Tag Archives: Fiction

The art of suspended disbelief.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: A Novel

Written by: Arundhati Roy

Narrated by: Arundhati Roy


Arundhati Roy characterizes India’s governance in her new novel, “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”.  She pictures India as culturally diverse; however, it is defined by separateness and injustice more than freedom and equality-of-opportunity.

India’s population; not its territorial size, makes it the largest democratic republic in the world.  Roy exposes India’s democracy and its flaws.  The flaws she identifies are reminders of America’s democratic failings.

Without having traveled to India (a trip is planned in February 2018), much of the author’s writing resonates with what is happening in America.  Roy observes Indian society as she lives it.  This is only her second novel in the last twenty years.  With a host of fascinating characters, Roy offers an insightful vision of modern India.  Her writing beautifully describes Indian society while beating democracy with an ugly-stick.

Roy’s writing beautifully describes Indian society while beating democracy with an ugly-stick.

One can personally believe in the value of democracy in the world and still appreciate what Roy says about failures of democracy in India.  A joke that Roy tells capsulizes a major flaw in democracy.  Because of difference among followers of the Muslim religion, Roy illustrates the absurdity of volitional separateness.  A comparable joke in American history might be as follows:

Picture a Union soldier at the beginning of the Civil War with the intention of jumping off Fort Sumter’s wall to his death.  A Rebel soldier sticks his head out to talk the Union soldier off the ledge.

BATTLE OF FORT SUMTER (Picture a Union soldier at the beginning of the Civil War with the intention of jumping off Fort Sumter to his death.  A Rebel soldier sticks his head out to presumably talk the Union soldier off the ledge.)

Rebel soldier: “Where are you from?”

Union soldier: “South Carolina.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I’m a God-fearing Baptist.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe in State’s Rights.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I’m a white American and believe in the superiority of the white race.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe Negroes are unequal to whites.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe a woman’s place is in the home.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe in majority rule for States’ Rights.”

Rebel soldier: “Me too.”

Union soldier: “I believe in a federalist government that makes States stronger and guarantees life, and liberty for all.”

The Rebel soldier leans over and pushes the Union soldier off the ledge.


In contrast, Roy’s story is about two Indian Muslims that are the same on most levels.  However, as each layer of similarity is revealed, a singular difference compels hostility, imprisonment, injury, or murder.  That theme carries through in every character in “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”.  The irony of Roy’s title resonates in each chapter of the book.

In the beginning of Roy’s story, a family has their first boy child.  The child is born with both male and female parts.  The mother conceals the child’s circumstance from the father until the boy begins to exhibit a desire to be a girl.  The girl is rejected by her father.  She seeks refuge in a house where other hermaphrodites live.  She grows to adulthood but becomes isolated from Indian society.  She is an extraordinary woman who establishes an outcasts’ haven in a cemetery that attracts equally shunned Indians.  (One is reminded of the many minorities in America who are driven to similar non-judgmental enclaves.)


Roy’s novel reflects on relations between India, Pakistan, and China in Kashmir.  She notes Muslim influence throughout India that sharply differentiates the majority Hindu population in India from the Muslim majority in Kashmir.  The complexity of Kashmiri society pits Muslim against Muslim, Hindu against Muslim, Asian against Muslim, Pakistani and Chinese against Indian.  The irony is that this is democracy.


The ideal of democracy is to meld different cultures into one multi-cultural and accepting society with a belief in a common good.  However, human nature gets in the way.  The drive for money, power, and prestige is unleashed by democracy in ways that separate cultures from humanity.  The rich become richer at the expense of the poor.  Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Hubris qualifies one child for Harvard; another for military service, community college, or poverty row.

AFTERLIFE (Death is a belief of a beloved that no one is missed because they are always with you. )

Roy’s novel is about life and death.  No one ever dies in her story; i.e. they just move on.  Death is belief of a beloved that no one is missed because they are always with you.

Roy’s story is not written as a political manifesto.  It is about human nature; not about governments or their politics.  Roy’s book seems a plea for people to recognize diversity in humanity; i.e. to accept rather than reject, and not to isolate, injure, and/or murder the “other”.

