This is the story of Conxa, a young girl from a rural Catalan village in the early twentieth century and it follows her throughout her life, from beinThis is the story of Conxa, a young girl from a rural Catalan village in the early twentieth century and it follows her throughout her life, from being sent away from her parents (as they can’t afford to feed all six children) to live with an Aunt and Uncle miles away, through to the years it takes to finally be accepted as a member of the village, to falling in love and having three children, being captured in the civil war and to Barcelona where she finally ends her days – and this all happens in the space of 128 short pages.
The prose is sparse and understated but it is this simplicity that makes it work so beautifully. Conxa is a wonderful narrator and tells her story, looking back on her long life as an old lady, remembering the taste of food, the smell of the meadows and dancing until she is dizzy, never once complaining about her lot or, never throwing herself a pity-party, rather recalling the events of a life in rural Spain.
This is a short read but has the right amount of gentle impact to make it a satisfying lite-bite. Recommended. ...more
I am actually struggling with finding a way to review this book as, even after turning the last page, I’m still not entirely sure what it’s about. ItI am actually struggling with finding a way to review this book as, even after turning the last page, I’m still not entirely sure what it’s about. It felt, to me, like the book wanted to be a sprawling, epic book about a woman who was married off for money in Malaysia and set over nearly 100 years, but here it really falls short: there wasn’t enough depth there and I still feel, in a way, that I don’t know the characters well enough. I can’t quite decide whether it was mean to be a family saga, a book about finding true love, a book about spiritualism, a book about WW2, I just don’t know. I sort of feel that the story never really found its true identity.
The story starts in Ceylon in 1916, with the birth of Parvathi to a very poor and lazy father and a doting mother. Her father is told by an astrologer on the day of her birth that she will marry into great wealth and when a marriage broker appears 16 years later trying to find a wife for a hugely wealthy Malaysian businessman, Parvathi’s father gives him a picture of a beautiful girl who is not his daughter and her fate is sealed.
Crossing the sea by herself she is thrust straight into the marriage with this man who is more than 2 decades her senior and who is angry and humilitated at being decieved. He decides to send Parvathi straight back but for reasons that are never especially clear, he doesn’t. She remains in the house where she is happy but unloved. Several years into the marriage, her husbands love-child is brought to live with them after her mother (and her husbands lover) dies and then Parvathi herself gets pregnant and gives birth to a child; a son. These two children are the most rude, selfish, brattish, vile kids and both of them deserved a damn good slap in my opinion! GRRRR!!!
When WW2 breaks out and the Japanese descends on Malaysia, Parvathi is taken to be a lover for a Japanese General and there she finds true love.
It sounds simple enough, right? So it shouldn’t have confused me, but it did. I did enjoy The Japanese Lover but I just didn’t fall in love with it. I didn’t find enough forward momentum with it: I enjoyed it for the most part while reading it but had no real compulsion to pick it up again when I wasn’t reading it. I never really felt like there was anything to cling on to in terms of wanting to know what happened – I felt as though the book couldn’t decided wether to be plot driven (which I don’t think it really was) or character driven (again, there were none whom I felt I knew well enough for this). ...more
I barely know where to start with this book. I actually finished it over a week ago but wanted to wait a while to collect my thoughts about it and seeI barely know where to start with this book. I actually finished it over a week ago but wanted to wait a while to collect my thoughts about it and see if they are any clearer after some consideration. They aren’t: I am just as confused.
I was so desperate to get my mitts on this book: Life of Pi is one of my all-time favourites and I have developed a huge crush on tigers since reading the book. When I saw the cover and the blurb for Beatrice and Virgil I was practically cartwheeling round the room in anticipation of my my brand new crush on donkeys and howler monkeys. It’s by Yann Martel. It’s got animals in it. What’s not to love?
