Barash and Lipton: "The Myth of Monogamy"

"Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infedility in Animals and People," By David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton;
W. H. Freeman; 227 pp.


By David Abel  |  Globe Staff  |  7/22/2001

This is not the sort of book you want to be seen reading in public.

There are no pornographic pictures inside, the author isn't wanted for blasphemy, and the language couldn't be further from the Marquis de Sade. In fact, this compact scientific volume is written in such clinical detail that it might border on mind-numbing, if not for its subject.

But "The Myth of Monogamy" is better read in solitude. I should know. Over the course of several days, in airports, restaurants, and parks, I read the book and watched as people glanced at the incendiary title on the jacket and eyed me suspiciously.

Of course, the ultimate message of David Barash and Judith Eve Lipton's work is nowhere as apocalyptic for those married or considering marriage as the title might suggest. Still, its findings do not bode well for couples who earnestly believe wedding vows automatically translate into lifelong monogamy.

The husband-and-wife team of Barash, a psychologist with a doctorate in zoology, and Lipton, a psychiatrist, write in Darwinian detail but are breezy enough so not to lose the lay reader. It also helps that they are straightforward. In their opening paragraph, they paraphrase the anthropologist Margaret Mead, who once suggested that monogamy is the hardest of all human marital arrangements.

"It is also one of the rarest," they write. "In attempting to maintain a social and sexual bond consisting exclusively of one man and one woman, aspiring monogamists are going against some of the deepest-seated evolutionary inclinations with which biology has endowed most creatures, Homo sapiens included."

In example after example, using recent research based on the "DNA fingerprinting" of hundreds of creatures ranging from orangutans to red-winged blackbirds to rats, Barash and Lipton find widespread evidence of infidelity in many animals previously thought to be monogamous. In all, they say, out of about 4,000 mammal species, only roughly 3 percent form "reliable pair-bonds" (most of which are not reliably monogamous), and of primates fewer than 15 percent practice a variation of monogamy, what they call "social monogamy," or marriage with furtive affairs.

Monogamy is similarly rare in human societies. In study after study, Barash and Lipton write, researchers have overwhelmingly found that monogamous relations are far more the exception than the rule. Of more than 200 human societies, including Indian tribes in North and South America, clans in West Africa and the Arab world, and peoples throughout Oceania, more than 80 percent practice a form of polygamy.

The institution of monogamy, as underscored during Bill Clinton's presidency, is hardly pure in America either. In response to surveys, which probably underreport the phenomenon, about 40 percent of men and 30 percent of women in the United States acknowledge having had at least one extramarital affair.

While male species as well as men typically tend to be more eager for multiple sex partners, which the authors attribute primarily to the biological desire to spread sperm and increase the chances of producing offspring, they note more unexpectedly that female species and women are often just as eager to sleep around: "Freud spoke more truth than he knew when he observed that female psychology was essentially a `dark continent.' "

The authors' explanation for why female species as well as women often engage in extramarital sex includes a desire for sperm competition (the more mates, the more sperm, the more probable that offspring will be better endowed); for personal benefits that come from suitors, such as food, protection, and extra help in raising offspring; and for the chance to "prospect" for a better mate.

There are examples in nature of animals that do practice monogamy. They include a few species of bats, some foxes, tiny monkeys known as marmosets and tamarins, the giant otter of South America, a few species of seals, and several small African antelopes. "A pitiful list," according to Barash and Lipton.

Even with those, the authors write, researchers can't be certain. After all, like humans, most animals who are "socially monogamous" don't advertise their infidelities. Such trysts are carried out almost entirely on the sly, when the mate is tending babies or out hunting.

Another problem is that scientists often have to go to great lengths to do their research. It is dangerous to try to collect semen produced by a chimpanzee, and gathering information about a human being's sex life can be unreliable, especially when done through questions and answers.

Nevertheless, there are obvious patterns that have emerged after centuries of scientific observation - and they all point to humans falling outside the monogamous camp. Like humans, those species that don't maintain strictly monogamous relations usually produce males about 10 to 15 percent larger than females, males that mature sexually later than females, males with proportionally large testicles, and males who have a tendency to be more violent than women.

"Don't be deceived, however, into thinking that human beings can easily be pigeonholed as to their `natural' way of living," Barash and Lipton caution, though adding: "A Martian biologist sent to earth to describe its various life forms would have little doubt, based on sexual dimorphism [significant differences between males and females in size and genitalia] alone, Homo sapiens is mildly polygamous."

Of course, as the authors note, there is an important difference between animals and humans. Unlike nearly all other creatures, we have the ability to act against our instincts or, rather, deliberate among options and choose what is in our best interests, even if it's not immediately gratifying.

In fact, the authors believe monogamy is a social advance. Considering how even among animals adultery often leads to jealousy, violence, sexually transmitted diseases, social estrangement, and divorce, it's not surprising that humans in more technological societies choose to maintain at least socially monogamous relationships, they contend.

Monogamy, they write, is also more democratic. It may be a neat argument that fits all too well with our Western values, but Barash and Lipton believe monogamy is as rational for humans as polygamy is instinctive. Given the emotional, financial, philosophical, and biological complexities of life, they effectively argue, the stability of monogamy makes sense.

"The perfect fit of a good monogamous marriage is made, not born," they write. "And despite the fact that much of our biology seems to tug in the opposite direction, such marriages can in fact be made. It is an everyday miracle."

David Abel can be reached at

Copyright, The Boston Globe

Finkel: “The Good Soldiers”

"The Good Soldiers;” By David Finkel;  Farrar, Straus and Giroux; pp: 284

The Suffering Behind The Surge

By David Abel  |  Globe Staff  |  10/14/2009

In minute detail, we learn what happens to the human body when it meets a roadside bomb, how the thunderclap of an exploding mortar can decimate the cockiest soldier’s bravado, and why the unrelenting horrors on the garbage-strewn streets of Baghdad belied the overwrought rhetoric of Washington.

In his powerful account of one Army battalion’s struggle to stanch the violence roiling several neighborhoods in Baghdad, David Finkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter, offers a grunt-level narrative of the blood, guts, heroism, and tortured logic that sustained the escalation of troops known as “the surge’’ between 2007 and 2008.

“The Good Soldiers’’ chronicles Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich’s 15-month mission leading the 2-16 infantry battalion out of Fort Riley, Kan., as it struggled to make allies and build local forces, impose a measure of order out of the constant chaos, and help put Iraq on a path to governing itself.