Roy is an idealist who sees the world as it is.  The reality is we live in a world as it is; not as it ought to be.

Roy infers the world should let Pakistanis, Afghans, Kashmiris, Iraqis, Syrians, Indians; and other nation-builders choose their own way of life.  Only in the context of human nature, does one size fit all.  To date, no government seems capable of achieving acceptance of diversity, but some are better than others.

This review fails to show how beautifully this story is written.  One can enjoy Roy’s book  just for the images she creates with words.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Translation of Love: A Novel

Written by: Lynne Kutsukake

Narrated by: Nancy Wu


Lynne Kutsukake offers a defeated nation’s perspective on the aftermath of WWII in “The Translation of Love”.  Kutsukake is a third generation Canadian.  Not old enough to have experienced Japan’s defeat, but wise enough to reflect on WWII’s human tragedy.  As noted many times in former reviews, there are no winners in war.  There are only survivors.

Kutsukake creates a story of a 12-year-old Japanese Canadian girl at the end of WWII.  Her name is Aya Shimamura.


In Canada, her mother and father experience discrimination of being a minority in a largely homogeneous nation. Aya’s mother commits suicide by drowning.


To add to the tragedy of the suicide, Aya and her father are deported to Japan soon after the end of the war.

Listener/readers follow the experience of Aya’s dislocation.  She is introduced at a local Japanese school as an American because she can speak English.  She is seen by the school administrator as a token of the Great Leader of Democracy, General MacArthur.  In truth, she is only a little girl trying to fit in, and make new friends.  At the same time, she is trying to understand why her mother killed herself; why her mother left her, and if she loved her.

MaCARTHUR MEETS HIROHITO FOR THE FIRST TIME (Though there is obvious respect for MacArthur’s power and position in Japan, there is underlying resentment by many Japanese of America’s occupation and cultural influence.)

Kutsukake re-creates the 1945, god-like adoration of MacArthur by the Japanese.  Though there is obvious respect for MacArthur’s power and position in Japan, there is underlying resentment by many Japanese of America’s occupation and cultural influence. The devastation and poverty of the countryside is contrasted with the behavior of American soldiers assigned to Japan.

Indigenous Japanese are devastated by the war.  They have no money.  They struggle to survive.  A black market develops to offer many of the necessities of life to Japanese civilians, but earning money for payment is difficult.


Some Japanese, including Aya’s father, resort to theft.  The thievery is not for the money as much as getting back at society for his family’s mistreatment.

Aya’s father works as a janitor.  He cleans American military offices because working for Americans pays the best for what is available in the legal job market.  Her father keeps the nature of his employment quiet because of the menial nature of the work.  Aya, at the age of 12, is on her own when not in school.


Kutsukake heightens the cognitive dissonance of the conquered by introducing Japanese American soldiers who translate letters that are sent to MacArthur.  These Japanese American soldiers bridge a divide by appearing to be Japanese while culturally American.  Presumably, the letters are translated to monitor local opinion of Japan’s occupation by the American military.  MacArthur never receives the translations but they are reviewed and filed into history.

DANCE HALLS IN JAPAN AFTER WWII (Dance hall owners enslave unwary Japanese women by offering clothing and shelter while creating debt beyond reasonable payoff by the women working for him.)

Aya makes friends with a young Japanese student in her class.  The friend has a sister who chooses to become a dance partner with American soldiers to help support her family.  The older sister is offered a salary by a Japanese entrepreneur that takes advantage of young women that need a job.  He reminds one of a pimp that enslaves unwary women by offering clothing and shelter while creating debt beyond reasonable payoff by the women working for him.  Naturally, their mother and father resent the older sister’s decision because they view it as unseemly and culturally unacceptable.

Kutsukake notes that many young Japanese women become consorts of Americans to escape poverty.  There is hope that their American partners will fall in love with them and marry, or at least, support them for some period.  However, most American soldiers are looking for a good time; without any thought of marriage or commitment.

Aya’s friend is trying to find her older sister.  She enlists Aya to help her write a letter to MacArthur to help find her sister.  It eventually gets into the hands of one of the Japanese American interpreters who makes a half-hearted effort to find the older sister on his own.  He fails.


