Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Dostoewsky, Fyodor "The Gambler"


Dostoevsky, Fyodor "The Gambler" (Russian: Igrok - Игрок) - 1866

Apparently, Dostoevsky wrote this book simultaneously with "Crime and Punishment" as he was suffering from gambling compulsion.

After reading "The Adolescent" with my book club, I definitely had to read another Dostoevsky. This won't be my last. I enjoyed his story, the characters, the description of the characters, everything. A lively story, yet a lot of musings, as well. I like the style of the Russian authors. If you do, too, and haven't tried Dostoevsky, you should definitely give him a chance.

From the back cover:
"Its story of passion and despair is based on Dostoevsky's own experience as a compulsive gambler—but Dostoevsky was able to break away, whereas Alexei vows to quit as soon as he breaks even—an event, it is clear, that will never happen.
Like so many other characters in Dostoeveky's novels, Alexei is trying to break through the wall of the established order and the human condition itself. But instead he is drawn into the roulette wheel's vortex."

Salinger, J. D. "The Catcher in the Rye"


Salinger, J. D. "The Catcher in the Rye" - 1951

I read this classic when I was still in school. The perfect age to read about a rebellious teenager, one would think.

I didn't have a lot of books when I was little, so I had to borrow from our small village church library and our equally small school library (compared to today), so I wasn't very choosy, I would read whatever I got.

I didn't have much sympathy with Holden Caulfield, maybe because I went to a school with a lot of guys, was surrounded by a lot of guys at home, as well, maybe. I loved school and couldn't imagine anyone not to. So many factors.

All in all, you might have guessed it, I didn't like this one.

From the back cover: "Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with "cynical adolescent." Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he's been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,
'
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.'
His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation."

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Lippi, Rosina "Homestead"


Lippi, Rosina "Homestead" - 1998

What a wonderful book. The story of the women of a small village in the Austrian mountains. The story of several generations of women trying to live their lives. Especially after many of them are left alone with the men not returning from war.

I have read this book years ago but it is one of those stories that will never leave you.

From the back cover:
"Each life has its place, and every variation ripples the surface of the tiny alpine village called Rosenau. Be it a mysteriously misaddressed love letter or a girl's careless delivery of two helpless relatives into Nazi hands, the town's balance is ever tested, and ever tender. Here is a novel spanning eighty years -- years that bring factories and wars, store-bought cheese and city-trained teachers -- weaving the fates of the wives, mothers, and daughters in this remote corner of Austria. To quote Rosellen Brown, 'the women in this haunting book are deeply and uniquely of their place, yet they speak (often wordlessly) of women's longings and satisfactions everywhere.'"

Lamb, Wally "I know this much is true"


Lamb, Wally "I know this much is true" - 1998

My second Wally Lamb, after "She's Come Undone".

This is a very moving book, wonderful and awful at the same time. It's incredible how much a person can bear if they have to. Dominick has to deal with so many issues and there is no-one who can help him here but himself. The author has a very talented way of describing people in any kind of despair. His accounts are very emphatic, you really can understand the characters. I loved this.

From the back cover
"Born in the waning moments of 1949 and the opening minutes of 1950, the twins Dominick and Thomas are physical mirror images who grow into separate yet connected entities. From childhood, Dominick fights for both separation and wholeness - and ultimately self-protection - in a house of fear and mystery. To save himself, Dominick must confront not only the pain of his past but the dark secrets he has locked deep within himself and the sins of his ancestors - a quest that will lead him beyond the confines of his blue-collar New England town to the volcanic foothills of Sicily's Mount Etna."

I have since also read "The Hour I First Believed" and his next books, find the reviews here.

Tolkien, J.R.R. "The Hobbit"


Tolkien, J.R.R. "The Hobbit" - 1937

I tried to read "The Hobbit" ages ago because so many people said I should read it. Not my thing. I'm not into fantasy which is weird because I loved fairy tales, still do. Might have been Tolkien and his Hobbits who messed it up but I doubt it. I think his writing isn't too bad but I'd rather read about real people with real life problems.

Needless to say, after this, I never even attempted "The Lord of the Rings".

From the back cover:
"Whisked away from his comfortable, unambitious life in his hobbit-hole in Bag End by Gandalf the wizard and a company of dwarves, Bilbo Baggins finds himself caught up in a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Although quite reluctant to take part in this quest, Bilbo surprises even himself by his resourcefulness and his skill as a burglar! Written for J.R.R. Tolkien's own children, The Hobbit met with instant success when published in 1937."

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Collins, Wilkie “The Woman in White”


Collins, Wilkie "The Woman in White" - 1859

After having read "The Moonstone" (which I really liked), I just had to read this one. I wouldn't be able to tell which one I enjoyed more, they are both marvellous.

First, I enjoy Wilkie Collins telling the story in so many voices, having it told in an "I" version throughout and still giving us the best view of every scene. I like that about his stories. Definitely have to read another one.

Then, I also loved the story itself, the characters, they really came to life. I could just imagine the way they looked like. The description of both the characters as well as the countryside etc. was just great.

What a fabulous author!

From the back cover:
"'In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop... There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white'
'
The Woman in White' famously opens with Walter Hartright's eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his 'charming' friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, 'The Woman in White' is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with pyschological realism."

I have also read "Armadale" in the meantime and thoroughly enjoyed that one, as well.

