Wednesday 28 February 2018

Kadaré, Ismail "The Fall of the Stone City"

Kadaré, Ismail "The Fall of the Stone City" (aka Chronicle in Stone) (Albanian: Darka e Gabuar) - 1971

Since I would like to read a book of every country in the world (see Travel the World Through Books), I started looking for novels from countries I haven't read about, yet.

I hadn't come across a book from Albania, yet, but found this one by one of their renowned authors.

Even though the novel starts in 1943, it does go well into the fifties, to a time where not much about Albania was known to the outside world.

It was an interesting story. Being taken over after Nazi occupation from the Communists is like out of the frying pan into the fire, it certainly was no party for our protagonist who had to pay for trying to save his village during the war.

Anyway, not a large book, I would have loved to read more about this. I suppose I will have to read more by this author who writes in a very catching style.

From the back cover:

"It is 1943, and the Second World War is ravaging Europe. Mussolini decides to pull out of his alliance with the Nazis, and withdraws the Italian troops occupying Albania. Soon after, Nazi forces invade Albania from occupied Greece. The first settlement in their path is the ancient stone city of Gjirokastër, an Albanian stronghold since the fourteenth century. The townsfolk have no choice but to surrender to the Nazis, but are confused when they see that one of the town’s residents, a certain Dr. Gurameto, seems to be showing the invading Nazi Colonel great hospitality. That evening, strains of Schubert from the doctor’s gramophone waft out into the cobbled streets of the city, and the sounds of a dinner party are heard. The sudden disappearance of the Nazis the next morning leaves the town wondering if they might have dreamt the events of the previous night. But as Albania moves into a period of occupation by the Nazis, and then is taken over by the communists, Dr. Gurameto is forced to answer for what happened on the evening of the Nazi’s invasion, and finally explain the events of that long, strange night.

Dealing with themes of resistance in a dictatorship, and steeped in Albanian folklore and legend, The Fall of the Stone City shows Kadare at the height of his powers."

Ismail Kadaré received the Man Booker International Prize in 2005 for being "a universal writer in the tradition of storytelling that goes back to Homer."

Tuesday 27 February 2018

McLeod, Cynthia "The Cost of Sugar"

McLeod, Cynthia "The Cost of Sugar" (Dutch: Hoe duur was de suiker) - 1987

Cynthia McLeod is probably not much known internationally but her books have been translated into English. Being born in Paramaribo, Suriname, she writes in Duch.

This story tells us all about life in that country in the 18th century. It starts with Elza and Sarith, two half-sisters who have grown up with all the comfort and convenience of slave holders from that time. But we don't just get to know the slave holders, we also get a good glimpse of the slaves and how they live together with their masters, some kind, others not so much. A lot of the plantation owners are Jewish and that is also causes problems. And then there are the Dutch who come to settle in the country.

The big question is not how much do people pay for the sugar in Europe, the question is how much did it cost to produce that sugar, how many lives are wasted in order for us to have sweet dishes. I think this is a question we still have to ask ourselves whenever we buy something cheap from other countries where workers are exploited so we can have a good life. And then there is the still existing question why some people think they are worth more or they are more intelligent because their skin is a little lighter than that of others. Those are the ones that are the less intelligent ones.

A lively, thrilling story, fascinating, sad and enthralling. I did enjoy reading this.

I read this book in the original Dutch language.

From the back cover:
"The Cost of Sugar is the historical story of Jewish family planters and their slaves in Suriname. Now a major motion picture, The Cost of Sugar gives an engrossing account of eighteenth century Suriname at the time when the country was ruled by the Dutch. The hypocrisies behind the veneer of a respectable colonial life are revealed through the eyes of two Jewish step sisters, Elza and Sarith, descendants of the settlers of New Jerusalem of the River' known today as Jodensavanne. Their pampered existences become intertwined with the fate of the plantations as the slaves decide to fight against the violent repression they have endured for too long... Cynthia McLeod presents a frank exposé of life in a Dutch colony when sugar was king and demanded the consummate allegiance of all - colonists and slaves - regardless of the tragic consequence."

Monday 26 February 2018

McCall Smith, Alexander "Tea Time for the Traditionally Built"

McCall Smith, Alexander "Tea Time for the Traditionally Built" - 2009
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #10

I don't read a lot of "easy" books but I thought it was about time I got back to Mma Ramotswe, the owner of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana.

