Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Thomas, Rosie "The Potter's House"


Thomas, Rosie "The Potter's House" - 2001

The story of Olivia, an English woman who lives on a Greek island with her Greek husband and two sons. After an earthquake, a stranger turns up, an Englishwoman like herself. Olivia takes in Kitty who becomes a member of the community but the whole atmosphere changes the more she is integrated.

A weird novel, when I started reading this, I thought it was a chick lit book but it was quite interesting. It starts out weirdly but then it seems to get pretty normal (that's when I thought it was more "easy reading") and then it gets weird again, a little "magic fiction".

From the back cover:
"Olivia Giordiadis has left her English roots behind. She lives on a tiny Greek island, married to a local man, mother to two small sons. Year on year, island life has followed a peaceful unchanging rhythm, until now. An earthquake ravages the coast, its force devastating the island and in the aftermath comes a stranger - an English woman, destitute but for the clothes she wears. Olivia welcomes the stranger into her home but begins to sense that her mysterious visitor could threaten all she holds dear."

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

O'Dell, Scott "Zia"


O'Dell, Scott "Zia" - 1976

A sequel to "Island of the Blue Dolphins". Zia is Karana's niece who wants to find her aunt who ended up on a deserted island. This is not the same as the first novel, mainly because Zia's life is described in the mission and not on the island. However, a good read, a must if you read the first novel.

From the back cover:
"A young Indian girl, caught between the traditional world of her mother and the present world of the mission, is helped by her Aunt Karana, whose story was told in Island of the Blue Dolphins."

O'Dell, Scott "Island of the Blue Dolphins"


O'Dell, Scott "Island of the Blue Dolphins" - 1960

"Scott O'Dell won the Newbery Medal for Island of the Blue Dolphins in 1961, and in 1976 the Children's Literature Association named this riveting story one of the 10 best American children's books of the past 200 years."

The Native American girl Karana ends up on a deserted island where she spends eighteen years alone. The story tells about her life, her struggles to survive.

While I probably wouldn't call this one of the best children's books ever, I really liked this story when I read it as a girl. I read it later on with my boys and still thought it was a wonderful book. I later on read the sequel "Zia" which is interesting to read as a follow-up.

From the back cover:
"Twelve-year-old Karana escapes death at the hands of treacherous hunters, only to find herself totally alone on a harsh desolate island. How she survives in the face of all sorts of dangers makes gripping and inspiring reading. Based on a true story."

Wurtzel, Elizabeth "The Secret of Life"


Wurtzel, Elizabeth "The Secret of Life: Commonsense Advice for Uncommon Women" - 2001

I found this book in the library, it sounded funny. It wasn't. Just the ramblings of a woman who seems to be unhappy with herself and the rest of the world. The kind of woman you wouldn't want to be friends with because all she does is talk about other people. And she always knows better than everyone else. And if you follow her advice, you end up being as miserable as she seems to be. Or maybe I'm just not "uncommon" enough. ;-)

From the back cover:
"Though she might not always follow her own advice, Elizabeth Wurtzel knows certain things to be true: Doing copious amounts of drugs leads nowhere you want to be; trying to be friends with your ex is always a bad idea; if you can’t afford to hire a mover, you can’t afford to move; and always doing the best you can is always good enough.

Here are Wurtzel’s succinct and clever rules for living your best life. Fulfillment is within everyone’s reach. Grasping it takes enjoying your mistakes, being strong, and having opinions. Today’s woman should:

Be Gorgeous. Make the absolute most of what you’ve got. Believe that you are gorgeous, and you will be. It’s the only trick that really works.
Embrace Fanaticism. Harness joie de vivre by pursuing insane interests, consuming passions, and constant sources of gratification that do not depend on the approval of others.
Use All Available Resources. Let the M.D.s and the Ph.D.s help you solve your problems so that you don’t become everyone else’s problem.
Never Clear the Table at a Dinner Party Unless the Men Get Up to Help First. Cleanup should not be gendered. Change the world, one dinner table at a time. Hold a sit-in.

One of the fiercest, funniest, and best-known essayists of her generation, Elizabeth Wurtzel infuses this modest gem of a rule book with a sharp wit and a real candor.
"

Monday, 28 November 2011

Hemingway, Ernest "The Old Man and the Sea"

 
Hemingway, Ernest "The Old Man and the Sea" - 1952

"The Old Man and the Sea", always sounds a little exotic, a little adventurous, a little romantic, I love that title.

An ageing fisherman who hits a stroke of bad luck, doesn't catch anything for ages, goes out to sea and catches the probably largest fish he has ever set eyes on. What follows is his struggle to bring the fish home. Alone. The description of his efforts, of his problems, are just fantastic. A great book, I'm not surprised about the success. Wonderful writing, you can imagine being there with Santiago, the fisherman, in his boat. Although, he'd probably make you work and help him get the fish back home. …

Apparently, this was one of the main reasons, Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. I can understand that. Such beauty!

From the back cover: "The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway's most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal; a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature."

Ernest Hemingway received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 "for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in 'The Old Man and the Sea' and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style" and the Pulitzer Prize for "The Old Man and the Sea" in 1953. 

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, 25 November 2011

Harris, Joanne "Chocolat"


Harris, Joanne "Chocolat" - 1999

I read this book quite a while ago when everyone was raving about it. Actually, it was one of my former book club reads. I liked it all right but couldn't possibly think why everyone was just praising it so much. The story itself was not so absolutely new or interesting, the writing was alright but nothing of the ordinary. As I said, it was alright but that was it.

Then I happened to watch the movie. Don't remember why because usually I wouldn't necessarily watch a movie after I didn't like the book in the first place. But I watched it and I loved it. Probably due to the actors, they were all great. This is the only story I can think of where I liked the move better than the book.

