The people of Gjirokastër spend their days speculating on the rivalry between two doctors; Big Dr Gurameto with his German connections and Little Dr G...moreThe people of Gjirokastër spend their days speculating on the rivalry between two doctors; Big Dr Gurameto with his German connections and Little Dr Gurameto with his Italian. When, in 1943, the Nazis roll up to the city gates, a group of citizens fire upon them. Whilst the city folk fear the implications of this rebellion, Big Dr Gurameto recognises an old college friend in the Colonel and invites him and his men to dinner. Soon rumours are flying.
The Albanian city of Gjirokastër is a character in its own right in The Fall of the Stone City. The people are more representative of the city than individual personalities and this gives it the feeling of being a piece of folklore. The doctors come across as being the equivalent of celebrities but Big Dr Gurameto’s actions become entwined with the fate of the city. The style is full of charm and gives in the impression that the Nazi occupation was much more civilised and amenable than the Communist rule that came after.
I always appreciate learning a little bit of history in a novel and I previously had no knowledge of Albania during the war. However as the story progresses, the lines blur between fact and fiction and something at the end makes me feel that is a reworked piece of Albanian mythology. And it’s the ending that really brings it together for me to make it a great little novella. I think you need to approach it as a piece of folklore rather than straight forward historical fiction.
I haven’t read any other works by Ismail Kadare so I can’t compare but I will be looking out for his work in future.(less)
Billy Lynn is a hero, part of the Bravo squad who bravely fought off insurgents in Iraq, to help keep America safe. That’s what the Bush administratio...moreBilly Lynn is a hero, part of the Bravo squad who bravely fought off insurgents in Iraq, to help keep America safe. That’s what the Bush administration want the world to think and they seize their opportunity for a Victory Tour, ending at the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving game. In reality, Bravo are a bunch of kids that didn’t have many options in life and are being sent round the country as a PR exercise.
I generally shy away from books about war told from an American perspective but Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk actually addresses some of the very things that put me off. Billy didn’t want to join the army, seeking revenge on his sister’s ex, he trashed his car and faced either jail time or a stint in the army. He’s never had sex and wants nothing more than to find a girl in his short time at home. I did feel that things moved pretty quickly as most of the story is set over one day, but that must be how soldiers have to cope, making the most of their freedom whilst they can.
Poor Bravo are pretty much being used for propaganda, the “heroes” are passed around from rich to influential and held up as an example of how well the war effort is going. There are comparisons made between the football and war that essentially it is brutal and real yet the nation makes it into a spectacle. The whole idea of young, damaged men being paraded as celebrities just for surviving a horrible experience is one that is probably unique to America. It seems to be lacking somewhat in dignity. I’m not sure that the characters are immediately likable; they are the kind of young men I would move away from in a bar! But by the end, you see that their bravado and bluster is mostly a façade to avoid dealing with reality. I liked the quietly commanding sergeant, Dime, who keeps his boys in check and the idea that they were a family. One of the most endearing characters isn’t even present, Shroom, Billy’s friend who was killed yet shaped his young life so much in the short time they were together.
The plot mostly revolves around Bravo’s efforts (or their agent’s) to sell film rights for their experiences but it is Ben Fountain’s writing style that carries you through the pages. It holds a lot of truth yet contains humour and compassion. Whilst the subject matter might not have been my first choice, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing itself. I will say I struggled with some of the Texan speech, especially wondering who Nina Leven was (it’s actually 9/11). Fountain also cleverly spaces out words to show when Billy is overwhelmed and only hearing certain things.
Don't expect an compassion for the other side, this is all about American views and the ability to ignore the horrors of war. (less)
A historically interesting read, however at times I found the tone a little impersonal and it did often feel a bit like reading a history book, rather...moreA historically interesting read, however at times I found the tone a little impersonal and it did often feel a bit like reading a history book, rather than narrative non-fiction. I think this have resulted from the fact that Hillenbrand has no personal experience of the subject matter and that often war veterans do not like to talk about their emotions. It's odd that with her background in sports writing, the sporting sections were a little boring.
As a Brit, most my World War II reading does cover the European/Soviet aspects so it was interesting to read a bit more about the American/Japanese conflict. The life in the POW camps was horrific and be prepared for some uncomfortable scenes. The torture of Louis by The Bird is relentless and it does start to feel repetitive, but it's hard to criticise non-fiction in this way.
Everyone in my book group agreed that if it weren't a true story we would have thought the plot completely unbelievable. I do think it's in a lot of people's nature to exaggerate stories, so maybe I can forgive the unrealistic shark attacks (though looking back, their raft was full of bird corpses which would attract some interest from scavengers).
The book has the most reference notes I have seen in a long time! Whilst some areas of history felt a bit skimmed over, the book would have been unreasonably long if they were expanded on and at least you could find further information if you were so inclined.(less)
When Eve crashes her paraglider into the Thames she thinks she's about to die but is rescued by a mysterious stranger. Of course she's grateful but sh...moreWhen Eve crashes her paraglider into the Thames she thinks she's about to die but is rescued by a mysterious stranger. Of course she's grateful but she starts to worry when she's taken into Tower Bridge and finds out it's being occupied by the military. Her knight in shining armour turns out to be Major Harker who thinks she's a spy and she soon realises this is not the London she knows. She must be in a coma and dreaming it all up...
As a reader we know straight away that Eve has somehow fallen into an alternate universe. One where France is our enemy and Britain is practically a third world country, fighting both international and civil wars. As Eve seems to know so much about technology that is unheard of, they take her on a mission to liberate a computer from coalitionists in the north.
The character of Eve was a bit two dimensional for the most part and over obvious about things at the start. However the world Kate Johnson created is engaging and the plot fast paced so I ended up enjoying more than I thought I would after the first couple of pages. There is a cast of characters that more than makes up for my antipathy for Eve, who fortunately doesn't hog page space, and it's certainly not a fluffy read despite a touch of romance.
