Mark Oshman

Mark's #25 - Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)

Cloud Atlas is as confusing as it is engaging.  Normally a difficult to follow plot (or plots in this case) is frustrating for the reader and quickly drains the enjoyment of the reading.  However, David Mitchell, is able to tell six seemingly disconnected stories that vary in time, location, and plot direction into a book that may be one of the most fun books I've read in a long time.

The book begins via The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing circa 1850 on a voyage East from a tiny south Pacific island to the west coast of the United States.  The author's writing style and tone reminded me of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I was astounded by the depth and breadth of his vocabulary, and expected the rest of the book to follow along these lines...

After a few chapters following Adam, the journal abruptly ends mid sentence and the story takes a radical shift to be the Letters from Zedelghem.  Here the story follows the letters from of an english man named Robert Frobisher to a Mr. Rufus Sixsmith. Frobisher is a penniless young musician who is able to convince a great, but aging, composure to employ him as an amanuensis.

The story progresses into a mid-1970's Grisham like novel, where Rufus Sixsmith is a key figure.  This novel is being read by Timothy Cavendish, as we find out in the next part of the story through his autobiography: The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish.  This next section of the book is by far the most hilarious, as Timothy is eventually incarcerated against his will in a nursing home where he plots his escape. From here the book takes another radical leap in time and genre to a post-apocalyptic story about a 'fabricant' (cloned) girl named Sonmi 451 in South Korea.  She knows about Timothy Cavendish's story through a digital 'Sony' she watches in the future.  The final story line is presumably the final reference point for all the stories, which takes place in the very distant future on the Hawaiian Islands after the earth is completely polluted and nearly lifeless which is told from the perspective of an island native named Zachary in a thick hawaiian pidgin.  It seems Sonmi has led some sort of revolution by which she later becomes a sort of god for the inhabitants of the Island.

But that's not all, after progressing through all six stories to their mid-way point, the book then progresses in reverse order to bring about the conclusion of each of the six stories - ending with the completion of Adam Ewing's journal.

Yes, I said it was complex and confusing - and yet, I think I've done my best to make it as straight forward and simple as possible.

There are some interesting meta-narratives that flow throughout each of the stories, such as the depravity of humans.  The will to power and the tragic results that often follow when one does achieve power.

If you like a very multi-layered story, along with biography and science fiction, then give this book a shot.  You may just understand it and will be able to better explain it to me.

However, if you don't have time for such an endeavor (544 pages), you can watch the Cloud Atlas movie that comes out this fall with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry:

Mark's #13 - The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

New York City pastor and founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Tim Keller, has regularly engaged skeptics of faith in general and Christianity in particular.  In The Reason for God, Keller compiles decades worth of intellectual engagement with these skeptics to put forth a great introduction and defense for the Christian faith.  What C.S. Lewis did for the people of the 1940's through Mere Christianity, Keller does for the modern mind and modern objections to Christianity. Recently at The Harbor, we read and discussed this book in our monthly Apologia meeting.  Though this was the second time we've read this group, I once again benefitted from the read.  In part one, Keller addresses the most common and difficult objections people have, such as;

  1. There can't be just one true religion.
  2. How could a good God allow suffering?
  3. Christianity is a straitjacket
  4. The church is responsible for so much injustice
  5. How can a loving God send people to Hell?
  6. Science has disproved Christianity
  7. You can't take the Bible literally

After dealing with these objections, in part two Keller goes from the defensive to the offensive, in presenting the evidence he sees as compelling 'clues of God'.  These include points such as design, beauty, longing, morality, the purpose of the Cross, and the reality of the bodily resurrection of Christ.

While I didn't agree with every point Keller put forth, overall I would highly recommend this book for both Christians and non-Christians alike.

Mark's #7 - The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein

Before Frodo, their was Bilbo Baggins; A home loving hobbit from Bag end.

For the past couple of weeks I read this book to my daughters before bedtime. They loved it, and I did too.  Each chapter of this epic fantasy novel is an episodic story within the grand adventure.

This is the second time I've read The Hobbit, and once again I realized why I like the story so much more than the Lord of The Rings trilogy.  The story is fun, engaging, fast-paced,  with many twists and turns in the plot.

The characters too are fun and engaging.  In Bilbo, you have an unassuming little hobbit who always manages to do something unexpected and just right to save the day for himself, his fellowship of dwarves, or even for all the men of Dale and elves of Mirkwood.  By the end of the adventure, Bilbo has been deeply changed.  Other hobbits do not think too highly of him and his adventures, but it doesn't matter to Bilbo, he's a legend among elves and dwarves.

The themes of courage, self-sacrifice, and heroism are clear, and provided a context to discuss such things with my daughters.  Also, the themes of sovereignty and predestination are present as well.  Throughout the story, many characters sing songs of old which are prophecies of what is to come.  In Bilbo and his adventure with Gandalf and the dwarves, these prophecies come true.