I have always enjoyed the stories about this lady who defies prejudices about what woman can and can't do. The stories are funny but show a lot of heart. Whether Mma Ramotswe mourns for her little white van that gets too old to do its duties, tries to find the traitor in a football team or helps her assistant to fight a fiancé-snatcher, there is a lot of both in all the stories.

Definitely nice stories to enjoy. Book no. 10 in this series is just as charming as all the first nine ones.

From the back cover:

"There are things that men know and ladies do not, and vice versa. It is unfortunate - when Mma Ramotswe's newest client is the big-shot owner of the ailing Kalahari Swoopers - that one thing lady detectives know very little about is football. And when Violet Sephotho sets her sights on Mma Makutsi's unsuspecting fiancé, it becomes clear that some men do not know a ruthless Jezebel even when she is bouncing up and down on the best bed in the Double Comfort Furniture Shop.

In her attempt to foster understanding between the sexes, Mma Ramotswe ventures into new territory, drinks tea in unfamiliar kitchens and learns to dig deep to uncover the goodness of the human heart."

See more comments on my ThrowbackThursday post in 2022.

Friday 23 February 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"I would rather be poor in a cottage full of books than a king without the desire to read." Thomas Babington Macaulay

"Nothing can compare to the feeling evoked by turning the page in a great book." Aneta Cruz

"Read nothing that you do not care to remember, and remember nothing you do not mean to use." Professor Blackie

"It's impossible to walk through a book store and be in a bad mood at the same time." 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 22 February 2018

Buddha "The Dhammapada"

Buddha "The Dhammapada. Verses on the Way" (Sanskrit: धम्मपद), Buddhist text - ca. 300 BCE

Preceded by mind
are phenomena,
led by mind,
formed by mind.
If with mind polluted
one speaks or acts,
then pain follows,
as a wheel follows
the draft ox's foot.

Another book from the list "The non-western books that every student should read" that I tackled. I borrowed it from the library and I think I was lucky to have received a new translation with explanations by a Buddhist scholar.

I really enjoyed reading this book, it looks like poetry but it doesn't read like it which I found very refreshing.

If you are familiar with any sort of religious reading, the Bible or the Koran, for example, you will certainly find a lot of familiar meanings, love thy neighbour, honour father and mother, live peaceful, don't kill etc. etc. Buddha has put it in few words that should be comprehensible to everyone.

So, whether you are religious or not, it would help us all if we lived the way Gautama Buddha or Siddhārtha Gautama described more than two millennia ago.

From the back cover:

"Twenty-five hundred years ago, after the Buddha emerged from his long silence to illuminate for his followers the substance of humankind's deepest and most abiding concerns, his utterances were collected as the Dhammapada.

The nature of the self, the value of relationships, the importance of moment-to-moment awareness, the destructiveness of anger, the suffering that attends attachment, the ambiguity of the earth’s beauty, the inevitability of aging, the certainty of death - these dilemmas preoccupy us today as they did centuries ago. No other spiritual texts speak about them more clearly and profoundly than does the Dhammapada.

The 423 verses here, in an elegant new translation by Sanskrit scholar and Buddhist teacher Glenn Wallis, offer us a distillation of core Buddhist teachings that constitute a prescription of core Buddhist teachings that constitute a prescription for enlightened living, even in the twenty-first century.

Also included is Wallis's brilliantly informative Guide to Reading the Text - a chapter-by-chapter explication that greatly enhances our understanding.

Wallis’s translation is an inspired successor to earlier versions. Even readers well acquainted with the Dhammapada will be enriched by this fresh encounter with a classic text."

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Aaronovitch, David "Paddling to Jerusalem"

Aaronovitch, David "Paddling to Jerusalem. An Aquatic Tour of Our Small Country" - 2000

I had read a few books by the author's brother Ben, so when I saw the name Aaronovitch in a used bookstore, I just had to take it home. Plus, the title "Paddling to Jerusalem" promised an interesting story. I envisaged something taking place in Israel. How wrong I was.

My disappointment quickly changed into joy when I discovered that first, David Aaronovitch was paddling around England, so what's not to like? And second, he mentions a few people who have written books about his country before, i.a. Bill Bryson, one of my favourite writers whom this author also seems to admire. So, we see him first on his search for the kayak that is going to help him get around the country and then follow him and said kayak plus a copy of "Middlemarch" from London up to the north and back again where he meets all sorts of people and visits all kinds of towns and villages.

