Archive by Author

The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte

5 Sep

I have enjoyed many of Perez-Reverte’s books over the years.  Each offered an unique story, with interesting characters, and a mystery of sorts.  A few have been made into films over the years, though the films were never as rich, and intriguing, as the original novels.  Written in Spanish, I often wondered what, if anything, was lost in translation, and just how much richer, and fuller, the stories might have been in their original form.

The Painter of Battles is a fascinating story, though perhaps not his best novel.  I wondered if there was something lost in translation, and was left in the end with a feeling of a satisfying journey, though not the best one I have ever taken.

The Painter is about a war photographer, Andres Faulques, who has retired from his profession, and is painting a mural on the inside wall of an abandoned tower in an isolated part of Spain, on the ocean coast.  The painting is part of his healing process, as he depicts in the painting various images of war, from across the ages.  The real start of the story is the arrival at the tower of Ivo Markovic, a former Croatian soldier, who had been captured in one of Fauleques’ photographs during the Serbian-Croatian war; the photograph went on to become very famous – published in several magazines – and won awards.  It also had a profound effect on the life of the Croatian soldier: while a prisoner of the Serbian army, he was recognized and tortured; his family was singled out and killed; everything he valued was lost because of the photograph.

The ex-soldier had spent years following Faulques’ career, and in tracking him down.  And in finally meeting Faulques at his tower, he announces he is there to kill him.  Faulques takes the news rather calmly.  Markovic does not intend to kill him immediately, but wants to get to know him better, and has things to discuss.  He is also fascinated by the painted mural being created by Faulques.  Thus begins a series of meetings, and conversations, as Faulques continues to paint, and the two explore their respective perceptions of the world.

In their conversations, Faulques remembers experiences in his life, as a war photographer, and in particular his relationship with Olvido, a woman whom he loved, who for a few years went with him into the war-torn countries to take photographs, who shared his passion of paintings, and who died in Serbia, not long after Markovic’s picture was taken. Faulques relives a great deal of his past, through his conversations with Markovic, and his memories of his time with Olvido.  And in these memories, and conversations, his philosophy of life and the world is unwound and articulated.

Indeed, the book is a really a discussion on life philosophy and perceptions of the world.  The story interweaves this philosophy with Faulques’ experience in taking his photographs, with his understanding of famous painters and their works, of his time spent with Olvido, of the details of the mural he is painting, and of parts of Markovic’s life.  Perez-Reverte provides a fascinating journey examining art, war, life, and morality, and challenges our beliefs of the “truth” in photographs and our relative perceptions of the world we live in.

Running underneath this exploration, and the story, is the tension of Markovic’s intention to kill Faulques.  This final confrontation is the conclusion of the story – I would not describe it as a climax, as it is portrayed as the end meeting point of two souls destined to meet, and interact, because fate has thrown them together.

The book was generally an easy read, though the story takes detours into deeper subjects, and will at times, clunk along as Faulques explains why he thinks and feels the way he does, or the relevance of one of his experiences to a painting.  While this book will not be to everyone’s liking, I did enjoy it, overall, despite feeling, upon finishing, that it could have been so much more.  Yet it was an enjoyable read, the odd bumps along the way were not overly diverting, and it is worthwhile addition to my library.


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

5 Sep

Observation #1: I have read all 3 books in the series, one following the other, which I will suggest is the only way to read this series.  They flow nicely together, and lead to an ultimate resolution that has run throughout the books.

Observation #2: These books are mystery-thrillers, that were obviously plotted out in one-go, at the outset, as the story seamlessly flows through the 3 books, and while each book works on its own, only the first could stand independent of the others.  Book 2 starts where Book 1 ends, and Book 3 starts where Book 2 ends, so in a way, they are all one story.

Observation #3: These are well written books, generally well translated from Swedish, that are easy to read.  There are, however, a few places where the events are graphic and may be disturbing to some.  Be warned.  These plot points are by and large necessary for the book’s plot, as well as the over-arching plot, and so can not be easily avoided (as they are referred to and referenced in the story), but may not be the most comfortable to read.  But these sequences are short, and are only a small bump in the overall story.

Observation #4: If you had to read only one of the 3 books, then the first book would be by far the best choice.  It has a complex and complicated plot, that works within the book itself with little left unresolved.  It is an interesting read, the characters are introduced and developed, and it has a finale that ties things together.   I felt it was a tight mystery-thriller, that was engaging, and not obvious in the solution.  The complexity made the story even more interesting, with some depth and flavor that only adds to your enjoyment of the book.  I very much enjoyed this book.

Observation #5: This is a very difficult book to write a review on.  As noted, the plot is complicated, so it is difficult to distill to a few simple sentences.  The characters are complex and not easily described.  The value of the book is in the read.  The journey through that plot, meeting the characters, in experiencing the events for the first time, as you move through 800+ pages of an extremely interesting and compelling story.  It should be classified as a mystery, but it is a lot more than that.  I have seen it referred to as a thriller (it is), as suspenseful (yes), as a scathing commentary on society (it is that, though perhaps more on Swedish society), as political (not sure it is that political), and as a well-written novel, in the classic sense of “novels” (that I can agree with).  My recommendation is to recognize all reviews will not be able to provide you with the necessary preparation for reading this first book, or any in the series; ultimately, you will have to have the faith just to jump right in and see for yourself.