Collins, Wilkie "The Moonstone"


Collins, Wilkie "The Moonstone" - 1868

"The Moonstone" is said to be the first detective language in English. I'm not a huge fan of detective novels, however, I love English classic epistolary novels, and this is an outstanding one. His “multi-narration" method, the way all the different characters tell their part of the story, just fascinating. This way he can tell you every aspect of the story without revealing it all. Great style, captivating way to keep your eye on the ball, uhm, the diamond.

I couldn't put this down.

From the back cover: "A fabulous yellow diamond becomes the dangerous inheritance of Rachel Verinder. Outside her Yorkshire country house watch the Hindu priests who have waited for many years to reclaim their ancient talisman, looted from the holy city of Somnauth. When the Moonstone disappears the case looks simple, but in mid-Victorian England no one is what they seem, and nothing can be taken for granted. Witnesses, suspects, and detectives take up the story in turn. The bemused butler, the love-stricken housemaid, the enigmatic detective Sergeant Cuff, the drug-addicted scientist, each speculate on the mystery as Collins weaves their narratives into a masterpiece of construction and suspense."

I also read “The Woman in White” and "Armadale", they are just as great.

Coelho, Paulo "Brida"


Coelho, Paulo "Brida" (Portuguese: Brida) - 1990

After reading "The Alchemist", I had to read another Coelho. Would it have been the same if I had started with this one. Certainly not. Even though the subject is somewhat related, I couldn't link with the characters. A young girl who wants to become a witch or a magician and is willing to give up the love of her life for that.

Even though this is also a quest for the meaning of life, it didn't speak to me the same way. There must be a reason it took 18 years that this book was translated into English (although, having said that, it usually takes a little longer for foreign books to be translated into English but Paulo Coelho is an internationally highly acclaimed author).

Maybe it is not fair to compare this to a masterpiece as "The Alchemist" but it's difficult not to do that. If it had been written by another author and my expectations hadn't been that high, I might actually have loved this book.

From the back cover:
"This is the story of Brida, a young Irish girl, and her quest for knowledge. She has long been interested in various aspects of magic but is searching for something more. Her search leads her to people of great wisdom, who begin to teach Brida about the spiritual world. She meets a wise man who dwells in a forest, who teaches her about overcoming her fears and trusting in the goodness of the world; and a woman who teaches her how to dance to the music of the world, and how to pray to the moon. As Brida seeks her destiny, she struggles to find a balance between her relationships and her desire to become a witch. This enthralling novel incorporates themes that fans of Paulo Coelho will recognize and treasure - it is a tale of love, passion, mystery, and spirituality from the master storyteller. "

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Kingsolver, Barbara "The Bean Trees"


Kingsolver, Barbara "The Bean Trees" - 1988

After having read "The Poisonwood Bible" and "Prodigal Summer" with the book club, I just had to read more of this fabulous author's novels. I only learned later that this had been her very first one. Quite an interesting plot about a girl who ends up with a baby that is just left to her. But a lot of other people appear in the novel, abused women and children, illegal immigrants, people who help and people who don't.

I think Barbara Kingsolver can write about any subject, whatever she chooses is interesting, she has a way about her that just makes you want to keep on reading.

Book Description: "Plucky Taylor Greer grows up poor in rural Kentucky with two goals: to avoid pregnancy and to get away. She succeeds on both counts when she buys an old car and heads west. But midway across the country motherhood catches up with her when she becomes the guardian of an abandoned baby girl she calls Turtle. In Tuscon they encounter an extraordinary array of people, and with their help, Taylor builds herself and her sweet, stunned child a life."

I have also read other books by Barbara Kingsolver, you can find my reviews here.  She remains one of my favourite authors.

Brontë, Emily "Wuthering Heights"


Brontë, Emily "Wuthering Heights" - 1847

"Wuthering Heights".  I love classic books. I love English classic books. I love English classic books from the 19th century. I love the Brontë sisters.

I just don't like this novel. I'm sorry. I would love to like it and I am sure there are novels from that era that I have liked because they were so much like the books I like. I just can't with this one.

Where do I start? I love the moors. I grew up in a moorish country. So, that can't be it. The story between Catherine and Heathcliff is interesting, at least at the beginning.

I'm just not into ghost stories. Not that I'm afraid of ghosts, you can't be afraid of something that you don't believe in. So, sorry Ms. Brontë but you were off to a good start, had a nice plot going there and then you "blew" it.

I know a lot of people will disagree with me but that's just how I feel.

I read "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë, and "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Brontë, some wonderful creations. Just didn't like this one.

From the back cover:
"Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before; of the intense relationship between the gypsy foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw; and how Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class. As Heathcliff's bitterness and vengeance at his betrayal is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.

Emily Brontë's only novel, a work of tremendous and far-reaching influence, the Penguin Classics edition of
Wuthering Heights is the definitive edition of the text, edited with an introduction by Pauline Nestor. In this edition, a new preface by Lucasta Miller, author of The Brontë Myth, looks at the ways in which the novel has been interpreted, from Charlotte Brontë onwards. This complements Pauline Nestor's introduction, which discusses changing critical receptions of the novel, as well as Emily Brontë's influences and background.

Emily Brontë (1818-48), along with her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, was one of the most significant literary figures of the 19th century. She wrote just one strikingly innovative novel, Wuthering Heights, but was also a gifted and intense poet."

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Hesse, Hermann "Steppenwolf"


Hesse, Hermann "Steppenwolf" (German: Der Steppenwolf) - 1927

I like Hesse. However, I had a hard time getting through this one. Apparently, Hesse was going through a very tough time in his life. And it shows. It's not the writing that makes it hard, it's the content. Trying to follow this guy's life is hard and probably shouldn't be attempted if you are in a tough spot yourself.

