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
A lot has been said and written about "The Fault In Our Stars", and when you're on tumblr, you can't help but be bombarded with quotes and images andA lot has been said and written about "The Fault In Our Stars", and when you're on tumblr, you can't help but be bombarded with quotes and images and fanart and whatnot.
Finally I've given in and read it, and I've discovered that John Green may well be a second David Mitchell for me. In that I loved the story and admire the ideas behind it, but had a hard time with the writing. I hope that I'm wrong and it will work better with the next John Green I'll be reading, but for this one I had a really tough time at the start, getting into the language. (There are bonus points available though - unlike a David Mitchell novel, I actually finished this.)
Bonus points also for making me cry, and for daring to adress the issues that were raised here. Even if I hadn't liked this, I still would have been glad that such a thought-provoking (and life-loving) book has been getting so much attention. Points deducted though for not being helpful with my eternal problem - loving a side character much much more than the main character. (Yes, we're talking about Isaac here.)
If you follow YA or contemporary fiction at all, go and read this, you will have to at one point or another anyway. The good thing is, it's a relatively quick read and you won't regret it. (Have a handkerchief on standby though.)...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.
With some books published thirty years or more ago, I need to find a quiet hour to really be able to get into the narrative style and the language. NoWith some books published thirty years or more ago, I need to find a quiet hour to really be able to get into the narrative style and the language. Not so with "A Separate Peace", I found my way in quite easily.
I wasn't too sure about the YA sorting to begin with because the theme seemed to say "literary fiction", but it feels like a YA book would. There are dozens of memorable quotes, and the theme is as dark as I'd feared, but it wasn't as heavy-handed as I'd expected. Gene has his own motivations and a shedload of problems that go beyond the main plot of the book, and he has that special sense of absolute conviction in his beliefs that makes me detest someone very quickly. His friend Phineas is little better though (even though the first person narration makes it difficult to really see what he is about), so he has probably found his match.
Since I didn't like the characters all that much, my enjoyment depended on either the writing or the plot, preferably both. Plot-wise ... well, there are trainwrecks with a more interesting ruin, let's put it that way. There's certainly a sense of the inevitable, which I liked, because it made me turn the pages, but the unfulfilling ending threw me off a bit and resulted in the loss of a star. The language fulfilled the cover's promises though, so while I would place this on the lower end of the four-star spectrum, I don't regret reading it. And I'll leave you with a few memorable quotes to give you a taste.
"I felt that I was not, never had been and never would be a living part of this overpoweringly solid and deeply meaningful world around me."
"I spent as much time is I could alone in my room, trying to empty my mind of everything, to forget where I was, even who I was."
"Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him."
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
This book is one that I've probably enjoyed more than I would have done under different circumstances. As it was, it had winked at me from the shelvesThis book is one that I've probably enjoyed more than I would have done under different circumstances. As it was, it had winked at me from the shelves in my nearest bookshop, I quite liked the cover and the feel of it (courtesy of greenpenguin.co.uk), I had bought it to reward myself for cleaning out books I disliked, and I was itnerested in the subject, so I was predestined to like it.
Had this book been on any other subject, my rating would probably have gone down, because that book deserved another edit or two before publication. (Read: The beginning and the end, to be precise. Warning: Rant ahead.) The beginning feels completely off, although I managed to read over that because I was all set to enjoy the book. There's a short account of the history of the city and the cathedral, and then an introduction of everyone who is important. All without giving any emotion, without explaining any connections, without offering the reader anything to sink his or her teeth into. To be absolutely honest, it feels like Salley Vickers did some research and some prewriting for the characters, and then dumped all that into the beginning of the book. Which isn't a bright idea, especially considering that the writing gets way better after that - at a point where quite a few readers might have already put the book aside.
Once I got over that part, the book improved - I was interested in the stories, I was invested in the characters. It's nowhere near as epic as The Pillars of the Earth, but it doesn't need to be. There's a lot more research hidden in the depths of the writing (which again highlights the redundance of the beginning), and the characters, especially the Professor for whom I have a thing, gain a lot more depth than I would have thought possible over such a short amount of time. The cathedral and the town came alive in my head, and that is something I want to get out of historical fiction. A feel and taste for the place and its inhabitants, a tiny bit of time travel in my mind. It's a great way to learn something, and to deepen an understanding of a culture, and Salley Vickers does a brilliant job of it.
