Monday, 30 July 2012

Haruf, Kent “Plainsong”

Haruf, Kent “Plainsong” – 1999

The story of a father raising his teenager sons alone in a small town. Another farm is run by two unmarried brothers. And then there's a pregnant teenage girl. That's the set-up for this story that has been written in a wonderful way, the author manages to tell it as if it had happened to his own family, in his own community. Quite an emotional story with a lot of details. I really liked it.

There is a sequel, "Eventide", which is on my wishlist.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Pasternak, Boris “Doctor Zhivago"

Pasternak, Boris “Doctor Zhivago" (Доктор Живаго) – 1958

Who hasn't seen the movie "Doctor Zhivago"? I doubt there are many who haven't. But who has read the novel? I haven't met many who did. But since I really like the story in the movie and the author received a Nobel prize for literature and I love literature by Nobel prize winners ... I just had to read this one day.
I am glad I did. Boris Pasternak has a great way of telling a "very simple story", as he put it himself. Not really that simple, lots of complications in the life of our hero, Jura Zhivago, a doctor and a poet. He writes a lot of poems during his life, some of them are added at the end of the book. As so often when I read a translation, I wish I spoke the original language. I am not much into poetry but translated poetry is even worse than original one, it can never give the true sentiment of what the poet really meant.

However, even in the translated poems, you can detect Pasternak's wish to write a "simple novel", one that shows the true life of people struggling through difficult times but still trying to maintain a human life. The poems are about everyday life, love, and the Bible,

Zhivago himself is depicted as a highly intellectual and very sensitive person, any other character complements him, any individual is complex and still easy to understand.

The only problem non-Russians might have with this novel are the names. But, if you've read other Russian novels, you will know that every person has three names, the first name, the family name and the middle name which is called father's name. If you bear in mind, that a person is often addressed by their first and their father's name and only from time to time by their first and family name, you don't get confused with the different names.

I enjoyed reading this book just as much as I have enjoyed watching the movie again and again. There is a lot more in the book than they can ever bring on the screen, therefore, if you like the story, you should read the novel.

Boris Pasternak received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 "for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition". He had to renounce this for fear of being expelled from his country but the award is still valid.

Friday, 27 July 2012


Esperanto celebrated its 125th birthday on 26 July 2012.

This is a good reason to have a list with many links to interesting Esperanto pages. I will update this post regularly. So, wait for more.

Lots of information about Esperanto
How to learn Esperanto - in many languages
Dr. Zamenhof created the international language - Esperanto
BBC Radio 4 feature about Esperanto
Esperanto on Wikipedia
The International Language - Esperanto
How is Esperanto easier to learn than other languages
Kontakto - Esperanto magazine
Personal Stories - why people learn and speak Esperanto
Duoblilo - Allows you to type texts with Esperanto signs without having to use ASCII codes all the time.

German article "Das Linux der Sprachen" (The Linux of the Languages)
Esperanto article "Mondlingvo por malmultaj" (World Language for a few)

Songbook from the Esperanto Scouts - Kantlibro de la Skolta Esperanto Ligo

Series about Esperanto
Part 1 - Esperanto is a language you can use for everything
Part 2 - Esperanto is a language with many traits
Part 3 - Esperanto is a language used in many ways
Part 4A - Esperanto is a language everybody can and should learn
Part 4B - Esperanto is a language everybody can and should learn
Part 5 - Esperanto is a language associated with a colourful movement
Part 6 - Esperanto is the language of the future

Zane, Lily “Creating Home”

Zane, Lily “Creating Home. Inspiring Comfort in Every Room” – 1998

A sweet little book with a lot of interesting tips on how to create a home in your house. Certainly not all of these ideas are new but most of them are easy to accomplish. And with a little bit of inspiration, you can change or enhance almost every room in your house.

Lily Zane has also a good website and a page about her book.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Shields, Carol "Jane Austen"

Shields, Carol "Jane Austen. A Life" - 2001

I am a huge Jane Austen fan. I love all her novels, love the movies and TV series they created from her material. So, reading one of her newer biographies was definitely on my list.

The first downside is the length of the book, only a little over 200 pages. Of course, so little is known about Jane Austen's life, she lived very secluded, private, didn't even publish her name for quite a while, only wrote six major works.

Despite those facts, Carol Shields managed to write a good account of a life at a time where there were no journalists or paparazzi around to reveal every single step a famous person made. I would have loved it to be longer, to reveal a little more than I knew already but, alas, I can't blame the biographer for not knowing more, there simply isn't. What a pity.

