This novella was short but powerful. It is narrated by nineteen year old Hamza, whose father had remarried and left him, his mother a...moreDriven from home.
This novella was short but powerful. It is narrated by nineteen year old Hamza, whose father had remarried and left him, his mother and two sisters, with no support. They had managed for several years with the help of a neighbouring family, but when drought devastated their village and the surrounding areas, the other family moved away. Hamza now feels the weight of responsibility and decides to seek work in the city. He is inexperienced and uneducated, but ready to turn his hand to anything.
He travels on foot, by bus and in trains, firstly to the nearest big city, Omdurman, then on to Khartoum, into Egypt and finally over to Europe - France, Italy and Holland. Work is never easy to find and the line between employment and crime is distinctly blurred. He makes friends on the way and jobs often come via these contacts. As he travels he sends money back to his family but communication from them is sparse and he worries the whole time, missing his home.
I agree with other reviewers that Hamza is not sufficiently overawed by the sights and sounds he encounters in the big cities and doesn't get into as much trouble as he might, given his circumstances, but this did not detract from the book's message for me. In very few, well chosen words, Tarek Eltayeb paints the picture of desperation that would surround a young man, forced to leave behind everything he holds dear, just to save them. I could clearly see how desperation might turn such a man to crime.
An excellent translation and an author to watch. Recommended.(less)
This novel was an interesting book for group discussion because, like The Thirteenth Tale, there were aspects of t...moreRooks and the industrial revolution.
This novel was an interesting book for group discussion because, like The Thirteenth Tale, there were aspects of the narrative that were left to the discretion of the reader to unravel. It also contained passages of sheer brilliance; Ms Setterfield has a wonderful way with words. Unfortunately The Thirteenth Tale had a finale that left me blown away and that was missing from Bellman and Black. Our book group was also a bit underwhelmed by all the references to rooks.
The introduction suggests that this is a ghost story, but I think readers would be disappointed if that is what they are hoping for. It's a painting of a man in the industrial revolution, who comes from a lower middle class family but makes good through sheer hard work and determination. William Bellman is an absolute workaholic. He starts out employed at his uncle's mill and eventually opens a one-stop-emporium for the sale of funereal items. I admired the author's descriptions of his work ethic, I almost felt exhausted just reading about how much he fitted into a day!
Although the story opens with William shooting a perfect curve and slaying a young rook, it was questionable as to how this fitted in with the rest of the narrative. Did the rook haunt him throughout his life, or was it just an inspiration for all the shades of black that are later available in his mourning goods business? His life had its share of sorrows too - were these pay-back for the death of the rook?
I loved the descriptions of industrial life in the textile mill, William's interactions with the staff and his dedication to the job. Then he opens his emporium and pours all of himself into that. Partly this is a reaction to the grief that is in his life, partly, I think, his whole work ethic. I had expected more to come of Girl 9, I had hoped for some denouement. Who was the man lurking at the funerals and later named Mr Black? (My book group had a theory about that but no spoilers here!)
The Thirteenth Tale was a hard act to follow and this fell a bit short. I shall still be rushing out to get a copy of anything else Diana Setterfield writes, but next time I hope we'll get a stunning ending :)(less)
I listened to an abridged version of this book and couldn't get through the first CD (1 star from me). Fortunately for...moreDepends on your sense of humour.
I listened to an abridged version of this book and couldn't get through the first CD (1 star from me). Fortunately for Mr Ustinov, my husband put it in his car and absolutely loved it (5 stars from him), so the book gets 3 stars on average.
I found his 'hilarious' anecdotes tedious and rambling, my husband, on the other hand, though he was hugely amusing and, knowing many of the famous people who he name drops, was immediately drawn in.
My husband has a typically male sense of humour, puns and word games, my sense of humour is more demanding, more subtle. Which group do you fall into??(less)
This is a difficult book to review because, although it provides quite a fascinating insight into life, particularly the lives of wom...moreA difficult read.
