Monday, 28 February 2011

Rhue, Morton "The Wave"

Rhue, Morton "The Wave" - 1981

"The class saw a film about the Nazi Regime. They can´t believe why people didn´t do anything against the Nazis. Ross (the teacher) can´t give an answer to the questions. It must be something one could only understand by being there or if possible by creating a similar situation. In the next history lesson Ross wrote on the blackboard: 'Strength through Discipline'. This was the first part of his experiment. When he is talking about discipline he is talking about power and success. From that point the students became more interested."

This is only the beginning of this novel that the teacher Ben Ross who started the experience wrote under a pseudonym. The book is based on a true life story which happened in a high school in Palo Alto, Californa.

This novel is extremely interesting. I read it in school and we talked about it and I had my son read it when he was old enough. I think everyone should read it because it explains a lot. Having been born into post-war Germany and having to live with our history my whole life, it helped me to understand some things I probably might not have understood that way.

The author found a great way to teach everyone why you can be drawn into evil and why we should never forget how this can happen but also not point fingers because we never know what we might have done.

I am not sure about the date of the novel, though, I was sure I read it in school but I had left school quite a while before 1981.

Rasputin, Valentin "To Live and Remember"

Rasputin, Valentin "To Live and Remember" (or: Live and Remember) (Russian: Живи и помни = Zhiwi e pomni) - 1974

A deserter goes back home to his native village in Siberia in the last couple of months of WWII. He is hiding from everyone but his wife discovers and helps him. Through this, she gets into difficulties. As other soldiers are returning back from the front when the war ends, her situation gets more and more desperate.

I lost this book about thirty years ago when I lent it to a colleague. I really liked it and therefore was looking for a replacement for all those years.

Reading it again after so many years was a little disappointing. However, I think the book is great and gives a good account as to what people are able to endure and what they are willing to do for someone they love.

The German title of this is "In den Wäldern die Zuflucht" and/or "Leb und vergiss nicht" as translated from the Russian original)

From the back cover: "First published in Russian in 1974, Live and Remember was immediately hailed by Soviet critics as a superb if atypical example of war literature and a moving depiction of the degradation and ultimate damnation of a frontline deserter. The novel tells the story of a Siberian peasant who makes a tragic miscalculation by deserting in the last year of the war, and of the loyal wife who embraces his fate as her own."

I thought "Farewell to Matyora" described life of the ordinary people even better.

Noble, Elizabeth "The Reading Group"


Noble, Elizabeth "The Reading Group" - 2004

I thought this book was alright. It's not Shakespeare, but it's a nice description of some women who get closer through their reading group, just the way you might experience it when you are in a reading group yourself.

From the back cover: "A New Year. A New Page. A New Reading Group.

Five women meet for their first reading group, little realising this social gathering over books and glasses of wine might see them share more than literary debate ... and will, in fact, take each of them to places they'd never imagined.

Harriet and Nicole are the ringleaders, best friends who can't quite admit - to themselves or one other - they might be trapped in loveless marriages. While Polly, a determined single mum, finds herself tipped off course by an unexpected proposal. Susan, usually so carefree and happy, is forced to face a shattering reality and Clare, quiet and mysterious, plainly has more on her mind than next week's book choice.

Over the coming year their worlds will intertwine in delightful, unexpected and surprising ways. Stories will be re-written as dreams are made and broken, but through it all they'll have the Reading Group, with friendship, tears and laughter featuring in every chapter of their lives.


We discussed this in our book club in September 2005.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Müller, Herta "The Appointment"

Müller, Herta "The Appointment" (German: Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet) - 1997

We were lucky to be able to discuss this book with our Romanian book club member who could give us some firsthand information.

In this novel, Herta Müller describes the way of a Romanian woman to an appointment with the "Securitate", the secret police. The whole book takes place in the 90 minutes she needs to get there. While driving on the tram, she reflects on her life and what has happened before.

Of course, not everyone in Romania had the same experience, especially the younger generation. Some of the worst parts for everyone was the rationalization of food, waiting in line for basic needs, the dreams about going on trips, censorship. There were mainly classical books to read, or nationalistic ones, everything that was sold was Romanian anyway. Even movies were forbidden. If you were lucky and had a relative or friend who would get around, you might get coffee etc. The "Securitate", the secret police, knew everything. You would be trained to cooperate People would get under pressure a lot. You were made a member of the communist party. There didn't seem to be much of an underground. The files of the secret police were open 4-5 years ago.

Most of us really wanted to read this book. The message was to love yourself and that is so important.
We liked the style, even though some found it difficult to read, to understand that the whole book was about a short train ride.

Some of our readers' comments: The author sees the world through a kaleidoscope, nothing is connected, there is no national mourning. This is a wonderful exposé about the inhumanity, the irresponsibility of that regime, very powerful. It's little moments.
They were all victims. We thought this was very educational.
The author describes a dark depression, it gives you a lot to think about.
Never read anything with such a sense of hopelessness. There has to be a redeeming quality.
In their lives everything is about self control. It's the compulsive/obsessiveness that is the only control in her life.
This was a perfect way of showing that she became crazy. Very important to write about dictatorship.