Is it possible at all to understand someone in such a mental state if you are not in the same one (or have never been in it)? Or is it better to read it if you're not in that state? Because I can imagine that it won't improve exactly if you are feeling down yourself at the moment.

I enjoyed "Siddhartha" a lot better.

Book Description:
"Harry Haller is the Steppenwolf: wild, strange, shy and alienated from society. His despair and desire for death draw him into a dark, enchanted underworld. Through a series of shadowy encounters – romantic, freakish and savage by turn – the misanthropic Haller gradually begins to rediscover the lost dreams of his youth. This blistering portrayal of a man who feels himself to be half-human and half-wolf was the bible of the 1960s counterculture, capturing the mood of a disaffected generation, and remains a haunting story of estrangement and redemption."

Hermann Hesse received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964 "for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humanitarian ideals and high qualities of style".

Hermann Hesse received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 1955.

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

Friday, 17 June 2011

Hesse, Hermann "Siddhartha"


Hesse, Hermann "Siddhartha:An Indian Poem" (German: Siddhartha) - 1922

This is by far my most favourite Hesse story. Maybe because it is so much more positive than his other books, despite the subject. But I don't think that is it. I think he has given this book a lot of thought and describes the voyage any young person has to make all over the world, not necessarily the same way as our protagonist Siddartha but we all have to find our goal, our meaning of life, our meaning in life.

In ancient India, Siddhartha, the son of a Brahmin, the highest caste, becomes an ascetic. Together with a friend he wants to find the enlightenment. We accompany him on his quest.

The story might be set in ancient times and in a country quite far from Hesse's native Germany but it could have been anywhere and at any time. The author himself actually lived like his character, searched for the meaning of life in Hindu and Buddhist scriptures.

This philosophical novel has a very lyrical writing style. I really enjoyed reading it. (i.e. the German original.)

It would be great if everyone read this book at least once in their life, the earlier the better. And I am sure everyone will enjoy it, no matter whether they belong to a religion, any religion, or not, whether they believe in a higher being or not. Because this is not a book about Buddha, God or religion, it is a novel about our soul.

Two quotes from Siddhartha:
“Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish... Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
“When someone is seeking ... it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything ... because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal.”


Need I say more?

Book Description:
"Siddhartha is perhaps the most important and compelling moral allegory our troubled century has produced. Integrating Eastern and Western spiritual traditions with psychoanalysis and philosophy, this strangely simple tale, written with a deep and moving empathy for humanity, has touched the lives of millions since its original publication in 1922. Set in India, Siddhartha is the story of a young Brahmin's search for ultimate reality after meeting with the Buddha. His quest takes him from a life of decadence to asceticism, from the illusory joys of sensual love with a beautiful courtesan, and of wealth and fame, to the painful struggles with his son and the ultimate wisdom of renunciation."

I also read "Steppenwolf" by the same author.

Hermann Hesse received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964 "for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humanitarian ideals and high qualities of style".

Hermann Hesse received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 1955.

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

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Guterson, David "The Other"


Guterson, David "The Other" - 2008

The story of the prince and the pauper, two boys with completely different backgrounds, what is going to happen to them in their lives, the wealthy, elitist John, the working man's son Neil.

Another very interesting book by David Guterson after "Snow Falling on Cedars", "East of the Mountains" and "Our Lady of the Forest". Great writing, another, almost philosophical attempt to explain how our past can form our future but that our present shapes it even more. Fantastic.

Looking forward to his next story, it's been a while.

From the back cover:
"Seattle, 1972: two teenage boys are standing at the start line of an 800m race. Neil Countryman is from the public high school in the north of the city. He slumps at his desk all day and gets high in the park at lunchtime, and wears a moustache that makes him look like the guy in the Camel cigarette ads. John William Barry is from Lakeside, a private academy for the more privileged of Seattle's youth. He is an earnest, fiery young man, and his family background is one of material wealth and emotional deprivation. As John William wins the race by a hair's breadth, their lives collide for the very first time, and it is the beginning of a friendship that is both fraught and intimate. Both boys have a taste for the wilderness, and they explore together the most remote areas of the mountains, the places ignored by guidebooks, where tracks and roads fade to nothing and all that can be seen is an endless unbroken density of trees. But as they grow older, John William's intense intelligence and craving for isolation mark him out as an eccentric, and as Neil begins to accumulate the more conventional comforts - a wife, a steady job - their lives begin to take radically different paths. Eventually, John William is to retreat permanently into his own self-made wilderness, and in doing so presents his oldest friend with a gift which will change his life for ever, bringing them both a notoriety that Neil had neither dreamed of nor hoped for. A moving exploration of the mixed blessings that friendship can bring, and the choices we make about how to live our lives in the twenty-first century, The Other is an extraordinary novel from a masterful storyteller."

Guterson, David "Our Lady of the Forest"


Guterson, David "Our Lady of the Forest" - 2003

From all the David Guterson novels I read, this is my least favourite. A young girl has run away from home and settles in the woods where she claims she is visited by the Virgin Mary and ordered to build a church at that place. This leads to hundreds of people pilgriming to the forest in Washington state and a lot of confusion among the villagers and the people living nearby in caravans.

Not exactly what I had expected after reading "East of the Mountains" and "Snow Falling on Cedars" but still a brilliant account of human behaviour.

Next David Guterson book I read "The Other".

