I suspect that, no matter what else I am going to read over the next months, this will be the most important book to me this year. There is no need toI suspect that, no matter what else I am going to read over the next months, this will be the most important book to me this year. There is no need to pick this up if you're not interested in creating some art yourself, but if you do, look no further. This is the perfect book for you.
Cathy Johnson covers a lot of subjects, starting with an unsual one for an art workbook - she's asking you why you want to do this. Trying to keep a journal with the wrong expectations is what got me stuck on my first attempts, so this was a very helpful start. The author then covers subjects as diverse as materials, staying on track, finding the right place and time, trying out new ideas, composing pages and including writing. Every subject is looked at from more than one viewpoint, and you can see examples from other artists' journals to see the different ways of making something work. Cathy Johnson never tells you to do something a certain way, instead she encourages trying out new things all the time. Trying different materials, trying different art styles, trying different subjects. Just exposing yourself to life and let your art happen. My favourite section was a section on how to deal with mistakes. Making mistakes was my biggest fear in starting an artist's journal, because I tend to be a perfectionist and when my art doesn't live up to it, I get frustrated. I know that progress is only made with constant practise, but it is difficult to be courageous. Seeing artists who are way better than me cover up things or create new layers was extremely helpful. (Mind you, I might need several layers of covering, but who cares. It's my journal after all.)
The best thing about this workshop is the collection of different artists that have offered an insight into their sketchbooks. There are ones that I absolutely admire, ones I don't like that much, ones that are way better than I ever will be and ones that I think I might be as good as with a little bit of practise. This keeps the book interesting, and if you can find your own style in an artist's workshop, your often halfway to the finish line already. ...more
There aren't many things I dislike as much as discovering a new favourite in a book that isn't already on my shelves. Because I know I'll have to retuThere aren't many things I dislike as much as discovering a new favourite in a book that isn't already on my shelves. Because I know I'll have to return it, and I'd rather not do so until I own it myself.
"Once On A Moonless Night" is such a book. If you're into fast-moving plots and suspense, this is not for you. It is quiet and poetical, and even during dramatic moments, there is a sense of the inevitable that pulls you through and lets you look beyond day-to-day grievances.
There is an overarching romance, and yes, even a mystery plot about an ancient scroll, but really for someone not from China it is a great exploration of culture and of a different sense of being. There are better stories out there for taking you on a wild romp, but very few that can capture the same quality and will make you savour the ride as much.
The best advice I can give you is to read this for the writing or, even more so, for the feeling of reading it. And take your time to do so. (And don't borrow it, otherwise you might be as frustrated as I am.)
"Calligraphy may well be simply an artistic version of another form, that is the ideograms which make up the poem, but then not only does it reflect the character and temperament of the artist but . . . also betrays his heart rate, his breathing."
You'll have to decide whether this would be helpful for you, but here are some good things: - It's not long, and there's not a lot of text to confuse yYou'll have to decide whether this would be helpful for you, but here are some good things: - It's not long, and there's not a lot of text to confuse you about a new topic. Instead there is a short explanation, a memorable quote, an exercise and an example. Easy way of learning. - The exercises. Very helpful. - The examples. Even more helpful. It's easier to understand something if you can follow how someone else did this.
There is a certain tone though that I'm not too fond of, and "I'm starting a business to serve God" was just one of the weird things that caught me for a while. I read over them, but it does seem a bit odd at times (or it's just not my mentality, I don't know, and you probably shouldn't expect political correctness from a selfhelp-book).
In any case, there are a lot of helpful tips, and there's nothing wrong with keeping the interesting information and ignoring the rest....more
There is something to be said for going into a book with the right expectations.
Do you expect a hidden gem of literary fiction, teaching you somethinThere is something to be said for going into a book with the right expectations.
Do you expect a hidden gem of literary fiction, teaching you something about how and what the human mind chooses to remember, because that's what the book description promises you? You'll be disappointed.
Do you expect a light read for a sunday afternoon, one that will touch you and one that might just make you think about certain things? You're in luck.
We see a little bit of magic (if you want to call it that), and we take some detours into the past, but mostly this story is about a young woman remembering her grandmother. You'll get a lot of names thrown at you in the beginning - ignore them and focus on Iris. Enter her past with her, and remember your own childhood. This is what works best in this book - the small moments that will stay with you. The mystery from the past is not quite as gripping as one might hope, and Iris isn't compelling enough as a character to really move the story forward, but like life, some small moments will stand out for you. And of course there is the house and the world around it, which is a lovely place to stay while you're reading. I'd keep it :).
All in all, this is a light read with some flaws, and I would not advocate going into it with high expectations. Leave yourself room to be surprised. Story-wise, it's four stars. For me, it probably sits at three stars, because I constantly kept thinking about how I would have written some scenes instead. That is good for my own writing, but it distracted me from reading.
I'm not really searching for books with a religious subject, but somehow they seem to find me. Most of the time though, they put me off because they'rI'm not really searching for books with a religious subject, but somehow they seem to find me. Most of the time though, they put me off because they're either preachy or are showing only the negative side of the religion they're portraying. "The Land of Decoration" does none of these things. Religion is only one of its aspects, and although it plays a central role, this book is also about imagination, about family and about seeking relief from the daily struggles.