From the back cover: "'I've been summoned, Thursday, ten sharp.' So begins one day in the life of a young clothing-factory worker during Ceausescu’s totalitarian regime. She has been questioned before, but this time she knows it will be worse. Her crime? Sewing notes into the linings of men’s suits bound for Italy. 'Marry me', the notes say, with her name and address. Anything to get out of the country. As she rides the tram to her interrogation, her thoughts stray to her friend Lilli, shot while trying to flee to Hungary; to her grandparents, deported after her first husband informed on them; to Major Albu, her interrogator, who begins each session with a wet kiss on her fingers; and to Paul, her lover and the one person she can trust. In her distraction, she misses her stop and finds herself on an unfamiliar street. And what she discovers there suddenly puts her fear of the appointment into chilling perspective.
Bone-spare and intense, The Appointment is a pitiless rendering of the terrors of a crushing regime."

We discussed this in our book club in December 2010.

Herta Müller grew up in the German speaking part of Romania. She left for Germany in 1987 but her books were not published in Romania at the time.

Herta Müller "who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009.

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

Müller, Herta "The King Bows and Kills"


Müller, Herta "The King Bows and Kills" (German: Der König verneigt sich und tötet) - 2003

Herta Müller grew up in the German speaking part of Romania. Everything anyone in the German minority owned before World War II was confiscated, her grandfather had been a rich landowner and merchant, her father worked as a truck driver. When Herta Müller started writing about her life and the repressions imposed on the people in Romania, she became a case of the “Securitate”, the secret police. She left for Germany in 1987 where she continued publishing further books which were not translated into Romanian and not available in Romania
.
This book is a collection of several essays and it draws a picture of a life in a dictatorship. It is probably the closest to an autobiography that the author has written.

From the back cover: "Herta Müller is one of the greatest writers and most powerful narrators of contemporary German literature, and books such as 'Herztier' and 'Der Fuchs war damals schon der Jäger' have earned her international fame, too. With 'Der König verneigt sich und tötet', Herta Müller examines the political and historical conditions of her own art. Until she emigrated to Germany, her linguistic and political consciousness was formed in the Romanian dictatorship of Ceaucescu. Language is at the centre of all her reflections: language as a tool for exerting power and suppression but also as a means of resistance and self-assertion against totalitarianism.
Her reflections, however, also include memories of childhood and the family where German was spoken. An impressive, sharply contoured picture of a life under absolute control emerges - to which Herta Müller responded by choosing the freedoms of literature.
"

Herta Müller "who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009.

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

Harris, Joanne "Five Quarters of the Orange"

Harris, Joanne "Five Quarters of the Orange" - 2001

From the back cover: "Returning to the small Loire village of her childhood, Framboise Dartigen is relived when no one recognizes her. Decades earlier, during the German occupation, her family was driven away because of a tragedy that still haunts the town.
Framboise has come back to run a little cafe serving the recipes her mother recorded in a scrapbook. But when her cooking receives national attention, her anonymity begins to shatter. Seeking answers, Framboise begins to see ther her mother's scrapbook is more than it seems. Hidden among the recipes for crepes and liquors are clues that will lead Framboise to the truth of long ago."


I loved this book.

The story of the family, the history, the main character trying to come to terms with everything that happened in her past.

This book has a lot of issues, history, recipes, family tragedy, mother-daughter relationship, description of small village life, even though in France, I think this applies to anywhere in the world.

I liked this book better than "Chocolat"  though I think I just expected too much of that one because of all the praise it received at the time. I also read "Coastliners", and "Blackberry Wine".

We discussed this in our book club in February 2003.

Read more about her other books here.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Trojanow, Ilija "The Collector of Worlds"

Trojanow, Ilija "The Collector of Worlds" (German: Der Weltensammler) - 2006

A wonderful description of life in different worlds at a different time, India, Arabia, Africa. The author has lived in those cultures himself and knows a lot about it.

Description: "The Collector of Worlds" is a meditation on the extraordinary life of infamous explorer Sir Richard Burton. The first westerner to make the hajj to Mecca, he also discovered the source of the Nile with Speke. His translation of the "Arabian Nights" is one of the great moments in the encounter between Islam and the West, that scandalised his contemporaries with its salty eroticism. Troyanov's novel does full justice to this great, controversial mediator between cultures. The book imagines his encounter with India as a young officer, and brings to life his trials and travels through the eyes of his Indian servant, the Sharif of Mecca and the former slave who guided Burton to the Nile.”

Some of our members didn't like the book, they found it too difficult or boring, to start, too many details (which is what I loved.) Some weren't interested in India or colonialism.

However, quite a few liked it, and I was one of them. It is a wonderful book trying to explain how to understand people in depth. Okay, we might not have liked Richard Burton personally, but I really admire what he did, how he could immerse into the different characters, different cultures, how easily he learned all those different languages, he certainly can be described as enigmatic. You get such an insight into so many different cultures, it's so captivating, fascinating. (The translation was also praised, apparently, the translator did a fabulous job, kept the beauty of the language and the words. I cannot judge this because I read the German original.) The author writes very descriptive, picturesque with humour, the book is beautifully written.

If you enjoy books where you immerse yourself into a book, this is for you. It is incredibly eventful. I never heard of Burton before and was quite intrigued about finding out more. He remains such a mysterious picture.

