Daily Archives: March 27, 2009

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

Perhaps I should pick less dark novels? The Vagrants tells the story of a Chinese town after the Cultural Revolution where a supposed “counter-revolutionary” is savagely executed (and her kidneys given to a high-ranking officials) and the ensuing popular protest is squashed just as savagely. To enliven the story add the distressed parents of the counter-revolutionary; a dirt-poor family with too many girls to raise who treats the oldest as a semi-slave; a sadist who pretends to volunteer to bury the executed woman; and a good-for nothing young man who turns out to be surprisingly sweet, the one ray of hope in the story.

Yet another proof that authoritarian regimes mangle people. Well-written, a little slow to my  taste, and mostly gloomy.

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Panic by Michael Lewis

Panic is the simplest of books: a compilation of newspaper and magazine articles about recent economic “crises” (from 1987 on.) The technique is very effective: it’s surprisingly refreshing — and oddly comforting at the same time — to read dark predictions about the stock market made in the wake of the 1987 “Black Friday” that read just like the ones written today. About a third into the book I must admit I got a bit bored. The pundits who pretend to predict the future are clearly not as clairvoyant as they’d like us to know, and with hindsight it shows.

And it’s most sobering to read again about the tech bubble, including many of my customers…

Overall, a good antidote to getting sucked in by today’s analyses, made in the same chaos as earlier crises.

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Filed under Non fiction