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

I have also read "The Stone Diaries" by Carol Shields and liked it a lot.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Westerman, Frank “The Republic of Grain"

Westerman, Frank “The Republic of Grain" (De graanrepubliek) - 1999

"The Republic of Grain" describes life in a Dutch region, in the North of the Netherlands during a tough time. The rise and fall of an area due to nature, politics, decisions made. Mainly, this is the story of a guy who lived during the biggest part of the 20th century who was the son of a big farmer, got into politics and ended up the agricultural commissioner at the EU in Brussels. But it is also the story of his country, his village, his home

Frank Westerman is a renowned journalist who has spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe as a correspondent for a Dutch newspaper. I am sure I will read more of his books.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Kemal, Yaşar “The Drumming-Out"

Kemal, Yaşar “The Drumming-Out" (Turkish: Teneke) - 1987

A young administrator in a town in the Anatolian province tries to fight a big landlord who floods large portions of land to grow rice but doesn't care about the effects on the population. Quite a story, well written, exciting.

The author was born in a small village in Southern Anatolia and was the only one in his village who learned to read and write. Quite an accomplishment. He is one of the biggest critics in Turkey and received several prizes for his works.

I later read another book by the author, “The Birds Have Also Gone“, he seems quite the expert on Turkish life.

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

Sunday, 15 July 2012

I Love Big Books

I read a blog recently where a lady was talking about "The problem with 500-page-books". She claims that they are taking forever and she is getting bored even before she reached the middle of the novel.

I SO do NOT agree with that lady (and told her as much). To me, a book only starts on page 300, the rest is introduction. ;-) I hate short stories, they always leave me feel empty, I didn't get to know the character, the situation, a short story is like an article in a newspaper, you just get the most important stuff. My only problem with 500 page books, they are still too short!!!

The longer the book, the better. You can get to know the characters, the whole situation, you become part of the story, of the family. I don't think I'm alone in this, that's why people like to read series. A lot of the very successful books of the last years have at least been trilogies. And a lot of the most successful books of all times have more than 500 pages.

I see long books as an opportunity to meet someone entirely, something you can remember for the rest of your life. A shorter one is like meeting someone once or twice, have a good time with them but then move on to the next person. A long story is more like a marriage.

Of course, it depends on your idea about reading, your approach. Do you just want to read a book to while away boredom? Or do you really want to get to know the story, the characters, do you want to finish the book and find you have learned something?

This might also be a reason why I like to read more than one book at a time. I don't want to say good-bye to them too soon. I am a fast reader and even a very long book would never take me longer than a week.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Noa Bercovitch, Pascale “The Dolphin’s Boy"

Noa Bercovitch, Pascale “The Dolphin’s Boy: A Story of Courage and Friendship” (Oline, le dauphin du miracle) - 2000

Bercovitch was an athlete who had a terrible accident on a train and subsequently had to have her legs amputated. This didn't interfere with her plan to go to Israel, she still went and became not just a successful journalist and filmmaker but also participated in the Paralympics.

In her partly autobiographical book, she tells us about the Bedouin boy Abdullah who fell out of a tree at the age of five and was deaf ever since. He grew up keeping to himself and loved to spend his time swimming. At one of his excursions, he met a dolphin who wouldn't leave his side any more. The author made a film about this extraordinary friendship between the boy and the dolphin and later wrote this book about them. A wonderful story.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Bryson, Bill "A Short History of Nearly Everything"

Bryson, Bill "A Short History of Nearly Everything" - 2003

The title is so true. This is a history of nearly everything, as short as Bill Bryson can be. I'm surprised he managed in just under 700 pages. There is so much information in this book, I wish my science teachers would have been half as informative and concise as he is, I learned more from this book than I did in years of trying to learn just a little about this subject.

Bill Bryson tries to answer the question that is probably as old as humankind, where do we come from and why are we here? He is more philosophical than funny in this book, though he can't hide his great sense of humour totally.

If Bill Bryson wasn't one of my favourite authors anyway, he'd definitely be up there with the top ones now. Everyone should read this book, I think it should be mandatory in all schools. I have never understood science as well as I did when reading this great work.

Find links to all my other Bryson reviews here.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Suggestions from Friends

Like most people who love to read, I always get suggestions from friends about their favourite books. I know I weill never be able to read all the great suggestions. There are just too many of them. I do want to share those titles with you, though, books that I would love to read if ever I find the time.
I will add more in the future and take those away that I read. Please, add any suggestions you might have as a comment. Thank you.