The questions also came up how much of Richard Burton was the author? Who is Richard Burton? An undiscovered continent, he takes on every type of culture, brilliant man. He was looking for God in all the different religions.

We discussed this in our book club in April 2010.

If you want to know more, there is a wonderful non-fiction book with a lot of illustrations and pictures, available in German only, unfortunately:

Trojanow, Ilija "Nomade auf vier Kontinenten. Auf den Spuren von Sir Richard Francis Burton" (The Collector of Worlds) - 2006

Wells, Rebecca "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" and "Little Altars Everywhere"


Wells, Rebecca "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" - 1996
Wells, Rebecca "Little Altars Everywhere" - 1998


A story about a childhood of abuse and the approach to come to terms with its tragedies. A daughter trying to understand her mother, a beautiful account of friendship. Strained relationships, alcoholism. An interesting novel that brings up a lot of topics, even though I would probably classify it as "chick lit".

If you would like to read this, you should definitely read "Little Altars Everywhere" first.

Some quotes I liked:
"It's life. You don't figure it out. You just climb up on the beast and ride."
"I have been to the edge and lived to tell the tale.."
"I live in an ocean of smell…"
 (from "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood")

"Sidda can't help herself. She just loves books. Loves the way they feel, the way they smell, loves the black letters marching across the white pages..."
"See, she goes places when she reads. I know all about that. When I'm reading, wherever I am, I'm always somewhere else."
(from "Little Altars Everywhere")

From the back cover: (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood)
"When Siddalee Walker, oldest daughter of Vivi Abbott Walker, Ya-Ya extraordinaire, is interviewed in the New York Times about a hit play she's directed, her mother gets described as a 'tap-dancing child abuser.' Enraged, Vivi disowns Sidda. Devastated, Sidda begs forgiveness, and postpones her upcoming wedding. All looks bleak until the Ya-Yas step in and convince Vivi to send Sidda a scrapbook of their girlhood mementos, called 'Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.' As Sidda struggles to analyze her mother, she comes face to face with the tangled beauty of imperfect love, and the fact that forgiveness, more than understanding, is often what the heart longs for."

(Little Altars Everywhere)
"Little Altars Everywhere is a national bestseller, a companion to Rebecca Wells's celebrated novel Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Originally published in 1992, Little Altars introduces Sidda, Vivi, the rest of the spirited Walker Clan, and the indomitable Ya-Yas. It is now available for the first time in hardcover.

Told in alternating voices of Vivi and her husband, Big Shep, along with Sidda, her siblings Little Shep, Lulu, Baylor, and Cheney and Willetta -- the black couple who impact the Walkers' lives in ways they may never fully comprehend --
Little Altars embraces nearly thirty years of life on their plantation in Thorton, Louisiana, where the cloying air of the bayou and a web of family secrets of once shelter, trap, and define an utterly original community of souls.

Who can resist the rich cadences of Sidda Walker and her flamboyant, secretive mother, Vivi? Here, the young Sidda -- a precocious reader and an eloquent observer of the fault lines that divide her family -- leads us her mischievous adventures at Our Lady of Divine Compassion parochial school and beyond. A Catholic girl of pristine manners, devotion, and provocative ideas, Sidda is the very essence of childhood joy and sorrow.

In a series of luminous reminiscences, we also hear Little Shep's stories of his eccentric grandmother, Lulu's matter-of-fact account of her shoplifting skills, and Baylor's memories of Vivi and her friends, the Ya-Yas.

Beneath the humor and tight-knit bonds of family and friendship lie the undercurrents of alcoholism, abuse, and violence. The overlapping recollections of how the Walker's charming life uncoils to convey their heartbreaking confusion are at once unsettling and familiar. Wells creates an unforgettable portrait and funny attempts to keep reality at arm's length. Through our laughter, we feel their inevitable pain, with a glimmer of hope for forgiveness and healing.

An arresting combination of colloquialism, poetry, and grace,
Little Altars Everywhere is an insightful, piercing, and unflinching evocation of childhood, a loving tribute to the transformative power of faith, and a thoroughly fresh chronicle of a family that is as haunted as it is blessed."

We discussed this in our book club in February 2002.

Joyce, James "Dubliners"

Joyce, James "Dubliners" - 1905

Fifteen stories offer vivid, tightly focused observations of the lives of Dublin's poorer classes.

True. There are a lot of different people James Joyce describes in his stories. As a true lover of novels, I would have liked him to write a novel about every single one of them. Short stories always finish as soon as you get used to the characters. That's my personal opinion, I know a lot of people love short stories. I don't really.

However, the description of the characters was very good, they came alive, the plots were interesting, I did enjoy the stories. I just would have wished them to be longer.

From the back cover: "Joyce's first major work, written when he was only twenty-five, brought his city to the world for the first time. His stories are rooted in the rich detail of Dublin life, portraying ordinary, often defeated lives with unflinching realism. He writes of social decline, sexual desire and exploitation, corruption and personal failure, yet creates a brilliantly compelling, unique vision of the world and of human experience."

