If you are interested in the political and social history of Italy (don't all raise your hands at once :D) and if you like reading books where you act...moreIf you are interested in the political and social history of Italy (don't all raise your hands at once :D) and if you like reading books where you actually learn something from the context of the plot, My Brother Is An Only Child is a book for you! Italy in the 1970s is one of the most thriving periods of history of the country. After the Second World War and the very long reign of the Social Democrats at the head of the country, a new generation is born and wants some radical change because it doesn't feel represented in the actual ruling class. Split between the fascist (in the Italian sense of the word - as in nationalists) and the communists, and with still a very strong presence of the Catholic Church, this decade is full of restlessness, protests and general political upheaval (as anywhere in the world at the end of the 1960s, beginning of the 1970s).
This is the climate in which the story of My Brother Is An Only Child takes place where one brother is very handsome and popular Manrico, who after leaving the seminary goes to study law and becomes politically involved in the Communist movement, and where the other brother Accio (pejorative nickname given to him since he was a child and inspiration for the title of the book) is the black sheep of the family who gets involved with the Fascist Party after leaving the seminary himself. Later in the book, Accio falls in love with Manrico's girlfriend and the hostility between the two brothers, which has existed ever since they were kids, continues even more.
The story is told from the point of view of Accio who isn't loved nor even respected by any member of his family. Since he is a child he has to put up with the decisions others take for him (as the youngest boy in the family, his two older brothers come first) and with the weight of being different and always in the way (according to his family). It is truly heart-breaking to be in his head and to feel the anger he feels constantly. He is eager to be accepted but doesn't fit in wherever he goes to. The book is a coming of age story of this boy no one really likes and who is sent to the seminary to be a priest. We go through the various stages of adolescence with him and we realise how outdated some of the traditions are. The book gives also an amazing insight into the Italian culture and its traditions. While reading, I couldn't help thinking how Italian the book was, not only because it was written by an Italian author and because it took place in this very particular context for the country, but also because it really goes inside Italian customs and ways of thinking. The book takes place in a rural area where the economic and social factors are very important for a family of seven children.
I literally couldn't stop reading this book, Accio's voice is very clear and his personality just pops out of the pages and you feel as if you are following him around his village trying to raise people behind Fascist ideas. You really feel for Accio and wonder if he would have turned out exactly the same way had people in his family made more effort towards him. The portrait of the Italian Mamma (mother) is absolutely brilliant, I can tell you that Italians are way more afraid of their mothers and that a mother can make all their kids follow a straight line even during the worse years of adolescence. Just read this book to see how much!
What I love about reading translated fiction is how much we can learn from another culture. I am part-Italian and grew up on the Mediterranean so I really related to the cultural aspects of the book and I really loved how fascinating the book is in terms of political and social history of Italy in the 1970s. The book is well translated in English and you don't lose the spirit of the book in the translation. A film was made of this book and if you don't feel like reading the book, don't hesitate to watch the film!(less)
The book takes place in the countryside in the South of Italy. Ammaniti is absolutely brilliant at describing this tiny village next to the small town...moreThe book takes place in the countryside in the South of Italy. Ammaniti is absolutely brilliant at describing this tiny village next to the small town of Acqua Traverse. The reader can really feel as if they are right there with the characters during this scorching hot summer.
Historical background of the story: You have to know that Italy is a divided country between North and South. The unity of the country was 'only' brought in the 1870s, and, other than differences in terms of idioms (in some rural parts of Italy, the local idiom is used more than the Italian language by the population) and culture, the North and the South are divided economically and, thus, socially and politically. With the Industrial Revolution, the North became quickly very wealthy and didn't see with a good eye the redistribution of wealth to the poor agricultural South. Several decades later, this hostility is still patent. The book is set in the 1970s, where corruption and criminality was still very high. I am not telling you all this to bore you to death (no really, I don't!) but because this poverty, especially in the South of Italy, is the background of this story.
