Category Archives: Biographies
On July 18, 1969, Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy (1932-2009) lost control of his vehicle while crossing the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. In the passenger seat was a twenty-eight old former staff member of Robert F. Kennedy’s (1929-1968) presidential campaign and member of a group of women known as the “Boiler Room Girls”. She was later identified as Mary Jo Kopechne. In death she became a permanent part of the history of Chappaquiddick and a reminder of what happens when we are negligent in our actions. Over time she has been largely forgotten, having been overshadowed by the lives of the Kennedy family. And with regards to Chappaquiddick, she has been known as the “woman in Kennedy’s car”. But the real Mary Jo Kopechne has an interesting story of her own that was cut short at only twenty-eight years of age.
Her cousin, Georgetta Potoski and her son William “Bill” Nelson, decided to tell Mary Jo’s story so that we finally have a complete picture of her short but dedicated life to the causes she believed in. Interestingly the book is not just about Kopechne’s short life but those of her parents Joe and Gwen whose lives were never the same after her death. The thousands of letters they received and kept after the tragedy help to shed light on just how many people their daughter had an impact on. Some of the letters are included in the book. The photos shown in the book compliment the story at hand and reveal a close-knit and happy family that believed in reaching one’s full potential and the importance of hard work. The Eastern-European roots of the family’s progenitors remain intact and their story is similar to that of other immigrants who came to America to make a new life.
We all know how she perished but what is often left out is how she became acquainted with the Kennedys. That part of the story is filled in here with even more information about her time with Senator George Smathers before joining the Kennedy camp where she would remain up until her death. There are many interesting facts that are revealed in particular how important she was to Robert F. Kennedy whom was known to all as simply “Bobby”.
Readers expecting to find anything about Chappaquiddick will be disappointed. In fact, the authors intentionally left it out of the book. I understand their decision for the book is about Mary Jo and not about the incident or the investigation that followed. To have included with have resulted in a completely different book. This is Mary Jo’s story or more appropriately, the story of her life that remains unknown to most. Her cousins have done a great to her memory by presenting this book which gives a permanent voice to the often forgotten victim of Chappaquiddick.
I Had to Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired My Calling to Save Lives-Dr. Roberto Canessa with Pablo Vierci
The definition of courage is the ability to do something that frightens one. On October 13, 1972, Roberto Canessa was one of forty passengers aboard Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 bound for Santiago, Chile. The plane clipped the top of a mountain peak and crashed in a region known as the Valley of Tears. Seventy-two days passed before all of the survivors were rescued. Canessa and Nando Parrado, author of Miracle in the Andes, walked for ten days through the mountains towards Chile to find help. A peasant, Sergio Catalan, rode his horse for eight hours to notify authorities. The ordeal of the survivors was turned into a book called Alive, and a film of the same name starring Ethan Hawke and John Malkovich. In 2010, a documentary was released by the History Channel under the name of I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash. The films and books that have been published do an incredible job of allowing readers and viewers to step inside the nightmare than existed on that isolated mountain slope. Here, Canessa tells his story but his account differs from the others not in facts but in presentation and focus.
Parrado’s book deals mainly with the time they spend stranded in the Andes. The end of the book is focused on his life after the crash and updates on the other survivors. Canessa takes a different track and the book is not just about him but also about his family and patients. A small part of the book is dedicated to the crash. Canessa confirms statements given by Parrado both in his book and in the documentary. But I honestly believe it is what happens in his life after the event that makes the book so intriguing. As the story progresses, the reader will note that at times we are reading Roberto’s words and then another section will be the testimony of his children, father or patients. These interviews were not conducted by Canessa himself. Vierci, a childhood friend and journalist, reached out to Canessa’s patients and obtained their recollections without his involvement. I believe that this decision was critical to the book’s aura for it gives us a complete picture of not just the rugby player that survived the impossible, but also of a husband and doctor of medicine.
Dr. Canessa, as he has been known since finishing medical school in his native Uruguay, became a well-known cardiologist throughout the world. He has performed operations on scores of patients, mainly children and devoted his life to their survival. But as we read the stories and read Canessa’s words, we get the feeling that the Andes mountains always remain present in his mind and as he admits, they shape the way he has viewed life since he returned to Montevideo. He certainly could have never imagined he would face death in the autumn of 1972 but the experience is one which no person can ever fully leave behind.
As a supplement to the book, numerous color photographs are provided by Canessa and families of his many patients. The photos show the progression of age, wisdom and how far he has come in life. By his own admission, he has always been a bit rebellious and done things his way whether they were accepted or not. But it is this rebellious nature that served him well as he and Nando walked for over seventy miles to find another trace of human existence. The Chileans have a saying “the Andes don’t give back what they take”. For the players and other passengers on Uruguayan Flight 571, the mountains almost took everything. But sixteen young men held out hope, steeled their nerves and accomplished what no one thought could be done.