A nice story about someone who gets up and does something completely different where many people think they are getting too old for this kind of stuff, including myself. Thankfully, there are always writers like this one to help us discover the world.

From the back cover:

"David Aaronovitch, the award-winning columnist and broadcaster canoes round the waterways and canals of England on the eve of the new Millennium.

In the last summer of the twentieth century, a rather large man got into a small boat and went out to discover England. On its canals and rivers, from the Thames to the Trent, from Camden Lock to Skipton, David Aaronovitch fumbled for the pulse of the least known nation in Britain.

He discovered a land of saucy grannies, voyaging landladies, Barratt's estates with well-tended gardens, childhood museums, opticians, aromatherapy, steam railways, scented candles, shopping malls, computers, coffee cake, stress phalli, man Utd supporters, rock festivals, soap opera behaviour, young men driving too fast, Buddhists, urchins, dead deer, private property, new universities, tattooed anglers and pewter herons.

On the way, Aaronovitch survived rapids, camping, stone-throwing hooligans, attempted murder by swans, a whole day without much food, the Beaverbrook Hotel in Burnley, solitude and a terrible ennui. Death stalked him for the entire journey. After four days he gave up, and then began again.

And among the towns and villages he encountered a selection of ghosts from the nation's past: bad King John, Aaron the Jew of Lincoln, Stanley Baldwin and the painter, Hilda Carline.

Yet in the process he found out one or two useful things about himself. Like the lithe and unjustified optimism it required for an unfit forty-year-old to suddenly take off on his own for months, using a form of transport that was inherently unstable, for reasons which were occasionally inscrutable - even to himself.

Hilarious, provocative and moving, Paddling to Jerusalem is the story of what happens when a bad idea gets the better of you and, in the process, becomes a very good idea indeed."

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Abarbanell, Stephan "Displaced"

Abarbanell, Stephan "Displaced" (German: Morgenland) - 2015

What a highly interesting book. I always like to learn about history and what happens in other countries. Or even what happened in my own country a long time before I was born.

Well, this book brought me both. A young Jewish woman who grew up in Palestine before it was Israel. A young woman who became a member of the resistance, fighting for their own country. But now it is 1946, the war is over and the world is not what it used to be. So many questions, so many problems. Someone is looking for his brother, doesn't believe he was killed, many books have lost their owners, who do they belong to? Nobody knows how things will go on, especially not the British who have to deal with all these Jews who want to get a visa for their protectorate. The story leads us to many stations, former concentration camps as well as few kibbuzim in Germany, we meet many people who try to organize the new world, Americans and British but also Germans.

The author manages to bring life into a dark time, his protagonist, Lilya Wasserfall, is a woman with hope, a woman with determination. The story is fascinating and engaging, it keeps you enthralled, you want to know what's going on.

This is Stephan Abarbanell's first novel. I hope he'll write more.

From the back cover:
"It is 1946, and the full horrors of the previous six years are slowly coming to light.
But in Jerusalem, Elias Lind can't accept that his brother Raphael really did die in a concentration camp. He has evidence that the scientist is still alive but, unable to search for him himself, he persuades a young member of the Jewish resistance to help.
Lilya's search for Raphael takes her from the dusty streets of Jerusalem to the heart of political London, from US-controlled Munich to an overcrowded and underfunded displaced persons camp, before leading her to the devastated shell of Berlin itself. But before long Lilya realises that she isn't the only one searching for the missing scientist; a mysterious pursuer is hot on her heels, and it soon becomes clear that Raphael's life isn't the only one in question . . ."

In the book, the protagonist mentions a few German books she read to improve her German:
Mann, Thomas "Tonio Kröger"
Kästner, Erich "Fabian"
Stifter, Adalbert "Nachsommer"
Baum, Vicki "Menschen im Hotel", "Tanzpause", "Welt ohne Sünde"

Monday 19 February 2018

Unigwe, Chika "On Black Sisters' Street"

Unigwe, Chika "On Black Sisters' Street" (Dutch: Fata Morgana) - 2007

4 African girls live in Antwerp, Belgium. A beautiful city. But the life of the girls is not that beautiful, they were brought to Europe to work as prostitutes, their Antwerp is the red light district. We often hear stories about these girls who are kept like slaves but never with many details.

