Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Apricot Jam and Other Stories’ – #bookreview #fiction #Russia – updated

Apricot Jam and Other Stories
By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
(Counterpoint, $28.00)

A major literary work is now available for readers who relish the works of modern Russian writers, particularly the ones who rebelled against communism’s restrictive censorship and social, legal and economic rigidities and achieved international acclaim during the final decades of the Soviet Union.

Apricot Jam and Other Stories,  an engrossing collection of eight short stories by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, has been published by Berkeley, Calif.-based Counterpoint.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, primarily on the strength of three novels, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, In The First Circle (better known as The First Circle), and Cancer Ward. These books shone glaring, shocking spotlights on the Gulag, a USSR government agency that operated a brutal, sprawling system of forced labor camps for political prisoners, criminals and others who ran afoul of  Soviet laws, officials, informants and secret police.

Significantly, the eight short stories in this 352-page collection are making their first appearance in English. They were initially published in Russia in 1994, after Solzhenitsyn ended years of exile in the West and returned to his native land. He died in 2008.

The title story provides an excellent example of the unusual “binary” writing style that Solzhenitsyn employed in these eight works of short fiction. In “Apricot Jam,” the son of a kulak (a relatively affluent peasant) has almost lost everything in his life except the memories of the apricot jam his mother used to make for him before communism and collective agriculture destroyed his family and his farm. He is now nearly starving to death while serving internal exile and doing hard labor in a distant town. In desperation, he writes a letter to a famous Russian writer who has published a book touting that the “meaning of life is labor in a communist society.”  He humbly begs the famous writer to send him a food parcel, because he is working hard to try to stay alive, yet now nearing death from lack of nourishment.

In the second part of the “Apricot Jam” story, the exile’s letter has arrived at the famous writer’s elegant dacha outside Moscow. There, the famous writer entertains a professor of cinema, as well as a neighbor, the head of the literary department in the State Publishing House, a man who “held the reins of the whole of literature in his hands….”

In the posh dacha, the men also enjoy some apricot jam, but it is just one minor trapping amid the surrounding opulence as they speak in praise of Comrade Stalin, socialist realism, and how “Creating an art of world significance–that is the task of the writer today.” The apricot jam briefly figures into their discussion as a symbol for a type of  “amber transparency” that “should be present in literary language, as well.” 

Soon, the famous writer mentions the unusual letter he has received from the exiled, starving worker. And, as they discuss its text, their final analysis of it is devastating.

In the story “The New Generation,” a principled and disciplined engineering professor finally gives in to pleadings by a failing student and hands him a passing grade. The professor is, after all, under orders to “make allowances” for the students now being sent to him from factories, some of whom would be “better off making pots and pans” rather than being forced to become engineers.

 Two years later, in the second part of the story’s binary structure, the engineering professor is arrested, and his interrogator from the GPU (the State Political Directorate) is none other than the failing student who had talked him into a passing grade. The ex-student cannot undo the professor’s arrest, yet he can and does, as a sort of return favor, offer him three grim choices of fates. 

Solzhenitsyn served with distinction as a captain in the Red Army during World War II, but was arrested after he wrote a letter that included disparaging remarks about Josef Stalin’s leadership of the war effort. The writer spent the next eight years in Soviet labor camps and another three years in internal exile.

Much of his fiction in Apricot Jam and Other Stories draws its creative spark from his grim wartime and Gulag experiences. Yet some of the stories also deal with post-Soviet issues in the times of Yeltsin and Gorbachev. For example, in the concluding story, “Fracture Points,” characters face the difficulty of trying to adapt to new freedoms and new economic structures at a time when “[t]he word ‘privatize’ was as frightening as a sea monster.”

If you have never before read any Solzhenitsyn, Apricot Jam and Other Stories can be a good introduction that may inspire you to also delve into his earlier works of fiction, particularly the ones that brought him the Nobel Prize for Literature 41 years ago.

This new book, translated by “TK” and published by Counterpoint, demonstrates once again why Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn continues to deserve his ranking as one of the world’s great writers.

 — Si Dunn

#

Advertisements

The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible, 1611-2011 – #bookreview

The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible, 1611-2011
By Melvyn Bragg
(Counterpoint Press, $28.00 hardback; $20.00 Kindle)

As a child, I liked and respected the King James Bible. But I hated religion. I had been born into a “Christian” demonination that tried incessantly to pound hellfire, damnation and, sadly, white supremacy, into my young head. And it used the King James Version as its grim hammer.