Dr. Canessa has lived his life applying the lessons he learned during that ordeal and his story will always amaze shock those who are discovering the story of the crash for the first time. Like Parrado’s book, I read this one sitting. His words and those are others are clear and in an easy to read format making the story flow smoothly without losing the reader’s attention. And although the crash took place more than forty years ago, the story of their survival and the approach to life by Canessa are more than enough to inspire anyone.
It is not often that a former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation writes a book. In fact, it is almost unprecedented. In all fairness, there have been books written by former members of the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. intelligence apparatus. When James Comey published this book, news outlets were eagerly waiting to get a copy of one of the most anticipated book releases in history. The political climate of the United States is unlike anything most of us have ever seen. There are a number of adjectives that come to mind, any of which could be rightfully applied to Washington, D.C. Time will tell what will happen in the oval office. The firing of James Comey through the media left many of us shocked, confused and even angry. For some, it was just one more act by a vindictive and childish commander-in-chief. Others believed that it was the right call as they believed the FBI was out of control. I watched broadcasts that day and found myself astonished at the day’s events and wondering if this was just the start of a regrettable trend developing in the United States government.
During the 2016 president election, James Comey became a celebrity of sorts as a result of the bureau’s investigation of improper use of e-mail by Hillary Clinton. She was never charged with a crime and given a warning about improper use of a mail server. Several weeks later, it was announced that once again, the FBI was looking into the e-mail issue. Critics of the FBI jumped on the announcement and blasted it as a smear campaign to discredit Clinton and tilt the election in favor of Donald Trump. Whether the e-mails was the deciding factor that caused Clinton to lose the election, is still up for debate. Comey was labeled all sorts of names by Clinton supporters and disliked even by some Trump supporters for not fully going after Clinton as they believed he should have. Seemingly a man caught in the middle, he did his best to wade through difficult waters. I have often wondered what really did happen and why did the FBI put out the statement about re-opening the investigation in Clinton’s emails? Well, here in this book Comey answers that question and many others that have crossed the minds of millions of Americans.
The book is largely an autobiography where we learn about Comey’s childhood, his role as a husband and father and experiences in the U.S. Department of Justice. The young kid from Yonkers, NY, probably never imagined that one day he would lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation and find himself at the center of an election controversy. What I found most interesting about the book is that Comey does not come off arrogant or self-pitying. He is a neutral as you could expect. It is clear that he truly believes in the bureau and the laws of the United States. But any beliefs about him being out to sabotage Clinton, help Trump or just make a mockery of the Department of Justice is ludicrous. In fact, his revelation about his true feelings towards the election says a lot about how he approached his job.
Many of us are unaware of the sacrifices made by those who work in top positions in the U.S. Government. Long hours and time away family is often the norm and the jobs are sometimes quite unorthodox. Comey speaks on this and the several times his family had to relocate as his career took yet another term is an example of the chaotic life that can come with service in government. But not once does Comey complain and is grateful for everything he has done. His story reads like that of an accomplished employee looking back on all that he has done. That is until we get to the current President.
To say that the story takes a dramatic turn would be an understatement. I do not believe that any of us knew exactly what would happen once Donald Trump took office. The celebrity television star and real estate figure ran a campaign that bordered on the unreal at times. But he received the electoral votes needed to become the next President of the United States. Almost immediately, the relationship between Trump and Comey is filled with uneasiness and bizarre situations. Readers might be tempted to believe that the book has turned into fiction but it does not. The recollections come from Comey’s memos and memory of the meetings, the substance of which will make most people scratch their heads in bewilderment. In addition, Comey puts to rest any notion people might hold about any relationship he has with Donald Trump. And I would like to think that his very public firing confirms what Comey says about their prior encounters. Most of the story will sound unbelievable but then again, the man in office was elected on a campaign that many thought was also unbelievable.
Regardless of party affiliation, if you believe in the laws of the United States and our democratic institutions, the book is a good read about the Department of Justice. And now we know the story of James Comey, who went from FBI Director to a man known to millions of people as the person unfairly fired by a President whose is beyond unpredictable. I do not know what the future holds for Donald Trump of James Comey but with this statement, the former FBI Director has taken a large step in clearing his name and reputation and telling his side of a most interesting story.
