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 We go through the various stages of adolescence with him and we realise how outdated some of the traditions are.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)
I can't even begin to tell you how much I loved this book!!
Everything I loved from The Shadow of The Wind is there, with a paranormal young adult spin...moreI can't even begin to tell you how much I loved this book!!
Everything I loved from The Shadow of The Wind is there, with a paranormal young adult spin (aka *perfection*). I loved following Max and his sister Alicia through this adventure. The characters are very well described and they feel so real with their tiny flaws and habits that it is a real pleasure to read. This book has the atmosphere of old gothic/horror novels where the characters are in a pretty regular setting and then something unexpected, dark and frightening happens which turns the situation upside down.
Reading this story has made me think about how fortunate we are today in Europe, USA and other countries not to have a war going on inside our frontiers. Of course many of our troups may be waging war/bringing peace in parts of the world, but we don't really know what a civil war is anymore. In this book, the setting is Second World War Spain. The country had been living a very brutal Civil War from 1936 and when WWII broke out, Spain aligned itself with Germany at first but progressively adopted a neutral stance. When the story of Max Carver starts in 1943, Spain doesn't take part in the Second World War but is a dictature with a very strong repression which will only end in 1975. You can read The Shadow of The Wind if you want to have an idea on how much the Franco regime has scarred the Spanish psyche.
Sorry, I got a little carried away here! Anyways, I *love* reading a good fiction where I learn something about history or another culture (which sort of the aim of this meme) and here I loved looking at this family obliged to move cities to avoid the war. The story is told from a third person point of view, and I liked how it seemed to give more insight to the characters' personalities. The themes of growing up are very well treated in the book, and I loved the romance which builds up between Alicia and Roland.
I have to admit that the absence of both parents from a large part of the book is what I would call quite a convenient plot development but which doesn't kill the whole story either. The universe created by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is so rich, and yet not completely overwhelming, that any weakness is instantly forgotten.
I am fervently hoping that his three other Young Adult novels will get translated soon!!
This is book is such a quick enjoyable story that it is the perfect summer read. I would advise it to anyone going to the beach this summer (since part of the book takes place on a beach during the summer). You probably won't look at those seemingly harmless shadows lurking under your feet in the water the same way. Just saying ;-)(less)
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)