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Mulisch, Harry "The Discovery of Heaven"

Mulisch, Harry "De Ontdekking van de hemel" (Dutch: The Discovery of Heaven) - 1992

An extraordinary book that touches many different subjects. Science, technology, war, religion, philosophy, social values, politics, intelligence, adolescence, family life.

The story of two men and a woman, a child, a quest for the meaning of life.

An almost epic tale. Not exactly an easy read but well worth it.

Some quotes I really liked (my translations will probably not be the same as in the book, therefore I add the original Dutch text in brackets):
When the extraordinary becomes the everyday norm, a revolution is going on. (Wanneer het onmogelijke het dagelijkse wordt, is er een revolutie aan de gang.)
On political parties
In Cuba, you could learn the meaning of radicalism. In the United States, the left wing of the Democratic Party was still more right than a right-wing party in the Netherlands, and a party as right as the Republican Party, let alone its right wing, didn't exist here in a serious way, but in Cuba the regime was considerably more left-wing than even the Communist Party in the Netherlands. (Op Cuba kon je de betekenis van het woord radicaliteit leren. In de Verenigde Staten was de linkervleugel van de Democratische Partij altijd nog rechtser dan een rechtse partij in Nederland, en een partij zo rechts als de Republikeinse Partij, laat staan haar rechtervleugel, bestond hier helemaal niet op een serieuze manier; maar op Cuba was het bewind nog aanzienlijk linkser dan in Nederland zelfs de communistische partij.)
On people in different seasons
The people looked sullen and unhappy ... Can you think of Chopin or Stravinsky in such a climate? They would not have existed in any case, and further, there was never anything important imagined or invented ... (De mensen keken nors en ontevreden … Waren Chopin of Strawinsky denkbaar in zo'n klimaat?  Ze waren er in elk geval niet verschenen, en ook verder was er nooit iets belangrijks bedacht of uitgevonden … )
On the meaning of life
Why was there actually something rather than nothing? If everything still came to an end, what sense did it make that there had ever been anything? Had there actually been anything? If one day there would be no more people, no one who could remember anything, could you say that anything ever had happened? ... (Waarom was er eigenlijk iets, en niet niets? Als alles toch voorbij ging, wat had het dan voor zin dat her er ooit was geweest?  Was het er dan eigenlijk wel geweest? Als er op een dag geen mensen meer zouden zijn, niemand meer die zich nog iets kon herinneren, kon je dan zeggen dat er ooit iets was gebeurd? …)

From the back cover: "This magnificent epic has been compared to works by Umberto Eco, Thomas Mann, and Dostoyevsky. Harry Mulisch's magnum opus is a rich mosaic of twentieth-century trauma in which many themes -- friendship, loyalty, family, art, technology, religion, fate, good, and evil -- suffuse a suspenseful and resplendent narrative.

The story begins with the meeting of Onno and Max, two complicated individuals whom fate has mysteriously and magically brought together. They share responsibility for the birth of a remarkable and radiant boy who embarks on a mandated quest that takes the reader all over Europe and to the land where all such quests begin and end. Abounding in philosophical, psychological and theological inquiries, yet laced with humor that is as infectious as it is willful, The Discovery of Heaven lingers in the mind long after it has been read. It not only tells an accessible story, but also convinces one that it just might be possible to bring order into the chaos of the world through a story.
"

This novel was voted best Dutch book ever.

We discussed this in our book club in February 2004.

Tolstoy, Leo "War and Peace"


Tolstoy, Lew Nikolajewitsch (Толстой, Лев Николаевич) "War and Peace" (Russian: Война и мир = Woina i mir) - 1868/69

Another wonderful classic. Tolstoy has a brilliant way of describing not just single people but a whole generation of people, in this case both civilians and military. It's not just the story itself, his musings about the historical background, philosophy, religion, are all very worth reading.

I know a lot of people who get confused with the characters having different names but if you really have a problem with this, make yourself a list of the characters (or look for one on the internet). This story is just too good to be dismissed because of some names you cannot remember.

This book has over 2,000 pages but it's definitely a MUST READ.

From the back cover: "From the award-winning translators of Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov comes this magnificent new translation of Tolstoy's masterwork.
War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men.
A s Napoleon’s army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgrounds—peasants and nobility, civilians and soldiers - as they struggle with the problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. And as the novel progresses, these characters transcend their specificity, becoming some of the most moving - and human - figures in world literature.
"

Tolstoy, Leo "Anna Karenina"

Tolstoy, Leo (Толстой, Лев Николаевич) "Anna Karenina" (Russian: Анна Каренина = Anna Karenina) - 1877

I love classics, therefore, I absolutely love this book. I just couldn't put it down. It's a wonderful story.
A story about love and deceipt, the morale of the 19th century, this novel describes the history of three Russian families of nobility, their joys and problems.

I didn't like Anna or her lover Vronsky much (especially him) but liked most of the other characters well, especially Kitty and Levin. The writing is so wonderful, you think those people are real.

I also watched one of the mini series that was filmed a couple of years ago and had the same impression. Everyone in our book club, with one exception, I believe, loved it, as well. I liked it so much, I will definitely want to read a lot more of Tolstoy.

We discussed this in our book club in August 2005.