It is said that legends never die. Long after they are gone, their accomplishments and gifts to the world remain as a reminder of their genius and in some cases, short time on this earth. Growing old is often not in their interest and the ways in which they leave us are typically tragic. For Freddie Mercury (1946-1991), this was certainly the case and his decline and eventual death from AIDS is well-known. Mercury and the band Queen became household names over the span of thirteen studio albums and countless live performances. Their song We Are the Champions is still played today at sporting events. The hit song Another One Bites the Dust seizes the listener with its engaging and provocative melody. But of all the classics, it is perhaps Bohemian Rhapsody that stands out as possibly his greatest composition. Regardless of what your favorite song is, the popularity of his music is a testament to the genius of Mercury and the aura of Queen.
But who was the real Freddie Mercury? His death on November 24, 1991 came just hours after he released a statement informing the world that he had developed AIDS after being diagnosed as HIV positive several years earlier. Those close to him were not surprised at the announcement. The press was relentless is following Mercury around London attempting to get a glimpse of the star who was rumored to be on his deathbed. I remember when Mercury died and the news broadcasts that flashed across several networks. The music world had lost one of its greats. However, like all musicians, much of his life was subject to speculation and misinformation. In fact, to this day there is much about him many people may not know. But here in Somebody to Lovem we have a complete picture of the life of the late Freddie Mercury.
The story begins with the origins of HIV and its progression from SIV in Chimpanzees to a disease that became an epidemic. In 1946, the world welcomed Farrohk Bulsara, born to Persian parents of the Zoroastrian faith. He would be joined a younger sister, Kashmira. From an early age, it is evident that music is his calling but the path he would take to stardom and his life after finding it, is a classic example of the importance of always following your dreams. But with his rise to stardom and relationships with women, there was another side to Freddie Mercury that he fought desperately to hide from the press. Today most of us think nothing of a gay or lesbian celebrity. But we often take for granted how much the world has changed. For Mercury, coming out was not an option and the efforts he went to in order to contain his secret life are astounding. But it is also a tragedy for Mercury was never able to find the true love that escaped him his whole life. He does his best to find true love and the people who came in and out of his life all play a part his rise and eventual decline. Mercury was not innocent himself and at times is nearly out of control and seemingly on a path of self-destruction.
It goes without saying that any book on Mercury could not be written without addressing the gay community. Coincidentally, as Mercury was becoming a household name, kaposi sarcoma began to afflict large numbers of gay men in New York and San Francisco. It would be known at first as the “gay cancer” and prompt officials in San Francisco to close all of the City’s bath houses. The race to identify the disease and find a cure became the topic of Randy Shilts‘ And The Band Played On. The book was later adapted to a film starring Matthew Modine and Alan Alda. Mercury was fully immersed in the gay lifestyle at this point and his connection to the story by Shilts might surprise even those who are well-read on the AIDS epidemic. Before Mercury’s demise, he would lose many of those once close to him and the world would learn about a deadly killer that crossed all social and ethnic lines.
In just forty-five years, Freddie Mercury rose to the top of the music industry and Queen became legends. In death, his status as a rock icon grew without boundaries but sadly he joined a long list of victims of AIDS, and his name is mentioned next to many such as Arthur Ashe and Rock Hudson, as celebrities who were unable to escape a killer that spared no one. I sometimes wonder what would have happened had Mercury lived. Before his death he had been planning more projects and writing material until he was forced to abandon his passion. His passing was our great loss and we should be grateful for all of the great music he left behind. His lifestyle was not agreeable to all but his talent was undeniable. This is the life, death and legacy of Freddie Mercury.
Betrayal in Blue: The Shocking Memoir of the Scandal That Rocked the NYPD-Burl Barer, Frank C. Girardot, Jr., Ken Eurell and Kevin Pierce
Nearly twenty-six years ago, New York City Police Officer Michael Dowd was arrested by the Suffolk County Police Department in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency for the possession and distribution on narcotics. His arrest, trial before Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York and testimony before the Mollen Commission solidified Dowd’s reputation as the dirtiest cop in NYPD history. Arrested with him were other officers, drug dealers and other participants. Ken Eurell was retired at the time of his arrest but during his active tenure, he patrolled the streets of the Seventh-Fifth precinct with Dowd and embarked on a path of corruption that is still unbelievable to this day. The duo recounted their life of crime in the 2015 documentary The Seven Five. Undoubtedly, Dowd is the main focus and his recollections are backed up by Eurell and the other former officers. This is the story from Eurell’s point of view about how and why he found himself more deeply immersed in crime with Dowd.
Eurell starts off by explaining his family history and how he joined the NYPD. Hi story is relatively straightforward and certainly non-eventful until he crosses paths with Dowd. Corruption had already existed and as Eurell points out, it was quite widespread throughout the department. Incoming officers were forced to learn on the quickly and those who made the decision to inform on dirty cops often faced a career derailed from being ostracized. Dowd is not just corrupt but takes everything to the extreme and is blessed with a mind geared for exploiting every angle possible. It does not take long for Eurell and Dowd to begin to pull off numerous capers and form a working relationship with two of the biggest drug dealers in East New York.