Chika Unigwe described their world to us in a highly interesting manner, she is certainly an author worth watching for.

Sisi, Ama, Efe and Joyce all come from Nigeria (well, Joyce came to Belgium from Sudan via Nigeria) and we learn their stories bit by bit, how they ended up in this life, even think they chose this life themselves, how their old lives had crumbled slowly but surely. We don't just get to meet the girls but also their families, learn about their background.

A challenging, breathtaking story. And of course, this happens in any city in the Western world. Time to do something about it.

Like Mariama Bâ's "So Long a Letter" this book was mentioned in the article "The non-western books that every student should read". I think I need to write another blog about that.

From the back cover:

"On Black Sisters Street tells the haunting story of four very different women who have left their African homeland for the riches of Europe -and who are thrown together by bad luck and big dreams into a sisterhood that will change their lives. 

Each night, Sisi, Ama, Efe, and Joyce stand in the windows of Antwerp’s red-light district, promising to make men’s desires come true - if only for half an hour. Pledged to the fierce Madam and a mysterious pimp named Dele, the girls share an apartment but little else - they keep their heads down, knowing that one step out of line could cost them a week’s wages. They open their bodies to strangers but their hearts to no one, each focused on earning enough to get herself free, to send money home or save up for her own future.

Then, suddenly, a murder shatters the still surface of their lives. Drawn together by tragedy and the loss of one of their own, the women realize that they must choose between their secrets and their safety. As they begin to tell their stories, their confessions reveal the face in Efe’s hidden photograph, Ama’s lifelong search for a father, Joyce’s true name, and Sisi’s deepest secrets - and all their tales of fear, displacement, and love, concluding in a chance meeting with a powerful, sinister stranger.

On Black Sisters Street marks the U.S. publication debut of Chika Unigwe, a brilliant new writer and a standout voice among contemporary African authors. Raw, vivid, unforgettable, and inspired by a powerful oral storytelling tradition, this novel illuminates the dream of the West - and that dream’s illusion and annihilation - as seen through African eyes. It is a story of courage, unity, and hope, of women’s friendships and of bonds that, once forged, cannot be broken."

Friday 16 February 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"Reading forces you to be quiet in a world that no longer makes place for that." John Green

"A good bookshop shows you the books that you never knew you wanted. It doesn't merely fulfill your desires, it expands them. It you know the book you want, go into a bookshop and buy it, you have failed." Mark Forsyth

"Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting." Aldous Huxley

"If I'm not reading a book I'm normally talking about them!" N.N.

Find more book quotes here.

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

Thursday 15 February 2018

Scott, Mary; West, Joyce "Such Nice People"

Scott, Mary; West, Joyce "Such Nice People" (Inspector Wright #2) - 1962

The second time I come across Inspector Wright and his work in the New Zealand bush. Mary Scott's books are lighthearted and pleasant to read, even if there is a murderer among the lovely people on the pages.

If you have read my other reviews about Mary Scott's novels, you will know that these are about the most easy going books I read. This is not different, not scary or anything. Mary Scott, in collaboration with Joyce West, has written another lovely book.

From the back cover (translated):
"Lucia happily accepts her uncle's offer to take over his petrol station at the Half Moon Lake- at least temporarily. Because - as the uncle writes - "I can't promise exciting adventures you, all the people here are downright scarily law-abiding but you will find the freedom to live your own life, books, enough people, the lake and the bush.

A rural idyll - just the thing for someone like Lucia, who suffers from a broken heart. But the hope of a secluded, peaceful life is not fulfilled. Just after her arrival, Lucia experiences an earthquake - and a fire! And when she learns the next day that the local postman, Bert Davies, is probably the victim of a murder, Lucia senses that exciting days are coming.

However, should there really be a murderer among these law-abiding, alluringly lovely people?"

Wednesday 14 February 2018

Campbell, Jen "The Bookshop Book"

Campbell, Jen "The Bookshop Book" - 2014

This book starts with:
"Bookshops are
time machines
& safe places.
(this book is for those who know this to be true)"

Every reader loves bookshops as much as books. That's my theory and I stick to it. I am one of those people who cannot pass by a bookshop and who cannot leave a bookshop without buying at least one book. I have no problem leaving other shops without a purchase but it's impossible when entering a bookshop.

