What do Survivors do?

One of my sons views the future with dread, imagines the worst, and believes we might all soon be dead. It's a sad point of view, but I recognize it from my own youth, when I was always sure one of the "big three" (Russia, America or China) would foolishly "push the button" and condemn us all to die. Eventually movie-makers filmed their tales - Australians patiently awaiting the end; triumphant American pioneers rebuilding it all, or downtrodden English survivors slaving on. Meanwhile I grew up and we're still here.

Meanwhile I grew up and some of those parents we relied on might not be here long, and I find myself pondering different kinds of survival--reading about them too, from Atul Gawande's exploration of late-life care to Carl Alves' alien destruction--so here are some reviews.

Atul Gawande's Being Mortal offers an incisive glimpse into that later part of life, where we age, get sick, and maybe even die. The simple idea that in the good old days parents lived and died with their children becomes a rose-colored dream--it wasn't ever what parents wanted or what they might need. And so, as society changes, our dreams of freedom color adulthood as well as childhood; and aging becomes the slow replacement of freedom with increasing loss. Gawande makes it seem possible that not all change need be loss. He offers questions that clarify thought and make decisions make sense. And he offers visions of elder care that I can almost believe I would hope for. It's an excellent book. We should all read it before we grow old, preferable with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

The Orphan by S. R. Nair is a fictional story set in India, telling the tale of a young American orphaned when his parents, who love India, die while helping at an orphanage. Sid is now an orphan too, but with vastly different expectations. When American dream meets Indian reality, his outlook is set to change. The novel explores connected themes of corruption, attitudes to life and death, riches and poverty, and the assumptions we make about other people. It's told with a movie-like detachment, offering vivid descriptions of life and country, and oddly detached insights into characters who don't quite know themselves. Enjoy with some more complex, elegant four-star coffee.

Wish You Well by David Baldacci is set in 1940s Virginia where a city girl and her brother are sent to stay on the mountain with their grandmother when their father dies. Almost orphans, they see the world through innocent eyes while the reader finds today's hates and greeds in the history of yesterday. It's a compelling, convincing tale, and the ending, while maybe predictable, feels perfectly right. Enjoy with some more elegant four-star coffee.

Life After by Katie Ganshert is set in the present day, where the sole survivor of a terrorist attack suffers nightmares and struggles to pick up the pieces of her life while totally absorbed in the wreckage of others'. Smoothly nuanced questions of faith arise--good God, bad actions, why?--all naturally attuned to the characters' lives. There's no preachiness in this novel, but there's much to inspire the reader, and a fascinating storyline to entertain as well. Enjoy with a complex, elegant four-star coffee.

The survivors in Carl Alves' Reconquest: Mother Earth are survivors of a very different type, rebuilding after an alien invasion. The story's classic science fiction action adventure, with tongue in cheek scenes, scary scenes, TV-style scenes, space opera scope and, of course, an all-American hero at the center of it all. It's fast, furious fun, best enjoyed with some bright lively easy-drinking two-star coffee (plus the odd dark five-star cup for the blood and gore).

And so the survivors survive. Will you?


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