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The vague concept of 'patriotism' is front and center in my mind this week. From my most recent book review to attempting to understand the events that unfolded on 01/06, I cannot but wonder: who gets to set the narrative for what is or is not patriotic in America?

In the decades following World War II, the standard American policy was to oppose anything communist, leading to the era of McCarthyism and geopolitical quagmires that have lasting effects to this day. For instance, look at one of the ways in which Donald Trump tried to portray Joseph Biden during the debates leading up to election day. Trump branded Biden a puppet, one controlled by a socialist/communist democratic party, a mere figurehead for what would come to destroy America. The negative connotations of 'socialist' or 'communist' are effective - during the past two Presidential cycles the most extreme of left-wing candidates have not made it out of the Democratic primaries because of these allegations by their opponents. (A look at the polling in 2020 from certain segments of the population who immigrated from Latin America, a people generally sensitive to overtures from socialist politicians, bear this out.)

The 'socialist' narrative derives from dozens of policies throughout the latter-half of the 20th-century, whether it be Containment in the 1940's, McCarthyism and Domino Theory of the 1950's, and the "Best and the Brightest" of the 1960's, or heightened capitalist impulses and the wrongheaded "End of History" many envisioned up until and after the fall of the USSR in the early 1990's. To be sure, most socialist/communist nations have drifted toward dictatorial leaderships throughout the past century yet, as often happens, the most repugnant of our policies back to World War II used faux-patriotism or "national security risks" as the nominal reason for intervention in foreign countries of regrettable policies domestically.

Today, with the benefit of retrospect, historians can pinpoint instances where the country veered off path, where it seems obvious that the country was in over its head. There was a period were Senator Joe McCarthy was the epitome of a Patriot, flushing out would-be or bona-fide communists with zeal and aggression. For awhile, it seemed it was McCarthy who was on the frontlines, defending this country from it's most dangerous adversary. It took a few years but when it became apparent that the clear and present danger was McCarthyism itself, America, as always, retreated more slowly than it had advanced, leaving a shimmer of a longing for a steely-eyed enemy on which we could blame our problems. 

That is often the problem with unbridled Patriotism, not that Patriots love their country too much but that they paradoxically love their fellow citizens too little. Patriotism often requires a foil, a scapegoat of sorts, one that can be held down in order to boost oneself up. We often give no space for disagreement, posting posts and tweets adorned with #usa or a small American flag, and arrogantly assume what we think is best for the country now will prove to be morally and politically astute in retrospect.

As Christian Appy notes in Patriots, there is always another side with their own vested interests and personal history. Americans arrogantly ignored these interests in Vietnam, assuming firepower and annihilation would snuff out the nationalist impulses of a colonized people. Regardless of affiliation, we should take steps to understand how the others live and think, lest we enter into an unwinnable quagmire here amongst ourselves. In Patriots Appy presents countless testaments a simple fact that remained elusive to the most powerful men in the world: most Vietnamese citizens would rather live in a unified, communist Vietnam than a separated, half-capitalist, half-communist nation that seemed to be the goal of the war. What truths are us simple citizens missing today?

Book Review: Patriots by Christian Appy
The conflict in Vietnam between the United States and Vietnamese nationalists from the 1950’s to the mid-1970’s generated a narrative in America traditionally focused on American geopolitics and societal cause-and-effect,…

New Books!


The Paris Library by Janet Charles

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor's mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are--family, friends, and favorite authors--The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

City of a Thousand Gates by Rebecca Sacks

Brave and bold, this gorgeously written novel introduces a large cast of characters from various backgrounds in a setting where violence is routine and where survival is defined by boundaries, walls, and checkpoints that force people to live and love within and across them.

Hamid, a college student, has entered Israeli territory illegally for work. Rushing past soldiers, he bumps into Vera, a German journalist headed to Jerusalem to cover the story of Salem, a Palestinian boy beaten into a coma by a group of revenge-seeking Israeli teenagers. On her way to the hospital, Vera runs in front of a car that barely avoids hitting her. The driver is Ido, a new father traveling with his American wife and their baby. Ido is distracted by thoughts of a young Jewish girl murdered by a terrorist who infiltrated her settlement. Ori, a nineteen-year-old soldier from a nearby settlement, is guarding the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem through which Samar--Hamid's professor--must pass.

These multiple strands open this magnificent and haunting novel of present-day Israel and Palestine, following each of these diverse characters as they try to protect what they love. Their interwoven stories reveal complicated, painful truths about life in this conflicted land steeped in hope, love, hatred, terror, and blood on both sides.

City of a Thousand Gates brilliantly evokes the universal drives that motivate these individuals to think and act as they do--desires for security, for freedom, for dignity, for the future of one's children, for land that each of us, no matter who or where we are, recognize and share.

Love and Other Poems by Alex Dimitrov

Alex Dimitrov's third book, Love and Other Poems, is full of praise for the world we live in. Taking time as an overarching structure--specifically, the twelve months of the year--Dimitrov elevates the everyday, and speaks directly to the reader as if the poem were a phone call or a text message. From the personal to the cosmos, the moon to New York City, the speaker is convinced that love is "our best invention." Dimitrov doesn't resist joy, even in despair. These poems are curious about who we are as people and shamelessly interested in hope.

American Melancholy: Poems by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is one of our most insightful observers of the human heart and mind, and, with her acute social consciousness, one of the most insistent and inspired witnesses of a shared American history.