Andonovski, Venko/Андоновски, Венко "Navel of the world" (Macedonian: Папокот на светот/Papokot na svetot) - 2001 - Macedonia
Angelou, Maya "Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories With Recipes" - 2004
Andrau, Marianne "Les Mains du Manchot" - 1989 - France
Armah, Ayi Kwei "Two Thousand Seasons" - 1973 - Ghana
Atkinson, Kate "Behind the Scenes at the Museum" - 1995
Atwood, Margaret "In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination" - 2011 (non-fiction)
Baker, Ginger "Hellraiser" - 2009 (biography)
Bareau, Nicolas "The Ingrediants of Love" - 2010
Bartlett, Allison Hoover "The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective and a World of Literary Obsession" - 2009 (non-fiction)
Barnes, Valerie "A Foreign Affair. A Passionate Life in Four Languages" - 2004
Bryce Courtenay, Arthur "The Potato Factory"  - 1995 - Australia
Bryce Courtenay, Arthur "The Power of One" - 1989 - South Africa
Burgess, Anthony "A Clockwork Orange" - 1962
Cameron, James "Point of Departure" - 1967 (autobiography)
Carson, Rachel "Silent Spring" - 1962 (non-fiction)
Clapton, Eric "Eric Clapton. The Autobiography" - 2007 (autobiography)
Coady, Roxanne; Johannessen, Joy "The Book that changed my life: Discover the Must-read Books That Transformed 65 Remarkable Authors" - 2006 (non-fiction)
Coates, Ta-Nehisi "Between the World and Me" - 2015 (non-fiction)
Coe, Jonathan, "The Rain Before It Falls" - 2007
Coelho, Paulo "The Pilgrimage" (Portuguese: O Diário de Um Mago) – 1987
Coetzee, J. M. "The Life and Times of Michael K." 1983
Conway, Jill Ker "The Road from Coorain" - 1989 - Australia
David, Jim "You'll be swell" - 2012 (biography)
Diamant, Anita "The Red Tent" - 1997
Dubus III, Andre "House of Sand and Fog" - 1999
Erdrich, Louise "Plague of Doves" - 2009
Erdrich, Louise "The Painted Drum" - 2005
Faber, Michel "The Crimson Petal and the White" - 2002
Facey, A.B. “A Fortunate Life” - 1981
Franklin, Miles "My Brilliant Career" - 1901 - Australia
Frazier, Ian "Travels in Siberia" - 2010 (non-fiction)
Gaskell, Elizabeth "North and South" - 1855
Goudge, Elizabeth "Green Dolphin Street"
Gray, Charlotte "Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention" - 2006 (non-fiction)
Harden, Blaine "Escape fro Camp 14. One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West" - 2012 (non-fiction)
Harris, Robert "Fatherland" - 1992
Hay, Elizabeth "A Student of Weather" - 2000
Hegi, Ursula "The Vision of Emma Blau" - 2000
Hegi, Ursula "Floating in My Mother's Palm" -  1990
Hegi, Ursula "The Worst Thing I've Done" - 2007
Helprin, Mark "A Soldier of the Great War" - 1991
Hesse, Hermann "The Glass Bead Game" (German: Das Glasperlenspiel) - 1931-43 - Germany
Hill, Lawrence "The Book of Negroes/Someone Knows My Name" - 2007
Hochschild, Arlie Russell "Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right" - 2016 (non-fiction)
Isaacson, Walter "Steve Jobs" - 2011 (biography)
Jakes, John "North and South. Trilogy" - 1982-87
Kanon, Joseph "Istanbul Passage" - 2012
Kim, Eugenia "The Calligrapher's Daughter" - 2009
Kundera, Milan "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (Czech: Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí) - 1984 - Czech Republic
Lahiri, Jhumpa "Interpreter of Maladies" - 1999
Lamb, Christina "House of Stone: The True Story of a Family Divided in War-torn Zimbabwe" - 2006
Landers, Brian "Empires Apart. A History of American and Russian Imperialism" - 2010 (non-fiction)
