Friday, 21 July 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

"I consider as lovers of books not those who keep their books hidden in their store-chests and never handle them, but those who, by nightly as well as daily use thumb them, batter them, wear them out, who fill out all the margins with annotations of many kinds, and who prefer the marks of a fault they have erased to a neat copy full of faults." Desiderius Erasmus

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen." Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

"As you grow ready for it, somewhere or other, you will find what is needful for you in a book." George Macdonald

"Reading is the difficulty to populate a country of strange fantasies with your own thoughts." Kurt Tucholsky

"I am too fond of reading books to care to write them." Oscar Wilde

Find more book quotes here.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Toptaş, Hasan Ali "The Shadowless"

Toptaş, Hasan Ali "The Shadowless" (Turkish: Gölgesizler) - 1995 

This author was recommended to me by a Turkish friend of mine with whom I love discussing our latest "finds". He certainly is an interesting author. On the back of my book he is described as an oriental Kafka enriched with Islamic mystic. I don't remember liking Kafka much when I had to read him in school but I do agree with the description and like the author anyway.

I would describe this novel as a mixture between fantasy and the historical description of life in Turkey. It certainly is difficult to describe the topic of the book. Or the story. There is a village in Anatolia and people disappear from there. Others go looking for them. But reality doesn't go much further, there seem to exist several times, even several worlds next to each other who interfere which each other in a very surreal world. You almost feel like in a painting by René Magritte or one of his fellow surrealists.

A partly amusing partly fantastic story. A different kind of Turkish author but you can still see his oriental influence. I certainly recommend it.

From the back cover:
"In an Anatolian village forgotten by both God and the government, the muhtar has been elected leader for the sixteenth successive year. When he drunkenly staggers to bed that night, the village is prospering. But when he awakes to discover that Nuri, the barber, has disappeared in the dead of night, the community begins to fracture. In a nameless town far, far away, Nuri walks into a barbershop, not knowing how he has arrived. Blurring the lines of reality to terrific effect, this novel is both a compelling mystery and an enduring evocation of displacement."

I read the German translation of this novel "Die Schattenlosen".

Monday, 17 July 2017

Taylor, Andrew "Books That Changed the World"

Taylor, Andrew "Books That Changed the World" - 2008

What an interesting list of books! A list of important books that made a major impact on our present view of the world. I haven't read all of them but I am sure most people have heard the titles and the authors at some point in their life.

Whether Andrew Taylor mentions the Bible or the Qur'an, Marx's Communist Manifesto or Mao's Little Red Book, you can be sure that millions of people have read and followed those writings.
Then there are the scientific books like Darwin's "On the Origin of Species", the writings by Galileo, Newton, Einstein and many others without them we would not have the understanding of our world what it is today.

But also novels feature in the list, i.a. one of my most favourite authors, Jane Austen, who could omit her?

In any case, a most interesting list of books that are worth looking at. The author himself mentions that whenever you make a list of any books, there will be people who disagree. I can only second that but it is interesting anyway.

From the back cover:
"Books That Changed the World tells the fascinating stories behind 50 books that, in ways great and small, have changed the course of human history. Andrew Taylor sets each text in its historical context and explores its wider influence and legacy. Whether he's discussing the incandescent effect of The Qu'ran, the enduring influence of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, of the way in which Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe galavanized the anti-slavery movement, Taylor has written a stirring and informative testament to human ingenuity and endeavour. Ranging from The Iliad to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the Kama Sutra to Lady Chatterley's Lover, this is the ultimate, thought-provoking read for book-lovers everywhere."

"The Iliad, Homer; The Histories, Herodotus; The Analects, Confucius; The Republic, Plato; The Bible; Odes, Horace; Geographia, Ptolemy; Kama Sutra, Mallanaga Vatsyayana; The Qur'an; Canon of Medicine, Avicenna; The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer; The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli; Atlas, Gerard Mercator; Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes; First Folio, William Shakespeare; The Motion of the Heart and Blood, William Harvey; Two Chief World Systems, Galileo Galilei; Principia mathematica, Isaac Newton; Dictionary, Samuel Johnson; The Sorrows of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith; Common Sense, Thomas Paine; Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen; A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens; The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx; Moby-Dick, Herman Melville; Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe; Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert; On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin; On Liberty, John Stuart Mill; War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy; The Telephone Directory; The Thousand and One Nights, Sir Richard Burton; A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle; The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud; The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; Poems, Wilfred Owen; Relativity: The Special and the General Theory, Albert Einstein; Ulysses, James Joyce; Lady Chatterley's Lover, D.H. Lawrence; The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes; If This is a Man, Primo Levi; Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell; The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir; The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger; Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe; Silent Spring, Rachel Carson; Quotations from Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong; Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling."

So far, I have only read 11 of these. I wouldn't agree that they have all changed my world but a lot of them certainly had an impact.

The Bible" - 2nd century BC "2nd century AD
Cervantes, Miguel de "Don Quixote" - 1605-15
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von "The Sorrows of Young Werther" - 1774
Austen, Jane "Pride and Prejudice" - 1813
Dickens, Charles "A Christmas Carol" - 1843
Beecher Stowe, Harriet "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" - 1852
Tolstoy, Leo "War and Peace" - 1869
Joyce, James "Ulysses" - 1922
Orwell, George "Nineteen Eighty-four" - 1949
Salinger, J.D. "The Catcher In The Rye" - 1951
Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone" - 1997

Friday, 14 July 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

"Books are absent teachers." Mortimer J. Adler

"What I say is, a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore it knows it's not fooling a soul." Neil Gaiman 

"If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." Stephen King 

"Be awesome! Be a book nut!" Dr. Seuss

"I think books are like people, in the sense that they'll turn up in your life when you most need them." Emma Thompson

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Emcke, Carolin "Echoes of Violence"


Emcke, Carolin "Echoes of Violence: Letters from a War Reporter" (German: Von den Kriegen. Briefe an Freunde) - 2004

I learned about Carolin Emcke when she was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and I wanted to read one of her books every since. Now I found one and am happy to say, it was worth the wait.

