Tag Archives: war

Movie vs. Book: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

tina-fey-whiskey-foxtrot-tangoKim Barker has a fine life — boring, but fine. She works for a newspaper. She has a boyfriend that she might, kind of like. She’s in her 30’s, but she’s as lost as a teenager. Then 9/11 happens. Suddenly, she has found new meaning. She’s going to Afghanistan to cover the war on terror for The Chicago Tribune. 

Kim Barker’s memoir of her years covering the war in Afghanistan — or as she calls it, The Forgotten War — is as real as it gets. It’s full of bombings, political corruption, shootings and journalist kidnappings. But hers is also the story of “Kabul High” as she likes to call it — partying, heavy drinking and drugs, competition amongst reporters, adrenaline rushes, hookups and backstabbing. She tells the stories we don’t expect to be happening between reporters and their sources and reporters amongst themselves. But it does happen. It’s the rush of it all that sucks Kim in to the Middle East and keeps her from returning home to the U.S. for more than six years.

In Barker’s memoir, she tells her story in vignettes — an interview with a warlord here, a failed vacation with her boyfriend there, but there’s no plot, per se. It’s more of a diary of her experiences abroad and a depiction of her inability to leave what’s become her new home.

The movie, however, changes that, and that may be for the best. Tina Fey as Barker is a perfect fit — a little bit of hot mess, but still focused on her work and a good woman overall. The movie adds a little drama to the story — making the several journalist kidnappings at the end of the memoir the main plot of the film, when it happens to a boyfriend of Barker’s who never actually existed in real life. In fact, the movie combines several of the men in Barker’s life into one hunky journalist boyfriend. It also creates a fellow female journalist with whom Barker has a competitive frenemy relationship. The movie also makes Barker a TV journalist. All of this does nothing, but add plot and pizzazz.

While typically, I like a movie to stay true to a book — especially if that book is a memoir, in this case, I thought the movie did a good job in adding what the book lacked. The memoir — while interesting — is dense and gives a lot of descriptive detail about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Some sections are hard to get through, especially as I sometimes waited for a juicy plot twist. A movie without a focused story wouldn’t have been good as a movie. So in this case, the movie is more of an interpretation of the memoir, with juicy plot twists. The book’s juicy plot twist was the overall journey and how it changed Barker’s life.

Get Whiskey Tango Foxtrot in paperback for $11.96. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $11.99.

1 Comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

Movie vs. Book: Unbroken

The life of Louie Zamperini is an incredible one. He’s a man who seemed to live nine lives before finally dying at the age of 97 just last year — mere months before the movie about his life came out. Unbroken, the movie, is based on the bestselling book by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s a look at the amazing life and courage of Zamperini, who not only ran in the Olympics as a young man, but then went on to fight in WWII, have his plane crash in the ocean, survive on a raft for 47 days only to be captured and tortured for the next two years in a Japanese POW camp.

The book tells the story of his life in extraordinary detail — including passages about his friends in the war, about the duck with whom he becomes friends, and about the evil Japanese soldier, nicknamed “The Bird,” who focuses much of his energy of torturing Louie. While the Angelina Jolie-directed movie exudes the right tone and properly tells the general story of his life, it does leave out some memorable moments and important details from the book, and certain things feel watered down.

For instance, there are two other men on the raft with Zamperini after his plane is shot down — one of whom, in the book, eventually gives up on trying to stay alive and subsequently dies. But that is not portrayed well in the movie. In fact, the person who saw it with me asked how he died. He found it hard to follow what caused his death, and I had to explain that ultimately he gave up and his body gave out. The same goes for the portrayal of Louie’s arch nemesis, “The Bird.” While it’s clear that he’s evil, it wasn’t inherently clear in the movie that “The Bird” specifically had it out for Zamperini.