The story: Michele Ammitrano (9 years old) lives in a very poor village in the South of Italy, all the adults of the village have to go to work in the North or in a big city outside the village to survive and provide for their families. They might not like each other, and even bad mouth one another, but all the families are there in the same boat, so they help each other out by giving food, clothes and exchanging what they can. The kids of the village all play together. They are very poor and even second hand toys and bicycles are a luxury, they mainly play outdoors with stray dogs or invented games. They have all very different personalities, and, in other circumstances, they would never be friends. But they are stuck together in this small village in the middle of the summer without a pool or a lake to cool themselves. One day, Michele loses a race and has to climb in an abandoned house. While jumping out a window on a tree outside, he falls on a mattress which is put on top of a hole to hide it. Michele looks inside. The hole isn't empty, and what he will find will change his life. At first, Michele doesn't talk about what he found to anyone. But in a small village, there is only so much you can hide.
The style of the book: The style is uncharacteristically very fast and gripping. Italian is a very rich language you can play with for several lines without feeling the need to end the sentence. In this book, the sentences are very short and straight to the point. They make you sit at the edge of your chair, turning frantically the pages to read the end. The end which you will probably find disappointing - all this tension for a cliffhanger, REALLY? The setting is wonderfully described and the characters are very well brought up to the story and are very typical. Michele's mother is the real "Mamma italiana" who is, in turn, as ruthless as a pittbull and as sweet as an apricot pie in the sun. (*cough* Hi Mum!) The poverty of these people is very cleverly shown and only picky idiots persons like myself could write paragraphs and paragraphs on it :)
The story is very, very dark. Just so you know, this was published as an adult book in Italy (and UK) at first, but it has now been given a new cover in the UK and has been put in the YA section. It is hard to say that this is a beautiful story, considering the gruesome details which are not spared to the reader. The subject isn't very happy-making either, but the realism and the ideas behind the story are definitely worth your chills. I wouldn't advise this book to the younger young readers nor the faint-hearted.(less)
Do you know this feeling when you unexpectedly hear a song you love, when you smell your favorite cake from when you were a kid, or when the person th...moreDo you know this feeling when you unexpectedly hear a song you love, when you smell your favorite cake from when you were a kid, or when the person that makes your heart beat looks at you ? This is the feeling you'll get reading this book. This is the story you never thought you would read and yet you'll just be falling for it.
The writing is so heart-breakingly pure, full of silent emotions, that you find yourself having feelings for all the characters from the very beginning. Delphine de Vigan explained (here) that in the first version of the book, she only talked about No and her life, and didn't go in depth with the character of Lou. In this second version of the book, Lou becomes the main character and gains a real personality and consistency. It is fascinating to read her relationship with her family, or rather, what is left of it after a tragedy that happened when Lou was 8. Lou grows up without her mother, too broken by grief, and her father, doing what he can to save the family. Lou is very young but very mature at the same time, and I think that Delphine de Vigan describes this ambiguity very well.
Lou likes Lucas, her complete opposite (older than his classmates and not very good at school), who seems to like her back. Even though it first appeared to me as a strange relationship, their differences grew on me and I realised it was the very reason why they were attracted to each other. They weren't like any other high school student in their class. And, according to Lou, they both knew the power of words.
The plot is simple, without superfluous and random characters and events. Every character has a place in the plot and evolves through the story. And what a beautiful and touching story it is.
The meaning is important as well, too many people are living in the streets and are not shown enough compassion. "It's their fault, if they were nicer and cleaner, everyone would help them" says Lou at one point without thinking it. This book works also as a sociological study of people living in the streets, women in particular through the character of No, and what it is like: the fear, the wait, the lack of trust etc. No is an incredible character and the bond she has with Lou is very well written.
I would advise this book to everyone. It is too easy nowadays to forget how lucky most of us are. We have everything we need, and even a lot of things we don't need. A little humility can't hurt anyone... especially when it is written with such talent. And I'm not saying that because she's French ;-)(less)
I don't usually review books in this age range, but I still like how those writers describe very profound issues with the simplest words. I am sure yo...moreI don't usually review books in this age range, but I still like how those writers describe very profound issues with the simplest words. I am sure you've already had a conversation with a child about important issues and have been wondering how that freckled kid could understand some things way better than you do and don't understand why you have to be so complicated about everything ? Sometimes, you just learn listening to those kids and their vision of the world (and other times, after watching a Dora episode for the 50th time, you might not). Eye of the Wolf was published in 1984 in France but was only translated and published in English in 2003.
