Monday, 25 July 2011

LeBor, Adam “City of Oranges”

LeBor, Adam “City of Oranges. An Intimate History of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa” - 2006


Israel and its history was always of great interest to me, I can't remember how long, I grew up with it. I have visited this very historical and tormented country and therefore couldn't help but read this book. It's great! I had been to Jaffa and therefore could picture a lot of the descriptions in the book. But even if you haven't been there, I'm sure you would enjoy this book. The author describes every different ethnic people living in Israel and has a deep understanding for their problems.

To give you a little flavor from the conversation, here are some of the topics/terms that came up:
•    What's the solution?
•    Hague, Palestine's status in the U.N. and the voting results by nation
•    51st State (USA)
•    U.S. churches that pray for Israel
•    Yasser Arafat
•    People who believe what they want to believe because they are not sure what to believe?
•    Arrogant, defensive attitude (Zionists / some people in Israel)
•    More of a documentary than a book club read, not a fan of the writing
•    Good journalist (Adam LeBor is Jewish), unbiased
•    British and French hands in Israel
•    Demonstrations yesterday
•    Tough read, back and forth of retaliations
•    Guilt and reparations
•    Colonists of Hebron
•    Too many characters, all middle class, would have been better if characters were made more interesting/developed
•    Funds requested from Germany for care of aging Holocaust survivors in Israel
•    Natives in Canada
•    Orthodox Jews, Muslim Brotherhood
•    Intifada
•    Some don't want peace
•    Haves vs. Have-nots
•    Ireland
•    Arabs concede in the book that they have a more comfortable life in Israel than in many Arab nations 

From the back cover: “The ancient city of Jaffa was for centuries the main port of the eastern Mediterranean, a city of traders, merchants, teachers and administrators, home to Muslims, Christians and Jews, while the produce of its orange groves was famed throughout the world. It was in Jaffa that Peter the apostle was said to have raised Dorcas from the dead, and where Richard the Lionheart defeated Saladin. It was here, too, that Napoleon stormed ashore in 1799, while from 1920 the British administered the city under the Mandate. It is in 1920 that City of Oranges begins.

Through the stories of six families - three Arab and three Jewish - City of Oranges illuminates the underlying complexity of modern Israel, telling the story from the Ashkenazi as well as from the very different Sephardic point of view, and from Christian Arab as well as from the Muslim perspective. Through the eyes of these families we understand how the founding of the state of Israel was simultaneously a moment of jubilation for the Jews, and a disaster - the Naqba - for the 100,000 Arabs who fled Jaffa in 1948, most of them never to return.


Adam LeBor goes beyond the daily news and political rhetoric to break down the media stereotypes and recount a moving story through the prism of Jaffa and its inhabitants. From the Christian Arab car-dealer, the Jewish coffee-and-spice merchant, the Arab baker who made bread for the whole community and the Palestinian exile who tried to bring modern business methods to the Arafat era, to the Jewish schoolgirl who befriended an Arab drug dealer, we see people striving to make a life in a country born of conflict.”
(You will find more information on Adam LeBor's homepage.)

We discussed this in our book club in January 2013.

Another interesting book on this subject:
Tolan, Sandy “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East” 

Brown, Dan “The Da Vinci Code”

Brown, Dan “The Da Vinci Code” - 2003

I read this book because a couple of friends from church were reading it. Not my type of book. I'm not into crime or mystery. And that's what this is all about, no matter how many allusions are made about the Catholic church. But I think even if I would enjoy this kind of writing, his style isn't very appealing and his clues are rather too easily found by his characters. What a waste of time. Needless to say, this was my first and will be my last Dan Brown book.

Apparently, the author is at the top of the Oxfam chart for most donated books which says it all, I think.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Shalev, Zeruya "Husband and Wife"

Shalev, Zeruya (Tseruyah) "Husband and Wife" (‏בעל ואישה‎) - 2000

Na'ama is married to Udi whom she knew since childhood. One morning, the husband wakes up not able to move his legs. Doctors don't find anything wrong with him. But the problem is not physical, further in the book you realize that it's the marriage that is sick. The author has a wonderful way of describing the couple's different ways of trying to deal with this. There is hardly any conversation in this novel, so quite a different read. A lot of thoughts and reflections. I love how there is no finger pointing, no right or wrong in this complicated ailing relationship.