However, like a Dicken’s novel, the older sister is found; Aya finds her mother did love her dearly in spite of her suicide, and life returns to a kind of normalcy.

Kutsukake shows the heartache of loss, the importance of culture, friendship, and respect.  More significantly, her novel vivifies the negative consequence of war.  It tears families apart.  It reinforces discrimination.  It diminishes society.  “The Translation of Love” is a well told story of life’s return to normality after war.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Trespasser 

Written by: Tana French

Narrated by: Hilda Fay


Tana French shows that evidence is the fundamental proof of guilt or innocence.  French’s “The Trespasser” offers a glimpse of what it must be like to be a woman in a man’s world. To be a female detective on a murder squad is a perfect venue for exploring the perfidy of men in power positions.

French’s story shows how power distorts the relationship between the sexes.  In a culture that reinforces male dominance, women use the same tools as men to acquire power; however, with a substantive difference.  Intellect, sex, and prejudice demean women while men reap reward and praise for the same qualities.

BILL COSBY TRIAL ( An innocent verdict is no absolution for Cosby but it is a measure of American society’s acceptance of a President’s locker room talk on a bus and behavior in a women’s dressing room.)

In modern times, the currency of society’s male domination is apparent in the trial of Bill Cosby.  Regardless of the accuracy of Cosby’s only eligible accuser, 40 other women have independently accused him of sexual impropriety.  Though testimony of these 40 women is not admissible as evidence, their testimony strongly smells of Cosby’s guilt.   If guilty, Cosby represents the guilt of society.  An innocent verdict is no absolution for Cosby but it is a measure of American society’s acceptance of a President’s locker room talk on a bus and behavior in a women’s dressing room.

POLICE MURDER INVESTIGATION (French creates a mystery solved by Detective Antoinette Conway with the help of her partner, Stephen Moran.  Conway presumes every male in her squad, and at one point even Moran, plot against her success.)

French creates a mystery solved by Detective Antoinette Conway with the help of her partner, Stephen Moran.  Conway presumes every male in her squad, and at one point even Moran, plot against her success. This presumption is reinforced by Conway’s experience as a police officer and detective.  Her gathered prejudice against all men (or at least those in her squad) nearly derails her dogged search for the murderer of a young woman.  French reveals how Conway overcomes her personal prejudice by accepting the truth that men and women are equally good and bad.


A father abandons his wife and daughter.  The abandoned wife seeks answers to the whereabouts of her husband.  The Missing-Persons’ department of the police is asked to investigate.  The father is reported as having died, after living many years with another woman.  The mother dies. The daughter is obsessed with the investigating officer of the Missing Persons’ department because of his ambiguous relationship with her mother.  The daughter plans an elaborate ruse to meet the investigating officer and find out more about her father.  The daughter becomes entangled in a web of relationships; i.e. the Missing-Persons’ officer (who is now the head of a murder department), a close female friend, and a possible new boyfriend.  The daughter is murdered.  Conway’s task is to find the murderer.

In French’s story, the search for suspects, and resolution of the case, are introduced to Conway’s investigation of the murder.  The substance of the story shows women as intellectually strong, and mentally tough as men.  Of course, history, as well as this fictional story, shows many women are as intellectually strong and mentally tough as men; e.g.  Cleopatra, Sojourner Truth, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Malala Yousafzai, and others.


French’s story brings the inequality of human life into the day-to-day life of today’s women.  Conway is characterized as an intelligent, determined, and independent murder detective.  Conway is not perfect.  She carries her own prejudices, but she focuses on evidence to prove her murder cases.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

Surrender, New York

Written by: Caleb Carr

Narrated by: Tom Taylorson


In a cursory search of Caleb Carr’s writing bona fides, it is a surprise that “Surrender, New York” was written by an accomplished author.  Undoubtedly, fans of Caleb Carr will be appalled by this review.

Carr’s fictional dialog often sounds unnatural. His dialog is contrived in ways that detract from the story’s characters. Without being prudish, “F” words are used unnecessarily. Only subject matter and mystery make “Surrender, New York” feed desire to finish the book.


Carr’s creative insight to forensics and research on America’s failure to protect unwanted and abandoned children is remarkable.


