chongin, an industrial port city near the border with Russia and China. She goes into detail about their lives before they left, their escape and how they got on in South Korea.

I am fascinated with North Korea’s totalitarian regime. I can’t believe that a family can maintain control over an entire country in this century. Nadia and I watched a documentary in 2001 about a North Korean family living in the rural north, who had to send their 5-year old child away to the capital because they couldn’t feed him. It broke my heart then, before I had kids, and seeing it today I would have a stronger reaction.

When I hear of government repression, I always think about the men that are actually doing the repression. Why do they agree to round up ordinary citizens, interrogate them, hold them prisoner in work camps, etc? And to do so just because of one man (Kim Il-Sung) and his descendants?  I understand human nature and resistance to change and their limited experience and perspective, and I marvel at the ability of humans to adapt to circumstances so that almost anything can be regarded as normal. The book made me angry at the North Korean government. The people featured in the book understood the lies, and fought against them, but they were the minority.

It would be nice for the US and other rich nations to help them, but with nuclear capability and a 1-million strong armed force, it would be crazy to interfere too much. Everyone sees eventually the influences of the outside world breaking down the government and them losing control and I predict that it will happen in my lifetime. It will be extremely tough on South Korea, but with economic help from neighbors China, Japan, Russia, and the west, I think they will eventually work it out. Not as fast as Germany because of how low North Koreans are, but they will get there.

I highly recommend the book. I have been reading a lot about Japan and the region and hope to get to both South and North Korea in my time here. Demick also wrote a book about life in one street in Sarajevo during the siege that I would also like to read.

Book Review: “South of the Border, West of the Sun” Murakami

Haruki Murakami is one of the most popular and best known Japanese contemporary authors. His books are best sellers in Japan and are regularly translated and sold around the world. He was born in Kyoto and now lives in Tokyo.

His short novel, “South of the Border, West of the Sun” is the story of the love life of Hajime, an average man born in 1951 in Tokyo. He grew up in nearby Kobe and his mother is from Osaka. The novel traces his life from grade school and his first love when he was 12, to middle age and his marriage and children, and the affairs in between. The narrator owns two jazz bars, like Murakami himself did, and is wrestling with his emotions when meeting his first girlfriend years later, when he is happily married, a successful career, and two healthy daughters. Does he throw all that away, divorce, to be with his old flame? I’ll let you read the book to find out what happens.

The title refers the song, “South of the Border” made famous by Frank Sinatra, and “West of the Sun” refers to Siberian farmers go stir crazy and start walking west on the steppe, and keep walking until they die of thirst and/or exhaustion.

It is a good story and hard to put down. Murakami has a very negative and fatalistic view of life in this book, and other short stories I have read by him. I also didn’t like how secretive the ex-girlfriend was and I don’t think anyone involved with her would tolerate not knowing if she was married and what she did for a living. It does give an accurate picture of life in Japan and after living here a month, I can relate to more of the references in the book. His latest book,Tsukuru Tazaki was a best seller in Japan and is now out in English and he talks about the book in this article in The Guardian.

I always read the local authors in the places I live and will read more of his work. I want to read some of his non fiction works about the sarin gas attacks. It gives me a better understanding of the culture of Japan.

History of Cyprus

Aphrodite’s Rock – Pafos, Cyrpus



My tour of the Mediterranean (Malta and Valencia earlier this spring) ends with our family holiday on the island of Cyprus this week. This is our second visit to the island. Due to the inexpensive flights on the Hungarian budget airlines, Whizz Air, Nadia booked us a week in a resort on the south coast, close to where we stayed last year. I enjoy learning the history and culture of the places I visit and as with all the places in the Mediterranean, Cyprus has a long history. The first settlers reached the island around 6000 BC. Recorded history began with Hellenic settlers forming city-states all over the island beginning in 1400 BC. One of these ancient cites, Amathous, is close to our hotel, and was founded around 1000 BC.