An interesting book.

't Hart, Maarten „The Sundial“

't Hart, Maarten „The Sundial“ (De zonnewijzer) - 2002

From time to time, I read a Dutch book by a prominent author. Seldom was I as bored as with this one. A woman dies of hyperthermia, has no relatives, her best friend doesn't believe that she could just die and tries to find the real reason. Not only is the writing style boring but the amount of stuff this author comes up with in order to try to write an exciting crime story, well, it doesn't work that way. I don't think I'm going to attempt another book of this writer, even though he seems to be quite well liked in the Netherlands.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Bryson, Bill "Troublesome Words"

Bryson, Bill "Troublesome Words" - 1997

Somewhere I read that this book was an amalgam of reference and humour. I can't think of any other author who fits this description better than Bill Bryson. Let's just look at “Troublesome Words”. A great reference book for any questions you might have about the English language, even if it is your mother tongue.

This book is almost a dictionary that gives you so much to look at - on any questions you might have about written English. Bill Bryson is well-known as a travel book author but he is just as great with his language books. He quotes both British and American newspapers - as an American lived in Britain and married to a Brit, he is certainly an expert on the differences between those two “languages”. You can also find a glossary on grammar and punctuation. But, even if you're not interested in that part, this book is worth reading in any case, it's hilarious.

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

Bryson, Bill "Neither here nor there. Travels in Europe"

Bryson, Bill "Neither here nor there. Travels in Europe" - 1991

After having read a few books by this great authors about other parts of this world, I just had to see what he had to say about the part of this world that I know best, Europe. He visits Norway, France, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Turkey, so quite a few countries to give you an overall view about this continent. If you know Europe, it's an interesting tour to take with an outsider, if you don't know Europe, you can discover it with this book.

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

Bryson, Bill "Made in America"

Bryson, Bill "Made in America: an Informal History of the English Language in the United States" - 1998

I love Bill Bryson, simply love him. His travel books are hilarious and informative. But he hasn't just written travel books. He has also written books about other subjects, e.g. the English language. After explaining in “Mother Tongue” how the English language got the way it is, he informs us here about the difference between the British English and the American English and how it got the way it is. Again, in his own unique and funny way but with a lot of information.

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

Bryson, Bill "Mother Tongue"

Bryson, Bill "Mother Tongue" - 1990

I like Bill Bryson's travel books. He has also written a few about language and they are just as good and funny. Having learned English as a foreign language myself, I found a lot of information, though I am sure anybody with English as a mother tongue might find it even more interesting. Having lived in England as an American, the author has a lot of experience with the variety of his language. The subtitle of this book is “English and how it got that way”. Bill Bryson introduces the origins of the language as well as the history of its growing into a language internationally known and used. He explains the very complex and difficult etymology, the dialects and all the quirks any foreigner loves to hate: the spelling and grammar. But he also introduces everyday language, including swearwords. If you want to know more than just the irregular verbs ... read this book.

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

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Smiley, Jane "The All-true Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton"

Smiley, Jane "The All-true Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton" - 1998

"Jane Smiley, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of  'A Thousand Acres', returns with a novel that explores one of the crucial moments in American history and culture, the conflict between abolitionists and proslavery settlers over the future of the Kansas Territory in 1855-'56. Smiley's narrative goes far beyond any simple historical novelization or any didactic examination of the slavery question; 'The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton' presents a multifaceted picture of the developing American character, as shaped not only by such explosive issues as slavery but also by the difficulties of the frontier and the day-to-day relationships between men and women."

After having read "A Thousand Acres", I just had to read another of her novels. This one is about a completely different subject and was just as good as her prize-winning one. I loved the main character, everything she goes through is told so explicitly, with so much feeling. If you like American history, you'll be intrigued. If you haven't been interested until now, this book might start you. Give it a try!

