Wednesday 31 May 2017

Murakami, Haruki "Kafka on the Shore"

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

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

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

As I said, a weird book but quite enjoyable.

From the back cover:

"The opening pages of a Haruki Murakami novel can be like the view out an airplane window onto tarmac. But at some point between page three and fifteen - it's page thirteen in Kafka On The Shore - the deceptively placid narrative lifts off, and you find yourself breaking through clouds at a tilt, no longer certain where the plane is headed or if the laws of flight even apply. 

Joining the rich literature of runaways, Kafka On The Shore follows the solitary, self-disciplined schoolboy Kafka Tamura as he hops a bus from Tokyo to the randomly chosen town of Takamatsu, reminding himself at each step that he has to be 'the world's toughest fifteen-year-old.' He finds a secluded private library in which to spend his days - continuing his impressive self-education - and is befriended by a clerk and the mysteriously remote head librarian, Miss Saeki, whom he fantasizes may be his long-lost mother. Meanwhile, in a second, wilder narrative spiral, an elderly Tokyo man named Nakata veers from his calm routine by murdering a stranger. An unforgettable character, beautifully delineated by Murakami, Nakata can speak with cats but cannot read or write, nor explain the forces drawing him toward Takamatsu and the other characters."

Tuesday 30 May 2017

Schrobsdorff, Angelika "You Are Not Like Other Mothers"

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

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

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

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

From the back cover:

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

Monday 29 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 25 May 2017

Bryson, Bill "Bill Bryson's African Diary"

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

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

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

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

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

See more comments on my ThrowbackThursday post in 2023.

From the back cover:

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

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

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

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

Friday 19 May 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 18 May 2017

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi "Half of a Yellow Sun"

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will surely read more by this wonderful author.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Ballantyne, Tony "Dream London" - 2013

Ballantyne, Tony "Dream London" - 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 12 May 2017

Book Quotes of the Week

"Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write." John Adams

"When you read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than was there before." Clifton Fadiman

"He that loves reading has everything within his reach." William Godwin

"Never discourage anyone...who continually makes progress, no matter how slow." Plato

"Usually, when people get to the end of a chapter, they close the book and go to sleep. I deliberately write a book so when the reader gets to the end of the chapter, he or she must turn one more page." Sidney Sheldon

"I like big books and I cannot lie." N.N. 

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

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 11 May 2017

Scott, Mary "It Was Meant" - 1974

Scott, Mary "It Was Meant" - 1974

Another reread of the pleasurable books by Mary Scott. Since I read her novels as a teenager, I always dreamt of New Zealand. Not that I would have loved to live during the time Mary Scott and her husband had to run their farm but the author makes it sound so pleasant and lovely.

As in all her other books, there is so much humour in this one, even thought she doesn't even mention a library, usally one of the locations her heroines are seen in. This story shows us a bus tour, a pre-school, a gas station, a hospital and a farm. And a dog, of course, there always has to be at least one animal in her stories.

Maybe these books are outdated but they are a reminder of my youth and I always like coming back to them.

Unfortunately, Mary Scott's books are out of print and only available second hand. I have heard in the meantime, that you can buy some of them as eBooks.

From the back cover: (translated)
"A storm can be good for many things, as witnessed by Elizabeth Mortimer, called Liz, on an adventurous bus trip to the north of New Zealand. She meets a group of enterprising women from Windythorpe, and these newfound friends give her life a new meaning.
Liz decides to start her new life in Windythorpe. And, of course, this decision is right. Firstly, she unexpectedly rediscovers her friend Kay and secondly she finds the man of her life. In the end there is even a nice double wedding - to the delight of the people of Windythorpe."

Tuesday 9 May 2017

Grass, Günter "The Box: Tales from the Darkroom"

Grass, Günter "The Box: Tales from the Darkroom" (German: Die Box. Dunkelkammergeschichten) (Autobiographical Trilogy #2) - 2008

I think I can easily say that Günter Grass is one of my favourite authors. This novel is the sequel to "Peeling the Onion", the first book in his autobiographical trilogy.

In this book, he lets his children tell his story, or rather the part of his life where he has the children. There are quite a few of them, six of his own, two of his last wife, they all get together during various events and tell their side of their youth, of growing up together and/or apart. They also tell us about the mysterious photo box of one of the author's friends, Maria Rama. Her camera can show you the past and the future. It shows the wishes and desires of everyone on the pictures. It makes the story even more interesting, more imaginative. What could happen, what could have happened, I like that.

