Monday 30 May 2011

Vargas Llosa, Mario "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter"

Vargas Llosa, Mario "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" (Spanish: La tía Julia y el escribidor) - 1977

After having read "The Storyteller" by this fascinating author, I had to look for more of his books. In this novel which is based on Mario Vargas Llosa's life, at the age of 18, he meets a sister of his aunt who is 14 years his senior and falls in love with her. At the same time, he works for a Peruvian radio station where a Bolivian scriptwriter adds a lot of excitement to everyone's life.

While telling his own story, he manages to insert quite a few of the novelas the scriptwriter has produced. The book is both funny as well as exciting, a very interesting view on the life of an author. Apparently, Julia Urquidi (Aunt Julia) wrote her own story later "Lo que Varguitas no dijo" (What little Vargas didn't say). Sounds quite interesting, too.

Anyway, I loved this book, great read.

In 1990, a film was made based on this book. The title "Tune in tomorrow" sounds like a very good one.

From the back cover:
"Mario Vargas Llosa's brilliant, multilayered novel is set in the Lima, Peru, of the author's youth, where a young student named Marito is toiling away in the news department of a local radio station. His young life is disrupted by two arrivals.

The first is his aunt Julia, recently divorced and thirteen years older, with whom he begins a secret affair. The second is a manic radio scriptwriter named Pedro Camacho, whose racy, vituperative soap operas are holding the city's listeners in thrall. Pedro chooses young Marito to be his confidant as he slowly goes insane.

Interweaving the story of Marito's life with the ever-more-fevered tales of Pedro Camacho, Vargas Llosa's novel is hilarious, mischievous, and masterful, a classic named one of the best books of the year by the
New York Times Book Review."

Mario Vargas Llosa received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010 "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat".

Mario Vargas Llosa received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 1996.

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

Vargas Llosa, Mario "The Storyteller"

Vargas Llosa, Mario "The Storyteller" (Spanish: El Hablador) - 1987

When the latest Nobel Prize winner for Literature was announced, I was quite excited because I had read a book by him recently. A young man leaves Western civilization and lives among the Machiguenga Indians in the jungle of Peru. He becomes their storyteller, a person who passes on their culture's history and belief. The author has a very unique style, quite different from anything I know, the story is both mystical and mythical. A highly interesting novel. I definitely wanted to read more of this interesting author and added "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" to my list of books recently. Just as fascinating.

From the back cover:
"At a small gallery in Florence, a Peruvian writer happens upon a photograph of a tribal storyteller deep in the jungles of the Amazon. He is overcome with the eerie sense that he knows this man...that the storyteller is not an Indian at all but an old school friend, Saul Zuratas. As recollections of Zuratas flow through his mind, the writer begins to imagine Zuratas's transformation from a modern to a central member of the unacculturated Machiguenga tribe. Weaving the mysteries of identity, storytelling, and truth, Vargas Llosa has created a spellbinding tale of one man's journey from the modern world to our origins, abandoning one in order to find meaning in both."

Mario Vargas Llosa received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010 "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat".
Mario Vargas Llosa received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis) in 1996.

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

Saturday 28 May 2011

Steinbeck, John "Of Mice and Men"

Steinbeck, John "Of Mice and Men" - 1937

No wonder this author is so highly regarded by so many. He can make a short story, alright, a novella,  into an epic tale, one that will never leave you.

This book is so full of everything, it touches so many subjects, it's amazing. Of course, as in all his works I have read so far, the story takes place during the Great Depression, this time he talks about migrant workers. In just a few pages, he pictures the life they lead and you are right in the story. You can take this story as an example for so many bad parts of society, prejudice, racism, the poor and ugly side of the world and people dreaming of a better one.

Steinbeck is the best author to explain what has gone wrong with the American dream, he describes the downside of it, the people who don't fit in, even if they try hard. His phenomenal writings cast a shadow into the next century. Nobody describes people and situations better than he did. Nobody draws an image of society as well as he did.

"Of Mice and Men" is certainly one of the gems of world literature that should be read by everyone. You know what is going to happen but you desperately don't want it to happen. Simply beautiful writing.

From the back cover:

"The tragic story of the complex bond between two migrant laborers in Central California. They are George Milton and Lennie Small, itinerant ranch hands who dream of one day owning a small farm. George acts as a father figure to Lennie, who is a very large, simple-minded man, calming him and helping to rein in his immense physical strength."

Also read "The Grapes of Wrath" and "East of Eden", they are phenomenal.

John Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962
"for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception".

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

Wisner, Franz "How the World Makes Love"

Wisner, Franz "How the World Makes Love: And What It Taught a Jilted Groom" - 2009

This was the worst read this year, probably of the last couple of years. Two facts should have warned me. 1. There is hardly any information available about the book or the author. 2. The bright colours on the title, it usually wants to make up for the lack of something, most often the author's brain. But I try to give every book a chance.

I tried to find the humour advertised. Sorry, couldn't find any, I just was too bored. Information - even inspiration? Nothing new or elaborate. There are dozens of other good travel books around.

I did find quite a few mistakes in the book, assumptions he just made but were not exactly correct, that was another spoiler. Towards the end I thought there might be people who could like this book, if they want just a brief outlook on life somewhere else. It grew more and more into a threepenny (or dime) novel. When I went through the annex, I found several books he mentioned as his sources, for example, in Egypt I found he had rewritten "The Yakoubian Building". Quite a few of our members had either been to the places he talked about or even lived there for a while, nobody could find anything remotely interesting.

His writing style was awful, he didn't seem to be able to concentrate, stay with the topic. The whole story was rather shallow, flippant, superficial, poorly written. Someone even called it icky. He seemed to talk the whole time about his first book where his bride left him at the altar and I guess if I had read that one, this sequel would have even been more boring. My conclusion: Chick Lit at its worst!!!

The only people who liked it wanted a "lighter read". Granted, some people might enjoy this when on holidays but there is nothing to talk about in a book club.

One last comment, one of our members mentioned it reminded her of Woody Allen who once said he took a speed reading course and read "War and Peace" in twenty minutes. On questioned about it, he said "It involves Russia". So, he missed out on a fantastic read. That's about the impression this guy gives you.

We discussed this in our book club in June 2010.

From the back cover:
"The bestselling author of Honeymoon with My Brother hits the road again to learn about love and finally finds it closer to home.

When you've been jilted at the altar and forced to take your pre-paid honeymoon with your brother, it's fair to say you could learn a thing or two about love. And that's what Franz Wisner sets out to do 'traveling the globe with a mission: to discover the planet's most important love lessons and see if they can rescue him from the ruins of his own love life'. Even after months on the road, he's still not sure he's found the secret. But a disastrous date with a Los Angeles actress and single mom keeps popping into Franz's head. While researching ideal love, could he have missed a bigger truth: that something unplanned and implausible could actually make him happy?