The author is a journalist, covering mainly war areas and she has written e-mails to her friend every time she returned from one of her journeys. Here, she published them. She visited Afghanistan, Columbia, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Romania and the USA (before and after September 11th), and reports about her meetings with affected people. A brilliant account of what war can do to a people. If we didn't know it before, we should certainly learn it from this book. War is stupid! War is terrible! War should not be allowed! For any reason. Put the leaders in one room and let them fight about their problems themselves.

I have to include one quote from the book:
"History is the object of a construction whose place is formed not in homogenous and empty time, but in that which is fulfilled by the here-and-now." Walter Benjamin

From the back cover: "Echoes of Violence is an award-winning collection of personal letters to friends from a foreign correspondent who is trying to understand what she witnessed during the iconic human disasters of our time--in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and New York City on September 11th, among many other places. Originally addressing only a small group of friends, Carolin Emcke started the first letter after returning from Kosovo, where she saw the aftermath of ethnic cleansing in 1999. She began writing to overcome her speechlessness about the horrors of war and her own sense of failure as a reporter. Eventually, writing a letter became a ritual Emcke performed following her return from each nightmare she experienced. First published in 2004 to great acclaim, Echoes of Violence in 2005 was named German political book of the year and was a finalist for the international Lettre-Ulysses award for the art of reportage.

Combining narrative with philosophic reflection, Emcke describes wars and human rights abuses around the world--the suffering of civilians caught between warring factions in Colombia, the heartbreaking plight of homeless orphans in Romania, and the near-slavery of garment workers in Nicaragua. Freed in the letters from journalistic conventions that would obscure her presence as a witness, Emcke probes the abyss of violence and explores the scars it leaves on landscapes external and internal."

Carolin Emcke received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 2016.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Dickens, Charles "Bleak House"

Dickens, Charles "Bleak House" - 1852/53

My seventh Dickens after "A Christmas Carol", "Great Expectations", "A Tale of Two Cities", "The Pickwick Papers", "Little Dorrit" and "Hard Times" but certainly not my last one. I hope I will get through all of his works one day.

A thousand pages of a well-written novel, Apparently, this is supposedly an early work of detective fiction and is one of his later titles. But apart from that, it certainly is a Dickens novel. The characters' names might not be as weird as in some of his books. Maybe he had no more ideas or he grew tired of finding those kind of names, I don't know. I missed it, of course.

This book is a page turner. Having worked in the legal system myself (even though in a different country), I could relate a lot to all the difficulties in the law suit. It's the same everywhere. That bit might be a little tedious for some readers but I promise, it's worth it.

What I love about Dickens, even though he grew up under  poor circumstances, he can describe any character, rich or poor, clever or not so clever, he manages to put them all into his novels and makes them appear alive. He was a master of the pen.

From the back cover:
"As the interminable case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce grinds its way through the Court of Chancery, it draws together a disparate group of people: Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, whose inheritance is gradually being devoured by legal costs; Esther Summerston, a ward of court, whose parentage is a source of deepening mystery; the menacing lawyer Tulkinghorn; the determined sleuth Inspector Bucket; and even Jo, a destitute crossing-sweeper. A savage, but often comic indictment of a society that is rotten to the core, Bleak House is one of Dickens' most ambitious novels, with a range that extends from the drawing-rooms of the aristocracy to the London slums."

Monday, 10 July 2017

Hemingway, Ernest "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

Hemingway, Ernest "For Whom the Bell Tolls" - 1940

After reading this book, I don't understand why I didn't read it earlier. This is one of the "must read" classics, a book that tells us so much about a terrible time, not just a particular terrible time about the guerillas in the Spanish Civil War, but about war in general. War isn't jsut a number of how many people died or how many fights were won or lost. War is horrible. War is brutal. War is everything nobody wants. And yet, we still have wars.

You can tell that a lot of experience flowed into this piece. Ernest Hemingway faught himself in the Spanish Civil War. He must have lived through lot of the actions described here.

This novel is a brilliant account of the partisans, their fight, their effort, their dreams. A strong story about a fight that we all know was lost and cost many Spaniards dearly in the following years.

I never watched the movie with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, two actors I really loved. I probably should. They received nine Oscar nominations for it.

From the back cover:
"High in the pine forests of the Spanish Sierra, a band of anti-fascist guerrilla prepares to blow up a strategically vital bridge. Robert Jordan, a young American volunteer, has been sent to handle the dynamiting. There, in the mountains, he finds the dangers and the intense comradeship of war. And there he discovers Maria, a young woman who has escaped from Franco's rebels."

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, 7 July 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

"Never write anything that does not give you great pleasure. Emotion is easily transferred from the writer to the reader." Joseph Joubert

"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." Rainer Maria Rilke

"Boredom is why God invented books." Julie Schumacher

"Talking over the things which you have read with your companions fixes them on the mind." Isaac Watts

"To you it might be a cheap notebook, but to me, it’s my best friend, which listens to me and reminds me when I need it the most." N.N.

[If anyone can tell me the originator of this quote, I'd be very thankful and would happily include the name.]

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Mahfouz, Naguib "Sugar Street"

Mahfouz, Naguib "Sugar Street" (Arabic: السكرية/Al-Sukkariyya) - 1957 (Cairo Trilogy 3) 

Seldom was I so sad than when finishing this novel. Not because of its contents although they were not all happy events but because this is the end of the story about the family Abd al-Jawad. I would have loved to carry on following their lives and that of their descendants even into the present day.

After reading "Palace Walk" and "Palace of Desire", the first two novels in this trilogy about the author's home town Cairo, I couldn't wait to read the next one.

Same as in the two previous books, we don't just meet the family but also learn about the Egyptian history. This book takes us through the years 1935 to 1944. We can tell the difference in society between the beginning of the saga in 1917 and the (almost) end of WWII. There is quite a difference between how women are treated, what they are allowed to do, even though there are still some people who live in the previous century. Same as today, I guess.