Lenz, Siegfried "The German Lesson" (German: Deutschstunde) - 1968 - Germany
Lindsay, Joan "Picnic at Hanging Rock" - 1967 - Australia
Linna, Väinö "The Unknown Solder" (Finnish: Tuntematon sotilas) - 1954 -
Liss, David "The Coffee Trader" - 2003
Maalouf, Amin "Ports of Call" (French: Les Échelles du Levant) - 1996
Malouf, David "Fly Away, Peter" - 1982 - Australia
Mahfouz, Naguib "The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street" - 2001
Mangunwijay, Y.B. "The Weaverbirds" (Indonesian: Burung-Burung Manyar) - 1981 - Indonesia
Mansfeld, Katherine "Collected Stories" - 1945 - New Zealand
Marshall, Alan "I Can Jump Puddles" - 1955 - Australia (non-fiction)
McCulloch, Colleen "The Thorn Birds" - 1077 - Australia
McKinley, Tamara "Matilda's Last Waltz" - 1999
Michener, James A. "The Covenant" - 1980
Mitchell, David "Cloud Atlas" - 2004
Naipaul, V.S. "The Mimic Men" - 1967
Narayan, R. K. "Mahābhārata" - 1972
Oates, Joyce Carol "The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982" - 2007 (autobiography)
Okrent, Arika "In the Land of Invented Languages" - 2009 (non-fiction)
Ottolenghi, Yotam and Tammi, Sami "Jerusalem" - 2012 (non-fiction)
Owen, Mark "No easy day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden" - 2012 (memoir)
Patchett, Ann "State of Wonder" - 2011
Philbrick, Nathaniel "Mayflower. A Story of Courage, Community, and War." - 2006 (non-fiction)
Pool, Daniel "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist: the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England" - 1994 (non-fiction)
Powers, Kevin "The Yellow Birds" - 2012
Rawícz, Sławomir "The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom" - 1956 (non-fiction)
Rushdie, Salman "Midnight’s Children" - 1981
Savery, Henry "Quintus Servinton: A Tale Founded Upon Incidents of Real Occurrence" - 1831 - Australia
Şafak, Elif "The Bastard of Istanbul" - 2006
Sasson, Jean "Daughters of Arabia"
Seal, Mark "Man in the Rockefeller Suit, The: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor" - 2011 (non-fiction)
See, Lisa "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" - 2005
Shah, Saira "The Storyteller’s Daughter" - 2003
Sperber, Manès "Like a Tear in the Ocean" (German: Wie eine Träne im Ozean) - 1961 Austria
Smith, Dodie "I Capture the Castle" - 1948
Steinbeck, John "Travels with Charley: In Search of America" - 1962"
Strelecky, John P. "The Why are you here Café : A New Way of Finding Meaning in Your Life and Your Work" - 2006 (non-fiction)
Theoharis, Jeanne" The Rebellious Life of Mrs Rosa Parks"
Tomasi di Lampedusa, Giuseppe "The Leopard" (Italian: Il gattopardo) - 1958 - Italy
Twain, Mark "A Tramp Abroad" - 1980
Tyler, Anne "The Beginner's Goodbye" - 2012 - USA
Ulin, David L. "The Lost Art of Reading.: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time" - 2010 (non-fiction)
Uris, Leon "The Trinity" - 1976
Verghese, Abraham "Cutting for Stone" - 2009
Verhulst, Dimitri "De helaasheid der dingen" (Dutch: The Misfortunates) - 2006 - Belgium
Wallis, Velma "Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival' - 1993
Walpole, Horace "The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story" - 1764
Watson, S.J. "Before I Go to Sleep" - 2011
White, Patrick "The Tree of Man" Nobel Prize Winner
Wilkerson, Isabel "The Warmth of Other Suns"
Xinran "Miss Chopsticks" - 2007 - China
Zuckoff, Mitchell "Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II" - 2011 (non-fiction)