The author states in the acknowledgements that she's a big fan of Bernard Cornwell and Terry Pratchett and you can see their influence throughout. As a romance writer she's made a valiant effort at combining chick-lit and fantasy warfare although it does get a bit soppy in the final chapters. I think it would appeal more to the curious chick-lit reader than an established fantasy fan though.(less)
Non is a housewife in Wales, 1921, where thousands of lives have been forever scarred by the war. Her husband, Davey, returns a different man and she...moreNon is a housewife in Wales, 1921, where thousands of lives have been forever scarred by the war. Her husband, Davey, returns a different man and she is determined to discover what happened to him in the war to change him so. She is raising a child that is not hers and does not speak and begins to wonder if Osian is a product of her husband's secret life.
I was immediately drawn into the world of the Davies and didn't feel I had to make the effort to get to know the characters, they were there in full colour from the start. My heart was already breaking for Osian on page 19, yet it never becomes a depressing read. It shows her skill that Mari can make a story about post traumatic stress give you the warm and fuzzies. Her writing is warm and tender, full of charm and undoubtedly Welsh. Despite the difference in subject matter and narrative, you can hear the same voice behind this as The Earth Hums in B Flat.
The story is full of details of life after World War I, a period of much change, where women, once in charge of things and learning how to do a man's job, must return to household duties, if they were lucky enough that their husbands came home. Many conversations are made against the backdrop of painstaking housework yet there is the hope of modern appliances hinted at here and there. Mentions of the political situations in Wales and Ireland are no more than you would expect a family to discuss over the kitchen table and gives just the right amount of credence to this slice of life in the not so glamourous twenties.
We can now give a name to the conditions suffered by Davey, his father and Osian, but in the twenties families had to cope knowing only that there was something not right with their loved ones. I think Non's visit to the Doctor signalled the start of a different understanding in the medical world despite the nurse's blindness to the mental state of her patients.
I must admit I wasn't sure about the title at first but now I see it works perfectly for a metaphor of Non bringing her husband back to her. The title is taken from a poem by Robert Graves, To Bring the Dead to Life.
Dr Erik Cohen returns to the Warsaw ghetto at the start of this book and relays his story to a stranger who transcribes it. As he's supposedly telling...moreDr Erik Cohen returns to the Warsaw ghetto at the start of this book and relays his story to a stranger who transcribes it. As he's supposedly telling this to someone familiar with life in the ghetto, the text doesn't include much description on the environment. Whilst it makes sense it doesn't add to the book and I found it hard to picture the streets in which they lived so closely. It does however convey a sense of desperation and, above all, a lack of something we all take for granted, nourishing food.
I got the feeling that the main character had given up on life and it seemed odd to me that he would put so much effort into investigating the death of a child. Something that in their situation would be sadly common. The books looks like it's being marketed as a thriller but it's more slow paced and introspective. I would recommend more to those with an interest in life in Poland during WW2.(less)
The writing is basic but the story is touching. The descriptions of life as a Marine in Afghanistan feel very true - monotonous laced with moments of...moreThe writing is basic but the story is touching. The descriptions of life as a Marine in Afghanistan feel very true - monotonous laced with moments of danger. However I didn't find the military aspects held my interest and found myself putting the book down a lot.(less)
I think Michael Morpurgo does some of the best war fiction around. He himself says he didn't intend writing for children but wrote for himself, so thi...moreI think Michael Morpurgo does some of the best war fiction around. He himself says he didn't intend writing for children but wrote for himself, so this book will appeal to all ages (though the very young may find too disturbing). I was on the verge of tears all the way through, I dare you not to be moved by his writing.(less)
Beautifully written. I felt that the passages describing war were very much in the spirit of the war poets. It is quite an intimate story, no big cons...moreBeautifully written. I felt that the passages describing war were very much in the spirit of the war poets. It is quite an intimate story, no big conspiracies or action, just the story of 3 people very much effected by the war.
A previous reviewer said that it felt a bit muddled. I can imagine that was exactly how wveryone was feeling in the days after the armistice.(less)
For those expecting an action packed account of the conflict in Iraq, this isn't the book for you. Chris Ayres' reaction to dangerous situations, is e...moreFor those expecting an action packed account of the conflict in Iraq, this isn't the book for you. Chris Ayres' reaction to dangerous situations, is exactly that of the average human being, not those of a soldier or heroic figure. The cover would have you believe it's laugh a minute, and whilst there are some rather funny parts, there are also very moving stories, such as his account of 9/11 which brought a tear to my eye.
I think the fact that you know he made it out alive to write the book, means you can easily laugh at some of his experiences which would otherwise be plain scary. I think one reviewer said the stories don't really fit together, but they do as they're all about fear, as you would expect from the title, even the pointless everyday fears and the fear of failure in his career.(less)
A perfect example that not all Booker nominated novels are hard going, I found this a beautifully easy read. I loved the characters and the descriptio...moreA perfect example that not all Booker nominated novels are hard going, I found this a beautifully easy read. I loved the characters and the descriptions of wartime London. It makes you think how it really was a time of huge change for women. The downside to this book is that it goes backwards in time so we discover more about the characters' pasts but nothing about their future. I was left wanting to know what happened to them all.(less)
A very moving book about WW2 from the viewpoint of ordinary people in Germany. The narrator is Death and is not at all gimmicky. It somehow gives a mo...moreA very moving book about WW2 from the viewpoint of ordinary people in Germany. The narrator is Death and is not at all gimmicky. It somehow gives a more neutral view to the events yet still having empathy. I loved the 'inserts' of the books Max made for Liesel.(less)