Sunday, 26 February 2012

Şafak, Elif „The Forty Rules of Love"

Şafak, Elif „The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi“ - 2001

We had a great discussion, not just because we all read the book but also because we had two members who could explain to us all the questions we had. Wonderful.

There are really two novels in this book. Ella, an American woman receives a script to be edited. It is about Rumi, a Muslim poet who lived in the 13th century. His poems are world famous.

We thought the story of Rumi was really fantastic, he teaches fate and love. The book made some of us both peaceful and tearful. We liked that it went through different stages, going from the present to the past, that it had many characters. We also liked that the author uses different narrators so you can see the events from different perspectives (always a favourite of mine). We have a chance to develop empathy.

We asked ourselves whether there was a political message. Can fiction be political? What does she want to tell us with this story?

There is something special to the original language of the book. Elif Şafak wrote it in English first, then translated it into Turkish and retranslated and rewrote it in English. It is a bestseller in Turkey, people like her, she is nice. Elif Şafak is a world person, international, she respects all cultures and religions, is interested in Sufism. The novel is fiction, even though Rumi and Shamz are real people. She uses all those vices to talk about the differences in the Islamic world, therefore it is such a good book for this day and age.

As already mentioned, we especially loved the inner part, the book in the book, not so much Ella's story. She seemed to us like a caricature of a housewife from the 40s. The “outer book” doesn't seem real, seemed like “Chick lit” to us, added to attract more readers.

Another little criticism about Elif Şafak. She is a wonderfully articulate intelligent woman but her usuing Americanism in the 13th century was a little disturbing.

Some of my favourite quotes of the novel: “'The sharia is like a candle', said Shams of Tabriz. 'It provides us with much valuable light. But let us not forget that a candle helps us to go from one place to another in the dark. If we forget where we are headed and instead concentrate on the candle, what good is it?'” and “Each time I say good-bye to a place I like, I feel like I am leaving a part of me behind.”

And a last remark by one of our members: “I think that if everyone just adopted one the rules ... the world would be a better place!”

You may also want to read “Araf aka The Saint of Incipient Insanities" (Araf)

We discussed this in our book club in February 2012.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Schlink, Bernhard “The Reader”

Schlink, Bernhard “The Reader” (Der Vorleser) - 1994

“A powerful and intense tale of secrets and a hidden past, The Reader is a thrilling book. As a 15-year-old boy in postwar Germany, Michael Berg had a passionate affair with a mysterious, guarded woman twice his age that ended suddenly when she disappeared. Years later, Michael sees her again -- when she is on trial for a terrible crime.”

I read this with my former book club a couple of years ago. I have read other literature/novels on the Holocaust and I don't think this belongs to the better ones. It is interesting at some point but at some point it really starts to be boring, at least that was my impression. The description of the characters and their feelings just aren't described deep enough to get a good perspective other than on the facts itself. Maybe the reason that the author usually writes detective novels (which I don't like) adds to that.

I read this book in the original German.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Clarkson, Jeremy "The World According to Clarkson"

Clarkson, Jeremy "The World According to Clarkson" - 2004

Jeremy Clarkson is hilarious. Not just in "Top Gear", but overall. He can talk about anything and make it sound funny. If you enjoy his shows, you will enjoy his books. And that's all that needs to be said about this collection of rantings à la Jeremy. Just one hint: He doesn't talk cars here.

In the meantime I also read his second collection “The World According to Clarkson, Vol. 2. And Another Thing”. I didn't enjoy that one as much.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Allende, Isabel "Island Beneath the Sea"

Allende, Isabel "Island Beneath the Sea" (La isla bajo el mar) - 2010

Another beautiful Allende novel.  I love everything by her, her trilogy "The House of the Spirits", "Daughter of Fortune" and "Portrait in Sepia" is fantastic. If you liked those novels, you'll love this one, as well.