Lately, I have read some other books about bookshops:
Rice, Ronald (Ed.) "My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop" - 2012
Taylor, Andrew James "Books That Changed the World" - 2008

This is yet another approach to discovering bookshops. The author has more or less travelled around the world for us, interviewed bookshop owners, employees, authors, readers, anyone who has anything to do with producing and consuming books. Granted, she describes more shops in the UK and the US than in all the other parts of the world together but it still is a pleasure to follow her around. She describes all sorts of exotic places that I doubt I will ever get to, like Cambodia and Mongolia, Sudan and Tanzania, bookshops in North and South America, Australasia, wherever you can find one, she found them. If there were a bookshop on the moon, it would get a mention in here.

The stories about the people are all wonderful - what's not to like about book lovers? For example, there is Jessica A. Fox from the States who wanted to visit a second-hand bookshop in Scotland, googled it, found  and visited one (The Bookshop in Wigtown). Apparently, we can read all about her falling in love with the owner in "Three Things You Need To Know About Rockets: A Real-Life Scottish Fairy Tale".

I would love to visit all of those bookstores but there is one I have been visiting lots of times. Every time we have a visitor in our area, we take them to Maastricht to go into Selexyz Dominicanen. Imagine the surprise when people enter a church and end up in a books hop. Definitely visit their website. And let me know when you're in the area, I always love to meet other book nerds.

For anyone who loves boats more than books - or at least just as much - the Book Barge in Lichfield seems to be the answer. The owner, Sarah Henshaw, also wrote a book about her adventures. "The Bookshop That Floated Away". But she also describes bookshops that distributed their goods on donkeys or tanks.

Then there's the story about Stephen Fowler from Toronto who created the Biblio-Mat in his bookshop "The Monkey's Paw" where you can buy a second hand book for $2 with the promise: "Every book a surprise. No two alike. Collect all 112 million titles". Their most loyal customer Vincent bought one book every week in 2013 and he did not just read it but also wrote a review on his blog Certainly a site worth looking into.

I also loved the way she describes how different kind of bookshops organize their books. My favourite would be the one where the cover all the books face the customer. But there are all sorts of different set-ups. In Japan, there is a shop that sorts the books by date, not of publication but of the period in which it is set.

The author also recommends books to read, these were my two favourites:
Gowdy, Barbara "The White Bone", a journey into the minds of elephants - my favourite animals!
Berthoud, Ella; Elderkin, Susan "The Novel Cure" - a novel for any ailment you might have.
I know I must put both of them on my wish list.

The book is also full of quotes. I particularly loved this one:
"A good bookshop shows you the books that you never knew you wanted. It doesn't merely fulfill your desires, it expands them. It you know the book you want, go into a bookshop and buy it, you have failed." Mark Forsyth

So, whether you like to read about books, bookshops or see some amazing pictures of some weird and not so weird places, this is a fantastic book to delve into.

From the back cover:
"Every bookshop has a story.

We’re not talking about rooms that are just full of books. We’re talking about bookshops in barns, disused factories, converted churches and underground car parks. Bookshops on boats, on buses, and in old run-down train stations. Fold-out bookshops, undercover bookshops, this-is-the-best-place-I’ve-ever-been-to-bookshops.

Meet Sarah and her Book Barge sailing across the sea to France; meet Sebastien, in Mongolia, who sells books to herders of the Altai mountains; meet the bookshop in Canada that’s invented the world’s first antiquarian book vending machine.

And that’s just the beginning.

From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine, The Bookshop Book examines the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at over three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents (sadly, we’ve yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole).

The Bookshop Book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world."

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Tremain, Rose "The Gustav Sonata"

Tremain, Rose "The Gustav Sonata" - 2016

This is my second book by this author. I have read "Music and Silence" before which was about Denmark in the 17th century. This one is about Switzerland in the 20th. Well, one boy in particular. He is born shortly before the end of WWII and we see him growing up without his father who dies shortly after his death, with a mother who is bitter without her son knowing why. He finds out after many years.

This is a nice story about friendship that survives everything - love, betrayal, life and death. Short and easy read.

From the back cover:

"Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem only a distant echo. An only child, he lives alone with Emilie, the mother he adores but who treats him with bitter severity. He begins an intense friendship with a Jewish boy his age, talented and mercurial Anton Zwiebel, a budding concert pianist. The novel follows Gustav’s family, tracing the roots of his mother’s anti-Semitism and its impact on her son and his beloved friend.