Oates is perhaps best known for her prodigious output of novels and short stories, many of which have become contemporary classics. However, Oates has also always been a faithful writer of poetry. American Melancholy showcases some of her finest work of the last few decades.

Covering subjects big and small, and written in an immediate and engaging style, this collection touches on both the personal and political. Loss, love, and memory are investigated, along with the upheavals of our modern age, the reality of our current predicaments, and the ravages of poverty, racism, and social unrest. Oates skillfully writes characters ranging from a former doctor at a Chinese People's Liberation Army hospital to Little Albert, a six-month-old infant who took part in a famous study that revealed evidence of classical conditioning in human beings.

American Serial Killers: the Epidemic Years 1950-2000 by Peter Vronsky

 With books like Serial Killers, Female Serial Killers and Sons of Cain, Peter Vronsky has established himself as the foremost expert on the history of serial killers. In this first definitive history of the Golden Age of American serial murder, when the number and body count of serial killers exploded, Vronsky tells the stories of the most unusual and prominent serial killings from the 1950s to the early twenty-first century. From Ted Bundy to the Golden State Killer, our fascination with these classic serial killers seems to grow by the day. American Serial Killers gives true crime junkies what they crave, with both perennial favorites (Ed Kemper, Jeffrey Dahmer) and lesser-known cases (Melvin Rees, Harvey Glatman).

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad

 In the summer after graduating from college, Suleika Jaouad was preparing, as they say in commencement speeches, to enter "the real world." She had fallen in love and moved to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a war correspondent. The real world she found, however, would take her into a very different kind of conflict zone.

It started with an itch--first on her feet, then up her legs, like a thousand invisible mosquito bites. Next came the exhaustion, and the six-hour naps that only deepened her fatigue. Then a trip to the doctor and, a few weeks shy of her twenty-third birthday, a diagnosis: leukemia, with a 35 percent chance of survival. Just like that, the life she had imagined for herself had gone up in flames. By the time Jaouad flew home to New York, she had lost her job, her apartment, and her independence. She would spend much of the next four years in a hospital bed, fighting for her life and chronicling the saga in a column for The New York Times.

When Jaouad finally walked out of the cancer ward--after three and a half years of chemo, a clinical trial, and a bone marrow transplant--she was, according to the doctors, cured. But as she would soon learn, a cure is not where the work of healing ends; it's where it begins. She had spent the past 1,500 days in desperate pursuit of one goal--to survive. And now that she'd done so, she realized that she had no idea how to live.

How would she reenter the world and live again? How could she reclaim what had been lost? Jaouad embarked--with her new best friend, Oscar, a scruffy terrier mutt--on a 100-day, 15,000-mile road trip across the country. She set out to meet some of the strangers who had written to her during her years in the hospital: a teenage girl in Florida also recovering from cancer; a teacher in California grieving the death of her son; a death-row inmate in Texas who'd spent his own years confined to a room. What she learned on this trip is that the divide between sick and well is porous, that the vast majority of us will travel back and forth between these realms throughout our lives. Between Two Kingdoms is a profound chronicle of survivorship and a fierce, tender, and inspiring exploration of what it means to begin again.

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro

 The girls' names were Padma and Lalli, but they were so inseparable that people in the village called them Padma Lalli. Sixteen-year-old Padma sparked and burned. Fourteen-year-old Lalli was an incorrigible romantic.

They grew up in Katra Sadatganj, an eye-blink of a village in western Uttar Pradesh crammed into less than one square mile of land. It was out in the fields, in the middle of mango season, that the rumors started.

Then one night in the summer of 2014 the girls went missing; and hours later they were found hanging in the orchard. Who they were, and what had happened to them, was already less important than what their disappearance meant to the people left behind.

In the ensuing months, the investigation into their deaths would implode everything that their small community held to be true, and instigate a national conversation about sex and violence. Slipping deftly behind political maneuvering, caste systems and codes of honor in a village in northern India, The Good Girls returns to the scene of Padma and Lalli's short lives and shameful deaths, and dares to ask: what is the human cost of shame?

The Power Wish: Japan's Leading Astrologer Reveal's the Moon's Secrets for Finding Success, Happiness, and the favor of the Universe by Keiko, translated by Rieko Yamanaka

 Summon the energy of the universe to make your dreams come true with this bestselling guide to a powerful method by Japan's leading astrologer.


A million-copy bestselling author in Japan, Keiko is now sharing her secrets with the world. The Moon, according to Keiko, is Earth's helpdesk, a liaison between Earth and the other planets, delivering our wishes to the universe. With Keiko's Power Wish Method, you will learn to speak the language of the Moon and the stars--specifically, how to . . .

- wish upon the New Moon and the Full Moon--the phases when the Moon is available to help you;
- make your wishes using words of high vibration that have the greatest cosmic resonance and fortune-boosting potential;
- get the universe in the mood to help by embracing gratitude and positivity;
- time your wishes to harness the particular strengths of all twelve zodiac signs, such as the speed of Aries, the financial expertise of Taurus, and the transformative power of Scorpio.

With Keiko as your astrological coach, you don't merely wait for the universe to fulfill your dreams; you become actively involved in charting a path for your life--and in finding the love, happiness, and success you've always desired.


Astrology is not fortune telling, but rather the skill to read the energy of the stars. --Keiko