A bit rough around the edges in some places, but this is a very delightful, good-natured book. It has enough substance to keep it from being totally fA bit rough around the edges in some places, but this is a very delightful, good-natured book. It has enough substance to keep it from being totally frivolous, too. I loved it. ...more
I think Jhumpa Lahiri's talents tend to shine most clearly in short stories. There she's forced into letting her characters have strong emotions, andI think Jhumpa Lahiri's talents tend to shine most clearly in short stories. There she's forced into letting her characters have strong emotions, and clear character arcs. All of her longer works (which is what this is) are a bit like white noise to me. That's not entirely bad. White noise is soothing, calming. Never objectionable to me. This oddly serene tone works for some novels.
But it's a problem when you're telling a story such as this one, I think. The Lowland spans some 60 odd years, and deals with some incredibly emotionally charged, frequently painful events. A lot of said events are conveyed to us after the fact, as the characters ruminate on them. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily. However, here's where the white noise comes into play, again. Everything is conveyed with the exact some emotional affect. Executions and suicide attempts are conveyed with the same low key melancholy afforded to jet lag or mildly awkward dinner parties. There's absolutely no sense of urgency, and so every time a character makes a life-altering decision it all feels so artificial. There were a couple times when the melancholy could have been broken up by happier things; (view spoiler)[I wanted to see Subhash adjusting to a relationship where he felt loved by his equal. Most of his life he was at a distance from his peers, so it would have been fascinating to see the early parts of his relationship with Elise, to get a sense of how it differs from Gauri or Holly. It would have been nice to see the early weeks of Bela caring for a newborn. What would it be like for her to be grounded in way she hadn't been since she was 12? What new insights would she have about her mother after experiencing love for her daughter? Yes, these are happy events, but the mere fact of them being happy doesn't mean you somehow learn less about the characters! (hide spoiler)]
In the end we are told so many things. There are truly beautiful descriptions of landscapes, and, every so often, character interactions. But this isn't something you can really sink your teeth into. I'll probably forget this book as quickly as that mother and child forgot Gauri once she was out of sight.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I actually finished this the day it came out, but I've been putting off my review of it. This was a very hard readAnd so the horror show continues...
I actually finished this the day it came out, but I've been putting off my review of it. This was a very hard read because I came to care pretty deeply about how this series characterized its historical figures. And this is a book that doesn't sugarcoat what it was probably like in Amarna. Strip away all the gilt, and historical intrigue, and you basically get a situation that sure sounds like a cult leader taking his family and followers into an isolated compound. This is more like a Jonestown in the desert, rather than a cozy period drama, and everyone is scrambling to just survive every day. Every single relationship suffers. And I do appreciate how unflinching it was. Really. Though that being said I often found myself missing The She-King: The Complete Saga. That series was no picnic, but there were quite a lot of moments of light and hope. The relationship between Hatshepsut and her step-son, for example, was complex but always loving. And even though things end terribly for the title character and her personal relationships, I remember that the country itself, at least, seemed better for her having been leader. You pretty much aren't going to find these comforts in this series of books.
And now for a spoiler section: (view spoiler)[So I got very attached to Sitamun and Kiya and was a bit sad about how they dropped out of the story. (Although Sitamun had one hell of an exit, at least.) Kiya was an especial surprise to me, since I saw that she only had one POV chapter and I assumed she was going to die in it. But, no, she stuck around for a while. She deliberately chose to drop out of public life, so I understand it. She's not a mover and shaker in the plot. But her storyline in House of Rejoicing was the emotional hook that drew me in to the first book, so I was attached.
The everchanging assortment of royal wives is a seriously interesting feature of this book, though. I missed Kiya and Sitamun greatly, but it was pretty fascinating watching one generation depart, and another rise to take their place. And all the new wives (all of them related to Ankhenaten) seemed to be like echoes of the women that came before. None of them are lesser, but they are much more ill-equipped than their predecessors and it shows. They're royals, yes, but they're mostly just terrified children. And then there's the similar situations of Smenkhare and Tutankhamun. Both have a lot of hopes placed on them, both have been hidden, and both are (probably) going to die young. This cycling around of names and personalities, and life situations in such a constrained environment reminded me of One Hundred Years of Solitude, actually. But, other than a few paranoid imaginings of Sitamun's ghost, there's no magical realism here. Just humans being evil in predictable ways.
Nefertiti continued to be the highlight of this series, for me. In my review of the first book I talk about how people get lazy about her (a lot of books don't seem to bother to characterize her or see things from her point of view.) Here, though, she's trying so damn hard until she just can't anymore. I'm sure, as reviews for this book start snowballing, people are going to review this book and say she's unlikable. But I'm currently reading Bad Feminist: Essays, and I think the essay on unlikable female characters applies here. A lot of the time Nefertiti made me furious, particularly her actions relating to her daughter. But the author makes you understand her. She's completely, completely trapped by life circumstances and also by the religious beliefs of the day (and I don't just mean Atenism. I also mean the religious beliefs that you can never, ever kill a pharaoh.) So many historical fiction novels seem to have modern day characters in period clothes. But Hawker's books are always good at invoking the culture of an era, while also tapping into universal emotions.
I continue to like how this series handles misunderstandings and lying, too. I think that's one of the big reasons I was so sad about the loss of Kiya and Sitamun chapters, actually. It was so interesting to see the same event interpreted very differently through the three women's eyes. But that aspect is still in this book, and I continue to like it. (hide spoiler)]
I'm going to need to read this one again, and maybe that will effect my rating of it. You see, I was under the impression the whole time that this was a duology. So when I was getting into the 80% mark and the Smenkhare reign wasn't happening I was so confused and a little sad because I was sure it would end before some of the stuff I find most interesting about this era. Now that I know that there's going to be more, I need to see if my view of things changes at all.
This book has a breakneck speed. Something major happens on nearly every page, and a couple times I actually said "well that escalated quickly" out loud. There's nothing wrong with that, and there was a lot of set-up for the crazy things that happened, but I think a few quiet chapters would have been welcome. For example (view spoiler)[it would have been nice to have seen Nebetah's training. (hide spoiler)]
Pretty excited for the next book, even though I fully expect it to be as devastating. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is a podcast about the Mongol empire's conquests. It takes a particular focus on how the people on the losing sides would have felt, with many quThis is a podcast about the Mongol empire's conquests. It takes a particular focus on how the people on the losing sides would have felt, with many quotes from primary sources. God knows I've loved revisionist history such as Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, but this is an important analysis of the topic as well, in my opinion. It doesn't fall into the trap of portraying the Mongols as a mindless, destructive horde. However, the mongol conquests had a devastating effect on the medieval Islamic world, and it's worthwhile considering those voices as well.
I re-listen to this podcast series every six months or so because there are so many details in it that I learn something new every time. ...more