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Bristow, Gwen “Plantation Trilogy”

Bristow, Gwen “Plantation Trilogy”
“Deep Summer” - 1937
“Handsome Road” - 1938
“This Side of Glory” - 1940

One of my favourite stories about the Deep South ever. If you work your way through this trilogy, you go form the first settlers in the 1700s until the early year of the last century. You follow the trail of the protagonists, see their descendents carry on as times change, a great epic tale.

So many different characters, leaders and followers, black and white and all the different other colours that contribute to this continent, "masters" and slaves, 812 pages describing the making of these States. The series goes from strength to strength, one book seems to get better than the last, if that's at all possible.

I think the reason this book has never been that popular is due to the fact that it was published at around the same time as "Gone With the Wind" and covers the same area but a lot more time. If you are looking at anything that goes beyond GWTW, this one goes far beyond. It was one of my favourite books I read as a teenager and I still loved it as an adult. Great story!

From the back covers:
Deep Summer: "Not long before the American Revolution, Judith Sheramy, a Puritan girl from New England, rode a flatboat down the Mississippi River with her family. On the river she met an adventurer, Philip Larne -- cavalier and slave smuggler.
The story of Judith and Philip is one of struggle - the passionate struggle of their stormy marriage, their struggle from jungle cabin to plantation mansion, and the struggle or revolution. Two abiding passions held them together - their love and their dream of an empire in the Louisiana jungle. When their triumph came it was bitter, menaced always by the hatred of both whites and blacks."

Handsome Road: "The Old South was a world of extremes. Ann Sheramy Larne, a hoop-skirted belle, lived among stately mansions and dozens of Negro Servants. Corrie May Upjohn was "po' white trash," living in slavelike squalor down on the docks.
The Civil War transformed their world.
For Ann, the war meant disaaster-the end of everything she had known. But for Corrie May, it was a beginning-a chance to build an exciting new life on the ashes of the old."

This Side of Glory: "Sequel to The Handsome Road -- authentic background, good conflict in ways of life, full bodied characterization, and a thoroughly readable tale. Once again there is the conflict of the "poor whites" versus the genteel, ineffectual aristocrats."

Monday, 2 July 2012

Joyce, Rachel "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry"

Joyce, Rachel "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" - 2012

An easy read. Definitely. That is not always a good thing. Not in my eyes. However, it has its perks.

I am not much into small stories and this book is full of them. I always would like to know more of them, that's why I prefer really long novels. For example, on page 67, the "... tattooed young woman bawling beneath an upstairs window ... yelling 'Arran! I know you're there!'", I keep wondering why Arran won't let her in and what is going to happen to them. Or, one more, on page 72 "the woman who loves Jane Austen". As a faithful Jane Austen fan myself, I would have liked that to be elaborated a little more but all that is said is that she "has watched all her films". Watched all her films?! Yes, enough said.

The idea of this story is a good one, a man wanders across the United Kingdom in order to save a friend from dying from cancer. The characters have a background, even though that doesn't come out very often. Too many people Harold meets that are just passers-by, too little on the main characters.

I think what drew me to this novel was the map of the UK in the back of the book. I love maps. I think every book should have a map showing where the protagonists are all the time.

Other than that, this is a good chick lit, for people who don't want to think much while reading, it's entertaining. But I couldn't find anything more, nothing of the "magical, uplifting, moving, moving or touching sentiments" a lot of the reviewers thought they should mention.

Book Description: "When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else's life."

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Why I like reading literature by Nobel Prize winners

The Nobel Prize committee says on their page: "Over the years, the Nobel Prize in Literature has distinguished the works of authors from many different languages and cultural backgrounds. The Literature Prize has been awarded to unknown masters as well as authors acclaimed worldwide."

That is certainly one of the big points. I love reading books that have been recommended to me by friends, especially if I know those friends have a similar taste to mine. If I pick up the work of a Nobel Prize winner, it is not exactly a friend I know who recommended it but a group of people who know a lot more about literature than I do. They have decided that this author is the best choice for a prize in the year they award it. They have all read hundreds of books before making their decision. They don't just look at the bookshops and look which are the most popular books at the moment. I trust the members of the Swedish Academy that they look for interesting literature, something that deserves to be called a classic in a couple of hundred years.

There might be a lot of critics who claim that they randomly choose someone, that they cast lots over the names of authors who are currently discussed, whatever. I have read some works by Nobel Prize winners that I didn't really enjoy but - on the whole - I have found some wonderful authors among the recipients of this prize and I will happily continue selecting literature from their list.

The authors give me an insight into their culture that I hardly get through other works (that's why I do prefer, let's say, Le Clézio to Tranströmer), or at least, not that easily. I have read books by authors from all the continents, including those parts that I didn't know much about like Africa, Asia, India, Israel, Central America, South America, but also from European countries that are not as widely translated like Hungary, Norway, Romania Serbia, Turkey, but also from other countries that I did know a little about and from where I had read novels before including my own country, France, England or the US. Judging by the German authors that were awarded the prize, if all the others are just as great as they are (and I think they are), we have a wonderful selection of authors worth reading. And I am happy to dip into that list anytime I stand in front of my bookshelf and exclaim "I have nothing to read!"

A list of all Nobel Prizes in Literature.
Excerpts from books by prize winners.