Our main character, Judith, is just ten years old (which makes for relatively short and easy sentences), but she's also very complex and sometimes it's hard to follow her thoughts even if you'd thought of yourself as quite a creative person. Whether you see the voice in Judith's head as a religious figure, as a magical element or even as just a stylistic choice to visualize her internal struggles, it is interesting to see her "relationship" with it/him/?. I think this is one of the books where everyone reading it can have a different experience depending on the way they're reading it, and this makes the book pretty exciting. In contrast to Judith's inner life I was also gripped by what's happening around her. She's small and vulnerable, and she goes through the world with a filter that highlights the harshness of her reality.
In the end, Judith's childish voice takes away some of the explanations you might have gotten otherwise, and I think I like that. (Not too sure about that though.) This is one of the books where the journey to the end is more important than the actual resolution, and I'm quite happy that I decided to take the trip....more
"The Man Who Rained" has been on my wishlist since I've finished The Girl With Glass Feet one and a half years ago. Since then I've reread Ali Smith's"The Man Who Rained" has been on my wishlist since I've finished The Girl With Glass Feet one and a half years ago. Since then I've reread Ali Smith's first book once, and thought about it countless times. I love mystical settings, and I can't begin to tell you how often I was tempted to dry to draw the images that popped up in my head. (Or to go out and take a photograph or two.)
"The Man Who Rained" worked even better for me, and I don't know whether this is because the author's writing got better or because I have an unhealthy obsession with the rain and so feel more at home in Thunderstown. Maybe both.
I loved Elsa because I could relate to her very well. And I loved Finn because he's Finn. I loved the small-town feeling and the weird characters that poped up here and there. I loved the descriptions and metaphors. And, contrary to the weird happenings in "The Girl with Glass Feet", I actually really liked the ending as well.
I can see myself dreaming about this book and its world again, and this alone warrants a spot on my list of favourites. (Also, I just really love the rain.) I highly doubt that there is a humungous amount of people that can't wait to read the next book Ali Smith writes, just because his style is very unique and it might not be for everyone, but I for one am glad to say that I am already anxious....more
There are a lot of books about WWII out there, and for quite some time now I have been wary of reading them. Sometimes because I tend to shy away fromThere are a lot of books about WWII out there, and for quite some time now I have been wary of reading them. Sometimes because I tend to shy away from authors writing about countries they don't know, sometimes because the story seems to be just too generic, sometimes even because, as important a subject as it is, you can discuss something too much. The premise of the book intrigued me, but I still had my doubts. I've not had many luck with "intriguing" books in the past. I finally caved in though, and now I'm glad that I did.
Like many others, the author has clearly done a lot of research, and if you want to learn about that period in history, the book works quite well. What sets this book apart though is the great focus. The story deals with two boys on a mission in besieged Leningrad, and anything else is mentioned in passing. This intense focus helps the reader to keep track of the story as well, even when something horrifying happens.
Lev and Kolya are great characters to spend time with, and while this book clearly details a part of the author's personal history, he manages to create believable boys (young men) with interesting character arcs. The fact that they're two boys growing up means that they're childish at times, ridiculous at times, flirtatious at times and usually quite energetic. This puts them in stark contrast to the harsh reality of their background.
Leningrad at this time was a city suffering from war and from having been besieged for a long time. Add to that the extreme Russian climate, and you get an idea of the circumstances in that place. David Benioff does a great job at describing the places he takes you to without judging or pointing a finger at someone. People suffering from the cold, dying from starvation, trying to protect their loved ones in an uncontrolled environment - and two young adults, searching for eggs and girls and everything else. This is a great mix, delicately handled, and I would recommend it whole-heartedly.
Thinking about what I liked about this books reminded me of another story in the Historical Fiction genre that I've read recently. It reminded me of TThinking about what I liked about this books reminded me of another story in the Historical Fiction genre that I've read recently. It reminded me of The Wilding (see my review). Luckily for Lawrence Norfolk, he's come up with a more interesting plot, but it still wasn't the most important thing that I will take from this book.
What I will take from "John Saturnall's Feast" are impressions of food. Lots of them. How it looked before the cook got it, how it was prepared, how it smelled, what its consistence was, in which dishes it was used. The descriptions of the foody things are extremely vivid here, and so you really, really should not read this while you're hungry or shortly before writing your shopping list.
The reader also gets to know the main character through his relationship with food, which is an interesting and surprisingly intimate way of doing it. Maybe this is not as compelling to someone who doesn't enjoy food as much, but while food is something almost everyone likes to talk about (my aunt especially, she can fill hour-long conversations on the topic), it is rare to see it described in quite such detail, and to have every part of the experience laid out in front of you.
Lawrence Norfolk doesn't just go a bit overboard with foody things, he's generally a quite descriptive writer. Cracking ice, intertwining tree branches, moonlight shining through curtains, you name it. I love it, because it gives me a sense of the world, and my mind goes off and creates its own stories around that while the plot is happening. This is something I love in a book. It is also something I have noticed that a lot of other readers don't like, so if you prefer a story that gets going quickly (or indeed at all), or you just need a bit more than the world itself, then you might want to read a few pages before you pick this up.
All in all, I really enjoyed it. I was initially expecting more magic - or rather, a different kind of magic. Because the world and the food are mystical in their own right, I just thought the story would be a bit different. No matter, I had fun, so there's the great rating :).
It sometimes surprises me what I remember about a book, a few days or weeks or maybe months after I've read it. In the best-case-scenario I obviouslyIt sometimes surprises me what I remember about a book, a few days or weeks or maybe months after I've read it. In the best-case-scenario I obviously remember basically everything. In the worst-case-scenario, I remember virtually nothing. And then there's three different possibilities for all the books in between.