From the back cover:
"This is the story of a teenage girl who sees a vision of the Virgin Mary. Ann Holmes seems an unlikely candidate for revelation. A sixteen-year-old runaway, she is an itinerant mushroom picker who lives in a tent. Her past has been hardscrabble. Then one November afternoon, in the foggy woods of North Fork, Washington, the Virgin comes to her, clear as day. Is this delusion, a product of her occasional drug use, or a true calling to God? Gradually word spreads, and thousands converge upon the already troubled town. For Tom Cross, an embittered logger who's been out of work since his son was paralyzed in a terrible accident, the possibility that Ann's visions are real offers a last chance for him and his son. As Father Collins searches both his own soul and Ann's; as Carolyn struggles with her less than admirable intentions; as Tom alternates between despair and hope. 'Our Lady of the Forest' combines suspense, grit and humour in a story of faith at a contemporary crossroad."

Guterson, David "Snow Falling on Cedars"


Guterson, David "Snow Falling on Cedars" - 1994

David Guterson's first book, not my first Guterson. I read "East of the Mountains" first and absolutely loved it. So I had to read this one which was his first big success.

What can I say? Absolutely brilliant. Growing up in Germany, you hear everything about World War II, well, everything the Germans did and everywhere the Germans went and everyone who came to Germany etc. You hardly ever hear about the Pacific part of the war. What did the Japanese do? We all heard about Pearl Harbor but that's about it. They never tell us about what happened to the Japanese people who lived in the States before the war started and who had absolutely nothing to do with the situation. Wow! What a tale. What an amazing account of a tragic part of history.

I have also read "Our Lady of the Forest" and "The Other" in which Guterson carries on to be a great author.

From the back cover:
"San Piedro Island in Puget Sound is a place so isolated that no-one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese-American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder.

In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than one man's guilt. For on San Piedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries – memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and a Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memories of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbours watched.


Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, '
Snow Falling On Cedars' is a masterpiece of suspense – but one that leaves us shaken and changed."

Guterson, David "East of the Mountains"


Guterson, David "East of the Mountains" - 1999

My first Guterson. NOT my last. I don't want to reveal too much but you will read this on the cover of the book, on any product description you find anywhere. What does a surgeon do who suffers from terminal illness and knows what is about to happen to him? Dr. Ben Givens decides to end his life where it begins and he goes from Washington state back East to the mountains of his childhood.

A wonderful story, quite philosophical really. I love Guterson's style, his writing is very descriptive, not necessarily wanting to please all the time but that is the beauty of it. With this book, David Guterson  definitely made it on my list of favourite authors.

I have read "Snow Falling on Cedars", "Our Lady of the Forest" and "The Other" since, all with a completely different subject and just as great as this one.

From the back cover:
"Following the death of his wife Rachel and diagnosis of his own medical condition, Dr Ben Givens left his home in Seattle – heading east with his Winchester and hunting dogs in tow – not intending to return. It was to be a journey to the verges of the Columbia River, where he had entered the world and had decided he would now take his leave of it. What transpired was anything but the journey he anticipated.
Instead, Ben’s perspective shifts as his intended exit transforms into an eye-opening, life-enhancing diversion, as David Guterson’s celebrated and involving prose unravels the mysteries and reveals the power of the human spirit even as it ebbs, in this moving and action-filled drama set against an unforgettable landscape."

Monday, 13 June 2011

Grenville, Kate "The Secret River"


Grenville, Kate "The Secret River" - 2005

Years ago I read a book about the first prisoners coming to Australia. The impression that story made on me never left me. Unfortunately, the title of the book did.

However, this title was suggested for our book club, unfortunately not chosen. So, it landed on my list of books I wanted to read.

I am so glad it did, I loved this book. The story of William Thornhill, whose main crime was to be borne into absolute poverty in a time where there was not way out of it, where people were forced to become criminals in order to feed their families and, when caught, sent to a foreign country, a country so remote that the voyage there was one of no return. So, William arrives in Sydney with his family. He then has the chance to settle with them on the land that is supposed to be free. Free of what? Free of "white culture", free of "white settlement". The story shows the differences between the native Australians, the Aborigines, and the European invaders, uh settlers, and that really nobody has a chance to win in this situation.

I haven't been to Australia, so I can't judge how accurate the account is but I really liked the writing style, the way the characters unfold, the way the situation is described. A good historical novel showing us the wronging done two hundred years ago.

From the back cover:
"The Orange Prize-winning author Kate Grenville recalls her family's history in an astounding novel about the pioneers of New South Wales. Already a best seller in Australia, The Secret River is the story of Grenville's ancestors, who wrested a new life from the alien terrain of Australia and its native people. London, 1806. William Thornhill, a Thames bargeman, is deported to the New South Wales colony in what would become Australia. In this new world of convicts and charlatans, Thornhill tries to pull his family into a position of power and comfort. When he rounds a bend in the Hawkesbury River and sees a gentle slope of land, he becomes determined to make the place his own. But, as uninhabited as the island appears, Australia is full of native people, and they do not take kindly to Thornhill's theft of their home.
The Secret River is the tale of Thornhill's deep love for his small corner of the new world, and his slow realization that if he wants to settle there, he must ally himself with the most despicable of the white settlers, and to keep his family safe, he must permit terrifying cruelty to come to innocent people."

Other stories about convicts sent to Australia: "For the Term of His Natural Life" by Marcus Clarke and "The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of an 18th-Century Ship and Its Cargo of Female Convicts" by Siân Rees

Kate Grenville was shortlisted for the Booker Prize "The Secret River" in 2006. 

Mandino, Og "The Greatest Salesman In The World"


Mandino, Og "The Greatest Salesman In The World" - 1968

A friend lent this book to me and said it was a great book that can change your life.