Despite the colonel’s persistent optimism Finkel shines a bright, if forgiving light on his blind spots and provides a bevy of evidence to support the moniker his soldiers gave him, “The Lost Kauz.’’

In the signature style he has honed in long narratives for the Post, Finkel takes readers through different moments of the deployment - before, during, after - and mixes them together, all the while threading the narrative with meticulous reporting.

Here’s Finkel’s description of what Kauzlarich sees when he encounters the first injured soldier: “He put on a protective gown, protective boots, and protective gloves and walked toward a 19-year-old soldier whose left leg was gone, right leg was gone, right arm was gone, left lower arm was gone, ears were gone, nose was gone, and eyelids were gone, and who was burned over what little remained of him.’’

He describes the depression experienced by another severely injured soldier, and how his wife couldn’t bear to tell Kauzlarich of what her husband had been through: “She wondered: Should she tell him what she knew? How depressed her husband was? That one day he had tipped himself over onto a hard tile floor, telling her when she found him that he’d wanted to hit his head and die? That another day he had begged her to get him a knife? That another day he had asked for a pen so he could push it into his neck?’’

What really distinguishes “The Good Soldiers’’ from other accounts of the war in Iraq is how Finkel compares the rhetoric with the realities of the conflict, showing us with gritty detail rather than opining from some ideological perch.

When General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq, visited the 2-16’s base, Kauzlarich regaled him with elaborate PowerPoint slides about their efforts, at one point focusing on how they had succeeded in reducing the wait for fuel in the area by stationing troops at a repeatedly attacked gas station.

It was a proud moment for Kauzlarich, and Petraeus heaped praise on his team. A few hours after Petraeus left, a bomb exploded, destroying the gas station and yielding two casualties and another day of gory bedlam.

When President George W. Bush described US forces as “kicking ass,’’ Finkel described how some soldiers were losing their minds and how government studies suggested about 20 percent of soldiers deployed to Iraq experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Finkel never tells us directly that the surge was futile. But any high, any suggestion that the deployment might be yielding fruit, is punctured by an accompanying low and new questions about the point of it all.

Even Kauzlarich is not left unchanged. Before shoving off for Iraq, a friend predicts that Kauzlarich will “see a good man disintegrate before your eyes.’’

Some 420 days later, Finkel writes, “The only question left was how many of the 800 good men it was going to be.’’
David Abel can be reached at

Vonnegut: "Timequake"

"Timequake;" By Kurt Vonnegut; Putnam; 219 pp.

Time to Go

By David Abel  |  The Palm Beach Post  |  12/21/1997

It's with a peculiar pleasure, one that maybe only Kurt Vonnegut, with his cross-eyed wisdom, might appreciate, that I trash what one of my favorite writers describes as his last book.

I feel like an unknown featherweight angling for a potshot at the heavyweight champ who should've hung up the gloves a while back.

Vonnegut's smart enough to recognize that, and he admits as much in the preface, describing his first unsuccessful go-around with Timequake. Yet, boxers have a luxury writers don't: It's much easier to see the effects of blubber, loss of agility or bone-weakening in the ring. Counting lights from your back usually serves as a helpful hint.

Vonnegut, for 45 years a scatter-brained yet trenchant emblem of sanity in an insane world, here gives us less a novel and more of an obituary. It's an open-casket funeral. You don't want to see the body, but you have no choice.

"Johannes Brahms quit composing symphonies when he was 55. Enough!" he warns in the prologue. "My architect father was sick and tired of architecture when he was 55. Enough! American male novelists have done their best work by then. Enough! Fifty-five is a long time ago for me now. Have pity!"

The striking thing about Timequake is that it's a real-life rerun of one of Vonnegut's previous novels: Slapstick, which was written about 20 years ago.

Slapstick is about Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain, a "terribly old man" and former president of the United States, who, barefoot and in a purple toga made from hotel draperies, writes his autobiography in the backseat of a taxicab inside the remains of the Empire State Building.

In the Prologue, Vonnegut says Slapstick was his experiment with being old. Timequake, with its less wry and more direct carping, its resume of dead friends and family, and its somewhat unintentional blurring of fact and fiction, is Vonnegut being old.

Example: In Slapstick, Wilbur Daffodil explains with topsy-turvy lucidity how he was elected president by creating extended families so no one felt alone in the world. In Timequake, he out-and-out pleads for making extended families one of several Constitutional amendments. No joke.

Well maybe it's a joke, but it hits too close to home. The bemoaning's not exasperated, or true to Vonnegut's giddy nihilism: "So we have in this summer of 1996 ... faithless custodians of capital making themselves multimillionaires and multibillionaires, while playing beanbag with money better spent on creating meaningful jobs and training people to fill them, and raising our young and retiring our old in surroundings of respect and safety. For Christ's sake, let's help more of our frightened people get through this thing, whatever it is."

There's a cast of morbid caricatures, the ritual pouncing on technology and its killing machines, and a host of unsparing assaults on everyone from Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov to Jesus Christ.

And while Timequake jiggers conventional literature, with its chronological plots, three-dimensional characters and use of semicolons (which Vonnegut says make as much sense as a "transvestite hermaphrodite"), the story never blossoms into much of anything.

The story line, punctuated as usual with essays, autobiography and spontaneous digressions, is about a sudden contraction of the universe on Feb. 13, 2001. We all go back to Feb. 17, 1991, re-living everything we did in the past decade.

Kilgore Trout saves the day by waking the masses from their somnambulence with his slogan, "You were sick, but now you're well again, and there's work to do." And some details are reconciled at a final clambake featuring Vonnegut heroes like Laurel and Hardy.

But the story's a skeleton without flesh, like the ravaged marlin of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, as Vonnegut characterizes his first attempt to write Timequake.Yes, there is a message: awareness. It stuffs up our minds no matter how short the blip of time. It's what makes us human and, maybe, the only worthy goal in life. Wake up! is the novel's mantra.

Whatever the shortcomings this lightweight finds in his champ's last hurrah, Vonnegut still stencils his signature in all his sentences. And for that, Timequake is worth the read.

David Abel can be reached at

Copyright, The Palm Beach Post

Anderson: "Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life"

"Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life;" By Jon Lee Anderson; Grove Press; 814 pp.