Uproarious, tender, and studded with eye-opening insights on love,
How the World Makes Love'is the story of one average man's search for happinessa search that turns into an improbable love story in the author's own backyard."

Thursday 26 May 2011

Greene, Graham "Brighton Rock"

Greene, Graham "Brighton Rock" - 1938

I quite liked this novel, probably not one of my favourites but really not bad. I also liked "The End of the Affair" in a similar way. A journalist gets killed in Brighton, the police declares it natural causes, a woman who just met the guy decides she wants to find the culprits. I liked the way Greene described the characters, how you really love to hate the protagonist, try to understand the women and all the other people in this novel. Being Catholic myself, I found the religious part quite interesting. The main character used the prayers almost like a mantra without even knowing anything about the background except for the fact that he was "doomed". I liked the seaside atmosphere, however, I can imagine it giving a great background for a movie (which I would love to watch now). All in all, I am glad I read this book and would recommend it.

From the back cover:
"Pinkie, a boy gangster in pre-war Brighton, is a Catholic dedicated to evil and damnation. In a dark setting of double crossing and razor slashes, his ambition and hatreds are horribly fulfilled, until Ida determines to convict him for murder."

Greene, Graham "The End of the Affair"

Greene, Graham "The End of the Affair" - 1951

This looks like a simple love affair between a man and a married wife. They live their affair quietly witout being caught until something terrible happens. Greene describes a life of misery for both protagonists and the novel is quite depressing at times. But the writing is wonderful and  the characters seem very real. They are jealous and obsessed, the relationships perfectly described. The story takes place in London during WWII but I think it could happen any time anywhere. This was my first Greene novel and I have now read "Brighton Rock" which I also quite enjoyed.

We read this in our Dutch International Women's Book Club in 2000/2001.

From the back cover:

"The novelist Maurice Bendrix's love affair with his friend's wife, Sarah, had begun in London during the Blitz. One day, inexplicably and without warning, Sarah had broken off the relationship. It seemed impossible that there could be a rival for her heart. Yet two years later, driven by obsessive jealousy and grief, Bendrix sends Pakris, a private detective, to follow Sarah and find out the truth."

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Boyne, John "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas"

Boyne, John "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" - 2006

I read this book on my own before we discussed it in the book club, so I read it again.

There were quite a few mistakes, a few too many to my liking, the whole story seemed unreal because it couldn't have happened that way. Most of our members criticized the book much harsher than I did. First of all, if you base a book on facts, the facts have to be right, no matter what you call it.

We didn't find it easy to warm or connect to the characters because the description was very inconsistent. Bruno, the main character, would sometimes be very naïve, and the next minute he had adult views. The story was very predictable. The friendship portrayal was unbelievable, not just the setting. You can tell, this was written fast.

However, as one of our members pointed out so wonderfully, history is here to be discovered and therefore it is important to make history accessible on all kinds of levels. And therefore, it was certainly worth discussing the book.

We discussed this in our international book club in June 2009.

From the back cover:

"When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

If this has been the only book you read about the holocaust, you should try some more.
"Night" by Elie Wiesel and "Fateless" by Imre Kertész, both written by survivors, are some true accounts of how young people lived and survived the terrible life in a concentration camp.

Eliot, George "Daniel Deronda"

Eliot, George "Daniel Deronda" - 1876

I like the style of the 19th century. I especially like George Eliot's style. She describes the characters extremely well, the problems between the different people are very interesting and everyone seems so alive. There are people whom you will like and others whom you will dislike. The novel gives a lot of information about life at the time, a lot of history, the problem the Jews had all through the centuries. A very interesting book, a lot to read, about 750 pages.

George Eliot said herself that she expected a stronger resistance to her book because of the Jewish element. She wanted to depict the Jews with sympathy and understanding and felt that her readers would dislike this. Throughout the whole book I was amazed how much George Eliot knew about the Jews and the problems they were facing, she almost predicted WWII.

I loved this book.

We discussed this in our book club in June 2003.
We also read "Middlemarch" by the same author.

From the back cover: 
"George Eliot's final novel and her most ambitious work, Daniel Deronda contrasts the moral laxity of the British aristocracy with the dedicated fervor of Jewish nationalists. Crushed by a loveless marriage to the cruel and arrogant Grandcourt, Gwendolen Harleth seeks salvation in the deeply spiritual and altruistic Daniel Deronda. But Deronda, profoundly affected by the discovery of his Jewish ancestry, is ultimately too committed to his own cultural awakening to save Gwendolen from despair."

Eliot, George "Middlemarch"

Eliot, George "Middlemarch" - 1871-72

"One of the classic novels of English literature and was admired by Virginia Woolf as one of the few English novels written for grown-up people. A critical introduction, and historical documents, pertaining to medical reform, religious freedom, and the advent of the railroads."

Next to Jane Austen, George Eliot alias Marian Evans is one of my favourite classic British authors. I love classics. English is not my mother tongue but I just could read English classics all the time. I've been reading classics with my various book clubs, one of them in England. And I was usually the one finding it easy whereas my British friends thought it hard. Someone thought it might be that the sentences are so long and it's not like that any more in contemporary English whereas German is full of them.

I think "Middlemarch" is more difficult than, let's say, a Jane Austen. There are more people, for a start, and more people are important to the whole book. But it's also the language. So, while I really loved "Middlemarch" and would recommend reading it, I wouldn't consider George Eliot to be the easiest of writers.

Maybe that's why I love her novels so much, and "Middlemarch" is probably my favourite. Dorothea Brooke, the main character, has been wonderfully described. There is so much she has to deal with.

She could have been a great woman in our time (as the author) with the possibilities we have today but had to fight all her life to be heard. Almost every subject relevant for the time is touched, medical reform, industrialisation, religious thinking, women's rights, a great description of the change of society from the old times to our modern world. There is everything in this book, good and evil, guilt, affections, love, loneliness, hope, happiness, envy, doubt, you name it … A great read!

I thought Dorothea was the best character, not just because she also happened to be the main one. She was so ahead of her time and so strong. And she knew what she wanted. I really admired her and felt sorry for her at the same time. Most of the choices in her life were well tought of, she knew what she was doing, yet, nothing turned out the way she expected it, mainly because the time was not ready for such an incredible woman like Dorothea. Apparently, there's a lot of Marian Evans in Dorothea Brooke.

All in all, a wonderful book, a must for anyone who loves classic novels. Most of our book club members agreed with me, just some found a little too difficult.

The BBC made this into a nice mini-series in 1994.

We discussed this in our book club in June 2007.

From the back cover:

"'People are almost always better than their neighbours think they are'.

George Eliot's most ambitious novel is a masterly evocation of diverse lives and changing fortunes in a provincial community. Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfilment leads her into a disastrous marriage to the pedantic scholar Casaubon; the charming but tactless Dr Lydgate, whose pioneering medical methods, combined with an imprudent marriage to the spendthrift beauty Rosamond, threaten to undermine his career; and the religious hypocrite Bulstode, hiding scandalous crimes from his past. As their stories entwine, George Eliot creates a richly nuanced and moving drama, hailed by Virginia Woolf as 'one of the few English novels written for grown-up people'."