I would love to read more about Egypt later on. There is another Egyptian author that I really like, Ahdaf Soueif, I have read her novel "The Map of Love" and a collection of short stories "Aisha", and I am sure I will find other good Egyptian authors that will continue this story. If anyone has a suggestion, I am always happy to receive recommendations.

From the back cover:
"Sugar Street is the final novel in Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s magnificent Cairo Trilogy, an epic family saga of colonial Egypt that is considered his masterwork.

The novels of the Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Sugar Street brings Mahfouz’s vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the aging patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humor, and remarkable insight, Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy is the achievement of a master storyteller."

Naguib Mahfouz "who, through works rich in nuance - now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous - has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

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

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Ruiz, Don Miguel Ángel "The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom"

Ruiz, Don Miguel Ángel "The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom" - 1997

I bought this book years ago. I don't remember what drew me to it but the fact that I didn't start reading it earlier probably says it all.

I'm not the kind of person who will feel better if you tell me that I will feel better if only I start to love myself. On the contrary, if you tell me a problem will be solved if only I looked at it differently, I will feel even worse because you tell me that I am the problem.

In general, I agree, if you are nice to people, they will be nice to you. Most of the time. But that is not a wisdom I need to read, I've learned that all by myself. And with some people, it just doesn't help. And if someone wants to be mean to me, there is no way this book is going to change that.

Anyway, I did not enjoy reading this book. It had less than 200 pages, so I carried on, hoping the big enlightenment would come at the end. Well, it didn't.

From the back cover:
"In The Four Agreements, bestselling author don Miguel Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love."

Monday, 3 July 2017

Bonnett, Alastair "Off the Map"

Bonnett, Alastair "Off the Map" - 2014

Cartophilia is the love of maps. I certainly have that. It combines well with topophilia, the love of place. I think I suffer from both of them and this is a great book for those of us who are addicted to cards.

Alastair Bonnett, a professor of Social Geography from Newcastle, lists a lot of interesting, weird, forgotten, lost, invisible places in this book and describes them very accurately. There are places we don't want to visit (like Pripyat near Chernobyl), places we can't visit (like Mount Athos, well, at least not the female part of this world), places that don't exist anymore (or have been renamed), places that would be fun just to visit because of their weird identity (Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands is an interesting example and definitely on our list) and lots of curious, weird, quirky places that it's just fun to read about.

So, if like me, you love geography and/or maps, this is the book for you. Get your atlas out and read it.

From the back cover:
"In a world of Google Earth, it is easy to believe that every discovery has been made and every adventure had, Off the Map is a stunning testament to how mysterious our planet still is. It takes us into unchartered territory, to places found on few maps and sometimes on none.

From forgotten enclaves to floating islands, from hidden villages to New York gutter spaces, Off the Map charts the hidden corners of our planet. And while these are not necessarily places you would choose to visit on holiday - Hobyo, the pirate capital of Somalia, or Zheleznogorsk, a secret military town in Russia - they each carry a story about the strangeness of place and our need for a geography that understands our hunger for the fantastic and the unexpected. But it also shows us that topophilia, the love of place, is a fundamental part of what it is to be human. Whether you are an urban explorer or an armchair traveller, Off the Map will inspire and enchant. You'll never look at a map in quite the same way again."

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Happy July!

Happy July to all my friends and readers 

New Calendar picture with this beautiful watercolour painting
 by Hanka Koebsch "Pool Party"


July used to be Quintilis (or September), the seventh month of the year, but the Romans added two months and named this one after Julius Cæsar. It's supposedly the warmest month of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), so I hope it will be over soon.

Enjoy this month with the beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch.

You can find a lot more wonderful pictures on their website here.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Aaronovitch, Ben "Broken Homes"

Aaronovitch, Ben "Broken Homes" (Rivers of London 4) - 2013

Number 4 in the "Rivers of London" series, a crime story with wizards. Not my usual genre but I enjoy reading about London and the story is not too bad. But, as is the case with most crime stories, there is not much to talk about without giving away too much.

However, if you do want to read this, please start with the first novel in the series, "Rivers of London".

From the back cover:
 "A mutilated body in Crawley. Another killer on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man? Or just a common or garden serial killer?
Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load.
So far so London.
But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans and inhabited by the truly desperate.
Is there a connection?
And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River?"

The whole series:
"Rivers of London" - 2011
"Moon over Soho" - 2011
"Whispers Under Ground" - 2012
"Broken Homes" - 2013
"Foxglove Summer" - 2014
"The Hanging Tree" - 2016

I found a good site about this series: The Follypedia.

Book Quotes of the Week

"Reading makes a full man, writing a precise man." Francis Bacon

"A good reading strengthens the soul." Toba Beta

"I knew a gentleman who was so good a manager of his time that he would not even lose that small portion of it which the calls of nature obliged him to pass in the necessary-house; but gradually went through all the Latin poets in those moments." Lord Chesterfield

"The art of reading is in great part that of acquiring a better understanding of life from one’s encounter with it in a book." André Maurois

"I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in." Robert Louis Stevenson

Find more book quotes here.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Herbert, Xavier "Capricornia"

Herbert, Xavier "Capricornia"  - 1938

This book was suggested to me by my Australian friends as a classic from their country. It was a tough read of sorts but not disappointing. In this novel, the author tells us of life in Australia's north at the beginning of the 20th century. The life of the white settlers as well as the Aborigines who had lived on this continent for whoever knows how long, the new life created by the two, the "half-breeds" called "yeller fellers", the "quadroons" and the problems that arise by them mixing together. I have never understood how you can believe one race to be better than another but to divide those that have both races in them into different kind of people again ... if you have an Asian parent in between your "white" and "black" ones, you are better than those that have more "black" but still worse than those with more "white" etc. Seems unbelievable and I don't even want to understand it.