I will attempt to describe the plot now: There is an author called Henry who has had two really successful books out and he has just written a third which gets panned by his publishers. In the first 20 pages of this book I learned more about flip books than I ever realised I cared (and am assured that I still don’t). Henry throws his toys out of the pram and moves to another (unamed) city to live off his previous royalties and do things like join an orchestra and a drama group without writing another thing. One day he ets a strange letter from a man also called Henry. The letter contains a chapter of a play that Henry #2 has written and asks Henry #1 for help. Coincidentally, Henry #2 lives in the same city where Henry #1 has just moved to so Henry #1 decides to pay him a visit and finds that Henry #2 lives and works as a taxidermist. The rest of the book flits between the play that Henry #2 has written which is about a donkey called Beatrice and a howler monkey called Virgil who live on a striped shirt, and the two Henry’s meeting to discuss the play.
I have to be honest that if a) I hadn’t loved Life of Pi so much and b) been kindly sent my copy by the publisher for review I’m not sure that I would have wanted to carry on reading after the first 50 pages. I say wouldn’t have wanted to, but even so I probably would have as I felt strangely compelled to keep reading. The play with the animals was a very obvious metaphor for the holocaust and there were times when I felt like I was being beaten over the head with them. The ending too: I can’t decide whether I was being blatantly manipulated or whether Martel has just done a really good job of making me feel what the holocaust was ultimately all about – I was heartbroken at the end, both with the ending of the play and with the Games for Gustav which was a series of “Sophie’s choice”-like questions about what would you do in this situation?
I think that this is possibly the first time I have been so unsure how to score a book. It certainly wasn’t a book I necessarily enjoyed but was it a good book? I really don’t know whether it’s complete trash or absolute genius. Having said that, I do still keep thinking about it. ...more
What a blast this book was! I loved every minute and every page. When I got this book I was so excited as I had already heard a bit of buzz generatingWhat a blast this book was! I loved every minute and every page. When I got this book I was so excited as I had already heard a bit of buzz generating around it and I do love a good whodunnit especially when combined with a rugged, loner Detective! I think Scandanavian crime novels are enjoying quite a bit of limelight at the moment and I did love Stieg Larssons books so I was very curious about this one too. Well, I picked it up last week to have a scan through and before I knew it I had read the first three chapters without pausing for breath. It was fantastic!
The book starts in 1980 with a young child being made to wait in the car for his Mother as she says she needs to pop into someones house for 10 minutes. When the Mother returns to the car 40 minutes later (scared, as she is sure that she saw someones face at the window) she finds her child in a state of fear and confusion saying that he “had seen him”. When his mother asks who, he can only reply “The Snowman”.
Fast forward twenty-four years, Oslo Detective Harry Hole (said rugged Detective) is investigating the disappearance of several women who all share the fact of being married with at least one child. He is assigned a new partner, the very pretty but aloof Katrine Bratt, and the two of them set about trying to find the connection between the women who have disappeared and the only thing that seems to connect them all is that there is a snowman at the scene of every disappearance and the women have all vanished every year on the first day of snowfall. Not only that, but Harry feels he is being watched. He received a mysterious note claiming to be from The Snowman and inviting him to find out who he is. Harry and Katrine then find out that a Detective in Bergen, who also appears to have been investigating the case, disappeared 14 years ago and has never been seen since.
As Harry Hole starts to fit all the pieces together, it is clear that there is more to the case than meets the eye. With a smattering of red herrings and mistaken identities you start to suspect everyone who graces the pages of this book. There is, of course, the obligatory nail-biting climax to the book when everything comes together all at once, and the old race-against-the-clock, will he / won’t he make it in time. I love that though; the edge-of-your-seet stuff.
The whole book, for me, pacey and gritty and just not wanting to put the damn thing down. If you enjoy crime / thrillers / whodunnits then you will LOVE this! I am over the moon that I have found a new author who has four other books that I am excited now to seek out (all in the Harry Hole series, yay!). ...more
It's been quite a while since I've read a memoir. I used to devour them when I was younger but in recent years I have got so sick of seeing the mis-meIt's been quite a while since I've read a memoir. I used to devour them when I was younger but in recent years I have got so sick of seeing the mis-mems littering the shelves in supermarkets and bookshops: "Don't Hit me with That Bottle of Vodka, Mummy" or "Daddy, Please Don't Make Me Steel Another Packet of Cigarettes For You " (you get the picture). Something about the Far From the Land caught my interest though; a mixture of the cover (which I think if beautiful) and the fact that it isn't a hard-luck, triumph-over-adversity type memoir. Thomas J Rice's book is "a telling of a culture that no longer existed" and a "memoir about the way of life he had abandoned but that had not abandoned him".