We also read "Daniel Deronda" by the same author.

Monday 23 May 2011

Du Bois, W. E. B. "The Souls of Black Folk"

Du Bois, W. E. B. "The Souls of Black Folk" - 1903

"'The problem of the twentieth-century is the problem of the color-line.'"

This book was a recommendation by a friend who read it for her studies. A very thorough and interesting study of black culture in the United States, the achievements and problems of the African American society. Highly recommendable even if you are only remotely interested in this kind of subject.

From the back cover:

"Originally published in 1903, The Souls of Black Folk is a classic study of race, culture, and education at the turn of the twentieth century. With its singular combination of essays, memoir, and fiction, this book vaulted Du Bois to the forefront of American political commentary and civil rights activism. It is an impassioned, at times searing account of the situation of African Americans in the United States, making a forceful case for the access of African Americans to higher education and extolling the achievements of black culture. Du Bois advances the provocative and influential argument that due to the inequalities and pressures of the 'race problem,' African American identity is characterized by 'double consciousness'. This edition includes a valuable appendix of other writings by Du Bois, which sheds light on his motivation and his goals."

Lukas, Michael David "The Oracle of Stamboul"

Lukas, Michael David "The Oracle of Stamboul" - 2011

Istanbul, or rather Stamboul, at the end of the 19th century. A young Jewish girl is born in what now is Romania, her mother dies in childbirth and the girl ends up in Muslim Istanbul. She is extremely intelligent and  has extraordinary gifts which is not overlooked by important people in the town.

An amazing story like from 1001 Nights, it makes you dream of faraway shores and days gone by. The times are not better, on the contrary, but the life, oh, the life seems so much more exciting.

Fantastic read.

From the back cover:
"A magical historical novel about an astonishing eight year old girl in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. 

It is 1877, on the shores of the Black Sea, and the omens for the newborn Eleanora Cohen are hardly promising. Not only does her mother die in childbirth, but her village is being attacked by the Tsar's Royal Cavalry. However, despite this bad beginning, a sour stepmother and a traumatic journey in the hold of a ship, young Eleanora grows into a remarkably clever but very engaging child. And when a heartbreaking tragedy leaves her marooned in Istanbul, where spies and boarded-up harems and sudden death are as much a part of life as delicious spices, Paris fashions and rosewater, it is Eleanora's extraordinary courage and character which lead her straight to the Sultan’s court, and to her salvation.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Fredriksson, Marianne "Hanna's Daughters"

Fredriksson, Marianne "Hanna's Daughters" (Swedish: Anna, Hanna og Johanna) - 1994

"Hanna. Johanna. Anna. Three women, three generations, one family.
…. this luminous, heartfelt novel spans more than a hundred years in the lives of three remarkable women - a daughter, mother, and grandmother - lives shaped by the epic sweep of history and linked through a century of great love and great loss."

I actually discussed this with two different book clubs, first my English one in England in September 1999 and then with the international book club.

A remarkable story about the life of women and how it changed during the last century. The story is situated in Sweden but it could have happened anywhere in Europe.

Everybody really liked this book. Comments went from "I liked this book very much; I enjoyed the book; it's honest and tells the situations truthfully; the story of Hanna is very impressive; it's good she could write about this." to "There are three different books."

The book was considered a good, easy and amazing read, the three characters are quite believable, they were well described. Marianne Fredriksson has a way to tell the story, has you feel you know the person or situation, you can identify with them. It's a gift to write like the author. There is so much in this book though it is quite short. Some books are much larger and don't contain as much. It's honest, you can only talk to friends like this.

However, there were a lot of people in the story, some had to keep track of who is who, some made a list (always a good idea as soon as you realize there are too many people in a novel to remember).

Most people also enjoyed the descriptions of the landscape. The original title (Anna, Hanna og Johanna) was confusing, since they mention the granddaughter first, then grandmother, then mother. Maybe they changed it because it sounded better. Or because it was Anna who told the story.

This is definitely a woman's book (though men would benefit from reading it), it made us think about sisters, mothers and daughters. It could even be called a feminist book. There were a lot of stories, wife-beating, alcoholism, angst among women. A woman in the novel remarked you can only be a whore or a Madonna. Good to read during a sunny week (rather than in the gloomy winter months).

We are lucky today to have choices. You can also call this a burden of choice, it made us more self-centered. Johanna had all the opportunities, she chooses to be a homemaker. We then had a discussion how difficult that choice is. Being "only" a homemaker is a social downfall. Johanna and even Anna has to defend herself for staying at home.

It was interesting to see the large development from farming to city life. Also, there were a lot of superstitions, magic, people still think like that.

The novel touched two centuries. We all lived through the change of a century and realized that life keeps going on.

We discussed this in our British Book Club in September 1999 and in our international book club in June 2006.

From the back cover:
"Hanna. Johanna. Anna. Three women, three generations, one family.A #1 international bestseller in Europe, this luminous, heartfelt novel spans more than a hundred years in the lives of three remarkable women -- a daughter, mother, and grandmother -- lives shaped by the epic sweep of history and linked through a century of great love and great loss.

As Anna holds vigil at her mother's bedside, she longs for reconciliation -- not just with her mother, Johanna, but with her grandmother, Hanna, a woman she never really knew. Determined to piece together the fragments of her past, Anna sifts through tattered letters, cracked diaries, and old photographs, as the vivid lives of Hanna and Johanna at last begin to unfold.

Through shades of memory and history, longing to join the ancient threads of the family tapestry, Anna begins searching for answers to questions that have haunted her for a lifetime. What was it like for her grandmother, Hanna, more than one hundred years ago, when she married a miller and raised an illegitimate child in a staunch, rural community? What drove Anna's own mother, Johanna, once a fiery revolutionary, to settle down and become a housewife? And why did the ties binding Anna to her mother and grandmother drive all three apart -- only to bring them back together again?

Rich in insight, and resonating with truth and revelation,
Hanna's Daughters is an unforgettable story, exploring the volatile ties of mothers and daughters. If you have ever wanted to connect with the past, or rediscover family, this novel will strike a chord in your heart. Marianne Fredriksson has created nothing short of a masterpiece."

Lewis, Oscar "Children of Sánchez"

Lewis, Oscar "Children of Sánchez: Autobiography of a Mexican Family" - 1961

As so often with our book club readings, this was suggested by one of our members who knew a little more about the background than we did, a member who grew up in Mexcio herself.

This is not a novel but an anthropological documentary about a family from a slum in Mexico City, a father and his four children who grow up in poverty. An interesting study that tells you so much about the way a lot of people have to live - and not just in Mexico.

As I always like books that teach me something, I did like this one a lot.

We discussed this in our book club in June 2005.

