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Review: Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a well-written gripping journalistic account of North Korean defectors, describing their lives in the DPRK. I have to question whether the accounts are completely truthful and genuine as so much information which emerges from North Korea tends to be biased. However, the accounts make good reading and describe a truly Orwellian culture that is very unlike our own Western lifestyles. To a romantic socialist, some of what may appear is idyllic, but as is often the case, the horrors of famine and gulags are all too apparent. There is much quaintness in many of the stories, of simple love, of familial ties, of the teaching of children. The emotions felt by North Koreans are just the same as elsewhere in the world. However, it seems as though the state control of all aspects of life is extremely strict. The failure of the food supply system and the healthcare that was a real high point of the earlier years of the DPRK, is all to evident as the communist world collapsed in the late 1980s. One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is the way in which the defectors adjust to their new lives in South Korea. If ever the two Koreas are united, there is a massive gulf between the cultures which I don’t think can be bridged too easily. Overall, the book is quite disturbing, but still very gripping. I think it should be studied in context alongside other texts on Korea. View all my reviews

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Review: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick My rating: 5 of 5 stars I’d read some Philip K Dick before and this was certainly in a fast-flowing writing style. It only took me half a day to read the book from start to finish. It was totally gripping. The story is about the strange happenings to celebrity Jeremy Taverner, a genetically engineered TV host, He is catapulted into anonymity and left to face the police state brutalities that occupy the lower, less-known classes. There is a tide of colourful characters, mainly women, to whom this good-looking ‘6’ has lots of charm. The power and corruption of the police with their futuristic technologies is a scary concept and Dick tackles some concepts which are still current and in the process of being introduced such as ID cards. The way in which Taverner’s life is glued back together is cleverly done and is very mysterious. He has somehow warped through a portal in time, entered an alternate reality. The book touches on some really provocative themes. There are drugs, sex and rock & roll as well as racism, incest, violence. I love the way the story winds furiously and progresses. You get attached to the characters and really feel Taverner’s emotions. Do we feel sorry for the policeman? there are touches of humanity still there but he is also devoid of his integral humanity. I love the way the book neatly concludes, if it is a little sharp. An excellent read and I cannot wait to tackle my next Dick title. View all my reviews

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Review: Catch-22

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a 20th century classic novel I had to read. It is a fascinating story of the Second World War which grows ever more absurd as Yossarian proceeds on his quest to return home. The characters are fantastic, especially Milo, the entrepreneurial head of the syndicate. The horrors of war can be seen from the ever-increasing list of casualties which disturbs Yossarian as, enveloped in catch-22, the missions he is required to fly, before his tour of duty ends, keep increasing. At times, there is joy, when the men are recuperating from their flights, enjoying themselves in Rome or relaxing at the mess hall. There is always wit and humour although most of the stories have very dark conclusions. The novel jumps from character to character and from scenario to scenario but it is all wonderfully woven together and it builds to a final crescendo where the helplessness of Yossarian’s situation has built to a farcical outcome and he bids his attempt to escape the inescapable catch-22 which constantly revolves around every situation invoked in the tale. It’s a great read and I’m sure must have really appealed to those who were present in the battles of the war itself. A very good book. View all my reviews

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Match Report: Liverpool vs West Brom (26.10.13) W 4-1

Liverpool began the match with their favoured three central defenders, Daniel Agger still not being able to force his way back into first XI. The game began with a fast tempo with Liverpool passing the ball around well. Suarez was pressurising the West Brom defence right from the outset and after having a few shots go wide, fell under a challenge as he headed into the box, but it was a weak appeal for a penalty and the referee correctly refused to award it. A couple of minutes later though (in the 12th) and heading into the right side of the penalty area, he nutmegged the defender and beautifully slotted the ball past WBA keeper, Myhill. A great start for Liverpool and Luis Suarez managed to break his goalscoring duck against Albion. Liverpool kept up the tempo and territorial pressure on the beleaguered away side and it only took another five minutes before yet again our star Uruguayan was converting. This time, Aly Cissokho delivered a great cross to the edge of the box where Suarez plunged a fantastic powerful header into the top corner.  2-0 Liverpool. With 25 minutes gone, a beautifully crafted free kick, from a good position on the edge of the area, culminated in Martin Skrtel slicing the ball from a good goal-scoring position. There was an injury concern when Glen Johnson went down awkwardly while making a recovery tackle against Anichebe. West Brom just couldn’t seem to get into the game and Liverpool were truly dominant. Jordan Henderson almost increased the lead to three with a narrowly missing curling shot just clearing the post. Just before half time and a long through ball for Nicolas Anelka saw him skip past Martin Skrtel and Simon Mignolet. Having beaten the last line of defence, he passed the ball towards the open goal but luckily for Liverpool, the persistent on-from defender, Skrtel, managed to get back and clear the ball from the line. It was the only real danger of what was an excellent first half for the home team. The second half got underway and immediately Daniel Sturridge won a decently positioned free kick and went close to scoring with a strong, curling shot, which just skipped wide. Baggies defender, Claudio Yacob, managed to stop another Liverpool attack but went into the book for his efforts and left a free kick to the Redmen. Steven Gerrard delivered perfectly…