I might remember the characters. Not here though, Jonathan is interesting and he fits well with his time, but I wouldn't want to spend too much time with him either. The rest of the cast is the same - they fit well into the time they live in, but I wouldn't use the term "lovable" for any of them.
I might remember the exciting story. Not for this one either. Although, in fact, the mystery surrounding Jonathan's uncle is interesting, and seeing him puzzle together the clues is kind of fun, even though you can guess ahead, but the resolution at the end is just a bit convoluted for my taste.
And then there's the third scenario - I remember what I felt like while reading it. I'll remember the images it created in my head. I don't have to love the characters for that. I don't have to find the story terribly interesting to do that. But that kind of book will stay with me the longest, and I will re-read it a lot.
Maria McCann does a great job of bringing her setting to life - I could taste the apples, smell the cider, see the horse pulling the press, feel the cold wind, ... , in short, I was there. Jonathan's contemplative mood and the author's unhurried style of writing works very well with this, and I though of riding in a cart to the harvest, working with the people on the fields and looking upon the lives of the rich people from afar.
I was tempted to give three stars just because of the frankly unfulfilling resolution to the story, but I've had a think, and considering the time I've already spent placing myself in this book, and considering the amount of re-reads that I already know I'll do - four stars it is.
Earlier this montAfter falling in love with The Garden of Evening Mists last year, I just had to read "The Gift of Rain". And I was not disappointed.
Earlier this month, I've done an analysis of the books I like to read (which was really exhausting, and I don't recommend it unless you really have to for studying or writing purposes), and I learned that what I love most is a fluid, lyrical style of writing, and a powerful setting that shines through in every paragraph. And if there's something that Tan Twan Eng is absolutely brilliant at, it's these two things.
There is, of course, also the story itself. "The Gift of Rain" is less complex than "The Garden of Evening Mists", and I cannot decide whether that just makes it less convoluted (which is a good thing) or too straight forward. Then again, no matter how compelling the plot, with such slow prose you probably won't hasten through the book anyway. And you can learn a lot about Malay history and some customs (I know I did), so it serves well to savour it.
The characters are a bit reserved, and while I liked some of them, especially Michiko, others remained distant. I still enjoyed reading about them, but there was no sense of immersing yourself in a character like I do with other novels. It makes for an interesting reading experience, and one I've come to appreciate.
If you enjoy the same things that I do, this is the book for you. If not, you might look for something else because I feel that otherwise it will pass you by. I'll leave you with a quote, so you can decide for yourself if this tone is right for you.
"Memories - they are all the aged have. The young have hopes and dreams, while the old hold the remains of them in their hands and wonder what has happened to their lives. I looked back hard on my life that night, from the moments of my reckless youth, through the painful and tragic years of the war, to the solitary decades after. Yes, I could say that I had lived my life, if not to the full then at least almost to the brim. What more could one ask? Rare is the person whose life overflows. I have lived, I have travelled the world, and now, like a worn out clock, my life is winding down, the hands slowing, stepping out of the flow of time."
While I enjoyed reading this book, I enjoyed the ideas behind it way more, and the four stars are really a result of that. I'm beginning to think thatWhile I enjoyed reading this book, I enjoyed the ideas behind it way more, and the four stars are really a result of that. I'm beginning to think that I might love Neil Gaiman way more than I like his writing, which feels odd to me.
I have a sneaky feeling that this book might grow on me if I re-read it a lot, like with some songs on a record that you just listen to because you're too lazy to skip ahead to the ones you really like, and after a while you find yourself loving this one song the most. As such, it feels a bit wrong to actually write down what bogs me, but I'll try to nonetheless, and will probably add my changed opinion after a few re-reads.
One thing that bugged me is the writing. And it's not even that it isn't good (because it is brilliant), but because it didn't feel in any way special to me. (Maybe that's the special thing, I don't know. Maybe I expected magic and didn't get it.) There's also the problem I already had with Stardust - there are SO MANY ideas in this that I lost the plot sometimes, and my mind seems to go on strike if something feels a bit unbalanced. I can deal with unexplained magic, and unexplained science, and secrets, and phenomena - but not all of them together at once. Then again, I have gotten used to "Stardust" by now, because I know about the oddities ahead and they don't throw me as much.
I know this review is absolutely not helpful, but that is the best I can come up with right now. If you want to read it, go on and do so with an open mind and you might find something for yourself, but I can't rave about it. Not yet....more
I love books that are a bit outside of our usual genre classifications. "Marina" has been described as a lot of different things, and while "Gothic hoI love books that are a bit outside of our usual genre classifications. "Marina" has been described as a lot of different things, and while "Gothic horror" fits best, it was the author's love for Barcelona and for his characters that resonated the most.
Óscar is a lonely student who likes exploring the hidden parts of the city. The girl Marina becomes his guide to new adventures, and she and her father become his family. The dynamic between those three (and their adorable cat) is one of my favourite things in this book. After a while, Germán and Marina become like a family for the reader as well.
The mystery that Óscar wants to unravel leads him deep into an old, long forgotten part of Barcelona. The people he meets are from another time, living in their own stories and inviting him in only very reluctantly. All of them are great characters, all of them have some sort of wisdom to share, and all of them are a living proof of Marina's words. "We only remember that which has never happened."