I lived five blocks from the 75th Precinct and remember when the story broke. Prior to Dowd’s arrest, there at had been stories of arrest at other precincts of cops that engaged in corruption of all sorts. Most of the people in the neighborhood were not surprised as most of the officers from the “75th” were considered to a bunch of cowboys. Having read this account by Eurell and that of Internal Affairs Investigator Joseph Tromboli in his book Good Cop, Bad Cop, the moniker of cowboys is a huge understatement. They were nothing short of out of control and Dowd was on a mission to self-destruct and might have succeeded in the end if not for Eurell’s decision to cooperated with authorities.
The book is shocking at times but I do think Eurell and the authors were right about what East New York was like during the 1980s and 1990s. Having lived there at the time, I can say with all honesty that the neighborhood looked like a war zone. Poverty was rampant, murders common and the police struggled with containing the constantly increasing criminal elements. But what happens when the cops are part of the element? Through participation with Adam Diaz and Baron Perez, Dowd and Eurell had crossed a line from which there was no safe return. East New York, described by officers herein as the “Land of F*ck”, was hell on earth and the problems that plagued the neighborhood extended far beyond the reach of the NYPD and led directly to City Hall. Today, those days are long gone and the landscape bears no resemblance to what it used to look like. Vacant lots have disappeared, crack-cocaine is no longer the drug of the street and the faces of the NYPD are now more diverse. But the 75th is still there at 1000 Sutter Avenue and for older residents, the place that was once the source of the dirtiest cops in all of New York City.
Today, Ken Eurell no longer lives in New York, having relocated to Florida as he attempted to put his life back together again following the fallout after Dowd’s final downfall. As he tells his story he is candid about what he did, how he was seduced by the lifestyle and the pain he inflicted upon his own family. He does not ask for sympathy, freely admits where he went wrong and never portrays himself as a victim or hero. This is simply his part of the story and I think a good supplement to Tromboli’s book and the documentary. I would go as far as to say that if you have watched the film and read Tromboli’s book, then his is another piece of the puzzle. Some of the information is revealed in other places but I do think Tromboli’s book contains a bit more because it is told from the side of Internal Affairs so he is able to convey what was known about Dowd and when NYPD brass knew it. Some readers might be tempted to ask how did they get away with it for so long? The answers are in the book and they just might surprise or even shock you. But this was New York City in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was one of the most dangerous cities in America before gentrification arrived.
I often think about my childhood and early adult life in East New York. Many of my friends have long left the neighborhood and I no longer live there myself. But we all carry many memories and they will remain with us for the rest of our days as I am sure they will for Dowd and Eurell. The East New York they knew is different today and if the City is successful, it will be unrecognizable to them in just a few years. But no matter how much transformation occurs, the dark history of corruption within the Seven-Five will remain in its history.
Today, Venezuela finds itself at the brink of a migrant crisis that could very surpass that of Syria. The mass exodus of Venezuelans to surrounding countries in Latin America has increased as social conditions have deteriorated with food shortages, absurdly inflated currency and political suppression having become daily aspects of life. Nicolás Maduro (1962-) is the sitting President of Venezuela. His administration has come under fire both domestic and abroad for its dismal record on improving Venezuelan society. The country’s fall from grace is one of the most confusing and astounding transformations in modern history. The nation was once at the top of the petroleum export industry and under President Hugo Chávez (1954-2013), Venezuela re-merged as a country to be recognized. On March 5, 2013, he died after a two-year battle with colon cancer and with his death came the end of an era in Venezuela to which the country has been unable and in some cases unwilling to return.
In the United States, Chávez was often demonized as brutal despot that ruled Venezuela with an iron fist. Absurd stories of public shootings, censorship of the press and human rights violations were regularly broadcast in U.S. media outlets. The anti-Chávez stance was espoused by the White House as official government policy. Many Americans firmly believed that Chávez must go. But how much do we really know about Hugo Chávez and his life? Bart Jones is a reporter for Newsday and for eight years he worked in Venezuela, documenting the regime changes and spectacular rise and fall of Hugo Chávez. He has a keen insight into Venezuelan society from a first-hand view and because of this, the book has an even more authentic feel to it.