From the back cover: "'Anna Karenina' tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness. While previous versions have softened the robust, and sometimes shocking, quality of Tolstoy's writing, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have produced a translation true to his powerful voice. This award-winning team's authoritative edition also includes an illuminating introduction and explanatory notes. Beautiful, vigorous, and eminently readable, this 'Anna Karenina' will be the definitive text for generations to come.
'Pevear and Volokhonsky are at once scrupulous translators and vivid stylists of English, and their superb rendering allows us, as perhaps never before, to grasp the palpability of Tolstoy's 'characters, acts, situations.' (James Wood, '
The New Yorker')"

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Morrison, Toni "Beloved"

Morrison, Toni "Beloved" - 1987

This is one of my favourite books ever. The author uses a lot of symbolism unknown to us, yet, explains the world of the slaves so lively, you can really feel their pains. It covers love, friendship, life in a community, describes how different people cope with the same problem and gives you a lot to think about.

It has also been made into a fantastic movie - and I don't say that very often about books made into film. 

From the back cover: "It is the mid-1800s. At Sweet Home in Kentucky, an era is ending as slavery comes under attack from the abolitionists. The worlds of Halle and Paul D. are to be destroyed in a cataclysm of torment and agony. The world of Sethe, however, is to turn from one of love to one of violence and death - the death of Sethe's baby daughter Beloved, whose name is the single word on the tombstone, who died at her mother's hands, and who will return to claim retribution. Beloved is a dense, complex novel, mixing past and present, destined to become a twentieth-century American classic."

Toni Morrison "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 and the Pulitzer Prize for "Beloved" in 1988. 

Read more about other books by the author here

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

Morrison, Toni "Paradise"


Morrison, Toni "Paradise" - 1998

I love Toni Morrison, I really do. But I had a hard time getting through this book and I still didn't understand it completely.

There are just too many unanswered questions in this scenario. Like - who is the white girl? I still haven't figured that out.

I loved the story itself, the description of that small town life. I know it too well, growing up in a small village about half a century ago. She did get that right.

At the beginning, I didn't understand who belonged to whom. So I started an old trick of mine and made a list of all the characters, a little note of their story and how they were related to each other. It got a little easier but I still can't figure out who the white girl was ...

However, this is a completely typical Toni Morrison book, the description of the characters, the storyline, the everyday scenario, the relationship, the difference between the races, the genders, the rich and the poor. Toni Morrison is THE author when it comes to racism in the United States, I don't think anyone can portray this feeling better than she can. So, any of her books is worth reading. Even more than once. But it certainly is not a novel you can read "in between", "on the go" or "at the beach". It deserves a little more attention,

From the back cover: "Four young women are brutally attacked in a convent near an all-black town in America in the mid-1970s. The inevitability of this attack, and the attempts to avert it, lie at the heart of Paradise Spanning the birth of the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, the counter culture and the politics of the late 1970s, deftly manipulating past, present and future, this novel of mysterious motives reveals the interior lives of the citizens of the town with astonishing clarity. The drama of its people - from the four young women and their elderly protector, to conservative businessmen, rednecks, a Civil Rights minister and veterans of three wars - richly evokes clashes that have bedevilled American society: between race and racelessness; patriarchy and matriarchy; religion and magic; freedom and belonging; promiscuity and fidelity. Magnificent in its scope, Paradise is a revelation in the intensity of its potrayal of human complexity and in the sheer force of its narrative."

Toni Morrison "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Read more about other books by the author here.  

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

Morrison, Toni "Love"


Morrison, Toni "Love" - 2003

Different from her usual novels but just as exciting and interesting. Toni Morrison manages to describe so many different women, all in love with the same guy, Bill Cosey. A lot of different characters, a lot of different subjects: love, rivalry, charity, struggles. Every woman loves him in their own special, has her own special reason for her love, he is different with every woman again, a story about all the different faces of love.

I really like the author and her books.

From the back cover: "May, Christine, Heed, Junior, Vida -- even L: all women obsessed by Bill Cosey. More than the wealthy owner of the famous Cosey Hotel and Resort, he shapes their yearnings for father, husband, lover, guardian, friend, yearnings that dominate the lives of these women long after his death. Yet while he is both the void in, and the centre of, their stories, he himself is driven by secret forces -- a troubled past and a spellbinding woman named Celestial.

This audacious vision of the nature of love -- its appetite, its sublime possession, its dread -- is rich in characters and striking scenes, and in its profound understanding of how alive the past can be."

Toni Morrison "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.

Read more about other books by the author here.   

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

Urquhart, Jane "The Stone Carvers"


Urquhart, Jane "The Stone Carvers" - 2001

A story about stone carvers, ranging from a German settlement in Canada in the mid 19th century to World War I and a monument in France the Candians built to honour their soldiers who lost their lives on European battlefields.

Another book club read that everybody liked. We loved the images, the way the author wrote, her voice, her way of describing everything from human beings and their various actions to the landscapes and the monument. There is just so much to the book. The life of artists, in this case stone carvers, war and its aftermath, emancipation of women, historical and psychological topics as well as religious ones, a well rounded, nice historical fiction.

We discussed this in our book club in February 2008.