Tom Rice (or Sonny as he was known back then) was born in 1940's Ireland and lived on a farm with no electricity with his Mother and six older sisters. The telling of Tom's childhood is of a simple time when his days consisted of helping his Mother milk the cows, surrounded by a gaggle of mewing cats, playing in the fields surrounding the farm with his friends and sing-alongs round the kitchen table. Being an absolute sucker for animals, most of my favourite parts involved dogs, cats or horses. I laughed out loud at Tom's very protective dogs snarling and barking at anyone who came up the path, his first dog Captain who was so protective that when he was helping Tom round up the cows he did his job a little too thoroughly and a few poor and unsuspecting cows got a nip on the backside. Another favourite moment of mine was when the young Tom wanted to copy his older friend Davy who was ploughing the fields with his horses, Tom would tether up the dogs and have him pull him up and down the fields too.
One of my favourite characters in the book was Tom's Mother, Maggie O'Toole, a feisty, independent woman with a really interesting story of her own (in fact, her story would make a great book). When Tom finally left Ireland in 1959, he took his Mother with him. This is a book of two halves: An Irish childhood in a remote farm and a ticket to the industrial north of England where Tom experienced racism for the first time.
I enjoyed this book. To fans of biographies and memoirs and anyone who enjoys reading about life in Ireland or the Irish it's well worth a read. I hope you enjoy. ...more
What a wonderful yet hearbreaking ride this book was. Firstly, I’ll start with the fact that as soon as I saw the cover and title of this book I knewWhat a wonderful yet hearbreaking ride this book was. Firstly, I’ll start with the fact that as soon as I saw the cover and title of this book I knew I had to read it. In 1993-94, I answered an add in the paper to go and work as an Au Pair for a family in Israel. I can’t explain why Israel, there were hunderds of adds for France, Italy, USA etc and one solitary add for Israel. As a child at school we were asked to pick a country to do a project on and I picked Israel. I’m not Jewish, nor am I Muslim but I just knew I wanted to go; something about this country fascinated me. I worked for an American Jewish family in a rich town 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv. My days were spent with school runs, lunches and play dates for 4 children under the age of 10. My weekends, however, were my own. Every single weekend for the entire time I was there was spent exploring that beautiful country (with other friends I had made). Jerusalem was and still is my favourite place in the whole world; a Palestinian run hostel in the Old City became my home for months one end, and I made friends from all walks of life who took us to Tiberius, Golan Heights, Ein Gedi, Haifa, Acre, Eilat and everywhere inbetween. I knew the country better than I knew my own and even all these years later, I think back often to my life then and remember with both fondness and passion the country that was my home for two years. I have read lots about the Middle East, Israel in particular but this is one of the first fiction (based on many facts) book that I have read from a Palestinian point of view. I was really looking forward to reading it and I was not disappointed.
The book starts in the beatutiful village of Ein Hod in 1940’s Palestine and centres around the Abulheja family who live a happy life with their two sons, their beloved horses and lovingly tended rose garden. They work the land and harvest olives in the surrounding hills for a living. The oldest son, Hassan, marries a free-spirited bedouin girl called Dalia who quickly becomes a part of the family and their first child, Yousef, is born to the delight of the family. A few years later, Ismael is born and when he is still a baby, Yousef tries to comfort the crying child and accidentally drops him, scarring his face down one side.
In 1948 their life as they know it is over. The newly formed Israeli army, after accepting the hospitality of the locals for food, bombs thier little village without warning. Many people were killed and those who were left were made to march out of the village, in what they are standing up in, and walk towards Jenin. In the confusion that followed, Dalia has Ismael snatched from her.