Jones takes us back in time to 1954 in the small town of Sabaneta in the State of Barinas in west-central Venezuela as Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías enters the world. Raised at first by his grandmother Ines, there are no inkling that the young child will grow up to rule the country. What is clear is the high esteem in which Chávez held his grandmother for all of his life and up until her death. As he matures into a young man and enters the military, it is here that his story begins to pick up speed. The author goes into great detail about Chávez‘s early life, through old-fashioned research and discussions with Chávez that lasted several hours. The portrait that begins to take shape is of a young man with a passion for baseball, history and the well-being of the country he calls home that has been plagued by corruption and poverty supplemental by a racial hierarchy. Books become his favorite hobby and through history, Chávez becomes familiar with the man who is the Latin American equivalent of George Washington; Simón Bolívar (1783-1830). For the rest of his life, Chávez would inject Bolívar into nearly all of his speeches, plans and actions. American readers who are drawn to history will appreciate the recap of the story of the late revolutionary and come to understand why he is so revered in Latin America. For Chávez, there was no Venezuela without the spirit of Bolívar.
Latin America has been plagued by military coups and endless changes in regime. Venezuela was no stranger to either. Chávez, the brilliant and aspiring leader, seized his opportunity on the heels of political upheaval and in contrast to what is often mistakenly repeated, catapulted to office in a free and open election. But what is paramount is how he rose to power and that is what Jones carefully explains to us. The man who was the outsider, achieved the impossible and during his time in office, left a mark on Venezuela that will last forever. Not without his faults, he was a complex character and the author leaves it up to the reader to decide. And had he not died at such a young age, perhaps he would have gone on to achieve more in his later years. I forewarn the reader that if you approach this book with anti-Chávez bias, you will not appreciate the gift contained in these pages. In fact, Jones is no Chávez fan and does an incredible job of remaining unbiased. He points out Chávez‘s triumphs and also his failures. And what we can take away from what we learn is that Chávez was a human being who some believed was larger than life. From the comfort of our homes in America, it may be hard for some of us to understand his popularity but in Latin America, hope is more powerful than we may think. Chávez masterfully became a man of the people and his ascension to power was extremely well-played.
Similar to other biographies of great leaders, the book contains a cast of real-life characters from President George Bush (1946-), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (1954-) and even the late Fidel Castro (1926-2016). Chávez had never served in office before winning the presidential election but he quickly made up for his shortcomings and did change Venezuelan society. Sadly, it seems that after his death the nation was never the same and under the current administration, is sliding deeper in anarchy with each passing week. If Chávez were alive, I am sure he would be ready to work to carry on the revolution to make Venezuela the greatest Latin American nation the world has seen. He was brash, inspiring, shrewd and at times unrealistic but above all, he was Venezuela. This is the incredible life story of Hugo Chávez and the nation he led.
On August 5, 1962, newspapers around the world relayed the news of the death of Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) the night before at her home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, California at the age of thirty-six. The cause of death was listed as suicide from an overdose of the drugs Pentobarbital and chloral hydrate. However, decades after her death, several question still remain regarding that tragic night of August 4, 1962. What really happened that night and why was she paid a visit by then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) and his brother-in-law Peter Lawford (1923-1984)?
The image we have been given of Monroe is a drug-addicted sex symbol, starved for validation from the opposite sex and unable to cope with the rigors of Hollywood. Her previous suicide attempts gave credence to this perpetuated image and for many, it was the ending that they expected for quite some time. Her life reads like a tragic novel of a heroine unable to fully come to terms with herself and seeking love and affection in all of the wrong places. However in just thirty-six years, she lived a live that some can only dream of. At at one point in her life, she was the most desired woman in the world. Donald H. Wolfe takes us back in time to the those final days in August, 1962 to piece together what really did happen and why.
The book opens by revisiting the night of August 4 and the pandemonium that ensued following Monroe’s death. Immediately we learn of several disturbing facts that set the tone of the book. Wolfe does an incredible job of keeping the suspense going and the reader engaged. And rightfully so, he not only explores her death but also provides a concise biography that sets the stage for events that took place later in her life. Behind the facade of a starlet singing happy birthday to the President, lay a woman raised in a childhood which could best be described as tragic. However, in order to understand Monroe’s life and her death, it is necessary to explore her beginnings which Wolfe presents to us without breaking the momentum of the book. And I can assure you that once you start you will be hard pressed to put it down.