This story has reminded me a lot of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. In the shortest book, you discover worlds you never thought existed and get to see animals in a different light. It is the type of book where children read one thing and adults read the same thing on another level and they can exchange ideas on the book. As a philosophical tale, the book can be read by anyone, from 8 to 88 years old (I mean, people above 88 can read it too, it's just an expression), and still be appreciated.
I like how the wolf and the boy both suffer from the cruelty of men. I find it to be an interesting twist that a harsh life would be thrust upon a strong animal and a harmless baby in more or less the same way.
I also like how the issue of industrialisation and its consequences on nature are hinted from the perspective of the animals. And each animal portrayed in the book is very well developed and interesting, from the fun personalities of the Alaskan wolves to the rich personalities of the African animals.
I find that there is a message of hope given in the book where friendship is possible between two different species who can hunt/eat each other. This friendship is reached through knowledge and communication. The wolf and the boy come from different worlds, but they can lean on each other. Yes, I love this song (Lean on me) and secretly want you to love it too. I find it very sweet that the boy chooses to close one eye to be on equal grounds with the wolf.
The French edition I read had very cute illustrations every few pages, the British and American editions don't have exactly the same (the illustrator differs), but hopefully, they are just as beautiful !
It is a very easy read and it is such a beautiful and touching story that anyone can read the book and fall in love for all its amazing characters. It is also the type of book that both a child and a parent can read and where they can talk about it together (which would be quite the whole point of the book, you know, friendship, family, love, all that).(less)
I will be presenting a cool Italian author. He happens to write incredible adventure stories and to be the most famous Italian writer in this genre. H...moreI will be presenting a cool Italian author. He happens to write incredible adventure stories and to be the most famous Italian writer in this genre. He is the Italian version of Jules Verne (you know, the guy behind Twenty Thousand Leagues under The Sea). He lived between 1862 and 1911 and most of his books were translated in many languages and subsequently adapted on the big screen.
Now, I know what you're thinking. The dude lived in a century so far away, what on Earth could he possibly write that you can't read somewhere else, like written by someone who knows what a microwave is. And whatever the incredible countries on which he wrote, you can google map these countries a-ny-time. Plus in the 18th century, people clearly had issues with hygiene, and that's just eww. And you would be entirely right.
Except that. Writing about wild foreign and mysterious countries from the point of view of an 18th century Indian hunter in the Black Jungle, hardly compares to anything you have read before. What is interesting is how this book is written and what people thought at this period about those foreign countries. This book is beautifully written and you dream of being part of this adventure, and you discover these exotic (for us) cultures that characterised India in the 1800.
The story is set in India in 1851, in the surroundings of the Black Jungle. Tremal-Naik is a renowned and feared hunter, being one of the few daring to live in the terrifying Black Jungle where tigers, rhinoceros and pythons hide. One of his men is found dead, and with the help of his faithful servant Kammamuri, he sets on a quest in the Black Jungle to find who is responsible for the murder and save the beautiful woman, Ada, he keeps seeing in his dreams. He is fearless and has tamed a tiger that helps him through his quest. Tremal-Naik will have to fight a strange cult that has enslaved his Ada.
The book is divided in two parts, and the second part sees the appearance of new characters and new situations which put Tremal-Naik always further away from his beloved and makes him despair over their future.
This book is the first one of the Pirates of Malaysia Series (11 books).
"Three hours crept by like three centuries for the hunter who desired nothing more than to see his beloved Ada" *awww*
Style The style of writing is very similar to other adventure books of the same period like The Three Musketeers where the dialogues and general reactions are quite over the top, some people are always overcome by emotion, talk or whisper what they think out loud and finally where others interject each other with "scoundrel" and "wrench" every 5 pages. I find it highly amusing and entertaining.
I would qualify this book as a page turner. The plot is full of exciting events which are very well described and which take place in a very fast-paced rhythm that makes you want to know immediately what will happen next.