The setting reminded me of "Wide Sargasso Sea", even part of the story (at least at the beginning) but not too much to make it weird. A great description of life on a plantation, first in the Caribbean, later in Louisiana, the life of the slaves and the free, lots of history, an incredibly rich account of the lives people had to lead. Like any book on slavery, this made me so mad at times, too. I don't like the words "mulatto", "quadroon", etc. Sounds very Nazi-esque, like "half-Jew". It doesn't really matter where on the scale of being a "negro" or a "Jew" those poor people are, they are doomed anyway.

I loved Zarité aka Tété, the main character, but there were a lot of other loveable characters in the book, too. And some not so loveable ones. Isabel Allende always manages to describe them so lively.

I usually have a bit of a problem with the magic realism part of these kind of stories, although I really enjoy the magic realism novels. However, this time I really had no second thoughts, I could accept the voodooisms and Tété's belief in Erzulie, the mother Loa, and her z'étoile very well. It just worked all around, a complete story.

From the back cover: "From the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue to the lavish parlors of New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century, Isabel Allende's latest novel tells the story of a mulatta woman, a slave and concubine, determined to take control of her own destiny in a society where that would seem impossible.
Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue – now known as Haiti –Tété is the product of violent union between an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage.
When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it's with powdered wigs in his trunks and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father's plantation, Saint Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy.
Against the merciless backdrop of sugar cane fields, the lives of Tété and Valmorain grow ever more intertwined. When bloody revolution arrives at the gates of Saint Lazare, they flee the island for the decadence and opportunity of New Orleans. There, Tété finally forges a new life – but her connection to Valmorain is deeper than anyone knows and not so easily severed.
Spanning four decades, ‘Island Beneath the Sea’ is the moving story of one woman's determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been so battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruellest of circumstances.

Find more reviews of Isabel Allende's books here.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Pessl, Marisha “Special Topics in Calamity Physics”

Pessl, Marisha “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” - 2006

A modern book about teenagers. Granted, not the usual ones but there is a lot of usual stuff going on, the problems of growing up, of being in between childhood and adulthood, of not belonging anywhere, of trying to find a place in this world.

The teenager Blue moves constantly with her father, a college teacher, she finds a group of friends and a teacher who really cares about her. But somehow things still go wrong. A gripping tale about an extraordinary girl.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Pausewang, Gudrun „The Last Children"

Pausewang, Gudrun „The Last Children" (Die letzten Kinder von Schewenborn oder … sieht so unsere Zukunft aus?) - 1983

A youth book from the early eighties. When we were in the middle of the Cold War. When our biggest fear was the nuclear bomb. This book shows the worst case scenario. Several bombs over several European cities. The first casualties. The aftermath.

I read this book a couple of decades ago but it is one that has remained with me for all this time. I don't think it's out of date, we have a lot of other problems and fears today but the nuclear threat is as alive now as it was back then.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Pears, Tim "In a Land of Plenty"

Pears, Tim "In a Land of Plenty" - 1977

"Set in a small town in the middle of England in the aftermath of World War II, this tells the story of ambitious industrialist Charles Freeman, his wife Mary, and their three children. Each individual plays their part as Britain claws its way from the grey austerity of the war years."

Somehow, I had imagined something else from this book. I thought it was going to tell about the life of a family after WWII. And it was. But not the way I expected it. Charles Freeman is a very selfish opportunist who looks at anything with money in his mind. Needless to say, he is rather a dictator than a family father or nice boss.

Nevertheless, I thought this book was interesting, mainly because the children were about my age and I always like to read about other people's lives in different circumstances.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Kleist, Heinrich von “The Prince of Homburg“

Kleist, Heinrich von “The Prince of Homburg“ (Prinz Friedrich von Homburg oder die Schlacht bei Fehrbellin) - 1809/1810

Even though there was a real Prince of Homburg who fought at the Battle of Fehrbellin in 1675, the name is the only resemblance to the play.

As with any other written plays, I do prefer them performed as this is what they were made for. However, it is always quite interesting to read them once, as well.