Although the book is about Monroe’s final days, there are many sub-stories that are told which gives us an inside view of the inner-workings of Hollywood and politics in the middle of the twentieth century. As she moves through one circle to the next, some of the biggest names in show business, sports and politics make an appearance in her life such as John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), Clark Gable (1901-1960), J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) and Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999). However, among all of the people who cross paths with her, her life takes a much darker and tragic turn through her association with the Kennedys and their associates and it is this relationship that forms the crux the remaining third of the book. After you have finished the book, you may come to see the administration in a different light. Today it is public knowledge that an affair did take place between Jack Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. And if all accounts are correct, Monroe and Robert Kennedy also had their intimate moments. The sexual content is fodder for gossips and tabloid magazines. But what was critical was the true nature of their relationship and the many secrets Monroe possessed about the most powerful man in the country. In fact, it is quite possible that she did have the power to bring down a presidency. Was this the reason for the urgent visits by J. Edgar Hoover to the White House in May, 1962 and that last visit by Robert Kennedy on the day she died? Or was this the reason for the heated arguments that took place between Monroe and Robert Kennedy in the weeks leading up to her death? And how much did she know about their association with Frank Sinatra and mobster Sam Giancana? Certainly, many of their discussions which were likely picked up by the FBI may never be known. Other recordings by the President are locked away in the Kennedy library. A little over one year after Monroe’s death, John Kennedy himself was cut down in a hail of bullets in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Several years later, Bobby would be gone as well, also the victim of an assassination at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California on June 5, 1968. In death they joined a long list of political figures and stars that died during the turbulent decade of the 1960s.
Marilyn Monroe remains a sex icon decades after her death. Young women still hang posters of her on their walls and purchase t-shirts with her image. In death, she became a legend whose left this world far too soon. Her life was in some ways a soap opera with affairs, fairy tale romances, political scandals, drugs, mental health issues and tragically, broken homes. Sadly, many people in her life failed her not just on one but on several occasions. But if there is one inspiring aspect of the story, it is her resiliency to move forward in life and command respect even in the most difficult of times. And had her life taken a slightly different course, then perhaps she might still be alive today well into her senior years and full of knowledge about Hollywood’s golden era. This is the story of the life and final days of Marilyn Monroe, a true Hollywood icon.
There is a saying that a fine line exist between genius and insanity. Some would argue that they are one in the same. The greatest minds in history were possessed by those who could have been described as unorthodox to say the least. But creativity needs a foundation, one that encourages and allows the creator to tap into all of their gifts. Musicians tend to stick out the most when it we think about this for their industry is not only fiercely competitive but without creativity, you have no career. Those who understand this concept and master it, go on to become great and in some cases, legendary. When Rick James (1948-2004) died from a heart attack on August 6, 2004, a light was extinguished and a musical great was lost forever. During his lifetime, he created a persona for himself and composed music that is still played to this day. His hits Super Freak and Give It To Me Baby are dance classics that sound as good today as they did when they were released. Prior to his death, he found himself in the spotlight when actor and comedian Dave Chappelle created a skit based on James’ life. In the skit, Chappelle takes on the role of James as Charlie Murphy recalls his Hollywood stories. In one of the skits, James remarks “cocaine is a hell of a drug”. It was a part of his life as was much more as can be learned in this brutally frank autobiography of one of the music industry’s most extreme characters.
But just who was James Ambrose Johnson who we came to know as Rick James? And just how crazy was his life? I can tell that you his life was a wild ride and once I started this book I could not put it down. It was a miracle that he lived as long as he did. His life was anything but boring and there is no point in the book where there is a calm moment. His story is told with the help of David Ritz, whom some readers may recall, is the author of Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye. The difference here is that this is James telling us his story whereas in Gaye’s case, Ritz is telling us about Marvin’s short life. Regardless, both books are enjoyable and shocking to read but necessary in understanding the character behind the musical geniuses we came to love. And no matter what we think about their lives, we can agree that they saw and accomplished things that many of us never will. Tragically, both died before reaching sixty years of age. As Rick tells it, he did not want to meet the same fate as Marvin, but ironically drugs would play a part in his demise. And although he outlived Gay by a few decades, his lifestyle caught up to him. The only difference is that Gaye was murdered by his father whereas Rick’s heart could not keep up.
His story is simply incredible and filled with names that we all know such as Steven Tyler, Carrie Fisher, and gridiron great Jim Brown, among others. And his feud with Prince is both hilarious and confusing. Prison, the military and even assault make appearances in his recollections. I warn readers that James holds nothing back and tells us what he went through in some gritty terms. But as you read the book and come to know him, you will understand that it could only have been written that way. He was not one to sugar coat things and be politically correct. With Rick James, you either take him or leave him and fortunately for us, most of the world took him and his songs that have moved many dance floors. This book is rough and at times he can be quite vulgar. The incidents are shocking but the key is to remember that James and many artists. lived in a completely different world than the average person. To be successful, it was sometimes necessary to view the world through very different lenses. The fast life becomes the norm with drugs, money, sex and power readily at your fingertips. The seduction of that life is often too strong for many to resist and as James tells us himself, he could not escape his inner demons or what it is called in the book, the Me Monster. In fact, at one point, Ray Charles flat-out states that he wrote some of his best material when he was high. But the pull of the devil is stronger than gravity forcing the abuser to use all of their might to escape rock bottom.