Smiley, Jane "A Thousand Acres"

Smiley, Jane "A Thousand Acres" - 1991

"A successful Iowa farmer decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is cut out of his will. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions. An ambitious reimagining of Shakespeare's 'King Lear' cast upon a typical American community in the late twentieth century, 'A Thousand Acres' takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride, and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity."

King Lear in Iowa. A very interesting novel about a family and their troubles. Even though we don't all live on a huge farm, we can picture this family and their problems. This book covers almost every subject and is gripping from the first to the last page. Amazing writing style. One of my all-time favourites.

I also read "The All-true Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton" which I really loved, as well.

Jane Smiley received the Pulitzer Prize for "A Thousand Acres" in 1992.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Walker, Alice "The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart"

Walker, Alice "The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart" - 2000

Who hasn't read Alice Walker's most famous Novel "The Color Purple". This is more a collection of short stories based on her life. A truly heart-rendering book, an eye opener, especially the story about her mixed-race marriage in the Southern US  in the sixties, intriguing. Alice Walker is a fantastic author and I am looking forward to reading more of her books.

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

Paton, Alan “Cry, The Beloved Country”

Paton, Alan “Cry, The Beloved Country” - 1948

Alan Paton was a South African author and anti-apartheid activist. His novel tells a tale of people having to live in a society that reeks of injustice that would later lead to apartheid. You cannot help but feel sorry for all the characters in the story, no matter what they do, how much they try, they don't get any further.

A dramatic read, a fantastic read. History, yes, but if you look around, these kind of problems still exist everywhere.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Pamuk, Orhan "The Black Book"

 

Pamuk, Orhan "The Black Book" (Kara Kitap) - 1990 

A man is looking for his wife who disappeared. He is roaming the streets of Istanbul in order to look back at their past. He mainly relies on the help of two columnists. That is about the plot of this story. But there is so much behind it, so many "meetings", present meets past, East meets West, religion meets secularism.

Orhan Pamuk manages to describe his home town in such a way that you really want to visit it (again), he makes it so interesting, the changing of people and cultures. This book is not just one novel, it's many short stories intertwined with each other, different people telling the story, part of it written by the two columnists so that you have different voices throughout the novel.

As with his other books, I really enjoyed the book of this outstanding author.

Further fantastic readings: "My Name is Red" and "Istanbul - Memories of a City"

Orhan Pamuk "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006.
Orhan Pamuk received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 2005.

Pamuk, Orhan "My Name is Red"

 

Pamuk, Orhan "My Name is Red" (Benim Adim Kirmizi) - 1998

Every year, when the new Nobel prize winners are announced, I wait eagerly for literature recipient. Seldom have I been disappointed with their books. This year was no exception, on the contrary.

Orhan Pamuk is one of those rare authors who seem to have reinvented the art of writing. His style is quite unique. Even though he settles his story in the 13th century, it applies to actual problems and facts in a way nobody else seems to be able to do. I have since read quite a few of his books, he is absolutely fabulous.

The narrator of the novel changes in every chapter which gives you an insight into the whole story that is beyond comparison. You don't just get the view of quite a few of the characters (including the person who gets murdered right at the beginning of the story) but also of animals and the painting around which the story revolves. This novel doesn't just give you an insight into Islam and art, a tour around Istanbul and life 700 years ago, it is an expression of the quest for the meaning of life.

A wonderful author. One of my favourites.

And here is a brief compilation of our discussion in the book club (years after I read this for the first time). There are a couple of small spoilers in there, so if you haven't read the book, you might not want to read this.

There were a lot of topics, not such an easy read. Many characters, lots of unexpected situations and philosophies. It was not just a murder mystery, there are so many layers. Someone found the book too large. We liked the chronology in the back of the book, unfortunately, it wasn't in all the different editions.

The book didn't grip you right away, only after about 100 pages does it get really interesting. Great writing. No doubt. The author obviously likes to shock his readers. Some couldn't put it down after a while, others still didn't finish it.

