Amazon gave me a free Kindle copy of this as some kind of promotion. It’s a fairy story. I enjoyed it; I’ve never quite understood why Gaiman is suchAmazon gave me a free Kindle copy of this as some kind of promotion. It’s a fairy story. I enjoyed it; I’ve never quite understood why Gaiman is such a cult figure, but he’s pretty good at what he does....more
This is the family history of three generations of Germans. The author’s grandparents were young during WWII; one grandfather fought in the French ResThis is the family history of three generations of Germans. The author’s grandparents were young during WWII; one grandfather fought in the French Resistance, the other seems to have been a lukewarm Fascist, but both ended up being inspired by the promise of the new socialist East Germany that was going to rise out of the ruins of the war. Then his parents grew up as products of the GDR, and he was a young man when the Berlin Wall came down.
He’s got plenty of good material, and it’s well-written, so if it sounds like the kind of thing you might like, you’ll probably like it....more
**spoiler alert** This is my book from Kazakhstan for the Read The World challenge, and it is, unusually, contemporary literary fiction (from 2010!).**spoiler alert** This is my book from Kazakhstan for the Read The World challenge, and it is, unusually, contemporary literary fiction (from 2010!). Which would be even more unusual if it had actually been translated from Kazakh or Russian, but it’s a novel in English by a Kazakh immigrant to the US. And the action moves between Los Angeles — where Aidar, a Kazakh man, lives with his American musician wife and son — and Almaty where his mother lives.
The full title of the book is Almaty-Transit — A Ghost Story, and most of the action happens after the death of Aidar, when his spirit finds itself back home in Kazakhstan, but wanting to find some way to help his wife and child back in the States. It’s hard to give any more detail without getting even more spoilery, but I would say that for much of the book the supernatural part is handled well, and it seems like an extension of a character-driven narrative, rather than wacky stuff happening just to try and make the book more interesting. By the end, as the supernatural elements got more elaborate and more gothic fairy-tale in tone, I was starting to get a bit impatient with it, but it wasn’t enough to spoil the book for me.
So, yeah, on the whole I enjoyed this, I thought it was well-written and the characters were engaging, even though the thing which is most distinctive about it — the supernatural side of the story — was in some ways the least appealing part, for me....more
An interesting fact about Rómulo Gallegos: he was the first democratically elected president of Venezuela, in 1948 (although only for a few months befAn interesting fact about Rómulo Gallegos: he was the first democratically elected president of Venezuela, in 1948 (although only for a few months before losing power to a coup d’état). He was a writer before he was a politician; Doña Bárbara was published in 1929. It is, of course, my book from Venezuela for the Read The World challenge.
I didn’t choose it because the author was president of Venezuela. I was more attracted by the fact that it has been made into a movie twice and a telenovela three times. And that suggests a novel with a good story to tell.
It is indeed a rollicking yarn, full of love, lust, jealousy, dancing, cattle rustling, chicanery, revenge, murder, sweeping landscapes, colourful birds, and manly men riding across the plains. The portrayal of women is slightly more problematic, in that there are only two major female characters, and one is pure, virginal, innocent, passive and ineffectual, while the other — the eponymous Doña Bàrbara — is manipulative, ruthless, corrupt, witchy, and uses sex as a weapon.
To be fair, Doña Bàrbara is a terrific character, a sort of cowboy Lady Macbeth. Or Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and the witches rolled into one. And in best superhero fashion, she is given a backstory of childhood trauma to account for her villainy. It’s just the contrast with the young Marisela which implies a rather narrow role for what a good woman can be like.
Despite Gallegos’s later career, this didn’t strike me as a particularly political novel in the same way as, for example, a lot of the post-colonial fiction I’ve been reading. Although you can see how it could be a part of a developing Venezuelan nationalism, because it is very much a novel about a place and a culture; the plains and the plainsmen who raise cattle there. I could see it forming part of a Venezuelan identity, rather as other cowboys did in the US.
However, the Wikipedia entry for Doña Bàrbara notes that ‘it was because of the book’s criticisms of the regime of longtime dictator Juan Vicente Gómez that [Gallegos] was forced to flee the country’. So I obviously missed some nuances. I guess the portrayal of political corruption — even though mainly at the local level in the book — is the kind of thing that dictators get annoyed by. They’re a notoriously thin-skinned bunch.
Anyway, I enjoyed it. And despite the tone of my comments, not just as a slightly melodramatic yarn — although that was enjoyable — but as a literary novel. It has an evocative sense of place, atmospheric set pieces, strong characters. Good stuff. ...more
I was intrigued to read this because Matt Merritt is a poet who is also a proper birdwatcher—as opposed to someone who occasionally puts an egret or aI was intrigued to read this because Matt Merritt is a poet who is also a proper birdwatcher — as opposed to someone who occasionally puts an egret or a hummingbird into a poem. And I am also at least a dabbler in both birding and poetry.
I never felt I managed to combine the two in a satisfactory way, personally; birds would inevitably crop up in my poems, in a metaphor or a bit of local colour, but I never felt able to write anything that did justice to my experience of watching them, or communicated what it was about birds that was important to me.
So I was curious to see how someone else did it. And this book does indeed include poems about birds and birdwatching. So for example, 'The Capercaillie' and 'Black-throated Diver, Lochindorb' both capture something of bird behaviour, and of the experience of watching the birds; 'Svalbard' (which you can read here) is a poem which successfully compares the overheard sound of a couple having sex to migrating Canada geese.
But, not surprisingly, there's no particular trick to making birds into poems. The bird poems work in the same way poems normally do; my own mental block remains un-explained.
