Books of the month: February

Convict lake, Eastern Sierras

Convict lake, Eastern Sierras

In February I read only two books; two big ones, to be fair. 

Both pretty good, for different reasons. 

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1. The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed, by John Vaillant

Brilliantly combining historical and cultural information with personal stories, this must-read book tells the story of logger-turned-activist Grand Hadwin, who - paradoxically - cut down a unique and highly symbolical golden, 165 feet tall Sitka spruce as a way to protest against the destruction of the local, ancient forest by the logging industry.  

From Publishers Weekly:

"The felling of a celebrated giant golden spruce tree in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands takes on a potent symbolism in this probing study of an unprecedented act of eco-vandalism. First-time author Vaillant, who originally wrote about the death of the spruce for the New Yorker, profiles the culprit, an ex-logger turned messianic environmentalist who toppled the famous tree—the only one of its kind—to protest the destruction of British Columbia's old-growth forest, then soon vanished mysteriously. Vaillant also explores the culture and history of the Haida Indians who revered the tree, and of the logging industry that often expresses an elegiac awe for the ancient trees it is busily clear-cutting. Writing in a vigorous, evocative style, Vaillant portrays the Pacific Northwest as a region of conflict and violence, from the battles between Europeans and Indians over the 18th-century sea otter trade to the hard-bitten, macho milieu of the logging camps, where grisly death is an occupational hazard. It is also, in his telling, a land of virtually infinite natural resources overmatched by an even greater human rapaciousness. Through this archetypal story of "people fail[ing] to see the forest for the tree," Vaillant paints a haunting portrait of man's vexed relationship with nature."

With interesting allegories and metaphors, and a brilliant use of biological, cultural, historical and economic information, Vaillant wrote a suspenseful, rich and disturbing story that take us to the intersections between loggers, native rights activists, environmentalists, and everyone interested in the many conflicts that inevitably arise between Nature, Culture, Society and Economy.

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2. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

This is such a beautiful, addictive's one of those that, once you start, you just can't stop reading it.

Pachinko is the epic saga of a Korean family told over four generations, beginning in 1910 during the time of Japanese colonialization and ending many decades later in 1989.  

This exceptional and beautifully-written story teaches not only about history, it also reminds us that, despite our cultural differences, we are all the same: we all want to love and be loved; we all want peace and a sense of belonging; we are all searching for a purpose in life.

I fell in love with all the characters. Lee's writing is so sensitive that one just can't help but to sympathize with all of them and truly understand their actions - even when they perhaps are different that what we would do if we were facing those same circumstances. 

This book is a fascinating achievement in times of mass immigration throughout the world and it perfectly shows what people lose when they are forced to leave their homes due to wars and etc. The search for identity, the hardships of being in a place your humanity is not acknowledged, the distance from one's family and traditions....

Above it all, however, it shows the power of love, hope and perseverance, and how we must keep fighting and trying to move forward, despite the many difficulties we will certainly find along our way. "Life's going to keep pushing you around, but you have to keep playing", reflects one of the characters - also making a link to the game of the novel's title. 

The size of this book may be intimidating at first but it's very easy to read and it is so engaging that you will finish it way earlier than you may have imagined.  



I will be back here in a few days sharing some pictures and stories from a recent trip to Guadalajara, Mexico.

Take care, guys!


Bernardo Salce