Moving backward to the war years and the painful repercussions of an act of conscience, and forward through the lives and careers of Gustav and Anton, The Gustav Sonata explores the passionate love of childhood friendship as it's lost, transformed, and regained over a lifetime. It's a powerful and deeply moving addition to the beloved oeuvre of one of our greatest contemporary novelists."

Monday 12 February 2018

de Beauvoir, Simone "She came to stay"

de Beauvoir, Simone "She came to stay" (French: L'invitée) - 1943

Paris in the 1930s, Bohemian couple. Intellectuals, theatre, writers, actors, artists, producers. A "triangle" novel. Lots of dialogues. Lots of questions. It was interesting to see Paris shortly before the war broke out, interesting to learn that people knew about concentration camps already in the early thirties. I would have liked a little more about this topic than the ideas of some flighty young people.

If you love to read about the background of the theatre with all its moodiness and jealousy, you might love this novel. For me, it was interesting because I enjoy practising my French. But I doubt that this is the novel that "made" the Great Simone de Beauvoir.

From the back cover:

"Written as an act of revenge against the 17 year-old who came between her and Jean-Paul Sartre, She Came to Stay is Simone de Beauvoir's first novel - a lacerating study of a young, naive couple in love and the usurping woman who comes between them. 'It is impossible to talk about faithfulness and unfaithfulness where we are concerned. You and I are simply one. Neither of us can be described without the other.' It was unthinkable that Pierre and Francoise should ever tire of each other. And yet, both talented and restless, they constantly feel the need for new sensations, new people. Because of this they bring the young, beautiful and irresponsible Xaviere into their life who, determined to take Pierre for herself, drives a wedge between them, with unforeseeable, disastrous consequences...Published in 1943, 'She Came to Stay' is Simone de Beauvoir's first novel. Written as an act of revenge against the woman who nearly destroyed her now legendary, unorthodox relationship with the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, it fictionalises the events of 1935, when Sartre became infatuated with seventeen-year old Olga Bost, a pupil and devotee of de Beauvoir's. Passionately eloquent, coolly and devastatingly ironic, 'She Came to Stay' is one of the most extraordinary and powerful pieces of fictional autobiography of the twentieth century, in which de Beauvoir's 'tears for her characters freeze as they drop.'"

Friday 9 February 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"Every time you open a book, a little magic falls out." Carrie Elks

"We read to know we're not alone." William Nicholson

"Books should go where they will be most appreciated, and not sit unread, gathering dust on a forgotten shelf, don’t you agree?" Christopher Paolini

"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift." Charles Scribner jr.

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday 8 February 2018

Rutland, Eva "No Crystal Stair"

Rutland, Eva "No Crystal Stair" - 2000

What an interesting story. If you expect a book about slavery when you hear "the saga of a black family", you are mistaken. This is the story of a girl growing up in a rich family, a girl who has to live with racism but quite different from that of most African Americans back then and even now. However, she marries outside of her familiar and comfortable society and has to adapt to various different types of lifestyle.

Apparently, this book is largely autobiographical. It's easy to guess if you compare the description of the author at the back of the book with the synopsis. Maybe that's what makes this story so lifelike.

From the back cover:
"Ann Elizabeth Carter grew up in the segregated Atlanta of the 1920s and 1930s, part of the black privileged class, the much-loved daughter of a doctor, and the granddaughter of a slave. She was a charming, confident young woman with a well-planned life ahead of her.
Then she upset all those plans when she fell in love. It was 1942 and Robert Metcalf was a member of the first black unit in the Army Air Corps, stationed at Tuskegee, Alabama.
For the first time, she left her sheltered life in Atlanta to marry Rob. For the first time, she had to learn what it really meant to be a black woman in 20th-century America.
During the decades that followed, Ann Elizabeth's life, and her marriage, were shaped by the changes that shook the country, that redefined it. During those decades, she learned the truth of a lifetime. You have to guard the love you find, and overcome the hate that finds you."

General remark:
There is one thing that always annoys me, when I read foreign books that mention Germany or German towns (and this has nothing to do with the contents of this book). It's the misspelling. German is quite a phonetic language, most of the time, letters are pronounced the same, not like in English where you wouldn't know how to pronounce a word if you've never heard it before.
I would understand if it were small villages where nobody could check in former times how the correct spelling is. But Wiesbaden? It's spelt "IE", not "EI". Often, these two letters are turned around, especially by Americans, when they see a German name. In most countries, an "I" is pronounced "EE" all the time, and if an "E" follows, it's just a longer "E". Foreigners see the "IE" and pronounce it "I" as in "like" but then they get told it's pronounced "EE" as in "three" and all of a sudden, they misspell the word.

