Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Naipaul, V.S. "A Bend in the River"

Naipaul, V.S. "A Bend in the River: His Great Novel of Africa"  - 1979

Salim, an African of Indian descent, settles in an unnamed town at the bend in the river as a shopkeeper. With his “foreign” eyes we see part of Africa's history after the colonists left, the changes both in politics and the community, the problems with the economy, the war-like situations. The changes for the local community as well as for the outsiders like Salim who never really truly belong. As an expatriate myself, I can fully understand the problems he encounters, even though they are different from country to country.

Another highly interesting novel by this author who truly deserved the Nobel prize he received.

From the back cover:
"In the 'brilliant novel' (The New York Times) V.S. Naipaul takes us deeply into the life of one man - an Indian who, uprooted by the bloody tides of Third World history, has come to live in an isolated town at the bend of a great river in a newly independent African nation. Naipaul gives us the most convincing and disturbing vision yet of what happens in a place caught between the dangerously alluring modern world and its own tenacious past and traditions."

I also read "A House for Mr. Biswas" and "Half a Life".

V.S. Naipaul received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001 "for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories" and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for "A Bend in the River: His Great Novel of Africa" in 1979.

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Odell, Catherine M. "Faustina"

Odell, Catherine M. "Faustina. Apostle of Divine Mercy" - 1998

Helenka Kowalska was born at the beginning of the last century in Poland. Even though she came from a very poor family, she dreamed of becoming a nun and pursued her aim. She became a visionary and reported about several conversations she had with Jesus. Unfortunately, she died in her early thirties but she remains an inspiration to many people. Pope John Paul II was a big admirer of her work and religious life. she was venerated in the Catholic church and is known as Saint Faustina.

Catherine Odell describes the life of this extraordinary woman, partly using her diaries but also using a lot of other sources. A very interesting account of a holy life.

From the back cover:
"The first popular biography of St. Faustina, founder of the Divine Mercy devotion. Contains details never before available in English."

Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone"

Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" (US: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) - 1997

I'm not into fantasy stories. And even though my sons and my husband read these stories, I never picked this one up. However, my book club at the time decided we should read at least the first one. And so we did. I thought maybe I would enjoy it, after all, it was so successful. Well, I didn't. Not my cup of tea.

However, there is a lot to be said about this series. It has brought millions of kids closer to books, so many children who would have never picked up a book and now became very avid readers, so J.K. Rowling deserves a medal just for that.

From the back cover:
"Harry Potter's life is miserable. His parents are dead and he's stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he's a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

After a lifetime of bottling up his magical powers, Harry finally feels like a normal kid. But even within the Wizarding community, he is special. He is the boy who lived: the only person to have ever survived a killing curse inflicted by the evil Lord Voldemort, who launched a brutal takeover of the Wizarding world, only to vanish after failing to kill Harry.

Though Harry's first year at Hogwarts is the best of his life, not everything is perfect. There is a dangerous secret object hidden within the castle walls, and Harry believes it's his responsibility to prevent it from falling into evil hands. But doing so will bring him into contact with forces more terrifying than he ever could have imagined.

Full of sympathetic characters, wildly imaginative situations, and countless exciting details, the first installment in the series assembles an unforgettable magical world and sets the stage for many high-stakes adventures to come.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Bryson, Bill "The Lost Continent"

Bryson, Bill "The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America" - 1989

What more fun can be than going on a trip through the USA with America's most hilarious travel writer. Especially when he sees it after having lived abroad for several years, so with almost foreign eyes. He starts in his hometown Des Moines in Iowa ("where somebody has to come from") and goes from East to West.

As with all his other books, I really loved this one.

From the back title:
"'I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to'
And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left. Des Moines couldn't hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14,000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set. Instead, his search led him to Anywhere, USA; a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by lookalike people with a penchant for synthetic fibres. Travelling around thirty-eight of the lower states - united only in their mind-numbingly dreary uniformity - he discovered a continent that was doubly lost; lost to itself because blighted by greed, pollution, mobile homes and television; lost to him because he had become a stranger in his own land.