By David Abel  |  The Palm Beach Post  |  9/14/1997

Europe has Napoleon. The Middle East, Gamal Nasser. And America has Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Each man was a truculent leader with implacable dreams. Each devoted his life to erasing national boundaries and unifying their regions. And each was a severe romantic with a heart of gunpowder.

But three decades after being riddled with bullets in Bolivia, Che - with his dark, fearless eyes, unruly beard and single-starred black beret - continues to glare at us from T-shirts and billboards (however ironically) as the peerless emblem of revolution.

The infamous Argentine doctor turned guerrilla warrior, who helped win the Cuban revolution and incited rebellion throughout the world, blended Robespierre and Christ: a devout man willing to kill to uphold his high ideals.

But Jon Lee Anderson's epic saga of one of the 20th century's most revered and feared men rarely distinguishes the man between the poles. Instead, he fuels the martyrdom and gilds the myth. Che robbed banks to support his soldiers like Robin Hood, not Jesse James, Anderson wants us to believe.

Yet it would be a distortion to suggest this densely researched and well-crafted biography smacks of social realism or comes up short in detail. Anderson does point to Che's impetuousness, his diplomatic foibles, military miscalculations, wealthy upbringing, his recurring bouts with asthma and his habit of avoiding soap and water. His Che is more than a stoic rebel, he's a needy son, an absent father of five and a cigar-smoking, playful chum well-aware of life's ironies.

But Anderson pays too little attention to Che's role as a brusque, often cruel battlefield commander, over-eager to decree justice with an AK-47. Or his efforts to persuade the Soviet Union to launch a pre-emptive strike against the United States, which could have initiated World War III.

Che grew up in the Argentinean countryside and was diagnosed at an early age as asthmatic, which plagued him through his military campaigns, from Cuba's humid Sierra Maestras to the sultry jungles in the Congo's Great Rift Valley.

Che frequently interrupted his studies - modeling himself on the beat culture and the wanderings of American authors like Jack London - to work as a deck hand on cargo ships and make extended jaunts through Latin America.

When Che graduated, he left Argentina. At 25, after traveling through most of Latin America, he found himself in Guatemala in time to witness the CIA-initiated overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz's democratically elected leftist government.

The overt U.S. role in the coup compounded Che's antipathy toward the United States. His anger had already been stirred as he saw the deleterious effects of U.S. imperialism during his travels, but his experience in Guatemala served as a watershed for Che, deepening his budding interest in Marxism.

Che met Fidel Castro in Mexico and eventually joined the Cuban exiles on their maiden voyage across the Caribbean to depose the corrupt Batista regime. Che led one of the rebel army's main columns that gave Castro his eventual victory in 1959.

He later became Castro's right-hand man and the revolution's architect/priest, serving in positions ranging from roving diplomatic emissary to Cuba's banking minister.

By 1964, Che resolved to leave Cuba and pursue his ultimate goal of sparking a global communist revolution, continent by continent. But the limits of his dreams quickly became apparent. Insufficient popular support and well-armed adversaries forced him to retreat less than a year after starting his first campaign in the Congo.

In his final effort - a fusillade to spark revolution in the Americas - Che paid for his goal with his life. He led a band of about two dozen soldiers through Bolivia's central highlands in the futile hope of inspiring a popular uprising that would spread through South America's most bordered state and engulf the rest of the continent.

But a series of mistakes and the CIA's hot pursuit doomed Che in October 1967. After a long march to evade the encircling Bolivian army, Che was captured and executed.

Although epic in scope and tenacious in detail, Anderson's tapestry is woven mostly in golden thread and leaves too many questions unasked.

How many runaway soldiers or captured enemies did he order executed during the Cuban revolution? Did his dogma cloud his reason? Were his ambitious plans for revolution tenable or merely bombast? Ultimately, was Che a man of rebellion or violence?

Ernesto Guevara was as deeply human as he was monstrous, a man who heard music in gunfire, and saw death as a form of rebirth and peace as the fruit of war.

David Abel can be reached at

Copyright, The Palm Beach Post

Ignatieff: "Virtual War"

"Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond;"
By Michael Ignatieff;
Holt; 246 pp.


By David Abel  |  Globe Staff  |  5/29/2000

When NATO bombs started falling on Yugoslavia last spring, debate over the campaign to oust Serb troops and paramilitaries from Kosovo fell mainly into two schools of thought.

Those who supported the intervention, the Western alliance's first serious war effort, argued on humanitarian grounds that force was required to halt Serbian atrocities and to end the forced emigration of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, nearly a million of whom had been driven from their homes, often at gunpoint. The other position went something like this: No matter how terrible the violence on the ground, it was wrong and hypocritical of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to employ means just as violent in defense of its principles. To this camp, negotiations and diplomatic pressure were the only justifiable responses.

In "Virtual War," Michael Ignatieff, a journalist who has written extensively about the Balkans, lays siege to the latter school of thought. Still, despite his vigorous support of NATO's forcing the Serbs to withdraw from Kosovo, he highlights the potential pitfalls and abuses of such a precedent. While Ignatieff sketches the conflict's history and comes to (often dubious) conclusions about its political and military consequences, his book is essentially an essay in justification of using force to prevent mass crimes against humanity.

Perhaps the most interesting part comes in the fourth chapter, a transcript of a heated exchange of e-mail between Ignatieff and Robert Skidelsky, an author, liberal philosopher, and independent member of Britain's House of Lords. Unlike many partisans, who give short shrift to or distort opposing views, Ignatieff allows Skidelsky to present his dissent elaborately and, more important, in his own words. And their dispute is far more nuanced than a black-or-white disagreement; it's more a matter of moral, legal, and political shades of gray.

Although Skidelsky recognized Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's savage history of ethnic cleansing, he argued that NATO violated international law by acting without authorization from the United Nations. "Operation Allied Force," as NATO dubbed the bombing, served only to increase tensions with Russia and China, he said, making the world more prone to war. The alliance, in his view, sent a lamentable message around the world: Force, not law, governs international affairs.

In response, Ignatieff defends NATO's bypassing of the United Nations, citing the inevitable prospect of Russian and Chinese vetoes and the UN's failure to prevent massacres in the previous Balkan war in Bosnia. He then defines the crux of his "just war" philosophy: "Armed intervention can only be justified in two instances: First, when human rights abuses rise to the level of a systematic attempt to expel or exterminate large numbers of people who have no means of defending themselves; second, when these abuses threaten the peace and security of neighboring states." Ignatieff also adds this caveat: All diplomatic alternatives must be exhausted first, and force should be used only in a credible way, as a means to a political end, and not simply as punishment.