From the back cover:
"Chocolat begins with the arrival in a tiny French village of Vianne Rocher, a single mother with a young daughter, on Shrove Tuesday. As the inhabitants of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes clear away the remains of the carnival which heralds the beginning of Lent, Vianne moves with her daughter into a disused bakery facing the church, where Francis Reynaud, the young and opinionated curé of the parish, watches her arrival with disapproval and suspicion."

I also read "Five Quarters of the Orange", "Coastliners", and "Blackberry Wine".

Read more about her other books here.

Harris, Joanne "Coastliners"


Harris, Joanne "Coastliners" - 2002

If you have read any of the other books by Joanne Harris, you will probably expect recipes. Well, there are none. Although it still is her style, she describes a French village, a woman who returns there after having lived in Paris for ten years and is confronted with her past. So, nothing new there. But the story is very interesting, you can't wait to find out what happened, how everything will turn out.
Nice read.

From the back cover:
"On the tiny Breton island of Le Devin, life has remained almost unchanged for over a hundred years. For generations, two rival communities have fought for control of the island's only beach.

When Mado returns home ot her village after a ten-year absence, she finds it threatened, both by the tides and by a local entrepreneur. Worse, the community is suffering from an incurable loss of hope. Taking up the fight to transform the dying village, Mado must confront past tragedies, including the terrible secret that still haunts her father.
"

I also read "Chocolat" and "Five Quarters of the Orange", and "Blackberry Wine".

Brecht, Bertolt "Life of Galileo"


Brecht, Bertolt "Life of Galileo" (German: Das Leben des Galilei) - 1938

An epic play about the life of Galileo Galilei, his discoveries, his conflicts with the Catholic Church, his conflicts with himself and the rest of the world. Brecht wrote this in exile in Denmark and later translated it into English himself.

I am not a big fan of plays, they should be played rather than red, in my opinion. However, I think this play is a lot more, Brecht doesn't' just write about the conflicts of Galileo, he writes about his own conflicts with his home country, with the evil that was going through it at the time, so it is a very interesting story and a very worthy book to read.

From the back cover:
"Along with Mother Courage, the character of Galileo is one of Brecht's greatest creations, immensely live, human and complex. Unable to resist his appetite for scientific investigation, Galileo's heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. He is scared into publicly abjuring his theories but, despite his self-contempt, goes on working in private, eventually helping to smuggle his writings out of the country.

As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of government or official ideology,
Life of Galileo has few equals.

Written in exile in 1937-9 and first performed in Zurich in 1943, Galileo was first staged in English in 1947 by Joseph Losey in a version jointly prepared by Brecht and Charles Laughton, who played the title role.
"

Truss, Lynne “Talk to the Hand”


Truss, Lynne "Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of Everyday Life (or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door)" - 2005

"'Talk to the hand 'cause the face ain't listening,' the saying goes. When did the world stop wanting to hear? When did society become so thoughtless?"

Even though I nodded to a lot of the points Lynne Truss had on this subject, I often thought "I didn't experience this in England". When we moved to England and I had our second son, I was astonished of the politeness people were showing, even teenagers going out of their way to open a door, for example. However, I can see what she means, people are not as polite any more as they used to be, everywhere. I guess for someone from the continent, people in the UK will always be more polite and for people in the UK they will think the opposite since they are treated more politely because they behave more politely.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book, definitely not as much as "Eats, Shoots & Leaves", but it was fine. And I had a good laugh a lot of times .

From the back cover:
"The best-selling author of 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' is back with a book on the state of modern manners. 'Talk to the Hand' is a colourful call to arms - from the wittiest defender of the civilised world."

Truss, Lynne "Eats, Shoots and Leaves"


Truss, Lynne "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" - 2005

“A panda walked into a cafe. He ordered a sandwich, ate it, then pulled out a gun and shot the waiter. 'Why?' groaned the injured man. The panda shrugged, tossed him a badly punctuated wildlife manual and walked out. And sure enough, when the waiter consulted the book, he found an explanation. 'Panda,' ran the entry for his assailant. 'Large black and white mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.'”

I loved this book. If you live abroad, you will see wrong English signs everywhere. People who assume they speak English well enough will bring out posters etc., I have even seen T-shirts with mispronunciations. The apostrophe is a worldwide problem, they even introduced it into Dutch and German although we usually don't use apostrophes in those languages, at least not in the same way as in English. And yet, you see shop signs like Peter's etc. but - even worse - you see shop signs with apostrophes where it would be wrong in English, as well.

Another of my pet hates is the wrong use of English words in other languages. My favourite example: Did you know the "German" word for "mobile phone"? It's "handy".

I don't think this is a good book for those who do not know the use of the apostrophe, especially if you are an adult. If you haven't learned it by now, you obviously don't bother enough and will never learn it. It's a hilarious book for those people who do know the use of the apostrophe (and other parts of the English grammar that seems to be so difficult to learn for some) and see a mistake right away. It's hilarious. Read it!

Lynne Truss has written another book, "Talk to the Hand".

Monday, 21 November 2011

Powers, Charles T. "In the Memory of the Forest"


Powers, Charles T. "In the Memory of the Forest" - 1997

Someone suggested this for our book club but it was not chosen. Unfortunately. It is a wonderful book.

Charles Powers worked in Poland, therefore he knows what he is talking about. The novel talks about Poland after the Second World War, about the skeletons in the closet, if you wish. A community tries to forget its past, its involvement in the Holocaust. It tells the story of ordinary people trying to survive in an ordinary world.

This novel would interest anyone who likes murder mysteries, war stories, historical fiction, psychological subjects, it is very versatile. The forest also plays a major role, in many different kind of ways.

Charles Powers died in 1996, so, this is the only novel he wrote, sadly.

