Book Review: The Genie Who Had Wishes of HIs Own

thegeniewhohadwishesofhisownMargaret Harmon’s 22 21st-century fables provide lessons about Five Starsgreed, hubris, jealousy, pride, procrastination, living through others, idealism, creativity, wasted opportunities, optimism vs pessimism, and the question of just what is success. Some are reminiscent of traditional fairy tales, especially three involving magic lamps and turbaned genies, “The Ingénue and the Genie,” “Freeing the Genie,” and “The Second-best Juggler in the World.” But none have the predictable ending our childhood tales have taught us to expect.

If the fables had morals–and Harmon insists even Aesop’s fables did not originally include morals until the Victorians, who feared children wouldn’t otherwise learn from them, added them–the likely moral of the first would be “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough,” of the second, “Appreciate every opportunity, especially those that benefit others,” and of the third, “Opportunities aren’t guarantees.” Well, those last three words are Harmon’s, from “The Second-best Juggler in the World.” So I’m certain she would agree with me.

While each fable tells an entire story, there are themes that run through many of them. Seizing the opportunity is a theme that applies not only to the three genie tales but also to others. “Two Young Farmers,” “The Snake in the Terrarium,” and my favorite, “The Track Team,” also deal with recognizing an opportunity or creating an opportunity or of missing out on an opportunity. In “The Track Team” Harmon contrasts three team members who agree there is a problem: their team keeps losing. And they agree something must be done. But each chooses a different solution, leaving the reader to decide which of the three is more likely to succeed. “Two Young Farmers” poses a similar situation, though the outcome is unambiguous: one farmer believes perfection must be found first while the other begins with what he is handed and creates his own opportunity.

One of the longest fables, “The Philanthropist,” presents the scariest of images to me. The title implies the central character is a success, having acquired so much wealth he can afford to give it away. But the moral of this fable involves the means more than the ends.

It may be several years yet before I can tell these fables to my pre-school aged grandchildren. I hope Margaret keeps writing fables to add to these by then.

  • Print Length: 226 pages
  • Publisher: Plowshare Media; 1 edition (July 31, 2013)
  • Publication Date: July 31, 2013
  • Genre: Literary Humor, Short Stories, Fairy Tales

Book Review: Shooting Saddam

Five StarsDennis Lynch tells the story of his three trips between 2005 and 2006 to Baghdad to oversee the videography and recording of the trial of Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants. A well-written account, he relates his impressions of the trip, the environment, and the events with a sense of humor alongside a genuine respect for the gravity of what he was doing and for the people he met. Putting aside the few minor errors in his report, I was impressed with his research and desire to understand the larger story that his unique and up-close view fits within. I recommend the book highly.

The cover and title are my favorite of the year.

The minor error I found most curious is Lynch’s reference to Al-Zarqawi changing his name from Ahmad to Abu after Muhammad the Prophet’s successor. “Abu” means “father of” and is not a name by itself. It is used, along with the name of the oldest son, to denote the man is a parent of a son. “Um” is the feminine form. Names formed with “Abu” for the father or “Um” for the mother plus the first name of the oldest son is known as a kunya. Al Zarkawi was known as Abu Musab, which translates as “father of Musab.” According to my research, Al Zarkawi had two wives and several children, including at least three sons, making it entirely normal for him to use his kunya, Abu Musab.

Dennis will be one of three debut memoir writers on a panel at the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild on Monday, March 28, 2016, at 6:30 p.m.