The roots of his philosophy derive from NATO's much maligned dithering over the war in Bosnia. Ignatieff and many other witnesses of the Serbs' barbaric shelling of Sarajevo in the early '90s called on the West to do something to blunt the violence. And after NATO ultimately did bomb the Serbs - which pushed the warring parties to sign the 1995 Dayton peace accord - the lesson for Ignatieff was clear: Used properly, force can be humanitarian.

So when the sparks started flames in the tinderbox of Kosovo last year, history informed such observers as Ignatieff that NATO should not wait around for the violence to escalate, as it did in Bosnia - that the West should act earlier rather than later.

To those against the air campaign, however, NATO seemed all too eager to use force. The alliance's open threat to bomb the recalcitrant Serbs during the prewar peace talks in Rambouillet, France, made the negotiations seem like a ruse. And if anything, the lesson they say the bombing in Bosnia taught was that force is the only way to settle a conflict in the Balkans.

In the end, Ignatieff points out that his intervention strategy is vulnerable to manipulation. A savvy despot might easily pervert the terms "human rights" or "crimes against humanity" to justify invading another country or squelching his own people. And Ignatieff is well aware that a modern democracy is also open to such deceit. Indeed, he notes, manipulation of the public is ever easier when such nations can intervene in wars with impunity, leaders bypass congresses and parliaments by not calling their wars "war," and when the upheld values are more rhetorical than real.

"Those who support military intervention in defense of human rights," Ignatieff warns at the end of the book, "need to back up their abstract commitments with devout attention to the question of whether, by intervening, we end up destroying what we tried to save."

David Abel can be reached at

Copyright, The Boston Globe

Dershowitz: "Why Terrorism Works"

"Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge;"
By Alan M. Dershowitz;
Yale University; 271 pp.


By David Abel  |  Globe Staff  |  11/06/2002

Talk about chutzpah: In his latest book, "Why Terrorism Works," Alan Dershowitz argues that appropriate responses to terrorism include collective punishment of those who merely approve of attacks, bypassing the judicial process with targeted assassinations, and forcing terrorists to talk by torturing them.

Sound cruel and unusual for a Harvard Law professor?

As jarring as those prescriptions sound, Dershowitz's arguments for such extreme action are, for the most part, lucid and persuasive.

In "Why Terrorism Works," a fusion of previous essays and lectures into a compact, post-Sept. 11 manifesto on how a democracy should fight terrorism, the outspoken civil libertarian seeks to show how the United States can take off its gloves without compromising its liberal values. "I am willing to think the unthinkable and move beyond any kind of conventional wisdom," he writes.

Conventional wisdom, for example, would have it that in all cases torture is immoral, collective punishment is unfair, and assassination, in which there is no distinction between prosecution, jury, and executioner, is, at the very least, anathema to our justice system.

But because terrorists are suicidal, are individually hard to deter, and have the deck stacked in their favor - the casualties they create attract attention and raise their profile, while the casualties they suffer in any counterattack help win sympathy for their cause - Dershowitz argues the normal rules often don't apply.

First and foremost, he insists, the fight against terrorism must begin by ostracizing the terrorists. This may sound simple, but as the title of the book suggests, Dershowitz argues it's anything but a given. As he illustrates, with the help of the United Nations, Europe, and other countries, terrorists all too often have succeeded in furthering their goals.

The prime example: Palestinian terrorism. Despite launching a campaign of hijacking and blowing up airplanes in the late 1960s, they gained observer status in the United Nations and legitimacy from heads of state throughout the world.

Rather than trying to "understand them" or "eliminate their root causes," as advocates of a nonmilitary response to terrorism often suggest, he writes: "Our message must be this: Even if you have legitimate grievances, if you resort to terrorism as a means toward eliminating them, we will simply not listen to you, we will not try to understand you, and we will certainly never change any of our policies toward you. Instead, we will hunt you down."

In a perfect world, or in a dictatorship fighting terrorism, there would be many options: Movement could be restricted, speech in support of terrorists could be banned, trials would be secret.

Much of that, of course, would be illegal in the United States. But as the country seeks a balance between security and freedom, Dershowitz argues that during a crisis it's sensible - and supported by precedent - for the pendulum to swing in favor of controls and restrictions on civil liberties.

Some of his less eye-opening proposals include improving our border controls, introducing sophisticated national ID cards, and changing international laws to make it easier for the nation to fight terrorism.

More controversial is his support for collective punishment, targeted assassinations, and torture. The arguments are nuanced and seek an equitable balance, but in some cases Dershowitz presents false choices.

As he often does, Dershowitz poses uncomfortable questions and presents straightforward, thought-out solutions. In a time when people drive planes into buildings, bomb tourist resorts, and shoot random strangers from a distance, these are questions and answers we all have to consider.

David Abel can be reached at

Copyright, The Boston Globe

O'Shaughnessy: "Pinochet: The Politics of Torture"

"Pinochet: The Politics of Torture;"
By Hugh O'Shaughnessy;
New York University Press; 182 pp.


“I've got a sour face, perhaps that's why they say I'm a dictator.” - Augusto Pinochet, August 1986

By David Abel  |  Globe Staff  |  4/28/2000

For all the torture - and such horrifying details as the victims of his unrepentant regime tossed out of airplanes alive or zapped by electrodes fixed to their genitals or their breasts - Augusto Pinochet differs in one crucial way from Latin America's historical brigade of depraved dictators: He gave up power peacefully.

Unlike, say, Fidel Castro, who battled his way to power 14 years before Pinochet and continues his rule a decade after, Chile's former "supreme leader" left the presidency when his people voted him out of office, even if he retained control of the military.

That's a key point missing from Hugh O'Shaughnessy's "Pinochet: The Politics of Torture," which chronicles the rise and fall of the Chilean general from the eyewitness view of a journalist. In 1973, the author watched as Pinochet lead a violent coup against the world's first elected Marxist head of state, Salvador Allende, and later was on the scene when the aging dictator made a fateful trip to London in 1998, where British police arrested him on charges of crimes against humanity.