From the back cover:
"A pioneering work from a visionary anthropologist, The Children of Sánchez is hailed around the world as a watershed achievement in the study of poverty a uniquely intimate investigation, as poignant today as when it was first published.

It is the epic story of the Sánchez family, told entirely by its members Jesús, the 50-year-old patriarch, and his four adult children as their lives unfold in the México City slum they call home. Weaving together their extraordinary personal narratives, Oscar Lewis creates a sympathetic but ultimately tragic portrait that is at once harrowing and humane, mystifying and moving.

An invaluable document, full of verve and pathos,
The Children of Sánchez reads like the best of fiction, with the added impact that it is all, undeniably, true."

Friday 20 May 2011

Gavalda, Anna "I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere"

Gavalda, Anna "I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere" (French: Je voudrais quelqu'un m'attende quelque part) - 1999

The title sounded very nice, like a dream somehow. I was a little disappointed that it was a book of short stories but they read very nicely, were interesting, quite different each one from the next, all in all an enjoyable read.

From the back cover:

"I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere explores how a life can be changed irrevocably in just one fateful moment. A pregnant mother's plans for the future unravel at the hospital; a travelling salesman learns the consequences of an almost-missed exit on the motorway in the newspaper the next morning; while a perfect date is spoilt by a single act of thoughtlessness. In those crucial moments Gavalda demonstrates her almost magical skill in conveying love, lust, longing, and loneliness.

Someone I Loved is a hauntingly intimate look at the intolerably painful, yet sometimes valuable consequences that adultery can have on a marriage and the individuals involved. A simple tale, yet long in substance, Someone I Loved ends like most great love affairs, forever leaving you wanting just one more moment.

Krakauer, Jon "Under the Banner of Heaven"

Krakauer, Jon "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith" - 2003

This had been one of our book club suggestions a couple of years ago and I finally managed to read it. I had read "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop earlier and although that is a later book it did help in understanding this one a little better.

The writing style wasn't very inviting, it was a non-fiction book that tried to be written like a novel. But it wasn't. The author jumped around a lot and it was hard to follow him at times when he continued a story he had started several chapters before. Many many names which I usually don't mind that much. Maybe it's harder because I'm not American or maybe I was expecting a report more than just a citation of facts, I don't know, it just wasn't what I expected.

This book hasn't answered any questions anyone might have about Mormons and especially the fundamentalists who live in polygamy and listen to God, e.g. he talks about these brothers who go out and kill a woman and her baby after a revelation they received from God. This is where he could have started, well, this is where he started but then he jumps back and forth to the Book of Mormon, to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, to massacres between the Mormons or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Paiute Indians, just to name a few examples.

A book that promised to be so interesting, yet I didn't find it so.

From the back cover:
"Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God.

At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Hirsi Ali, Ayaan "Nomad"

Hirsi Ali, Ayaan "Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations" - 2010

After having read "Infidel. My Life" in December 2009, we couldn't wait for the next book about Ayaan Hirsi Ali's life. We thought, she was an intelligent and courageous woman. One of our members said, everyone who has something to do with Islam should read this and she would like to read another book that brings this in balance. Any suggestions?

The author writes in a clear way, some thought, her life in Somalia was the most interesting part, the different views and culture. We were all glad to have read this.

We were surprised that she says Christians should convert Muslims even though she is an atheist. For her, the God of Christianity is preferred to the God of Islam (even though we do talk about the same God here). In her regard, Islam is only black and white. It was interesting to see the problems she addressed that a lot of refugees have when coming to Europe. She says, if you don't accept the views here, don't come. There is one thing, the people in the Western world don't want, that is to be called racist or intolerant. Ayaan Hirsi Ali says by giving in we enable the refugees to carry on what they turned away from in the first place. We have to get over this. A US American member said, their whole country is built up with immigrants.

We addressed some of the problems that occur in the various countries, compared a little from what we knew, all in all, we had a very interesting discussion and surely will want to read more about this.

Also read Ian Buruma "Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance".

We discussed this in our book club in May 2011.

From the back cover:
"Ayaan Hirsi Ali's gutsy memoir INFIDEL which exposed Islam's hypocrisy about the status of women caused a worldwide sensation. In it she spoke out about her own experiences as a good Somali Muslim woman, forced to submit to outmoded rules, and often reduced to an invisible silent presence. But there is a price to pay for speaking out - and in this highly personal follow up, Ayaan examines the high cost of freedom - estrangement from her family and country, the loud criticism of her by many Muslims (some of them women), the 24-hour security which came as a result of death threats, and her struggle to come to terms with an often lonely independence. She records the painful reconciliation with her beloved father who had disowned her when she began criticising Islam and the sorts of conflicts inherent in feeling torn between heart and mind. And as she delves into Islam's obsessions with virginity and the code of honour, she asks the question on everyone's mind: why do so many women embrace a religion which shuns them? Weaving together memoir and reportage, Ayaan confronts the complacency and ignorance that often color intellectual debate on Islam. With disarming honesty, she shares her experiences, doubts and insights. This book is the natural follow up to INFIDEL."

Clinton, Hillary Rodham "Living History"

Clinton, Hillary Rodham "Living History" - 2003

Everybody knows Hillary Clinton, well everybody knows the wife of former US president Bill Clinton. But there is a lot more to her than just being the wife of a successful guy. They always say behind every successful man there is a strong woman. They must have talked about Hillary and Bill Clinton.

We read this book a long time ago, long before Mrs. Clinton ran for president herself, more or less between her candidacy and the Lewinsky scandal.

Whether you like her politics or not, this book is an account of a woman who is very strong and who managed to get to a certain point through studying and hard work.

We had an interesting discussion, our members were from the United States, Canada, Italy and Germany at that meeting, so we had a view from different perspectives. Not everybody liked it but I put that down to political differences. I am glad I got to read the book and learn more about American politics and the American dream.

We discussed this in our book club in June 2004.

From the book cover:
"A surprisingly engaging and, at points, even compelling book...Clinton provides enough of a peek behind the curtain to keep the pages turning and presents intriguing new details on her role in shaping the policies of her husband's presidency.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is known to hundreds of millions of people around the world. Yet few beyond her close friends and family have ever heard her account of her extraordinary journey. She writes with candor, humor and passion about her upbringing in suburban, middle-class America in the 1950s and her transformation from Goldwater Girl to student activist to controversial First Lady.
Living History is her revealing memoir of life through the White House years. It is also her chronicle of living history with Bill Clinton, a thirty-year adventure in love and politics that survives personal betrayal, relentless partisan investigations and constant public scrutiny.

Hillary Rodham Clinton came of age during a time of tumultuous social and political change in America. Like many women of her generation, she grew up with choices and opportunities unknown to her mother or grandmother. She charted her own course through unexplored terrain -- responding to the changing times and her own internal compass -- and became an emblem for some and a lightning rod for others. Wife, mother, lawyer, advocate and international icon, she has lived through America's great political wars, from Watergate to Whitewater.

