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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Disappointing book and movie

Sort of a one-two punch because I finished the book last night and watched the movie tonight.  Both highly anticipated and both not as satisfying as I expected.

Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton

Like so many terrific books, I heard about this on NPR. The title sounds like a bodice-ripper, but it's the fictionalized (though carefully researched) journal of Tamsen Donner, of the infamous Donner Party - a group of pioneers who got stranded in the Sierra Nevadas in 1846 on their way to California and resorted to cannabalism to survive. (The title refers to Tamsen's wanderlust, which she partly blames for the situation they find themselves in.) It had been on my To Read list for awhile, but I grabbed it at the library because I was in the mood for more historical fiction with a kick ass lady front and center after reading Arianna Franklin's excellent City of Shadows. This is my idea of a great beach read!

Once I started it, though, I almost quit - it's quite disjointed and a bit confusing.  For example, she repeatedly talks about events in the past tense that you haven't read about yet, so it's hard to keep track of the characters and the flow of events. I thought, since this was written as a journal, it would be in chronological order, but the author created a more impressionistic narrative, with flashbacks imbedded in the journal entries. I'm glad I read it, but the impact was greatly reduced by the way it's written. I don't feel like I got to know Tamsen Donner the way I thought I would. The book is obviously well-researched, but I think it could have been more affecting than it is.  I had been so looking forward to reading it and it was quite a let down.

The Debt starring Helen Mirren

I heard about this movie many months ago and immediately put it on my Must See list - HM as a Mossad agent with a terrible secret having to do with a mission in the 1950s.  I rushed out to see it the very first chance I got, but it was disappointing.  The first half is terrific, very engrossing, but the ending is so improbable that it's almost silly, and the moral of the story is all muddled.  The Nazi they capture taunts them, saying that Jews are weak and cowardly, and are no good at killing, only at dying (a prevalant rationalization).  But the agents' ineptitude and infighting almost suggests that he's right.  Ick.  This is a remake of an Israeli movie, which I did not know until just before I saw it, and which makes this unflattering portrayal more puzzling (though I suppose the willingness to examine their sacred cows and show their hereos with clay feet is to be lauded).  Clearly the point they're making is that the truth is always better than a lie, and I appreciate that.  But the way that the ending plays out makes the message less clear.  Interesting difference in the remake - in the American version, the book lauding the heroes is written by the agent's daughter, but in the Israeli film, the book is written by the agent herself; having the daughter be a factor in whether the truth will be revealed definitely adds another level to the moral dilemma.  It's not a bad movie, just not as good as it could have been (an opinion that I found is shared by lots of users on imdb.com).

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