A great view of a continent that I don't even know today, even less so a hundred years ago. I have a few friends in Australia and my son just spent six months there, but that doesn't teach me much about their history. However, this did. An informative story, a captivating story, a touching story.

It must have been quite a shocking book when it was published in 1938, so close still to the events, I guess a lot of people still thought that way. The author was even declared "Protect of Aborigines", I think that says it all.

A lot of the books I read about Australia covered more the convicts that were forced to immigrate to Australia, this is later and therefore tells the continuation of that tale.

Oh, and I also loved the names of the characters, almost like Charles Dickens, a lot of them are named after their occupation or some flaw in their character. The undertaker is called Joe Crowe, Mr. Bigtit is an important lawyer, O'Crimnell and O'Theef are police troopers etc. Quite funny. Which shows that the novel is also full of humour.

Good read. If you are interested in Australia, you should definitely try it. Apparently, it inspired Baz Luhrman to make his film "Australia" which I also highly recommend, although the background to the story is completely different. And placed a little later in history.

From the back cover:
"A saga of life in the Northern Territories and the clash of white and Aborigine cultures – one of Australia’s all-time best-selling novels and an inspiration for Baz Luhrmann’s lavish film 'AUSTRALIA'.
Capricornia has been described as one of Australia's 'great novels', a sharply observed chronicle about life in the Northern Territory of Australia and the inhumane treatment suffered by Aborigines at the hands of white men. The story is immense and rambling, laced with humour that is often as bitter and as harsh as the terrain in which it is set, and follows with irony the fortunes (and otherwise) of a range of Outback characters over a span of generations. Through their story is reflected the story of Australia, the clash of personalities and cultures that provide the substance on which today's society is founded. Above all, however, this is a novel of protest and of compassion - for the Aborigines and half-bloods of Australia's 'last frontier'.
Sprawling, explosive, thronged with characters, plots and sub-plots, Capricornia is without doubt one of the best known and widely read Australian novels of the last 70 years. When it was first published it was acclaimed as 'a turning point', an 'outstanding work of social protest'. Its message is as penetrating today as it was in the 1930s when Herbert himself was official 'Protector of Aborigines' at Darwin."

Friday, 23 June 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

"There is no substitute for books in the life of a child." May Ellen Chase

"Read to escape reality ... Write to embrace it." Stephanie Connolly

"The newest books are those that never grow old." George Holbrook Jackson

"A book worth reading is worth buying." John Ruskin

"I love to read. That doesn't mean I don't have a life. It doesn't mean I'm a nerd. I only love the feeling that.. even when you're back in reality you still feel like you're in a different world." S.A. 

[If anyone can tell me the originator of this quote, I'd be very thankful and would happily include the name.]

Find more book quotes here.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Whitehead, Colson "Underground Railroad"

Whitehead, Colson "Underground Railroad" - 2016

I have read quite a few books about the Underground Railroad, the life of slaves and their slaveholders but never one that described the life of a fugitive as well as this one.

I have liked all the Pulitzer Prize winning books of the last years and this is no exception. A great story - Cora, a slave, who tries to run away from her abusive "master" - brilliant description of everyone involved, the slaves, their helpers, ordinary people who just think it's not right to own other human beings -  and their enemies - the slave holders, the slave catchers and just those people who think they are someone better because their skin is lighter. What can anything make you think the colour of your skin says anything about you other than that you get sunburnt so much easier the lighter your skin is.

Anyway, back to the book. The story is written from many perspectives, we even get to know the opponents well enough, not that it makes us more sympathetic towards them. None of the narratives is written in the first person. That way, we don't identify with any of them as we might have if it had been written like that but I still identified a lot more with Cora and the other slaves and victims than I did with the other side of the party. Always on the side of the underdog.

Before reading this book, I had never thought about the Underground Railroad as exactly that, a railroad underground, literally underground. But it makes a nice story background.

In any case, a brilliant book. I'd like to read more by this great author.

From the back cover:
"Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the
Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The
Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share."

Colson Whitehead received the Pulitzer Prize for "Underground Railroad" in 2017.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Vance, J.D. "Hillbilly elegy"

Vance, J.D. "Hillbilly elegy: a memoir of a family and culture in crisis" - 2016

This book was chosen as our latest book club book. After having read Arlie Russell Hochschild's "Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right", I thought, not another book that tries to explain Donald Trump. I doubt that any book can ever explain why he was elected because I believe there is no real reason for him.

However, I would not call this a book that explains why people vote for someone like that, it is a book that tries to explain how you can get out of a life that gives you no chances. Because the author was just someone like that, he had a mother who was addicted, who ran from one man to the next and would neglect her children. If things got too bad, the grandmother would step in as I am sure many grandmothers do.

Yes, J.D. Vance made me understand those people better. I don't know a community like that in Europe, where you more or less are doomed when you come from a certain area, where the school doesn't do much to help you get out of your situation. It was interesting to read and I think every politician should read this, should try to give these kids a better chance in life.

An interesting view about a society most people know nothing about. And that includes myself and the other members of my book club.

We discussed this in our book club in June 2017.

From the back cover:
"From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class.
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis - that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.
But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.
A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country."

Monday, 19 June 2017

Cao, Xueqin "Dream of the Red Chamber"

Cao, Xueqin "Dream of the Red Chamber" (Chinese: 红楼梦/Hung lou meng/aka The Story of the Stone) - ca. 1717-1763 (18th century)

Apparently, this novel is "one of the four pinnacles of classical Chinese literature. The other three are: The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and Outlaws of the Marsh."

Also known as "The Story of the Stone", it is said to be the first Chinese novel of this kind and has created an entire field of study "Redology".

I found this on the list of "101 Best Selling Books of All Time" and thought it might be interesting to read.

It was highly interesting indeed. The novel has semi-autobiographical sides, it is said that it shows not just the rise and fall of the author's family but also that of the Qing Dynasty.