If anyone is interested, I found a very nice blog explaining German pronunciation to English speakers here.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Williams, John "Augustus"

Williams, John "Augustus" - 1972

I always say I mostly read about the Roman times in the Astérix comics and they are really not bad if you have no idea about what was going on during Julius Cesar's times.

This book is about his successor, told by himself, his daughter and many many of his friends and enemies. Highly interesting to read about all the intrigues and what was going on behind the scenes.

I would have loved a list in the back with the names of the people and how they were related to each other. It's a good thing we have Google nowadays, otherwise I might have been lost as I can imagine people in the seventies were when they first read the book.

However, it still is a very good book if you want to learn about the Romans. Just heed my advice, make a list, see who is who and what they were in relation to Augustus.

Augustus certainly was a very impressive emperor, a man who was catapulted into a position at a young age, who had to take responsibility for a huge country. His reign lasted 40 years and was known as the Pax Romana, the Roman peace because that's what he did, he brought peace to most of his country, often at a huge cost but nonetheless very successful.

Apparently, the author has written only three books, this one, "Stoner" a campus novel and "Butcher's Crossing", a Western. I might attempt one of his other books one day.

From the back cover:
"After the brutal murder of his great-uncle, Julius Caesar, Octavian, a shy and scholarly youth of nineteen, suddenly finds himself heir to the vast power of Rome. He is destined, despite vicious power struggles, bloody wars and family strife, to transform his realm and become the greatest ruler the western world had ever seen: Augustus Caesar, the first Roman Emperor.
Building on impeccable research, John Williams brings the legendary figure of Augustus vividly to life, and invests his characters with such profound humanity that we enter completely into the heat and danger of their lives and times."

Monday 5 February 2018

Hamann, Brigitte "The Reluctant Empress"

Hamann, Brigitte "The Reluctant Empress" (German: Elisabeth, Kaiserin wider Willen) - 1981

Every German has seen the trilogy about "Sissi", the Austrian empress. There is a picture we have of her and that is bitter-sweet. I therefore was happy to find this book about her, a well worked out biography which gives a much deeper impression of the German that married the leader of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1854 at the age of 16. It is supposedly one of the best biographies on her.

I don't think I would want to be in the position of any royal person today but back in the day it must have been even more horrible, all those rules, that etiquette you had to follow, being social with people all the time, even if they were critical of you. I think Elisabeth would have been a lot happier with her "Franzl" if he hadn't been an emperor, as she said before her wedding.

We don't just meet Elisabeth in this book, we also learn about the difficulties between the Austrians and the other country that "belonged" to them. We can even see how the first signs for World War I were set in this country and in this family. What a pity. How many horrors would have been avoided if this hadn't been the case, there probably wouldn't have been a second World War and millions of people would have been saved.

A great read about an impressive woman. If you're at all interested in European history, this is a Must!

"She was the romantic idol of her age, the extraordinarily beautiful and mysterious Empress Elisabeth of Austria whose exploits made her a legend in nineteenth-century Europe and beyond. This biography by Brigitte Hamann reveals the truth of a complex and touching, curiously modern personality, her refusals to conform, escaping to a life of her own, filled with literature, ideas and the new political passions of the age."

Friday 2 February 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"I have put out my books and now my house has a soul." Cicero 

"A country that does not know how to read and write is easy to deceive." Che Guevara 

"Books are dreams lived out on paper." TrueTateHunter 
"Reading is important. If you know how to read then the whole world opens up to you" Barack Obama

"Humans make art, but art makes us human." N.N.

Find more book quotes here.

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

Thursday 1 February 2018

Happy February!

Happy February to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch

"... und dann wurde es warm "
"... and then it got warm"

The word February comes from the Latin word for "purification" and was the last month of the calendar years until around 450 B.C. 

The birthstone of this month is the amethyst which comes from the Greek word for "not intoxicate). It's a semiprecious quartz stone, mostly violet. 

Enjoy this month with the beautiful watercolour painting by Hanka Koebsch. 
I always love those very first flowers of the year.

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