The only First Lady to play a major role in shaping domestic legislation, Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled tirelessly around the country to champion health care, expand economic and educational opportunity and promote the needs of children and families, and she crisscrossed the globe on behalf of women's rights, human rights and democracy. She redefined the position of First Lady and helped save the presidency from an unconstitutional, politically motivated impeachment. Intimate, powerful and inspiring,
Living History captures the essence of one of the most remarkable women of our time and the challenging process by which she came to define herself and find her own voice -- as a woman and as a formidable figure in American politics.
If you would like to read more about Hilary Clinton, I higly recommend "What Happened".

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Lewycka, Marina "Two Caravans"

Lewycka, Marina "Two Caravans" (aka Strawberry Fields) - 2007

After having read and enjoyed "A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian", I was interested in reading the next book by this author.

As in her first book, Marina Lewycka describes the life of Ukrainians (and Polish) citizens in England, this time they are no immigrants but seasonal/migrant workers. Again, an easy read, interesting and quite enjoyable. A lot of information about those cheap workers that most Western European countries import to do their dirty or hard work, the dreams they have when they come to our countries, the way they are treated and how they find their way - or not.

The characters are described very well, you meet them in a setting that makes it easy to follow their lives, wanting to help or sometimes kick them, depending on the situation.

As with her first book, I didn't really find it funny but a very good read.

From the book cover:

"Also published as Strawberry Fields.

The bestselling author of
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is back with an 'effervescent comedy' (The New Yorker)

The follow up to her hugely popular first novel presents a Canterbury Tales inspired picaresque that is also a biting satire of economic exploitation. When a ragtag international crew of migrant workers is forced to flee the strawberry fields they have been working in, they set off across England looking for employment. Displaying the same sense of compassion, social outrage, and gift for hilarity that she showed in
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka chronicles their bumpy road trip with a tender affection for her downtrodden characters and their search for a taste of the good life."

Tóibín, Colm "Brooklyn"

Tóibín, Colm "Brooklyn" - 2009

What a boring book, an Irish girl goes to Brooklyn in the 50s. Sounded promising but was just so superficial, unbelievable. I think the only reason I carried on was that I hoped there would be more, couldn't believe it would be so "cheap".

From the back cover:
"Hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking, Colm Tóibín's sixth novel, Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself.
Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America -- to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood 'just like Ireland' -- she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.
Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.
By far Tóibín's most instantly engaging and emotionally resonant novel,
Brooklyn will make readers fall in love with his gorgeous writing and spellbinding characters."

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Proulx, Annie "The Shipping News"

Proulx, Annie "The Shipping News" - 1993

This book was recommended to me several times and the only excuse I had to not pick it up was that there were a lot of other books waiting to be read.

I really enjoyed this book. The story centers around Quoyle, an ordinary guy, you might even call him a loser. After his cheating wife dies in an accident, he moves with his aunt and his daughters to his ancestral home in Newfoundland where he works for a local newspaper.

Here he meets a lot of people who have been living in this remote small community all their life.

The life of these ordinary people are described in such a loving way that makes reading so much pleasure. Of course, life isn't easy, the problems a lot of small communities face when their major bread-winning jobs disappear lurks around the corner all the time, the characters have problems with each other as well as with the outside world but as the history of the family unfolds, we meet some wonderful loveable people.

A great read. - You also learn a lot about knots.

From the back cover:

"Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News is a vigorous, darkly comic, and at times magical portrait of the contemporary North American family.

Quoyle, a third-rate newspaper hack, with a 'head shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair...features as bunched as kissed fingertips,' is wrenched violently out of his workaday life when his two-timing wife meets her just desserts. An aunt convinces Quoyle and his two emotionally disturbed daughters to return with her to the starkly beautiful coastal landscape of their ancestral home in Newfoundland. Here, on desolate Quoyle’s Point, in a house empty except for a few mementos of the family’s unsavory past, the battered members of three generations try to cobble up new lives.

Newfoundland is a country of coast and cove where the mercury rarely rises above seventy degrees, the local culinary delicacy is cod cheeks, and it’s easier to travel by boat and snowmobile than on anything with wheels. In this harsh place of cruel storms, a collapsing fishery, and chronic unemployment, the aunt sets up as a yacht upholsterer in nearby Killick-Claw, and Quoyle finds a job reporting the shipping news for the local weekly, the Gammy Bird (a paper that specializes in sexual-abuse stories and grisly photos of car accidents).

As the long winter closes its jaws of ice, each of the Quoyles confronts private demons, reels from catastrophe to minor triumph - in the company of the obsequious Mavis Bangs; Diddy Shovel the strongman; drowned Herald Prowse; cane-twirling Beety; Nutbeem, who steals foreign news from the radio; a demented cousin the aunt refuses to recognize; the much-zippered Alvin Yark; silent Wavey; and old Billy Pretty, with his bag of secrets. By the time of the spring storms Quoyle has learned how to gut cod, to escape from a pickle jar, and to tie a true lover’s knot.

Annie Proulx received a Pulitzer Prize for "The Shipping News" in 1994.

Şafak, Elif "Araf"

Şafak, Elif "Araf aka The Saint of Incipient Insanities" (Turkish: Araf) - 2004

A suggestion by one of our Turkish members, a book about foreigners living in the United States. We wanted to read this, alas the original English edition was sold out. We could only get the novel in Turkish, German or Dutch. I was lucky to find a used German copy and started reading.

An interesting book. Three roommates from Turkey, Morocco and Spain in Boston, one has  a Mexican-American, another an American girlfriend. All of them have to fit into the society they are in, they struggle in their own different ways. The author managed to describe these diverse characters in such a way that you could feel with them. I loved the way the various stereotypes and prejudices were dealt with, or not.

Anyway, great read, quite humorous at times but definitely a good way of describing the way someone wants to fit into their surroundings, belong somewhere. A wonderful story about friendship, as well. I am glad I read it, even though we had to strike it from our reading list.

From the back cover:

"The Saint of Incipient Insanities is the comic and heartbreaking story of a group of twenty-something friends, and their never-ending quest for fulfillment.

Omer, Abed and Piyu are roommates, foreigners all recently arrived in the United States. Omer, from Istanbul, is a Ph.D. student in political science who adapts quickly to his new home, and falls in love with the bisexual, suicidal, intellectual chocolate maker Gail. Gail is American yet feels utterly displaced in her homeland and moves from one obsession to another in an effort to find solid ground. Abed pursues a degree in biotechnology, worries about Omer's unruly ways, his mother's unexpected visit, and stereotypes of Arabs in America; he struggles to maintain a connection with his girlfriend back home in Morocco. Piyu is a Spaniard, who is studying to be a dentist in spite of his fear of sharp objects, and is baffled by the many relatives of his Mexican-American girlfriend, Algre, and in many ways by Algre herself.

Keenly insightful and sharply humorous,
The Saint of Incipient Insanities is a vibrant exploration of love, friendship, culture, nationality, exile and belonging."