I found it hard to remember all the names that were homophones with another character and therefore meant something else. It also took me going back and forth to the glossary in the back and then to the story in order to know who was talking or talked about when someone referred to Big Sister or Second Son etc. Sometimes the Chinese word for that was used, then the translation, then the real name, quite confusing. I think it might have to do with the translation and that a more modern one would have taken care of that. My library's edition is from 1957 and, with "only" 574 pages, an abridged version.

Still, the novel teaches us a lot not just about everyday Chinese life in the 18th century, but also their culture, religion, science, art and literature. Really captivating. Certainly one of the most informative books I have read about Ancient China, and I have read quite a few.

From the back cover:
"The Dream of the Red Chamber is one of the 'Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature.' It is renowned for its huge scope, large cast of characters and telling observations on the life and social structures of 18th century China and is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the classical Chinese novel.
The "
Red Chamber" is an expression used for the sheltered area where the daughters of wealthy Chinese families lived. Believed to be based on the author's own life and intended as a memorial to the women that he knew in his youth, The Dream of the Red Chamber is a multilayered story that offers up key insights into Chinese culture."

Friday, 16 June 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

"I don’t think of literature as an end in itself. It’s just a way of communicating something." Isabel Allende

"If you have read 6,000 books in your lifetime, or even 600, it's probably because at some level you find 'reality' a bit of a disappointment." Joe Queenan, One for the Books

"One of the advantages of reading books is that you get to play with someone else’s imaginary friends, at all hours of the night." Dr. SunWolf

"Choose an author as you choose a friend." Sir Christopher Wren

"In a good book the best is between the lines." Swedish Proverb

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Mahfouz, Naguib "Palace of Desire"

Mahfouz, Naguib "Palace of Desire" (Arabic: قصر الشوق/Qasr el-Shōq) - 1957

"Palace of Desire", Part 2 of the Cairo Trilogy, starts in 1924, five years after "Palace Walk" ends. The children have grown up, even the youngest son and the family moves on after several backdrops. al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, the Patriarch, still tries to control his children but he is less successful than in the first book.

Again, we meet all the friends and neighbours of the family, the sons-in-law, the girls pursued by the sons - and the father. A story that really deserves the title "saga".

We also learn again about the Egyptians' view of the British occupation and can totally understand them. Why should one country rule over another?

I know I mentioned I love big books but what I love even more is a continuation of a big book that makes it even bigger. This is one of those cases. I'm looking forward to the third part, "Sugar Street".

From the back cover:
"The sensual and provocative second volume in the Cairo Trilogy, Palace Of Desire follows the Al Jawad family into the awakening world of the 1920's and the sometimes violent clash between Islamic ideals, personal dreams and modern realities.

Having given up his vices after his son's death, ageing patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad pursues an arousing lute-player - only to find she has married his eldest son. His rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination as they test the loosening reins of societal and parental control. And Ahmad's youngest son, in an unforgettable portrayal of unrequited love, ardently courts the sophisticated daughter of a rich Europeanised family.

Naguib Mahfouz "who, through works rich in nuance - now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous - has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

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

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Solstad, Lexidh "Catpasity"

Solstad, Lexidh "Catpasity" - 2015

This book was written by an online friend of mine, otherwise I might not have discovered it. What a pity that would have been. I'm not a big animal lover, I love looking at cute cat pictures and/or videos like the next person and if I absolutely had to have a pet, it would have to be a cat. This book certainly hasn't encouraged me to get one, I know with my back and my migraines, I just couldn't do the work.

However, I loved the book, it was so nice to read, almost like having cats of your own. I had to chuckle quite a few times and recommend the novel heartily to everyone who wants a nice read, whether they own cats or not.

A very entertaining book, a feel good book without the feeling this is just all too easy. The author speaks from the heart and we can laugh with her and be sad with her.

I'm sure you find it even more entertaining if you are the "crazy cat lady" in your neighbourhood.

Loved it.

From the back cover:
"Cat experts write books about cats: how cats behave, why cats behave like they do; perhaps, also, what you can do to make your cats behave differently. This is not that kind of book.

This book is a story about how it really is to live with cats - when you let them be themselves. It explores how they have chosen to behave in all kinds of situations, over a period of 15 years. It is a true story about a woman and the cats that have driven her bonkers enough to write a book about them.

I am a survivor of a life with cats. This is our story."

The author also has a blog where you can find pictures of her cats.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Lenz, Siegfried "The German Lesson"

Lenz, Siegfried "The German Lesson" (German: Deutschstunde) - 1968

I can't believe I didn't read this until now. There are so many different ways to write about World War II, this is one aspect that probably a lot of people had to face, one member of the family (the father) definitely pro-Nazi, another one (the son) against. Must have been so hard. It reminds me of something some of my friends tell me about their families in the US and their clashes between Republicans vs. Democrats.

In any case, I read somewhere that this is not about World War II but about duty. I can only slightly agree. Of course, one has to fulfill one's duty but one should not just obey blindly, always use your brain, as well. That is my opinion.

I have read other books by Siegfried Lenz before, e.g. "Landesbühne" and "Zaungast" but neither of them have been translated, so I didn't write a review. But I enjoyed them all.

A remarkable book. What does a young boy do when his broadening mind clashes with narrow-mindedness? The author certainly tries to help his generation to overcome the restrictions laid upon them by the Nazi party. He actually belonged to a group of other writers called Group 47 that was created to renew German literature after World War II as well as in giving young authors the possibility to find an audience. The group certainly was very successful if you consider that very famous German authors like Ingeborg Bachmann, Heinrich Böll, Günter Eich, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Erich Fried, Günter Grass, Peter Handke, Uwe Johnson, Erich Kästner, Hans Werner Richter and Martin Walser (to name but a few) belonged to its members. Quote a few of them received renowned awards, two of them (Böll and Grass) even received the Nobel Prize for Literature and two the Peace Prize (Siegfried Lenz and Martin Walser). I want to believe that this group also had an influence on this book.

The novel is written in a great style, I don't know how well it translates but the original German is absolutely beautiful.