From the back cover: "In 1867 Pater Archangel Gstir is sent by God to the Canadian wilds. Soon the backwoods are transformed into a parish and the settlers into a congregation, and Joseph Becker, a woodcarver, is brought together with his future wife. Decades later their grandchild Klara holds young Eamon O'Sullivan in thrall as he sits speechless in her kitchen, suffering her anger and stirring her desire. Yet just as he wins this war of love, his victory is lost to the Great War in Europe, and Klara is left alone. But when an architect plans an ambitious memorial to the Canadian dead in France, Klara must use her family skills - to carve, to create and to remember."

In the meantime, I also read "The Underpainter" which I did not like at all.

Addis, Faith "Down to Earth"


Addis, Faith "Down to Earth: Year of the Cornflake" - 1987

Apparently, there has been a show on British television about this which I have never seen.

A London family sells their business and moves to Devon to settle in the country and open a holiday home.

I thought this book was interesting as it shows that it's not always easier and more easy-going in the country.

From the back cover: "This series follows Faith and Brian Addis as they work to keep open their holiday home "Phyllishayes" - a roomy farmhouse in Devon offering memorable holidays for children who may never have experienced the countryside in their lives. It ties in with the TV series starring Pauline Quirke."

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Carey, Peter "True History of the Kelly Gang"


Carey, Peter "True History of the Kelly Gang" - 2001

Not being from a Commonwealth country, I had never heard of the Kelly Gang before. When I saw this book, it looked interesting. And it was. The style is unique, the book has been written as if they are different scraps from letters or notes Kelly wrote to his daughter. I found the information about this part of the Australian history interesting, especially since it is said to be true.

The writing takes a little getting used to as he hardly uses any punctuation and isn't very careful with grammar and spelling either (as I said, as if written by the guy himself) and the language is quite colloquial (to put it mildly). But - that only adds to the beauty of the story.

I really liked this book.

From the back cover: "'I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.'
In
True History of the Kelly Gang, the legendary Ned Kelly speaks for himself, scribbling his narrative on errant scraps of paper in semiliterate but magically descriptive prose as he flees from the police. To his pursuers, Kelly is nothing but a monstrous criminal, a thief and a murderer. To his own people, the lowly class of ordinary Australians, the bushranger is a hero, defying the authority of the English to direct their lives. Indentured by his bootlegger mother to a famous horse thief (who was also her lover), Ned saw his first prison cell at 15 and by the age of 26 had become the most wanted man in the wild colony of Victoria, taking over whole towns and defying the law until he was finally captured and hanged. Here is a classic outlaw tale, made alive by the skill of a great novelist."

Peter Carey won the Booker Prize for "True History of the Kelly Gang" in 2001.

I also really enjoyed "Oscar and Lucinda" by the same author.

Picoult, Jodi "My Sister's Keeper"


Picoult, Jodi "My Sister's Keeper" - 2004

A novel about designer babies. Interesting topic, one should think. So much can be said about this. Well, let me just say, not my kind of book. It was generally classified by our book club members as “beach read” and I don't enjoy those. All of us would have liked to see the topic explored a little deeper than that. The end was the easy way out. We also found that the author could have examined the characters better and got them a bit more three-dimensional. We had hoped for a deeper discussion about the topic.

Apparently, a typical Jodi Picoult (which makes one less author of whom I will have to read the next book).

In this book, a family "designs" a new baby in order to save another child from dying. Even though you can see the heartache and we could get into the shoes of the mother, we found her character very unlikeable, very rough. For her, this other daughter was just a “spare parts” child. The question is: What would you be willing to do in order to save your children? Is it ethical to have designer babies?

The style was not unique, but interesting, every single character told their own story, some of us found that distracting, I quite enjoyed it.

We discussed this in our book club in February 2009.

From the back cover: "Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate -- a life and a role that she has never challenged... until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister—and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.
A provocative novel that raises some important ethical issues, My Sister's Keeper is the story of one family's struggle for survival at all human costs and a stunning parable for all time."

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Ghosh, Amitav "The Glass Palace"

Ghosh, Amitav "The Glass Palace" - 2000 

This was a great book club read, very popular with the members.

The story of Burma and its neighbours, so if you are a fan of India or Indian novels, this is also a book for you because it features quite a few Indian characters, as well. I love historic novels and this is one that's really worth reading. Of course, like all novels telling about history, there are a lot of sad sides to this book but it definitely is worth reading. It's worth writing down a "family tree" while reading, it helps remembering the connections between the characters - there are a lot.

We discussed this in our book club in February 2005.

Amitav Ghosh is a promising new author for me. I read several of his books later, you can find the reviews here.

From the back cover: "Set in Burma during the British invasion of 1885, this masterly novel by Amitav Ghosh tells the story of Rajkumar, a poor boy lifted on the tides of political and social chaos, who goes on to create an empire in the Burmese teak forest. When soldiers force the royal family out of the Glass Palace and into exile, Rajkumar befriends Dolly, a young woman in the court of the Burmese Queen, whose love will shape his life. He cannot forget her, and years later, as a rich man, he goes in search of her. The struggles that have made Burma, India, and Malaya the places they are today are illuminated in this wonderful novel by the writer Chitra Divakaruni calls 'a master storyteller.'"