In Feburary 2011, we also read "The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi" by Elif Şafak.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Falcones, Ildefonso "Cathedral of the Sea"

Falcones, Ildefonso "Cathedral of the Sea" (Spanish: La catedral del mar) - 2008

One of the best historical novels ever. Barcelona in the 14th century, in the middle of the time of the Inquisition. A church is being built. The story of the people involved with the building, especially the story of Arnau, the son of a runaway serf.

As to our discussion, we all really liked the book, the writing style was captivating, there was a lot to learn about that time, the historical background was great,  the author did a profound research. It was a sad book but that was the life back then. We talked about the middle ages, religion, inquisition, the plague, the Virgin Mary, women's rights, Spain and Catalonia, what has and hasn't changed.

We loved the description of their dedication of building the cathedral, it would be nice to see it.

One question that cannot be answered even today: How is it possible that people can be so cruel in the name of Christianity? And the Jews were closed up in ghettoes back then already. Yes, history hasn't changed much.

We discussed this in our book club in August 2010.

From the back cover:
"Cathedral of the Sea follows the fortunes of the Estanyol family, from their peasant roots to a son, Arnau, who flees the land only to realize spectacular wealth and devastating problems.

During Arnau's lifetime Barcelona becomes a city of light and darkness, dominated by the construction of the city's great pride -- the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar -- and by its shame, the deadly Inquisition.

As a young man, Arnau joins the powerful guild of stone-workers and helps to build the church with his own hands, while his best friend and adopted brother Joan studies to become a priest.

When Arnau, who secretly loves a forbidden Jewish woman named Mar, is betrayed and hauled before the Inquisitor, he finds himself face-to-face with his own brother. Will he lose his life just as his beloved
Cathedral of the Sea is finally completed?"

If you liked this, you will also love "The Hand of Fatima", Ildefonso Falcones' second book.

Stone, Irving "The Agony and the Ecstasy"

Stone, Irving "The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo" - 1961

A book about the life and art of Michelangelo. What a book! What a man! His life was his work and his work was his life. He just seemed to know and be able to do anything. How interesting it must have been for someone like him to live in such an age where you have to find out for yourself and can't just look it up on the internet. Even though there was a lot of agony, didn't the ecstasy more than compensate for it?

It took must of us longer (up to six months) to read the book than we thought.

It was not what we expected, some thought there was too much detail, we liked his approach, how he got into it, the concept of the family, how he still had to support them and couldn't escape. Of course, there were different times, the children were the life insurance.

We enjoyed the parts where he was painting, studying the people, his work is just lovely.

It was interesting to see how he had to worry about his art when a pope died, his relationships/friendships were a great factor. The problems between church and state, well, you have them anytime you mix religion and state, you have a theocratic regime. But the author put a lot of thought into that and described it very well. We received a great insight into that time, religion, power, interests.

He lived in a world where a lot of interests were everything, both Michelangelo and da Vinci were acknowledged in their own time (doesn't happen very often). During his apprenticeship, he was also taught about life in general. According to da Vinci, sculpture is inferior to painting, this was a lifelong battle. We all agreed that everything is so easy in our time, and that doesn't create great people. This was a chance to talk about our children and what their future looks like. Kids used to have more competence.

The question came up whether the area of writing a major piece is gone. Whether this is also only possible in desperate times. We couldn't find an answer.

We have a recommendation if you haven't read the book, yet. Look at the chronological lists in the back before (and while) you read the book.

Definitely a very worthwile and deserving book.

We discussed this in our book club in August 2008.

From the back cover:
"Celebrating the 500th anniversary of Michelangelo's David, New American Library releases a special edition of Irving Stone's classic biographical novel-in which both the artist and the man are brought to life in full. A masterpiece in its own right, this novel offers a compelling portrait of Michelangelo's dangerous, impassioned loves, and the God-driven fury from which he wrested the greatest art the world has ever known.

Author Biography:
Irving Stone was born in San Francisco on July 14, 1903. He wrote several books in a genre that he coined the "biographical novel," which recounted the lives of well-known historical figures. In these novels, Stone interspersed biography with fictional narrative on the psychology and private lives of his subjects. He also wrote biographies of Clarence Darrow and Earl Warren, and short biographies of men who lost presidential elections. He died on August 26, 1989."

Sunday 8 May 2011

Becker, Jurek "Jacob the Liar"

Becker, Jurek "Jacob the Liar" (German: Jakob der Lügner) - 1969

I have known the author of this book through other works, e.g. his television series in Germany. His stories have always been good but this is the best work of his life. An occupant of the Warsaw ghetto tries to help his fellow Jews sustain life by telling them lies about the Russians being almost there to liberate them. The way this ordinary guy who has just as much to lose as everyone else is motivating people in their most desperate moments is so captivating.

Anyway, the book is really great, the attempt of the author to describe the people's very soul in times of challenge is unique and he does a superb job with this. There is a movie which I haven't seen but it's supposed to be good, as well.

From the back cover:

"One of the most remarkable novels of the Holocaust ever written, Jakob the Liar is a tale of everyday heroism and the extraordinary power of illusion. Set in an unnamed German-occupied ghetto, the story centers on an unlikely hero, Jakob Heym, who accidentally overhears news of vital importance: the Russians are advancing on a city three hundred miles away. As Jakob's tidings rekindle hope and the promise of liberation, he feels compelled to elaborate. Forming a protective bond with a young orphan girl, Jakob becomes caught in his own web of optimistic lies. Awarded Germany's prestigious Heinrich Mann Prize for fiction and in a new translation by Leila Vennewitz, Jakob the Liar is a masterpiece of Kafkaesque comedy which unfolds with the impact of a timeless folk legend."

Austen, Jane "Mansfield Park"

Austen, Jane "Mansfield Park" - 1814

Another one of this wonderful author's books. The life of Fanny Price, a poor girl growing up with rich relatives. I really liked the heroine and the way she stood up to all that pressure. The difficulties women had to face in that day and age were immense already. But here it was added. Fanny didn't get to experience the financial burden as so many other women at the time but she had to pay a huge price for this.

Not my absolute favourite of her novels but certainly one of my favourite books overall.

From the back cover: "At the age of ten, shy, vulnerable Fanny Price leaves behind her impoverished family in Portsmouth to go and live with her rich relatives at Mansfield Park.
Growing up with her cousins Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia, she is aware that she is different from them and that her place in society cannot be taken for granted, although she is not treated unkindly. A dashing couple from London, Mary Crawford and her brother Henry, enter this stable, rural world. They succeed in dazzling everyone at Mansfield Park, except for Fanny, who sees through their shallow veneer. Throughout the dramatic events that follow it is she who is able to bring back some stability to the ruptured lives of those around her.
One of the great novels of the nineteenth century,
Mansfield Park echoes Jane Austen's fears and awareness of the dawn of a modern age, which was to bring about a complete break from the old country traditions and way of life."