There are passages where you are breathlessly following the action and are desparate to find out what will happen next. And there are passages that live through the beauty of the language. In most cases, such a passage will describe Barcelona. The city comes to life, and sometimes feels more real than the events that are taking place there.
When I cried during the last few chapters, it was only partly because of the story itself. My tears were also caused by the fact that I knew I would have to leave this magical world and its characters behind. And if I'm being honest, I envy those readers that still have the entire journey ahead of them.
The Oxford English Dictionary says that "atonement" means "the action of making amends for a wrong or injury".
In the case of this novel, the wrong haThe Oxford English Dictionary says that "atonement" means "the action of making amends for a wrong or injury".
In the case of this novel, the wrong has been committed by Briony, an aspiring writer who was 13 years old at that point and spends the rest of the book trying to make amends for one fateful day. Her sister Cecilia and Cecilia's friend Robbie are the injured parties in this case, and they too spend the remainder of their lives under the shadow of what happened with Briony.
All of these characters are flawed (and their supporting cast is even worse), but all of them slowly grow on the reader. It is easy to misjudge things as a child, it is easy to be pigheaded, it is easy to be wild in your youth and to turn against the people that want to deny your own identity. This makes all three of them relatable, and while a not-so-happy ending is predictable from the start, you want to be a witness to how these lives unfold.
This is helped by an interesting setting - showing times before, during and after WWII -, and great writing. When I open a book to a new chapter and it starts
"In the early evening, high-altitude clouds in the western sky formed a thin yellow wash which became richer over the hour, and then thickened until a filtered orange glow hung above the giant crests of parkland trees; the leaves became nutty brown, the branches glimpsed among the foliage oily blackand the dessicated grasses took on the colour of the sky. A Fauvist dedicated to improbably colour might have imagined a landscape this way [...]"
, then I will be pulled deeply into the story with no chance of resurfacing until I've finished it.
There are also storytelling tricks, but since they are used to enhance the story and build the characters rather than for the sake of having them, I actually quite like them. (Plus, there is one huge trick, not one hundred, so it is easy to understand what is happening. It just goes to show that tricks are something for masters to do, otherwise they won't work.)
What is interesting to me is how many English stories I have read in which a mistake in a character's youth (albeit a quite severe one) will define their entire life. I wonder what it is with English novelists and the obsession with constantly having to pay for mistakes and rarely being allowed a fresh start.
I tend to favour well-written novels over well-plotted ones, those with interesting themes or those with great characters. Luckily enough, the "The GaI tend to favour well-written novels over well-plotted ones, those with interesting themes or those with great characters. Luckily enough, the "The Garden of Evening Mists" falls into all of these categories.
I knew right from page one that I was in for a poetic treat:
"Memories I had locked away have begun to break free, like shards of ice fracturing off an arctic shelf. In sleep, these broken floes drift towards the morning light of remembrance."
Aritomo, the former gardener of the Emperor of Japan, is a master of Zen arts. When he takes Yun Ling on as an apprentice, he doesn't just educate her on gardening matters, but he helps her to work on her inner strengths as well. In most cases, when such a topic is covered in a novel, it reads like a self-help guide. Not so much here; every advice is given because it is required in a certain situation, and the reader can see the consequences and work out the deeper meaning for himself.
The garden and its surrounding area are described in a calm, unhurried way that only enhances their beauty. Against such a backdrop, Yun Ling's and her country's violent past are difficult to understand, and when she distances herself from it, the reader can feel her troubles.
“For what is a person without memories? A ghost, trapped between worlds, without an identity, with no future, no past.”
Being from Germany, most of what I learned about WWII has involved my country. In the west we seem to be experts at analyzing that period until we've gone over everything so often that it loses its horror and becomes something of a background statistic in your head. It is different when I read a book that describes other theatres in this tragedy. I knew next to nothing about what happened in Malaysia at the time. (Indeed, I wouldn't even know that something had happened if not for Rani Manicka's The Japanese Lover.) Yun Ling is the sole survivor of a Japanese internment camp. She has suffered a lot, and distances herself from her own past. I don't know if this makes it easier for the reader or not, but it helps to build her character, and she has to deal with a lot throughout the course of this book. Her story is full of violence, but also full of love, learning, and mystery.
It seems strange that the thing that impresses me the most in a novel that works through so many themes would still be the writing, but that also makes me grateful. Because it means that whatever Tan Twan Eng decides to write next, I will want to read it.
“Memory is like patches of sunlight in an overcast valley, shifting with the movement of the clouds. Now and then the light will fall on a particular point in time, illuminating it for a moment before the wind seals up the gap, and the world is in shadows again."
Set in New Orleans in 1950, "Out of the Easy" tells the story of Josie, the daughter of a prostitute, who is looking for a way out and dreams of goingSet in New Orleans in 1950, "Out of the Easy" tells the story of Josie, the daughter of a prostitute, who is looking for a way out and dreams of going to college.
A fair bit of your enjoyment will depend on whether you like something so character-driven. On the plus side though, the characters are really great. Apart from Josie herself, who has to overcome her identity issues over the course of the book, there's her mother (absolutely awful), her boss Willie (with a heart of gold), her unlikely bunch of friends and the women working for Willie.
Every now and then, there is talk of Jazz, of religions, of books, of racial prejudices, of feminism - but to be honest, I felt that the author could have gotten a bit more out of her really interesting setting. It only starts to feel real when a darker side of the underworld starts to show, and I feel the book lost some of its potential magic because of that.
