936 pages of pure 1400s political unrest and alignment chaos. Bonds are created and betrayed, kings are made, kings are murdered, kings are unkinged w...more936 pages of pure 1400s political unrest and alignment chaos. Bonds are created and betrayed, kings are made, kings are murdered, kings are unkinged while usurpers come to the throne. Heads roll and history is written for the victors. If you want to know about Richard III, this is the second place to start, but I think it may be the more accurate view of him. Overall, a well-written, easy to remember narrative of the War of the Roses. (less)
I’m not even going to bother writing a “review” as there are better written ones out there. But I am going to give reasons to why I enjoyed this book....moreI’m not even going to bother writing a “review” as there are better written ones out there. But I am going to give reasons to why I enjoyed this book.
It’s great to read historical fiction that is not over-the-top heaving with some romantic misplaced nostalgia. Wolf Hall is soberly written, not in a stuffy or too contemporary language. If anything, it feels haunted. This haunted feeling hangs about the main character Cromwell as he goes through the trajectory of his actions. He is haunted by his past and the deaths of his loved ones, and we are haunted readers peering into the imagined life of a past person.
The characters evoke feeling. Mantel did a good job making these past being imbued with a presence without it feeling fabricated or invented. I think it is possible Cromwell would have been a person like this- although it is possible that this is the best that Cromwell could have been. No one is a total hero, no one is a total villain. A well-balanced history takes this into account. (less)
When I was 11 or so, my father received a pile of paperback, from whom or why, I never knew. The paperbacks lined up on a shelf in the basement guestr...moreWhen I was 11 or so, my father received a pile of paperback, from whom or why, I never knew. The paperbacks lined up on a shelf in the basement guestroom. During the summers, I would be stuck at home without access to books, so I started to read the paperbacks. They were for adults and covered grown-up themes. I remember most of the books: Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oats; Goodbye, Janette by Harold Robbins; Cashelmara by Susan Howatch; Falling in Place by Anne Beattie; and this book, Ragtime. There may have been another book, but I do not remember. I read these books over and over during the summer for a few years until I was able to get my hands on some other books.
As an adult, I noticed that Ragtime was often on top 100 novel lists, so I thought to myself, I will re-read this book, (or really finally read it) since I could not remember anything about it from my juvenile reads. So that day came. When I started reading this book, certain memories started coming back to me from the dark depths of forgotten books plots buried deep in my mind. I remembered that the main family of which the book’s plot swings around have no names. They are called: Father, Mother, Grandfather, Younger Brother.
Now, I can see why I did not remember much of this book, I think I just didn’t get it. It has a pretty complicated plot based around 1902 and involves historical characters such Houdini, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, and more. The family is a stand in for typical white American values and its intersection with the changing history around it. The emerging minorities, labor uprising, women’s rights, etc.
It takes a lifetime wresting with becoming an adult, facing the complex world and its changing center of meaning to get this book. The conflicts that come up are not that far from where are here, over a hundred years later. This was an enjoyable read, I don’t think I can say the same for the rest of those other paperbacks that were on that shelf. I actually felt sad in the end. Now I can check off this book from the 100s lists and not feel guilty. (less)
This is another out of print novel I was lucky to find amongst the public library shelves. Leo Perutz was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the t...moreThis is another out of print novel I was lucky to find amongst the public library shelves. Leo Perutz was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the turn of the century and moved to Palestine in 1938- for reasons I’m sure you can figure out. He wrote his first novel in 1915 and was around Vienna during those strange years between the world wars. This novel, Little Apple, published in 1928, centers on the WWI Austrian veteran, Russian camp survivor, Georg Vittorin and his compulsion of vengeance. After returning home to Vienna, Vittorin plans to return to Russian to find the camp commandant Selyukov to enact his revenge. This takes place in late 1918- as you may remember from history, Russian was in the throes of its Civil War between the Boshevik Reds and the anti-Bolshevik Whites. Vittorin has some crazy adventures from inhabiting the former Moscow apartment of Selyukov while waiting for him to return to getting imprisoned a fews times, once by the Reds and another by the Whites. He finds that Selyukov has left Russian and Vittorin finds the slightest clues and tries to track him all over Europe. This is one of the older styles of novels where each character plays an important in moving the plot along. And this slight old-fashionedness gives this story a feeling more of an allegory than an event. The story is heavy on morality of a character’s obsession stilting life. Yet, it is charming and easy to read. I enjoyed the plot twists that come up and throw light on how Vittorin becomes aware of the folly of his vengeful pursuit. Also, since the book is written so close after WWI, reading it gives a view of Europe after WWI. (less)
There are many very good essays and reviews written about this book, I could not possibly say anything to add, see three good links at the bottom of m...moreThere are many very good essays and reviews written about this book, I could not possibly say anything to add, see three good links at the bottom of my “review”. I can only speak of my experience, which I suppose is why goodreads exists, to capture our fleeting reading life in hopes of sharing it with a few good allies and perhaps to be a memory jostler in the future. I find it helpful to read what little lines of thoughts of a book I have read years back, to remember and to re-think of what I feel about it now, which was the future. II also wish I took better notes on how I was inspired to read a book, I could create a lovely conceptual map of how books come to my attention, but alas, I need to pay better attention.