From the back cover: "In writing this novel, one of the major works of German fiction to appear since the Second World War, Siegfried Lenz has written, 'I was trying to find out where the joys of duty could lead a people.' His exploration is a disturbing triumph. Siggi Jepsen, the protagonist, is embroiled in the conflict between the totalitarian Nazi government and a creative artist. As a young boy he watched his father, constable of the northernmost police station in Germany, doggedly carry out orders from Berlin to stop a well-known Expressionist, their neighbour, from painting and to seize all his 'degenerate' work. Soon Siggi is hiding the paintings to keep them safe from his father. Against the great brooding landscape of the Danish borderland, Siggi recounts the clash of father and son, of duty and personal loyalty in wartime Germany."

Siegfried Lenz received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 1988.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

"It’s hopeless! Tomorrow there will be even more books I should have read than there are today." Ashleigh Brilliant

"I love the smell of book ink in the morning." Umberto Eco

"The walls of books around him, dense with the past, formed a kind of insulation against the present world and its disasters." Ross MacDonald

"True Readers Know Anything Makes a Good Bookmark." Toby Price

"We must form our minds by reading deep rather than wide." Marcus Fabius Quintilian

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Weir, Alison "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" - 1991

Weir, Alison "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" - 1991

After reading "Six Tudor Queens. Katherine of Aragon. The True Queen", I discovered that Alison Weir is not just going to write a book about every single one of Henry VIIIs wife but that she has already written a description of all their lives. In this book. I just had to go and read it.

Just as in the novel I read, we get to know the characters very well. There is so much information here about the six ladies who were married to Henry VIII as well as a lot about the king  himself and the children. You get a complete picture of the Royal Tudor family, not just the Tudors but all their contemporaries, the European Royal families, the people and families of influence a the time. At the beginning of the book, you find a chronology beginning with the Battle of Bosworth in 1458 and ending with the accession to the throne by Elizabeth I. in 1558. At the end there are several family trees of the families involved. There is so much to learn and Alison Weir makes it so easy to get into the lives of the people living at the time. I sometimes got confused with people having two different names, e.g. if someone is a Duke or an Earl he is named by his title but he also has a Christian name and you only see the relationship to his family by that name. But, the author has thought about that, as well. There is an Index at the end that gives you all the names and pages where they are mentioned.

I always found the Tudors interesting but this book taught me more than all the other books and documentations I read about them. A well written non-fiction book that reads almost like a novel and comprises everything you would look for in almost every other genre. Love and friendship, birth and death, murder, intrigues, betrayal, religion and politics and, of course, politics. What else do you need to find a fascinating book?

From the back cover:
"One of the most powerful monarchs in British history, Henry VIII ruled England in unprecedented splendour. In this remarkable composite biography, Alison Weir brings Henry's six wives vividly to life, revealing each as a distinct and compelling personality in her own right.

Drawing upon the rich fund of documentary material from the Tudor period, The Six Wives of Henry VIII shows us a court where personal needs frequently influenced public events and where a life of gorgeously ritualised pleasure was shot through with ambition, treason and violence."

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Woodruff, Elvira "Dear Austin"

Woodruff, Elvira "Dear Austin: Letters from the Underground Railroad" - 1998

I never read "Dear Levi" which seems to be the other side of the correspondence. Therefore, I don't think we get as much information about the Unterground Railroad as there might be in the other book. But I still think this story is good for children if they want to know what was giong on and how black people lived during slavery time - and even afterwards.

Nice little children's book.

From the back cover: "In this companion novel to Dear Levi, told in letters,11-year-old Levi helps a young African American in a harrowing flight for freedom along the Underground Railroad."

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Mahfouz, Naguib "Palace Walk"

Mahfouz, Naguib "Palace Walk" (Arabic: بين القصرين/Bayn al-qasrayn) - 1956 (Kairo Trilogie 1)

Part 1 of the Cairo Trilogy. I love big books, I love family sagas, I love historical fiction, I love books by Nobel Prize winners, so this should definitely the book for me.

And it is. The story of an Egyptian family between 1917 to 1919. We get to know al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad who rules his family like a tyrant, his wife, his daughters and his sons, they all have to obey him without question. He is by far not a perfect person himself but expects this from everyone around him. Given the time, everyone accepts this as a God-given law.

Brilliantly told, Naguib Mahfouz is a fantastic observer, he mentions so many things, describes people's feelings in a way that is unique and highly commendable. We can imagine being a fly on the wall who notices everything that is going on. I would love to read a book Mahfouz would write now about the same family, well, their progeny. The author managed to create a family that seems so real, so alive. We can well imagine meeting them somewhere. A very realistic story.

I already have the follow-up "Palace of Desire" on my table waiting to be read next and will certainly also read the last part "Sugar Street".

From the back cover:
"Palace Walk is the first novel in Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s magnificent Cairo Trilogy, an epic family saga of colonial Egypt that is considered his masterwork.

The novels of the Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons - the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal. The family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two world wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries."

Naguib Mahfouz "who, through works rich in nuance - now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous - has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

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, 2 June 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

"Reading gives one something to think about other than one’s self." Tom Bissell

"If you have never said 'Excuse me' to a parking meter or bashed your shins on a fireplug, you are
probably wasting too much valuable reading time." Sherri Chasin Calvo 
"We know that books are not a way of letting someone else think in our place: On the contrary, they are machines that provoke further thought." Umberto Eco

"Nothing is worth reading that does not require an alert mind." Charles Dudley Warner

"The food we eat feeds our body but the novels we read feed our mind." N.N.
[If anyone can tell me the originator of this quote, I'd be very thankful and would happily include the name.]

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Happy June!

Happy June to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch

 "Flower Splendor of the Rhododendron" 
"Blütenpracht des Rhododendron"

June is the month of the summer stolstice. My least favourite season begins but there are also positive things, usually many flowers. And all the ice cream parlors. We must look at the bright side. ;) Enjoy this month with the beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch.