Well, it wasn't bad but it also wasn't one of the greatest books I ever read. I liked the links to the bible and the message but I don't think it changed my life.

From the back cover:
"Each generation produces its 'literature of power.' This type of writing literally has the power to change the reader’s life. In this tradition. In The Greatest Salesman In The World is destined to influence countless lives.

Here is the legend of Hafid, a camel boy of two thousand years ago, and his burning desire to improve his lowly position in life. To prove his potential ability, he is dispatched from Bethlehem by his master, the great caravan merchant, Pathros, to sell only one robe. He fails and instead, in a moment of pity, gives the robe to warm a newborn baby in a cave near the inn.

Hafid returns to the caravan in shame but is accompanied by a bright star shining above his head. This phenomenon is interpreted by Pathros to be a sign from the gods, and he gives Hafid ten ancient scrolls, which contain the wisdom necessary for the boy to achieve all his ambitions.
"

Green, Hannah "I Never Promised you a Rose Garden"


Green, Hannah (Joanne Greenberg) "I Never Promised you a Rose Garden" 1964

Joanne Greenberg wrote this semi-autobiographical novel under the pen name Hannah Green.

What a fascinating book. A teenager suffering from schizophrenia. What is going on inside such a person?

Hannah Green tries to explain this mental illness through the view of different people, first of all the sufferer herself, her time before, in and after the hospital, her parents, family, friends, doctors, therapists.

I think this book is helpful to anybody who wants to understand mental illness and what it can do to everybody involved.

From the back cover:
"Enveloped in the dark inner kingdom of her schizophrenia, sixteen-year-old Deborah is haunted by private tormentors that isolate her from the outside world. With the reluctant and fearful consent of her parents, she enters a mental hospital where she will spend the next three years battling to regain her sanity with the help of a gifted psychiatrist. As Deborah struggles toward the possibility of the “normal” life she and her family hope for, the reader is inexorably drawn into her private suffering and deep determination to confront her demons. A modern classic, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden remains every bit as poignant, gripping, and relevant today as when it was first published."

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Frazier, Charles "Thirteen Moons"


Frazier, Charles "Thirteen Moons" - 2006

My first Charles Frazier book was also Charles Frazier's first book "Cold Mountain". I love that book. So, naturally, I couldn't wait for his second one to be published. And I wasn't disappointed.

The topic is completely different from "Cold Mountain" but his style, his descriptive story-telling remains the same. An amazing story about an exceptionally strong and interesting man. The main character is brought up by Cherokee in the mid-19th Century. He takes over their traditions and lives according to them, although his "white" culture does interfere, as well. However, even his Indian "fathers" don't all follow the same path.

A wonderful story that introduces us and deepens our understanding of American history before the arrival of the first Europeans. And their hard life after that, the way they were pushed into reservations, onto land that was barely inhabitable.

A wonderful novel. Have read the next book by this extraordinary author. "Nightwoods". Amazing.

From the back cover:
"At the age of twelve, an orphan named Will Cooper is given a horse, a key, and a map and is sent on a journey through the uncharted wilderness of the Cherokee Nation. Will is a bound boy, obliged to run a remote Indian trading post. As he fulfills his lonesome duty, Will finds a father in Bear, a Cherokee chief, and is adopted by him and his people, developing relationships that ultimately forge Will’s character. All the while, his love of Claire, the enigmatic and captivating charge of volatile and powerful Featherstone, will forever rule Will’s heart. In a voice filled with both humor and yearning, Will tells of a lifelong search for home, the hunger for fortune and adventure, the rebuilding of a trampled culture, and above all an enduring pursuit of passion."

How full moons got their strange names
Origins credited to Native Americans and early European settlers.

Coelho, Paulo "The Alchemist"


Coelho, Paulo "The Alchemist: A Fable about Following Your Dream" (Portuguese: O Alquimista) - 1988

My first Coelho. Certainly not my last. This novel was fantastic, what a great author. He is able to use the words in a way that is just plain admirable. He is a poet, his sentences are so beautiful.

He gives us a Medieval story about mysticism and superstition, about life back then in several areas. From Andalusia, Spain to Tangiers, Northern Africa and finally to Egypt, the Alchemist takes a long journey and not only in distance. A philosophical story, what are you willing to sacrifice for your dream, what are you willing to do for it.

One of the most important quotes: "Those who don't understand their personal legends will fail to comprehend its teachings."

This is a story that will never leave you.

From the back cover:
"This is the magical story of Santiago, a shepherd boy who dreams of travelling the world to seek the most wonderful treasures known to man. From his home in Spain, he journeys to the markets of Tangiers and, from there, into the Egyptian desert, where a fateful encounter with the alchemist awaits him.

Coelho's fascinating storytelling, with its mixture of spirituality, magical realism and folklore, makes
The Alchemist a story that will delight any reader and inspire us all to follow our dreams."

I also read "Brida" which didn't impress me as much, unfortunately.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Austen, Jane "Sense & Sensibility"


Austen, Jane "Sense & Sensibility" - 1811

This novel describes the life of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, two sisters who are completely different. Elinor, the elder, is the "sense", Marianne the "sensibility. After the death of their father, they have to cope with poverty and with their way of finding love.

I loved this novel, as I love all of Jane Austen's books. What it makes so remarkable and still interesting today is the description of the different sisters and how they cope with the problems society puts them through.

People still are more an Elinor or a Marianne, sometimes you have to be one or the other, sometimes you can be both.