His language is quite florid, like Persian that was at its peak at that time, then the arts fell out of favour.
The author uses imagery very well, very colourful writing. He compares the art of the Eastern and Western world, the different way of painting, the religion and culture. Miniaturist Painting was prevalent though that region and time. Art, science, philosophy, concept of making everything realistic is going out of fashion, everything is more abstract now, see the pointillism. Orhan Pamuk wanted to be an artist, he educates us about art history. We enjoyed learning about the art part, depending on who was speaking, seeing how dedicated they were. The descriptions of Istanbul were very good, those of us who had been there enjoyed it especially. We would like to read something else about that time period.

His look at the world is fascinating.

We also had a talk about different cultures and how much they should assimilate when in a foreign country. We agreed that nobody should give up their own culture (but definitely abide by the law of the host country) but try to bring them together, social media is a good help.

We had a discussion about why they always use beautiful young boys or men for their pleasure.
We also wondered why Osman pierced his eyes.

Most of us were surprised who the murderer was.

From the back cover: "In the late 1590s, the Sultan secretly commissions a great book: a celebration of his life and his empire, to be illuminated by the best artists of the day - in the European manner. At a time of violent fundamentalism, however, this is a dangerous proposition. Even the illustrious circle of artists are not allowed to know for whom they are working. But when one of the miniaturists is murdered, their Master has to seek outside help. Did the dead painter fall victim to professional rivalry, romantic jealousy or religious terror?
With the Sultan demanding an answer within three days, perhaps the clue lies somewhere in the half-finished pictures . . . Orhan Pamuk is one of the world's leading contemporary novelists and in My Name is Red, he fashioned an unforgettable tale of suspense, and an artful meditation on love and deception.
"

We discussed this in our book club in February 2013.

I also really enjoyed "The Black Book" and "Istanbul - Memories of a City"

Orhan Pamuk "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006.
Orhan Pamuk received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 2005.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Schmitt, Éric-Emmanuel “Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran”

Schmitt, Éric-Emmanuel “Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran” (Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran) - 1999

What a wonderful story. A young Jewish boy in Paris meets a Muslim grocery store owner. The two of them enter a father-son like relationships. A simple story, quite an easy read, as well. And yet, there is so much to this. Wonderful language, a lot of wisdom from both the religions. Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt manages to put that all together and create a very compassionate story.

I read this book in the French original but I've heard the translation is quite good, too.

I later read "Oscar and the Lady in Pink" (Oscar et la dame rose) and liked this just as much.

Orwell, George "Animal Farm"

Orwell, George "Animal Farm" - 1945

"All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." I think this must be one of the most popular quotes ever. And the most truthful.

Everyone knows "Animal Farm", if you haven't read it, then you have heard about it, if not, a very quick recap: The animals on Manor Farm start a revolution and chase the farmer away and take control. They start very democratic and socialistic but in the end the pigs get more and more like the humans and exploit the other animals.

Orwell was against Stalin and his policies, so this is a very political book, disguised as a fairy story. What can I say? I love it!!!

I also recommend “Nineteen Eighty Four”.

Dahl, Roald “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

Dahl, Roald “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” - 1964

I didn't grow up with Roald Dahl, I only "met" him as an adult, first I read his crime stories. I didn't even know he was a children's author for the longest time. Then I moved to England where we settled in “Dahl County” and I then read his books with my children.

This story is, as can be guessed according to the title , about a little boy Charly who wins a tour through the fabulous factory of Willy Wonka where they make Wonka's Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgermallow Delights. The story is full of fantastic names, there are characters called Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop, quite imaginative. The language makes this book readable both to children and adults alike.

From the back cover: "'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' is a much-loved story by Roald Dahl, full of snozzberries, rainbow drops, luminous lollies and hair toffee!

Charlie Bucket loves chocolate. And Mr Willy Wonka, the most wondrous inventor in the world, is opening the gates of his amazing chocolate factory to five lucky children. It's the prize of a lifetime! Gobstoppers, wriggle sweets and a river of melted chocolate delight await - Charlie needs just one Golden Ticket and these delicious treats could all be his.
"

If you are interested in his adult books, check out my post for "The Best of Roald Dahl".