Two areas of fascination that make Carr’s story worth completing are one—an intelligent explanation of the difference between quality forensics and TV forensics; and two—an examination of the hardship of “throw-away” children in America.

FORENSIC MISTAKES (Forensic procedure is subject to human error at different stages of evidence development.)

Carr notes quality forensics lets facts lead to conclusions. In contrast, Carr notes TV forensics often only collect facts to support conclusions.  Carr also notes that forensic procedure is subject to human error at different stages of evidence development.


Carr implies forensic technicians are often seduced by crime scene investigators; i.e. they become adjuncts to conviction rather than researchers for justice. The technician only looks for facts that fit the crime investigator’s conclusions.  TV’ forensics become part of a self-fulfilling prophesy based on an investigator’s preliminary conclusion.  In real life, Carr implies some forensic technicians ignore facts that do not fit pre-conceived conclusions. Carr’s story argues that, in some forensic investigations, facts are ignored, mistakes are made, conclusions are false, and justice is thwarted.

Carr addresses forensic deficiencies with a story about children that are abandoned by their parents.  Around the world, the number of children who fit that category are estimated to be 400,000 (by ISK, International Street Kids). “Throw away” kids are a specific category of children without any defined estimate in the United States; however, the number of homeless children in the U. S. was estimated as high as 2,000,000 in 2015.

Kids who are abandoned by their parents are faced with three choices; i.e., one, to become a ward of the state in a group home; two, be taken care of by a willing foster parent being subsidized by the government, or three become a “Street Kid”.  None of these options have much to recommend them.  Undoubtedly, some street kids luckily find an adult that truly cares for them.  However, those who turn to the street likely become victims of society.  Street kids get zero support from the U. S. government.  They are blocked from getting a legitimate job because they are not adults.  They cannot enroll in school because they have no address or guardian to support them.  They become like “children of the dust” who beg at street corners, turn to crime, to traffickers, and/or prostitution to survive.

Carr creates a story that offers a creative alternative for a few “throw-away” children who exhibit some extraordinary ability.  He creates an underground of “do-gooders” that search the world for wealthy people looking for a child.  This underground becomes a way, in theory, for “throw away” children to have a second chance.

However, there is an unintended consequence from the opportunity presented to some of these special children.  The unintended consequence is death.  Carr’s story is about the ethics of the underground organization, and the forensic process in finding the truth of several children’s deaths.

Carr does create some interesting characters and offers some entertaining scenes but Carr’s poorly developed dialog diminishes the story’s creativity.

(Visited 7 time, 1 visit today)


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com


Written by: Leon Uris

Narrated by: John Lee


In 1970, “QB VII” is acclaimed as a page turning best seller.  It is the story of a libel trial against an author for naming a knighted Lord as a Nazi collaborator.  Among other things, it is a parable about morality and redemption.  The books fame is enhanced by a mini-series aired on ABC in 1974.  The author, Leon Uris, had been sued for a similar libel accusation in his first best seller, “Exodus” (see Dering v. Uris).  The title, “QB VII”, is an allusion to Queens Bench VII.


The story is about the trial of a Polish surgeon who runs a surgical department in a Polish concentration camp in 1943.  The story begins after the war with Dr. Adam Kelno being held in a British prison while Poland is requesting extradition of Kelno for medical experimentation and abuse of concentration camp prisoners.

Inmates of a German concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, near Berlin, stand in line during attendance check, on December 19, 1938. (AP Photo)

Kelno’s  principal accuser is Dr. Mark Tessler, a Jewish prisoner and fellow surgeon in the prison camp.  Tessler testifies that Dr. Kelno victimized concentration camp prisoners, particularly Jewish prisoners that are experimented on at the direction of SS leaders.  Kelno argues that Tessler is a liar.  No corroborating evidence (neither witnesses or records) is found to support Tessler’s accusations.

Uris prepares the reader/listener for the ending of the story by having one of the British interrogators suggest Dr. Kelno is hiding something.  However, after two years of imprisonment, the English courts deny Poland’s extradition request, and the doctor is released.


