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Update October 2017

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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
Book Review

Update Saturday, Oct. 21 - Oct. 27, 2017

‘Chasing Phil’ offers peek into organized crime

Christina Ledbetter

“Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World’s Most Charming Con Man” (Crown), by David Howard

In 1977, two FBI agents, Jim Wedick and Jack Brennan, slipped recording devices beneath their suits, touted themselves as swindlers in the making and shook hands with Phil Kitzer.  It marked the beginning of the FBI’s first wire-wearing undercover mission, documented in David Howard’s “Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World’s Most Charming Con Man.”

Kitzer, a career con man responsible for bamboozling innocent (and sometimes not-so-innocent) victims out of money across the globe, took to his new friends quickly, eager to share with them the tricks of his trade.  Taking Wedick and Brennan everywhere from Chicago to Tokyo, Kitzer introduced his proteges to a vast underground network of fellow crooks.  Along the way, in hotel rooms, bars, at poolsides and dance clubs, Kitzer developed a fondness for the undercover agents, which made his eventual arrest more complicated.

While much of Howard’s work surrounds Wedick and Brennan’s relationship with their target, he also unpacks the impact of this case on the FBI.  Operation Fountain Pen played a pivotal role in expanding the FBI’s focus to include white-collar crime.

Howard sticks squarely to the facts in his telling of the agents’ journey, providing more of an overview of events in lieu of textured scenes.  This lack of immersion may leave readers feeling disconnected from the thick of the conflict.  Also, the complexity of the scams Kitzer orchestrated (they even confused the FBI) combined with the quantity of deals laid out in the book makes for a few discombobulating moments.

Bright spots remain.  This pursuit began before the FBI had anything resembling the extensive training that undercover agents receive today, meaning Wedick and Brennan forged their own path in tracking down Kitzer.  The decisions they made on the fly prove an intriguing facet of the story, as does the peek into the world of organized crime. (AP)

Update Saturday October 14 - October 20, 2017

‘Fire Road’ adds napalm girl’s voice to famous photo

Jennifer Kay

“Fire Road” (Tyndale Momentum), by Kim Phuc Phan Thi

In many ways, Kim Phuc has never left Route 1 in Vietnam, the highway where Associated Press photographer Nick Ut captured her running on June 8, 1972.

It’s one of the most enduring images of the 20th century.  Phuc runs naked toward Ut’s camera, her arms flung away from her body.  The 9-year-old is screaming, “Too hot! Too hot!” because of the napalm searing her back and left arm.

For most of her life, Phuc writes in a new memoir, she tried to run away from that moment when she became the Napalm Girl.  Throughout “Fire Road,” she explains how she came to see her life instead as a journey toward faith and peace.

Phuc’s survival and the errant bombing of civilians in her village outside Saigon by the South Vietnamese military have been comprehensively explored by journalists in the decades since the war, and in Denise Chong’s 1999 book, “The Girl in the Picture,” that detailed the war from the Vietnamese perspective.

“Fire Road,” written with Ashley Wiersma, completes the picture by adding Phuc’s own voice to the story.

The book makes a reader hungry with descriptions of the flavors of her childhood in Southeast Asia: her mother’s noodle soups, the guavas and bananas she plucked ripe off the trees outside her family’s home.

Equally rich are the details of how war appeared to a child: Sandal prints on the ground, where Viet Cong had crossed their property during the night.  Bright purple-and-gold smoke that marked bombing targets.  The deceptively soft whump-whump sound of napalm canisters hitting the ground.

Napalm sticks to its victims like jelly, burning through layers of skin and muscle. Phuc writes that the Vietnamese government’s use of her story for propaganda stuck as painfully to her, interrupting her studies and threatening to confine her until she defected to Canada.

Still, Phuc doesn’t dwell on the war, its aftermath or her efforts to physically distance herself from her government minders.  Her focus in “Fire Road” is her conversion to Christianity, finding a savior with scars she could relate to, and her persistence in persuading her husband and family to join her religious journey.

Phuc writes in the same soothing tone she has when she speaks in public as a UNESCO goodwill ambassador.  Even though well-intentioned journalists and doctors may not have helped her move on entirely from her wartime trauma, she has found a balm to ease her pains. (AP)

Update Saturday October 7 - October 13, 2017

Singer Art Garfunkel reveals feelings, thoughts in new book

Waka Tsunoda

“What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man” (Knopf), by Art Garfunkel

Art Garfunkel once envisioned a simple life as a mathematics teacher.  He earned a master’s degree and was well on his way to becoming a Ph.D.  That plan was derailed when he and Paul Simon became famous as the folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel.

“What Is It All but Luminous: Notes from an Underground Man” is a charming book of prose and poetry printed in a digitalized version of his handwriting.  In it, he reveals his thoughts and feelings about his turbulent life.

Garfunkel’s accomplishments are many: With Paul Simon, he won six Grammy Awards, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  As a solo singer, he scored three Top 20 hits.  He also won acclaim for his film roles in “Catch-22” and “Carnal Knowledge.”

In 1970, S&G broke up after dominating the pop charts for five years.  In 1981, he performed with Simon before more than 500,000 fans in New York’s Central Park and belted out his signature vocal “Bridge over Troubled Water.”  In 2010, he temporarily lost his voice due to a vocal cord problem and struggled to regain it.

His poems in “Luminous” are witty, candid and wildly imaginative.  He comes through as a highly intelligent man trying to make sense of his extraordinary life. (AP)



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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

‘Chasing Phil’ offers peek into organized crime

‘Fire Road’ adds napalm girl’s voice to famous photo

Singer Art Garfunkel reveals feelings, thoughts in new book


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