The plot isn't extremely intriguing - like I said, you will keep reading for the characters. That being said, it is a plot that fits a YA novel, and you should not read "mystery" and jump to Stephen King-like conclusions.
I still enjoyed reading it though, and I would recommend it, but in the category of "You'll really like it when you get around to it someday."
This is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. --------
I spent a long time thinking how I was going to rate thiThis is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. --------
I spent a long time thinking how I was going to rate this book and I am still not sure about it.
Overall, it is an average read. It might make a nice choice for a book club as it's a nice story and interesting themes are explored, but it is not particularly moving or fascinating. Indeed, few of the characters really stood out, and I was never really gripped by the mystery of what had happened. This puts it at three stars.
The author works with nonlinear storytelling (you see the notes on a painting and then get a story for it), and although the idea is great, it's not perfectly realized. The chapters have no real beginning or end. They work just well enough as character studies but as they don't seem to end and just stop somewhere, they don't help to keep the reader turning the pages. This makes three stars, maybe 3.5 considering I love the idea of creating a book out of smaller stories.
Then there is our "main character" Rachel Kelly, who is a painter with a bipolar disorder. She's extremely relatable, and Patrick Gale does a great job of writing her viewpoint through both extremes of her emotions. (Little wonder that Stephen Fry liked it.) The other likeable character - her husband Antony - is a simple man, and on his part we can see his love for his wife, but also his deep struggles to understand her moods, and bring up kids and live a normal life while at the same time having to watch over his wife as well. Those two are great characters, and if you wouldn't enjoy the rest of the book, they justify its existence. This means probably around 4.5 stars, because a serious, non-judging depiction of mental illness is important.
All in all, this more or less makes a rating of something close to four stars. As I said, the read itself probably only earns three of those, but maybe it just wasn't right for me and other people were gripped. I probably wouldn't read another book of his, and that puts it down to 3.5 again. But I've already said I've had a hard time deciding on something.
There is one final thing I have to say though, and that is a "thank you" to the author Patrick Gale. The "notes" that accompanied Rachel's painting in the exhibition and that frame the chapters are incredibly well-written. They show how the choices of an artist reflect in the art, how the circumstances can change certain expressions, and how the smallest things can deeply affect the way a life goes. These short paragraphs alone have been the highlight of this book for me. They're the reason it found a place on my favourites shelf, and they're the reason I've rounded up from 3.5. Because they served as an inspiration for me....more
"The Yellow Birds" offers glimpses into a young man's time in the U.S. Army serving inReview crossposted to my 238 books in 238 days-challenge. -------
"The Yellow Birds" offers glimpses into a young man's time in the U.S. Army serving in Iraq and surviving back home.
Kevin Powers has been lauded for his poetical writing style to contrast the gritty reality of war. And it is true, there is a dreamlike quality to his writing, even though it feels sparse. We get impressions of the things he sees, but there isn't much talk about feeling. There isn't a lot of action (certainly less than I would have expected), instead we get to experience sleep-deprived boys waiting for something, anything to happen, and yet knowing that it probably won't matter anyway.
""How many times have we been through that orchard, through this town, sir?", a PCF from third squad asked. "The army?" "Yes, sir." "This makes three." "All in the fall?" "Yeah, seems like we're fighting over this town every year." [...] "Maybe they'll make it an annual thing.""
I had often wondered what motivated boys to enlist, and for our two main characters the answer is frighteningly simple - there wasn't much else to do. For the author himself it was a way into university. It is hard for young boys and their parents when they know that they've made the right choice in the circumstances, yet there is no way to prepare for what might happen.
The narrative of "The Yellow Birds" jumps around in time. I don't know if I care much for the mystery surrounding our soldier's friend but I suppose it is necessary to create a plot that helps the reader to follow a journey. What it means though is that we get to see the lives of the families back home, and even our main character trying to understand ordinary life again after he is discharged. His thoughts move too fast for him to be able to talk, and at one time he literally goes on for pages without a break. This section felt more heartbreaking than the scenes of war; possibly because I can understand not being able to master your own thoughts, or possibly because, even after all the pictures I've seen on the news and descriptions I've read in books, I'm still unable to comprehend the reality of war.
Our main character knows that his experiences will make him an outsider, even when he's still fighting in Iraq. He would seem like Frodo, saving something for others when that same thing has been lost to him, if he was still able to feel enough to make sense of it.
"I was an intruder, at best a visitor, and would be even in my home, in my misremembered history, until the glow of phosphorescence in the Chesapeake I had longed to swim inside again someday became a taunt against my insignificance, a cruel trick of light that had always made me think of stars. No more. I gave up longing, because I was sure that anything seen at such a scale would reveal the universe as cast aside and drowned, and if I ever floated there again, out where the level of the water reached my neck, and my feet lost contact with its muddy bottom, I might realize that to understand the world, one's place in it, is to be always at the risk of drowning."
I wonder if writing this book helped Kevin Powers to deal with his own demons. I hope it did. There's been a lot of praise for it, and rightly so. There's been even more talk in the press about the reasons behind this war, and I feel it is important to push the politics to the background for a few moments and see real people whose lives have been afflicted by it. I can't help but think what would have happened, and how soldiers would be treated back home, if the war had not happened thousands of miles away. When our main character gets back to the U.S., he does a short psych evaluation, and then goes back home, meeting people who see him as a hero or people who are angry with the enemy on his account. He is detached from all that, just wants to be forgotten, and it seems to me that that is just too easily done.