Some of my less-educated relatives, in fact, believed not only that the King James Version was the literal Word of God but that it had come directly from God, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, as well as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — in English.

Once I turned 18 and moved away, I abandoned that denomination quickly. But I took a King James Bible with me. And, 50 years later, I still keep one close by and sometimes refer to it — not always as a writer’s reference.

Melvyn Bragg’s The Book of Books is a magnificent work of religious and historical scholarship, adroitly timed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible’s first publication in 1611. His book is eye-opening, entertaining reading and full of surprises as he pulls together startling examples of the King James Bible’s powerful and pervasive reach within English and American culture. 

 “You may be a Christian. You may  be anti-Christian, or of any other religion, nor none. You may be an athiest fundamentalist and think the Bible is monstrous, a book to be dismissed or derided,” Bragg writes. “But whoever you are in the English-speaking world, I hope to persuade you to consider that the King James Bible has driven the making of that world over the last 400 years, often in the most unanticipated ways.”

His 370-page book smoothly covers an amazing amount of religious, historical, political and cultural ground, both in England and the United States. And he makes the compelling case that America owes much of its language, government, literature and national values to the King James Bibles that accompanied the early colonists and settlers to the New World. 

“There has never been a book to match it,” Bragg states. “It has a fair claim to be the most pivotal book ever written, a claim made by poets and statesmen and supported by tens of millions of readers and congregations.” In his view, “everyone. even athiests, has benefited from many of its unexpected consequences.”

Not all of its consequences have been good, of course. “It was the consolidating voice of two world empires [Great Britain and the United States]. It unleashed and motivated philanthropic movements of a size and effectiveness which bettered the lives of ordinary people throughout the English-speaking world.” But it likewise encouraged a “ferocious sense of mission” that “transformed and sometimes destroyed native cultures.”

Also: “For centuries the King James Bible fed some of the finest thinkers and artists and men of science and politics; others it persecuted.”

For me, one intriguing aspect of Bragg’s book is its examination of the King James Bible’s strong influence on American literature all the way into the 20th century and beyond. Writers such as William Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Golding,, John Steinbeck and many others composed novels and short stories with strong echoes of Bible stories no doubt heard and learned in childhood from the King James Bible.

Bragg also examines how America’s Civil War was “a war of the Bible,” for both sides. “The King James Version provided the intellectual and emotional structure for the politics” of that devastating conflict. He notes: “It would be overly simplistic to conclude that the Bible alone ’caused’ the Civil War. But: “The Bible was the gate through which the thoughts and passions of the majority were marshalled.” 

Bragg’s well-honed skills as a novelist and nonfiction author help enrich The Book of Books as a reading and learning experience. He keeps his focus carefully centered on demonstrating the impact of the King James Bible and does not wander off  into wider examinations of Christianity and its myriad controversies.

Si Dunn

Build Mobile Websites and Apps for Smart Devices – #bookreview

Build Mobile Websites and Apps for Smart Devices
By Earle Castledine, Myles Eftos & Max Wheeler
(SitePoint, $39.95, paperback; $27.99, Kindle)

By 2013, in some estimates, mobile devices such as smartphones and “other browser-equipped phones” will outnumber the world’s 1.78 billion PCs.

Meanwhile, the “mobile share of overall web browsing” is now growing rapidly. And: “We’re never going to spend less time on our phones and other mobile devices than we do now,” contend the authors of Build Mobile Websites and Apps for Smart Devices.

“Inevitiably, more powerful mobile devices and ubiquitous internet access will become the norm. And the context in which those devices are used will change rapidly. The likelihood of our potential customers being on mobile devices is higher and higher. We ignore the mobile web at our peril.”

The authors’ new guidebook from SharePoint is aimed at front-end web designers and developers, with emphasis on mobile websites and apps that are accessed via touch-screen smartphones.

Their well-illustrated, 256-page book is written in a smooth, accessible style that moves quickly to the point of  each chapter and example. They recommend that you read the chapters in sequence the first time, rather than skipping around, particularly if you are new to mobile web design and web development.

The chapter line-up gives a good look at the book’s structure and coverage:

  •  Preface
  • Chapter 1: Introduction to Mobile Web Design
  • Chapter 2: Design for Mobile
  • Chapter 3: Markup for Mobile
  • Chapter 4: Mobile Web Apps
  • Chapter 5: Using Device Features from Web Apps
  • Chapter 6: Polishing Up Our App
  • Chapter 7: Introducting PhoneGap
  • Chapter 8: Making Our Application Native
  • Appendix A: Running a Server for Testing

The book includes a link to “a downloadable ZIP archive that contains every line of example source code printed in this book.” And the writers emphasize that readers should have “intermediate knowledge” of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. They skip the absolute basics and move right into “what’s relevant for the mobile context.” 

