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Bridging the divide: My Life by Edward W. Brooke - In 1967, Edward Brooke became the first popularly elected African-American to join the U.S. Senate. Now 86 [and living part-time in St Maarten], the liberal Republican serves up an autobiography with plenty of interesting stories about the Second World War, the tumultuous post-war period and the Vietnam era in an engaging, intelligent and humble voice. In WWII, Brookes fought racist American officers more than he fought Nazis, and as Massachusetts Attorney General he led efforts to find and convict the Boston Strangler. In the Senate, Brooke opposed Richard Nixon's Supreme Court nominations and was the first Republican senator to call for Nixon's resignation (leading to his Mercedes getting keyed, he believes, by neighbor Rosemary Woods). At times, however, Brooke's humility gets in the way of his story: though he met numerous luminaries, including every US President from Eisenhower to Ford, plus Martin Luther King Jr. and Hillary Rodham (who ambushed Brooke when he spoke at her Wellesley graduation ceremony), he has surprisingly little to say about most of them. Still, Brooke's reflections on everything from his position on Vietnam (which he now sees was untenable), to his deep disappointment with Republicans who have undone his work for minorities, prove thought-provoking, even if they devolve too frequently into letters of thanks to behind-the-scenes players.
Bone in the Throat by Anthony Bourdain - About $10 - From Booklist: Bourdain's tongue-in-cheek wiseguy novel features an up-and-coming young chef who owes his position in a New York restaurant to his uncle, a Mob collector/hit man who has loaned a considerable sum to the restaurant owner. Mobster Sal the Wig and Tommy, the sous-chef, are both unaware that state and federal agents have set up the owner, Harvey, as a plant to uncover extortion, murder, and whatever other criminal activities occur in Harvey's presence or the eaterie. The combination of fine food and sordid slayings makes an irresistible novel, but perhaps not one to savor while dining.
Gone Bamboo (Paperback) by Anthony Bourdain - About $10 - It didn't get great reviews from the literary press, but if you remember SXM from the early 90's (or want to know a bit about the island at that time), it's amusing. I don't believe the major theme, but the background material seems pretty accurate. From Kirkus Reviews: For his second course, Bourdain, novelist and celebrity chef, dishes up a sorry, soggy mess of a stew in which a good-hearted hit man finds himself on the spot with both mob chieftains and law-enforcement agencies. Hired by an ambitious cross-dressing mafioso named Pazz Calabrese to eliminate his two immediate superiors, Henry Denard dispatches one but only wounds the other, D'Andrea (Donnie Wicks) Balistierian aging capo di tutti capi in New York. After returning to Saint Martin, the idyllic West Indian haven he calls home, the hired gun (a decorated Vietnam vet who went on to work for the CIA) learns his wounded target has turned informant and will testify against former partners in crime. What's more, an accommodating interpretation of the Witness Protection Act allows Donnie Wicks (and a small army of US marshals) to take up residence on Saint Martin. Concerned that he and his hardcase wife Frances may have to find another place to live, Henry talks his way inside the former don's compound for a meet. Not to worry, the elderly outlaw has the nothing-personal aspect of gangdom's business down pat, and he soon takes a shine to the professional killer as well as to his lovely, lethal lady. In the meantime, the expatriate godfather's former underlings mount a deadly campaign to silence him. In the wake of a furious assault on his island home (which costs six feds and a like number of Dominican nationals their lives), Donnie Wicks (now under the protection of venal French officials) is reported dead. As a favor to the American authorities cheated of a show trial, Henry heads north to waste the kinky Calabrese and his top lieutenants with a light anti-tank weapon on a New Jersey construction site. At the close, he's drinking and living it up with Frances and Donnie Wicks at his Caribbean hideaway.
Pompeii : A Novel (Paperback) by Robert Harris - About $7 - I was reading this when Montserrat was acting up, making our sky hazy and sunsets colorful.