"I'd been trained to think war was the great unifier, that it brought people closer together than any other activity on earth. Bullshit. War is the great maker of solipsists: how are you going to save my life today? Dying would be one way. If you die, it becomes more likely that I will not."
This is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. -----------
Once again, I find myself not really knowing what toThis is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. -----------
Once again, I find myself not really knowing what to say about a book depicting the aftermath of the Cambodian Killing Fields. Contrary to "The Disappeared" (*) however, Madeleine Thien's protagonist is not a young Canadian girl in love, but a woman that has escaped Cambodia as a child and is now being haunted by memories.
Janie has built a life for herself, working at a Brain Research Centre, and having a husband and a son. She is good at not remembering, but working through an old friend's research breaks down her walls, and the trauma comes through. The author clearly knows a lot about brain science, which makes this a bit difficult to read, but medical conditions, unlike her past, are something that Janie understands.
"[...] Hiroji received a letter from a man recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I have been wondering, the man wrote, how to measure what I will lose. [...] Is there one burst of electricity that stays constant all my life? I would like to know which part of the mind remains untouched, barricaded, if there is any part of me that lasts, that is incorruptible, the absolute centre of who I am."
When Janie finally remembers small fragments, it is not always clear what she remembered, where the reality of a child mixes with its wished, or where the trauma has added explanations to make it easier or hidden experiences that cannot be relived. Janie herself must deal with losing parts of herself, and must try to find the part of her that can remain be incorruptible.
It is a heartbreaking journey into a violent and disturbing past, and yet through all the horror you can feel Janie's love for her home country. It is remarkable to realize this while reading, and I think it is wonderful that the author managed to let all the conflicting emotions shine through.
The cover of my edition is absolutely beautiful, but I would not comment on that had I not tried to do some research on the Killing Fields and come up with this picture which shows a commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of victims at Choeung Ek. I still think the cover is beautiful but now it is hard to look at while knowing a little more about the history of it all.
Well, this is a difficult book to review. And I say this without having to comment on the translation, seeing how I've read the original version.
ThisWell, this is a difficult book to review. And I say this without having to comment on the translation, seeing how I've read the original version.
This book is more or less structured in two parts that are interwoven with each other. One part tells about the Swiss teacher Gregorius who does something spontaneous for the first time in a long, long time when he decides to follow a book's trail. The other part is said book (and other writings), written by Amadeo. If it were possible, I would suggest to read Gregorius' part and skip Amadeo when you read it for the first time. Because while that book is better written, more stylish and what-not, it takes you out of the story. Finish Gregorius' story, and then go back to Amadeo's words afterwards.
Gregorius is a sympathetic protagonist, and I found his struggles to be very human, very real. He meets a lot of people along the way, and I like it that he is unassuming and tries to understand rather than give a value judgement. This is the main reason why I found this book to be an enjoyable read, and I think Gregorius needs to understand his own positive qualities as well.
Amadeo has a lust for life, and struggles with the time and conflicts he was born into. As a result the reader learns a lot about Portuguese and Spanish history, which makes this book even more interesting. Amadeo also has a way with words, and it is clear that his passages have been honed to perfection. Which is where my doubts crept in. Yes, I believe that people can arrive at important philosophical decisions that early in life, and yes, I believe they might put them to words, but not in this long meandering way. Amadeo just seems to write down whatever clever thing he can think of, and the link between them is often missing. From his writings, I took Amadeo to be a self-centred, control-lacking individual, which does not go well with the stories his friends tell about him, but which informed my reading for the rest of the book. I never warmed to Amadeo after the first few chapters of his book, and thus I was never as invested in his story as I might have been.
I realise that many people read this for the great quotes, which all come from Amadeo's part, but I would read it again for Gregorius' humanity, kindness and understanding, and might just try to learn from his approach when I meet Amadeo again....more
This is easily the most annoying four-star-book I have ever read.
I'm not a fan of the second-person-viewpoint, and every other chapter in this book shows me why. It starts of with "you" going into a bookstore to buy Italo Calvino's newly published "If on a winter's night a traveller". If the described scenario doesn't apply to me, it will throw me out of the story. And it started right there, I didn't go into a shop because I wanted this newly published book; I bought it more than 30 years after publication because a newspaper told me to, and I had never heard of Calvino before. It doesn't matter to me that the "you" might mean someone else than me; if I'm not being told from the beginning, I won't assume such a thing. And if I discover in the third chapter that I'm male, and really intrigued by a vividly described woman, it puts me off. (There is also the problem that such a style, even if it works, is subsequently copied in an awful lot of reviews. [See also Dan Brown's recent publication and the creative reviews done for that.] But I won't go into that here.)
The other annoying thing was the author patronizing the reader about what his expectations or impressions or thoughts must be in this very moment. The descriptions were never accurate, in most cases I just thought "Please stop this and write in a normal way."
Even more annoyingly, those patronizing second-person chapters also contain a lot of interesting thoughts about books and reading, and I found myself agreeing with the author after I'd gotten over my annoyance. My particular favourite happens right at the beginning, when the author describes the process of determining which book to buy, because I did exactly the same thing yesterday.