This is a difficult book to review because, although it provides quite a fascinating insight into life, particularly the lives of women, in 1950s Baghdad, unfortunately the content is obscured by overly wordy, often vague language, that makes the book very difficult to understand. Personally, I found the 'Napthalene' section of the Afterward, to be hugely instructive about what I'd actually read. A lot was clarified by this section, including the relationships between all the characters and the significance of many of the events.
The story is narrated by Huda who is ten-years old at the start of the book. However, the majority of her narration is in the second person, which I found very alienating. This was an era of relative pace, during the reign of King Faisal II, and Huda is able to play in the streets with the boys and generally enjoy her childhood. Her father is a policemen, a threatening character, who spends much of this time living at the Prison, but whose menacing presence is felt by everyone when he is home. Her mother has tuberculosis and Huda and her younger brother are largely raised by their grandmother in a house with their teenage aunt, of marriageable age.
We follow Huda into the years of her puberty, where she struggles with having to wear the cloak, which keeps falling off and which she finds very hot, making her head itch.
There was an excessive amount of reference to coughing, snot and the stink of sweat, which didn't make for pleasant reading.
Like The Loved Ones, also by Alia Mamdouh, it's hard to know if the obscure language is a factor of the book or of the translation, but as both books had different translators, this seems less likely. Certainly, within our book group, those who had read The Loved Ones in Arabic, had similar problems with the text.(less)
I originally read this six years ago and gave it the full five stars, so I was thrilled to have an abri...moreFoot binding, marriage and motherhood in China.
I originally read this six years ago and gave it the full five stars, so I was thrilled to have an abridged audio-book to listen to whilst driving. Even though this version was abridged, I enjoyed it just as much. Certain parts of the novel have remained with me from the first reading, particularly the detail of the foot binding, which was horrific. Other parts I was happy to be reminded of. I really must read more from Lisa See.
The story is narrated by Lily as she looks back over her life. It emphasises the importance of women to each other, in a society where they are considered the lowest of the low. From the foot binding to the necessity of bearing sons, every aspect of their lives is designed to please men. Lily and Snow Flower were matched as 'laotong' at just seven years old, a relationship that is destined to last a life time. They live a fair distance apart and communicate through writing in 'nu-shu' (women's writing), on a fan and other embroideries and missives. As they become teenagers, they stay at Lily's house and the bond made as children is strengthened. Eventually they both marry, arranged marriages, as was the custom, and Lily finds her new family does not approve of Snow Flower. They have to meet in secret and the stresses start to crack the relationship.
Lily's reminiscences help her to atone for the mistakes she made and the misunderstandings that developed.
The book paints an excellent picture of life in China in the nineteenth century, the lives of women and the customs of the time. A really excellent read. (less)
This was an enjoyable read - once I'd got past the first few chapters. The book starts with a format that I associate with painful chi...moreA moral Dilemma.
This was an enjoyable read - once I'd got past the first few chapters. The book starts with a format that I associate with painful chick-lit: three distinct chapters that, with no warning whatsoever, each change to a completely different set of characters,and circumstances. I find this style of writing lacks subtlety, which was surprising, given how the novel eventually pans out. In the end, of course, all these disparate characters link up in some way or another and it was necessary to keep concentration to remember all the interactions.
The main characters in the narrative are all women: Cecelia, a highly organised pillar of the community, is married to John Paul, the husband whose secret is eventually revealed. Tess is a nervy type, working in advertising until a shock revelation turns her world upside down and she and her young son move to stay with her mother. Rachel's teenage daughter was murdered thirty years previously and she has still not fully recovered. Her husband has also died and so she is devastated when her son, Rob, her only remaining family, announces that he is moving to New York with his wife and young son, Jacob, who Rachel adores.
The secret of the title is suitably devastating and I'm sure many readers will have asked themselves what they would have done in that situation. I wonder how many actually agree with the book's outcome on a moral basis.
Based in Australia, the story could go in several different directions and we await the decisions that will tilt events one way or another. Interestingly, there is an epilogue that explains how things might have gone if circumstances had been different; the 'what-if' scenarios - I couldn't help thinking that these were the ideas that the author was toying with as she decided on the book's final outcome. An fascinating way to end.(less)
This book started out with a powerful first chapter, where young Tommy visits his mother in prison, on death row, the day before...moreCowboys in Hollywood.
