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The scene: famous people, the arts, Italy in the 1950s and 60s. It is a different world than contemporary America b.c. (before Corona), which is featured in the novel as well, but the fundamental questions of art and life are the same. What does it take to create? Is it anguish? Perseverance? It is known that great artists work hard and constantly. The title may be “Leading Men,” but one of the most important characters is Anja, a Swedish actress, muse, and lover to many. In the early scenes, she and her mother dress identically, always in white. They do everything together, even share a lover occasionally. Celebrity excess and creativity are always bubbling under every situation. Tennessee Williams, his lover Frank, Truman Capote and his lover, who are central to the novel, are of course very famous, but some characters are completely fictitious. This novel, with a glimpse into their world, is witty, funny, and sometimes sad, with some great moments on the Italian beaches.
When Breath Becomes Air is a poetic book. The writing is elegant and strong, making it almost impossible to put down. Kalanithi writes about his life. He remembers his childhood fondly; he recalls his university days, meeting his wife, and his exhausting residency preparing to be a surgeon. And then, he is diagnosed with cancer. There are many books, fiction and non-fiction alike, describing patients hearing a devastating diagnosis from a doctor but Kalanithi explains the complexity of telling a patient their diagnosis and the emotional toil it takes on the doctors. As both a writer and a doctor, Kalanithi uses both literature and science to help us understand the meaning of life itself. His eloquent writing makes the already emotional story even more gripping. I promise, you won’t want to put it down.
China’s master author Liu has created the best hard-core science fiction (heavy on the science) trilogy I have read in a decade. During the Cultural Revolution, secret space signals are intercepted by aliens. The aliens are facing destruction on their own planet and so decide to invade Earth. Be aware, this is an “alternate history” theme, but the factions that develop, the politics, the communist system during the Cultural Revolution, are all eerily contemporary.
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