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Gladwell, Malcolm “The Tipping Point"

Gladwell, Malcolm “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”  - 2000

Why do some products sell better than others, why was “Sesame Street” such a success, why does certain behaviour spread like an epidemic?

Malcolm Gladwell knows it all, he introduces various concepts, all of them able to get a product, an idea, anything to the “tipping point” from which there is no return.

A review by George Stephanopolous said “A book for anyone who cares about how society works and how we can make it better”. I couldn't agree more. This book belongs to those that really can change your life.

Cooper O'Boyle, Donna-Marie “The Domestic Church"

Cooper O'Boyle, Donna-Marie “The Domestic Church: Room by Room” - 2008

Another church read. A study guide for mothers. The title goes back to the writings of Pope John Paul II who compared the home to a little domestic church. The author here tries to go through the home, one room after the other, and offers reflections and thoughts on the different topics of family life and education of children. Sounded very exciting.
This is probably a good introduction if you haven't done any religious reading and would like some ideas but we were not really that enthusiastic about it. We had mothers of children of all ages and a lot of the advice given was not very practicable, we didn't always agree with the author, no, we often didn't agree with the author. We especially didn't like the way she portrayed the work of a mother as sacrifice, almost like a saint. All of us raise our children differently, in different countries, different kind of schools but nobody could even remotely think about this the same way the author does.

This is one of the more disappointing books we approached.

Runcie, James “The Discovery of Chocolate”

Runcie, James “The Discovery of Chocolate” - 2001

Somebody in our book club mentioned this book at least a decade ago. I had it on my TBR pile for ages. The only excuse I can give for not reading this earlier is that it somehow got pushed to the back.

This book is considered a fable and there are parts of the story that could certainly not happen in real life. But that is completely irrelevant in this story which should be called “The History of Chocolate and why we still indulge in it after so many years”. Yumm.

The novel starts with a young Spaniard in the 16th century going to the New World and getting in touch with the wonders of chocolate. And of love. It takes us around the world together with the discoveries made throughout the centuries, including how my favourite cake, the Sachertorte, came to life.

An easy read with a lot of wonderful information decorated with a great love story. I really liked it.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Naipaul, V.S. “A House for Mr. Biswas”

Naipaul, V.S. “A House for Mr. Biswas” - 1961

"'A House for Mr. Biswas' portrays through a series of homes he had and fairly brief life of a poor Indian journalist turned civil servant in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in the years before and after World War II.”

I love V.S. Naipaul. He is a wonderful writer. Not only does he tell us about a life we would never be able to look into, but he does it in such an excellent way.

A man has a dream and he works for it. Not always easy. A lot of struggles. The more he tries to achieve his goals, the further away he seems to get.

A story about disappointments in life and shattered dreams, written in an exquisite way. I loved this book.
Apparently an novel with a large autobiographical background. The main character, Mr. Biswas who is based on the author's own father, is not a very likeable character, he is conceited, thinks very highly of himself and not a lot of others. Yet, with of V.S. Naipaul's wonderful use of language, the story is as beautiful as if he was talking about a beautiful and lovely princess. And even though the protagonist is not sympathetic, we can only feel sorry for those born into a certain life who have to follow the path described to them long before they were even here on earth. It does make you wonder, though, how good the relationship between V.S. Naipaul and his father was.

When following Mr. Biswas, we get an insight into the colonialism and the struggle of the natives to get out of it. We also live with the family and can get to know their day-to-day life and how a huge amount of people try to get on with each other in a crowded space.

A very complex story with a lot of subplots and minor characters that add to the fullness of this tale. It will become a true classic.

From the back cover: "The early masterpiece of V. S. Naipaul’s brilliant career, 'A House for Mr. Biswas' is an unforgettable story inspired by Naipaul's father that has been hailed as one of the twentieth century's finest novels.
In his forty-six short years, Mr. Mohun Biswas has been fighting against destiny to achieve some semblance of independence, only to face a lifetime of calamity. Shuttled from one residence to another after the drowning death of his father, for which he is inadvertently responsible, Mr. Biswas yearns for a place he can call home. But when he marries into the domineering Tulsi family on whom he indignantly becomes dependent, Mr. Biswas embarks on an arduous–and endless–struggle to weaken their hold over him and purchase a house of his own. A heartrending, dark comedy of manners, 'A House for Mr. Biswas' masterfully evokes a man’s quest for autonomy against an emblematic post-colonial canvas.
"

I have also read “Half a Life” and "A Bend in the River" which I liked just as well.