Also similar to other islands in the Mediterranean, a series of outside groups had control for generations through its history. The Persians (Iranians today) ruled for approximately 200 years, although they mostly left the Hellenic city-states alone and just collected taxes. Some of the most famous names in history ruled the island, at least as part of a larger empire. In 333 BC, Alexander The Great released the island from Persian control, and had it part of the Greek Empire. After his death ten years later, Ptolemy I of Egypt took over, and the Hellenistic Egypt administered the island for another 300 years.

The Romans took over in 58 BC, and one of my favorite public speakers, Cicero, was one of its first Proconsuls (like a Governor-General). The Roman General, Mark Anthony gave the island to his lover, Cleopatra VII of Egypt in 40 BC. After they died the Romans took the island back under Roman control. The Romans ruled for 600 years and built roads, aqueducts, and palaces.

The early Christian apostles came to the island from nearby Turkey in 45 AD. The apostle Paul and his local buddy Barnabas (Agios Varnavas in Greek), a Greek Jew, began converting Cypriots to Christianity. Paul is alleged to have blinded a magician for the Roman court for mocking Jesus, which convinced the Roman Proconsul to convert to Christianity and it became the first country in the world to be ruled by a Christian. The practice of Christianity grew, with even Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus, was the archbishop of the Church of Cyprus, which is one of the oldest independent churches in the world. When the Roman Empire split in 395 AD, the Byzantines took over and sent officials from Constantinople to govern the island.

The Arabs started raiding the island in 647 AD. In one battle, the wife of an Arab commander, was the Prophet Mohammed’s Aunt, fell from a mule and died on the shores of a salt lake near Lanarka. The mosque there is now a holy place in the Muslim world. The island was jointly ruled by the Byzantines and Arabs from 688 AD to 965 AD after a truce. This is very similar to today’s arrangement of both “Greek” and Turkish rule. The Byzantines took sole control of the island after that and due to the fighting, many coastal cities were destroyed and inland cities built.

Next up were the Brits, with King Richard the Lionheart (great nickname) taking over in 1184. He was here because of the Crusades and it was used as a Christian supply station for “the front” of the Crusades. He sold it to the Knights Templar (see my post on Malta) who could not afford to keep it and sold it to a French nobleman, Guy de Lusignan in 1192. He founded a dynasty that lasted until 1474. The City-States of Genoa and later Venice ruled the island until 1571.

Islam made an appearance again, this time in the form of the Ottomans, who captured the island in 1571 from the Venetians. I know a lot about Ottoman rule, as it is the same history as in Serbia. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the British came back and took over in 1878, after an agreement ceded the island to Great Britian. The Brits held the island until 1960, when Cyprus gained independence. They kept the Turks and Greeks apart on the island, with a Bosnian-type representative government of 70% Greek and 30% Turk. This only lasted 14 years, as interference from mainland Greece and Turkey, resulted in the Turkish military seizing the northern 37% of the island. Greek Cypriots living in the north fled south and Turkish Cypriots in the south, moved north. The UN came in and set up the famous “Green Line”. No one crossed for almost 30 years until restrictions were eased in 2003. Today it is quite easy to cross the border and we hope to try doing our holiday here.

The island today is similar to its past, being fought over by the Greeks, in the form of a Greek culture independent and EU member Cyprus, and an Islamic side, controlled by Turkey. History repeats itself and this arrangement is similar to when the Persians and Arabs were dealing with the Hellenes or Romans/Byzantines over who got to rule the island. As I feel about all islands, it is common sense to govern them as one entity. The water is a natural border and a protective layer. However, Cyprus is closer to Turkey than it is to Greece, so I see where conflict can arise. I like the idea of a being a separate country from both Turkey and Greece, and have both communities come together as Cypriots. I don’t foresee this happening anytime in the near future.