They emphasize that “[t]he inevitable decision when designing for the mobile space is the choice between building a native application or a web application….A web application is one that’s accessed on the Web via the device’s browser–a website that offers app-like functionality, in other words.” Meanwhile, “[a] so-called native application is built specifically for a given platform–Android or iOS, for example–and is installed on the device much like a desktop application.”

They contend that “native apps offer a superior experience when compared to web applications,” and they note that “the difference is even more pronounced on slower devices.” However, building a native application can leave you vulnerable to market fragmentation and unsure which platforms you should target. Meanwhile,  it can be cheaper and faster to develop a Web application. So several important design and business decisions have to be made before you offer a new app to the marketplace. 

Build Mobile Websites and Apps for Smart Devices focuses first on making design decisions, selecting a feature set and using HTML, CSS and JavaScript to build a Web application. Later, it shows how to use PhoneGap to turn a web app into a native app for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and other platforms.

In the authors’ view, “mobile design is about context, but it’s also about speed. We’re aiming to give our users what they want, as fast as possible.” And, in many cases, “[p]roviding a version of our site to mobile users is going to be important regardless of whether or not we have a native application.”

In other words, be ready and able to go native and web when creating mobile websites and apps for smart devices

Si Dunn

#

Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity – #bookreview

Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity
By Glen Sample Ely
(Texas Tech University Press, $34.95, hardback)

Many eyes are on Texas once again now that Gov. Rick Perry is running for President.

Of course, he’s now being slammed even by members of  his own party (including former officials in the George W. Bush Administration) for trying to be too much of a simplistic shoot-first, ask-questions-later Texas “cowboy” on the election trail.

So what is it about Texas and its Wild West reputation that stirs up so many arguments, passions, conceptions, misconceptions and occasional hatreds?

In Where the West Begins, Fort Worth, Texas, writer Glen Sample Ely valiantly grabs and wrestles with the electrified third rail of Texas identity: Is Texas a Southern state, or is it a Western state?

He starts with his own city, Fort Worth, which often bills itself as “Where the West Begins.” He calls Cowtown “representative of Texas as a whole,” and uses it to launch into the bigger topic of how the state’s various and varied geographical regions have contributed to its long-ongoing identity conflicts.

“Texans,” Ely cautions, “may want to consider carefully before augmenting their Lone Star lineage with either a southern or western identity, because both of these regions, like Texas, have confusing and conflicted legacies and plenty of historical baggage.”

For example, cotton, not cattle, used to be king in Texas, and one of the last battles of the Civil War was fought in Texas weeks after that conflict was officially over. Indeed, some parts of  Texas tended to be closely allied with the Confederacy and had sent cavalry units and soldiers to fight Union forces in other states. Yet other areas of the state had Union supporters mixed in — often violently — with supporters of the South. And West Texas had an “astonishingly high” level of disloyalty to the Confederacy, Ely reports, because it had long been heavily dependent on federal funds and U.S. Army forts and outposts for economic survival.

Today, many residents of West Texas identify themselves as living in the West or Southwest, not in the American South, he says. Yet many in East Texas still ally themselves with the Deep South.

Ely’s book is nicely researched and well-written, and it has a thick bibliography and notes collection.

It may possibly help you understand the enigma that is Texas a bit better. And it may possibly give you a few insights into the roots of Rick Perry’s “cowboy” mindset as his campaign gets underway and he tries to find traction with voters in 49 other states — many of whom remain openly suspicious of Texas after Lyndon Baines Johnson, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

Si Dunn

Always for the Underdog: Leather Britches Smith and the Grabow War – #bookreview

Always for the Underdog: Leather Britches Smith and the Grabow War
By Keagan LeJeune
(University of North Texas Press, $29.95, hardback)

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase doubled America’s size. It also left  one small border area in legal limbo. When the United States and Spain disagreed over who owned it, they pulled back their militias to avoid war and left the area ungoverned. Soon, the tiny Free State of the Sabine was formed in pine forests along the Sabine River that now separates Texas and Louisiana.

Also known as the Louisiana Neutral Strip, the Free State of Sabine became a haven for outlaws, and it remained so for many years after the boundary dispute was settled.

Keagan LeJeune’s informative and entertaining book focuses on one “good” fugitive in the lawless area, Leather Britches Smith.