And then there are the other chapters. They're unlinked, like beginnings of books, and the reader is never told how they will end. Annoyingly enough, though written in different styles, I loved almost every one of them. Thankfully I've read enough books to know where I have to look to find something with a similar style, but I'd really love to have those ending. On the whole though, they feel more like unfinished short stories than like things that really leave you hanging, so I think it's alright not to know. There's also a storyline connecting all of these beginnings, but as it happens in the annoying chapters, I didn't get into it that much.
Overall, I wish it had been less annoying, but nevertheless this will end up on my favourites shelf. Despite being annoying. ...more
I have spent almost six months with this 270 page novel, because I used it as a "handbag book". In one way or another, its characters have been on myI have spent almost six months with this 270 page novel, because I used it as a "handbag book". In one way or another, its characters have been on my mind constantly. Maybe this is why I can relate to the book so easily now, maybe I wouldn't have responded the way I did had I read it in one sitting. It is a different experience when you read half a chapter on a train journey and then wonder at every traffic light how your chapter might continue.
This book fits me well - there are automatons, which I love, there is German history and landscape, which is superb, there is great writing, which is apparently obvious because it is Peter Carey (I can't comment, I've never read one of his books before), and there is a young woman who doesn't really know where she's going in her life, especially now that her married lover has died and she has been given a seemingly useless assignment at work.
Both protagonist Catherine and Henry, whose journals she reads, are interesting characters. Again I don't know whether this is a result of how long I spent with this book, but I felt like leaving good friends after I'd finished the book. They have quirks, they have flaws, and they feel very human. Catherine is very alone in her grief for her lover - she cannot even attend his funeral -, and she closely guards Henry's writings, acting jealous everytime anyone else seems to interfere. She takes on the job of restoring the automaton only very reluctantly, feeling that she has been cast off. But as she lets herself sink deeper and deeper into Henry's world, she sees the gift that is her work. And the reader can see the danger that lies in machines mankind wants to bring to life.
I have a thing for automatons in novels; they always tell you a lot about the humans that deal with them, about the state and potential of technology, and about the omnipresent power of storytelling as well. Automatons are always created and restored for a reason; no one makes something so complex just for the sake of it, and it is fascinating to see what can motivate people to do such enormous deeds, even though they fail to understand the consequences of their actions.
Like I've said a lot of times in this review, this book has basically become an extension of me, and so it is nearly impossible for me to rate this. Although I personally feel that five stars and a recommendation are extraordinarily objective :).
This book, told as letters from two siblings to each other, takes the reader deep into the Argentina suffering under the rule of General Videla.
GloriThis book, told as letters from two siblings to each other, takes the reader deep into the Argentina suffering under the rule of General Videla.
Gloria Whelan manages to tell the deeply moving story of Eduardo disappearing, and Silvia going down a dangerous path to find him, in very simple words, without complications and unnecessary pathos. There is anger, and violence, and people are hurt, but there is also humanity and hope.
This book is short, but make no mistake, for it will capture you from the first page, and will not let you go until the end.
I will leave you with a few quotes, so you can see for yourself the impact that this story can have:
"I look about in my memories to make a book to read, for I have come to realize that our lives are but books to read and reread. We cross out and add and finally we come up with happy endings. I am desperate for a happy ending." (p.49)
"we are not alone in our sorrow over your arrest. The more we reach out to find you, the more we find others who are also suffering. There are so many, we wonder if our arms can embrace them all."(p.34)
"The Phoenix [...] was a bird of the greatest possible beauty. Every five hundred years the bird was consumed by the burning rays of the sun, only to rise once again. The magnificent bird could not be destroyed. That is our country of Argentina" (p.6)
I bought "The Tiger's Wife" out of an impulse - I needed an author starting with O, I liked magical realism, the back blurb seemed quite interesting.I bought "The Tiger's Wife" out of an impulse - I needed an author starting with O, I liked magical realism, the back blurb seemed quite interesting.
I have managed to stay completely objective for an entire half page - then I understood that a book starting with a visit to the zoo, with animals, myths, cultural history and a place that has fascinated me for a long time all featuring quite highly, had no choice but to turn out amazing for me.
Ignoring the myths for a while, Téa Obreth does an amazing job at painting a scenery, filling it with interesting characters, and creating an atmosphere that sucks the reader into the book. Most of the time while reading, I felt like watching a movie instead. It is like being transported into a world, and then being left to explore it for yourself, while still experiencing the story that is being told. This in itself is worth the five stars. Especially since it comes with a lot of impressions of Balkan history that make the reader want to know more.
And then there is the thing about the myths. If you enjoy the incorporation of myths into a story, to a point of them becoming real, you will love this. If not ... well you might not enjoy it that much, but I would still urge you to read it. (Although I'd guess that nobody would expect a straightforward novel after the back blurb.)...more
This is the first book in a long time that has made me cry. In fact, the last book to do so was also called "The Disappeared"(*) and told about motherThis is the first book in a long time that has made me cry. In fact, the last book to do so was also called "The Disappeared"(*) and told about mothers losing their sons in Argentina under General Vidal. Most of this book takes place half a continent away, in Cambodia during and after the regime of Pol Pot, but the emotions are the same, the people suffer the same, and it is difficult to understand the cruelty that happened.