I have reviewed "Mansfield Park" a second time as a member of The Motherhood and Jane Austen Book Club.  Find that review here and a list of all my "motherhood" reviews here.

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

See more comments on my ThrowbackThursday post in 2022.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Mann, Thomas "Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family"

Mann, Thomas "Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family" (German: Buddenbrooks) - 1901

I have read "Buddenbrooks" a couple of times and think this is one of the best books of German literature. It is usually described as Thomas Mann's masterpiece. The author is definitely one of Germany's most famous and best writers. The novel, an epic story, dates from 1901 and describes the life in a wealthy merchant family over several decades from the 1800s until the beginning of the twentieth century. The story is based on the author's own family who lived in Lübeck, the town where this novel takes place. It belonged to the Hanseatic League which "was an alliance of trading guilds that established and maintained a trade monopoly over the Baltic Sea, to a certain extent the North Sea, and most of Northern Europe for a time in the Late Middle Ages and the early modern period, between the 13th and 17th centuries" (an early European Union, if you wish). Quite an interesting part of the history of that part of Northern Europe.

A wonderful novel, rich expressions, perfect detailed writing, also about some important history that isn't described very often. If you enjoy history and would like to learn more about Germany at the beginning of the last century, this is the book for you. But even if you are not interested in history, this is also a great family saga, one that will never leave you again. A family that was so rich and important and had so much influence on the politics and economy of a whole town and region and who can't to cope with the changes into modern life. Read it. You won't regret it.

In our new international book club, we were asked to suggest our favourite book from our country. I didn't have to think long, it had to be "Buddenbrooks". Granted, it is a long story and that's probably one of the reaons why I love it so much but I was not the only one. We had a good discussion about all the different parts of the book, all the different subjects it covers.

There is so much more to this novel than just the decline of the family Buddenbrook. Rather, the decline of the whole society, especially the wealthy part of it, was discussed, the revolution, the lower classes who didn't put up with the bad treatment and poor salaries the received. Not any longer. All that led to the downfall of certain families, not everyone could keep up with their status after a lot was taken away from them.

The beginning of this was already shown in Tony's meeting with Morton, the student who told her about the different types of classes in society, who tried to open her eyes. Then there was Tony herself, always making the wrong decisions because she had to keep up appearances. Christian, the second brother in the family Buddenbrook, was more or less born into the wrong family but other than his nephew Hanno who seems to just like his uncle, he doesn't have anyone who understands him. Then, finally, Thomas Buddenbrook, the son and heir to a dynasty who doesn't see that the times are a-changing, who believes being named Senator will set him up forever and ever.

Well, the Buddenbrooks are a merchant family, one of the "first families in town". They got rich through their trade which was helped through the Hanseatic League which can be seen as a pre-European Union during a time where there were many many more little countries in Europe than there are today. It existed from the 13th to the 17th centuries and occupied most of the land fromt he Baltic and the North Sea, almost all of the Northern part of the European mainland and more than 300 cities were a member.

It is not surprising that the Buddenbrooks became rich as one of the leaders of Lübeck which was considered the Queen of the Hanseatic League. And it also not surprising that the family came to its end when the union that had helped them for so long did so, as well.

Even though Thomas Mann was still quite young when he wrote this novel (26 years old), it was mainly for this work that he received the Nobel Prize and "Buddenbrooks" is generally considered the first social novel and is considered "the greatest novel of the century".

Read it. You won't regret it.

From the back cover:

"Thomas Mann's first novel, Buddenbrooks, is drawn from his own life and experience.

The Decline of a Family, his story of a prosperous Hanseatic merchant family and their gradual disintegration is also an extraordinary portrayal of the transition from the stable bourgeois life of the nineteenth century to a modern uncertainty. "

We discussed this in our international book club in August 2007 and in February 2015.

I also read "The Magic Mountain".

Thomas Mann received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929 "principally for his great novel, 'Buddenbrooks', which has won steadily increased recognition as one of the classic works of contemporary literature".

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.
I was lucky to be able to visit the Buddenbrook House in Lübeck, you can read about my experience here.

Mosse, Kate "Labyrinth"

Mosse, Kate "Labyrinth" - 2005

A story about history and architecture, a story that spans over 800 years. Historical events from the 13th century are described.

A much discussed book, some of our readers loved it, others didn't. They either couldn't get into it or they didn't like the mixture of fact and fiction or thought there was too much violence, the details too descriptive. The contrast was too big, everything was black and white.

However, the people who like it thought the author is a good storyteller, our memory of history was refreshed, the side subjects like reincarnation, genetic memory and the fact that several characters that resurfaced eight hundred years later was interesting.

Quite a few of us always loved historical novels. We thought the life of ordinary people was described very well. The plot seemed logical (though not always believable) which isn't always the case in these semi-fantasy novels. Even though some of us thought the story had a slow start, we liked the history very much, especially the characters in the past. We also thought, the turbulent times the Cathars went through, should be considered.

Some of our members had been in that area of France and especially Carcassonne is a great place to visit but also the church Notre Dame of Chartres where the labyrinth is situated. Kate Mosse has done a lot of research, and she has done that very well.

We also discussed the "Da Vinci Code" briefly. Several of us had read this novel and since it is about a similar subject, the comparison was there. We didn't like all the fuss that was made about that book. Some didn't really get the story at all. Also, he mixes up facts to create a story. Then he mentions some facts at the beginning, and tries to convince readers that everything in his book is true.

Anyway, we liked "Labyrinth" a lot better. I think this would make a great movie.

We discussed this in our international book club in August 2006.

From the back cover:

"In this extraordinary thriller, rich in the atmosphere of medieval and contemporary France, the lives of two women born centuries apart are linked by a common destiny.

July 2005. In the Pyrenees mountains near Carcassonne, Alice Tanner, a volunteer at an archeological dig, stumbles into a cave and makes a startling discovery—two crumbling skeletons, strange writings on the walls and the pattern of a labyrinth; between the skeletons, a stone ring and a small leather bag. Too late Alice realizes that she has set in motion a terrifying sequence of events and that her destiny is inextricably tied up with the fate of those called heretics eight hundred years before.

July 1209. On the eve of a brutal crusade sent by the pope to stamp out heresy, a crusade that will rip apart southern France, seventeen-year-old Alaïs is given a ring and a mysterious book for safekeeping by her father as he leaves to fight the crusaders. The book, he says, contains the secret of the true Grail, and the ring, inscribed with a labyrinth, will identify a guardian of the Grail. As crusading armies led by Church potentates and nobles of northern France gather outside the city walls of Carcassonne, it will take great sacrifice to keep safe the secret of the labyrinth, a secret that has been guarded for thousands of years.

Friday 6 May 2011

Berg, Elizabeth "Open House"

Berg, Elizabeth "Open House" - 2000

I actually had to go and read some of the websites again before I even remembered what this book was about. I did remember that I didn't like it because it seemed so superficial, a "nice" beach read, as some people would put it, exactly the kind of literature I really despise.