The Lost Continent is a classic of travel literature - hilariously, stomach-achingly funny, yet tinged with heartache - and the book that first staked Bill Bryson's claim as the most beloved writer of his generation."

I love all of Bill Bryson's books. Find a link to my reviews here.

Montefiore, Santa "Meet Me Under The Ombu Tree"

Montefiore, Santa "Meet Me Under The Ombu Tree" - 2002

I thought this might be something like the other South American writers I read, something like an Isabel Allende book. It was not. The descriptions about life in South America, Argentina, in this case, are not bad but the whole story is mainly a cheesy love story. After researching the book and the author, I wasn't surprised to find out that she really is British and probably chose this name to sound more exotic. Not my kind of book, certainly the one and only I will read by this author.

From the back title:
"Spoilt, wilful, resourceful and proud, Sofia Solanas grows up on a magnificent ranch in the middle of the Argentine pampas, loved by all around her. All, that is, except her Irish mother, Anna, who punishes her daughter for her own sense of alienation and inadequacy while doting on her sons.

When a horrified Anna discovers that Sofia has embarked on a passionate love affair that can only bring shame upon the family, she sends Sofia away to Europe, inadvertently exiling her from her family and the man she loves for over twenty years. And then a family tragedy calls Sofia home.

Following the story of the Solanas family in Argentina during the tumultous years of political upheaval, and Sofia's life in exile,
MEET ME UNDER THE OMBU TREE is a moving, evocative and unforgettable story of love and forgiveness from a brilliant new voice."

Chapman, Gary "The five Love Languages of Teenagers"

Chapman, Gary "The five Love Languages of Teenagers" - 2000

A friend lent me this book. I had never heard of the "Five Love Languages". It was interesting to read that everyone needs different kinds of affection. Even though you know this, it's very good to read about it in-depth.

Especially teenagers need a very different approach as anyone else. As a mother of two teenagers and a teacher at church, I know quite a few and have always found it better to approach them the way they approach you (though not as moody, hopefully).

This book has given me a much better insight and a lot of helpful hints on how to deal with people who are in their most difficult stage of their lives - somewhere between childhood and adulthood, not yet having left the former totally and not entirely joined the latter, either.

I would recommend this book to any parents of teenagers.

From the back title:
"At no other time have parents, teachers, and mentors been more desperate to find proven ways to reach teens. In response, best-selling author Gary Chapman presents The Five Love Languages of Teenagers -- practical guidance on how to discover and express the teen's primary love language. It is a tangible resource for stemming the tide of violence, immorality, and despair engulfing many teens today."

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Massaquoi, Hans J. "Destined to Witness"

Massaquoi, Hans J. "Destined to Witness" - 1999

Very interesting autobiography written by a German/Liberian boy who grew up in Nazi Germany. He describes his childhood and youth in Hamburg during a time where everyone had to have blond hair and blue eyes. There were very few dark-skinned people in Germany at the time but for some miraculous reason the Nazis never openly persecuted him.

With his story, he has probably told us more about the thoughts and wishes of an ordinary German as any other account about this time. Even though he we anything but the Aryan stereotype, he wanted to belong, he wanted to be a Hitler boy. That is what almost every child (and grown-up) wants, belong to the society around them, no matter how they treat them. I thought he described that very well. We also get a good view of the "common" people and the different members of the Nazi party. He talks about the people who helped him as well as the ones who didn't. He gives a fantastic insight into life during the war. This book also shows, that the Nazis didn't just hunt and destroy the Jews, anyone who didn't look and/or think like them was on their list of "unwanted people". Very well written and certainly worth reading, especially if you are interested in this era.

Hans J. Massaquoi emigrated to the USA later where he became managing editor of Jet and Ebony magazine.

The German Title of this book is "Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger" (Negro, Negro, Chimney Sweep), a rhyming slang the kids used to call him. The book has also been made into quite a successful (German) film under that same title.