Even though this is more a novel than a real autobiography, I still think it tells a lot about the author's life and that time in Germany. A fascinating story.

I'm looking forward to number three of this series "Grimms Wörter. Eine Liebeserklärung" (Grimm's Words. A Love Declaration).

From the back cover:

"'Once upon a time there was a father who, because he had grown old, called together his sons and daughters - four, five, six, eight in number - and finally convinced them, after long hesitation, to do as he wished. Now they are sitting around a table and begin to talk . .'

In an audacious literary experiment, Günter Grass writes in the voices of his eight children as they record memories of their childhoods, of growing up, of their father, who was always at work on a new book, always at the margins of their lives. Memories contradictory, critical, loving, accusatory - they piece together an intimate picture of this most public of men. To say nothing of Marie, Grass’s assistant, a family friend of many years, perhaps even a lover, whose snapshots taken with an old-fashioned Agfa box camera provide the author with ideas for his work. But her images offer much more. They reveal a truth beyond the ordinary detail of life, depict the future, tell what might have been, grant the wishes in visual form of those photographed. The children speculate on the nature of this magic: was the enchanted camera a source of inspiration for their father? Did it represent the power of art itself? Was it the eye of God?

Recalling J. M. Coetzee’s Summertime and Umberto Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, The Box is an inspired and daring work of fiction. In its candor, wit, and earthiness, it is Grass at his best."

Günter Grass "whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

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

Monday 8 May 2017

Laker, Rosalind "The Golden Tulip" - 1989

Laker, Rosalind "The Golden Tulip" - 1989

The members of our book club wanted to read something about the Netherlands, so I suggested this one that I had recently found.

Francesca is the daughter of a late 17th century Amsterdam painter and an aspiring painter herself. She begins an apprenticeship with a not so famous painter, later better known: Johannes Vermeer.

I had never heard of Rosalind Laker but when I checked what she had written, I wasn't surprised, most of the titles of her books sound like "threepenny novels" or rather chick lit to me.

However, this was a pleasant enough story about how life was in the 17th century, especially for women. Add a little bit of Dutch history, a little bit of art, and you have a story.

Not a bad story, certainly a book that can initiate a lot of talk.

We discussed this in our book club in March 2017.

From the back cover: "Francesca’s father is a well-known painter in the bustling port city of Amsterdam; he is also a gambler. Though their household is in economic chaos, thankfully the lessons she learned in his studio have prepared her to study with Johannes Vermeer, the master of Delft.

When she arrives to begin her apprenticeship, Francesca is stunned to find rules, written in her father’s hand, insisting that she give up the freedoms she once enjoyed at home- including her friendship with Pieter van Doorne, a tulip merchant. Unaware of a terrible bargain her father has made against her future, Francesca pursues her growing affection for Pieter even as she learns to paint like Vermeer, in layers of light. As her talent blooms, 'tulip mania' sweeps the land, and fortunes are being made on a single bulb. What seems like a boon for Pieter instead reveals the extent of the betrayal of Francesca’s father. And as the two learn the true nature of the obstacles in their path, a patron of Francesca’s father determines to do anything in his power to ensure she stays within the limits that have been set for her.

The Golden Tulip brings one of the most exciting periods of Dutch history alive, creating a page-turning novel that is as vivid and unforgettable as a Vermeer painting."

Other books I read on the same subject:

Chevalier, Tracy "Girl with a Pearl Earring" - 1999
Dash, Mike "Tulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused" - 2000
Marini, Lorenzo "The Man of the Tulips" (Italian: L'uomo dei tulipani) - 2002
Moggach, Deborah "Tulip Fever" - 1999
Pavord, Anna "The Tulip" - 2004
Vreeland, Susan "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" 1999

Monday 1 May 2017

Happy May!

Happy May to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture
with this beautiful watercolour painting 
by Frank Koebsch

 "Rape blossom" "Rapsblüte"

On the First of May we celebrate International Workers' Day to acknowledge the achievements of labourers and the working classes. 
Where would we be without them. 
Enjoy this month with the beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch.

You can find many more wonderful pictures on their website here.