The book - more a woven-together collection of the reporter's articles over the years - often inculpates with scant evidence, uncovers little new about Pinochet's brutal 17-year rule, and (as often is true in the tradition of British journalism) paints a rather one-sided view.

In fact, it seems little new reporting went into this aptly timed book, released just as Pinochet escaped extradition to Spain. Last month, Britain's home secretary ruled that the ailing 84-year-old wasn't fit to stand trial, and the former dictator promptly returned to Chile. The main novelty of this swift tour of the dictator's life - the book runs 182 pages - is an editorial O'Shaugnessy wrote for The Guardian the day before police indefinitely extended Pinochet's visit to London. Under the headline "A Murderer Among Us," the author called on British officials to seize their opportunity for "a marvelous coup, which will . . . strike fear into terrorists worldwide."

The narrative follows Pinochet from his modest childhood as the son of uneducated parents to his days living in poverty as a soldier to his rapid rise through the army's ranks until he haphazardly became one of Allende's most trusted military advisers, the army's commander in chief.

In describing Pinochet's betrayal of Allende, the author is at his best, succinctly detailing the rivalry between the air force and the army, the role of the truckers and the Nixon administration in fomenting discord, and the coup plotters' fears that they might not survive their treason.

But it's also at this point that O'Shaughnessy leaves many important questions unanswered. Why did Pinochet wait until two days before air force jets bombed the presidential palace to sign on with the coup plotters? Was he vacillating or playing his cards close to his vest? Was he ideologically opposed to Allende from the beginning, or was he just an opportunist waiting for a chance to seize power?

Although much of the territory has been covered before and the cases of torture and assassinations abroad have been well publicized over the two years since Pinochet's arrest, the author cogently summarizes the dictator's apparent plan to eliminate all vestiges of credible opposition. And by noting his close links to those below him and his intimate knowledge of their efforts - "Not a leaf moves in Chile if I don't move it, let that be clear," Pinochet infamously acknowledged in 1981 - O'Shaughnessy rightfully leaves little doubt about the general's culpability in the regime's flagrant crimes against humanity.

But there are pitfalls in his case, too. The author never fleshes out the reversal in US policy - how Washington helped grease the way toward Pinochet's power grab and how it eventually helped pressure him out of power - and introduces flimsy secondhand anecdotes about the US embassy's direct role in the coup. While exposing how Chile's arms industry fed the violence of the Iran-Iraq war, among other conflicts, O'Shaughnessy weakens his arguments by lending credence to widely discredited reports of Pinochet's having a hand in the murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986.

And the author spends far too little time looking into why so many Chileans have continued to support the dictator through the years. He gives short shrift to Pinochet's considerable successes in bolstering Chile's economic situation.

None of this should lend the impression that the end justifies the means. Even a cursory reading of this book should dispel any notion that Pinochet was an honorable leader working solely for the betterment of Chile. In fact, O'Shaughnessy casts a spotlight on how the man from modest means amassed bank accounts with millions of dollars and how he spread the wealth to his family - crimes that continue to be investigated in Chile today. The noteworthy point of this book is that it underscores the historical importance of a dictator being held accountable for crimes against humanity, regardless of the jurisdiction.

David Abel can be reached at

Copyright, The Boston Globe

Rosen: "The Unwanted Gaze"

"The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America;" By Jeffrey Rosen;  Random House;  274 pp.


By David Abel  |  Globe Staff  |  7/12/2000

For much of the past century, two dystopian visions have loomed over Western society.

The more well known, George Orwell's "1984," imagined a future dominated by the tyranny of an external oppressor, an all-knowing political police force that tracks not only our movements but our most intimate thoughts. In the other dim forecast, Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," we become our own oppressors, in that we learn to prefer mindlessness or the absence of conscience to the valleys and peaks of human emotion, from bliss to depression.

But as new technologies combine with new laws in this new century, dusty dystopian prophecies must adapt to new realities. In Jeffrey Rosen's limpid look at America in "The Unwanted Gaze," we realize how we have created, to some extent, what we tried to prevent. By seeking to expand our freedoms, we have limited them. And in trying to raise consciousness, we have helped to stultify it. In many ways, Rosen observes, we have become the victim of our own good intentions.

The ubiquitous legal-affairs commentator, who chronicled the Monica Lewinsky story for The New Republic and The New Yorker, has now produced a trenchant essay that speaks not of a distant dictatorship but of a pres ent and ever-more-threatening tyranny, one few are aware of until they become its victims. It's all told through the prism of the familiar sex scandal. And Monica Lewinsky, as dubious an innocent bystander as she may be, is the victim; Ken Starr, the prying independent counsel and the face of the new laws, is the oppressor.

The Lewinsky saga, Rosen writes, is significant because it rep re sents the depths to which our legal system has sunk, and how the courts and government have steadily eroded our traditional privacy rights. The essence of today's tyranny, Rosen argues, comes from the confluence of the electronic era with sea changes in the law regarding those rights. The age of the Internet, in which confidential documents often come in the legally dubious form of e-mail, has redefined the meaning of private papers. It has also, to some extent, created a new measure of our identities. For, if we are what we think, then who we are - or what people judge us to be - can be divined by the Web sites we view, chat rooms we visit, the e-mail we write, and the things we buy online.

The problem, Rosen explains, is that this dramatic new medium - which records intimate thoughts and decisions for anyone to access, anywhere - has arisen after decades' worth of sexual-harassment law has effectively scaled back our Fourth Amendment protections. And it comes at a time when the line between the office and home, thanks in the large part to the Internet, has grown increasingly blurry.

Sexual-harassment law, Rosen writes, has devolved considerably from its laudable intention of protecting employees against quid pro quo threats, such as a boss linking an employee's job to sexual favors. The innovations in the law have expanded victims' rights. Monica Lewinsky might never have become a household name had Clinton not signed a law in 1994 to reform federal rules of evidence. The new rules specifically allowed juries in certain cases to consider evidence that the accused had committed similar crimes in the past. That reform empowered Paula Jones's lawyers to fish for lurid details about Clinton's previous liaisons, and eventually helped justify Starr's seizure of Lewinsky's computer, her receipts from Washington bookstores, and the infamous dress.