V.S. Naipaul received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001 "for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories".

Naipaul, V.S. “Half A Life”

Naipaul, V.S. “Half A Life” - 2001

After reading “A House for Mr. Biswas”, I just had to read more by this wonderful writer. This novel takes place in a lot of different parts of this world, India, Africa, Europe.

A privileged son leaves his home and goes abroad to live a poor life. An interesting take on life in different settings. A lot of information about post-independence India, Africa and Europe during that time, a comparison, a view about completely different cultures and lifestyles. Brilliant read, often called the author's best novel.

Apparently, there is a sequel called “Magic Seeds” which I still have to read. I did read "A Bend in the River" in the meantime and really loved it, as well.

V.S. Naipaul received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001 "for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories".

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Mitchell, Margaret "Gone With the Wind"

Mitchell, Margaret "Gone With the Wind" - 1936

I have read this book ages ago - at around the same time I watched it in the cinema for the first time. I love this story, book or movie, both are great. I must have watched this movie at least a dozen times in the cinema (in the pre-video-time). It was also the first movie I ever watched in English. I have always wanted to re-read the book, maybe now would be the time.

* * *

I reread this book recently and must say, I enjoyed it as much as I did as a teenager, even though my views on certain parts have changed. That might be because in my youth certain values from the Deep South were still around in smaller villages. I have left that sort of life but I am almost sure that they have changed, as well.

I did enjoy reading about the "life" of a war, the anticipation, how everyone wants this to happen for some reason or another, how they plunged into the fights and how they returned defeated and hopeless. This is what war does to any people. Rhett Butler says on page 227 of my edition: "If the people who started wars didn't make them sacred, who would be foolish enough to fight? But, no matter what rallying cries the orators give to the idiots who fight, no matter what noble purposes they assign to wars, there is never but one reason for a war. And that is money. All wars are in reality money squabbles. But so few people ever realize it."

I admire Rhett more today than I did years ago. The way he put up with Scarlett and her moods. But I also understand Scarlett better and I can see the attraction between the two.

Another very important part of the book is the love of the land. On page 389, when Scarlett returns home from Atlanta, she wonders "... Was Tara still standing? Or was Tara also gone with the wind which had swept through Georgia?" I am not surprised this was the sentence they used as the title of the book.
And then the determination, the will Scarlett showed where most people feel this is the end.

"As God is my witness, as God is my witness, the Yankees aren't going to lick me. I'm going to live through this, and when it's over I'm never going to be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to steal or kill - as God is my witness, I'm never going to be hungry again." (Page 419)

This is even more powerful than the always (falsely) quoted last sentence of the movie: "My dear, I don't give a damn.". The correct ending of both the movie and the book is, of course "After all, tomorrow is another day." Scarlett lives by this philosophy but it's not always to her advantage.

I have not read and refuse to read the follow-up "Scarlett" by Alexandra Ripley. I believe the story should have been written by Margaret Mitchell or not at all (after all, she invented the characters). I don't like to read sequels not written by the original author. I might, however, consider reading "Rhett Butler's People" by Donald McCaig because I wouldn't mind reading what Rhett Butler's family is going through at the same time as "Gone with the Wind" is taking place.

Margaret Mitchell received the Pulitzer Prize for "Gone With the Wind" in 1937.

From the back cover: "Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Civil War, Margaret Mitchell's magnificent historical epic is an unforgettable tale of love and loss, of a nation mortally divided and a people forever changed. Above all, it is the story of beautiful, ruthless Scarlett O'Hara and the dashing soldier of fortune, Rhett Butler. "

Seth, Vikram “A Suitable Boy”

Seth, Vikram “A Suitable Boy” - 1993

This novel is one of the largest I ever read. It has about 1,500 pages. The story is settled in India in the fifties though the book was published in 1993 as an "epic about life in India". I've read quite a few Indian novels by now but this is by far the most positive one even though it also seems to be a good recollection of Indian life and politics.