From the back cover:
"When the body of Tomek, a young distillery worker, is found brutally murdered in the forest outside Jadowia in Poland, his boyhood friend, Leszek, decides to uncover the mystery behind Tomek?s death. Assuming the role of amateur sleuth, Leszek embarks on a clue-finding mission that takes him from country to city, into the grimy offices of once-powerful bureaucrats, and face-to-face with the Catholic Church?s pious and impotent priests. And as Leszek moves closer to the truth, he is confronted with another strange mystery: the disappearance of stones from the foundations of the town?s oldest houses. The further Leszek is drawn into this mystery, the deeper into the past he must search for answers about his people, the grim tragedy of the Holocaust, and ultimately, his own identity. In the Memory of the Forest is a haunting, evocative novel that explores the impact of a murder on a community, and of history and the fate of the Jews in Poland during World War II on a people. "

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Mağden, Perihan "Two Girls"


Mağden, Perihan "Two Girls" (Turkish: İki Genç Kızın Romanı) - 2002

A story of two girls in Istanbul. Behiye prepares to go to university but is an unhappy, depressed teenager. Then she meets Handan, the complete opposite of herself, beautiful and naïve. They come from totally different backgrounds but form a unique bond.

An interesting story about growing up, trying to find a place in the world and all the dangers that this includes, a story interspersed with short stories about the life of boys who get murdered all over the city.

Very interesting book, a new kind of literature that leaves you with more questions at the end than you started out with.

From the back cover:
"It is summer in Istanbul and the body of a young man is discovered in a local lake. The air is oppressive as Behiye prepares to enter one of Turkey?s most prestigious universities. Angry, overweight, embarrassed by her parents and contemptuous of her Nazi older brother ? Behiye longs for some salvation from her teenage despair. In the week before she starts university she is introduced to Handan ? a beautiful, gentle girl who will change Behiye?s life forever. Immediately drawn to one another, the two girls embark upon an intense, exclusive relationship even though they are from completely different backgrounds, with different dreams and ambitions. As their friendship spirals out of control, Behiye realises the impossibility of their being able to cross the cultural divide."

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Dunmore, Helen "The Siege"


Dunmore, Helen "The Siege" - 2002

We are talking about the siege of Leningrad, lasting 872 days from September 1941 to January 1944. A young woman tries to get through this with her ageing father and little brother.

This is probably not going to be our favourite book this year. I love historical novels, so much to learn from, hadn't read anything about this topic, so thought that was going to be interesting. But - this book was kind of superficial. Although we liked the descriptions about Siberia and Helen Dunmore did a good job at describing the atmosphere, we thought the beginning was quite overdone, too many flowery descriptions were probably intended to give this book more depth than it had. Emotion, love or hatred, not a lot of that was shown. We agreed that situations like that show the best and the worst in people.

Then names turned up almost out of the blue and you were supposed to remember a name that was mentioned once a couple of hundred pages ago, there were just too many faceless characters.

We would have liked a little more about the history, not just a short glimpse at the start, another one during the siege when it's really hardest and then one when it is all over. How did they get saved? Not really a lot about that. Also, the book gives the impression that the siege lasted only one winter as opposed to almost three years.

We didn't think we'd be tempted to read another one of her novels, not even the sequel "The Betrayal", even though the characters were described well and also the situation but the whole story was a little too superficial.

From the back cover:

"Leningrad, September 1941. German tanks surround the city, imprisoning those who live there. The besieged people of Leningrad face shells, starvation, and the Russian winter. Interweaving two love affairs in two generations, THE SIEGE draws us deep into the Levin's family struggle to stay alive during this terrible winter. It is a story about war and the wounds it inflicts on people's lives. It is also a lyrical and deeply moving celebration of love, life and survival."

We discussed this in our book club in November 2011.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Denuzière, Maurice "Louisiana"



Denuzière, Maurice "Louisiana. Trilogy" (Louisiane. Trilogie) - 1977

I read this ages ago. But I remember I loved it. The description of the life in Louisiana during the time of river steamboats and plantations was fabulous. I still remember a lot of details and characters.

From the back cover: (translated)
"1830-1864. From the golden age of the Cotton King to the end of the Civil War, from prosperity based on slavery to the ruin of planters and the enfranchisement of blacks.

In May 1830, Virginie Trégan, an orphan of eighteen years, returns, after a long absence, in Louisiana, where she was born. Having become an accomplished Parisian thanks to her aunt, she returns to the country to touch the inheritance of her father. His godfather, the Marquis Adrien de Damvilliers, a wealthy planter and owner of four hundred slaves, will receive him at Bagatelle. It is the plantation manager, Clarence Dandrige, prototype of the Rider of the Old South, who will welcome the girl to New Orleans ...


Louisiane is the first volume of a series of six, which paints a romantic and historical fresco recounting , from 1830 to 1945, the life of a family of planters, French colonists whose ancestors had settled on the banks of the Mississippi since the first half of the 18th century."

#2 - Fausse-Rivière:
This was just as great as the first one. A wonderful second part of a superb story.

From the back cover:
"1865-1892 in Louisiana. The painful period of the Reconstruction, the arrival of the politicians and adventurers of the North, the misery of the freed blacks, the birth of the Ku Klux Klan and the success of some large families of Acadians.

Spring 1865: After the family tragedies and the ruin caused by the Civil War, the lady of Bagatelle and Clarence Dandrige, the faithful steward, prototype of the Cavaliers du Vieux Sud, try to save the great cotton estate, symbol of an aristocratic civilization in perdition. The appearance of sympathetic characters, such as Castel-Brajac, the joyful Gascon, or Liponne the Acadian, even ambitious and engaged in politics, like Charles, bring the hope of a new blood ...
"


The third story in this Louisiana trilogy finishes the great story about the life of the originally French families who settled in the bayous of Louisiana.