Another legal evolution, perhaps more nefarious for privacy rights in that its principles are now engraved in corporate policies and university handbooks, has established protections against a "hostile environment." This vaguer category of harassment, which may come in the form of foul language or dirty pictures, has had the effect of making companies and even universities more closely monitor the speech of their employees and students. Because it is the company or university that can be sued for such a hostile environment, they have been forced to protect themselves, becoming more vigilant, monitoring everything from e-mail to viewed Web pages. And for Rosen, the heightened surveillance throughout the country recalls Orwell's Big Brother.

Protecting against lewd and crude behavior is not itself a bad thing, Rosen maintains. But he believes there are better remedies. Many hostile-environment cases prosecuted under gender-discrimination laws, he argues, would be better dealt with using invasion-of-privacy law. That would serve the purpose of redrawing the lines of culpability, from the company to the offending individual. And, he argues, it would reduce the need for companies and universities to monitor speech.

"The law is a blunderbuss rather than a scalpel," Rosen writes, "and recent scandals in Washington and the workplace have taught us that the effort to provide legal remedies for relatively minor invasions of privacy may inadvertently lead to privacy violations greater than those the law seeks to redress."

David Abel can be reached at

Copyright, The Boston Globe

Keillor: "Wobegon Boy"

"Wobegon Boy;" By Garrison Keillor; Viking; 305 pp.


By David Abel  |  The Palm Beach Post  |  11/30/1997

Sometimes a writer's books translate well into films. Sometimes a movie star performs aptly on stage. And sometimes an orator with a weekly national radio show - whose voice provides half his message - can transfuse his whimsy into the printed word.

Garrison Keillor, who became famous for his Sunday afternoon comic sermons on A Prairie Home Companion, here ekes out a nostalgic novel, a weave of wistful vaudeville stories written in deadpan prose. But something's missing in these dense yarns - his voice.

A space between paragraphs doesn't carry the same weight as a pause in speech on radio. Intonation and accents escape print. And sentences that end with periods elude the straying, rambling intimacy of spoken stories.

While the cozy sputter of Keillor's voice warms like crackling wood in a fireplace, his prose lacks the same heartiness. But a raconteur can always tell a story, and Keillor's a master.

Byron Tollefson, the narrator's dad, posts little signs in crevices around the house. One Post-it over a light switch says "light switch." There's a $ 200-an-hour therapist who tells everyone what he's going to do before he does it: "I'm going to ask you a question now," he says. And Clarence Bunsen, a tall and heavyset bald man, has a gut he lets hang out "like a mailbag."

Chapter titles include "Bankruptcy," "Defeat," "The Wake," "Mortality" and "Dark Lutherans." In the last, Keillor describes the main dividing line in Lake Wobegon: there are Dark Lutherans and Happy Lutherans. (Just about everyone in Lake Wobegon, Keillor's longtime wintry, stoic utopia set in rural Minnesota, is Lutheran.)

The Dark Lutherans, he writes, "throve in a cold climate, believing that adversity and suffering were given as moral instruction, and so was sickness ... that the gods are waiting to smack you one if you have too good of a time." And the Happy Lutherans thought, in essence, "God loves you and be glad that He does and can you please coach basketball this year?"

The story of Wobegon Boy is a slightly autobiographical account of a middle-aged man who finds love in the pit of despair.

John Tollefson, narrator and hero, has been doing well for himself: He wins a coveted award for managing a public radio station in upstate New York, has money and friends, and a home he paints a deep gold. Life is "nice people and a wonderful vinaigrette dressing."

But things begin to unravel. Why can't his life have the same meaning as his great-grandfather's, who stole out of Norway and built a new, chosen life in Lake Wobegon? John's days are spent chasing wealthy, elderly women for donations, and bickering with his boss, who wants to replace the station's classical music with talk radio.

His dreams for his future - a noble, farm restaurant serving fresh vegetables grown on the premises - crash when the contractor runs up bills too high for him to pay. His lover won't marry him. And then his dad dies.

But eventually love whisks him out of the claws of ennui.

"The stream of insults that life directs at you cannot be vanquished by skill or cunning," says Tollefson. "You can't fight your way clear. You can't outsmart life. The only answer is to be loved so that nothing else matters so much."

It's an extended, if not more coherent, version of one of Keillor's Sunday "Tales from Lake Wobegon." Sometimes the stories lead nowhere, a pleasant stroll with no apparent direction. But it's what you take in along the way that's important, not the destination - a moral of some sort.

Wobegon Boy drifts from accounts of Siamese-twin cousin baseball players who join the carnival circuit to a humdrum aunt who robs a bank in Lake Wobegon and flees to Argentina to an uncle who became a medicine-show politician with a talent for "rip-roaring, gaudy" speeches to flocks of bachelor farmers and academically challenged students.

All of it's vintage Keillor. Excluding the most important part, his voice. If you find that a critical lack, get the book on tape.

David Abel can be reached at

Copyright, The Palm Beach Post

Bowden: "Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw"

"Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw;"
By Mark Bowden; Atlantic Monthly Press; 296 pp.


By David Abel  |  Globe Staff  |  6/10/2001

Pablo Escobar was a bloodthirsty killer who amassed an unseemly fortune by building an illicit empire growing, refining, distributing, and selling cocaine. For nearly a decade before Colombian police forces gunned him down in 1993 in his hometown of Medellin, the paunchy drug lord wreaked havoc on his country not by helping make cocaine its most profitable export, but by ordering the murder of a succession of presidential candidates, government ministers, judges, policemen, journalists, rivals, or anyone who crossed him.

Escobar was undoubtedly evil, but it seems a stretch for Mark Bowden to hype him as "the world's most feared terrorist" in the veteran reporter's latest journalistic thriller, "Killing Pablo." Although his drug empire was global and his merchandise menaced the United States, Escobar, unlike other terrorists or Mafia bosses, for the most part kept the bombings, assassinations, and systematic bribery inside his own country.

Bowden is part of a long line of observers, admirers, and foes who have helped gild his legend, a legend Escobar himself worked to enhance. By building churches for the poor, courting journalists, and avoiding thousands of police traps, he created the persona of a poor boy who gained wealth on his own, shared it with the disadvantaged, and ultimately became too powerful to be caught. What doesn't emerge until the end of Bowden's well-reported and lively narrative is this important point: Escobar was just one cog, albeit an important one, in the drug trade.

There was and still is no lack of competitors itching for a piece of the cocaine business in Colombia. By the time police finally caught up with Escobar, others had taken up much of his business. The supply to the United States had been so great that the price of cocaine in American cities at that time was at its lowest.