From the back cover:
"This is a story of the unexpected. In 'Destined to Witness', Hans Massaquoi has crafted a beautifully rendered memoir - an astonishing true tale of how he came of age as a black child in Nazi Germany. The son of a prominent African and a German nurse, Hans remained behind with his mother when Hitler came to power, due to concerns about his fragile health, after his father returned to Liberia. Like other German boys, Hans went to school; like other German boys, he swiftly fell under the Fuhrer's spell. So he was crushed to learn that, as a black child, he was ineligible for the Hitler Youth. His path to a secondary education and an eventual profession was blocked. He now lived in fear that, at any moment, he might hear the Gestapo banging on the door -- or Allied bombs falling on his home. Ironic,, moving, and deeply human, Massaquoi's account of this lonely struggle for survival brims with courage and intelligence."

Tolan, Sandy "The Lemon Tree"

Tolan, Sandy "The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East" - 2006

A Palestinian boy travels back to the house in 1967 his family had to leave behind nineteen years earlier. He meets the present family who had to flee Europe at that time. This is the beginning of a friendship that is probably unique but gives so much hope. Hope that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians might be resolved one day, if only everyone would act the way these people do.

This reads like a novel. And you can imagine the problem that you find here, you can connect to both sides, they are both right in their own way.

We also learn about the Jewish population, how they came to Israel, the family living in the house with the lemon tree now came from Bulgaria and the author describes their history, as well.

The book is political as well as personal, the different experiences of the war, called "War of Independence" by one side and "Catastrophe" by the other, for example, the hopes the Palestinians had in the promised right of return, the experience of the Jews with the Holocaust, so many lives and hopes destroyed.

But it is also a story of hope, how people can get together, how the little people can often contribute more to the peace in their country and in this world than all the politicians with their meetings and summits.

Sandy Tolan has only written one other book about a completely different subject but I'd definitely love to read it.

From the back cover:
"In 1967, not long after the Six Day War, three young Arabs ventured into the town of Ramla, in Jewish Israel. They were on a pilgrimage to see their separate childhood homes, from which their families had been driven out nearly twenty years before during the Israeli war for independence. Only one was welcomed: Bashir Al-Khayri was greeted at the door by a young woman named Dalia.

This act of kindness in the face of years of animosity and warfare is the starting point for a remarkable true story of two families, one Arab, one Jewish; an unlikely friendship that encompasses the entire modern history of Israelis and Palestinians and that holds in its framework a hope for true peace and reconciliation for the region.

Another interesting book on this subject: LeBor, Adam "City of Oranges"

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Alcott, Louisa May "Little Women" Series

Alcott, Louisa May "Little Women" - 1868
Alcott, Louisa May "Good Wives"  - 1869
Alcott, Louisa May "Little Men" - 1871
Alcott, Louisa May "Jo's Boys" - 1886

Alcott, Louisa May "Little Women" - 1868

This was one of the first books I read in English. I loved it. I love classics and this one is one that brings you right back into that time.

The description of the March girls and their lives is just fabulous. You feel like you've almost been there with them, shared with them in their problems and dreams.

Granted, nowadays the characters would have been very different, but that is the beauty of reading something from days gone by. The relations not only between the sisters and their friends and relatives but especially to their parents were very different as different things were expected from them. The March family was probably an exception to the rule as the girls were encouraged to do whatever they wanted to. And the parents had a very different opinion about education at the time, even very modern compared to a lot of systems nowadays. Another reason to love this book.

In the States, this is now published just as the second part of "Little Women" but Louisa May Alcott wrote this as a separate book, so I will comment on it separately.

From the back cover:
"Little Women is the delightful story of the four March girls and their approach towards womanhood.