From the back cover:
"Her name was Caroline. Her beauty was exceptional, her passions and ambitions unquenchable. Her resolve: to become mistress of the great southern plantation named Bagatelle, located not far from old New Orleans. His name was Clarence Dandridge. He was a bachelor, slender, handsome, a man of probity, the catch of Louisiana. He was also a man with a terrible secret that prevented him from loving and marrying any woman, a man who desired but could not possess the most desirable woman of the antebellum South, Caroline. So begins this international best seller written in the grand tradition of the great romantic southern novels. It is a story filled with danger and death, war and pestilence, a story of an unforgettable heroine, Caroline, and hero, Clarence, and their successful struggle to overcome personal and historical adversity."

Stevenson, Helen "Instructions for Visitors"


Stevenson, Helen "Instructions for Visitors. Life and Love in a French Town" - 2001

Another book about an English woman leaving her country and settling in the South, this time in the South of France. Sounded interesting but was kind of boring. I've read a lot funnier ones (like "A Year in the Merde" by Stephen Clarke) and better ones ("The Olive Farm" by Carol Drinkwater and "Driving over Lemons" by Chris Stewart”).

This was certainly not my favourite. I neither enjoyed the style of writing nor the story (what story?).

From the back cover:
"If you are lucky enough to find your place, you should never actually live in it, never make it your home. And never live with the man you think you cannot live without.

Le Village is a small town at the southwestern-most tip of France. Here a young Englishwoman fell in love with France, the French and one Frenchman in particular.

In her seductive, lyrical and witty memoir Helen Stevenson writes about life in Le Village, not as an expat, but as someone adopted by her neighbours as one of their own. By Stefan, the Maoist tennis fanatic, who lives off his lover in solidarity with the unemployed; by Gigi, the chic Parisian who dresses her ex-lovers' girlfriends from the stock of her exquisite boutique; and by Luc, the crumpled cowboy painter and part-time dentist, who, overcoming an aversion to blondes, takes the Englishwoman up to his remote mas, shows her his paintings and teaches her to ride.

Describing the colour and light of the landscape with lyrical intensity, and savouring the languid and sexy flavour of the Mediterranean lifestyle, Helen Stevenson lays bare a romantic but potentially disastrous love affair with the man 'who seems like the only man alive to me, the one with the halo round his head in a crowd, if I should ever see him in a crowd'.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR VISITORS may start as an objective guide for tenants arriving at her village house, but it ends as a very personal revelation of how difficult it can be to transplant oneself into someone else's country, someone else's culture, someone else's heart."

Thursday, 17 November 2011

McCourt, Frank "'Tis: A Memoir"

McCourt, Frank "'Tis: A Memoir" - 1996

What happens after "Angela's Ashes"? Frank McCourt leaves Ireland and goes back to the States. We all know that he became a teacher and then wrote his book but haven't heard anything from the time in between.

This can be learned in Frank McCourt's second book, just as well written as the first one, also not always a happy time, after all, he is a poor immigrant with no education. And the road to a successful life is strewn with a lot of stones, stumble stones as well as stepping stones. That the author ends up successfully, is due more to some guardian angels as to his own good choice of the right kind of stones. But he is always confident, and I think that made him the man he was in the end.

I liked this book just as much as his first one and his third one "Teacher Man".

From the back cover:
"Frank McCourt continues his life story in the brilliant, bestselling sequel to the million-selling 'Angela's Ashes' .
'
Angela's Ashes' was a publishing phenomenon. Frank McCourt's critically-acclaimed, lyrical memoir of his Limerick childhood won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics' Circle Award, the Royal Society of Literature Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award amongst others, and rapidly became a word-of-mouth bestseller topping all charts worldwide for over two years. It left readers and critics alike eager to hear more about Frank McCourt's incredible, poignant life. ''Tis' is the story of Frank's American journey from impoverished immigrant with rotten teeth, infected eyes and no formal education to brilliant raconteur and schoolteacher. Saved first by a straying priest, then by the Democratic party, then by the United States Army, then by New York University – which admitted him on a trial basis though he had no high school diploma – Frank had the same vulnerable but invincible spirit at nineteen that he had at eight and still has today. And ''Tis' is a tale of survival as vivid, harrowing, and hilarious as Angela's Ashes. Yet again, it is through the power of storytelling that Frank finds a life for himself. 'It is only the best storyteller who can so beguile his readers that he leaves them wanting more when he’s done. McCourt proves himself one of the very best' (Newsweek). 'With ‘'Tis', McCourt blesses his readers with another chapter of his story, but as it closes, they will want still more."

Schmitt, Éric-Emmanuel "Oscar and the Lady in Pink"


Schmitt, Éric-Emmanuel "Oscar and the Lady in Pink" (French: Oscar et la dame rose) - 2002

Same as in "Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran" (Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran) , Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt introduces his readers to a religion through the eyes of a child. This time, he talks about Christianity. Oscar is a ten-year old boy who suffers from cancer. The Lady in Pink is one of the nurses in a pink uniform who visits him every day. She suggests he write letters to God. It is interesting to follow Oscar's thoughts through his illness, perhaps his last days on earth. I read somewhere that this is a story about acceptance. True.

My favourite quote from the book: "My illness is part of me. They shouldn't behave differently because I'm ill. Or can they only love me when I'm well?" Good question, Oscar.

From the back cover:
"Oscar is dying. One of the 'ladies in pink' who come to visit the patients, makes friends with him. She suggests that he should pretend that each of the following 12 days is a decade of his imaginary life. Oscar writes ten letters to God that are sensitive, funny, heartbreaking and, ultimately, life-affirming."

We discussed this in our book club in May 2016.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Miller, Arthur "Death of a Salesman"


Miller, Arthur "Death of a Salesman" - 1949

Plays, next to short stories another form of literature that doesn't belong to my favourites. I rather see them the way they were intended - performed.

Now, "Death of a Salesman", an interesting story, a salesman at the end of his career, what is he going to do, how is he going to support his wife, keep the house, etc. There are grown-up children and the usual problems you encounter in most of these stories, the kids never grow up into normal people with a job.

That is probably what bothered me most about this book, too much was so predictable, there weren't really any surprises. Granted, the style was good but the story seemed tedious. Not my favourite read.