Then there comes the ending, which is quite good I think. Then there comes an afterword to the ending, and I could rant about that the same as I ranted about the beginning. (I won't. You've had enough of that.)
So this is my suggestion for enhanced enjoyment of a deserving story: Read the book description. Skip the first chapter. Ignore the things after the end. Be grateful that I warned you :).
"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
Every now and then, I need to read a book to "recharge my batteries". I don't need to obsess over how amazing it is, it doesn't need to have a deeperEvery now and then, I need to read a book to "recharge my batteries". I don't need to obsess over how amazing it is, it doesn't need to have a deeper meaning and something to teach me, it doesn't even have to be all that exciting. I need it to be comforting, I need it to make me happy, and I need it to excite me about other books I could read (or write). "When Autumn Leaves" is absolutely perfect for that.
Autumn is the resident witch in Avening, a quiet town on the Pacific coast. When she gets ordered away, she needs to find a successor. She achieves this by testing several people and seeing the potential of magic in their lives.
Avening is a great setting for this story, even though I wish it could have been brought to life a little bit more. I like the feeling of American small towns, and it could have added even more to the magic. I love the host of characters we meet, this ensures that the book seems rather short and the reader doesn't get bored. Autumn herself is the least likeable of the characters, at least to me, because she tends to lecture the people around her and sprouts a lot of helpful phrases all the time, and I don't like people who tell me how to live my life. But her supporting cast is great, and we get a lot of glimpses that leave things open to the imagination.
There's a missing depth in characterization for almost anyone and I probably won't remember much of the plot in a few months' time. I don't think I'll read many other books by this author, but I had fun with this one, so I'll let it slide. (It's also a debut novel - I accept some beginner's mistakes with those.) Like I said - I needed something warm inbetween, and that was it.
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."
I've read three novels about Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge over the last few months, all of them deeply moving (see below). Out of the three, "In theI've read three novels about Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge over the last few months, all of them deeply moving (see below). Out of the three, "In the Shadow of the Banyan" is the one I'm least likely to recommend, but it is also the most beautiful one.
Vaddey Ratner chose a young girl (herself) as the narrator of this story. Raami comes from royal blood and grows up incredibly sheltered despite the war that has been going on for quite some time. When the Khmer Rouge evacuate Phnom Penh and her family's long journey begins, we can see her lose all those privileges one by one. Her family soon has to pay the price for their heritage, as the Khmer Rouge's new world order doesn't accomodate royals or intellectuals, and Raami's father fits both of these categories.
"I told you stories to give you wings, [...] so that you would never be trapped by anything."
Her father is a poet, and Raami's world view (or a young girl's equivalent of such a thing) is coloured by the colourfulness of his verses and by the mythological stories he and others have taught her. The narrator creates images of a haunting beauty to go along with the suffering of her characters, which sets a very strange mood. Along with this, Raami often flees into her own world of spirits, gods and demons, trying to find their equals in the world around her. She tries not to give up hope, but it becomes harder and harder for her the more she understands what's going on inside the grown-ups around her.
"There are no gods. [...] If they were the ones who gave life, created it, they'd know its value. There are no gods. Only senselessness."
The author describes her experiences as well as she can, which means that Raami is sounding way more grown-up than she should right from the beginning. But even so, she is a child and adults don't tell her much, or leave out important things, and Raami is too young and unexperienced to put enough perspective into things all by herself. This is part of what keeps me from recommending this book - there is an afterword and everything, but to get a clearer picture of the time, you'd be better of with a different novel.
My other issue is with the poetry of the language. I have encountered this in a lot of South Asian (and some South American) novels, and I love it. I really do. But I have encountered a lot of readers who are put off by it, and if you've never encountered an Asian author I would encourage you to read a chapter or two before deciding wheter this is the book for you or not. Much as I love the mythical aspects, the conjuring of deities is another part that takes away from the realism of the experience, and you have to like this kind of storytelling to be able to understand what it can give you instead.
I have a slight problem with the fact that you don't really know where the story is supposed to be going, but this is a minor issue and didn't bother me much once I was in love with the language and crying for Raami and her family. It is important that stories like these are told, and when they are told well they have a chance of staying with you and reminding you of what is important.