Although the main focus is on the family that is looking for "a suitable boy" (to marry) for one of their daughters, the novel centres on four families with different backgrounds, both Hindus and Muslims.

Apparently, it took the author about a decade to write it. And it was worth it. The story unfolds very nicely, you notice that the time was taken to describe the life of the characters. After this publication, Vikram Seth has been compared with Tolstoy, Dickens and Eliot.

This is really a great book and worth reading all those pages.

From the back cover: "Vikram Seth's novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find -- through love or through exacting maternal appraisal -- a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence."

I also liked “An Equal Music” by the same author although it is quite a different novel.
I also read "Two Lives", a biography about the author's great-uncle and aunt. A wonderful book.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Seth, Vikram “An Equal Music”

Seth, Vikram “An Equal Music” - 1999

As I had really liked “A Suitable Boy”, I wanted to read this book by the same author. The subject is completely different to his other novel. This one tells us the story of a violonist and his problems with love, his job, his parents, but mainly love.

You cannot compare this book at all to his former novel, but it was very good, as well. I don't know much about the life of a musician, you certainly don't hear much about those performing in chamber music quartets but it was very interesting to follow even that part.

From the back cover: "The author of the international bestseller A Suitable Boy returns with a powerful and deeply romantic tale of two gifted musicians.  Michael Holme is a violinist, a member of the successful Maggiore Quartet.  He has long been haunted, though, by memories of the pianist he loved and left ten years earlier, Julia McNicholl.  Now Julia, married and the mother of a small child, unexpectedly reenters his life and the romance flares up once more.
Against the magical backdrop of Venice and Vienna, the two lovers confront the truth about themselves and their love, about the music that both unites and divides them, and about a devastating secret that Julia must finally reveal.  With poetic, evocative writing and a brilliant portrait of the international music scene, An Equal Music confirms Vikram Seth as one of the world's finest and most enticing writers."

If you have read ”A Suitable Boy”, put your expectations aside and don't compare it. Then it is a very good novel.

I also read "Two Lives", a biography about the author's great-uncle and aunt. A wonderful book.

Cleave, Chris “The Other Hand”

Cleave, Chris “The Other Hand” (US: “Little Bee”) - 2008

This is the description you find on the cover: “We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this:
It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific.

The story starts there, but the book doesn't.
And it's what happens afterwards that is most important.
Once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.” Almost as informative as the reviews by famous newspapers telling you how great the book is but absolutely nothing about it.

Well, I couldn't find more magic in this book as it was unfolding as in other books. On the contrary, with an introduction like this, you almost feel cheated when you notice it's a just a good read. It's interesting but that's all.

And why this novel has to have two different English titles is beyond me (I do prefer the original UK one.)

Monday, 4 July 2011

Petterson, Per “Out Stealing Horses”

Petterson, Per “Out Stealing Horses” (Ut og stjæle hester) - 2003

“A moving tale about feelings of isolation and of the painful loss of innocence and of traditional ways of life gone for ever.”

Interesting story. A man reflects on his life. The novel starts in Norway's forests and it ends there. But it could have been anywhere. After his wife dies, a man goes back to a place he spent a summer in his youth. He is coming to terms with so many events in his life. Death, divorce, tragedies, growing up, growing old.

Like so many other Scandinavian writers, this book is moving slowly but in no way a tedious read. It is one that you want to go back to, that will stay with you for a long time. I am looking forward to more books of this author.

Oz, Amos “A Tale of Love and Darkness”

Oz, Amos “A Tale of Love and Darkness” (סיפור על אהבה וחושך, Sipur) - 2002

Amos Oz, an Israeli writer and journalist, born 1939 in Jerusalem, grew up in the early days of the new state in a very academic family from Lithuania, one of the many families who had to flee Europe at the eve of the most terrible war ever.

