Thursday 28 February 2013

Gopnik, Adam "Paris to the Moon"

Gopnik, Adam "Paris to the Moon: A Family in France" - 2000

I love Paris. So, when I saw this book title, I just had to get the book even though it looked a tad on the chick lit side.

I have read quite a few books about expats in a new country, especially English or Americans going to France. So, I was a little weary about the book when I started reading it.

However, contrary to most of the other expats who go to France, this journalist went to Paris. I absolutely love Paris. And I love Adam Gopnik's kind of humour, so I had no problem getting through the 350 pages in no time. It is funny and written with a lot of affection for his host city without leaving out the negative sides any expat lives through in their new place.

It's an easy read but still quite worthwhile.

From the back cover:

"In 1995, Adam Gopnik, his wife, and their infant son left the familiar comforts and hassles of New York for the urbane glamour of Paris. Charmed by the beauties of the city, Gopnik set out to experience for himself the spirit and romance that has so captivated American writers throughout the twentieth century. In the grand tradition of Stein and Hemingway, Gopnik planned to walk the paths of the Tuilleries, to enjoy philosophical discussion in cafés - in short, to lead the fabled life of an American in Paris. Of course, there was also the matter of raising a child and carrying on with everyday, not-so-fabled life."

Monday 25 February 2013

Ansay, A. Manette Vinegar Hill"

Ansay, A. Manette "Vinegar Hill" - 1995

It is always amazing to see how much a person can endure. And how long they can watch to see how their loved ones, their children, can go through hard times.

The story of Ellen and her husband who move in with his parents is that of a lot of women in the seventies, not enough money to raise their family, so moving in with the parents seems like a good idea. Well, not exactly but it seems like the only idea.

The story is told with a lot of detail, yet very flowing. The language is beautiful, the author manages to build anticipation, to make the book exciting from the first line to the last. No wonder Oprah chose this for her list.

From the back cover:

"In a stark, troubling, yet ultimately triumphant celebration of self-determination, award-winning author A. Manette Ansay re-creates a stifling world of guilty and pain, and the tormented souls who inhabit it. It is 1972 when circumstance carries Ellen Grier and her family back to Holly's Field, Wisconsin. Dutifully accompanying her newly unemployed husband, Ellen has brought her two children into the home of her in-laws on Vinegar Hill -- a loveless house suffused with the settling dust of bitterness and routine -- where calculated cruelty is a way of life preserved and perpetuated in the service of a rigid, exacting and angry God. Behind a facade of false piety, there are sins and secrets in this place that could crush a vibrant young woman's passionate spirit. And here Ellen must find the straight to endure, change, and grow in the all-pervading darkness that threatens to destroy everything she is and everyone she loves."

Friday 22 February 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

"Give me a man or woman who has read a thousand books and you give me an interesting companion. Give me a man or woman who has read perhaps three and you give me a very dangerous enemy indeed." Anne Rice

"Books change people's destinies. "Carlos Maria Dominguez

"The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to their dream." Joan Didion

“Literature is the art of discovering something extraordinary about ordinary people, and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary.” -- Boris Pasternak, author of Doctor Zhivago

"One technology doesn't replace another, it complements. Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators." Stephen Fry

Find more quotes here.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Buck, Pearl S. "Imperial Woman"

Buck, Pearl S. "Imperial Woman" - 1956

A mixture between fiction and non-fiction, a biography but also a novel. Tzu Hsi, the last Empress in China. Her life and her death.

Pearl S. Buck manages, as always, to describe the life of this extraordinary city in a gripping way. A fascinating description of a world long gone, the way people lived in the Far East.

It is difficult to understand in our modern world how families could send their daughters to become a concubine of any man, even if he was to become the emperor of a vast dynasty.

I really love this book that resonates with me even years after I read it the last time.

From the back cover:

"Imperial Woman is the fictionalized biography of the last Empress in China, Ci-xi, who began as a concubine of the Xianfeng Emperor and on his death became the de facto head of the Qing Dynasty until her death in 1908. Buck recreates the life of one of the most intriguing rulers during a time of intense turbulence. Tzu Hsi was born into one of the lowly ranks of the Imperial dynasty. According to custom, she moved to the Forbidden City at the age of seventeen to become one of hundreds of concubines. But her singular beauty and powers of manipulation quickly moved her into the position of Second Consort. Tzu Hsi was feared and hated by many in the court, but adored by the people. The Empress's rise to power (even during her husband's life) parallels the story of China's transition from the ancient to the modern way."

Find other books by Pearl S. Book that I read here.

Pearl S. Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

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 20 February 2013

Reading a classic you have never read but know anyway

I love reading classics. Even if I haven't read them before, it's almost like visiting an old friend, or finally getting to know that best friend of a good friend. Because, even if I haven't read a classic, I might have heard about it, seen a play, watched a movie, talked to friends who read it ... there are so many ways we hear about classics, we get to know them.