From the back cover:
"Arthur Miller's extraordinary masterpiece, Death of a Salesman changed the course of modern theatre, and has lost none of its power as an examination of American life and consumerism, published in Penguin Modern Classics.

'A man is not an orange. You can't eat the fruit and throw the peel away'

Willy Loman is on his last legs. Failing at his job, dismayed at his the failure of his sons, Biff and Happy, to live up to his expectations, and tortured by his jealousy at the success and happiness of his neighbour Charley and his son Bernard, Willy spirals into a well of regret, reminiscence, and A scathing indictment of the ultimate failure of the American dream, and the empty pursuit of wealth and success, is a harrowing journey. In creating Willy Loman, his destructively insecure anti-hero, Miller defined his aim as being 'to set forth what happens when a man does not have a grip on the forces of life'.
"

Arthur Miller received a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this play in 1949.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Rosner, Elizabeth "The Speed of Light"


Rosner, Elizabeth "The Speed of Light" - 2001

I read this quite a while ago but this is one of those stories that stay with you forever. All three characters are struggling with either their own or their parents' past, with a story they could not change, they were completely innocent in. The author manages to describe their feelings so delicately as if they were her own. That makes the novel even more fascinating. I would love to read more of her works.

However, I have never found anyone who read this book. How sad. I definitely highly recommend it.

"Every family has a story. Every story, eventually, must be told. For most of their lives, Julian Perel and his sister, Paula, lived in a house cast in silence, witnesses to a father struggling with a devastating secret too painful to share. Though their father took his demons to the grave, his past refuses to rest.

As adults, brother and sister struggle to find their voices. A scientist governed by numbers and logic, Julian now lives an ordered life of routine and seclusion. In contrast, Paula has entered the world as eagerly as Julian retracts from it. An aspiring opera singer, she is always moving, buoyant with sound.


Yet both their lives begin to change on a Wednesday, miercoles, the day that sounds like miracles. Before embarking on a European opera tour, Paula asks her housekeeper, Sola, to stay at her place--and to look after Julian in the apartment above. Yet Sola, too, has a story.
" (From the Publisher)

Soueif, Ahdaf "Aisha"


Soueif, Ahdaf "Aisha" - 1983

I usually say I don't like short stories. I really don't. You just get to know the characters and the story ends. I want more, I want to get to know them better, see the story unfold, I just feel cheated at the end. That doesn't mean I don't try it again and again and, just once in a while, I am positively surprised.

Like with this one, since I read "The Map of Love", I really admire this author. She manages to describe the people so vividly and the stories are so interesting, she is just a great writer.

Anyway, "Aisha" isn't really a collection of short stories but the description of Aisha's life and that of people in her life who turn up in the short stories. So, you have something like a "red thread" weaving itself through the pages. I like that.

I also like Ahdaf Soueif's journey between East and West, bringing Orient and Occident together. Well done.

From the back cover:
"The 'Eight Chapters' of Aisha begin with a returning. They form a cycle in which lives converge in London. Cairo, Alexandria and Paris – in which Aisha comes and goes from focus, always to return again.

We meet Aisha on her home coming to Cairo, a scene she had always imagined in detail, now distorted by the souvenirs of her estranged husband. We see her at fifteen in London, a self-styled misfit: with the tartan kilt and manners of a Westernized Egyptian bourgeois intellectual and the soul of a Rocker. We go back further still to the candy and fireworks of Ramadan. Aisha climbing over the back of her holy grandmother who is prostrated in prayer, until she can suppress her laughter no longer.

Through
Aisha we are told of chapters in other lives. Her nurse Zeina, who comes from a family of butchers and claims she 'knows how their minds work', tells the enthralled eight-year-old of the terrifying ritual preparation and 'test' that preceded her wedding night. In another chapter Zeina recalls here fury when her husband took a second wife and the ingenious revenge she devised, sharing a bed with her sensual rival. We meet Aisha's impossibly fussy friend Mimi who rejects a parade of suitors on grounds that their ears, trousers or shoes are unacceptable, until she loses her heart to a genuine scoundrel and learns to be more lenient. There is a story of young Yosri, who finds it impossible to put his mind to a job until he is made apprentice to Aisha's hairdresser at the Salon Romance, and only hopes that the customers cannot detect how passionately he loves to wash their hair.

Coming round full circle to the promise of a retuning, the last of the eight chapters is a tale of saints and demons, in which Aisha is plunged into a miasma of Bacchanalian presences as she vainly tries to appease her ubiquitous 'familiar'.
Aisha is a feast of many different flavours, a fascinating debut by a writer of tremendous talent."

Monday, 14 November 2011

Ondaatje, Michael "Anil's Ghost"


Ondaatje, Michael "Anil's Ghost" - 2000

Civil war in Sri Lanka, human rights issues, a story of ordinary people, love, family, a lot of history in this country.

I love books about history and/or novels from other parts of this world. Anil's Ghost combines the two. The language in this book is wonderful, I could read on like this for ages. Even though the story is not "nice" (given the subject), I really enjoyed reading it, getting to know the characters and finding out more about the history of this country, something not as widely known in this part of the world as some others. I guess, Sri Lanka doesn't look important enough.

From the back cover:
"Anil’s Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of civil war. Into this maelstrom steps Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, who returns to her homeland as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group to discover the source of the organized campaigns of murder engulfing the island. What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity, about the unknown enemy, about the quest to unlock the hidden past–a story propelled by a riveting mystery. Unfolding against the deeply evocative background of Sri Lanka’s landscape and ancient civilization, Anil’s Ghost is a literary spellbinder - Michael Ondaatje’s most powerful novel yet."