The movie also leaves out the duck — a detail that takes on more significance when the duck is brutally killed in the book.  As it turns out, that was a specific choice made by Jolie, according to Entertainment Weekly. And what’s worse — the movie leaves out the entire last section of the book, which delves into Zamperini’s struggle with PTSD and alcoholism after returning home to the war — an element which only added to the laundry list of things the man had been through and survived, an element that makes him only appear greater.

Of course, the movie would have been far too long with that section. And of course, Louie Zamperini would have been proud of and happy with the movie no matter what. Could it have used some work? Certainly. But the feeling of hope and optimism along with the sense that if the human spirit can overcome anything and everything is still there at the end of the movie, and that’s arguably the best and most important thing to take away from both the book and Louie Zamperini’s life.

Get Unbroken in paperback for $9.60.

Or get it on your Kindle for $4.99.

1 Comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book

Review: A Mother’s Song

Recap: A story about following your heart wherever it may lead, A Mother’s Song by Michael Finaghty is an engrossing read. The book tells the story of Ruby Penfold, an orphan, brilliant pianist, and peace activist from Australia. It follows Ruby’s life — from her mischievous days at the Christian orphanage in the 1960’s to her teenage years with foster parents Captain and Connie O’Grady, and finally to her adult life in Melbourne and London.

At 18-years-old, Ruby meets her first love, Phillip, who is soon ripped from her by the Vietnam War. When this happens, Ruby’s passion against the war grows more intense. It’s a rocky period in her life, as she searches for and locates her mentally-ill biological mother. She later learns that her mother went crazy after she lost both her parents in the Blitzkrieg during WWII.

Despite Ruby’s efforts to remain part of Phillip’s and her mother’s life, she realizes she must move on. She journeys to London with her best friend, Chloe. There she meets her new love, Andrew. She continues her peace efforts by joining local peace groups. Her passion for music and the piano also remain. But after she enters the world of family life with Andrew, 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan follows. Soon, her activist lifestyle takes over.

Analysis: While reading the novel, I kept interpreting the title A Mother’s Song — which mother does it correspond to? Ruby’s biological, sick mother or her foster mother, Connie? And what song? The obvious answer is the opera song that Connie loves and shares with Ruby  (“I too recall how long ago, my heart was joyful and tender; love spread his wings around me”). But Connie is an activist. And Ruby’s biological mother succumbed to illness after war destroyed her childhood. So in essence, Ruby’s song is one of peace — a song passed down to her by both of her mothers.

There is something beautiful about the way three different wars have affected three different generations. The Blitzkrieg’s effect on Ruby’s mother, the Vietnam War’s effect on Ruby, and the Afghanistan War’s effect on Ruby and her younger activist friends. The battle for peace becomes an heirloom that’s passed along from generation to generation.

Interwoven into the story about war and peace is also a story of love — love lost and refound. Ruby comes full circle in way that has both romantic and political impact.

MVP: Ruby Penfold. At a young age, she’s already dealt with a substantial amount of pain and loss. That continues to follow her into her adult life. But her ability to throw herself into her music and her activism helps her cope with everything. She’s a little lost and confused. But she is passionate. And that steers her toward becoming a romantic do-gooder.

Get A Mother’s Song for your Kindle for just $5.80.

11 Comments

Filed under Reviews

Review: Shanghai Girls

Recap: In Shanghai — “The Paris of China” — in the 1930’s, Pearl and May Chin are privileged, beautiful, rich girls, raised in a life of glamour, parties, and all things wonderful. But when their father informs them that he’s broke and has made a deal to marry them off to make up for his losses, their world changes entirely. Add to that the beginning of World War II and the Japanese bombing of Shanghai, and you’ve got the makings of a deeply impactful story.

Shanghai Girls follows Pearl and May as they marry the men their father has selected — Sam and Vern. It follows them as they journey overseas to America — and get stuck on Angel Island for months before they’re allowed into the country. And it follows them as they begin to build a life based on the American dream — a dream they never knew they had before.