Classics are my all time favourites. So many people have read it before me and liked it. There must be something about that book, right? Alright, there are some that are outdated after a while but if they didn't reach that point after several hundreds of years  why should that be the case now.

A classic also links me to all those human beings that have lived before me. I can follow their thoughts, dream their dreams and compare their lives to mine. I can try to find whether life has changed. I don't think so. Circumstances have changed, ways of life have changed but we still have the same dreams as our ancestors. Reading their novels makes us understand that.

So, what stops you from reading a classic?

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Estes, Eleanor "The Hundred Dresses"

Estes, Eleanor "The Hundred Dresses" - 1944

A beautiful children's book that I found while helping out at a school book sale. A novel that teaches children about bullying, about poverty, about friendship and acceptance. The story is set in the 1940s but it might as well have been written today, it's a timeless classic that will still be true in a hundred years. This is a book, everyone should read, children and adults alike.

From the back cover:

"Eleanor Estes’s The Hundred Dresses won a Newbery Honor in 1945 and has never been out of print since. At the heart of the story is Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl in a Connecticut school who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. Wanda claims she has one hundred dresses at home, but everyone knows she doesn’t and bullies her mercilessly. The class feels terrible when Wanda is pulled out of the school, but by that time it’s too late for apologies. Maddie, one of Wanda’s classmates, ultimately decides that she is 'never going to stand by and say nothing again.'"

Monday 18 February 2013

Barnes, Valerie "A Foreign Affair"

Barnes, Valerie "A Foreign Affair. A Passionate Life in Four Languages" - 2004

Often I read a book about a subject I know nothing about and it is always interesting to learn about new subjects. Very rarely do I read a book where so much sounds as familiar as in this one.

I have never lived in Switzerland and I am not a translator and/or interpreter but a large part of Valerie Barnes' story sounds like my own. The only difference, she is a couple of years older than me (actually, a whole generation, she is just a couple of years older than my mother) and at my time you wouldn't just get a telegram to show up in Geneva to start working for the United Nations a week later. At my time, you would have had to apply and certainly needed a university degree for any of the jobs she performed. The other difference, my husband is just wonderful, something the author unfortunately could not say of hers.

So, it was a pleasure to read the experience of someone else, someone who went abroad in her early twenties (the same as I did) to find her destiny.

Valerie Barnes tells us about her life as an ex-pat, the life of someone who juggles several languages at the same time, lets us look behind the scenes of an international organization, gives us a glimpse into an unhappy marriage to a philanderer, shows us all her international travels around the world, just a wonderful account of an interesting life.

If you are at all interested in any of these topics, you should read the book. It's wonderful.

Some of my favourite quotes:

When talking about her toddler son:
"His English was very polite, for he had heard no English swear-words from Mary-Ann or myself. Not so with French!"
I made that same experience with my children. In our case, the swear words would be the English ones.

Quotation from G.K. Chesterton: "A translation is like a woman: if she is beautiful she is not faithful, and if she is faithful she is not beautiful."
Such a true observation as anyone can testify who deals with several languages and/or translations.

"Sometimes English is so concise that in the other languages a whole sentence is needed to translate just two or three English words. This also means that English is an imprecise language; particularly when compared to French, Spanish and Russian ..."
Another phenomenon nobody ever thinks about unless they deal with translations. I also don't think you can compare languages, one language is always more imprecise in one field than another. It depends on the value people speaking that language have put on that specific field. Or at the culture that is associated with the language.

From the back cover:

"Walking along the drab, grey streets past bomb craters and piles of rubble, I daydreamed about a more romantic world where people spoke exotic languages, played music, sang and danced with passion." 'Trapped in the austerity of post-war London, 20-year-old Valerie Barnes yearned for the good times promised by the wartime songs. Then two chance meetings catapulted her into a high-flying career at the newly-formed United Nations in Geneva and the arms of a glamorous Frenchman ... Joining an elite breed of independent women who travelled the world in the 1950s and 1960s, Valerie lived a jet-setting life as an interpreter, working in exotic locales and rubbing shoulders with prime ministers and presidents. At the same time she was juggling a Swiss chalet home, three children and a love rat of a husband back in Geneva. But whatever Valerie did, she threw herself into it with zest. From dancing flamenco to being kidnapped in Cairo, being wooed by an African president or falling for a passionate Pole, Valerie's gift for storytelling makes A FOREIGN AFFAIR a lively, funny, utterly delightful memoir."

Friday 15 February 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

"Books and doors are the same thing. You open them, and you go through into another world." Jeanette Winterson

"There are great books in the world and great worlds in books." N.N.

"Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable." Louisa May Alcott

"A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul." Franz Kafka

"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic." Carl Sagan
Find more quotes here

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Hagena, Katharina "The Taste of Apple Seeds"

Hagena, Katharina "The Taste of Apple Seeds" (German: Der Geschmack von Apfelkernen) - 2008

A beautiful story about three generations of women. A quiet read that you can enjoy slowly. The story is told by the granddaughter who inherits her grandmother's house after her death. She used to spend her summer holidays here and reminisces about her beautiful days as a child but also about the problems in the family and the tragedies they encountered.

A really beautiful story about families, women and memories.

From the Back Cover:

"For Iris, childhood memories are of long hot summers spent playing with her cousin Rosmarie in her grandmother's garden, a place where redcurrants turned to pale tears on the branches of trees and beautiful Aunt Inga shook sparks from the tips of her fingers. But now her grandmother is dead and, along with inheriting the property, Iris finds that she also inherits her family's darkest secrets. Reluctant to keep it, but reluctant to sell, Iris spends one more summer at the house. By day she swims at the local lake, where she rediscovers a childhood companion. Alone at night she roams through the familiar rooms, exploring the tall black shadows of the past. In the flicker between remembrance and forgetting, Iris recalls an enigmatic grandfather who went to war and came back a different man, the night her cousin Rosmarie fell through the conservatory roof and shattered her family's lives, and a moment of love that made all the trees in the orchard bloom over night."

I read this book in the original German version.

Monday 11 February 2013

McCourt, Frank "Teacher Man"

McCourt, Frank "Teacher Man. A Memoir 1949-1985" - 2005

Frank McCourt's third (and last) account of his interesting life. This time, he is telling us about his thirty years as a high school teacher in New York. He taught in poor and rich areas, he's seen it all. He tells us about some special students and his everyday life trying to teach them to learn English well and to learn enough about themselves to go out into this world.

I believe Frank McCourt must have been a great teacher. He tried a lot of different approaches, he didn't play the games the students try to play with all of their teachers, he saw through them but he also let them see through him. That is the part I admire the most, he opened himself up to the students, he wasn't just the guy who came in to ask questions, he was also the guy who told them about his childhood, his struggles to get where he was. He gave them hope that they could achieve their dreams one day, no matter where they came from.

After "Angela's Ashes" and "'Tis", you just have to read this one, it makes a complete life.

From the Back Cover:

"A third memoir from the author of the huge international bestsellers Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis. In Teacher Man, Frank McCourt details his illustrious, amusing, and sometimes rather bumpy long years as an English teacher in the public high schools of New York City…

Frank McCourt arrived in New York as a young, impoverished and idealistic Irish boy – but one who crucially had an American passport, having been born in Brooklyn. He didn't know what he wanted except to stop being hungry and to better himself. On the subway he watched students carrying books. He saw how they read and underlined and wrote things in the margin and he liked the look of this very much. He joined the New York Public Library and every night when he came back from his hotel work he would sit up reading the great novels.

Building his confidence and his determination, he talked his way into NYU and gained a literature degree and so began a teaching career that was to last 30 years, working in New York's public high schools. Frank estimates that he probably taught 12,000 children during this time and it is on this relationship between teacher and student that he reflects in ‘
Teacher Man’, the third in his series of memoirs.

The New York high school is a restless, noisy and unpredictable place and Frank believes that it was his attempts to control and cajole these thousands of children into learning and achieving something for themselves that turned him into a writer. At least once a day someone would put up their hand and shout 'Mr. McCourt, Mr. McCourt, tell us about Ireland, tell us about how poor you were …' Through sharing his own life with these kids he learnt the power of narrative storytelling, and out of the invaluable experience of holding 12,000 people's attention came ‘
Angela's Ashes’.

Frank McCourt was a legend in such schools as Stuyvesant High School - long before he became the figure he is now he would receive letters from former students telling him how much his teaching influenced and inspired them – and now in ‘
Teacher Man’ he shares his reminiscences of those 30 years and reveals how they led to his own success with ‘Angela's Ashes’ and ‘'Tis’."

Friday 8 February 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

"Knowing you have something good to read before bed is amont the most pleasurable of sensations." Vladimir Nabokov

"A life without books is like a child without a fairytale, is like a youth without love, is like an old man without peace." Carl Peter Fröhling

"The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones." Joseph Joubert

“The book is a film that takes place in the mind of the reader.” Paulo Coelho

"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend."  Paul Sweeney

Find more quotes here.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Forgetting a Book Title

A lot of people never even try to remember the title of a book they read because they see it as entertainment for today and will not read it again.