“The villagers sat on the ground in the valley. The land was as beautiful and peaceful as it had always been. Trees and sky and stone and hills were unchanged and the villagers were dazed and quiet, except Dalia. She was mad with anguish, questioning people and uncovering other women’s babies in the hope of revealing a boy with a scar down his right cheek, around his eye. She searched with frenzied foreboding, even though Yehya tried to reassure her that someone had picked up the child and surely it was only a matter of time before they would be reunited”
The following chapters are the families time in the quickly put-together refugee camp in Jenin where they try to rebuild some sort of life for themselves. In this time Dalia gives birth to a daughter called Amal, who becomes our narrator for most of the book. She takes us through her life in the refugee camp; the horrors, the friendships, and the losses. She talks about times that often occured, like the overflowing of the open sewers and the smell being so bad that they had to sleep on the roof. But even in this she recounts the naive dreams of hers and her friends:
“Vile as the experience and subsequent cleanup were, Huda and I could not contain our excitement and anticipation at being allowed to sleep on the roof to escape the foul odour. Other children did the same, and we filled the air with calls, jokes and giggles of young refugee souls. We were naively full of dreams and hope then, blessedly unaware that we were the worlds rubbish, left to tread in its own misery and excrement. There on the flat rooftops, we offered up our wishes and secrets to the starry Mediterranean sky.”
Amal was 12 years old when the war of 1967 came to Jenin. She watched those around her die as she hid in a hole beneath the kitchen floor. The refugee camp that her relaties and friends had tried so hard to build, was flattened. Amal leaves the camp not long after the six day war and takes us with her as she starts a new life in Jeruslem, America, Lebanon and back to Jenin. Her story is heartbreaking and powerful. Susan Abulhawa’s anger is clear in the pages, as is her love for her country, Palestine. She brings to our attention another massacre in Jenin in 2002 that the world barely got to hear about. It was covered up.
I asked myself many times during reading this book “how could this happen?” It’s almnost beyond belief that human beings can do this to each other, yet they do.
“There is no reason or logic. I was twenty years old and they gave me total power over other human beings, Amal”
Although this book is only 330 pages long, it felt like an epic to me. I have spent 60 years with this family, watching them love, loose, fight, cry. I’m going to miss them. I cried at the end – not just because of their story but because of all the other thousands of peoples story – real people.
I have tried not to be biased in this review; there are two sides to every story. The Israelis have their tale to tell too. But this book is about the Palestininans, and their story. It’s high time their voices were heard.
If you are interested in knowing more, Susan Abulhawa, the author of Mornings in Jenin, has very kindly agreed to an author interview on my blog http://boofsbookshelf.com which will be coming soon....more
What I thought: I have mixed feelings about this book so I have decided to split them into the good, the bad and the ugly:
The Good: On the one handWhat I thought: I have mixed feelings about this book so I have decided to split them into the good, the bad and the ugly:
The Good: On the one hand it was page-turning read; it was thought-provoking and made me question a lot of things that I thought I knew. It had me reaching for the internet on several occasions as I was eager to find more about what I thought was fact – I love it when a book makes you think and question like that. It was a quick and pacey read and wasn’t bogged down with unecessary details. I also liked the fact that the subject matter is controversial. I was shocked within the first few pages – Queen Elizabeth I gave birth in secret, then 2 pages later in the present day Prince William is murdered. Normally, I wouldn’t have thought that I would want to read something with this as the backdrop to a story, but for some reason I felt compelled to read on.
The Bad: The book was at times amateurish and even farcical. The characters weren’t well-developed or rounded enough for me, but this could be forgiven as the plot was what made the book not the characters. However, there were certain points in the book that felt very cheesey (the last chapter being one of them). In my opinion, the book needs more spit and polish as there were too many cliches.