In 1912, Leather Britches — a man with a murderous reputation and plenty of weapons — sided with union workers against lumber mill operators during a violent, fatal clash that became known  as the Grabow Riot or the Grabow War. It was  part of the bigger Louisiana-Texas Timber War that raged from 1911 to 1912.

The author is a professor of English and folklore at McNeese State University. He lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and has served as president of the Louisiana Folklore Society.

Si Dunn

Three Windows Server 2008 Training Kit Updates – #bookreview

Microsoft Press recently has updated three of its self-paced training kits for Windows Server 2008.  These 2nd Edition books each cover Windows Server 2008 R2. Below are short reviews of the books.

***

Configuring Windows Server 2008 Active Directory (MCTS Exam 70-640)
By Dan Holme, Nelson Ruest, Danielle Ruest and Jason Kellington
(Microsoft Press, $69.99, paperback)

Configuring Windows Server 2008 Active Directory (2nd Edition) is a hefty, well-illustrated, 1000-page preparation guide for Microsoft Core Technical Certification (MCTS) exam 70-640.

The book focuses on learning how to:

  • Deploy or upgrade domain controllers, domains, and forests with Windows Server 2008 R2.
  • Use Windows PowerShell to manage user accounts and groups.
  • Configure domain name system (DNS) settings and zones.
  • Manage authentication.
  • Plan and manage Active Directory replication.
  • Monitor and ensure the availability of directory services.

Numerous real-world scenarios, exam tips and suggested practices are included in the book. And the accompanying CD (positioned inside the back cover) presents more than 200 practice questions. One key feature of the CD is that it provides detailed explanations for correct and incorrect answers.

The book also contains a discount coupon for 15% off the cost of one exam in the Microsoft Certified Professional Program.

To perform the practice exercises in this book, you will need at least one computer (and sometimes two computers) able to run Windows Server 2008 R2 with SP1. The book explains how to download evaluation versions of the software that will remain usable for up to 180 days.

***

Configuring Windows Server 2008 Applications Infrastructure (MCTS Exam 70-643)
By J.C. Mackin
(Microsoft Press, $59.99, paperback)

To help you prepare for MCTS Exam 70-643, this well-structured 595-page training kit focuses on showing you how to:

  • Deploy Windows-based clients and servers across networks.
  • Configure virtrual machines and virtual networks by using Hyper-V.
  • Configure storage and high availability solutions.
  • Learn how to manage the web server role — IIS 7.5 — in Windows Server 2008 R2.
  • Configure SMTP and FTP services.
  • Configure Streaming Media services, as well as Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010.

Configuring Windows Server 2008 Applications Infrastructure (2nd Edition)
includes a variety of real-world case scenarios, plus quick checks (with answers), lesson reviews and lesson questions and answers. The accompanying CD (positioned inside the back cover) presents more than 200 practice questions. As with other MCTS practice test CDs, detailed explanations are offered for correct, as well as incorrect, answers. And customized learning recommendations are generated, based on your results.

The book also contains a discount coupon for 15% off the cost of one exam in the Microsoft Certified Professional Program.

Only one physical computer is needed to perform the exercises in the book. However, it must be able to run Windows Server 2008 R2 and the software’s Hyper-V virtualization platform. The author cautions that you must have a copy of Windows Server 2008 R2 either on DVD or as a .iso file. You also must have the Windows Automated Installation Kit, either on DVD or as a .iso file.

One other caution: “The default network adapter assigned in Hyper-V is incompatible with network-based applications. For this reason, you must replace the default adapter with  the Legacy Network Adapter.” Instructions are provided for how to do this.

***

Windows Server 2008 Server Administration (MCITP Exam 70-646)
By Orin Thomas and Ian McLean
(Microsoft Press, $69.99, paperback)

This 715-page self-paced training kit is for readers preparing to take the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certification exam 70-646.  Windows Server 2008 System Administrator (2nd Edition) is designed to show you how to:

  • Plan Windows Server 2008 R2 installations or upgrades.
  • Configure DNS and IPv6 connectivity.
  • Plan Active Directory, application and certificate services.
  • Plan server-management strategies, including Group Policy, RDS and delegation.
  • Provision applications, data and file and print servers.
  • Implement high-availability, storage, backup and recovery solutions.
  • Monitor and manage security services and updates.
  • Monitor and optimize server performance.

The book has many screen shots and step-by-step procedures, as well as lesson summaries, lesson reviews, practice exercises and other learning features. Its accompanying CD has a large pool of practice test questions “similar to those that appear on the 70-646 certification exam.” 