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Match Preview: Liverpool vs West Brom (26.10.13)

            Liverpool welcome West Brom to Anfield in this non-televised 3pm fixture. Liverpool are currently third in the league with West Brom standing at twelfth. League form, however, can be overlooked. West Brom are a bogey side of Liverpool’s, having won 4 of our previous five league fixtures, including a comfortable double over us last season. Although West Brom haven’t won in over a month, they have been impressive against the top sides, beating Man United in their own back yard and also holding Arsenal to a 1-1 draw. Their manager, former no 2 to Kenny Dalgleish at Liverpool, Steve Clarke, will certainly not be afraid of Liverpool, and is likely to have good knowledge of our side. For Liverpool, Lucas Leiva should likely make a return to midfield, having been absent for baby duty last weekend. Glen Johnson should be match fit by now and with Jose Enrique still out with a knock, Aly Cissokho looks set to play left-back. Philippe Coutinho still hasn’t commenced full contact training though should hopefully be back for next weekend’s fixture against Arsenal. Winger, Scott Sinclair, will be missing for West Brom. Ben Foster, Zoltan Gera and George Thorne are also likely to sit out with injuries. The big question for Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, is whether to stick with his 3 central defenders. We haven’t yet held a clean sheet using these tactics. I think that a 3-5-2 formation is perhaps a bit too negative, especially for a home game. Also, is it time for Daniel Agger to start again? Martin Skrtel’s form has been holding our vice-captain out of the side. Is it time for Toure or Sakho to make way for the Dane? Luis Suarez will be hungry as he is yet to score in five games against West Brom. Hopefully his SAS partner, a man with 20 Liverpool goals in 26 appearances, Daniel Sturridge, will also be keen to bag some more goals for his leading tally. I think that Liverpool will be apprehensive about this fixture and maybe will be a bit too over-cautious. They has a bad game against Newcastle last week and need to bounce back. Hopefully our home crowd will be supportive and provide the impetus for us to get the three points which the bookies are predicting. Never in our club’s history have we lost three consecutive home games…

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Review: The FARC: The Longest Insurgency

The FARC: The Longest Insurgency by Garry Leech My rating: 4 of 5 stars This book covers a very interesting subject for what in general there is a dearth of information and that which does exist tends to be fundamentally skewed with bias. The left wing of Colombia’s forty year civil war is headed up by the FARC-EP. This revolutionary Marxist guerrilla group holds a vast amount of Colombian territory and is the de-facto government of a large amount of mainly impoverished rural people who are in general greatly neglected by their government. The FARC have a very strong propaganda campaign in action against them and in this rather brief book, the author attempts to unravel the myths surrounding the FARC, and to determine the truth of what lies behind the propaganda against them. The Americans and Colombian government accuse them of being narco-traffickers and narco-terrorists, and use these accusations in order to fund their fight against their enemy. The book is good at unravelling many of the myths and in general one gets a decent balanced impression and a feeling that one has touched upon the truth. the FARC can be seen as a genuine combatant army and are a bit different to the way they are portrayed as a terrorist or criminal organisation. Their insurgency, although very bloody and difficult, is based in the realities of a real war. They have an ideological struggle and truly represent the feelings of their people. Some of the facts are quite surprising. I found the chapter on human rights abuses very revealing. It shows that although the FARC are very far from perfect and have committed some truly heinous acts, in general, the Colombian government forces and right-wing paramilitary groups are far more oppressive towards the average civilian. I think the author, who is an investigative journalist based in Colombia, has done a very good job with this work. I feel that for such a subject, a much broader and deeper piece of writing could be done. If anything the account is just a bit too brief. I hope to check out some of Garry Leech’s other books. View all my reviews

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