Even though I agree with the entertainment, if a book is really good, I like to talk about it to friends, and sometimes I like to read it again. So, when I forget the title of a book I read ages ago, it nags at me, I brood over it, I have to think again and again, what was that title again? I remember reading a book about a convict who was sentenced to go to Australia, I believe with his family, and he starts a new life there, and no, it is not "The Secret River" by Kate Grenville or "For the Term of His Natural Life" by Markus Clarke, although the subject is similar.

Anyway, I have asked friends, I have asked people in internet chat rooms, nobody could find the title. It really bugs me that I didn't find the title.

Does this happen to you?

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Tucker, Helen "The Sound of Summer Voices"

Tucker, Helen "The Sound of Summer Voices" - 1969

What do you think when you are eleven years old and find out that your aunt is your mother and your mother never existed? This is the problem Patrick is facing but nobody wants to tell him the truth. So, he has to spy on his whole family in order to find out more details.

A very interesting story about growing up as well as coming to terms with a past you were not involved in. I read this novel years ago but wouldn't mind reading it again, if only I had a copy ...

From the back cover:

"One summer day while sitting on the front porch and mulling over bits and pieces of information about himself and his family, eleven year old Patrick Q. Tolson concludes that one of his aunts is, in fact, his mother. This conclusion alarms him since it means that everyone in his family, his two maiden aunts, his Uncle Darius and even Mavis, the cook, has been lying to him for years. No doubt the woman they claimed had given birth to him and then died had, in fact, never existed. From this day on he uses his talents for eavesdropping to slowly but persistently search for the truth. He hides in trees and hunkers down in the back seats of cars listening and listening until his true origins become clear. When he finally learns the truth he also learns something about love, God and forgiveness."

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Sturluson, Snorri "Egil's Saga"

Sturluson, Snorri "Egil's Saga" (Icelandic: Egils saga Skallagrímssonar) - 1240 

This is certainly one of the oldest books I have ever read (with the exception of "Odyssey"). And it gave me a lot of pleasure. I learned a lot about the Vikings, a lot about history. I am not sure how accurate the historic events are but quite a few seemed familiar.

It's amazing how long a story like that survives, it was written almost nine hundred years ago and you can still read it. This is an authentic historical account of what people did in that time, what people thought about it. It shows us our past but I think it also shows us our future. Because, if we learn one thing from history is that men learn nothing from it, they still keep on fighting each other for pride and glory, even if they claim to have another reason.

Egil was a great poet but he was also a great warrior, a man who would get angry very quickly and his adversaries usually wouldn't get out alive from their differences with him. Excellent, unique story.

From the back cover:

"Demon, killer and drunkard, poet, lawyer and farmer: Egil is the most individual and paradoxical character to emerge from the Icelandic Sagas.

From the time when Egil performs his first murder at the age of six to the more peaceful years of his dotage, he dominates this panoramic Viking history. Ugly, brutal and ruthless on the one hand, intelligent and capable of great sensitivity on the other, he remains an ambivalent figure in the reader's imagination.

Egil's Saga is thought to have been written by Snorri Sturluson in about 1230. Embracing five generations, commencing with Egil's grandfathers and ending with Egil's grandson, it chronicles the wars, rivalries and tensions of the ruling clans of Iceland and Norway. Adding flesh to the bare bones of historical fact and blending invention with legend, the Saga gives a wide-ranging view of life in the Viking world of the ninth and tenth centuries."

Sunday 3 February 2013

Coerr, Eleanor "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes"

Coerr, Eleanor "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes" - 1977

I remember reading a story about Sadako as a teenager (see here). When I helped out at one of the book sales at my children's school, I came across a children's edition. It is a sad story about a Japanese girl who was born in Hiroshima and was still a baby when the atom bomb was dropped on her home town. Nine years later, she is diagnosed with leukaemia, the illness that has killed many others already. Sadako believes that if she can finish a thousand paper cranes, she will escape the deadly disease.

A beautiful story, not just about illness and death but about the way love and hope can fight it and a sick little girl can become a heroine.

This is a children's book but will be appreciated by adults, as well.

From the back cover:

"Hiroshima-born Sadako is lively and athletic - the star of her school's running team. And then the dizzy spells start. Soon gravely ill with leukemia, the "atom bomb disease," Sadako faces her future with spirit and bravery. Recalling a Japanese legend, Sadako sets to work folding paper cranes. For the legend holds that if a sick person folds one thousand cranes, the gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again. Based on a true story, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes celebrates the extraordinary courage that made one young woman a heroine in Japan."

Bruckner, Karl "The Day of the Bomb" (GE: Sadako will leben) - 1961

Friday 1 February 2013

Book Quotes of the Week

"A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul." ~Franz Kafka

“Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.” NN

"Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house." ~Henry Ward Beecher

"The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.” James Bryce

"There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book." Patti Smith

Find more quotes here.