"... that life, with all its cruelty and horror, was still worth living. [...] This, I think, was what he was trying to tell you, a story about your continuation."
----------- * The Disappeared by Kim Echlin. It is the story of a young Canadian woman going after her Cambodian lover, and is perhaps the most accessible from a Western POV. (my review) * Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien. This is the complex story of a survivor trying to remember and come to terms with what has happened. It offers multiple stories and also a modern perspective which makes it easier to understand. (my review)
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 book reminded me a lot of Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind. I loved the setting, I loved the story, I loved all of the little details I gotThis book reminded me a lot of Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind. I loved the setting, I loved the story, I loved all of the little details I got to know, I love the depth of the world that the author built - and I couldn't stand the main character.
Alif is everything I hate in a programmer, and I've met quite a few of those now. He's moody and grumpy when things don't turn out the way he expects them to, he's focused mainly on his own troubles, and he's a slow learner in the character and morals department.
"Society didn't mind if you broke the rules; it only required you to acknowledge them."
Luckily for him (and me as a reader), his cast of companions is less obnoxious - and in the case of Dina actually pretty cool. She is aware of what she can and can't do as a Muslim woman, and she makes full use of it.
The City where Alif lives is another great character. She comes to life, with all the ancient quarters and modern troubles of the Middle East. There are some vague relations to other Middle Eastern countries and their social issues, which makes this book feel very current and very realistic. The sense of realism stops immediately when the supernatural world creeps in on Alif. It feels very alien, even though I've read a lot about djinn by now. In fact, the most alien part of it were not the djinn but Alif's experiences (if that makes any sense). I kept wishing that we could see Dina's point of view, because she's more sensible and I have a better understanding of her.
Plot-wise I felt that the publishers' descriptions made the book seem more epic than they should. Yes, there are great things at stake, but it felt like the DaVinci Code - this is BIG, but really there's just a few people concerned with it. Even when the scale became bigger, I didn't really feel it and still thought of it as an exciting and fast-paced adventure rather than as an epic fight of sorts.
In the end I really liked the story, but what kept me reading was the setting. I enjoyed that a lot, and I suspect that I will want to go back there someday. It's unique and I enjoyed it, and that's enough for four stars for me.
There is something to be said for an omniscient narrator, especially when the main character in the story is a child that has yet to be brought into tThere is something to be said for an omniscient narrator, especially when the main character in the story is a child that has yet to be brought into this world. The author can point out details in his world that the character wouldn't notice, and especially when the novel has such a rich exotic setting and the author has done such a lot of research, the reader can appreciate it more.
Eleonora, born into a Yewish family in the Ottoman Empire, experiences early on that it is not good to be different, and her stepmother warns her against showing off her intellectual gifts to other people. When Eleonora is eight years old (this is around 1885), her father sets out on a business trip to Stamboul, and Eleonora joins him on his journey into the complicated politics of the day. We meet a lot of different characters, all of whom want different things, and Eleonora's intellectual gifts come in handy when her own role in all of what is happening becomes more clear.
Still, Eleonora is a child, and Michael David Lukas often chooses to switch to a different viewpoint character in between, and I'm not sure whether this is helpful or not. It took me a bit of time to get into the novel, and then it passed me by relatively quickly, so I'm not too sure I actually ever found a way in. I like Eleonora - she loves books, she's quick and she's imaginative -, but I never really cared for what was going to happen next, and I don't really know why that is.
The author clearly loves his setting, and he tries to portray everything very accurately - maybe this is what passed me by. Or maybe it's my own fault, for not reading this book the right way - I always have that problem with historical fiction set in the late 19th century, and somehow I should try to work around it. I don't know. I still enjoyed it, and I can see the work that has gone into it, so I would recommend you check it out if it interests you. But I couldn't put myself there, no matter how hard I tried. But maybe that's the way it should be...
"For the stones in the river of history look different depending on where you stand."
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
Considering that I love fantasy, like historical fiction and enjoy immersing myself in aReview crossposted to my 238 books in 238 days-challenge. -----
Considering that I love fantasy, like historical fiction and enjoy immersing myself in a different culture, I expected to love this book. And I did enjoy the read somewhat, but to say that I loved it would be an overstatement.