Walker, Alice "The Color Purple"

Walker, Alice "The Color Purple" - 1982 

This is one of the best stories I have ever read. They story of a woman who seems to have no rights whatsoever and manages to get out of the hell she lives in with the help of others but mainly by being very strong herself. Alice Walker received the well-deserved Pulitzer price for this in 1983.

If you haven't read this book you certainly have heard about it or watched the movie (which is also very good, by the way). The story includes everything, joy and pain, family, religion, violence, rape, destruction, resurrection, racism, poverty.

The book starts when the main character, Celie, is fourteen. She lives with her mother, sister and stepfather. She is treated badly, ends in a bad marriage where she is treated even worse and nothing seems to be good for her, ever.

I liked the way Celie developed from a little girl into a strong, independent woman, the love for her sister, her search for her children. She seems a very likeable person who has to endure so much and always stands up again.

Apparently, Alice Walker used a lot of her own life in this novel, described personal experience. Maybe that's the reason it seems so true. She also wrote sort of a sequel "The Temple of My Familiar", if you liked "The Color Purple", you will love this one, as well.

A very interesting read about Alice Walker's life: "The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart".

Alice Walker received the Pulitzer Prize for "The Color Purple" in 1983.

From the back cover: "Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to "Mister," a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister's letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self."

Tyler, Anne "The Accidental Tourist"


Tyler, Anne "The Accidental Tourist" - 1985

I have read this book a couple of years ago. I know I didn't dislike it but it didn't leave a huge memory either which is usually the case when I wasn't that impressed.

Anne Tyler was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize for "The Accidental Tourist" in 1986.

From the back cover: "How does a man addicted to routine cope with the chaos of everyday life? Macon does his best, writing Armchair Tourist guidebooks that soothe the travel-hating businessman. Even when his son, Ethan, is murdered and his wife leaves him, Macon folds his anguish neatly back into place and adapts the household routine along more efficient lines. So when he meets Muriel, dog trainer from the Meow-Bow dog clinic - an utterly chaotic, outrageous, vulnerable woman - he considers that his defences against love and pain are in excellent working order."

I also read "A Patchwork Planet" and "Digging to America" as well as "A Spool of Blue Thread", really liked the two last ones.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Austen, Jane "Persuasion"



Austen, Jane "Persuasion" - 1817

When it comes to a great author like Jane Austen, it is hard to pick your favourite. Some of her novels are quite different to her others, and Persuasion surely is one of them.

I have never read an Austen novel as a teen or young adult and so have always judged from the adult point of view. Maybe that's the reason why Persuasion is my favourite.

Jane Austen has always been critizised because she writes about people of a certain social status only. Yes, she does, and that's good. Because that was about the kind of people she knew, the kind of world she lived in. And that's why her novels are so great. She knows what she's writing about.

What I like most in Persuasion is the way she captured the problems women were facing at the time. Especially the part where she explains to Captain Harville the difference between men's and women's feelings and their way of living. I thought she managed to come across so well, you just could feel her thoughts.

And nobody ever said that her novels were historical ones. They are, but only of the small world she lived in and knew.

"Pride & Prejudic" is much more lively, "Emma" as well, and I love both of them. But if I was allowed to take one of Jane Austen's books only to a desert island, Persuasion it would be.

From the back cover: "Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen's most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne's family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?
Jane Austen once compared her writing to painting on a little bit of ivory, 2 inches square. Readers of
Persuasion will discover that neither her skill for delicate, ironic observations on social custom, love, and marriage nor her ability to apply a sharp focus lens to English manners and morals has deserted her in her final finished work. "

We discussed this in our book club in February 2006.

I have reviewed "Persuasion" a second time as a member of The Motherhood and Jane Austen Book Club. Find that review here and a list of all my "motherhood" reviews here.

I read a lot of novels by or about Jane Austen. Find a link to all my reviews here.

Gavalda, Anna "Hunting and Gathering"


Gavalda, Anna "Hunting and Gathering" (French: Ensemble c'est tout) - 2006

Another book club read. Most of the group really liked this novel but when I said this wasn't exactly my style, one of our members said "it was too easy, right?" Of course, she was right. Although I probably wouldn't classify this as typical chick lit, it wasn't deep enough for my liking. It wasn't an "irresistable novel combining a genius for storytelling with vivid, exquisite writing and characters who leap from the pages" to me.

The only pleasure I got from this book was that I was reading it in French.

(By the way, we all agreed that the English title was stupid.)

From the back cover: "Prize-winning author Anna Gavalda has galvanized the literary world with an exquisite genius for storytelling. Here, in her epic new novel of intimate lives-and filled with the "humanity and wit" (Marie Claire) that has made it a bestselling sensation in France-Gavalda explores the twists of fate that connect four people in Paris. Comprised of a starving artist, her shy, aristocratic neighbor, his obnoxious but talented roommate, and a neglected grandmother, this curious, damaged quartet may be hopeless apart, but together, they may just be able to face the world."

We discussed this in our book club in February 2007.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Follett, Ken "The Pillars of the Earth"

Follett, Ken "The Pillars of the Earth" - 1989

Why did it take me 20 years to pick up this book? My husband read it, a good friend told me for years I would like it. Well, I have no idea.

