Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Coetzee, J.M. "Waiting for the Barbarians"

Coetzee, J.M. "Waiting for the Barbarians" - 1980

We read this in our international online book club in January 2023.

No names or places are mentioned in this novel. So, the story could take place in any corrupt country, in any dictatorship. Since the author is South African, I suppose that's where it takes place.

The description of the protagonist, the magistrate in a small post on the border of "the Empire" is very good. We see how he goes from thinking he is a loyal servant of a fair government to the discovery that the so-called barbarians are oppressed by the regime and those who think they are better than others for whatever reason.

As with so many novels that tell us about these situations, it is quite frightening to think how it is living in such a situation, where already your thoughts are a sin and nobody is supposed to know about it. And beware of helping others, especially if they are on the list of "enemies", "terrorists", "barbarians", whatever they are called in the respective countries.

This book might be more than fifty years old, but it's still as contemporary as ever. I can think of a few countries that are still in a similar situation, and I bet you can, as well.

From the back cover:

"For decades the Magistrate has been a loyal servant of the Empire, running the affairs of a tiny frontier settlement and ignoring the impending war with the barbarians. When interrogation experts arrive, however, he witnesses the Empire's cruel and unjust treatment of prisoners of war. Jolted into sympathy for their victims, he commits a quixotic act of rebellion that brands him an enemy of the state. J. M. Coetzee's prize-winning novel is a startling allegory of the war between opressor and opressed. The Magistrate is not simply a man living through a crisis of conscience in an obscure place in remote times; his situation is that of all men living in unbearable complicity with regimes that ignore justice and decency."

J.M. Coetzee "who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider" received the Nobel Prize in 2003 and the Booker Prize for this novel in 1999.

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

Monday, 30 January 2023

Gillard, Joe "The Little Book of Lost Words"

Gillard, Joe "The Little Book of Lost Words. Collywobbles, Snollygosters, and 86 Other Surprisingly Useful Terms Worth Resurrecting" - 2019

I found this book through Lisa's blog Captivated Reader (here). The title was so amusing, I just had to have a look.

And the title keeps what it promises. There are lots of forgotten words, or words you never knew. Some of my favourites are "betweenity" (being in the middle, or between two things), "namelings" (people who possess the same name), "slugabed" (a person who sleeps in later than is appropriate) and "ultracrepidarian" (a person with opinions on subjects beyond their knowledge). Arnet' they all fantastic?

I wasn't too keen on the pictures, even though they stem from some famous classic artists. But I didn't buy the book for the pictures.

A great book for any lover of words. Thank you, Lisa.

From the back cover:

"The founder of History Hustle presents a handy guide for expressing yourself with history's best words.

This collection features scores of unique words from history that deal with surprisingly modern issues like sleeping in and procrastination - proving that some things never change!
The Little Book of Lost Words presents each term that's ready to be brought back into modern-day use, complete with definition, hilarious sample sentence, and cheeky historical art. You'll learn new words for the cozy room where you like to Netflix and chill (snuggery), for a dishonest politician (snollygoster), and for a young person who sleeps through the day and doesn't work (dewdropper). If you like Lost in Translation, Shakespeare Insult Generator, Drunk History, and Roald Dahl - and you delight in the way words like blatteroon and flapdoodle roll off the tongue - then you're the word lover this book was written for. Want to know what a fizgig or groke is? Read this book!"

Friday, 27 January 2023

Ulitzkaja, Ljudmila "Medea and Her Children"

Ulitzkaja, Ljudmila "Medea and Her Children" (Russian: Медея и её дети/ Medeja i eë deti) - 1996

This book was suggested to us by a book club member. It was said that Ukrainian history would be presented here through a family from Crimea. Well, after the description I had imagined something else and was glad to have read "Ukraine verstehen" [Understanding Ukraine: History, Politics and Struggle for Freedom] by Steffen Dobbert beforehand. I had heard a lot about the Ukraine, including the problems with Russia, long before they first annexed Crimea and then invaded the country, but it was good to hear more details that also helped to understand this book.

Medea is the good soul of the Sinopli family. She lives in Crimea, where her ancestors came from, and every summer the family comes to visit. Not only are they now scattered all over the Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries, they also all have different problems and motives, as is usual in large families, which lead them to Aunt Medea. The family also has many different origins. While she would probably describe herself primarily as Greek, her ancestors come from many other places as well.

