SDP View Club

Politics, Corruption, and Kindness

Welcome to the October edition of the Shaggy Dog View Club. We have another all-book edition from last month with three of our authors recommending three very different books.

Kelly Jensen

I remember seeing this book on a list somewhere, recommending books with politics and intrigue. The books were rated in order of intricacy from least to most with The Goblin Emperor near, if not at the end. I decided against reading it. My attention span can be difficult to pin down and I utterly fail at politics.

Many months later, however, when looking for more challenging reads, I referred back to that list and picked a book at random. It was not The Goblin Emperor. I read A Memory Called Empire and enjoyed it so much that I immediately preordered A Desolation Called Peace (and liked that book even more). I read another book from the list, and then another, thinking to myself, maybe I’m just getting better at this! Age has added wisdom.

Finally, I was left with just one title, The Goblin Emperor. Honestly, there was little about the synopsis that really called to me (through no fault of its own? It’s a me, not you situation) but I do enjoy collecting the gorgeous limited editions published by Subterranean Press and The Goblin Emperor was up next. So, to read or not to read? I decided to read – and only halfway through the book set three alarms to alert me about the presale so I could snag my copy before they sold out.

The prose is beautiful and I found the rhythm of it quite quickly. Maia sometimes feels a little like a leaf on the wind (a politically dense wind) but he’s just so… SO… him. Essentially himself. The story is interesting, but the most fascinating aspect is the world itself, and Maia’s relationship to it, because he comes to the imperial court as much a stranger to it as we do. We learn as he does, and the lessons are sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, and often inscrutable at first blush. As a side note, there is so much blushing in this book and I found all of it marvelous.

I chuckled here and there, mostly at full-body prostrations. I teared up quite a bit more than I would ever have expected at the outset. Sometimes my tears surprised me, springing from my eyes in moments that weren’t exactly tender but represented a jammed gear moving forward half a hitching step. A chink in a wall where light poked through for the first time. Or simply Maia realizing he was not entirely alone and not completely unworthy.

A beautiful book, and one I wish I had not put off for so long.

Susan Moore Jordan

Promotions for the recently released film of this title led me to want to read Mr. Grann’s excellent book. I’m not often a reader of non-fiction except when researching, but this caught my attention for personal reasons. My mother was of the Choctaw nation and had told me a little of the events that transpired when oil was found in Indian Territory…or the state of Oklahoma, as it was named (after a Choctaw word, in fact). She was not on the roll of her nation because she had been unable to prove that she was one-quarter Choctaw and so was denied the payment many other native Americans received.

From Mr. Grann’s book, I’ve learned the tribe that benefitted most from the discovery of oil were the Osage. They had been moved from a vast territory into first a little corner of Kansas and then into Oklahoma. At the end of the nineteenth century and into the early years of the twentieth, each registered member of the tribe received “headrights” … their portion of the incredible value of minerals found on their land. In order to drill for oil, companies had to pay the owners of the land. By around 1920, the Osage were the wealthiest people on earth. Headrights could only be passed to family members. But members of the tribe began dying mysteriously and it was suspected these deaths were not accidental.

The amount of corruption among the law enforcement officers in Oklahoma was mind-boggling. Eventually, it became necessary for the federal government to step into the picture by way of a new agency of the Justice Department: the FBI. J. Egar Hoover appointed a lawman he knew and trusted to oversee the investigation, a former Texas Ranger and a fascinating character named Tom White. Following leads in this complicated plot could cost an agent his life. It’s estimated possibly some sixty members of the Osage tribe were killed, many by poison, some by being shot, and at least one man and wife died when their house was blown up.

It’s a complicated story, told in careful detail by Mr. Grann. While the author is primarily a journalist, the book often reads as a good book of fiction should, with backstories and details that bring the characters to life. These days we are aware of the history of the Native American tribes having their lands stripped from them by European settlers, but this is a chapter of theft of our native peoples about which nothing has been taught and little is known. Mr. Grann’s book and the film should change that.

Sahar Abdulaziz

Have You Seen Luis Velez? by Catherine Ryan Hyde, snuck up on me—taking my heart captive. This novel is a touching story, highlighting the impact two strangers made on the lives of each other. It is also a tale and powerful reminder of how kindness, humanity, and the outpouring of generosity can become the catalyst for change and the silencer of fear.

Mildred Gutermann, a blind ninety-two-year-old Holocaust survivor, lives alone in her apartment building, fending for herself until Luis Velez, a nice man who, out of nowhere, saw she needed help, which was enough for him to insert himself into her life. From then on, Luis, despite his family and work responsibilities, regularly came to help Mildred food shop, go to the bank, or wherever else she needed until he didn’t show up one day. Days went by, but still no word from Luis, sending Mildred into a panic. With no other choice, she left her apartment, alone and vulnerable to discover what had happened to her friend.

That’s when she meets Raymond Jaffe, a quiet but thoughtful high school kid who lives in the same building with his mom and her new family. Raymond’s best and only friend has just moved away, and he’s having difficulty navigating his weekend visits with his father and his less-than-welcoming new wife. Besides the feral cat he befriended, Raymond is lonely and feels invisible, upset that no one ‘can see’ or understand him.

Most people would see a Mildred Gutermann and rush past, never taking the time to see to her needs, but not Raymond, who not only does what he can to keep the older woman safe in her caretaker’s absence but helps track down what happened to Luis Velez—a kindhearted man who would have never just not shown up. 

Two seemingly different individuals found true and lasting friendship, overcoming many obstacles. They banded together in an incredible show of solidarity and kindness, bringing about a remarkable transformation in their community and creating a sense of hope previously absent.

The story is beautifully written and well worth reading. If you’re feeling down and need a little comfort, take a moment to remember that kindness, empathy, and compassion are powerful tools for change, reminding us that conflict, bigotry, and oppression will never be the answer to conquer hate and fear—only love, empathy and compassion can do that.

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