Meg, the eldest and most beautiful, shrugs off her vanity and social ambition, discovering fulfillment in romantic love. Boyish Jo on the other hand, with her contempt of all 'lovering', turns impetuously towards writing for solace. Gentle Beth rejects worldly interests, preferring to devote her life to her family, to the joy of music and to timidly aiding all who suffer in life. Amy, the youngest and most imperfect of the March girls, continually tries to overcome her selfishness and girlish pretensions, though he has a hard task before her.

The progress of these four 'little women' is narrated along the lines of Bunyan's pilgrim, and we are shown how - encountering struggles and learning important lessons along the way - each one attains her own Celestial City.

Alcott, Louisa May "Good Wives" - 1869

I thought this sequel was just as superb as the first one. The girls growing up, having different kind of problems as before, falling in love, carrying on the path their parents prepared. Coping with a lot of hardships, death, separation, misunderstandings. You just want to be there with them and for them.

"Louisa May Alcott's captivating story opens with joyful, bustling preparations for a family wedding.

Three years on from
Little Women, the four March girls have developed into young adults, with their eyes directed towards the future. Meg embarks on wedded life with the carefree optimism of a new bride, yet all is not plain sailing. Aided by her mother's firm but gentle guidance and the harsh lessons which experience brings, Meg struggles towards the goals of blissful marriage and motherhood. Meanwhile, her sister Jo dons the 'scribbling suit' and again tries for success in writing, but the young 'my lady' Amy discovers greater gifts than art in her travels abroad. Only meek little Beth has no ambition beyond her home comforts and, though her burden is heaviest of all, she too discovers peace at last.

Poignant and comic in turns, Good Wives is the fitting, if unexpected, conclusion to the careers of the merry 'little women'.

Alcott, Louisa May "Little Men" - 1871
The third of the four "Little Women" books. The girls are all grown up and have children of their own. Jo opens her school in Plumfield, together with her husband Friedrich Bhaer. New characters are added, old ones disappear and Jo and Friedrich have to struggle and fight for their boys quite a few times. But they manage this all with the grace you expect from the March girls. Very nice read.

"At Plumfield, an experimental school for boys, the little scholars can do very much as they please, even slide down banisters. For this is what writer Jo Bhaer, once Jo March of Little Women, always wanted: a house "swarming with boys...in all stages of...effervescence." At the end of Little Women, Jo inherited the Plumfield estate from diamond-in-the-rough Aunt March. Now she and her husband, Professor Bhaer, provide their irrepressible charges with a very different sort of education - and much love. In fact, Jo confesses, she hardly knows 'which I like best, writing or boys.' Here is the story of the ragged orphan Nat, spoiled Stuffy, wild Dan, and all the other lively inhabitants of Plumfield, whose adventures have captivated generations of readers."

Alcott, Louisa May "Jo's Boys” - 1886

The last "Little Women" novel.

Now the boys have all grown up. Most of the characters from "Little Men" have left the school but they still keep returning to Plumfield bringing a lot of upheaval and uproar with them.
It is amazing how fascinating Louisa May Alcott's novels are - even more than 120 years after first being published.

"Best known for the novels Little Women and Little Men, Louisa May Alcott brought the story of her feisty protagonist Jo and the adventures and misadventures of the March family to an entertaining, surprising, and bittersweet conclusion in Jo’s Boys. Beginning ten years after Little Men, Jo’s Boys revisits Plumfield, the New England school still presided over by Jo and her husband, Professor Bhaer. Jo remains at the center of the tale, surrounded by her boys - including rebellious Dan, sailor Emil, and promising musician Nat - as they experience shipwreck and storm, disappointment and even murder.

Popular for over a century, Alcott’s series still holds universal appeal with its powerful and affectionate depiction of family - the haven where the prodigal can always return, adversity is shared, and our dreams of being cherished, despite our flaws, come true. In this edition of
Jo’s Boys, readers once again experience a treasured classic by one of America’s best-loved writers."

Another book by Louisa May Alcott: "Eight Cousins".

If you want to know more about Mr. March, the "Little Women's" father, read "March" by Geraldine Brooks.