The Black Butterfly Woman reviewed by Arvind Mahadevan: a war book that is not really about war

Just finished reading The Black Butterfly Woman by Philip Atlas Clausen. It is my first novel by the author and a very enthralling story. This is an interesting story that, based on the first two chapters, seems to be about the Vietnam War. However, as the book and story progresses, it becomes clear that the book is not really about the Vietnam War or even the war itself. Rather, it is about the struggle that one man (and a young boy in flashbacks) has to find himself in an uncertain world. The first two chapters are a little unfocused but starting with the third chapter, the novel picks up speed and its story becomes more compelling. Recommend this book!

THE BLACK BUTTERFLY WOMAN Suha Vinjay’s Review: a good one to spend time with during the lockdown period

The book started as a tough read initially for the first two chapters. The second chapter started slowly interesting, but the later chapters got us into the Tunnels, in which the hero of the book (Billy) crawls through.

A thoroughly enjoyable book though traumatic at times, this psychological novel gives new insights into the struggles of a soldier who fought in the Vietnam War. It’s an excellent attempt…to try out such a complex tale with multiple shades.

I felt happy after reading this book during the lockdown period, as it is a good one to spend time with.

The Gold Hunter reviewed by Christina Munar

The Gold Hunter: The Goldfinder Series, Book One
by Philip Atlas Clausen (Goodreads Author)

Cristina Munar’s review
Dec 18, 2019
really liked it
** spoiler alert ** The Gold Hunter: The Goldfinder Series, Book One
I have sensed that this book will be a rare gem like the title. With the use of imagery, philosophy with a dash of humanity and the backdrop of history, the reading experience will be one for the book. Did I ever feel that the novel will take a long time for me to digest? Yes. With intricate details of California, the Indians (and a glimpse of Scotland), the author meticulously embedded those historical/ metaphysical clues for the intelligent reader to piece together and to create a journey towards believing on her/his ability to decode hidden lakes and invisible caves figuratively or literally. It became too much to bear…not to allot time for some reflective thinking after browsing the chapters. Did I ever give up? Nope. Thank you for the vote of confidence from the writer and fellow readers and reviewers. After all, the reader like me could easily identify with the main man, the young, dynamic Petr John Valory, but without a letter “e”on his name to save ink? For economy’s sake? Who in the world would ever decide on giving someone an incomplete identity? (Many to mention-pangs of reality). So that when Magya and John did that, I just made up excuses or reasons to interpret at the end of my reading journey. And the ending turned bitter as the plot ricocheted and spiraled to a great unknown. I ended up hating Magya and loving John. Could you blame me? This novel made me appreciate the harsh deaths the Indians suffered at the time where only the fittest could survive or how I finally understood John’s invisible thread of love and concern for his children, or Annabel’s life purpose of becoming a “man” imitating her ‘brother’, Petr and following him as if it was the only way to be one. So when they were broken apart by one mystical battle of obedience and loyalty, neither one of them survived the curse of reincarnation– of reliving the misery and pain of your past life all over again. Did I struggle with the fear of not ever reaching the last page and sigh, I made it? Undoubtedly. But because I enjoyed tearing Petr Valory’s character apart and putting them together with fresh outlook at what kind of human fabric he was made of, I never thought of giving him and The Gold Hunter up. This novel was written for historical fantasy lovers and for those who have the knack for metaphorical imagery and aesthetic symbolism. How many times I found myself comparing the falcon to Petr or the doll to Anabel? Sharing the same fate in the same time when touched by a realization that hey, they were never meant to be siblings by blood but lovers by fate. I loved the feeling that somehow I am criticizing the way the story progressed to many violent outbursts by all faces of evils.Evils that were just lurking in a California- man killer– whether it be Magya’s escape and /or abandonment or John’s undeserved death or Dain King’s devilish ambitions. Or the sickening dread that Annabel and Petr from the very beginning I read them pledging with each other, were in an incestuous relationship. It was a flipping kind of crazy to stop myself as a reader from judging how these characters react on their fate, wishing silently that Petr will make a name for himself and find love greater and safer than what he was feeling for Annabel.He was just seventeen. but his journey towards becoming a man and providing for his now non-existent family will only remain a dream he wished on the day of his birth. Or rebirth probably? The novel opened with a happy tone of being alive despite the tragical romance surrounding Magya’s failure and John’s inconsistency. But then again the foreshadowing techniques employed by Philip Clausen were sprinkled throughout the pages that you might as well just be prepared that something will happen when finally the characters, on a beautiful, bright California Sunday, were able to find a goldmine paying the higher price–their life.
Petr’s dreams to build a white house for his Mama or a good horse for Annabel and a saw mill for his Papa turned to a nightmare of being trapped to the sins of the past in a never-ending dominance of human greed and weak heart. Gold Lake was a dream that turned into a nightmare.