Michael Ondaatje also wrote "The English Patient" which I still haven't read.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Lewis, C.S. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"


Lewis, C.S. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (first of the Narnia Chronicles) - 1950

I read this book years ago with my children. Since I am not a big fan of fantasy and even less of stories where a couple of children save the world, I was happy that they read the following ones on their own. Although, I have to say, this book was very good. It almost reminded me of fairy tales that I quite like. They usually show a lot about a people's character, their values and myths.

So, I would definitely recommend this book to children and anyone who likes fantasy stories, should be one of the first books for them to read.

From the back cover:
"Lucy has stumbled upon a marvellous land of fauns and centaurs, nymphs and talking animals. But soon she discovers that it is ruled by the cruel White Witch, and can only be freed by Aslan, the great Lion, and four children…"

Jelinek, Elfriede "The Piano Teacher"


 Jelinek, Elfriede "The Piano Teacher" (Die Klavierspielerin) - 1988

Elfriede Jelinek received the Nobel Prize for her "musical flow of voices .... "Granted, her language is extraordinary, I loved the way she describes thoughts, actions, objects.

This is a novel about a musician, her mother, her love life. The main subject of the novel is definitely the mother-daughter relationship. I only read afterwards that the novel has a very autobiographic background. I try to read as little about the background of a piece as possible, as often they give away the end and the whole joy of reading the book personally. I think this was good in this case.

I could have strangled the mother, for example, how you can imprison a child in your life, unbelievable. I didn't care much for the sexual desires of the piano player, her voyeuristic and masochistic escapades which turned the book into a bad pornographic piece, at least that's what I imagine bad pornographic pieces to be like, don't have a lot of experience with that kind of literature.

I love reading Nobel prize winners' novels, they usually are chosen for a good reason. Most of them, I couldn't wait to read the next piece. Will I want to read another book by Elfriede Jelinek? Probably not.

And don't forget, I read the original, no translator messed up my perception.

From the back cover:
"Erika Kohut teaches piano at the Vienna Conservatory by day. But by night she trawls the porn shows of Vienna while her mother, whom she loves and hates in equal measure, waits up for her.

Into this emotional pressure-cooker bounds music student and ladies' man, Walter Klemmer. With Walter as her student, Erika spirals out of control, consumed by the ecstasy of self-destruction.

First published in 1983,
The Piano Teacher is the masterpiece of Elfriede Jelinek, Austria's most famous writer. Now a feature film directed by Michael Haneke, The Piano Teacher won three major prizes at the Cannes 2001 Festival including best actor for Benoit Magimel and best actress for Isabelle Huppert."

Elfriede Jelinek received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004 "for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power".

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

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Bill Bryson - Funniest Author Ever

Bill Bryson - Funniest Author Ever

What can I say, this is not only one of the funniest guys, he is so full of information on anything, travel, languages, science, history, literature, ... you name it, he knows it. If only every school book was written in such an entertaining manner, kids would certainly learn everything in no time. I have spent many, many happy hours reading anything by him.

I have written a review about most of the books I read (working on the rest), here are the links:

Travel
Europe: "The Palace under the Alps and Over 200 Other Unusual, Unspoiled and Infrequently Visited Spots in 16 European Countries" - 1985
"Notes from a Big Country" (UK) or "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" (US) - 1999

Language
"Bryson's Dictionary for Writers and Editors" – 2008

Science
"A Really Short History of Nearly Everything. Children's version" - 2008
"On the Shoulders of Giants" - 2009 (editor)
"Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery and the Genius of the Royal Society" - 2010 (editor)

Biography

History
Memoir

Why some of his books have to have two different English titles, is beyond me, but that's just the case.

Picture from Goodreads.

Of course, an author like Bill Bryson, also has his own website.

Seierstad, Åsne "The Bookseller of Kabul"


Seierstad, Åsne "The Bookseller of Kabul" - 2003

We have read a lot of books about Afghanistan in the book club, almost any that was suggested would be picked. Why we didn't choose this one, I really don' remember. I can only say, it certainly wasn't the best. That was "The Sewing Circles of Herat" by Christina Lamb, well researched and with a fine understanding of the other culture.

This is something I was missing in this book. Though the author tries to understand them, she doesn't really get into their minds, she lacks the feeling of the Eastern culture because she is a Westerner. It is easy to go to a place like this and say, I am democratic because we have certain democratic rules in our country. No, being democratic also has to be to understand that in other countries these rules do not work the same way.

I don't want to say that this allows people to neglect human rights but there is usually only a fine line between understanding the others and condemning them. I don't think the author got that.

From the back cover:
"In spring 2002, following the fall of the Taliban, Asne Seierstad spent four months living with a bookseller and his family in Kabul.

For more than twenty years Sultan Khan defied the authorities - be they communist or Taliban - to supply books to the people of Kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists, and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street. He even resorted to hiding most of his stock - almost ten thousand books - in attics all over Kabul.

But while Khan is passionate in his love of books and his hatred of censorship, he also has strict views on family life and the role of women. As an outsider, Asne Seierstad found herself in a unique position, able to move freely between the private, restricted sphere of the women - including Khan's two wives - and the freer, more public lives of the men.

It is an experience that Seierstad finds both fascinating and frustrating. As she steps back from the page and allows the Khans to speak for themselves, we learn of proposals and marriages, hope and fear, crime and punishment. The result is a genuinely gripping and moving portrait of a family, and a clear-eyed assessment of a country struggling to free itself from history.
"

Friday, 11 November 2011

Forest, Jim "Confession"


Forest, Jim "Confession. Doorway to Forgiveness" - 2002

I have read a couple of Jim Forest's books in my church group. I have also had the pleasure to meet this wonderful man and interesting writer.

Jim Forest is Orthodox and has written a lot of books on parts of the liturgy that is dear to any Catholic as well.

In this book, he writes about one of our sacraments that is often forgotten nowadays, confession. He gives examples through the bible and other literature, the saints and a lot of related stories, almost like parables. His writing is in such a way that it makes you think, no, reflect on every little part he says, a lot of it stays with you for a long time.