This book started out with a powerful first chapter, where young Tommy visits his mother in prison, on death row, the day before her execution. The following chapters, however, didn't live up to the original promise. I found the two time frames - Tommy as a child and then as Tom, the adult, were confusing, possibly because so many of the characters remained the same. I struggled to keep myself in the correct era. By the middle of the book I'd totally lost interest and my rating dropped by another star.
Young Tommy is cowboy mad, he watches all the westerns on TV, has his favourite cowboy characters and plays cowboys and Indians in his garden. When he is sent to boarding school at just five years old, he is considered strange by his peers. He is bullied by boys and staff alike, until rescue comes in the form of a real-life cowboy. As an adult, divorced from his wife and estranged from his son, Danny, he lives a lonely existence as a script writer. Then Danny is accused of murder and the family is reunited in his defense.
All books have their strengths and weaknesses and I was impressed by Evans' descriptions of Hollywood and the wilds of Montana. However, I found the plot rather plodding, with not a lot of reward. There wasn't much depth in the narration, jumping from school in England, to the razzmatazz of Hollywood, to ranching in Montana, without going into much detail at each phase. Personally, I think you would have to be a cowboy fan to really enjoy this book, and in that respect it is a bit dated, westerns being now, very much a thing of the past.
Nicholas Evans was originally a movie script writer and that was how this book read. He has already cut out all the detail that is usually erased when a book becomes a movie. A light read, voted three stars by myself and the members of my book group. (less)
I read this novella after, rather than before, The Girl You Left Behind, but I enjoyed filling in the back-story, even if it seemed to...moreNovella 75 pgs.
I read this novella after, rather than before, The Girl You Left Behind, but I enjoyed filling in the back-story, even if it seemed to be reading in reverse. Having said that, I'm not a great fan of short prequels, I'm not sure quite where they sit in the financial world of book sales. It seems to me that the content could often be included in the book and that the extra price is just a racket. Although I really enjoyed Honeymoon in Paris, it's not getting 5 stars because at 1.99 for 75 pages, when compared with 3.66 for 548 pages, it's not value for money.
The two lead ladies from The Girl You Left Behind, Sophie and Liv, are newly-weds in this episode. The men, who are largely absent in the main book are now alongside them as both couples spend their honeymoons in Paris, but 80 years apart. These new marriages are having teething troubles, as Sophie's husband introduces her to his Paris circle and Liv's husband attempts to mix work and play. Knowing the female characters as I do from the next book, I enjoyed meeting their husbands for the first time.
Strangely enough, I would actually recommend reading this after, rather than before, The Girl You Left Behind, but perhaps I'm biased. Unfortunately, as a stand alone novella I think it might be a bit weak.(less)
This was the first book I'd read by the prolific Ms Forster, and I have to confess, I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The auth...moreBereavement.
This was the first book I'd read by the prolific Ms Forster, and I have to confess, I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The author has a beautiful use of words that just carries you along, gradually absorbing the facts as they are presented and simultaneously empathising with the struggles of the bereaved family. To be honest, not a lot happens, but I respect that the author therefore had the sense to make this a fairly short book (200 pgs), not putting us through unnecessary verbosity.
The book is narrated by Louise, whose 18 year-old daughter, Miranda has drowned in a sailing accident. The whole family is devastated but each family member reacts differently. To my mind, Louise's reaction was the one I most related to, while her husband was driven to research parts of boats and engine mechanisms in a bid to find someone to blame. His extreme, obsessive reaction drives a wedge between himself and his family. Miranda's twin sister and their younger brother each deal with the loss individually, though I was surprised that the twin's reaction wasn't more extreme.
It is Margaret Forster's description of the emotions and psychology of loss that are the strength of the book. I loved her subtleties and perceptions: "When Lynne left, her energy always left with her, and I collapsed again". (Pg 21)
Only the ending left me a little dissatisfied. As I had related to Louise, I felt the pressure she was under at the end, I'm not sure I'd have been so accommodating. I will say no more.(less)