From the back cover:
"Compelled to leave Norland in Sussex for Barton Cottage in Devonshire, the two sisters are soon accepted into their new society. Marianne, whose sweet radiance and open nature charm the roguish John Willoughby, is soon deeply in love. Elinor, whose disposition is more cautious and considered, who carefully conceals her emotions, is suffering the loss of Edward Ferrars whom she has left behind.
Despite their very different personalities, both sisters experience great sorrows in their affairs of the heart: Marianne demonstrably wretched and Elinor allowing no one to see her private heartache. It is, however, the qualities common to them both - discernment, constancy and integrity in the face of the fecklessness of others - that allow them entry into a new life of peace and contentment.
"


I have reviewed "Sense & Sensibility" 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.

Austen, Jane "Lady Susan"


Austen, Jane "Lady Susan" - 1795

Jane Austen never really finished this book. Therefore, it was published as a short novel. Though it has an end, the author just never refined her work.

I would have loved to see this as a complete novel, I'm sure it would have been one of her very good ones. Lady Susan is one of those very selfish women who searches a suitable husband for her daughter. There are a lot of letters that show the character of Lady Susan as she seems to alter it with every letter and every person that is supposed to receive that letter.

I love Austen's letters. She is the ultimate letter writer. We don't just see Lady Susan's letters but also those of all the other characters. And with every letter you can find and understand Lady Susan's personality a little better. I have thoroughly enjoyed this short book and was sad when it ended.

From the back cover:
"My Dear Brother, -- I can no longer refuse myself the pleasure of profiting by your kind invitation when we last parted of spending some weeks with you at Churchhill, and, therefore, if quite convenient to you and Mrs. Vernon to receive me at present, I shall hope within a few days to be introduced to a sister whom I have so long desired to be acquainted with. My kind friends here are most affectionately urgent with me to prolong my stay, but their hospitable and cheerful dispositions lead them too much into society for my present situation and state of mind; and I impatiently look forward to the hour when I shall be admitted into Your delightful retirement. I long to be made known to your dear little children, in whose hearts I shall be very eager to secure an interest. I shall soon have need for all my fortitude, as I am on the point of separation from my own daughter. . . ."

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

Austen, Jane "Northanger Abbey"


Austen, Jane "Northanger Abbey" - 1818

First of all, I am a huge Jane Austen fan. I have read all of her novels, most of them several times.

"Northanger Abbey" is by far my least favourite Austen, it seems like it's written by a different person but that's normal since it's supposed to be a parody. Obviously, she seems to have portrayed the gothic novel quite well and I'm not much into those.

Another reason that this is quite different from her other novels is probably that it was published posthumously without her being able to revise it.

From the back cover:
"Catherine Morland is an Austen heroine unlike any other--youthful and naive, with a lively imagination fed by the popular Gothic novels she so loves to read. But when Catherine meets the wealthy and charming Henry Tilney during a vacation in Bath, and visits his family's sinister and mysterious estate, she begins to suspect that some of the dark doings she's read about just might be true... One of Austen's earliest works, Northanger Abbey offers fascinating insights into her perspective as a writer and a reader. The world's greatest works of literature are now available in these beautiful keepsake volumes. Bound in real cloth, and featuring gilt edges and ribbon markers, these beautifully produced books are a wonderful way to build a handsome library of classic literature. These are the essential novels that belong in every home. They'll transport readers to imaginary worlds and provide excitement, entertainment, and enlightenment for years to come. All of these novels feature attractive illustrations and have an unequalled period feel that will grace the library, the bedside table or bureau."

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

I have reviewed "Northanger Abbey" 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.

Vossestein, Jacob "Dealing with the Dutch"


Vossestein, Jacob "Dealing with the Dutch" - 1998

Based on his wide experiences and insights of all types of foreign views on the Dutch, Jacob Vossestein is called an interculturalist. He wrote this as a guide book for companies and people wanting to do business with the Dutch.

However, this is also very helpful if you just live in the Netherlands and have to "deal" with them on a normal every day business. This guy knows what he's talking about. He studied human geography and social anthropology and he observed his fellow countrymen very well.

I wish someone had given this book to me before I moved to the Netherlands. I probably might have thought it can't be that bad or I might have never moved here.

In any case, this work gives a very good account of Dutch culture and behaviour, what you should or shouldn't do when working with Dutch people. Great insight.

From the back cover:
"People from all corners of the world involved in government, business and culture come into contact with Dutch colleagues and counterparts, either in the Netherlands or in their own countries. No matter whether you are coming to the Netherlands for a business trip or to work here for a while, or have regular contact with Dutch people in your own country, being prepared for Dutch culture will make your working and social contacts more effective and therefore more satisfactory. Like the very successful first edition published in 1997, and the updated version published in 2001, this 14th revised and updated edition of Dealing with the Dutch focuses on Dutch values and norms, but it also takes into account the economic, social and cultural changes the Netherlands is undergoing. Many new quotes by people from all over the world who have already 'dealt with the Dutch' have also been added."

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Allende, Isabel "Portrait in Sepia"


Allende, Isabel "Portrait in Sepia" (Spanish: Retrato en Sepia) - 2000

Another magnificent historical novel by Chilean author Isabel Allende. The story takes part at the end of the nineteenth century and carries on the wonderful sagas started in her earlier novels House of the Spirits and Daughter of Fortune. Only when reading this book do you really understand why both are parts of the same trilogy.

Aurora de la Valle lives with her grandmother after a bad experience in her early childhood. Her family is quite rich, but  Aurora is haunted by nightmares. She goes on a quest for her own past to find the secret behind her problems. Very exciting and gripping. I enjoyed it a lot.