View from top of Amathus




Latest Reading: Norman Davies “No Simple Victory: WW II in Europe 1939-1945

fter our Christmas holiday trip to Poland, I wanted to learn a bit more about World War II. In Krakow we saw Schindler’s factory and the Jewish Ghetto, and this piqued the curiosity of our children. We explained the war and the Holocaust to them in the long car rides and watched Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List to reinforce their learning.

I chose the Davies book because it concentrated on Europe and it gave an outsider’s view to the war. I grew up with stories from my Dad, who was a boy during World War II and was fascinated with the war and what we were taught in school. I had an American-centric view of the war. Living in Eastern Europe has opened my eyes to a broader view of events.

Most of the war took place in Eastern Europe, specifically Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine. The two major combatants were the Fascist, Nazi Germans against the Communist Red Army of the Bolsheviks. It was a conflict of two great armies led by evil men, Hitler and Stalin, and the results were the deaths of millions of people, both soldiers and civilians, and the loss of opportunities for a good life for several generations of people.

I always thought that it was the Americans who came in and saved the day! I understood that the USA arrived to Europe to save the UK and France and landed on the beaches of Normandy and fought their way to Berlin. And then went on and defeated Japan as well. Davies however, shows with facts and his research and the research of others, that America only played a minor role in Europe. The Soviet Army did the hard work and won the war, not the USA. Most of the 16 million soldier deaths were suffered by the Soviets (9 million) and Germans (4 million). The biggest casualties were on the Eastern Front of the war with Barbarossa, Stalingrad, Leningrad, having over 10 times more deaths than say the Battle of the Bulge, the largest battle the Americans were involved in. The turning point of the war was not D-Day, but the huge tank battle at Kursk in the Ukraine. From that point on, the Germans were on a retreat that would not end until the Russians reached Hitler’s bunker in Berlin. America only contributed to 15 percent of Germany’s war deaths.

The reason most of the war was fought in Eastern Europe, is that the Germans wanted “room to live” and felt that the area east of Germany was meant for them and was filled with a “mix of subhuman and filthy” Slavs and Jews. Being of Slavic origin, I am glad Hitler and the Nazis got what they deserved. The Bolsheviks, the “74-year experiment that wasted tens of millions of lives” also wanted to expand into the area to take Communism to the world. The result were Poland being split into two by the Germans and Soviets, and Belarus suffering the most civilian deaths per capita and Ukraine most civilian deaths total of any country in the war. One example of the cruelty Poland faced was when the Nazis occupied Krakow, they immediately went in and executed the entire faculty of Jagiellonian University, because they felt Poles didn’t require universities, secondary schools, or educated leaders.

Stalin in my opinion was worse than Hitler. His internal purges and war tactics killed many more people than Hitler and the Nazis, even including the 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. In fact, the Stalinist Terror in the 1930s had roughly the same death toll rate (18 million estimated non-military deaths) as during the war in 1939-1945 (6 million non-military deaths). The Red Army used its numbers to win many battles, sacrificing millions of soldiers. Soldiers actually felt freer on the front lines in many cases, facing executions if caught of desertion or cowardice, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Davies describes many atrocities and the disgusting conditions of the Red Army and Soviet policies with civilians. The GULag concentration camps in Russia and Siberia were much larger than Auschwitz or the other big Nazi camps.

I don’t want to downplay America’s contributions to the war too much however. They supply both Great Britain, the Western Allies and the Soviets. They also did keep Germany occupied on two fronts, although I think Russia could have defeated Germany on their own. The USA also defeated Japan in the Pacific theater, which had much less deaths than Europe, and used their superiority in the air and water. However, the US before 1941 did not have much of a military and it took a long time to build up their armed forces to match the Soviets or the Germans. It is ironic today that the US has the largest military in the world. It would be nice to spend the American GDP on something rather than maintaining the military.

I highly recommend No Small Effort. It gave me a better understanding of World War II and the impact of the war on Eastern Europe. I would like to read a similar book (s) on the Pacific Theatre of the war as well.