Kelno fears for his life because of Poland’s aggressive extradition attempt, and Tessler’s damning testimony.  Kelno secretively flees with his family to Borneo to begin a practice treating local natives and colonial British overseers.  The natives resist his help because of their belief in witch doctor’ traditions of health care and medical treatment.  Over time, Dr. Kelno and his wife gain the confidence and appreciation of the natives.  Kelno reputation rises in the colonial medical administration of the region.


Kelno’s stature grows to the point of being knighted by England for selfless service in the colony.  Kelno raises a son with his wife who becomes a favorite of local natives.  As Kelno’s reputation rises, he eventually returns to England to begin a practice in a small community near London.

Uris then introduces a new character, an unorthodox Jewish author who is a young successful writer and becomes a sought-after playwright for the movies.  However, this writer longs to return to writing and become a noted author of Jewish history.  After milking the movie industry with a work of pulp fiction, Abraham Cady dedicates time to researching and writing what becomes an acclaimed best seller titled “The Holocaust”.  This event sets the table for a libel case because it reveals Kelno’s role in a Polish concentration camp.  What makes Uris’s story revelatory is the complexity of guilt and redemption for unpunished crimes, and the tenuous nature of morality.

Half of Uris’s story builds Dr. Kelno into a legend.  Kelno provides selfless duty to his patients and the medical profession after the war.  He seeks no fame, none of the accouterments of wealth, raises one son and inspires his son’s best friend to become a doctor for the natives of Borneo; while later settling into a life of obscurity in a small English community.  In contrast, Abraham Cady uses his youth to perfect his writing skill, join the military as a WWII pilot, and marry a nurse who cares for him after a disastrous plane crash.  After recovery, Cady chooses to live the life of a profligate, cheating on his wife, and prostituting his skill as a playwright.

However, the writer in Cady reaches a point of self-awareness that compels him to author something important.  This point leads to the publication of “The Holocaust”.  From Cady’s research, the accusatory testimony of Dr. Mark Tessler is found and the book references Dr. Kelno and his role as the Polish concentration camp’s medical director.  Dr. Kelno’s son’s best friend convinces Kelno that he should sue for libel.  Kelno had been found not guilty of any misdeeds when Poland tried to extradite him from England after the war.  It seems he had been unfairly imprisoned for two years, investigated, and found innocent because of lack of corroborating evidence.

BRITISH COURT (The suit is drawn.  The case goes to the Queen’s Bench VII for trial.)

The suit is drawn.  Cady insists his research is accurate and refuses to retract his findings.  The case goes to the Queen’s Bench VII for trial.  This is thirty or more years after the war.  Cady is defended by one of the best lawyers in England with payment for services made by an English aristocrat (one of Cady’s lovers), and an obscurely identified Jewish interest group.

PENANCE (Doctors Without Borders)

The trial reveals Dr. Kelno’s guilt.  The complexity of the guilt is in Kelno’s penance by being a better person after the war.  It does not absolve his quilt but it makes him something less than a monster.  One is confronted with what he/she would do in a similar circumstance of war.  Would you say no to a supervisor that tells you to castrate someone if you believed you would be killed?  Stanley Milgram’s experiments show that normal human beings can be driven to kill other human beings for no other reason than their acceptance of someone else’s authority.

Kelno may have been an anti-Semite.  Poland is noted for anti-Semitism just as America is noted for Black discrimination.  Is Kelno less human because of his acculturation?  In a perfect world, yes, but who lives in a perfect world?  Kelno is despicable.  The Ku Klux Klan is despicable.  However, when any person is classified as something other than human, classifiers condemn themselves to inhumanity.

DISCRIMINATION (When any person is classified as something other than human, classifiers condemn themselves to inhumanity.)

There are so many questions raised by Uris’s story. How brave are you? Would you risk your life to save someone else’s life? Would you kill someone if you were told by the government it is your duty to kill another? Is their redemption in good works? A judge can sit in a chair and think what his/her answer should be, but any human in a circumstance of life or death can only answer the question with his/her action in the now. There are few winners in Uris’s story. There are many losers.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

Invisible Man

Written by: Ralph Ellison

Narrated by: Joe Morton


Few books capture the complexity of discrimination and its societal consequence. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is one of the few.