At the end, Gandalf addresses this issue of prophecy and sovereignty in speaking with Bilbo,

"Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

If you're a fan of The Lord of the Rings movies, and you plan on seeing The Hobbit when it comes out later this year, do yourself a favor and read the book first, you won't be disappointed.

Mark's #6 - The Prophets Speak of Him: Encountering Jesus in the Minor Prophets by Anthony Selvaggio

I picked up this book as a study aid for a recent sermon series through the twelve books of the Old Testament known as the minor prophets.  The book and my sermon series shared the same goal: to display the prophetic glimpses of Christ contained in each book.
            To be sure, on the surface, the Minor Prophets are often difficult and confounding to understand.  Of the Prophets, Martin Luther once remarked, "The prophets have a queer way of talking… like people who instead of proceeding in an orderly way ramble off from one thing to the next so that you cannot make head or tail of them."  This book served to clarify some of this confusion.  It is an easily accessible read for most people, and a helpful tool for digging deeper in a section of God's Word that often get's neglected in our spiritual lives.


Mark's #5 - Animal Farm by George Orwell

On my reading adventures, sometimes I wonder how I managed to make it to 36 years of age without reading certain books. George Orwell's 1984 and Animal farm fall into this category.  Long before my days studying the political transitions of the Czech Republic from communism to democracy, I had a interest, or rather a hatred for communism (I am a child of the Cold War). In reading Animal Farm (originally published in 1945), I felt like I was reading the political policy handbook for nations like communist North Korea.
Animal Farm is an allegory  of a farm full of animals who overthrow their human oppressors to establish an animal utopia based on equality, shared responsibility, and collectivism (i.e., communism).   The story starts with an old boar named Old Manor, who probably represents Karl Marx, imploring the animals of the farm to rise up and throw off the heavy shackles of slavery forced on them by their oppressive owner, the drunkard Mr. Jones who neglects to feed the animals and mistreats them.

Shortly after Old Manor's death, an opportunity arises for an uprising by the animals to drive Mr. and Mrs. Jones from the farm.  At this point the animals celebrate their new freedom, and the pigs take over the 'intellectual' leadership of the commune.  The animals all agree upon and are guided by these seven principles:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are equal.


As the story progresses, the pigs assume more and more power using manipulation and historical revisionism, as well as the ignorances of the masses to get their way.  Eventually all of the guiding principles are either erased completely or changed to fit the desires of the pigs, as the pigs become more and more like their previous tormentors - the dreaded human beings.  For example, notice these changes:

  1. No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets. (after the pigs take over the farm house and begin using the beds)
  2. No animal shall drink alcohol to excess. (yet the pigs are often seen drinking to excess with their wild parties that keep them in bed until late the next day)
  3. No animal shall kill any other animal without cause. (Whenever it became politically necessary to do away with any of the other animals, this became their justification).


Ominously, the book ends with the line, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Orwell was clearly no fan of communism, or more specifically of Stalin.  As a philosopher, political theorist, and author, he wrote Animal Farm and 1984 to both expose Stalin and warn the world  of what would come under communist oppression.  He saw the threat and opposed it.

Today there is a clear and present threat to the future welfare of America and the world - The expansion of Islam.  Yet, instead of heroes like Orwell rising up to raise an alarm, it seems Hollywood and mainstream authors today are not only giving a pass to this threat, but instead they increasingly villianize America, democracy, capitalism, and freedom.

Will a George Orwell arise in our generation?  I hope so.

Mark's #50 - 11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King

In my generation, the pivotal date (so far) in history is 9/11/01, but for the previous generation that date was 11/22/63.  Similarly, perhaps the most asked question of both those dates has been, "where were you when you found out about..."  But what if the past could be changed?  If so, should it be changed?  How do we know if those changes will be for the better or the worse?  Those are the questions of every author who has delved into the tricky realm of time travel.  With these in mind, Stephen King brings his masterful storytelling ability in this great 849 tome.

How do I summarize an 849 page book, with all of it's intricacies, plot twists, mystery, and surprises in a short review? I don't.   What I will say is that this is a great peace of fiction, my favorite this year.  It has been a very long time since I've read any of Kings work.  What I realized in this reading is that King is not just an author who can crank out a massive amount of suspense/horror thrillers. King is also a brilliant storyteller who uses all sorts of literary devices Ron could go on and on about.

It's hard to describe, but reading this book felt fuller and more immersive than most novels I've read... Like the difference between watching a black and white tv and watching the latest Pixar 3D film.  There is a lot going on in the book on many levels, yet, it wasn't confusing or hard to follow at all.

I don't want to give away the plot because I want you to read the book... but I will give one hint:

The past is obdurate.

*Note: Obviously King doesn't write this book from the perspective of a Christian worldview. Readers should be cautioned about some occasional scenes of sexual impropriety.  While not explicit, the first time this happens, there's more details than necessary, and there are several other quick references to the act throughout the remainder of the book.