I read this for a RL book group. I like historical fiction, though prefer mine set in the BC time period. It was a large book, and I was dreading havi...moreI read this for a RL book group. I like historical fiction, though prefer mine set in the BC time period. It was a large book, and I was dreading having to read it, expecting it to take a long time. I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was blown away. It was a quick, riveting, fun read.
The book is set in Edwardian England, and in the present day. The POV, Grace, is a former servant, a maid, in a big country estate. She lived in the village near the house and goes to work there at 14. Her mother was a maid there before her. There is a secret about her mother's time at the house, and why she left, but no one will speak about it.
In the present day, Grace is in her 90s and living in a nursing home. She is contacted by a woman who is doing a film about a death that happened on the estate in 1924. A poet killed himself at a garden party. The family became notorious is a minor way. The contact stirs Grace's memories of the events and the secrets she alone knows, because everyone else is dead.
The part of the story set in the past, is Grace recalling the events of her life. It is interspersed with present day issues. She is very old and declining as the book progresses. She is dealing with her relationship with her nurse, and her grown daughter, which are at times prickly. She meets and talks with a production assistant and an actress.
Her main reason for dredging up her memories is not just for the film, but for a series of audio tapes she decides to make for her grandson. He is grown and a successful author, but has vanished. He is dealing with the death of his wife, feeling guilty about it, and has abandoned his life. Grace, with her own association with the death at the estate, wants to explain how you can be involved in events, be unable to stop them, but can't let them destroy you.
I think the issue with the grandson is what saved the book for me. It is minor, but it turns the book into a living story, rather than a static recitation of the past. I always find that looking backward exclusively is a boring way to tell a story. You already know that everything works out or the narrator wouldn't be there to tell the story.
Grace's memories bring the family at the estate and her fellow servants to life. The bulk of the past story is focused on them. Grace eventually became a ladies maid to the elder daughter, Hannah, and quite emotionally attached to them all, but especially to Hannah and the younger daughter Emmeline.
Grace also tells of her life, her lost love, her mistaken marriage to another, the birth of her daughter, WW I and WW II, her receiving a Doctorate in Archeology, working on digs, and her discovery of her mother's secret. Most of Grace's personal story is told in a few lines of conversation without a lot of detail. It was sometimes frustratingly limited. The story of her lost love and her discovery of her mother's secret is woven into the story of the family and has depth.
I found everything but the Doctorate and the work on digs to be believable and a good addition to the story. She was no longer in school at 14, yet she went on for a terminal degree ? She earned her degree after the war as a Continuing Education student and divorced working mother, I doubt she would have the time or money. Then she somehow was actually working on digs around the world, with no strong connection to academia, it all seems absurd.
The story is one of family, of loyalty, perseverance and of forgiveness. It had a great emotional impact, the characters were that well drawn, and the stories that interesting. I was worried that the author might try to emulate the writing of the time and that the book would be slow and staid. It was smoothly written and flew by, I read it in almost one sitting, and just loved it. I found the various members of the family to be confusing at times in the beginning, but just let it roll off me.
I only saw 2 questionable items in terms of historical accuracy that struck me. Morton has the aristocratic household using fish knives and forks, and while they came in during this time period, they were considered middle class and not used. Then a ladies maid would have been called by her surname: Reeves, not Grace as they do in the book.(less)
This was a book that I read for a RL book group, although I had already purchased it for myself.
It is set in South Africa during apartheid in a townsh...moreThis was a book that I read for a RL book group, although I had already purchased it for myself.
It is set in South Africa during apartheid in a township outside Johannesburg. The township, Sophiatown, was destroyed in the 50s, to make way for the white city to expand. The townships are the only place near the city where blacks can live.
The buildings are flimsy shacks made of odds and ends and the roads aren't paved. There is a communal water standpipe that blocks and blocks of people have to share. The only people who should be living there are those who work in the white city and have a pass. If they don't have a pass they are supposed to be go to black homelands, that have even less of the necessities of life.
Periodically the police conduct pass raids and pull people out of their beds, not even letting them get their pass to prove they belong. Mothers are torn from children, and old people are given no slack. Demolition gangs also come in and start destroying shacks, even if they are inhabited, the people with no place to live are carted off.
In this setting the POV character lives. He is a young man, early 20s and he is a criminal. A tough, vicious, thug who preys on those who try to eke out a poor life in the township. These young men are called Tsotsi as a group. Because the POV was a street child he has no past, no parents and no memories -- not even his name. He takes Tsotsi as his name.
He runs with 3 others like him. But one is a time-bomb that will soon shake Tsotsi's life. Boston is not just a thug, but a thinker, and a formerly decent man with a conscious. He infects Tsotsi with questions about his past, and his cruel actions currently.
Tsotsi ends up with a baby when the woman he is trying to rape, shoves a shoe box at him and runs off. Tsotsi has begun to change because he keeps the baby and tries to care for it. It triggers his memories of life before the streets. He makes further changes by breaking with his gang.
The end is quite devastating.
The writing is very simple and it works so well for the characters who are not educated, and who grapple with just trying to live and survive.
There are terrible heartbreaking scenes of the struggles the decent characters have, that show their humanity and dignity. Their world is comprised of simple pleasures: food, shelter, safety, love of family, a moment of peace.
The thugs are shown lazing, drinking, and abusing women while they wait for dark and plan their next job. Their lives are empty regardless of the money and free time they have.
Through it all are the oppressive laws and police that try to force the blacks into the shape the whites want, while denying them the basic status of humans.
Tsotsi's memories show the direct impact of the whites in their lives and of how people are broken and families destroyed all for the crime of being black.(less)
**spoiler alert** This is the 5th book in the Samria series, but the story actually takes places just after the 1st book Archangel.
The title of the...more**spoiler alert** This is the 5th book in the Samria series, but the story actually takes places just after the 1st book Archangel.
The title of the book, Angel-Seeker, refers to young women, groupies really, who are seeking out the Angels to have a sexual relationship with them. Angels are superior beings who act as intercessors for humanity with their god who floats above the land.
The people of Samaria are the descendants of the remnants of people who came in a space ship to settle the new planet. They have lost touch with their home world, and with most of the technology that brought them there. Angels are biologically altered humans.
Life is hard and mostly pastoral, and young women with no family or ties dream of producing an 'Angel Baby' to insure they will have a place to live and be taken care of for the remainder of their lives.
The Angels are aware of them, but don't object. It is difficult for Angels to reproduce and they are expected to attempt to do so quite regularly. Echoes of the distasteful female drudges who provide sexual favors in Anne McCaffrey's Dragon Riders of Pern series. Young women often die in childbirth when they bear an Angel baby, but they still try.
This story focuses on 2 women, one who is an Angel-Seeker, and one who is not, but meets and falls in love with an Angel.
The young woman who falls in love is from a very restrictive society that treats females as inferior, property and the bearers of male honor (can we say Muslim).
The writing is good, the story is told well, if a bit predictable and distasteful. The setting is done well as is the depiction of the Angels and their relationships with each other, and different types of humans. I liked the characters and came to care about them. There are perhaps too many coincidences that are required to make things work out, but that is often the case in many books that have plotting that isn't straightforward.(less)