Kim Echlin chooses a Canadian protagonist, a young girl with European heritage, a thirst for life and a love for music and words. This makes it easier for other readers unfamiliar with Cambodian culture to understand what is happening. Anne is openminded and strong, and yet she struggles to understand the mindset of people who have been hurt so often and so deeply. She meets mentors along the way, people who can try to show her what life as a Cambodian means, and this is a way for the reader to try to a bit of it as well. When Anne meets Serey, she is young and careless and perhaps a bit too self-absorbed, but when she follows him to his home country ten years after she has lost him, she has grown as a person and is ready to lose and find herself again in a world that has to become her own. I have read a lot of books that have included Ruth's words to Naomi, some successfully, some less so, but never have they rung more true than here, where Anne has seen the chaos and the terror around her, has known the loneliness and learned to find a way in a foreign country and finally finds Serey again.
"Where you go, I will go. [...] Where you lodge, I will lodge. [...] Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. [...] And your people shall be my people, and your God, my God."
This book is about 230 pages long, with 78 chapters and without direct speech. It seems like a long stream of consciousness, and that means it is easy to read in one sitting. However I would not recommend that you do that. It is emotionally draining, and even when Anne feels like she is flying, you can sense the danger looming over her.
It is a good book to learn about Cambodia's recent history, the author even offers some other book titles in the acknowledgements. I have learned a lot, and I feel as though I have lived Anne's story myself. But it is not a happy book.
There are two things that make me really anxious about a book - a rainbow of different ratings, and a book about somewhere from someone who has no reaThere are two things that make me really anxious about a book - a rainbow of different ratings, and a book about somewhere from someone who has no real connection to the place. I gave in though, basically because of the title, and hoped for the best. And my "bravery" was rewarded.
A few years ago, there was an interview on Swiss television with Syrian-German author Rafik Schami. The original topic was of course Syria's political situation, but the interviewer also delved into the differences between the Western and Middle-Eastern style of writing. Rafik Schami pointed out that whereas Western authors usually are just that, authors, he sees himself as a storyteller because there is a rich history of storytelling in that part of the world. (He then proceeded to tell a ten-minute-story, and it was one of the best interviews I've ever seen).
The difference between writing and storytelling is the immediate reaction from the audience. It has to be entranced and engaged, and a different audience will create a different feel to a story. In doing this with the book itself as well as within the story, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya has set himself up for that rainbow of reviews, but if you are ready to engage enough, and if you are willing to create your own story out of your reactions to what is being told, you're in for a great ride.
I'm not sure that billing this book as "mystery" is all that helpful. Sure, the story is about a young couple's disappearance and searches for its cause, but you should not read this book just to find an answer to that story. The real theme is the storytelling - how it can bring people together, how a story can change, how even our own perception can change when we interpret it through the veil of the fiction we've created.
Contrary to my initial fears, Marrakesh is not just a setting, but a living, breathing part of this book. You get to know some of its inhabitants, and you see the influence of its long history on the perception of the people who live there.
I'm not sure I'd recommend this book if you just want to learn something about Morocco. But I would if you're searching for an insight into Middle Eastern culture, and into the nature of stories themselves.
This is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. -------------
There is no way this book could have lived up to thThis is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. -------------
There is no way this book could have lived up to the extreme publicity that preceded it, and so I'm glad that I waited quite some time before reading it.
I've felt at home when I started reading because I love Rowling's style of writing. That made me happy despite the depressing story that was being told, and I think that is one thing that can make or break this book for you. Even the most miserable passages (and there were a lot of them, as most characters are either not very well off or are total a*** or both) were still interesting to me because I enjoyed the characterisation and the author's way of dealing with themes, but if you don't, then this is not the book for you.
I wish the book had been shorter though. It could have been, with a tighter edit. I wasn't gripped by the story that much, and for a slow-paced novel about characters, 500 pages is too long.
I will probably read whatever J.K. Rowling decides to write or publish next, because I trust her storytelling and her writing. And because she tends to work with themes that are incredibly important to me as well. I wish that the media would stop to focus their attention on just a few writers though. Whatever they write won't ever be good enough, and books, especially ones likes this that deal with really intimate subjects, are made to be read by people who want to read them, not by people who are told to by the media. ...more
Note: This is book #2 in my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here.
I read this because I've read another book by Nicolas BNote: This is book #2 in my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here.
I read this because I've read another book by Nicolas Barreau before (for German readers: Das Lächeln der Frauen). And, to be fair, that other one was much better. Sweeter, lovelier, more romantic, more magical and more honest. But this is still a good book to read when you're looking for something romantic.
Aurélie, our female protagonist, is sweet, but a bit too naive. Luckily her best friend is realistic and brutally honest. Our male protagonist is shy, very apt at overthinking things and arriving at the wrong conclusions, and his best friend is full of energy and without worries for the future. Honestly, as a reader you hope that they will never have to survive without their friends, because they are a bit clueless. Luckily enough, by the end they can be cluless together.
I'm not sure why I'm keeping quiet about the plot, as it is absolutely obvious from the first page of chapter two. (Or earlier on, depending how well you know British humour...). Since there is no need to keep quiet about what happens next as no reader will be on the edge of the seat anyway, Nicolas Barreau takes to jumping forward in time, offering a short glimpse into what is happening, and then trace the steps up to that point in retrospective. I'm not sure whether I'm a fan of that technique. but at least you always know where you're going.
If I'm being honest, people read romances for the romance. And there is a lot of romance in here, there's humour as well, and there's food and Paris. What more can you ask for? (view spoiler)[Wine, obviously. That's what you ask for. ;). (That being said, the characters are very French. I feel prudish for mentioning that, but I was a bit taken aback by some quick happenings.) (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more