The Ugly: One word – scrunchie? No, no, no! Not unless it’s the 1980’s. Other lines that made me cringe were “loose locks flowing aimlessly over her shoulder”. Now that smacked of school essay once but twice is unforgiveable: “And her hair was loose, the chestnut strands flowing over her shoulders”. But my absolute favourite was Fiona and Dan in bed: “Take me, Dan!” No, no, no, no, NOOOOOOO!!!!
So, to summarise, I did enjoy this book. The cheesey, farcical and amateurish parts made me giggle more than groan. And the main question I am left with is: did Shakespeare truly not write all those plays? ...more
Rarely does a book bewitch (pardon the pun) and mesmorise me quite so much as this one. It is truly one of the most beautiful and lyrical books I haveRarely does a book bewitch (pardon the pun) and mesmorise me quite so much as this one. It is truly one of the most beautiful and lyrical books I have ever read.
The story is narrated by Corrag, a 16 year old girl who is awaiting being burned at the stake for being a witch in 17th century Scotland. Corrag is visited in jail by Charles Leslie, an Irish Jacobite who wants to prove that the recent massacre in Glencoe was the work of the soldiers under William of Orange. Corrag is English and has run away “north and west” at the command of her mother who is about to be hung for also being a witch. Corrag takes the old and beaten horse of a cruel neighbour, a grey mare who becomes her best and only friend, and spends the next year living off the land and making her way north-west where she arrives in Glencoe. At first the clan is wary of her, but over time they welcome her into the fold although she still lives in her self-made little hut on the moor.
What is magical about this book is Corrage’s voice. She lives, breathes and dreams nature and the land around her. Every tiny thing is spoken of with such love and passion and she notices everything – a dew drop on a leaf, the changing colours of the rocks through the day, the silver sand as the grey mare gallops over beaches in the moonlight. The way she narrates is lyrical and equistite and the world she inhabits makes you feel like you can breathe again. Despite her life so far and her hardships, she has such a capacity for love and kindness for eveyone she meets.
Through her visits from Charles Leslie, Corrag tells her life story from her birth through to the night her friends were slain in a Scottish valley during a blizzard. Each person is wary of the other at the beginning – Leslie returns daily as he is waiting for details on who was behind the massacre (believing it to be the new King) and Corrag is determined that her life will not be forgotten. After several weeks they find a strange comfort in each other and a friendship is born. Corrag has found companionship in her final days and Leslie learns to see whe world through fresh eyes.
I honestly just loved this book. It has now become a firm favourite and I am sorry it has ended. I have never read any of Susan Fletchers other two books but I will now be seeking them out.
What an absolulute treat reading a Mary Higgins Clark book is! I always know I’m in for a good read when I pick up the Queen of Suspenses books.
In thiWhat an absolulute treat reading a Mary Higgins Clark book is! I always know I’m in for a good read when I pick up the Queen of Suspenses books.
In this book, her latests (published last month), thirty-two year old Dr Monica Farrell is at the centre of a plot to keep her from what is rightfully hers. Although she doesn’t know it (as her father was adopted as a baby and never knew his real family) she is heir to The Gannon Corporation, run by a quartet of greedy, cheating men who will stop at nothing to make sure Monica doesn’t find out that the corporation belongs to her, including murder.
Monica, who is a Pediatrician at a Manhattan Hospital, recieves a tip that an elderly lady, Olivia Morrow, may have some information regarding her fathers birth family and agrees to meet her at her appartment. However, when she arrives the next day she is too late; Olivia is already dead. When several others also turn up dead, and Monica herself appears to be the next target, it’s the old race against time to see who will triumph.
As with all her books, Higgins Clark, manages to entice you to keep turning those pages by way of short chapters and no uneccessary detail. There is, however, one thing that does bother me at the end which I can’t really go into here as it may spoil the book for some people. It is something that is revealed in the letters at the end of the book and if anyone reads this and wants to discuss please do comment below as I would like to see if the same thing bothers you as it did me.
That said, this book still gets full marks from me. I have been ill the last 2 days and MCH’s books are exactly the tonic I need ...more