I believe that it took an extraordinary amount of courage to write this book. What I found striking is that for all of his antics, he never ceased to love his mother who figures prominently throughout his autobiography as the grounding force to Rick’s increasing erratic life. She and others would do their best to set him on the right path but in the end, he lived his life on his terms whether for better or worse. He is long gone but left behind many great songs , interviews and television appearances. This autobiography is a gift, allowing us to read his story as he wanted it told. And when you have finished this book, you will understand what he meant by the glow.
Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds-Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
The Second World War remains the most brutal conflict in history. The number of those who perished is still up for debate and there are many secrets of the war that have been lost to history forever. In the United States, foreign-born citizens with roots in any of the countries part of the Axis powers, found their selves under suspicion and in the case of the Japanese, placed into concentration camps. Although not as inhumane and deadly as the camps in Germany and Poland, they resulted in the rise of resentment among Japanese-Americans toward the United States Government and the country they called home. The dropping of the Atomic bombs further heightened the feeling of resentment and was the first and only time a nuclear weapon was used in warfare. Survivors of the bomb attacks can still be found today, advanced in their years but tragically familiar with the barbarity of modern warfare. Across the pacific, Japanese-American veterans of the war remember the tragedy that befell Japan, the nation to which their families trace their origins. But what happens when half of a family is in Japan and the other half is in the United States? Or what do you do when one son is part of the Japanese Imperial Army and the other is part of the United States Armed Forces? And when the war is over, how do you come to terms with the effects war has had on your family and yourself? This is the story of the Fukuhara family whose lives are the answer to those questions. Written by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto and containing snippets of interviews conducted with those relevant to the story, Midnight in Broad Daylight is a heart wrenching story of a family struggling to survive, having been affected by a war in more ways than one.
Following the death of the family patriarch, a widow is faced with the daunting challenge of raising several children on an almost non-existent budget. Her plight is compounded by the social climate of strong prejudice against Asian-Americans. Seeking a better quality of life, she makes the decision to relocate to her homeland of Japan where several other children reside. There, they are briefly reunited and their situation forms the nexus for the remainder of the story as we follow Kino, her children Harry, Victory, Frank and Mary as they move through life and encounter war on a scale unlike anything ever seen before. Harry (1925-2015) and Mary eventually move back to the United States leaving behind Kino, Victor and Frank. Life moves along for each until December 7, 1941, the day that lives in infamy, when the Japanese air force bombed Pearl Harbor bringing the United States into the war. From that point on, none of their lives would ever be the same again. Harry became the most popular of the siblings, earning his induction in the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in 1988.
The East and West still have much ground to cover in completely understanding each other. Foreigners who move to the United States often face the challenge of enforcing native traditions on their American children. Generational and cultural gaps are formed making the path to understanding and compromise seem as if it is completely out of reach. But if we take the time to read the story of the Fukuhara’s, we can find solid footing allowing us to examine the fears and concerns about culture being lost. Today, it is probably impossible for any of us to begin to understand the inner conflict a person must have had if they were Japanese during World War II. The attacks at Pearl Harbor caught nearly all by surprise including Japanese-Americans. But following the attack and the United States entry into the conflict, life became harder and the prejudices against Japanese far much stronger. With hindsight we can easily find fault with government policy during that era but today we would be hard pressed to say if some of us would do otherwise. Regardless of whether you are a hawk or a dove, this story is moving and one that should be widely read. As I made my way through the book, I found myself rooting for the Fukuhara’s, hoping that they all make it through the war and reunite with a happy ending. This did not happen. The book is not easy to read in some parts, in particular with regards to the concentration camps and the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. We should never fail to comprehend the level of devastation caused by the devices known as Fat Man and Little Boy. The effects of the blast and subsequent radiation sickness are on full display and reinforces my belief that Japan’s resurrection after the war was nothing short of miraculous.
I hope that the world never experiences a conflict on the scale of World War II. If we do, it might be the world’s final war. As the people of Japan were preparing for the Allied invasion, I am sure that they too thought that the war would be Japan’s total demise. For their relatives here in the United States, there was only waiting and uneasiness as news of the atomic bombs spread across the globe. The Fukuhara’s lives are a case study of what happens to those families caught on both sides of a conflict regardless of their personal beliefs or character. For the rest of their lives, the events of the 1940s remained with them as reminders of a dark period in world history. If you are a student of world history and/or a World War II buff, then this book a welcomed addition.