Pramit’s Review of The Gold Hunter

The Gold Hunter is the first novel in the Goldfinder Series by Philip Atlas Clausen that tells the story of a bunch of Gold explorers. Set up in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and the forests and valleys during the California Gold Rush the story comes alive in the lively description of the nature by the author. The atrocities done by the white people on the native Red Indians during the European Settlement is shown in proper light. The underlying message of the story is the fact that the greed of humankind is the evil which is the cause of most of the crimes. The protagonists of the story are strong but it is not overcrowded with many characters making the story easy to follow. The ending of the book keeps the reader waiting for a ‘poetic justice’. It has a flavor of thriller in the envelope of adventure. This book has been one of my best reads so far.

Ana Banana’s Review of The Gold Hunter

Pros: I enjoyed the book! Beautiful writing, gorgeous images of colorful scenery. I really enjoyed the novel. I got emotionally invested in the entire family. I really was rooting for a full happy ending for everyone. But sadly, it all went downhill when Annabel went missing. The plot twist caught me off guard, King being Petr’s dad!?!? I hope we get to know more of his birth mom in the next installment.

I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy element in this book. I wasn’t expecting any fantasy/mystical things when I first saw the title and book cover but I’m glad the author managed to write that in .

I’ll be eagerly waiting for the next book as I would love to continue to follow Petr’s journey and see him and Annabel reunited again. Cons: none.

Jai’s Review of The Gold Hunter

The novel in its entirety is akin to the process of gold hunting itself. Filled with hope and uncertainty, you plunge straight into the darkness of a gold mine–digging, scraping and smashing until the bits of treasure start to gleam amidst the murky shadows. It’s a story within a story–an adventure within an adventure. There was a little philosophical and existential cynicism injected here and there which I really enjoyed and added an introspective dimension to the story. What stood out for me is Annabel’s story. I think it would’ve made for an inspiring children’s tale of self-discovery and growth on its own. Her bravery to venture into the unknown coupled with her unwavering tenacity to survive was emotionally stirring for an eight-year-old.

I’d love to see this adapted into a film someday. The setting, the premise, the character development–everything was beautifully narrated and conceptualized. If you want to get a compelling insight into the realities of the California Gold Rush, this is your pick.

Green Book movie

This is a wonderful Odd-Couple story and somehow an incredible comedy. It’s 1962 and brilliant Black concert pianist, Dr. Don Shirley,played by Mahershala Ali (just won Best Supporting Actor for this role) decides on a concert tour into the Deep South (true story). His chauffeur in a beautiful blue Cadillac is Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga, played by Viggo Mortensen who’s just lost his job as a bouncer in a mob-run club in New York City. Tony is good-natured, meat and potatoes and pizza guy and Dr. Shirley is a deific, prince-like being who plays a Steinway piano like a god. Tony likes to eat chicken and smoke while he drives; Dr. Shirley has never eaten fried chicken. The farther south they go, the heavier racism they run into. Tony must protect Dr. Shirley’s dignity and farther south, his life. Of course they are stock characters: the loud-mouth Italian; the super-dignified, super-talented Black; the stupid Southern racism. The brilliance of the movie is that such dark material is blissfully leavened with humor. Great comedian George Carlin said great humor comes from the most painfully taboo subjects. This movie is proof. My judgment of any movie is always: Would I want to see it again? Very rarely would I ever say yes. Green Book I would gladly see again tomorrow.

I Dreamed I had been Alive 144 Billion Years

I dreamed I had been alive for 144 billion years. That I had lived literally millions of lives. There were an infinite number of planets teeming with life and flowing with the consciousness of God. And since in the dream this universe endlessly repeated itself–I had been every sort of being. I had been a bum, a race car driver. I had been a murderer and I had been a doctor. I had died as a baby and lived to be an old woman of a hundred and seventeen years. I had been a slave and I had been a king. I had been a bank robber and I had been a founder of a children’s home. I had been a mercenary soldier and I had been a monk in a monastery.

When I woke up, I remembered there were at least 144,000 things I had not yet been, some ‘bad’ some ‘good’. When I woke up I realized that all of these dream lives had been valid, that I had learned something important from each one of them, whether I had been famous or whether I had been infamous. When I woke up I realized it was no longer necessary to wish I could have been a famous actor or a great athlete. I had already been that–or would be that in the future. All those lives!

When I woke up, I realized that my life right now, was and is, completely valid. Indeed I could be nothing else but exactly what I was and am, no reason to belittle myself or be jealous of anyone else. When I woke up I realized I was okay–and so was everyone else and I…and I…loved myself for the first time…just a little bit.

And I…loved my brothers and my sisters for the first time…just a little bit. Realized they were just a part of myself I had been hiding from–in another form playing another role I had played or would play one day. I had no reason to hate them and every reason to love them. I had no reason to hate myself and every reason to love myself.

When I woke up I wanted to dream that dream again and again. It was a very good dream.

Why I Stand for the Flag

We’re really talking about two different things here: American Ideals of Liberty with the Pursuit of Happiness, and, American Action-History (or reality).

The American flag represents, symbolizes and is emblematic of our American Ideals. When you stand for the American flag here is what you are standing for: freedom of expression; freedom to select elected officials; freedom to pursue your own choice of lifestyle and career; freedom to pursue your happiness; freedom from persecution. We modern Americans very often take these freedoms for granted because we have always had them. Thousands of Americans have fought and died defending these precious ideals. When we stand for the American flag we are standing to honor these Americans who have sacrificed for our freedoms and what we call our “rights”.

I think it’s a big mistake for anyone, and especially high-profile athletes, to not respect the American flag in the traditional manner, that is: to rise and stand with the hand over the heart to signify love and appreciation. To sit for the American flag or kneel for the American flag is an inappropriate response to a highly charged situation. “This is what I stand for.” I want you to take those six words literally and in their deepest double meaning. “This is what I believe.” And, “This is what I stand up for to show respect.”

I believe the athletes who sit or kneel are professing a disgust with American Action-History. That is, the failure of our American Ideals. They have every right to be disgusted because American Ideals are intentions that are world-wide huge and America’s failure are also huge. No country has ever before tried to do what we’ve done. In our shared tribal human history (whether you were light or dark) , if someone looked different, you attacked them or killed them or enslaved them. America changed all that. Let it read, America is still trying to change all that.

America is the country of the world that opened its arms to freedom-hungry people from all over the world. That is a founding American Ideal.

Because human beings (even Americans) don’t always behave in an ideal manner the reaction to the influx of later immigrants (notably Irish, Chinese, Italian) was terrible expressions of prejudice and hatred.

This prejudice, this unfair treatment, this un-American treatment, is certainly what the high-profile athletes are reacting to and responding to. They are certainly right and especially as free American citizens they are certainly right to protest prejudice and unfair treatment. It is very much the American spirit to be brave enough to take a stand against injustice especially if it seems to be embedded in the power structure. They are right to do this. They are very right to protest against the racism that still exists in our amazing country.

But they are not right to disrespect the symbol of our American Ideals. I say, Rise up, my beautiful athlete warriors. You have attained power and position in the greatest free land on earth. Use your power wisely to do good. The cause of freedom is not helped by disrespecting the symbol of freedom: The American flag.

America is still trying. America is always a work in progress. Don’t ever give up on America. You are all a part of that American progress we call freedom.












Comments on Clarion Review: The Gold Shaper

Just a few footnotes on the perils of a getting a professional book review. It’s easy to be too quickly understood by a very busy reviewer (I’m sure they’re very overworked and overwhelmed by the volume of new books on the market). The reviewer says three times my work is a trilogy. It may be unimportant to anyone else on earth but I would like to state and make plain and clear in no uncertain terms:

The Goldfinder is a four-part series. Book One, The Gold Hunter; Book Two, The Gold Shaper; Book Three, The Gold Soldier; Book Four, (to be published) The Heart of Gold Lake.

The reviewer states my character is a “young man navigating the early colonial wilderness”. The American colonial period was roughly mid-1500’s to mid-1700’s. The Goldfinder Series has nothing to do with the colonial period and everything to do with the Gold Rush era, which began in 1849. I have done everything in my writing power to capture the flavor and mania of the Gold Rush era, and particularly the Valory family which is swept up and destroyed by the gold fever madness–and–what will Petr Valory do to survive after the madness has rushed over him. Which leads me to the next point: the white’s relationship with the native people.

I am taken to task “that Native American characters are consistently called ‘red'”. Let me assure you it would be highly unrealistic (unless I were writing a Mel Brooks comedy-parody) to have any of my white characters say, “Let us go over the rise and see if there are any Native Americans lurking there.” Even though it might be offensive to modern ears, the Gold Rush characters would and did say: “Keep your eyes peeled for redskins.” At best I can only repeat the disclaimer that appeared in the foreword to Francis Parkman’s great classic, The Oregon Trail: “It is important for today’s readers to keep in mind, however, that although this book was representative of its time, it in no way reflects current attitudes.”

But anyone who dares to write with any degree of racial flavor is doomed to be misunderstood. And those who are uncomfortable with American history shouldn’t read American history. They should read fairy tales, romances or soap operas. American history is strong stuff and always will be. No other nation has tried to provide equality and freedom for every race and class. Our failures have been epic and bloody. But at least we have tried. And in my life and in my writing, with a great lack of perfection, so have I.