To re-read/listen to Ellison’s book, it seems a biography of its author. Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He attends Tuskegee Institute, a black university in Alabama. He fails to graduate and moves to New York. He becomes a spokesman and propagandist for the communist party before WWII. He eschews communism after the war while living in New York. He becomes acquainted with other writers like Richard Wright who expose discrimination in its abomination. In these details, one sees Ellison as the “Invisible Man”.


The intensity and credibility of Ellison’s story is magnified by Joe Morton’s skill as an actor.  Every line reflects understanding and relevant emotion.  In just reading “Invisible Man” much of what Ellison wrote is missed.  Morton offers clarity and visibility in his narration.

In outline, this story follows the path of Ellison’s life.  The book’s hero is expelled from college in his Junior year and moves to New York.  The reason for his expulsion is an aspect of discrimination and its consequence.


A rich, white financial benefactor of the university is being shown around by Ellison’s “Invisible Man”.  Through a series of incidents, the white supporter becomes embroiled in the reality of human poverty in a black community.  His immersion exposes a black father’s incestuous relationship with his daughter.  However, the story’s inference is that incest is not limited to the poor; i.e. the benefactor’s reaction to the story implies a similar act in his life.  The University benefactor appears overwhelmed by the black father’s story.  He is emotionally and physically shaken.  He asks the “Invisible Man” to get him a shot of liquor.  Because they are far from town, the only place for a drink is a seedy bar in the neighborhood.  In trying to please the university’s patron, the “Invisible Man” embroils the rich man in a bar fight.  No one is killed but the experience illustrates how discrimination relegates parts of society to a life of poverty, anxiety, and despair.  Many of the characters in the bar seem crazy. They seem consumed by fear, hate, boredom, or frustration.

—————–HARLEM RIOT 1964 (133RD ST. AND SEVENTH AVE.)—————————

Upon returning to the University, the patron tells the “Invisible Man” to have the President of the school come see him in his room.  Dutifully, the “Invisible Man” calls the President and is condemned for showing the patron to a part of town that shows some of black America’s reality.  The University President expels the “Invisible Man” for a mistake he believes he did not make.

The President tells him he did make a mistake.  He could have shucked and jived to steer the patron away from the reality of being black in the south.  The President is telling him he must “play the game”.  This is a statement about the complexity and disastrous effects of discrimination.  A respected black leader is saying—if you want to get ahead, you must hide who you are, play by a white man’s rules, and interpret everything a white person says to mean you don’t matter.  Then act like you believe it, but keep your own counsel.

The “Invisible Man” accepts the University’ expulsion and understands the President’s reasons for expelling him.  He asks the President for letters of recommendation to rich patrons he knows in New York.  The “Invisible Man” plans to get a job in New York that will allow him to come back to the school after a year of exile.  The President agrees and writes several letters, seals them, and tells him not to open them.


In New York, all but one letter is delivered to offices of potential white employers.  No job interviews are offered.  With a last letter in hand, the “Invisible Man” insists on seeing the white patron that the letter is addressed to.  He is interviewed by the son of the business owner who offers to show the letter to him.  The letter is a condemnation of the “Invisible Man” by the black University President who has no intention of ever allowing him to return to the University.

With no job, no prospects, and dwindling savings, the “Invisible Man” realizes he is screwed; i.e.  not only white America denies his existence, but Blacks-in-power accept white-cultural-rules and screw him; just like other racists in America.

Dr. Blesoe, the black University President is saying: “Play the game, but play it your own way, my boy.  Learn how it operates, learn how you operate.”  The inference is to act like a toady to white culture to gather money, power, and prestige while keeping your own counsel.  Never let your guard down.  When you have power, you can selfishly guard it by being the equal of white racist when confronted by minorities who might challenge you.


Both black leaders in power and whites deny equality of opportunity.  There seems nowhere to turn.  That is until Ellison describes a story about a black family’s eviction in Harlem.  With that incident, the “Invisible Man” becomes visible.  Relying on his education and previous speech-making experience, the “Invisible Man” addresses a crowd around a dispossessed family and sparks a Harlem’ riot.