The third book in the trilogy following "House of the Spirits" and "Daughter of Fortune". Another great book by the same author: "Island Beneath the Sea".

From the back cover:
"'Portrait in Sepia' is both a magnificent historical novel set at the end of the nineteenth century in Chile and a marvellous family saga peopled by characters from 'Daughter of Fortune' and 'The House of the Spirits', two of Allende's most celebrated novels.

As a young girl, Aurora del Valle suffered a brutal trauma that has shaped her character and erased from her mind all recollection of the first five years of her life. Raised by her ambitious grandmother, the regal and commanding Paulina del Valle, she grows up in a privileged environment, free of the limitations that circumscribe the lives of women at that time, but tormented by terrible nightmares. When she finds herself alone at the end of an unhappy love affair, she decides to explore the mystery of her past, to discover what it was, exactly, all those years ago, that had such a devastating effect on her young life.


Richly detailed, epic in scope, this engrossing story of the dark power of hidden secrets is intimate in its probing of human character, and thrilling in the way it illuminates the complexity of family ties.
"

Find more reviews of Isabel Allende's books here.

Allende, Isabel “Daughter of Fortune”


Allende, Isabel "Daughter of Fortune" (Spanish: Hija de la Fortuna) - 1999

Even though I loved "The House of the Spirits", I thought this one was even better. It is situated mostly in the United States, especially California, and talks about different cultures getting together at around the time of the gold rush. That's a favourite topic of mine, the first couple of decades of the U.S. where people came together from all over the world with the wish to work as hard as they could and get on with people from other countries ... It sort of reminds me of my own life in different countries in an international environment.

Anyway, this is probably my favourite from the trilogy though I liked them all. The last book is called "Portrait in Sepia". Another great book by the same author: "Island Beneath the Sea".

From the back cover:
"Orphaned at birth, Eliza Sommers is raised in the British colony of Valparaíso, Chile, by the well-intentioned Victorian spinster Miss Rose and her more rigid brother Jeremy. Just as she meets and falls in love with the wildly inappropriate Joaquín Andieta, a lowly clerk who works for Jeremy, gold is discovered in the hills of northern California. By 1849, Chileans of every stripe have fallen prey to feverish dreams of wealth. Joaquín takes off for San Francisco to seek his fortune, and Eliza, pregnant with his child, decides to follow him.

As we follow her spirited heroine on a perilous journey north in the hold of a ship to the rough-and-tumble world of San Francisco and northern California, we enter a world whose newly arrived inhabitants are driven mad by gold fever. A society of single men and prostitutes among whom Eliza moves--with the help of her good friend and savior, the Chinese doctor Tao Chien--California opens the door to a new life of freedom and independence for the young Chilean. Her search for the elusive Joaquín gradually turns into another kind of journey that transforms her over time, and what began as a search for love ends up as the conquest of personal freedom.
"

Find more reviews of Isabel Allende's books here.

Allende, Isabel "The House of the Spirits"

Allende, Isabel "The House of the Spirits" (Spanish: La Casa de los Espíritus) - 1982

Isabel Allende's first novel. I love family sagas, this one extends over four generations, a lot of Chilean history.

I usually have a hard time with magical-realism but this was very good. It's more a part of their culture, almost their religion and I don't mind learning about it. There is a lot of information on the rich and the poor, the problems in South America. I don't know much about this continent and find it fascinating.

I really liked the different characters and how everyone received their place in the story. I enjoyed this book very much.

This is the first book in a trilogy, followed by "Daughter of Fortune" and "Portrait in Sepia". Another great book by the same author: "Island Beneath the Sea".

In 2010 she received Chile's National Literature Prize, and I'm sure more will follow.

From the back cover:
"In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies.

Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future.
The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate."

Find more reviews of Isabel Allende's books here.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Huston, Allegra "Love Child"


Huston, Allegra "Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found" - 2009

Allegra Huston is the daughter of director John Huston's second wife. When her mother dies in an accident, Allegra is only four years old, she gets introduced to her "father" John and is raised by him and various helpers. Her life is torn between the UK, Ireland, the US, Mexico and all her different "relations", her father's new wives, lovers, her siblings from his various relationships. Then, one day she is introduced to her real father.

In her memoir she tries to recreate the mother she has never known and how she managed to become a normal person and live a normal life in between all those celebrities.

Very interesting account of a life few of us would like to lead.

From the back cover:
"When Allegra Huston was four years old, her mother was killed in a car crash. Soon afterward, she was introduced to an intimidating man wreathed in cigar smoke -- the legendary film director John Huston -- with the words, 'This is your father.' So began an extraordinary odyssey: from the magical Huston estate in Ireland to the Long Island suburbs to a hidden paradise in Mexico -- and, at the side of her older sister, Anjelica, into the hilltop retreats of Jack Nicholson, Ryan O'Neal, and Marlon Brando. Allegra's is the penetrating gaze of an outsider never quite sure if she belongs in this rarefied world and of a motherless child trying to make sense of her famous, fragmented family. Then, at the age of twelve, Allegra's precarious sense of self was shattered when she was, once more, introduced to her father -- her real one this time, the British aristocrat and historian John Julius Norwich.