You can find a lot more wonderful pictures on their website here.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Murakami, Haruki "Kafka on the Shore"

Murakami, Haruki "Kafka on the Shore" (Japanese: 海辺のカフカ Umibe no Kafuka) - 2004

I had no idea this book was kind of a fantasy or at least magic realism story. I have no idea what I thought but I certainly didn't expect this kind of story. Maybe someone reading a book by Kafka during their holidays or something.

Anyway, the protagonist calls himself Kafka. He runs away from home in order to get away from everything and starts a new life in a library. Quite interesting so far. Then there is this old guy who seems to have been involved in a weird military "accident" as a child and he can talk to cats. Also, there is a way from one life into another and back. All pretty weird. Still, an interesting read, an interesting story, you can try to analyze the different characters, all of whom have different kind of goals in their lives, well, they don't exactly have a goal but they all seem to follow their own pattern in going through life.

As I said, a weird book but quite enjoyable.

From the back cover:
"The opening pages of a Haruki Murakami novel can be like the view out an airplane window onto tarmac. But at some point between page three and fifteen - it's page thirteen in Kafka On The Shore - the deceptively placid narrative lifts off, and you find yourself breaking through clouds at a tilt, no longer certain where the plane is headed or if the laws of flight even apply.
Joining the rich literature of runaways, Kafka On The Shore follows the solitary, self-disciplined schoolboy Kafka Tamura as he hops a bus from Tokyo to the randomly chosen town of Takamatsu, reminding himself at each step that he has to be "the world's toughest fifteen-year-old." He finds a secluded private library in which to spend his days - continuing his impressive self-education - and is befriended by a clerk and the mysteriously remote head librarian, Miss Saeki, whom he fantasizes may be his long-lost mother. Meanwhile, in a second, wilder narrative spiral, an elderly Tokyo man named Nakata veers from his calm routine by murdering a stranger. An unforgettable character, beautifully delineated by Murakami, Nakata can speak with cats but cannot read or write, nor explain the forces drawing him toward Takamatsu and the other characters."

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Schrobsdorff, Angelika "You Are Not Like Other Mothers"

Schrobsdorff, Angelika "You Are Not Like Other Mothers" (German: Du bist nicht so wie andre Mütter) - 1992

The life of a Jewish mother at the beginning of the last century. This book is about the author's mother Else who was not what people expected from "nice" Jewish girls. She was a very early feminist, all that against the backdrop of raising anti-Semitism and the beginning of the Second World War where most of her family members get killed.

Else moved to Bulgaria with her children, only to have to hide there, as well as the Nazis got closer everywhere.

A highly interesting story about a time that brought us so many books that it is often hard to choose which one to read. But this one is definitely worth it.

From the back cover: "You Are Not Like Other Mothers is the story of Else Kirschner, a free spirited mother of three children. The novel spans the first half of the 20th century, from World War I through the Jewish Else’s exile in Bulgaria during World War II. Multi-layered and epic in scope, the narrative incorporates numerous sub-plots and secondary characters to provide a richly rendered portrait of 20th century Europe."

Monday, 29 May 2017

Hirst, John "The Shortest History of Europe" - 2009

Hirst, John "The Shortest History of Europe" - 2009

An interesting book about the origins of European history. First there were the Greeks, then the Christians and then the Germans. If you say it like this, it all sounds a little simple but this is a collection of great lectures by a very dedicated professor of history. The Australian John Hirst gives a great oversight over anything you always wanted to know about European history and how we became what we are now.

With just under 200 pages and talks starting in the classic times and ending in the present, with lots of maps, tables, drawings and pictures, this is probably the best book if you want to know about this topic.

Interestingly enough, when my son (who has just finished his B.A. in European Studies) saw the book, he said, oh, John Hirst, I've read a lot by him. And when his girlfriend (who still does European Studies) saw it, she said, I had to read this for one of my lectures.

In any case, this book is worth picking up. The subtitle "Read in an afternoon. Remember for a lifetime." is certainly more than correct.

From the back cover:
In this short, entertaining and thought-provoking book, acclaimed historian John Hirst provides a fascinating exploration of the qualities that have made Europe a world-changing civilisation.
Starting with a rapid historical overview from the ancient Greeks to the present day (the 'shortest history' itself), Hirst goes on to explore in detail what makes Europe unique: its political evolution; the shaping influence of its linguistic boundaries; the crucial role played by power struggles between Pope and Emperor; and of course the great invasions and conquests that have  transformed the continent.
Written with clarity, feeling and wit, The Shortest History of Europe is a tour-de-force: read in a single afternoon, it will be remembered for a lifetime."

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Bryson, Bill "Bill Bryson's African Diary"

Bryson, Bill "Bill Bryson's African Diary. A Short Trip for a Worthy Cause" - 2002

I had a hard time obtaining this book. I usually try to find my foreign literature in local bookshops that carry them. And there are lots of Bill Bryson books to be had. However, not the "African Diary". So I ordered it at that online book shop everyone orders all their stuff from, you know, the one named after a South American river. ;) Even they couldn't deliver, After a year it was still on back order.
But I was lucky and found it in the end. Of course, a hardback that is smaller than a paperback but costs at least as much as a hardback. Maybe that's what holds people back. However, about the money: ALL the money goes to CARE International, so you make a donation AND get a book for FREE.

And it was totally worth it. Even describing the poorest people, refugees, slum dwellers, Bill Bryson finds such a gentle way of describing it, even makes you laugh from time to time. Not that this is the aim of the book, he just can't help himself.

I still think it is sad that the book is so short but he covers everything and it might get people to read him or at least read about the subject who are not much into reading. If that is the idea and it works, I'm totally behind one of my favourite authors.

In any case, even though it is so short, it's a MUST read for any Bryson fan.

From the back cover:
"Bill Bryson goes to Kenya at the invitation of CARE International, the charity dedicated to working with local communities to eradicate poverty around the world.