At the beginning of the book we are shown a family tree, which I think could have been a bit more detailed, especially since surnames, patronyms, nicknames, etc. are used again and again, which can lead to confusion. Also, the author mentions in the foreword that she is talking about her family, but I think this is more of a novel based on her family.

The various characters are described very well, you feel somehow in the middle of the family. In that respect it is an excellent book. I had already read "The Green Tent" by Ljudmila Ulitzkaja and found it simply remarkable. I probably also put too much expectation into this book, or was misprepared, but I didn't have the same feeling as I did with the first book. And most book club members had the same opinion. But that won't stop me from reading more books by this author.

From the back cover:

"Medea Georgievna Sinoply Mendez is an iconic figure in her Crimean village, the last remaining pure-blooded Greek in a family that has lived on that coast for centuries. Childless Medea is the touchstone of a large family, which gathers each spring and summer at her home. There are her nieces (sexy Nike and shy Masha), her nephew Georgii (who shares Medea’s devotion to the Crimea), and their friends. In this single summer, the languor of love will permeate the Crimean air, hearts will be broken, and old memories will float to consciousness, allowing us to experience not only the shifting currents of erotic attraction and competition, but also the dramatic saga of this family amid the forces of dislocation, war, and upheaval of twentieth-century Russian life."

Thursday, 26 January 2023

#ThrowbackThursday. Herta Müller


Müller, Herta "The Appointment" (German: Heute wär ich mir lieber nicht begegnet) - 1997

In this novel, Herta Müller describes the way of a Romanian woman to an appointment with the "Securitate", the secret police. The whole book takes place in the 90 minutes she needs to get there. While driving on the tram, she reflects on her life and what has happened before.

We were lucky to be able to discuss this book with our Romanian book club member who could give us some firsthand information.

We discussed this in our international book club in December 2010.

Read my original review here.

Müller, Herta "The King Bows and Kills" (German: Der König verneigt sich und tötet) - 2003

This book is a collection of several essays and it draws a picture of a life in a dictatorship. It is probably the closest to an autobiography that the author has written.

Read my original review here.

Herta Müller grew up in the German speaking part of Romania. She left for Germany in 1987 but her books were not published in Romania at the time.

Herta Müller "who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009.

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

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Ondaatje, Michael "The English Patient"

Ondaatje, Michael "The English Patient" - 1992

I have read "Anil's Ghost" and "Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje both of which I really liked. I had been looking forward to reading this one for ages, so when I came across the book lately, I decided it was finally time to read it.

There might have been a reason why I didn't tackle it before. I was not as happy with it as I had been with the others. Maybe I should have stayed away from it because it received the Booker Prize, I rarely like those, and I have no idea why.

It was quite confusing at times. Who is the author talking about? At what time is he talking? Before the war? During the war? After the war? Are they in Italy or in Egypt, in Canada or India? And why is that English couple in the story? I know, I know, they met the English patient before but it still is weird, somehow it doesn't fit.

I saw a review where someone said the people in the book were not speaking like people in the 1940s. That might be one of the reasons, as well.

But what really bothered me was that you didn't really get to know the people very well, they remain shallow, trivial, superficial.

I might have enjoyed this more, had I not read and loved his other books and therefore expected a brilliant novel. This is an okay novel but that's all. So, I might wait a while until I read the next book by this author.

From the back cover:

"With unsettling beauty and intelligence, Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of World War II. The nurse Hana, exhausted by death, obsessively tends to her last surviving patient. Caravaggio, the thief, tries to reimagine who he is, now that his hands are hopelessly maimed. The Indian sapper Kip searches for hidden bombs in a landscape where nothing is safe but himself. And at the center of his labyrinth lies the English patient, nameless and hideously burned, a man who is both a riddle and a provocation to his companions - and whose memories of suffering, rescue, and betrayal illuminate this book like flashes of heat lightning."

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Top Ten Tuesday ~ Authors I Found Last Year


"Top Ten Tuesday" is an original feature/weekly meme created on the blog "The Broke and the Bookish". This feature was created because they are particularly fond of lists at "The Broke and the Bookish". It is now hosted by Jana from That Artsy Reader Girl.

Since I am just as fond of them as they are, I jump at the chance to share my lists with them! Have a look at their page, there are lots of other bloggers who share their lists here.