The incidental role Escobar played in the drug trade is even clearer today: Some 80 percent of the world's white powder continues to be produced in Colombia, and last month, the Coast Guard seized more than 13 tons of Colombian-grown cocaine from a fishing boat off California, the largest cocaine seizure in US maritime history.

The futility of fighting the drug war by devoting so many resources to one man dawns on top drug agents only at the end of the book. "Killing Pablo had not ended the cocaine industry; it had merely handed it off to new leaders, who had presumably learned from Pablo's mistakes," Bowden writes, on the next-to-last page, of a key US official involved in the hunt for Escobar.

Of course, this is a thriller about the killing of Colombia's most notorious drug lord, not a treatise on the drug war. And its most revealing section, as the United States prepares to dole out some $1.3 billion in military aid to fight drugs in Colombia, is the detailed disclosure of the US role in helping find Escobar, and perhaps murder him as he ran from an apartment in Medellin.

Bowden draws a detailed account of how the CIA, National Security Agency, special operations forces from the Army and the Navy, Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and State Department officials, among others, competed with differing technologies and relationships in the Colombian government to locate and hunt down Escobar.

But by relying almost exclusively on these official sources, Bowden has drawn a flawed portrait of the drug lord. Without significant insight from his wife, mother, children, lawyers, or fellow thugs, it is a picture that feels at best incomplete and at worst distorted.

Still, Bowden effectively delivers an unsparing if hazy moral to his story: No one's hands were completely clean in the bloody business of fighting the drug trade in Colombia. Yet he leaves unanswered the most important question raised by one US officials: Was killing Pablo worth skirting and at times trampling on the most basic US and Colombian laws?

"I don't know what the lesson of the story is," said one US agent involved. "I hope it's not that the end justifies the means."

David Abel can be reached at

Copyright, The Boston Globe

Boyle: "A Friend of the Earth"

"A Friend of the Earth;" By T. C. Boyle; Viking; 271 pp.


By David Abel  | Globe Staff  |  1/08/2000

A novel at its base may be little more than a concoction of contrivance and curious characters. But what can set it apart from film and other vehicles is the novel's ability to seep into the underworld of human consciousness, to convey everything from the breadth of a character's condition to an omniscient understanding of relationships. In the age of movies, however, novels too often imitate and settle for the verisimilitude of the silver screen.

T. C. Boyle has never been known for delving too deep into the inner lives of his characters. But in his eighth novel, "A Friend of the Earth," the author's antic and artful style is all too transparent, and his soulless heroes, though odd and at times engagingly obstreperous, come off as being as hollow and predictable as any Hollywood creation.

This is a story of an "eco-terrorist" who believes "to be a friend of the Earth, you have to be an enemy of the people." It's a provocative and combustible premise - one that might, perhaps, seem reasonable given today's increasing deforestation, overpopulation, and extinction of animals.But the foundation for this philosophy here is as elusive as rhetoric. Boyle's disparate details are like bones without flesh: You can't feel much sympathy for his hero, Tyrone O'Shaughnessy Tierwater, because it's hard to discern what drives him. The reader learns, for instance, that Tierwater is half Jewish and half Irish-Catholic; that he once was a staid suburban dad, married to a woman who dies from a bee sting. But the details never gel, and they neither inform the narrative nor give Tierwater texture.

One problem lies in the way the story is told. The novel, which cuts back and forth from the environmentally serene 1980s and 1990s to the apocalyptic 2020s, is set mainly in the future and told through Tierwater's first-person present, a literary device more suitable to sports commentary than to rumination.

At one point in the novel, Tierwater fittingly, if uncharacteristically, arrives at a penetrating truth about himself: "I try to avoid perspective as much as possible. Perspective hurts. Live in the present, that's what I say, one step at a time, and forget nostalgia, forget history, forget the sketchy chain of loss, attrition and disappointment that got you into bed last night and out of it this morning." This is like Dostoyevsky's underground man without the requisite rage.

Perhaps to relieve the reader of the long and onerous monologue, Boyle resorts to more-traditional third-person narration when he reverts back in time. But he doesn't take advantage of it to supply the missing texture, and there's little respite as you're quickly taken back to the future, where Tierwater ekes out insights by asking himself throughout: "What am I feeling?"

The novel begins in 2025 with Tierwater describing his fall from grace, from a virile and law-breaking defender of the forests to his current bleak existence as manager of a menagerie of endangered species - hyenas, warthogs, lions, and so on - on pop star Maclovio Pulchris's estate in California.

The global environment has been ravaged. The weather switches from monsoon-like rainstorms to desert heat. Flus and other airborne viruses abound, most of the major mammalian species have died out, and if you're not wealthy, just about the only things left to eat and drink are catfish and sake.

Tierwater, or Ty, is teetering on decrepitude when a call from his former second wife and fellow eco-avenger, Andrea Knowles Cotton, takes him back to the good old days. The two haven't spoken in years, not since Tierwater's daughter, Sierra, became a martyr to their Earth Forever! environmental group, falling victim to clear-cutters in the Oregon forest. Since then, Andrea has taken the high road of peaceful protests and corporate-style lobbying campaigns; Ty went about sabotaging lumber company equipment and knocking down power lines until getting thrown in jail.

Unfortunately, the two have no chemistry. Although at one point Ty suspects Andrea of sleeping with a fellow lieutenant of Earth Forever!, the gnawing subplot has about as much impact on the overall plot as the extraneous and meaningless detail that Ty is half Jewish.

For years, T. C. Boyle has been lauded for his playful language, eccentric characters, and satirical social lens. In "A Friend of the Earth," however, the familiar style is a victim of a kind of prefab reproduction that lacks his usual pizazz and humor. If this is a lamentation for the ongoing destruction of the rain forests or the ozone layer, it's unlikely to raise consciousness. If it's a parody of what Boyle calls "eco-nuts," people in groups like Earth First! who tie themselves to trees, it's rarely funny. And it's definitely not "a story that addresses the ultimate questions of human love and the survival of the species," as the book jacket promises.

David Abel can be reached at

Copyright, The Boston Globe

Alldritt: "Yeats: The Man and the Milieu"

"W.B. Yeats: The Man and the Milieu;"
By Keith Alldritt; Clarkson Potter; 388 pp.