October 10, 1967 – Argentine newspaper Clarin announces that Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) has died in Bolivia on October 9 after being capture with a group of guerrilla fighters attempting to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America. In Buenos Aires, his family receives the news of his death and is completely devastated. Juan Martin, his younger brother, races to his father’s apartment where his mother and siblings have gathered as they attempt to piece together the last moments of Ernesto’s life. Che was secretly buried in an unmarked grave and his remains remained hidden for thirty years before author Jon Lee Anderson convinced a retired Bolivian general to reveal the grave’s location. His remains were returned to Havana on July 13, 1997 where he was buried with full military honors on October 17, 1997. In death, Che’s legacy grew exponentially and even today in 2017, he is the icon of revolution around the world. But after his death, what happened to his family and where did their lives take them? Juan Martin, at seventy-two years old, has decided to tell his story and reveal to us many facts about the Guevara family that have sometimes been overlooked by history.
Before reading this book, I was already familiar with Che’s story, having read Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, Remembering Che: My Life with Che Guevara and several others relating to the campaigns in Cuba, the Congo and Bolivia. But I was always curious to know how Guevara’s fame affected the lives of his family. A couple of months ago, I watched an interview with Juan Martin from Buenos Aires that appeared on the news station France24. And it was then that I learned of his book in which he reminisces about his famous older brother. And what I found in the pages of this book is a story that should be read by those who admire Che and even those who loathe him. I would like to point out that the book is not a glorification of his brother. Without question, they shared a special bond and he remembers him with fondness but admittedly, he was fifteen when Che died and did not have the decades long relationship with him that his parents and older siblings did. Nevertheless, he shares many great details about their lives, shattering long-held myths about the Guevara and Lynch names.
In death, famous people sometimes become larger than life and their stories are retold but often misinterpreted and sometimes outright distorted. It is well-known that Che was very close to his mother, but as Juan Martin shows, Ernesto even tested her patience at times and his relationship with his father was not as great as some have been led to believe. They had many battles and never completely saw eye to eye on various issues but it in the end the elder Guevara supported his son and benefited from his legacy.
To understand Che’s life, it is necessary to trace the family’s origins several generations back. Juan Martin provides a short biography to clear the record about the family name. What I found interesting is that their family life was far from upper class and was highly nomadic. Money was usually and issues and several moves between Rosario, Misiones, Alta Gracia and Buenos Aires proved to be a challenge for the family of seven. But incredibly, they maintained strong family bonds that were desperately needed following Che’s death. The events in Cuba would change the family’s life forever in more ways than one. What is often misunderstood is that while Che had enormous success in Cuba, his accomplishments received little to no acknowledgement in Argentina. And having been there myself, I can attest to the fact that you will not find monuments or murals to him rampant throughout Buenos Aires. And following his death, the family would have to fear for their lives as a brutal dictatorship under Juan Peron locked the country in a vice grip and leftist organizations were persecuted beyond belief. And it is this part of the story where Juan Martin’s life takes on a life of its own.
Juan Martin Guevara spent eight years in incarceration for suspected leftist activity. His wife Viviana was incarcerated for an equal amount of time. In fact, most of Che’s immediately family were forced to leave Argentina as the government initiated a crackdown on anyone suspected of being communist. And during that time, the Guevara name was suspect to immediate suspicion. He along with millions of other Argentines lived through the tragedy of the “disappeared” in which an estimated 30,000 Argentines are believed to have been seized and murdered by nefarious elements within the government. The Falklands War followed in 1982 and the country reached its breaking point under the government of Carlos Menem (1930-) when the convertibility system imploded and the Corralito was imposed on Argentine citizens limiting the amount of money people were allowed to withdraw from their bank accounts. Today he is still going strong, having lived through appendicitis, hepatitis and even a heart attack while in prison. Sadly, his older sister Celia, who he describes as being just like Che in many ways, has steadfastly refused to discuss her famous older brother, never recovering from his death and according Juan Marin, completely unaware he had written this book. His children grew up in Cuba and now live in Europe and other parts of the world. Four of Che’s five children still reside in Cuba where his daughter Aleida and son Camilo carry on their father’s legacy. And Fidel, who died on November 25, 2016 makes his presence felt in the book providing many gestures of good will for the Guevara family as they made a new life in Cuba.
Che will also be a controversial figure but with this book, Juan Martin has in fact shown more of the private side of Che and relayed the truth about what their family life was really like as they grew in Argentina. There are many parts of the book which are said and also shocking but necessary to understand the political climate that existed then and continues to plague Latin America. In the end, this is a fitting tribute from a younger brother to an older sibling, whom he misses dearly and idolized.