It's 1925. Children are dying of diphtheria in Nome, Alaska, with severe winter conditions preventing delivery of the serum that can save them. Enter the dogsledders: brave, stoic men with wind-burned faces driving teams of Siberian huskies across the vast arctic, relaying the medicine from one team to the next as a nation breathlessly follows their progress. With a story like this, and with a cast of characters like legendary dogsledder Leonhard ("King of the Trail") Seppala, heroic country doctor Curtis Welch, and assorted bullheaded politicians, gun-toting newspapermen, and brawling prospectors, The Cruelest Miles (Norton, $24.95) certainly grabs the reader's attention. Stirring passages detailing the rigors of dogsledding, the bond between man and beast, and the importance of a good lead dog make for irresistible Jack London kind of stuff. Problem is, every time Miles starts to build a decent head of steam, the book gets sidetracked by lengthy tangents that should have been quick asides. The authors, first cousins Gay and Laney Salisbury, have done a prodigious amount of research, but they apparently couldn't bear not to use every last bit of it. Is it really necessary for us to know that Christmas turkeys in Nome were soaked in soda water and salt before roasting? I guess so. In a chapter on Alaska's native inhabitants, the thread of the story is dropped altogether in favor of a dutiful survey of mukluks, reindeer hunting, and Eskimo mythology. Isn't that what footnotes are for? As an account of day-to-day life in 1920s Alaska, Miles is thorough and colorful. As a fast-moving tale of suspense along the lines of The Perfect Storm or Into Thin Air, the book's heavy load of factoids keeps its blades frozen firmly to the ground. DAVID STOESZ Gay Salisbury will read at University Book Store (4326 University Way N.E., 206-634-3400), 7 p.m. Thurs., June 12. Farsi And Fratricide
"I feel like a tourist in my own country," says an Afghan writer returning to Kabul 20 years after fleeing Russian occupation to America. His driver rebukes him, "You've always been a tourist here, you just didn't know it." In his debut novel, The Kite Runner (Riverhead, $24.95), Khaled Hosseini describes both the privileged '70s youth of his protagonist, Amir, and the strangeness of Amir later rediscovering a ruined Taliban-controlled Kabul. (Between, Amir emigrates, becomes a novelist, and marries, none of which is terribly interesting.) In the '70s portion of his novel, Hosseini sets up Runner for third-act atonement and healingalways that dreaded wordwhen 12-year-old Amir betrays his best friend (his family's lower-caste Hazara servant). Amir spends the rest of the book running from his crime and, finally, trying to make amends. Yet as he learns, expiation is no simpler than the original sin: "I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away in the middle of the night." The latter part of the story, the exile's return, depicts a rocket-shattered city overrun with Kalashnikov-brandishing Talibs itching to shoot, steal from, or rape anyone unlucky enough to make eye contact with them. It's vivid and compelling, but one senses that Hosseinia Bay Area physician and diplomat's son who spent much of his youth outside Afghanistanis relying on the same CNN tapes of the Taliban stoning adulterers to death at soccer matches that we've all seen before. As a novel, Runner is simple and satisfying enough, though too pat with its plotting and portents. As a novelist, Hosseini has some promise, but I'm more interested in what he'll now have to say as a reporter about his March trip to Afghanistan, his first trip home in 27 years. BRIAN MILLER Khaled Hosseini will read at Elliott Bay Books (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 5 p.m. Fri., June 13. I (Almost) Married A Killer!
Seattle's Jim Fielder, erstwhile Zig Zag river raft entrepreneur, debuts as an author with Slow Death (Pinnacle, $6.50) the true-crime tale of David Ray, "the worst sadistic serial killer in the history of the FBI," according to one FBI agent (the one who didn't commit suicide immediately after inventorying Ray's torture tools). Though he claimed 14 victims, authorities say Ray may have killed 60 women in the trailer he called his "Toybox" near Elephant Butte Lake, N.M. Assisted by his girlfriend, Everett 魩gr頃indy Hendy, he put victims in coffins and gynecology chairs and videotaped their assault with $100,000 worth of whips, chains, cattle prods, electric clamps, surgical saws, and hungry dogs. Ray was only caught in 1999 because of his dumb girlfriendher family calls her a "box of rocks." Cindy had legal and love troubles up north: She found one boyfriend humping an inflatable doll, and prior to trying to kill him with butcher knife, rat poison, and beer bottleshe sobbed, "You love that thing more than you love me!" So she fled south, found Ray, and gushed to a friend, "I love reading books about serial killers, and now I'm living with one!" But when Cindy wanted to spend time in Everett for her first grandchild's birth, Ray insisted on kidnapping a sex slave to keep him company, and they picked up the wrong prostitute, one Ms. Vigil. Dim Cindy left the keys to Vigil's padlock on the coffee table and left the room. Vigil kicked the table over and reached the keys just as Cindy walked back in, feverishly trying each key on the padlock as Cindy cracked her skull with a lamp, knocking over a box containing an ice pick. Vigil sank the ice pick into Cindy's neck, ran down the road, naked except for a dog collar, was rescued by a kindly old couple in a trailer. But Fielder's rather choppy book isn't about happy endings; it's about lurid photos and videotapes, motiveless malignity, and one shabby subculture. TIM APPELO Jim Fielder will read at the Woodinville Barnes & Noble (18025 Garden Way N.E., 425-398-1990), 7 p.m. Fri., June 13. The World According To Newsweek
This is one of those rare times when foreign policy is on everyone's radar screen. The war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, America's new imperial "Bush Doctrine," nuclear proliferation, the drawing of the Middle East road mapall these have trumped the economy, stupid. In a way, it's refreshing to have such focus on the larger issues of America's place in the world (or everyone else's place in our world). One thing is clear: With our global ambitions, or even without them, the United States can no longer live in real or imagined isolation. At least that's what the editors of Newsweek believe, as laid out in two new books. Michael Hirsh has written At War With Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World (Oxford, $26). He contends that the U.S. is no longer a superpower but the world's sole "ber-power." As such, we cannot skirt responsibility as overseer of an international system largely of our own design. Contrasting the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton approaches to foreign policy, Hirsh concludes that they are two very American halves of a necessary whole. America must use its power in its self-interest (ࠬa Bush), but it must also embrace its role as an integrated part of international institutions (ࠬa Clinton). Carry a big stick and sign Kyotothat's the only way to deal with post-Cold War realities that are less a New World Order than what Hirsh calls a "Permanent Quagmire." Unfortunately, someone has to run the quagmire, and that's our new job. This forced embrace of internationalism requires an updating of Woodrow Wilson's messianic mandate to make the world safe for democracy. But what does democracy look like? That's a question addressed by Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria. In The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (Norton, $24.95), he explores the differences between textbook definitions of "democracy" and "freedom." (Adolf Hitler, after all, was democratically elected.) Zakaria points out that some of our own cherishedand I'd say tarnishedinstitutions, such the Supreme Court, were designed to ensure greater freedom but are in themselves rather undemocratic (e.g., the justices who decided the 2000 election are appointed for life). Before we mindlessly expend ourselves exporting "democracy" to the world, we ought to better know what it truly means to us. That greater self-awareness is something both authors call for: Being an ber-power requires an ber-understanding of the world and our place in it. Nation-building is likely to prove a hollow exercise if we don't understand the values that we're pouring into foundations from Kosovo to Kabul, let alone the values of their native populations. Doing it blindly could turn the quagmire into quicksand. KNUTE BERGER Michael Hirsh will read at University of Washington Kane Hall, Room 130 (206-634-3400; tickets $7), 7 p.m. Mon., June 16. email@example.com