Kenya, generally regarded as the cradle of mankind, is a land of contrasts, with famous game reserves, stunning landscapes, and a vibrant cultural tradition. It also provides plenty to worry a traveller like Bill Bryson, fixated as he is on the dangers posed by snakes, insects and large predators. But on a more sober note, it is a country that shares many serious human and environmental problems with the rest of Africa: refugees, AIDS, drought and grinding poverty.

Travelling around the country, Bryson casts his inimitable eye on a continent new to him, and the resultant diary, though short in length, contains the trademark Bryson stamp of wry observation and curious insight.

All the author's royalties from Bill Bryson's African Diary, as well as all profits, will go to CARE International."

Friday, 19 May 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

"The mere brute pleasure of reading - the sort of pleasure a cow must have in grazing." Lord Chesterfield

"I don't think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. It's tosh. It's snobbery and it's foolishness. Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading. We need our children to get onto the reading ladder. Anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy." Neil Gaimain

"Books amuse and touch. And they can distract - not least from ourselves." Andrea Gerk "Reading as Medicine" ("Lesen als Medizin")

"Good humor is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keep friends. It lightens human burdens. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment." Greenville Kleisser

"To survive, you must tell stories." Umberto Eco

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi "Half of a Yellow Sun"

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi "Half of a Yellow Sun" - 2006

I remember the time when we were teenagers and I was a member of a youth group at church. We bought oranges, wrote "Biafra" on them and sold them after mass. We wanted to help all those poor children that were dying of hunger in Biafra.

I don't think many of us knew where Biafra was. After all, it was a new country. We learned the African countries at school but Biafra hadn't been among them.

And even though I am sure many others have collected money for Biafra, I totally can relate to the quote "The world was silent when we died." Yes, we were silent, we are still silent. Many of us don't know what happened and I am so content that I read this story and learned a little bit more about a part of this continent that still has to overcome so many problems thrown at them by us Europeans. Biafra is just one of the areas, I can think of many others, Rwanda, for example.

This book has been on my TBR pile for a while. Why? I think the only reason is that my TBR pile is too large. The book is marvelous. The story just throws you right into the lives of Ugwu, Olanna and Odenigbo, Kainene and Richard. You are in the middle of their struggles, their problems, their will to survive. What a fantastic story. You want to finish it within a day but you also don't ever want to finish it because you are afraid of what is coming at the end. You get to know not only the characters but the whole situation, you get to know the country and the history. Just brilliant.

The title of this novel represents the flag of Biafra, a flag I had never seen, therefore the title didn't tell me anything at all. But if you know the flag, all becomes clear. Look it up.

I will surely read more by this wonderful author.

From the back cover:
"In 1960s Nigeria, a country blighted by civil war, three lives intersect. Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university lecturer. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. The third is Richard, a shy Englishman in thrall to Olanna`s enigmatic twin sister. When the shocking horror of the war engulfs them, their loyalties are severely tested as they are pulled apart and thrown together in ways that none of them imagined ..."

The author lists a lot of books that she used for research. I think all of them would be worth reading, as well, though I doubt I will ever manage to finish them all.

Achebe, Chinua "Girls at War and Other Stories"
Amadi, Elechi "Sunset in Biafra"
Brandler, J.L. "Out of Nigeria"
Collis, Robert "Nigeria in Conflict"
De St. Jorre, John "the Nigerian Civil War"
Ekwe-Ekwe, Herbert "The Biafran War: Nigeria and the Aftermath"
Ekwensi, Cyprian "Divided We Stand"
Emecheta, Buchi "Destination Biafra"
Enekwe, Ossie "Come Thunder"
Forsyth, Frederick "Biafra Story"
Gold, Herbert "Biafra Goodbye"
Ike, Chukwuemeka "Sunset at Dawan"
Iroh, Eddie "The Siren at Night"
Jacobs, Dan "The Brutality of Nations"
Kanu, Anthonia "Broken Lives and Other Stories"
Madiebo, Alex "the Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War"
Mok, Micheal "Biafra Journal
Niven, Rex "The War of Nigerian Unity"
Njoku, Hilary "A Tragedy Without Heroes"
Nwankwo, Arthur Agwuncha "The Making of a Nation"
Nwapa, Flora "Never Again"
Nwapa, Flora "Wives at War"
Odogwu, Bernard "No Place to Hide: Crises and Conflicts Inside Biafra"
Okigbo, Christopher "Labyrinths"
Okonta, Ike and Douglas, Oronta "Where Vultures Feed"
Okpaku, Joseph "Nigeria: Dilemma of Nationhood"
Okpi, Kalu "Biafra Testament"
Soyinka, Wole "The Man Died
Stremlau, John J. "The International Politics of the Nigerian Civil War"
Uwechue, Ralph "Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War"
Uzokwe, Alfred Obiora "Surviving in Biafra"

There are more books mentioned at the end by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and other African writers that are worth reading:

Achebe, Chinua "Arrow of God"
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi "Purple Hibiscus"
Chinodya, Shimmer "Harvest of Thorns"
Oguibe, Olu "Lessons from the Killing Fields"
Wainana, Binyavanga “How To Write About Africa.”

She also mentions this book several times in the novel:
Douglass, Frederick "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave"

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Ballantyne, Tony "Dream London" - 2013

Ballantyne, Tony "Dream London" - 2013

I love London and I love reading about it. I also love dreaming about it but this book was not my thing. Too much fantasy, too little of anything else, the plot goes all over the place and makes no sense at all. Not my type of book.

I doubt I will read another book of "The Dream World" series, looks like Paris is the next one. I think I rather read something historical about them, like anything by Edward Rutherfurd.

From the back cover:
"Captain Jim Wedderburn has looks, style and courage. He's adored by women, respected by men and feared by his enemies. He's the man to find out who has twisted London into this strange new world.

But in Dream London the city changes a little every night and the people change a little every day. The towers are growing taller, the parks have hidden themselves away and the streets form themselves into strange new patterns. There are people sailing in from new lands down the river, new criminals emerging in the East End and a path spiralling down to another world.

Everyone is changing, no one is who they seem to be."