Analysis: Shanghai Girls is divided into three parts: Fate, Fortune, and Destiny. Typically, dividing a book into portions doesn’t have much of an effect on me or the way I read it. But in the case of Shanghai Girls, it works. The way Pearl’s and May’s lives unfold is drastic. They face so many ups and downs that the parts helps to separate them and keep track of everything.

The first part of the book is difficult to get through. It’s graphic, depressing, and — no, heartwrenching. Because the young girls face so much hardship, I found I needed to know what happened. I longed to learn how they got out of their mess, if they got out. Shanghai Girls deals with many social issues of the time — war, Communism, illegal immigration, and civil rights. Reading it makes clear how much harder things were for the Chinese than most other U.S. immigrants.

The tale of Pearl and May is gripping. But it’s also a story of love — love between two sisters who only have each left in a crazy world. Pearl and May are the only truly stagnant parts of each other’s lives, and reading about their deep understanding and respect for each other is as captivating as the story itself.

MVP: Pearl’s husband, Sam. Each character in this novel has some kind of overwhelming flaw. But not Sam. Though he initially appears as the “evil” husband who Pearl is forced to marry, he becomes the perfect husband. And despite  his tragedy, he still remains the character that stands out as the kindest, most loving, and down to earth person in the book.

Get Shanghai Girls now for only $10.

2 Comments

Filed under Reviews

Review: Dear John

Recap: It’s a story we’ve all heard before. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy goes off to war. Sadness ensues. But the story of Dear John goes a little further. Not only must the soldier and protagonist, John, return to his duties in Germany and leave behind his new girlfriend, Savannah. He must also say goodbye to his father, who suffers from Asberger’s syndrome.

Dear John is a love story between John, who’s on leave from the military, and Savannah, who’s building homes during her spring break from UNC. The unlikely two fall in love in just a few weeks. But in that time, Savannah — who is studying psychology at school — points out to John that his father may be autistic. Even though that would explain his father’s isolation and awkwardness, the suggestion erupts into a fight that ultimately brings John and Savannah — and John’s father — closer together.

Before they know it, John and Savannah are two halves of a (very) long-distance relationship. After a year, John returns to Savannah, and though things have changed, their feelings for each other have not. John, once again, goes back to the army. But then September 11th happens. And though he promised Savannah he wouldn’t re-sign, he feels obligated to venture off to Afghanistan. And that one decision is the one that would change both of their lives forever.

Analysis: In true Nicholas Sparks fashion, Dear John is a love story that not only deals with the hardships of love and the questions about fate and destiny, but with disease and chronic illness. The story focuses on the effects of autism, pertaining to John’s father. It also deals with physical illness — cancer — from which Savannah’s friend, Tim, suffers. Throw war on top of that, and you’re dealing with a book that has a lot of heavy issues.

The first part of the book focuses on the love story between the two main characters, but the latter portions are much darker. The characters brood, yearn for each other, and generally make the reader depressed. Not to mention, John and his father are rather likable, but I didn’t love Savannah. She was too much of a “goody-goody,” and an annoying one at that. The problem here is that if I don’t love her, it’s hard for me to understand why John does. Therein lies a major flaw.

I still enjoyed the book regardless. There’s really nothing like a romance — no matter how annoying the characters are. And the parts about the war were also done well. Though I wasn’t a fan of the ending, I understood that it was reality. Sometimes our lives don’t go the way we plan, and sometimes it’s our own fault. But that’s the way it is, and that’s what Dear John is really all about.

MVP: John’s dad. As Savannah blatantly points out throughout the novel, John’s father did an excellent job of raising him, despite his autism. As more and more illnesses are discovered, doctors realize that older patients were overlooked in their youth. That seems to be the case here. When John’s father was young and a little “off,” there was no reason to believe anything was actually wrong with him. The idea of this character is a good one, and Sparks does it the right way.

1 Comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews