Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Kingsolver, Barbara "The Poisonwood Bible"


Kingsolver, Barbara "The Poisonwood Bible" - 1988

One of my favourite books ever. This story is told in diary form by the wife and four daughters of a preacher. He takes them to Africa where all five of them have different experiences and see the country with different perspectives. The father is quite abusive, not what you would expect a religious man to be (though one of my friends says she knows a guy exactly like him and that's why she doesn't like the novel).

This book doesn't just tell the story of a family and different women but also the history of the Belgian Congo and the differences of the cultures.

Book Description: "The Poisonwood Bible tells the story of an American family in the Congo during a time of tremendous political and social upheaval. The story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them all they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it - from garden seeds to Scripture - is calamitously transformed on African soil. This tale of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction, over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa, is set against one of history's most dramatic political parables. The Poisonwood Bible dances between the darkly comic human failings and inspiring poetic justices of our times. In a compelling exploration of religion, conscience, imperialist arrogance, and the many paths to redemption, Barbara Kingsolver has written a novel of overwhelming power and passion."

I have read several other Kingsolver novels in the meantime and liked all of them, you can find my reviews here. Although this one is still my favourite next to "The Lacuna".

We discussed this in our book club in December 2001.

Barbara Kingsolver was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize for "The Poisonwood Bible" in 1999.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Steinbeck, John "East of Eden"


Steinbeck, John "East of Eden" - 1952

I have watched the movie ages ago and always wanted to read the book. I'm glad I did. Steinbeck is a wonderful author, his writing is almost poetry, his thoughts philosophical and, yet, his stories are so alive. You have the feeling you're there with the characters, you laugh and cry with them.

Steinbeck talks about problems as old as mankind, he retells the story of Cain and Abel, only here they are called Caleb and Aaron (the father is still Adam, though), and they live in his native California.

An excellent report about growing up, growing in different directions, about good and evil, young and old, a very moving story, so many lives that you fear and hope with.

In the meantime, we have discussed this book in our international book club. We had a great discussion, everyone seemed to be getting something out of it, even if we disliked the characters.

Some of our comments:
"I loved written style. Breathtaking, descriptive power, opening page. I usually go fast over descriptive things of nature but not this time. I really like his writing, like the many details. Just looking at the first chapter, you can picture yourself there, smell the smell, feel the wind, the characters are very structured. Even though I don't like sad books, I find this fascinating. He is a good writer, carries you along.
He tried to document what it was like in the Salinas Valley at the time. It reads like a Western.
Why haven't I read this before?
Biblical Story: A rabbinical-like exegesis of free will. It stopped the characters from developing.
I got wary about his insistence of the biblical story, I'm not dumb, got tired of him repeating it all the time
I didn't like the good and evil, the black and white.
Did he make the biblical references on purpose?
I thought this was a retelling of the bible, so the characters had to act the way they acted.
Characters: The author constrains his characters that they have to act in a certain way.
Hated Adam. He got off too easily.
Cal the anyone who could back out because he struggled with himself.
I hated most of the characters, the ones I liked had some backbone.
Heavy, pigeon-holed characters, Steinbeck put them in a box.
Loved the relationship between Lee and Samuel.
Kate is based on his ex-wife who wouldn't let him see his two sons. Maybe that's why she was so negative.
Loved Lee, stories repeated themselves.
Abra was interesting, I always asked "why did you pick the loser brother, why did you wait?"
I was repelled by the characters you keep turning the pages. Samuel was too good to be true (the Hamiltons were modeled after Steinbeck's family), his kids were the only ones who did have a real chance to develop as they liked."


I can highly recommend this book.

We discussed this in our book club in September 2012.

From the back cover: "Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families - the Trasks and the Hamiltons - whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence."

I also really enjoyed "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men"

John Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception".
 
I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Lee, Harper "To Kill a Mockingbird"


Lee, Harper "To Kill a Mockingbird" - 1960

Certainly one of the best books I have read recently. A wonderful writing style, a gripping story, a subject to think about, even today. It combines important issues about race and humanity and creates a very touching story about characters we can't help but love.

A friend of mine said "This should be read by everyone. It should be near the top of a required reading list for the human race." I couldn't agree more.

It certainly belongs to the classic books that will stay on the classic list and one of my top favourite ones forever.

From the back cover: "'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'

A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man's struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition."

We discussed this in our book club in November 2010.

Harper Lee received the Pulitzer Prize for "To Kill A Mockingbird" in 1961.

100 Books by the BBC

The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

Instructions:
1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read.
2) Add a '+' to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.
4) Tally your total.
5) Add movies (M) you watched, if you like
(MM means more than one version)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (x)+ [MM]
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë (x)+ [MM]
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (x, just the first one: "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone") [M]
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (*) [M]
6 The Bible (x)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë (x) [MM]
8 Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell (x)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (x)+ [MM]
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott (x)+ [MM]
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (x)+ [M]
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (x)
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (not the complete works, only parts) [M, a few movies, several plays, Romeo and Juliet] (x)+ [MM]
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier (*) [M]
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (x)
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks (x)+
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (x)
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (x)---
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot (x)+ [M]
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (x)+ [M, about a hundred times]
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (x)+ [MM]
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy (x)+[MM]
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (x)
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh (*)
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (x)+
28 The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (x) [M]
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (x) [M, well, animated]
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (x)+ [MM]
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens (*)
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen (x)+ [MM]
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen (x)+ [MM]
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (x) [play]
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (x)
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres (x)+ [M]
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden (x) [M]
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (x)+
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell (x)+
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (x) [M]
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Marquez (x)+
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins (x)+ [M]
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (x)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy (*)
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood (x)+
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (x)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan (x)-
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons (x)
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (x)+ [MM]
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth (x)+
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruíz Zafón (x)+
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (x) [MM]
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (x) +
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon (x)
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel García Marquez (x)+ [M]
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (x)+
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov (+)
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac (x)
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy (*)
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding (x) [M]
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie (x)
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens (*) [M]
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson (x)+
75 Ulysses - James Joyce (x)
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath (x)
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray [M]
80 Possession - AS Byatt (x)+ [M]
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (x) [M]
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell (x)
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker (x)+ [M]
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry (x)+
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White (x)+
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom (x)+
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad (x)
92 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
93 Watership Down - Richard Adam (x) [M]
94 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
95 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute (x)+
96 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
97 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (x)
98 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (x)
99 Les Misérables - Victor Hugo (x)+ [M]
100 The Once and Future King - T.H. White

Total: 72 books, 35 movies

Not bad, I guess. Belonging to a book club seems to pay off. ;-) Anyway, can you tell that I love classics and books with a loooot of pages?

I did this last year and now added five more that I read this year, so I should be done with this list in about ten years. ;-)
(Never going to happen since there are some that I'm really not interested in.)

Also check out the list "The 100 Greatest Fiction Books" from the Guardian.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Zweig, Stefanie "Nowhere in Africa" and "Somewhere in Germany"


Zweig, Stefanie "Nowhere in Africa" (German: Nirgendwo in Afrika) - 1995

Another one of my favourite books ever.

We are writing the year 1938 and attorney Walter Redlich manages to flee Nazi Germany in the last minute. They move to Kenya where he is hired as the manager of a farm. They are all experiencing this new country differently, Walter struggles with the different kind of work that is expected of him, Jettel misses the luxuries of her former life, both have more than a few difficulties with the culture and the language, let alone with the bad news they receive from Germany. Only Regina, 9 years old, embraces the life on the new continent, learns the languages, finds friends and cannot imagine another life. When her little brother Max is born in 1946, the family is complete.

This is an almost-autobiography of author Stefanie Zweig. She is a wonderful author who has written a lot about the continent where she left her heart: Africa. There is a sequel to this book which is called "Somewhere in Germany".

It has taken long enough to translate this book into English, twelve years to be precise. In 2001, it was made into a movie and that movie received an Oscar for best foreign movie. The film is very good but, as usual, doesn't give the book any credit.

Anyway, Stefanie Zweig is one of my favourite authors. She writes equally well about Jewish issues as well as about Africa since she spent an important time of her childhood there. She still lives in Frankfurt, though.

We discussed this in our book club in April 2008.

From the back cover: "Nowhere in Africa is the extraordinary tale of a Jewish family who flees the Nazi regime in 1938 for a remote farm in Kenya. Abandoning their once-comfortable existence in Germany, Walter Redlich, his wife Jettel, and their five-year-old daughter, Regina, each deal with the harsh realities of their new life in different ways. Attorney Walter is resigned to working the farm as a caretaker; pampered Jettel resists adjustment at every turn; while the shy yet curious Regina immediately embraces the country - learning the local language and customs, and finding a friend in Owuor, the farm's cook. As the war rages on the other side of the world, the family’s relationships with their strange environment become increasingly complicated as Jettel grows more self-assured and Walter more haunted by the life they left behind. In 1946, with the war over, Regina's fondest dream comes true when her brother Max is born. Walter's decision, however, to return to his homeland to help rebuild a new Germany puts his family into turmoil again."

I have read the book again in the meantime and discussed it with another book club. Find my discussion questions here.

* * * * *

Zweig, Stefanie "Somewhere in Germany" (German: Irgendwo in Deutschland) - 1996

As we all know, the war ends at some point and so the Redlich family returns back to Germany into bombed-out Frankfurt. This seems as hard as the move to Kenya. The post-war country is struggling, and so are the Redlichs. There is still anti-Semitism and hunger is ever present, they lost their whole family, they have to adjust to life in Europe again, for the children a completely unknown world. Regina grows up and starts working as a journalist. Life circumstances get better.

Another great description of life in different circumstances. This is the sequel to "Nowhere in Africa". Read the other one first and then come and discuss this with me.

From the back cover: "Somewhere in Germany is the sequel to the acclaimed Nowhere in Africa, which was turned into the Oscar-winning film of the same name. This novel traces the return of the Redlich family to Germany after their nine-year exile in Kenya during World War II. In Africa, Walter had longed for his homeland and dreamed of rebuilding his life as a lawyer, yet ultimately he and his family - wife Jettel, daughter Regina, and baby Max - realize that Germany seems as exotic and unwelcoming to them in 1947 as Kenya had seemed in 1938. Hunger and desperation are omnipresent in bombed-out Frankfurt, and this Jewish family - especially Regina, who misses Africa the most - has a hard time adjusting to their new circumstances. Yet slowly the family adapts to their new home amidst the ruins.

In Frankfurt, Regina matures into a woman and, though her parents want her to marry an upstanding Jewish man, her love life progresses in its own idiosyncratic fashion. She develops a passion for art and journalism and begins her professional career at a Frankfurt newspaper. Walter at last finds professional success as a lawyer, but never quite adjusts to life in Frankfurt, recalling with nostalgia his childhood in Upper Silesia and his years in Africa. Only his son Max truly finds what Walter had hoped for: a new homeland in Germany.

Although the Redlichs receive kindness from strangers, they also learn anti-Semitism still prevails in post-Nazi Germany. They partake in the West German 'economic miracle' with their own home, a second-hand car, and the discovery of television, but young Max’s discovery of the Holocaust revives long-buried memories. Rich in memorable moments and characters, this novel portrays the reality of postwar German society in vivid and candid detail.
"

I have reread the book a couple of times. Find my new reviews here and here. and here