Members of “The Brotherhood” are in the audience.  The leader of “The Brotherhood” is impressed by the “Invisible Man’s” ability to motivate the crowd.  The leader offers him a job.  At first, it seems like the dawning of a new life, an opportunity to prosper while doing good for himself and the community.  In the end, it is just another game.


The game is the “science” of collectivism; i.e. what is important is not the individual but the collective.  Whomever does not play the game by the rules is sacrificed.  He/she is either ostracized, or murdered, if the rules of the collective are disobeyed.  If the collective is challenged by a minority, the minority is sacrificed.  The suicide, or murder of an individual is of no consequence except as it benefits or hurts the collective.


When a riot breaks out in Harlem, the “Invisible Man” expects “The Brotherhood” to be supportive of the plight of the poor and dispossessed but what he finds is that “The Brotherhood” is happy to see the destruction because it advances their collective objective; i.e. the destruction of the State and its replacement by “The Brotherhood”.  They care nothing for the black community.

Ellison cogently reflects on his life to explain that the individual is of supreme importance; i.e., not the collective, not white culture, not black culture, but only the individual within the whole of humanity.

Majority rule is as tyrannical as minority rule when it discounts individual freedom.  Human beings playing the game by rules of a collective is as harmful to minorities as slavery.  Choosing to become invisible is not a solution for discrimination.  In reality, invisibility is a symptom of American apathy that encourages discrimination. Small activist groups elect populists who pander to extremist views.

Ellison suggests his “Invisible Man” is only in hibernation.  He ends his story by suggesting the “Invisible Man” will soon awaken to become an involved individual.  One is skeptical of Ellison’s pronouncement.  It is easier to be invisible.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance

 Written by: Jonathan Evison

Narrated by: Susan Boyce


This is a story for those who have reached a certain age.  Though written by a man, it is narrated by a woman.  In some respects, that is a weakness.  Having been written by a man, it may distort the measure of a woman’s life.  However, Jonathan Evison offers an excellent representation of what life and death looks like to a man.  The mistakes some men make in life are legion, both as a parent and husband.

AFTERLIFE (Evison speculates on an afterlife that says humans either die into nothingness or go to a place of peace and reconciliation.)

Evison speculates on an afterlife that says humans either die into nothingness or go to a place of peace and reconciliation.  Those are the only options in Evison’s story.


The options are extreme but can be ameliorated by a gate keeper’s decisions.  However, if you violate rules for personal appearances to those left behind, you are doomed to the first extremity, nothingness.  Evison’s husband and father’ character chooses to violate the rules; in part because of his anguished guilt for living a selfish life.  It seems a penance he must pay to his wife, mistress, and children.

What makes Evison’s story good is the truth of what foolish, selfish men do in their lives.  Though life is ephemeral and temporal or spiritual, many mistakes are made, both moral and ethical.  There is the horrid obsession of men with little girls described in Nabokov’s “Lolita”.  There is the vacuous life of Richard Ford’s main character in “The Sportswriter”.  There is Russell Banks’ depiction of a morally bankrupt man/boy who prostitutes himself in “Lost Memory of Skin”.  Putting aside these extreme examples, Evison tells a story of the more common variety of male transgressions.  His observations ring true to listeners of a certain age.

Most men will see themselves in aspects of Evison’s story.  Men who cheat on their wives.  Men who use work as an excuse for family neglect.  Men who fail to take responsibility for helping raise their children.  Men who demean their wives because they undervalue their contribution to life’s fulfillment.  Men who neglect their wives because of self-absorption.


Evison notes many faults in the lives of women in his story but having been written by a man, his objectivity is suspect.  On the other hand, women do cheat on their husbands.  Women do neglect their children.  Women do drink out of boredom with house work and social isolation.  Women do demean their husbands because they undervalue their contribution to life’s fulfillment.  Women do neglect their husbands because of self-absorption.


Evison touches every human being’s faults in “This is Your Life, Harriet Chance”.  No one is exempt from human failing.  Being of a certain age makes Evison’s story enlightening and entertaining.  Enlightening because a listener knows they are not alone.  Entertaining because a listener will enjoy Evison’s perspective on life’s journey.

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