By David Abel  |  The Palm Beach Post |  10/30/1997

Dead master poets, like bronzed sculptures, reflect man's hubris. They're our attempts to incarnate human divinity. W.B. Yeats, the turn-of-the-century Irish nationalist, dramaturge and Nobel poet laureate, resides in the pantheon of great poets, keeping company with Sophocles, Dante and Goethe.

In Keith Alldritt's new biography, the author acts as gentle iconoclast, daubing the poet's portrait with vivid clumps of impasto. The master metrical craftsman and romantic purveyor of Irish mystical folklore, the author writes, closeted a less-than-noble personality.

Yeats the man wore varying masks: insatiable self-promoter always eyeing posterity; money-lusting pauper preying on the wallets of his wealthy patrons; politically duplicitous patriot and rejected middle-aged lover making up for the sexual deprivation of his youth.

While Alldritt inflates some of the poet's inadequacies, he carefully avoids outrage or labeling Yeats' staunchly conservative leanings (leading him to sympathize with Spain's Franco and Italy's Mussolini) as fascist.

Yeats was a man who lived life lustfully, writing furiously until his death, truculent in his poetic and philosophical beliefs and open to altering his poetic impulses according to their inspiration, from lyrical ballads on Celtic legends to the modern verse of Ezra Pound.

But this, the latest of the many accounts of Yeats' whirlwind stampede through life, seeks to survey the poet as a man of his time, a man as deeply affected by the moods of his many mistresses as the tides of history.

Aldritt's slant shows a fastidious poet, who aimed toward the heroic more than the personal, history, love and the occult more than modernity's fissured self, craven for cronies and lurching for comfort from the solitude of dining alone.

Alldritt also places the poet in history - Rudyard Kipling and Jean Sibelius were born the same year; in the United States, Henry Ford was born two years earlier and Frank Lloyd Wright two years later.

The author traces Yeats' entrance into Irish politics by charting the path of his unrequited love affair with lifelong Irish patriot Maud Gonne. The reader journeys through the nooks and crannies of Yeats' rise to literary stardom as the penniless poet pursues Gonne from Dublin to London to Paris, justifying the use of violence to boot the British from Ireland or producing wrenching plays at the Abbey Theatre, which he founded.

Alldritt cites the volumes of the poet's work and how they fit into the trials of his personal history: his founding of the Rhymers Poets Society in London to lurking anonymously through Parisian cafes on the left bank, debates with Ezra Pound, to speeches against censorship in the Irish Senate and from his many love affairs to his marriage to a woman half his age, Georgie Hyde-Lees.

This is a Yeats without the gleam of nobility; this is a man who leaves his young family for mistresses and money, who refuses to help a dissident German silenced in a concentration camp, who acts Irish nationalist but remains on the payroll of the British government, and who, in the end, is obsessed with his public image.

But Alldritt does not pass judgment. He lets us look directly at the luminous star, to see the core of his gift: an unrelenting vitality. What Alldritt's portrait provides in detail, it lacks in style. The chapters segue with rote teases and the writing is more fact-revealing than story-telling. But Yeats' life is difficult to make dull. And the biography succeeds in piquing interest in the broader view of Yeats as a fallible man tied to the gravity of his times.

David Abel can be reached at

Copyright, The Palm Beach Post

Kundera: "Identity"

"Identity;" Milan Kundera; Harper Flamingo; 168 pp.


David Abel  |  The Palm Beach Post  |  7/26/1998

For Milan Kundera, the unsparing Czechoslovakian dissident turned Parisian novelist-philosopher, the marks of human suffering are more visible in the sight of a silent couple sitting across a dinner table with nothing to say than they are in the treads of a tank.

In Identity, the author's latest and most compact novel, a duo of featureless characters spout lectures on everything from erotica to boredom, while they search for each other's essential but elusive qualities.

Chantel, who divorced her husband after the death of their 5-year-old child, and Jean-Marc, who is four years younger and makes Chantel feel the age difference, struggle to achieve identity through the author's stilted prose.

Like this exchange between Chantel and her boss, Leroy:

"Well, our century has made one enormous thing clear: Man is not capable of changing the world and will never change it. This is the fundamental experience of my being a revolutionary. A conclusion that is, incidentally, tacitly accepted by everybody ... "

"All right, I agree that all change is noxious. Therefore, it would be our duty to protect the world against change. Alas, the world is incapable of stopping the insane rush of its transformations."

This is the novel as it used to be written by Marguerite Duras, an attempt at a self-conscious art fragment.

Identity begins with a sketch: "A hotel in a small town on the Normandy Coast, which they found in a guidebook."

Chantel arrives a day before Jean-Marc. While waiting for him, an uneasiness begins to gnaw at her. Men no longer notice Chantel. Her beauty, once a prominent part of her identity, no longer exists. So who is she now?

At the same time, in a parallel scene, Jean-Marc sees a woman from a distance that he believes is Chantel. He starts waving at her, but after he gets closer, he realizes that her face is "old, ugly, pathetically other."

"Mistaking the physical appearance of the beloved for someone else's," Kundera writes. "How often that happened to him! Always the same astonishment: Does that mean that the difference between her and the other woman is so minute? How is it possible that he cannot distinguish the form of the being he loves the most, the being he considers to be beyond compare?"

Later, when the two return to their Paris apartment, Jean-Marc resolves to pump excitement into their relationship by dropping anonymous love letters in their mailbox for Chantel. The folly of this contrived plot, which merely serves as a frame for Kundera's splatter of misanthropy, romanticism and recycled aphorisms, is that it takes Chantel far too long to realize that Jean-Marc is her secret admirer.

The acclaimed author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and spills out pages of frivolous sexual fantasy, repeats his mantra about the irritations of rock music, the meaning of expressions and the meaningless of life's episodes, and goes morbidly gaga on everything from dreams to friendship.

"This is the real and only reason for friendship," Kundera declares at one point through Jean-Marc. "To provide a mirror so the other person can contemplate his image from the past, which, without the eternal blah-blah of memories between pals, would long ago have disappeared."

After a slow 168 pages, Kundera ultimately sheds the veil of his characters and speaks more directly to the reader.

"At what moment did the real turn into the unreal, reality to reverie? Where was the border? Where is the border?" he asks.
But the questions fall on an empty, uncaring audience.

David Abel lives can be reached at

Copyright, The Palm Beach Post