Observation #6: Thus, it is my recommendation that this is the type of book you need to read for yourself, and decide for yourself, whether you like it or not.  Many have read it and enjoyed it.  I was not sure I would, as I seldom enjoy what “the masses” enjoy, when it comes to books.  But I was pleasantly surprised with this book, and the series, as I found it enjoyable and quite good.  So, in this case, “the masses” were right.  But let your own opinion be your own judge.  I can see how this book may not be for everyone.  And if you don’t enjoy mystery thrillers, then this may not be for you.  My suggestions is give the book a try.  Commit to reading the first third of the book, at least, to see if it has roped you into its compelling story, or has left you in the classic Swedish cold.

Observation #7: If you enjoy the first book, then Books 2 and 3 should also be read.  But be prepared for disappointment, as the series ends after Book 3, as the author died after completing the third book.  There will likely not be more in the series*, which is a great disappointment, but this finality makes this series truly classic.  Some stories are meant to end at a certain point, no matter how much we may wish for it to continue; but they do end, as does this series, with the shutting of the door on the reader, barring us from spending more time with these wonderful, compelling characters, leaving us with the promising, yet frustrating final line in the third book: “She opened the door wide and let him into her life again.”    The door closes on the reader as it opens on the lives of the characters.   Be warned, you will likely be left wanting for more.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

26 Jun

Photo thanks to

This is an account of how one baseball team went about doing their business very differently than everyone else.  It is the story of how the Oakland A’s, under the leadership of Billy Beane, re-invented how baseball teams build their teams.  Specifically, how teams evaluate talent and determine which players they want to draft or trade for.  The change in approach is based on moving from the judgment of scouts – typically ex-players who employ their instincts and preferences in their evaluation of players – to the utilization of statistics on the players’ performance.  And more importantly, the creation of a whole new set of stats, that attempt to better understand what is important in the success of a player, and of a team.

When they started down this path, in the early part of this century, the Oakland A’s were ahead of the curve, alone among their peers.  Today, many organizations have followed suit, including the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox.  But back in 2001, the A’s chose to do things differently, taking this path because they could not compete financially with the other richer clubs.  And they proved they could complete, year-after-year, getting more wins with their limited budget that any other team.  They had figured out something others had not, and were exploiting it to their advantage and success.

Like any advantage, others will soon catch up and diminish the advantage.  This has happened to some extent in baseball, but not as much as one might expect.  Lewis offers a possible explanation, in suggesting that Major League Baseball was less of a business, and more as a club or fraternity.  And in being a club, there are some beliefs that are sacred which are not to be challenged or changed.  What the A’s did, and a few others in turn, was to challenge those sacred beliefs.  And for many teams, this was not done, and nor would they follow.  So the advantage the A’s realized, which resulted in their being more effective in running their team, was ignored by others, dismissed for many reasons and explanations, the truth ignored and not acknowledged.

In truth, there may be a fundamental flaw in the Moneyball approach employed by the A’s.  It comes down to how you define success.  If success is being competitive throughout the season, and in making the playoffs, then the A’s under Billy Beane would be considered a success, as their record has been one of the best in baseball over that time period.  If, however, success is defined as also wining the World Series, then there is something missing from the Moneyball approach, as the A’s have not won the World Series since 1990 (before Beane became general manager).  Not sure what is missing in the Moneyball approach, but something obviously is, which leaves Billy Beane’s A’s as very good, but just not a dynasty.

The book is a fascinating inside look at a team, and their unique approach to building their team, and is of most interest to those who love baseball.  It is certainly not for everyone.  The love and admiration for baseball statistics that Lewis provides throughout the book is only for those whose eyes do not glaze over with the mention of ERA, OPS, and any types of average.  This book was written for the lovers of all things baseball, and is certainly a joy for those of us who do.  Knowing of some of the players referenced in the book also helped bring the story to life, especially when speaking of players who were just starting their careers at the time of the book’s writing (seeing where they ended up provided an interesting hind-sight perspective to the stories).

Overall, I found this a fascinating book, covering a sport I love, and providing new ideas and insights that were a joy to discover.  While having no real love for the A’s, or Billy Beane, I came away having a new found admiration for both, for the courage of what they did and the risks they took.  Looking back, I see what other teams attempted to do in the spirit of the A’s (i.e., the Toronto Blue Jays under) and understand what they were attempting to achieve (though Ricciardi doesn’t seem to be as much of a disciple of Beane as one might have hoped).  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was left with a desire to learn more about not only Moneyball, but also about the running of baseball teams in general.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an ounce of interest in baseball, the application of statistics, or in a story of David taking on Goliath.