This one definitely has to take into account that it was written at the beginning of the 19th century when winning a war was the most important subject most people talked about (although, times haven't changed THAT much!)

The play has it all, love and war. I found the historical background interesting and therefore am glad I read this.

I also read "The Marquise of O.", a novella which I liked a lot better.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Brooks, Geraldine “March”

Brooks, Geraldine “March. A Love Story in a Time of War” - 2006

Who hasn't read “Little Women” and wouldn't mind reading more about the March family. Well, here's your chance.

I am not a big fan of any “sequels” written by other people than the author him/herself, especially not decades or even centuries later. However, Geraldine Brooks is an exception, she writes her novels more like biographies. As in this case. The protagonist of her story is John March, the father of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, Marmee's beloved husband. A lot of his work is told in the background in “Little Women”, here we can see the man himself, his ideals, his politics, he was an abolitionist as well as an advocate for women's rights, a dreamer of a better world. As Louisa May Alcott has really told the story of her family, this is the story of her father, Amos Bronson Alcott. He was quite a remarkable man, way ahead of his time and his story is worth reading.

Geraldine Brooks received the Pulitzer Prize for "March" in 2006.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Kemal, Yaşar “The Birds Have Also Gone“

Kemal, Yaşar “The Birds Have Also Gone“ (Kuşlar da Gitti) - 1978

Even though the title of this book talks about the birds only, this short novel is about the boys who catch them. Apparently, in Turkey, people would buy birds from kids who caught them and give them back their freedom in order for them to fly to paradise and there wait for them.

But times are changing, people are not religious any more, they don't buy the birds, so the boys are losing their business.

An interesting story not just about the boys from Istanbul but about the ever changing times, the shattering of dreams, and about the streets of Istanbul. A colourful city, very well described in the story told by a narrator who appears in the story himself, who tries to help the boys.

This book strongly represents the oriental side of literature. Highly recommendable.

I also read "The Drumming-Out", just as interesting.

Yaşar Kemal received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 1997.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Carey, Peter “Oscar and Lucinda”

Carey, Peter “Oscar and Lucinda” - 1988

Interesting story, set in one of my favourite centuries, the 19th, told in a vivid yet pleasant way, the life of people trying to fit into a life they had no idea about. Oscar, a young English clergyman, and Lucinda, an rich Australian girl form a “good house” could not come from more different backgrounds but find common ground quite easily. The novel is full of information about life during that time without being stereotypical. It has a lot of originality, is a pleasure to read.

Peter Carey is a gifted writer and I also enjoyed his non-fiction “True History of the Kelly Gang".

Peter Carey won the Booker Prize for "Oscar and Lucinda" in 1988.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Le Clézio, Jean-Marie Gustave "The African"

Le Clézio, Jean-Marie Gustave "The African" (L'Africain) - 2004

The French Nobel prize winner wrote this autobiographical essay mainly about his childhood in Africa where he met his father who spent most of his life there. A good description of the African landscape and not only an autobiography about the author but also about his father whom he got to know as a stranger.

With this book, he seems to want to get closer to a father he never got to know well during this youth. His way to his father is over his beloved Africa, a continent that has formed his childhood. He shows this best in this quote: "I am forever yearning to go back to Africa, to my childhood memory. To the source of my feelings, to that which molded my character."

Wonderful writing, I'm not surprised he was a Nobel laureate. An author who truly deserves this recognition.

This will not be the last book I have read by J.M.G. Le Clézio.

From the back cover: "The African is a short autobiographical account of a pivotal moment in Nobel-Prize-winning author J. M. G. Le Clézio's childhood. In 1948, young Le Clézio, with his mother and brother, left behind a still-devastated Europe to join his father, a military doctor in Nigeria, from whom he'd been separated by the war. In Le Clézio's characteristically intimate, poetic voice, the narrative relates both the dazzled enthusiasm the child feels at discovering newfound freedom in the African savannah and his torment at discovering the rigid authoritarian nature of his father. The power and beauty of the book reside in the fact that both discoveries occur simultaneously.