This book tries to walk the fine line between fantasy and reality. If that works, a book is guaranteed a spot on my favourites shelf. Unfortunately, this book veers off the path in both directions. At times, there is magic and mystery and someone evil working against our main characters, at other times we experience a slow exploration of immigrant life in New York, complete with endless philosophical discussions. Those two worlds rarely merge into one, and so I wonder what people will feel who like just one of them.
I'm not too sure about the cultural aspects; I didn't really get into the feel of immigrant life in New York, or into Jewish and Arabic myths. It all fell a bit flat for me. The same holds true for the two main characters in general. Golem Chava is a stoic woman, but is also always trying to find a place to fit in. Jinni Ahmad is restless, impulsive, passionate. Or at least he is supposed to be; Chavas chapters go way better with her personality than Ahmad's work with his. I don't know whether it was a conscious decision on the author's part to keep referring to both Chava and Ahmad as the Golem and the Jinni, but it stopped me from getting really invested in the characters, and I wished she wouldn't have done it. Even 300 pages in, when readers could clearly be expected to remember the fact that they were reading about mythical creatures this kept happening. It felt like a dehumanization, like the author was looking down on her characters and passing judgement on them.
All in all, I did like the tone of the book even though I've read better books about virtually all components of this story. I'll also read the next book Helene Wecker writes, and I'll recommend this one, just so you can decide for yourself whether you like it or not. But I do think it has been praised a little too highly for its own good, and I would have wanted a better balance, and somehow just a bit more....more
With "Number the Stars", Lois Lowry has written a book that can paint a picture of the Danish history under the Nazi rule for young children. At arounWith "Number the Stars", Lois Lowry has written a book that can paint a picture of the Danish history under the Nazi rule for young children. At around 150 pages in a not-too-small print, this book has exactly the right length, and it's got exactly the right scope, too.
Everything we experience is seen through the eyes of ten-years-old Annemarie. The soldiers scare her, she doesn't like that there's not much variation in food, she's got to watch out for her younger sister. Later on, when life becomes more complicated, Annemarie fears for her best friend, she doesn't understand why Mum's and Dad's visitors don't smile that often anymore, and then suddenly the soldiers arrive in her home and she has to be brave.
Annemarie learns a lot, but she is still a child, and the people around her explain things to her in the right way. When Annemarie understands somethign for herself, her thought process is laid out and easy to follow. There are small scenes which I found deeply moving (even though I've read a lot of books on the topic by now), and, in addition to the author's last words, which are also well suited for children, I think that as long as there are adults around to answer potential questions, this is a great book for children.
There is no unnecessary violence, nor are there curses or graphical descriptions or other things. There are some scary scenes, but Annemarie does her best to stay brave, and she knows that what she does is important. As is this book.
"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. ----------
On page 51 (of my edition), this book practically reviThis is part of my "238 books in 238 days"-challenge. You can follow my progress here. ----------
On page 51 (of my edition), this book practically reviews itself:
'Your song has been troubling me,' he said. 'The one about the boy who chooses to quit rowing in the middle of the lake.' 'That was only an aria,' she said. 'From a whole opera, one filled with subplots and reversals and betrayals.'
Deep beneath all the subplots and stylistics and political themes that have been piled up (and that explain the critical acclaim heaped upon this novel), there is a great story. Pak Jun Do and Sun Moon are characters I've enjoyed spending time with (if a bit too much time, due to the book being much longer than necessary). And despite David Mitchell enjoying this style of writing and my dislike of his own style, I quite enjoyed the read as well.
The setting takes some getting used to, and to be honest I don't know enough about North Korea to find out which things could actually happen and what was invented. This means that, while this novel has interested me in Korean culture and the political situation today, it's not of much use if you want to genuinely learn something about the country. Which is not a big problem, but I went into it hoping to learn something, and being unsure about which information I can trust means that the novel didn't fulfil my expectations.
Speaking of expectations - don't trust the things that have been said about this. Read it for yourself if you'd like to. I fell asleep twice, so "breathtaking thriller" doesn't work. And whether Adam Johnson will end up as one of today's greatest writers or not is surely something that should not be deduced from just one book. Enjoyable though it is....more