About that, it is not a good idea to read this book in public, you get so excited from the story that you want to brandish your sword with a barbarian scream and go defend the poor and hopeless from the ruthless evil hands of mean people. Yeah very bad idea at 8am in the tube, I can guarantee...
One of the best things of this book is the description of Indian and Hindu traditions. It feels as much an adventure story as a book on India in the 1800 during the British colonisation. It's very interesting.
As a lot of books written in this period, the characters have very definite personalities and roles in the story. I don't want to spoil the plot too much, but each character has a very interesting role to play, and since the story is told from a third person point of view, you get glimpses of everybody and it really is a plus.
I was introduced to Hitomi Kanehara at an author event with Melvin Burgess. He talked about several YA books by Japanese authors who didn't try to wri...moreI was introduced to Hitomi Kanehara at an author event with Melvin Burgess. He talked about several YA books by Japanese authors who didn't try to write about adults in teenage disguise but about real teenagers. I was very intrigued and bought the tiny book that is Snakes and Earrings. My friend Sabrina and I read it and we just couldn't stop thinking and talking about this book.
The book has extremely explicit content and I will mention that content in my review, so if you are faint-hearted, please, do not read any further. (I'm talking about tattoos, piercings, sex, alcohol, drugs, self mutilation)
Lui, self destruction and depression As my friend pointed out, Lui is possibly suffering from depression. half of the time she feels numb and the other she abuses her body in all possible way, in an attempt to feel something. But the book is extremely surprising and what you feel will happen to Lui doesn't really happen. You never know if you have to blame Lui for what happens or pity her, and I felt that the book wasn't exactly about this. It is a glimpse into this girl's self destructive circle. She stays with Ama and you can see he has so many feelings for her that she is incapable to share or reciprocate. Lui is also a masochist, she enjoys being hurt in sexual relations. I would link this to the fact that she has no respect for her body, but anyone could have these tastes. It is undeniably creepy to read some of the scenes, but it is interesting to see how Lui conceives it in her head.
Counter-culture in Japan The depiction of counter-culture in Japan is simply mesmerizing. This is why I love reading translated books from foreign countries, you learn so much! I had no idea that groups like "Barbie girls" and "punks" were so distinctive in Japan. It is also always very interesting to read about people living on the fringe. Our lives are so organised and ruled by social conventions that sometimes we might forget who we are. People living on the fringe don't have this need to abide by the rules and are, in a way, much more natural than we are. The book also shows a new generation. If earlier generations were rebellious or ambitious, we are, if anything, a bored generation. Nothing surprises us or moves us. We have even stopped dreaming. We live in a state of suspension from which nothing can shake us except fake emotions and convictions. When I read about Lui's story, I saw that in her.
Tattoos and piercing To which extent are they a form of art? This is an endless question and there isn't one answer. As a fan of the form of art, I would agree with Shiba's vision of them. They are a way to magnify the body, not change it. Whereas Lui doesn't have any respect or consideration for her body. The book is an interesting way to explore this theme and see the two visions. By experience, not two tattoo artist or tattooed person have the same conception of what a tattoo or a piercing is. As widespread as the practice might be, it is a very personal experience. Lui is first attracted to Ama because she is fascinated by his forked tongue. She decides to do this to herself (the process includes to get your tongue pierced and then to stretch the hole progressively). She also wants a unique tattoo and asks Shiba to design it. The descriptions are completely realistic and people not familiar with them might be a little put off.
The style of the book I feel that this book wants to depict reality as it is and not create a false image of teenagers with a conscience or with any sense of responsability. I find the style haunting. This story creeps on you and you find yourself vehemently disliking Lui for what she does to herself and others. But she grows on you at some point.
This is a masterpiece of a book. It is short but will give you a sense of whole which only a 700+ pages book can do. It is simply marvelous and an incredible way to make you discover another culture, another way of life, and yourself - maybe - in the process.
It may be a Young Adult book but obviously not for our standards since it was published as an adult book in the UK and has so much explicit content I cannot even begin to enumerate it. So consider yourself informed!(less)