While primarily a memoir of the author's boyhood, The African is also Le Clézio's attempt to pay a belated homage to the man he met for the first time in Africa at age eight and was never quite able to love or accept. His reflections on the nature of his relationship to his father become a chapeau bas to the adventurous military.

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization", received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Oates, Joyce Carol "Black Girl/White Girl"

Oates, Joyce Carol "Black Girl/White Girl" - 2006

Genna Meade is the daughter of a radical activist lawyer, descending from a family with a large history of civil rights fighters. She is born into a highly political family. When she starts studying at a college which one of her forefathers founded, she shares her room with Minette, the "black girl of the story, the daughter of an eminent minister, very much settled in her faith as opposed to Genna who was brought up atheist. Minette becomes the target of racial attacks and Genna reminisces about their story 15 years later.

A highly interesting book, I love Joyce Carol Oates, and she didn't disappoint with this story. This is not just a story about racism, it's the story of girls growing up, following the way their parents started them on or turning into another direction.

Find links to all my other Joyce Carol Oates reviews here.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Morgan Dawson, Sarah “A Confederate Girl's Diary”

Morgan Dawson, Sarah “A Confederate Girl's Diary” - 1913

“Sarah Morgan Dawson lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at the outbreak of the American Civil War. In March 1862, she began to record her thoughts about the war in a diary-- thoughts about the loss of friends killed in battle and the occupation of her home by Federal troops. Her devotion to the South was unwavering and her emotions real and uncensored. A true classic.”

If you enjoy stories like “Gone with the Wind”, you will love this book. Sarah Morgan Dawson lived from 1842 to 1909. She was born into a well-to-do family who had slaves like any other rich people. Her diary is a great description of the civil war and what it did to all the people who lived during that time.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Fforde, Jasper "The Eyre Affair"

Fforde, Jasper "The Eyre Affair" (Thursday Next 1) - 2001

I discovered this book because one of our book club members recommended it as a companion to our book club read "Jane Eyre". What a fantastic suggestion.

It is so difficult to put a label on this, it's' a detective story, a thriller, classic reading, alternate history, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, philosophy, religion, a love for word play, weird names, language (he even mentions Esperanto), satire, even a little romance mixed in, you name it, it's in here.

I loved his love for language, his word play. The funniest names appear. Not only is our heroine called Thursday Next, her boss is called Braxton Hicks, she works with Bowden Cable and Victor Analogy, then there is Paige Turner, and we don't want to forget the evil guys Jack Schitt as well as Acheron Hades and his brother Styx (I've been wondering what their father's name would be). With the help of a sort of “time machine”, the heroine ventures into a classic novel and helps rewrite the end.

Hilarious! The Rocky Horror Picture Show makes its appearance as a Richard III play, there is a Global Standard Deity religion, various fans of classic authors carry out their feuds, one funny idea chases the other.

The advantage of alternate history - you don't have to be accurate. The disadvantage of science fiction - you have to be consequent. Jasper Fforde manages to combine the two and make the most interesting plot out of this. I especially enjoyed the many allusions to classic literature. Surreal.

I would definitely suggest to read "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë before this book. Not only is this one certainly more interesting if you've read the original but it also contains a lot of spoilers, you really don't want to know the end of the novel before you embark on it.

Still, I loved the book and will explore Thursday's' adventures further in “Lost in a Good Book”, “The Well of Lost Plots”, “Something Rotten”, “First Among Sequels” and “One of our Thursdays is Missing”.

From the back cover: "There is another 1985, somewhere in the could-have-been, where the Crimean war still rages, dodos are regenerated in home-cloning kits and everyone is deeply disappointed by the ending of 'Jane Eyre'. In this world there are no jet-liners or computers, but there are policemen who can travel across time, a Welsh republic, a great interest in all things literary - and a woman called Thursday Next.
In this utterly original and wonderfully funny first novel, Fforde has created a fiesty, loveable heroine and a plot of such richness and ingenuity that it will take your breath away.