Friday, January 29, 1999

'volk'

Piers Anthony bills Volk as a politically incorrect novel of the forbidden love between a Nazi officer and the Quaker fiancee of his pre-war American friend. Volk nicely brings out some of the ironies of WWII: that not all Nazis subsribed to their party's ideology, and that the Allies also engaged in practices as barbarous as the Nazis did.

Unfortunately, the novel does little more than play around with some of these ideas or the characters themselves. The storyline covers a six- or seven-year period, but little in the novel reflects that. Nor is it particularly unsettling when the Quaker woman is captured by Nazis for smuggling Jews; nor can the reader really feel that woman's anguish at the compromises wartime forces on her.

Additionally, the book is rather poorly edited; while Xlibris allows authors to circumvent the big publishing houses to get their books into print, it apparently doesn't provide editing services. In the case of Volk, Piers Anthony would have been better off hiring a freelance editor or giving the book a closer second read himself.

Volk is readable, but disappointing. Unless you're a tremendous fan of Anthony's writing, you're unlikely to finish Volk after you put it down.

Friday, January 01, 1999

christmas vacation

Here it is, the first day of the last year in the millennium. Well, not really, since the millennium technically ends Dec. 31, 2000, but no one's going to consider that next New Year's Eve.

As I write this, it's about 11 a.m. Friday on our last whole day in Indiana with my brother, sister-in-law and their son, Caleb. I'm sitting in the back room of their house in, freezing my fingers and my tucish.

Natasha and I arrived in Chicago, Ill. On Dec. 24 about 2:30 or so, nearly two hours later than we had been told we would. The plane had some mechanical difficulties in New Hampshire, and so it was a couple hours late picking us up.

The flight in was pretty uneventful; Natasha slept about an hour of the trip; I dozed for about half an hour, and then read Piers Anthony's "Volk," a book of historical fiction set in Europe during World War II.

I'm kind of disappointed in it, and regret buying a copy for Popper for Christmas, since I doubt he'll enjoy it any more than I have. The book details a triad of relationships among an RAF pilot, his Quaker fiancee and his German college buddy, who also happens to be a Nazi without buying into some of the party's more monstrous beliefs and practices. He's anti-Semitic, but not nearly as much as his cohorts in the Nazi party.

So in that sense, it's interesting, because it breaks some of the stereotypes we have of different groups; the Nazis weren't all evil (some worked hard to save Jews from the death camps, such as
Schindler) and the Allies had a few dark secrets of their own that history books usually gloss over, like the concentration camps we put the Japanese in for the duration of the war. Piers Anthony also gives a lot of detail to the aviation battles; you can tell he researched the combat techniques and understands the aviation machinery of the time, and has some familiarity with how the Quakers run their rescue missions (he was raised a Quaker).

All the same, I'm disappointed. While those things are good and lend the book some believability, and it's interesting to see the way he incorporates actual battles like Dunkirk into the plot, there's too much that's lacking. He hints at espionage and turncoats, spies and machinations, he never really does anything with it, at least as far as I've read so far. If I don't read the book today, or tomorrow on the flight home, I probably will never finish it.

Anyway, Rhonda and Caleb were waiting for us at the airport and brought us here to Indiana, where we've had a whopping good time. We went to a late-night service Christmas Eve at a nearby Methodist church, since Ward and Rhonda's own church didn't have a midnight service. (They did have a Christmas morning service that we skipped.)

I don't remember much of the service. The organist played the Christmas hymns too slowly for my taste, and they had a choral cantata that probably was decent if you're into those things. I did a little writing on the back of the church bulletin that turned out decently, about the magi and their expectations when they followed the Star of Bethlehem.

After the service ended, we came back home and put Caleb to bed before we got all the presents out. Rhonda's preference is to sort the presents by person so each person gets to be in the spotlight for a while. That was different than we did it as children, but it worked well. Ward and Rhonda had bought so many presents we actually had to make two trips to a neighbor's house, where they had stashed gifts forCaleb, including a 24-inch 18-speed mountain bike that he has ridden nearly every day since.

I'm not sure what Caleb makes of Santa Claus. He's at the age I think he knows something is up, but he still wants to believe that Santa is for real. At any rate, he came out of room around 11 p.m. and nearly caught us in the act of putting Santa presents under the tree.

Apparently, the lad woke up at 3:30 Christmas morning. Ward andRhonda were able to keep him down for a while, but finally at 5 a.m., we all got up and opened our gifts. It was nice to see Caleb so excited about the gifts he received, and there were a lot of them, but I still decided that when Nastasha and I have children and they wake up early for Christmas, I'm going to have them call Uncle Ward and talk with him before anyone gets up.

Caleb has enjoyed a lot of the presents he got, such as the mountain bike, apparently the only thing he asked Santa for. But Herb, Caleb's Uncle Dutch, got him a functional children's tool set that includes a router, drill press, table saw and a few other items. Caleb played with that like mad on Christmas the next couple days. He's been busy the past two days with a tornado-maker Ward and Rhonda bought him at a science museum in Chicago. Attached to two two-liter bottles, the device's inside spirals so that water pouring from the upper bottle starts to swirl as it enters the lower bottle, with the result that it can create some impressive-looking whirlpools.

Caleb's a pretty cool kid. I'm impressed with how well-balanced he is, considering he's changed homes four times, twice after leaving homes where he was firmly entrenched. He seems to hold a few things inside at times, but he's outgoing and acts a lot like any other child his age. He emulates Ward, which has been fascinating to watch. And Wardloves Caleb so much you never would be able to tell from his behavior that Caleb isn't Ward's biological son.

It's been a tremendous visit in many ways since I've had a chance to see a whole new side of Ward (and Rhonda) that I never saw before. Fatherhood suits him; I hope I live up to the role as well as he is.

Caleb seems to like me too; we've gone out and done a couple things ourselves when Ward was at work and wasn't available. We went biking together on Saturday, and on Sunday, he went with me in Ward's truck to get some things from the store, including a "Prince of Egypt" soundtrack I bought at Kmart. We've been roughhousing a bit together too, mostly good, old-fashioned rassling in the living room, although we've also done some funky weird dances to "Through Heaven's Eyes," a danceable song by Jethro, high priest of Midian, in Prince of Egypt.

I'm taking it easy today since Caleb starts school on Monday and Ward and Rhonda want him to have wound down for that.

Oh yeah. Caleb also got a present that's been used more by Natasha so far than by Caleb. Ward and Rhonda gave him a virtual dog that he named Dips and Rhonda mistyped as Dipsa. Natasha has not left Dipsa's side since then, or the other way around. She even took Dipsa to Michigan
City with us when we visited the Yeohs.

The other day I picked up the binking thing to see what the fascination was, started pressing buttons and was pretty impressed with myself for figuring out how to feed Dipsa dog biscuits and comb and pet him. After a few more buttons, Dipsa's name flashed up on the screen, and then again and again. So I asked Natasha why, and she nearly went ballistic. It turns out I had been yelling at the dog, and ruined its state of near-total happiness that she had been building up all day.

Anyway, we've been here in Indiana all week, and plan to leave tomorrow if the snow doesn't block us in. Ward said there's about a foot coming in tonight. That could delay our departure, and could by extension cause problems with my attending the reorganization meeting in Princeton Township on Sunday, which reminds me that I need to call Michelle and make sure she needs me to cover that.