My own neuroses aside, there are plenty of poems to like here, birdy and otherwise....more
**spoiler alert** This is my book from Brunei for the Read The World challenge. Brunei is one of the countries which is particularly difficult to find**spoiler alert** This is my book from Brunei for the Read The World challenge. Brunei is one of the countries which is particularly difficult to find books from; so when I found this self-published ‘science fiction thriller’ on Amazon I snapped it up.
It is the story of A’jon, a man chosen to be Brunei’s first astronaut because of his expertise in cryptography. His mission is caught up in Dramatic Events, and [SPOILER ALERT, I guess], he is put in suspended animation for 500 years, floating in space, before being revived and brought back to earth where his cryptographic expertise once more gets him involved in Dramatic Events and [even more SPOILERY] he saves the world.
Sadly it’s not very good; it’s the kind of book that makes people suspicious of self-publishing. This is a sample of the clunky prose and dialogue:
A’jon grabbed his fork and drove it into the middle of the plate. He twirled the fork several times until he grabbed the right amount, and then lifted it without a strand hanging and put it in his mouth. He was careful to not drop any of the sauce and get his new clothes dirty. His tongue reacted instantly to the food. “Mmm, that’s delicious!” he said while chewing the first bite.
“Makes me proud to be an Asian. Pasta originated from China before it was brought to Italy. It’s amazing how the combination of water and wheat can form such remarkable dough. You can mold it into almost any shape you like — fusilli, tagliatelle, ziti, rice vermicelli.”
With each bite, A’jon wrapped as much of the cheesy sauce round his tongue as he could before the flavor disappeared.
I’m resisting the urge to really pull this book apart; because it’s a soft target, and also because its flaws are essentially innocuous. It’s not particularly annoying or offensive, it’s just badly written. ...more
Dante International is my book from Namibia for the Read The World challenge.
For Malaysia, I picked a detective novel because I thought it would makeDante International is my book from Namibia for the Read The World challenge.
For Malaysia, I picked a detective novel because I thought it would make a good change to read newly released genre fiction rather than the decades-old literary stuff that I mainly end up reading. This is what I said about that book:
21 Immortals was a silly choice, really. Not because of the book itself, which is fine I guess, but because I have never understood the appeal of crime fiction (or indeed the even more depressing genre, ‘true crime’). I’m just not very interested in the grisly murders themselves or the police procedural/CSI stuff. The Malaysian setting gave it some novelty value, but otherwise it was a pretty standard example of the genre and so it largely left me cold.
Apparently I do not learn from my mistakes.
Dante International is not actually a detective novel — the central character is not a sleuth — but it is a crime thriller; women are being murdered in Windhoek and suspicion falls on their boss, an attractive, sexually incontinent self-made businessman called Dante Dumeno.
It was readable enough, I guess, but not really my kind of thing. And I had some problems with the portrayal of Dante, who is a manipulative bullying sexual predator… but apparently we’re supposed to find that attractive in a bad-boy sort of way? ...more
An interesting survey of what's known about the sensory capacity of birds. One little nugget that reflects more on the scientists than the birds: birdAn interesting survey of what's known about the sensory capacity of birds. One little nugget that reflects more on the scientists than the birds: birds were assumed to lack the senses of taste and smell. Because… I don’t know. A complete failure of imagination on the part of the people making the assumptions, presumably....more
I read this for the Read The World challenge as my book from the Central African Republic, which is where Andrée Blouin was born—although she didn’t aI read this for the Read The World challenge as my book from the Central African Republic, which is where Andrée Blouin was born — although she didn’t actually live there for very long.
Her father, Pierre Gerbillat, was a French businessman with a transport company in what was then French Equatorial Africa. He saw Andrée’s mother, Josephine Wouassimba, dancing in a local village and decided he wanted to marry her. Although she was already promised to somebody else, he offered such a large dowry that her parents were persuaded.
He was forty; she was thirteen. And although they were married according to local custom, they were not actually married under French law — not only that, he was already engaged to a Belgian woman, who he married very soon. And after briefly juggling two wives, he left Josephine and sent Andrée to an orphanage for mixed-race children run by nuns in Brazzaville. She was at the orphanage from the age of three until she was seventeen, when she managed to escape, literally by climbing over the wall.
Then she worked as a dressmaker, and had a sequence of relationships with white men, before getting involved in the campaign for independence, first in Guinea and then the Belgian Congo, where she was Chief of Protocol for the newly independent Republic of the Congo for the very brief period before Mobutu overthrew the government and she had to flee the country, and move to France.
So she’s an interesting subject. Although the stuff which is most obviously notable about her — the politics — was not actually the most engaging part of the book, for me. The most powerful section is about severity of the orphanage, and the sheer cruelty of the nuns; and throughout the book the racial dynamics are particularly thought-provoking.
She was a mixed-race child at a time when they were so rare that they were shipped of to special orphanages and coerced to marry each other, to reduce their disruptive impact on society. And it made her even more of an outsider that she was cut off from normal African society for her entire childhood.
Then as an adult, she was a beautiful mixed-race woman who, despite having suffered at the hands of white institutions and individuals, was apparently only drawn to relationships with white men; one of whom she lived with, and had a child with, even though he was so racist that he would not allow her mother into their house.
And I don’t think she makes any comment herself about whether her partial whiteness made it easier or harder for her to be a woman taking a prominent role in the politics of independence, but it must have been relevant one way or another.
So there’s plenty of interesting material here. And it’s well written, for which the credit may go to Jean McKellar, who is credited as a ‘collaborator’; I don’t know exactly what that means in this case. It’s also out of print, though, and unless it sounds like it’s particularly relevant to your interests, I don’t think it’s so amazing that you need to seek it out....more