Tuesday, March 31, 2009

David Ball: The Sword and the Scimitar

One of those sweeping historical novels that brings to life the realities of battles for ships (laden with goods) and power that raged between Christians and Muslims in the Mediterranean of the 16th century. This is the novel to take with you when you go on holiday to Malta, as Malta lies at the heart of the story, even though much of the story also takes place in Algiers, Istanbul, and Paris. The story tracks the life of a Maltese brother and sister, separated at a young age when the boy is captured as a slave by a passing galley. The lives of ordinary Maltese are contrasted with those of the Knights of St John, the Maltese nobility, slaves serving in the galleys, and the servants of Suleiman the Magnificent in the Topkapi palace. At over 700 pages, although many scenes are intensely gripping, the book is too long. I skimmed several sections that could have easily been cut without any loss to the heart of the novel. Wonderful to read this and then wander through the streets of Birgu where much of the action takes place and see the historic buildings mentioned in the book.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Nicole Krauss: The History of Love

Sad. Things never quite work out for the characters of this story, who are steeped in the sadness of holocaust survivors. There are two main characters, an old man and a young girl, whose stories run in rough parallel to each other, only meeting at the very end, when it’s really too late. Not an optimistic work, not the usual happy ending. The description of the lonely life of an elderly holocaust survivor, living alone in NYC, is intensely moving; however, I found that the story pushed and stretched the boundaries of reality with an intricately constructed plot that was maybe just a bit too clever.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Recovery from CFS: 50 personal stories
Compiled and edited by Alexandra Barton

My biggest problem with this book is that the editor is disingenuous in the way she uses the terms ‘ME’ and ‘CFS’ interchangeably. There is no differentiation in the book between ME and CFS; indeed, the controversy over labelling the neurological disease ME is completely ignored. ME is a distinct, well-defined, neurological disease classified by the WHO (ICD-10 G93.3) which can be diagnosed using specific scans (see http://www.nightingale.ca/documents/Nightingale_ME_Definition_en.pdf). CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), however, refers to a collection of symptoms and by definition is not a specific illness.

The majority of general practitioners and other medical personnel do not understand the distinction between ME and CFS; indeed, thanks to a deliberate policy of mis-labelling, most people are unaware that ME is a distinct and clearly defined disease. The reasons for this are clearly explained by Jodi Bassett in her article “Who benefits from 'CFS' and 'ME/CFS'?” which can be found at: http://www.ahummingbirdsguide.com/whobenefitsfromcfs.htm
One result of this failure to clearly differentiate between ME and other un-diagnosed health problems with fatigue as the primary symptom (please note: fatigue is NOT the primary symptom in ME) is that people are often diagnosed with ME when they do not have ME, and others are diagnosed with CFS, which cannot be an actual diagnosis because there is no disease “CFS” – it is merely a collection of symptoms. All of which brings me back to the book in question: it is clear that some of the contributors suffered from illness and problems that have caused the symptom of chronic fatigue, but that they probably did not have ME, even when the contributor describes him or herself as having had ‘ME’. Therefore the book cannot be seen as referring only to ME cases; it clearly refers to a mix of ME and other illnesses which have chronic fatigue as a symptom (among a variety of other symptoms). Although the title only refers to ‘CFS’ (possibly to head off complaints such as mine!) the two terms are used interchangeably elsewhere throughout the book – and on the back cover.

The book is also in need of a good edit and more meticulous proof reading before the next edition comes out!

Having got all my criticisms out of the way, here’s what I do like about the book. It offers some hope to people with a range of health problems, including ME. It is empowering to learn that some people do recover. Before reading the book I had come to a point where I accepted that I had ME, that I would probably always have it, and that I simply had to learn how to live with it as best I could. Since reading the book I’ve picked up my research tools once again, and have begun exploring all the internet links provided in the book, and indeed have moved on way beyond the information provided. I’m currently looking into the link between ME and Lyme disease, which is not mentioned in the book. One type of treatment unfortunately not mentioned in the book is lymphatic drainage, practiced and taught in the UK by R. Perrin, an osteopath. It would have been interesting to read the stories of those people who’ve been treated by Perrin.

The book is a useful starting point for people who have been given the catch-all chronic fatigue diagnosis. I do not, personally, agree with the ‘miracle cure’ stories – I suspect that these people did not actually have ME. At present there is too little research done on ME, and the research that exists appears to be ignored by medical practitioners such as those in the UK who are responsible for the NICE guidelines on ME. One day there will be an explanation for the cause of this organic, neurological illness, and one day we will know what the most appropriate treatments are. I just hope it’s in my lifetime.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lynne Truss: Making the Cat Laugh – One Woman´s Journal of Single Life on the Margins

From the author of: "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves", this is a collection of columns she wrote for The Listener, The Times, and Woman´s Journal - written before she became famous. She's an entertaining and witty writer, with wry comments on the life of the single woman.

Barbara Kingsolver: Pigs in Heaven.
The Cherokee Nation vs Taylor Greer. About the adoption of Indian (native American) children away from the reservation. 6-year old Turtle, the adopted daughter of Taylor Greer, sees someone fall into the Hoover Dam, ends up on Oprah, is seen by an Indian lawyer Annawake Fourkiller, who then starts the process of getting Turtle back to what remains of her family. But it turns out that Taylor´s mother, Alice, is ¼ Cherokee too… Kingsolver is one of my favourite US writers, and this one is every word as good as others by her which I’ve read: Prodigal Summer, The Poisonwood Bible, and Animal Dreams.