At the heart of '
Love Child' is Allegra's search through the unreliable certainties of memory for the widely adored mother she never knew -- the ghost who shadowed her childhood and left her in a web of awkward and unwelcome truths. With clear-eyed tenderness, Allegra tells of how she forged bonds with both her famous fathers, transforming her mother's difficult legacy into a hard-won blessing. Beautifully written and forensically honest, 'Love Child' is a seductive insight into one of Hollywood's great dynasties and the story of how, in a family that defied convention, one woman found her balance on the shifting sands of conflicting loyalties."

Frandi-Coory, Anne "Whatever Happened to Ishtar?"


Frandi-Coory, Anne "Whatever Happened to Ishtar?: A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations Of Defeated Mothers" - 2010

How much can a person endure, especially a little child? This heart-rendering account of Anne-Frandi Coory's life is a proof that we can live through a lot of hardship and still turn out to be passionate and affectionate people, in this case a wonderful woman and mother of four children even though she was an abandoned and abused child herself.

The author goes back to the history of her Lebanese-Italian family and all the troubles her ancestors went through before reaching New Zealand. All these generations, one tragedy after another, which results in the family Frandi-Coory where nobody had learned to love or take care of children. The story makes us follow the tragic lives of almost every single one of them but it teaches us so much. Despite the hardships and partly terrible stories Anne tells us, this book is still full of love.

See the book featured in my "Photo ABC".

From the back cover:
"A Passionate Quest to Find Answers for Generations of Defeated Mothers. Anne's story is one of lost generations. She was abandoned by her mother at ten months of age, and from then on she lived a life of abuse and gross neglect in the Mercy Orphanage for the Poor, and at the hands of her Lebanese father's extended family. In the Coory family's mind, Anne's greatest shortcoming was her demonised Italian mother, Doreen Frandi, and for this reason she was treated as an imbecile and sexually harassed from childhood to her teens. Added to that, Anne was separated from her two brothers while living in the orphanage according to strict rules of gender segregation when boys turned five. After marrying in her teens and giving birth to four children in quick succession, Anne struggled to come to terms with her tormented past while at the same time making a vain attempt at living a normal life. Eventually Anne's marriage failed and she barely managed to avoid a mental breakdown. Two decades later, Anne embarked on what would be fifteen years of research and travel to find her Italian relatives and in the process tried to make some sense of why so many women in her Lebanese and Italian families became defeated mothers."

I have read her brother's book in the meantime:
Coory, Kasey "Pious Evil. Condemn not my Children. A mother's journey to insanity" - 2014

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Ali, Monica "Brick Lane"


Ali, Monica "Brick Lane" - 2003

This book was suggested ages ago in our book club. It was never chosen but I had it on my wish list ever since. Not a bad decision.

Brick Lane is the name of a street in East London where a lot of Bangladeshi immigrants live. This is the story about Nazneen from a tiny village in Bangladesh who gets married off to an elderly man in London, England. From now on, she leads the life so many women lead, she lives in England but is more or less confined to the walls of her little apartment. She lives a Bengali life in Europe.

I loved the way the author describes the characters, especially Nazneen, the young bride who grows during the novel. Her relationship with her husband, children, neighbours, her sister back in Bangladesh, everything is characterized so well. You can almost feel what Nazneen is feeling, smell the smells, hear the sounds of the city.

An interesting story with so many topics, the main one being "fate" and fighting or giving in to it.

Gripping story, very satisfying read.

Monica Ali was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for "Brick Lane" in 2003.

From the back cover:
"A captivating read from a debut novelist, Brick Lane brings the immigrant milieu of East London to vibrant life. With great poignancy, Ali illuminates a foreign world; her well-developed characters pull readers along on a deeply psychological, almost spiritual journey. Through the eyes of two Bangladeshi sisters - the plain Nazneen and the prettier Hasina - we see the divergent paths of the contemporary descendants of an ancient culture. Hasina elopes to a "love marriage," and young Nazneen, in an arranged marriage, is pledged to a much older man living in London.

Ali's skillful narrative focuses on Nazneen's stifling life with her ineffectual husband, who keeps her imprisoned in a city housing project filled with immigrants in varying degrees of assimilation. But Ali reveals a bittersweet tension between the 'two kinds of love' Nazneen and her sister experience - that which begins full and overflowing, only to slowly dissipate, and another which emerges like a surprise, growing unexpectedly over years of faithful commitment. Both of these loves have their own pitfalls: Hasina's passionate romance crumbles into domestic violence, and Nazneen's marriage never quite reaches a state of wedded bliss.

Though comparisons have drawn between Ali and Zadie Smith, a better comparison might be made between this talented newcomer and the work of Amy Tan, who so deftly portrays the immigrant experience with empathy and joy.
"

Hart, Mark 'The "R' Father"


Hart, Mark "The 'R' Father" - 2010

I read this with my church group. A very good approach to a prayer every Christian knows, the "Our Father" is probably the first prayer you learn. Mark Hart has a special way of describing every single line, sometimes every single word and puts a whole new meaning in this. Good read either for yourself or in a group.

From the back cover:
"How often do we view the Our Father only as a series of petitions rather than as a way to the heart of our heavenly Father? Popular Catholic author Mark Hart says that the prayer Jesus gave us is a reactionary prayerone that calls for a response from us. As he reflects on each of the words and phrases of the Our Father, he emphasizes the intimate relationship that God desires to have with us. Each of the fourteen ways Hart suggests for responding to the Lords Prayer begins with the letter Rfrom remembrance to repentance to reliance to resolve. This book will give readers a new appreciation for this profound yet simple prayer as well as a deeper understanding of the love that our Father pours out on us, his children. Informal and engaging style will appeal to both younger and older Catholics. Makes a thoughtful Confirmation gift."