From Publishers Weekly: In this fine historical by British novelist Harris (Archangel; Enigma; Fatherland), an upstanding Roman engineer rushes to repair an aqueduct in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, which, in A.D. 79, is getting ready to blow its top. Young Marcus Attilius Primus becomes the aquarius of the great Aqua Augusta when its former chief engineer disappears after 20 years on the job. When water flow to the coastal town of Misenum is interrupted, Attilius convinces the admiral of the Roman fleet-the scholar Pliny the Elder-to give him a fast ship to Pompeii, where he finds the source of the problem in a burst sluiceway. Lively writing, convincing but economical period details and plenty of intrigue keep the pace quick, as Attilius meets Corelia, the defiant daughter of a vile real estate speculator, who supplies him with documents implicating her father and Attilius's predecessor in a water embezzlement scheme. Attilius has bigger worries, though: a climb up Vesuvius reveals that an eruption is imminent. Before he can warn anyone, he's ambushed by the double-crossing foreman of his team, Corvax, and a furious chase ensues. As the volcano spews hot ash, Attilius fights his way back to Pompeii in an attempt to rescue Corelia. Attilius, while possessed of certain modern attitudes and a respect for empirical observation, is no anachronism. He even sends Corelia back to her cruel father at one point, advising her to accept her fate as a woman. Harris's volcanology is well researched, and the plot, while decidedly secondary to the expertly rendered historic spectacle, keeps this impressive novel moving along toward its exciting finale.
The Sex Lives of Cannibals : Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. MAARTEN TROOST - About $10 - It's not exactly like SXM, but there are some similarities. In any event, it's a good read.
From Publishers Weekly: At 26, Troost followed his wife to Kiribati, a tiny island nation in the South Pacific. Virtually ignored by the rest of humanity (its erstwhile colonial owners, the Brits, left in 1979), Kiribati is the kind of place where dolphins frolic in lagoons, days end with glorious sunsets and airplanes might have to circle overhead because pigs occupy the island's sole runway. Troost's wife was working for an international nonprofit; the author himself planned to hang out and maybe write a literary masterpiece. But Kiribati wasn't quite paradise. It was polluted, overpopulated and scorchingly sunny (Troost could almost feel his freckles mutating into something "interesting and tumorous"). The villages overflowed with scavengers and recently introduced, nonbiodegradable trash. And the Kiribati people seemed excessively hedonistic. Yet after two years, Troost and his wife felt so comfortable, they were reluctant to return home. Troost is a sharp, funny writer, richly evoking the strange, day-by-day wonder that became his life in the islands. One night, he's doing his best funky chicken with dancing Kiribati; the next morning, he's on the high seas contemplating a toilet extending off the boat's stern (when the ocean was rough, he learns, it was like using a bidet). Troost's chronicle of his sojourn in a forgotten world is a comic masterwork of travel writing and a revealing look at a culture clash.
A Trip to the Beach by Melinda and Robert Blanchard - About $18 - On a vacation with the family in Barbados, Mel and Bob Blanchard (of the Vermont-based Blanchard & Blanchard specialty foods company) stumble upon a tiny restaurant/shack on a Caribbean beach:
I marveled at the ingenuity of the set-up. A secluded spot, sand like flour, customers arriving in bathing suits. The guy barely lifted a finger, cleared at least $35.00, and gave us a lunch we'd remember forever.... The man had sold us a frame of mind.
So begins the Blanchards' 10-year pursuit of the illusory notion of "island time." In a literary heartbeat, they abandon the "concrete jungle" that was Vermont and open a restaurant on a little-known island in the British West Indies called Anguilla ("rhymes with vanilla"). Narrated by Mel Blanchard, A Trip to the Beach dispels tired notions of the Caribbean--the steel drums, the lush landscapes, and acres of swaying palm trees--and instead focuses on the understated elegance and easy rhythms of the sublimely "flat, and scrubby" island. Though lacking the richness and finesse of Frances Mayes, and the wit and wisdom of Peter Mayle, Mel Blanchard nonetheless forges a new path in travel writing as the Martha Stewart of the Caribbean. A remarkably intuitive and inspired chef, Mel writes poignant passages on running a kitchen in Anguilla. Here she exposes the meat of the story, sharing her many outrageous adventures--how to cater to pampered and demanding guests, how to cook for a full restaurant in the darkest of island night with no electricity, how to prepare for recurring and utterly devastating hurricanes that wipe out your business. In these chapters the writing is as good as her cooking--inspiring, colorful, and easily digestible. Although she sometimes relies heavily on well-worn clichÃ©s and expresses naÃ¯ve and rather privileged assumptions--"Why would anyone choose to live surrounded by concrete and traffic rather than fishing boats, water and palm trees?"--discerning readers will see the true nature of this tiny island--a place of simplistic beauty that struggles to maintain its independence while it depends on tourism for its livelihood. With a strange concoction of anecdotes, island politics, recipes, and sweet memories, the Blanchards seduce readers with the allure of "island time," bringing Anguilla home to the rest of us. --Daphne Durham
Romare Bearden: His Life and Art - About $45 - A difficult to obtain volume that traces Bearden's life from his birth in North Carolina, to NYU where he obtained a degree in mathematics, before turning to art. He was closely associated with the jazz age and eventually with St Martin. He met and married Nanette Rohan in New York, but her roots were in St Martin. Eventually, they spent winters on a hill overlooking L'Embouchure on the French side, painting and helping young local artists. There is a gallery in Philipsburg devoted to his work.