In this book, he doesn't just tell us about the early days of the new Jewish state and how he grew up, he also reminisces on the past of Jewish culture, literature, language and, more importantly, on his mother's depression and suicide. He has an amazing, very sensitive way to explain not just his own troubles as a child and young man which eventually leads him to a kibbutz where he spends more than thirty years of his life but also the struggles all the adults going through in that time, a lot of them not finding employment in their specialist areas, all of them losing their lives as they knew it.

This is not just the story of a young man and his family, it's a saga about the whole Jewish people from Europe to Israel. Despite all the troubles they went through, this is a very loving story told with much emotion about some very moving subjects.

Amos Oz received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 1992.

Curtis Higgs, Liz „Bad Girls of the Bible“

Curtis Higgs, Liz „Bad Girls of the Bible“ - 1999

One of our church reads. An interesting concept, putting the bible stories into a contemporary context. Some of the stories are really exciting, especially the well-known “girls”. Others were not so gripping. But I must say, I'm not a big fan of short stories anyway.

However, the different stories gave us a lot to talk about and a lot to reflect on.

My favourite was Lot's wife. Good approach.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Borchert, Wolfgang “Complete works"

Borchert, Wolfgang “Das Gesamtwerk” (complete works) - 1945/47

When Wolfgang Borchert died in 1947 at the age of 26, he had seen it all. He had been forced into the Hitler Youth (like so many others), then “released” from it, arrested, went to war in Russia, was imprisoned, there wasn't anything he hadn't seen or done.

He fled and came back home to post-war Hamburg where he started to write plays and short stories. His health was severely damaged and even though he was sent to Switzerland to recuperate, he died in a sanatorium there.

His work is one of the most important in the so called “Rubble literature” (Trümmerliteratur) of post-war Germany. One can only imagine what he would have been able to create, had he been allowed to live longer. His most important and best known piece is “Draußen vor der Tür” (The Man Outside).

I had to read Borchert in school, it is still a must in the German curriculum. Even though I am not a big fan of short stories, I love his work. Borchert is one of my favourite authors. I reread all his works a while ago and love them still as much as when I was a teenager. Among my favourite stories are “An diesem Dienstag” (On this Tuesday), “Nachts schlafen die Ratten doch” (The rats do sleep nights) and “Das Brot “The Bread).

Hosseini, Khaled “A Thousand Splendid Suns”

Hosseini, Khaled “A Thousand Splendid Suns” - 2007

I'm not sure whether I would have picked up this book if it hadn't been a book club read. We read “The Kite Runner” in October 2007, the year, this book was published. We had read quite a few Afghanistan books previously and I was probably just expecting something else.

Anyway, I'm glad this novel was chosen for our reading list this year. Because I really enjoyed the book. And it is always fantastic getting together with so many lovely girls discussing the most interesting subjects.

This is only one of many Afghanistan books this group has read over the years. Such an important subject. We had a lot of positive comments to this novel. Good story, gripping, difficult to put down, drew you into this subject, spirit of the human heart, how people can find pleasure and joy. Someone said the book is haunting, couldn't agree more. But not just in a negative way. It also gives you hope, hope that people still go on after everything they go through and still want to work toward a better life for everyone.

This book touches a lot of subjects, of which we were only able to discusss a few, I think one could make this an all-week feature:
·    Abuse to women and children. If you give someone power, they will use it. If abuse is not punished, people will abuse others.
·    Importance of education, not just for women and children/girls, also for men
·    Child marriages
·    Tribes
·    Mother-daughter-relationship, sisterhood, amazing how a man can write this
·    Religion

Certainly a worthwhile read, even if you didn't enjoy Kaleid Hosseini's first book.

We discussed this in our book club in June 2011.

His latest book is the best one: "And the Mountains Echoed".

Fitzgerald, F. (Francis) Scott “The Great Gatsby”

Fitzgerald, F. (Francis) Scott “The Great Gatsby” - 1925

I quite liked this book, the presentation of the characters and their troubles with society. There was a lot said about that and I often thought, great that we don't have those problems any more. But do we? I think this book is a great foundation for a discussion about the changing in society.

It totally deserves being called a “classic”.

I also read and loved "Tender is the Night".