From the back cover:
"Once a defining feature of Christian life, the practice of Confession has largely faded in recent years. And yet, without an acknowledgment of sin and the longing for forgiveness and reconciliation the Gospel makes little sense. In Confession Jim Forest offers a moving reappraisal of this neglected sacrament, drawing on scripture, the lives of the saints, and a wealth of personal stories. From St. Augustine and St. Paul, to Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Dostoevsky, Forest shows how the practice of confession draws us deeper into a loving relationship with God, the body of Christ, and our fellow sinners."

Jim Forest and his wife Nancy have also a very good website about all their works:

If you want to know more about Christianity, this is the guy to read. We also read and discussed "The Road to Emmaus. Pilgrimage as a Way of Life". I also read and loved "Praying with Icons" and "The Ladder of the Beatitudes".

Forest, Jim "The Road to Emmaus"


Forest, Jim "The Road to Emmaus. Pilgrimage as a Way of Life" - 2007

I had the privilege to meet the author after having read the book. It was a great experience. I felt like I knew him already.

The book is a wonderful way to introduce you into another way of thinking about your approach to religion. A great way to get back to your roots and to look at "your way" in the world.

It inspired me in so many ways. How to look at illness, for instance. How to appreciate even the times when everything is not going according to plan. But, mainly, how to find a way in my religion to get further, closer to God.

It doesn't matter what congregation you belong to (although it probably helps if you are a Christian, I'm sure it's interesting for others, too).

This book is also a great one to share with friends. I read it with my Catholic women's group and we all loved to exchange our views on this.

From the back cover:
"Drawing on the wisdom of the saints and his own wide-ranging travels, Forest leads us to a range of 'thin places', including Iona, Jerusalem, the secret annex of Anne Frank, the experience of illness, the practice of hospitality, and other places and occasions where we may find ourselves surprised by grace."

We later read and discussed "Confession. Doorway to Forgiveness". I also read and loved "Praying with Icons" and "The Ladder of the Beatitudes".
.
Jim Forest and his wife Nancy have also a very good website about all their works.

Haushofer, Marlen "The Wall"


Haushofer, Marlen "The Wall" (German: Die Wand) - 1962

I know this is a book I will never forget. One of the few German books that have been translated into English, it truly deserves this. The author died in 1970 at the age of fifty.

The novel is about a woman who wakes up one morning only to find out there is an invisible wall around the house in the mountains where she has spent the night. Her friends have not returned from a visit to the village, so she starts investigating the area left to her. Something terrible must have happened, all life - except hers and her animals - seems to have vanished. The woman describes her hunt for food, her fight for life on scraps of paper.

The author has a great way of describing the life of this isolated woman. Even though we are not in this situation and we don't even get to know why she did, the heroine sends us a message about the meaning of life. A very good read.

From the back cover:
"'I can allow myself to write the truth; all the people for whom I have lied throughout my life are dead…' writes the heroine of Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall, a quite ordinary, unnamed middle-aged woman who awakens to find she is the last living human being. Surmising her solitude is the result of a too successful military experiment, she begins the terrifying work of not only survival, but self-renewal. The Wall is at once a simple and moving talk - of potatoes and beans, of hoping for a calf, of counting matches, of forgetting the taste of sugar and the use of one’s name - and a disturbing meditation on 20th century history."

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Forster, E. M. "A Passage to India"


Forster, E. M. (Edward Morgan) "A Passage to India" - 1924

This novel takes us both to a different time and a different area, India in die 1920s. Of course, the protagonists are British who live in the time of the Indian independence movement but the main character is a young Indian who gets into trouble just through the carelessness of the English. The book talks about friendship, colonialism, the wish of all human beings to be independent.

Since I love classic British literature, I was not surprised to love this one. I love the language E.M. Forster uses, the way he describes both the characters and the scenes, he takes us to a place far far away that seems almost magical but is still very realistic and vulnerable.

Great read.

From the back cover:
"When Adela Quested and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced 'Anglo-Indian' community. Determined to escape the parochial English enclave and explore the 'real India', they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves with Aziz, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects. A masterly portrait of a society in the grip of imperialism, A Passage to India compellingly depicts the fate of individuals caught between the great political and cultural conflicts of the modern world.

In his introduction, Pankaj Mishra outlines Forster's complex engagement with Indian society and culture. This edition reproduces the Abinger text and notes, and also includes four of Forster's essays on India, a chronology and further reading.
"

In the meantime, I also read "Howards End" by the same author.

Adams, Richard "Watership Down"


Adams, Richard "Watership Down" - 1972

When I looked up the year this was published, I could hardly believe it. Almost forty years ago. Seems like yesterday.

I saw this story as a sign how careless we are with Mother Nature, how easily we destroy our home planet, how little we consider our fellow human and animal beings. A very sad story.

Apparently, the author based this tale on his own war experiences. No wonder it is so gloomy, yet real, and - therefore - fantastic. It is full of symbolism, retells stories of old, and thus turns into a timeless philosophical account.

Everybody should read this.

From the back cover:
"Watership Down is one of the most beloved novels of our time. Sandleford Warren is in danger. Hazel's younger brother Fiver is convinced that a great evil is about to befall the land, but no one will listen. And why would they when it is Spring and the grass is fat and succulent? So together Hazel and Fiver and a few other brave rabbits secretly leave behind the safety and strictures of the warren and hop tentatively out into a vast and strange world. Chased by their former friends, hunted by dogs and foxes, avoiding farms and other human threats, but making new friends, Hazel and his fellow rabbits dream of a new life in the emerald embrace of Watership Down."

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Smith, Zadie "On Beauty"


Smith, Zadie "On Beauty" - 2005

After having read and liked "White Teeth". I found this in the library and definitely wanted to read it. A different kind of novel to her first  one, though it also describes a mixed-race family situation.