This novel is about a woman who is divorced and takes in boarders into her house to pay for her mortgage. They are very different, first an older woman, then a young student, but I really don't remember anything eventful that stuck with me.

I also read "What we keep" in the meantime, I think this was the last Elizabeth Berg novel I read.

We discussed this in our book club in July 2003.

From the back cover:
"In this superb novel by the beloved author of Talk Before Sleep, The Pull of the Moon, and Until the Real Thing Comes Along, a woman re-creates her life after divorce by opening up her house and her heart.
Samantha's husband has left her, and after a spree of overcharging at Tiffany's, she settles down to reconstruct a life for herself and her eleven-year-old son. Her eccentric mother tries to help by fixing her up with dates, but a more pressing problem is money. To meet her mortgage payments, Sam decides to take in boarders. The first is an older woman who offers sage advice and sorely needed comfort; the second, a maladjusted student, is not quite so helpful. A new friend, King, an untraditional man, suggests that Samantha get out, get going, get work. But her real work is this: In order to emerge from grief and the past, she has to learn how to make her own happiness. In order to really see people, she has to look within her heart. And in order to know who she is, she has to remember - and reclaim - the person she used to be, long before she became someone else in an effort to save her marriage.
Open House is a love story about what can blossom between a man and a woman, and within a woman herself."

Kidd, Sue Monk "The Secret Life of Bees"

Kidd, Sue Monk "The Secret Life of Bees" - 2002 

The story of Lily from South Carolina, an abused child who lost her mother, and three African-American beekeeping sisters who help her growing up. A very interesting novel about different kind of people who come to terms with different kinds of troubles. All the really strong characters of this story are women who have to get through their struggles with life.

Even though this novel is probably more typical for the southern part of the U.S., it is a good portrayal of women and their possibilities. I liked the warmth of the novel, even the descriptions of the bad parts left you with a comfortable feeling in the end.

This was also turned into a movie. I'm not sure whether I see Dakota Fanning (though I quite like her) as Lily, the main character, I had pictured her completely different.

We discussed this in our book club in August 2004.

Book Description:
"Lily has grown up believing she accidentally killed her mother when she was four. She not only has her own memory of holding the gun, but her father's account of the event. Now fourteen, she yearns for her mother, and for forgiveness. Living on a peach farm in South Carolina with her father, she has only one friend: Rosaleen, a black servant whose sharp exterior hides a tender heart. South Carolina in the sixties is a place where segregation is still considered a cause worth fighting for. When racial tension explodes one summer afternoon, and Rosaleen is arrested and beaten, Lily is compelled to act. Fugitives from justice and from Lily's harsh and unyielding father, they follow a trail left by the woman who died ten years before. Finding sanctuary in the home of three beekeeping sisters, Lily starts a journey as much about her understanding of the world, as about the mystery surrounding her mother."

Thursday 5 May 2011

Woolf, Virginia "Mrs. Dalloway"

Woolf, Virginia "Mrs. Dalloway" - 1925

This is supposed to be Virginia Woolf's greatest novel, a book about the life of a woman, a single day in the life of a woman. A "higher class" woman at the beginning of the last century preparing a party and seeing it through.

This novel shows how much women had achieved since Jane Austen's days - and how much they hadn't. It's about halfway between Ms. Austen's lifetime and today and if you consider how slow women's rights progressed, you can guess how long it is still going to take until women and men are going to be equal, have the same chances, if ever!

From the back cover:

"Mrs. Dalloway chronicles a June day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway–a day that is taken up with running minor errands in preparation for a party and that is punctuated, toward the end, by the suicide of a young man she has never met. In giving an apparently ordinary day such immense resonance and significance–infusing it with the elemental conflict between death and life - Virginia Woolf triumphantly discovers her distinctive style as a novelist. Originally published in 1925, Mrs. Dalloway is Woolf’s first complete rendering of what she described as the “luminous envelope” of consciousness: a dazzling display of the mind’s inside as it plays over the brilliant surface and darker depths of reality."

I also read "To the Lighthouse" with the book club which I enjoyed immensely.

Findley, Timothy "Dust to Dust"

Findley, Timothy "Dust to Dust" - 1997

Knowing that I don't like short stories very much, a friend of mine gave this to me and said "You have to read these, they are great." What can I say? They were very interesting. I enjoyed reading them, there were quite a few different stories. The author succeeded to stay with his stories for long enough so you didn't have the feeling something was missing which is usual the feeling I get.

Quite a good collection of short stories.

From the back cover:
"Is it the dust of death, blowing across a Mediterranean island, and etched by the footprints of a small boy who seems to be a disturbing emblem of his parents' unhappy marriage? Or the fine, but offending dirt that is dealt with so tidily by a diligent hausfrau - almost as tidily as her fellow neighbors rationalize a brutal crime? In Dust to Dust, Timothy Findley is a master of mortality and the powerful, yet often imperceptible bond it forges with memory and reality."

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Woolf, Virginia "To the Lighthouse"

Woolf, Virginia "To the Lighthouse" - 1927

The verdict on "To the Lighthouse" was similar to that of many classics. Those who love classics enjoyed it. Those who don't didn't even give it a try. Some of them were glad they forced themselves to read it.

I loved this book. It was almost like poetry. The style was wonderful. Virginia Woolf describes the people most beautifully, the feelings, the thoughts, the way she describes the changes, the atmosphere, how they looked at each other, you can recognize it in your own life. Her descriptions are very detailed. She really understands people, thinking about that they don't say much to each other, it's even more amazing how she can write about this. Some found it difficult initially but were able to get through the first part. Some parts were extremely moving.

We talked about following the research first, I think that is very helpful here. You have to go back in time and put the author and what she wants to discuss into context. A great book about the beginning of the feminist time.  It is not an easy book but definitely worth the effort.

It was a creation of Victorian period.
This book also brought us do talk about the stream of consciousness and Henry James. Very philosophical.
The difference between mind and brain, the brain is the physical organ and the mind the psychic one. The mind pulls away, the brain draws to, there is a continuous pulling and drawing in the book.

We also discussed Virginia Woolf briefly, her bouts of marital instability, her anxiety. Her mother died when she was 13, it is just amazing how she internalized the relationship of her parents at that young age. She was a very smart lady.

According to Publisher's Weekly, "To the Lighthouse" also belongs to the Top 10 Most Difficult Books.

We discussed this in our book club in May 2010.

From the back cover:

"The serene and maternal Mrs. Ramsay, the tragic yet absurd Mr. Ramsay, and their children and assorted guests are on holiday on the Isle of Skye. From the seemingly trivial postponement of a visit to a nearby lighthouse, Woolf constructs a remarkable, moving examination of the complex tensions and allegiances of family life and the conflict between men and women.

As time winds its way through their lives, the Ramsays face, alone and simultaneously, the greatest of human challenges and its greatest triumph--the human capacity for change.

I also read "Mrs. Dalloway".