This week, our topic is a New-to-Me Authors I Discovered in 2022.

I found far fewer new authors that I really liked last year. I listed five in my Statistics: Sara Nisha Adams, Julia Alvarez, Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, Mariana Leky, Maren Uthaug. But there are a few others I also liked, so here we go.

Adams, Sara Nisha "The Reading List" - 2021
Alvarez, Julia "In the Time of the Butterflies" - 1994
Boschwitz, Ulrich Alexander "The Passenger" aka "The Fugitive" (GE: Der Reisende) - 1939
Fallada, Hans "Every Man Dies Alone" (GE: Jeder stirbt für sich allein) - 1947
Greywoode, Josephine (ed.) "Why We Read. 70 Writers on Non-Fiction" - 2022
Leky, Mariana "What You Can See From Here" (GE: Was man von hier aus sehen kann) - 2017
Menasse, Robert "The Capital" (GE: Die Hauptstadt) - 2017
Schroeder, Steffen "Was alles in einem Menschen sein kann. Begegnung mit einem Mörder" [What can be in a person. Encountering a murderer] - 2017
Shaw, Karl "Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty" - 1999
Uthaug, Maren "Before there were Birds" (DK: Hvor der er fugle/Hannahs Lied) - 2017

📚 Happy Reading! 📚

Monday, 23 January 2023

Suttner, Bertha von "Lay Down Your Arms"

Suttner, Bertha von "Lay Down Your Arms" or "Down with Weapons!" (German: Die Waffen nieder!) - 1889
This is my eleventh Classic Spin and we were given #6.

A present from a dear friend who knows what I appreciate. On the German cover, the description says: "Der Roman für den Frieden" - "The Novel for Peace."

And that's what it is. Bertha von Suttner inspired Alfred Nobel to add the Nobel Peace Prize to the different categories in 1901. Four years later, she was the first woman to receive it. And well deserved.

The name of the protagonist is different from the author, yet the book is always described as an auto-biography. Bertha von Suttner grew up in a similar environment as her Martha Althaus. And at the same time. She lived during a time where war was something people not just accepted but rejoiced about, a lot of the men in her surroundings, nobility like herself, were soldiers, many of the women wives of soldiers. And it was clear in the society, that children should be raised to become soldiers and fight for their country, as well.

Bertha von Suttner lived from 1843 to 1914, so she died just a month before the outbreak of WWI. It was probably good that she didn't live to see this anymore though I am sure she knew what was coming. I have only just read a book about 1913 (illies) and most people didn't have a clue though I am sure she did.

In her book, she writes about the horrors of war, not just what the soldiers have to go through but mainly what their loved ones have to suffer. Her book was a huge success, she didn't seem to be the only one who thought this world would be better off without wars. I totally agree with her but we still haven't learned.

Bertha von Suttner was probably one of the first pacifists. Leo Tolstoy compared of her novel to that of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the same result to war than to slavery. I wish he had been right.

She also founded the German Peace Society.

From the back cover:

"Lay Down Your Arms! (novel), English title of the 1889 novel "Die Waffen Nieder!" by the Austrian pacifist activist Bertha von Suttner, who received the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize for it. 'We English-speaking people, whether in England, in the Colonies, or in the United States, being ourselves in no immediate danger of seeing our homes invaded, and our cities laid under contribution by hostile armies, are apt to forget how terribly the remembrance of such calamities, and the constant threat of their recurrence, haunt the lives of our Continental brethren.' - T. Holmes

Austrian novelist Bertha von Suttner was one of the first notable woman pacifists. She is credited with influencing Alfred Nobel in the establishment of the Nobel Prize for Peace, of which she was the recipient in 1905. Her major novel,
Die Waffen nieder! (1889; Lay Down Your Arms!), has been compared in popularity and influence with Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

The daughter of an impoverished Austrian field marshal, she was a governess to the wealthy Suttner family from 1873. She became engaged to Baron Arthur Gundaccar von Suttner (1850-1902), an engineer and novelist, seven years her junior. The opposition of his family to this match caused her, in 1876, to answer Nobel's advertisement for a secretary-housekeeper at his Paris residence. After only a week she returned to Vienna and secretly married Suttner.

Bertha von Suttner received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905 "for her audacity to oppose the horrors of war."

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

Here are all the books on my original Classics Club list.
And here is a list of all the books I read with the Classics Spin.