“It is possible,” the authors state, ” to complete almost all of the practice exercises in this book using virtual machines rather than real server hardware.” They note that “[i]f you intend to implement several virtual machines on the same computer (which is recommended),” you should have “a computer with 8 GB of RAM and 150 GB of free disk space….”

Evaluation versions of Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise edition and Windows 7 Enterprise or Ultimate edition can be downloaded from the Microsoft Download Center, they add. A link is provided.

The authors emphasize that Windows Server 2008 R2 has several standard editions, ranging from editions targeted at small to medium-sized businesses to an enterprise edition, a web server edition and several others others. Their book provides a Microsoft link where features can be compared by edition and help you “determine which edition of Windows Server 2008 R2 best meets a particular set of needs.”

The book, like the others, comes with a CD inside the back cover and a coupon for %15 off the price of a Microsoft Certification exam fee.

***

The three updated training kits are well-illustrated and well-designed for self-paced learning. All of the books also provide convenient access to “fully searchable eBook” versions, so you don’t always have to lug around the hefty paperbacks after you’ve bought them.

Si Dunn

Metasploit: The Penetration Tester’s Guide – #bookreview

Metasploit: The Penetration Tester’s Guide
By David Kennedy, Jim O’Gorman, Devon Kearns and Mati Aharoni
(No Starch Press, $49.95, paperback; $27.99, Kindle)

Penetration testing is the process of testing enterprise networks to discover their weaknesses, so they can be made more secure, according to HD Moore, founder of The Metasploit Project.

As a penetration tester, Moore states in the foreword to this book, “[y]ou are paid to think like a criminal, to use guerilla tactics to your advantage, and to find the weakest links in a highly intricate net of defenses. The things you find can be both surprising and disturbing; penetration tests have uncovered everything from rogue pornography to large-scale fraud and criminal activity.”

Indeed, penetration testing is about probing an organization’s systems for weaknesses in their security, so better and stronger safeguards can be erected to keep hackers and data thieves at bay. And the tests may be overt or covert.

Metasploit: The Penetration Tester’s Guide is largely — but not fully — a comprehensive guide to learning “the ins and outs of Metasploit and how to use the Framework to its fullest.” The book is “selective” and does not cover “every single flag or exploit,” the four co-authors concede, “but we give you the foundation you’ll need to understand and use Metasploit now and in future versions.” 

 The 299-page book’s 17 chapters cover “everything from the fundamentals of the Framework to advanced techniques in exploitation.” While penetration testers do not have to be programmers, the writers recommend that readers have at least some understanding of Ruby or Python, since many examples in Metasploit: The Penetration Tester’s Guide are written in those programming languages.

The Metasploit Framework is not an easy tool to learn. Nor is it easy to master the often-complex process of penetration testing. Fortunately, the four co-authors are well aware of this. They have rolled out their combined knowledge and experience in a smooth flow of chapters written in a straightforward, accessible style.

Here is the chapter line-up:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: The Absolute Baisics of Penetration Testing
  • Chapter 2: Metasploit Basics
  • Chapter 3: Intelligence Gathering
  • Chapter 4: Vulnerability Scanning
  • Chapter 5: The Joy of Exploitation
  • Chapter 6: Meterpeter
  • Chapter 7: Avoiding Detection
  • Chapter 8: Exploitation Using Client-Side Attacks
  • Chapter 9: Metasploit Auxiliary Modules
  • Chapter 10: The Social-Engineer Toolkit
  • Chapter 11: Fast-Track
  • Chapter 12: Karmetasploit
  • Chapter 13: Building Your Own Module
  • Chaper 14: Creating Your Own Exploits
  • Chapter 15: Porting Exploits to the Metasploit Framework
  • Chapter 16: Meterpeter Scripting
  • Chapter 17: Simulated Penetration Test

The book also has two appendices. Appendix A covers “Configuring Your Target Machines.”  As the four co-authors point out: “The best way to learn to use the Metasploit Framework is by practicing–repeating a task until you fully understand how it is accomplished.” This appendix explains how to set up a test environment to use with the book’s examples. Appendix B, meanwhile, provides a “Cheat Sheet” listing frequently used commands and syntax “within Metasploit’s various interfaces and utilities.”

Once you become comfortable with the basics of penetration testing, the book then can introduce you to an array of advanced techniques. Metasploit: The Penetration Tester’s Guide is an expanded outgrowth of  an online course, “Metasploit Unleashed,” developed by Offensive-Security.

Si Dunn

#