The Leopard was a book that has been knocking around my bookscape for sometime, I suspect the final push was an article in the NYRB, but I cannot say for certain. I brought this book along on a trip to Paris, thinking that it would be dense and heavy and it would be fitting for sleepless, jetlagged nights. I was wrong. Although written around the 1950s, the novel takes place in Sicily @ 1860, chronicalling the royal family of Salina’s descent; it is novel of memory, nostalgia and loss. I was intimidated and anticipated that it would be stuffy and a bit old-fashioned, but The Leopard is quite a treasure. I was struck by the lucidity of the writing, not baroque, but poetically descriptive and touched with humor. The characters were written so humanely that I was sad to leave them at the end. And the story is a good balance of relationships and of the political environment of Sicily and Italy at that pivotal time before unification. It was a joy to read and a sadness to finish reading. PS. pay attention to the dog.
This is another great historical fiction novel by Maria Fagyas, now an unknown and out-of-print author. I discovered this great novel while on my sear...moreThis is another great historical fiction novel by Maria Fagyas, now an unknown and out-of-print author. I discovered this great novel while on my search for all things Vienna- that is, fin de siècle Vienna. This novel is a detective-thriller taking place in 1909 in Vienna. A captain in the Kaiserlich & Konigliche Army has been found poisoned. Judge advocate Captain Kunze is in charge of the investigation. Through very clever and thorough logic, Kunze discovers the poisoner. The process of how Kunze gathers evidence and submits his hypothesis is quite intellectually stimulating ad is one of the great qualities of this story. Even though the “culprit” is discovered halfway through the novel, the actual heft of the story lies in the interchange between Kunze, and the villain Lt. Dorfrichter. Kunze teases out the motivations of Dorfrichter’s poisonings, his ambitions and his warp, yet reasonable views of the current events of the time.
Fagyas’s writing style is so dispassionate and clear that I am often left wondering why she is not more well-known. The novel captures the political milieu- its complications and the restlessness in Austria- Hungary leading up to WWI. The characters are also drawn in a complex and unsentimental way. No character is thoroughly bad or good, but rather filled with complex motivations, needing to fit into the social expectations of the day. (less)
I came across this book while on search for all things fin de siècle Vienna. This book did not fit the bill, I think I was looking for another book by...moreI came across this book while on search for all things fin de siècle Vienna. This book did not fit the bill, I think I was looking for another book by this author; however, I enjoyed reading this book very much. I was surprised, I also was uncertain if the book was based on a real historical event and after reading 2/3 of it; I looked and found that it was. But it is an event that I highly suspect you may not know about: the Serbian May Overthrow of 1903. The end of the House of Obrenović in a coup d’état by the military to assassinate King Alexander and Queen Draga to place Karađorđević dynasty back on the throne. It’s a pretty complicated story, I could not do it justice here and it took Fagyas around 380 pages to do it. And how well she did. The book is structured with each chapter as an hour leading up to the coup- for almost 24hrs. It seems historically accurate (my fact-checking was with Wiki, not the best I admit) and so she does not seem to take liberties, although the main character Michael Vassilovich does seem to be fictional. And it is through him and his relationship to Draga and to former king Milan that we see and experience this historical shift in Serbia. The characters are humanely drawn without sentimentality or romanticism. The background is given in clear ways without bogging down the narrative. It was much more engaging and emotionally available than reading the account in a history text. The book gives the reader a way to enter a relatively unknown historical event- and even though it was published in ’73, it reads well today. (less)