A Field Guide to Coral Reefs : Caribbean and Florida (Peterson Field Guides) by Eugene H. Kaplan, Susan L. Kaplan (Illustrator), Roger Tory Peterson - About $15 - If you dive or snorkel, you need one of these books.
Reef Fish Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas by Paul Humann, Ned Deloach (Editor) - About $28 - If you dive or snorkel, you need one of these books.
Reef Fish Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas by Paul Humann, Ned Deloach (Editor) - About $40 - This is the CD version.
Around the World in 20 Days : The Story of Our History-Making Balloon Flight by Bertrand Piccard, Brian Jones - About $15 - It's a different travel plan and a different way to travel, but it's an interesting read. On the 9th of March, 1999, eight days into their flight, Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard were approaching Myanmar's air space. They had the following exchange with an air-traffic controller:
Air traffic control: Hotel Bravo-Bravo Romeo Alpha, what is your departure point and destination? Brian Jones: Departure point, ChÃ¢teau d'Oex, Switzerland. Destination, somewhere in northern Africa.
Air traffic control, after several seconds' silence: If you're going from Switzerland to northern Africa, what in hell are you doing in Myanmar?
Twelve days later the Breitling Orbiter 3 made a hard but safe landing in the Egyptian desert. Their successful circumnavigation, the first, put Piccard and Jones into the record books for distance (25,361 miles) and duration (477.47 hours aloft). Around the World in 20 Days tells the story of their flight, and the obstacles--both natural and manmade--they had to overcome. Struggling to get the balloon back into the jet stream when they had strayed too far south was one thing, but negotiating with dozens of countries for the right to fly in their air space was just as challenging. Even choosing a landing site was problematic: "Mali is mainly desert, and has lions, leopards etc.," while the Nigerians were hesitant, the Libyans wouldn't allow rescue planes to be brought in, and Egypt gave the balloon permission to overfly its borders but not to land. On the ground, the team's support system spelled out the situation to the Egyptians: "Listen--the balloon is running out of fuel. If the pilot doesn't have permission to land, he'll have to declare a full emergency, and you'll be obliged by the international rules to deal with it." The Egyptian controller replied, "In that case, I give you permission."
Man Flies : The Story of Alberto Santos-Dumont, Master of the Balloon, Conqueror of the Air by Nancy Winters - About $23, but much less used - If you fly down, like most of us, this is an interesting twist on the Wright Brothers. From Book News: Tells how wealthy Brazilian heir Santos-Dumont (1873-1932) came of age in Paris determined to live out the novels of Jules Verne by developing human flight. Describes how his airships gradually improved so that he was counted brilliant as well as dashing in the world's capitals until he learned that the Wright brothers had been there first with the most. Includes many old photographs, a chronology, and a glossary
Diamond : A Journey to the Heart of an Obsession by Matthew Hart - About $18 - If you come down to SXM and buy jewelry, check out this book. Review From Publishers Weekly: Any book that details the diamond trade must contend with the brilliance of Stefan Kanfer's 1993 gem, The Last Empire. And Hart's book picks up roughly where Empire left off. When Hart (editor of the New York trade magazine Rapaport Diamond Report) traces the diamond frenzy that struck Canada in the 1990s, his writing is as polished and fiery as when Kanfer re-created the machinations of Cecil Rhodes and Barney Barnato, the Romulus and Remus of the South African diamond cartel. But when the two mine the same territory, Hart's book looks like indicator minerals in comparison: Hart is less successful when he depicts De Beers's origins, the creation of the company's monopoly, and Ernest Oppenheimer, who turned De Beers into a profitable company. Hart, however, has a good eye for intriguing figures in the industry, including a part-wolf sled dog named Thor who was suspected of espionage. In the end, the author expertly takes readers into theft-riven African mines, the back rooms of Brazilian dealers, the polishing rooms in both midtown Manhattan and India's slums, and the sorting rooms in London.