Again, I quite liked her style, the way she portrays the different characters. Apparently, an homage to E. M. Forster's "Howards End". The fact that she manages to make this into a very modern story shows how timeless a writer she is.

Zadie Smith was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for "On Beauty" in 2005. 

From the back cover:
"Set in New England mainly and London partly, On Beauty concerns a pair of feuding families - the Belseys and the Kippses - and a clutch of doomed affairs. It puts low morals among high ideals and asks some searching questions about what life does to love. For the Belseys and the Kippses, the confusions - both personal and political - of our uncertain age are about to be brought close to home: right to the heart of family."

Smith, Zadie "White Teeth"


Smith, Zadie "White Teeth" - 1999

I read this book a couple of years ago with my Dutch book group. When I picked it up at the book shop, I thought I wouldn't enjoy it, it looked just like one of those "chick" books that are always the same and you know the end before it has even started. The colours just really threw me.

So, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a great book with interesting plots, good descriptions, good language. She even was a "Whitbread" runner up. Since some of our members didn't like this one, they suggested we read the "winner" ("English Passengers" by Matthew Kneale). I remember not liking that one very much.

Anyway, "White Teeth" was good and they made a series out of it. Unfortunately, we had moved away from the UK at the time and I didn't get to see it. Anyone here who did?

From the back cover:
"On New Year's morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon. Archie - working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt - is calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie's car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel.

Epic and intimate, hilarious and poignant,
White Teeth is the story of two North London families - one headed by Archie, the other by Archie's best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal. Pals since they served together in World War II, Archie and Samad are a decidedly unlikely pair. Plodding Archie is typical in every way until he marries Clara, a beautiful, toothless Jamaican woman half his age, and the couple have a daughter named Irie (the Jamaican word for "no problem"). Samad  - devoutly Muslim, hopelessly 'foreign' - weds the feisty and always suspicious Alsana in a prearranged union. They have twin sons named Millat and Magid, one a pot-smoking punk-cum-militant Muslim and the other an insufferable science nerd. The riotous and tortured histories of the Joneses and the Iqbals are fundamentally intertwined, capturing an empire's worth of cultural identity, history, and hope.

Zadie Smith's dazzling first novel plays out its bounding, vibrant course in a Jamaican hair salon in North London, an Indian restaurant in Leicester Square, an Irish poolroom turned immigrant café, a liberal public school, a sleek science institute. A winning debut in every respect,
White Teeth marks the arrival of a wondrously talented writer who takes on the big themes - faith, race, gender, history, and culture - and triumphs."

I also read Zadie Smith's novel "On Beauty".

Monday, 7 November 2011

Dirie, Waris "Desert Flower"


Dirie, Waris "Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad" - 1998

I remember hearing about female genital mutilation but I think this was the first time I read about it in detail. I think I was so shocked, couldn't believe that anyone would do such a thing ton an innocent young girl, the book has never left me. Not what you expect from the autobiography of a famous model.

Of course, Waris' story has sort of a happy end, she was discovered and lived the life of a glamorous model, even appeared in a Bond movie in the meantime. But what if she hadn't been clever enough to escape an arranged marriage and beautiful enough to be a model? We certainly wouldn't have heard about her tragic story, and there are millions of women around who suffer the same destiny.
I have read many books covering this subject since, i.a. "Infidel" and "Nomad" of her her fellow Somalian feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or "Half the Sky" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I admire anyone who fights for women all over the world.

From the back cover:
"Waris Dirie, whose name means desert flower, was born in Somalia of nomadic parents. She underwent extreme female circumcision at the age of five, and when she was 13 her father sold her into marriage with a 60-year-old for five camels, at which time she ran away. She was discovered by a fashion photographer in the United States whilst working as a janitor at McDonald's, and became a model who has been used to promote Revlon skin-care products. She also speaks on women's rights in Africa and travels the world to give lectures on behalf of the UN. This is her autobiography."

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Hamilton, Jane "A Map of the World"


Hamilton, Jane "A Map of the World" - 1994

"Happiness is an Illusion, Pain is Reality" - Alice Goodwin, the main character of this novel, receives this as her fortune cookie when visiting a Chinese restaurant with her husband. She doesn't think this sounds like a reality but is reminded of it shortly afterwards when her life changes so much, nothing will ever be the same again.

This story has so many themes, it is gripping from the first page, gets more and more interesting, you feel for every single person. A very sad story, a tragic story, one about loss and betrayal, death, desperation, parenthood, partnership, marriage, endless, endless topics wrapped into one big story, told in a fascinating way.

From the back cover:
"One unremarkable June morning, Alice Goodwin is, as usual, trying to keep in check both her temper and her tendency to blame herself for her family's shortcomings. When the Goodwins took over the last dairy farm in the small Midwestern town of Prairie Center, they envisioned their home a self-made paradise. But these days, as Alice is all too aware, her elder daughter Emma is prone to inexplicable fits of rage, her husband Howard distrusts her maternal competence, and Prairie Center's tight-knit suburban community shows no signs of warming to 'those hippies who think they can run a farm.'

A loner by nature, Alice is torn between a yearning for solitude coupled with a deep need to be at the center of a perfect family. On this particular day, Emma has started the morning with a violent tantrum, her little sister Claire is eating pennies, and it is Alice's turn to watch her neighbor's two small girls as well as her own. She absentmindedly steals a minute alone that quickly becomes ten: time enough for a devastating accident to occur. Her neighbor's daughter Lizzy drowns in the farm's pond, and Alice - whose own volatility and unmasked directness keep her on the outskirts of acceptance - becomes the perfect scapegoat. At the same time, a seemingly trivial incident from Alice's past resurfaces and takes on gigantic proportions, leading the Goodwins far from Lizzy's death into a maze of guilt and doubt culminating in a harrowing court trial and the family's shattering downfall.
"

I definitely want to read Laura Hamilton's second book "The Book of Ruth", don't know why it took me so long to read this one.