I am a fan of historic fiction and of large novels, so this was a double bonus. The building of a cathedral in 12th century England. There is so much in this book, the history of The Anarchy, the murder of Thomas Becket, the development of architecture from Roman to Gothic, the influence of the church, life of ordinary people as well as nobility during that time-period. Follett manages to describe all this as if it had happened yesterday and he was among these people. The stories or different people are interweaving during the decades, so you get to see "good old friends" (and sometimes not so good ones) again and again.

This book has got it all, politics, love, violence, revenge and - the most important - a great storyline.

And then, there is a wonderful follow-up: "World Without End".

From the back cover: "The spellbinding epic set in twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the lives entwined in the building of the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known—and a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother.
In a time of civil war, famine and religious strife, there rises a magnificent Cathedral in Kingsbridge. Against this backdrop, lives entwine: Tom, the master builder, Aliena, the noblewoman, Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge, Jack, the artist in stone and Ellen, the woman from the forest who casts a curse. At once, this is a sensuous and enduring love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age.
"

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Steinbeck, John "The Grapes of Wrath"

Steinbeck, John "The Grapes of Wrath" - 1940

I read this with my RL book club a couple of years ago. What a book! I love Steinbeck's way of writing, his descriptive painting of people, scenes, environment, situations. Fabulous.

Granted, it was sad. But I loved how the people helped each other out, how they shared the little they had if it was more than others had. I loved the descriptions of everything, be it the land, the people, actions, the situation. I also loved the little chapters in-between.

As a book club, we learned a lot from this book.
Our society becomes a conglomerate, you have no recourse to solving your problem. Communities within communities are still created today. The poorest people the most humane people. We go to great extremes to keep our children but for them it was life or death. There is so much about the story, intense poverty; start of unions, people's tricks to make money. You can feel the dust, hunger, fear, hope, and strength. As one member said: you could taste the grains of sand in your mouth. The book had tons of symbolism, really well developed. There were so many fundamental issues, power, capitalism, financial crisis. The irresponsible use of the land led to the dust bowl.

The author made his characters ugly, got you aware of social injustice, all these complaints about the unions now and further about how it came in the first place.

Effective, short introductory chapters, he introduced the scene and then got in depth. The benefit of that was we knew more than they did, a good literary device. Interesting perspective for the reader.

The main lesson: There is always hope, the strength of hope to carry people through.
And also: the story could have been written today.

I think I repeat myself but this is definitely a novel worth reading. I also really enjoyed "East of Eden" and his short story/novella "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" and the Pulitzer Prize for "The Grapes of Wrath" in 1940.

We discussed this in our book club in March 2009.

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

Austen, Jane "Pride & Prejudice"


Austen, Jane "Pride & Prejudice" - 1813

One of he greatest love stories ever written. One of the best known. My favourite author.

Where do I start? Everyone knows Mr. Darcy, at least since 1995 when Colin Firth took a bath in a pond.

I loved everything in this novel. I think the biggest secret of Jane Austen's writing is that there are no secrets. She writes about real life - her life and that of her family and friends. And they are so real that we seem to know people like that even today. The mother, who wants the best for her daughters, the father who thinks if he provides food for the table he is taking care of his family, the silly kids who just want their fun, the sensible ones, who look a little further, the rich spoiled ones and the poor deprived ones, they all seem to be people we know. The proud ones and the prejudiced ones. They are as alive today as they were 200 years ago.

I have reviewed "Pride & Prejudice" a second time  as a member of The Motherhood and Jane Austen Book Club. Find that review here and a list of all my "motherhood" reviews here.

From the back cover: "'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.'
So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's witty comedy of manners--one of the most popular novels of all time--that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues.
"

I read a lot of novels by or about Jane Austen. Find a link to all my reviews here.

Mortenson, Greg & Relin, David Oliver "Three Cups of Tea"


Mortenson, Greg & Relin, David Oliver "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time" - 2006 

I read this with my book club.

Greg Mortenson gets lost on his way back from K2. He reaches a tiny little village in Pakistan and meets the most helpful people in the world. He see the conditions they live in and promises to come back and build them a school. He keeps his promise and carries on to build more than 50 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This book is about his way from being a carefree single mountaineer to a family father who spends a lot of time helping people in remote corners of the world who get help from nobody.

What a guy. My admiration for Greg Mortenson climbed with every page I read. I would love to meet him - and his wife. The achievements just one guy can reach, it's unbelievable. This story shows how people can change the world, can contribute to make the living conditions of others better. Not all of us will be able to climb K2 (or any other large mountain) but the author shows us that there is always a goal that you can try to achieve, a mountain to conquer.

The description of all the pitfalls are heart rendering but him overcoming them makes you hope for a better future. If the world were full of Greg Mortensons - what a world that would be.

I also loved his admiration of the local people, his ability to tune into their culture and language. Okay, he does have an ear for languages but he is willing to understand his "neighbour", no matter how far away he lives.
I also admire his wife. She deserves some kind of medal.

Needless to say, I love this book. It was chosen as the favourite of our book club reads that year.

We discussed this in our book club in May 2009.

From the back cover: "Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools - especially for girls - that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson’s quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Tea combines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit."

We discussed Greg Mortenson's second book "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan" in our book club in April 2011.