An excellent, simple but not simplistic, look at Islam - looking at its history, core tenets and beliefs, and what its part is in the world. It was wrAn excellent, simple but not simplistic, look at Islam - looking at its history, core tenets and beliefs, and what its part is in the world. It was written in 2008, so some of the final chapter 'Islam today' feels a little bit dated only 6 years on, because so much has happened in the middle east since then. It gives a rough guide to the different forms that Islam takes, debunking any idea that all Muslims are the same, any more than all Christians or Jews are all the same. The author is American, so the perpective comes from this point of view; however, this should be read by anyone who wants to understand the reality of the world, rather than the skewed vision provided by the media and politicians....more
A beautifully written hymn to life in the Welsh valleys in the late nineteenth century. The author always claimed, falsely, to have been born in St DaA beautifully written hymn to life in the Welsh valleys in the late nineteenth century. The author always claimed, falsely, to have been born in St Davids, Pembs, but reading this you can almost believe it was true. The cadence of every sentence is absolutely intrinsically Welsh, and the novel perfectly encapsualtes Welsh rural life. There are an awful lot of characters, which does get a bit confusing, so a cast list might have been useful. ...more
Very emotional, even though it was pretty easy to predict who lived/died. I also predicted the dramatic climax quite early on. Some of the sections inVery emotional, even though it was pretty easy to predict who lived/died. I also predicted the dramatic climax quite early on. Some of the sections involving Picasso were a bit distracting, as I felt it sort of stalled the narrative a bit, but I can understand why the author included them. However, this book is redeemed by the build-up and treatment of the bombing of Guernica. It was heart-rending without being distasteful. Because I cared about the characters, it was particularly harrowing.
All in all, a very good holiday read. Not one I would read again, but one I would recommend, and one I am glad that I have read....more
I was very interested to read (just before beginning to read the book) that Bo Caldwell based the character of Joseph Schoene on her ownSOME SPOILERS!
I was very interested to read (just before beginning to read the book) that Bo Caldwell based the character of Joseph Schoene on her own uncle and his life. http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/readersg... Although the author had not visited Shanghai herself, she had obviously researched the city and the period so that the all-important setting was very believeable. She based her descriptions of life in prison under the Japanese and the Chinese on her uncle's own experiences, strengthening the reality of the fiction. So massive kudos for that. However, structurally, I felt that this novel had a couple of problems. In sticking to a strict chronological structure, the concept of distance or separateness seemed to be diminished somewhat. For example, when Joseph returns to California during the war, Anna is left wondering what he has been through, and being somehow at a remove from him; the reader, however, has already read about this. Also, we are told that Anna uses her father's diaries to write her account of his life. Why then do we not simply read these diaries in Joseph's own words? Maybe the author intended for Joseph to simply become a man without his own voice, perhaps to underline the fact that he was away so much during Anna's childhood, and to emphasise Anna's lingering resentment? I don't know - but these questions kept niggling at me and prevented me from completely appreciating what was otherwise a very instructive and entertaining read. ...more
This book highlighted a lot of issues that I wasn't really aware of before, which was very interesting. I know Wales, and Welsh, a little but this ficThis book highlighted a lot of issues that I wasn't really aware of before, which was very interesting. I know Wales, and Welsh, a little but this fictionalised account of very real problems facing small communities in North Wales raised a lot of questions (and answered a few). So for that, I would give 5 stars. I also found the narrative structure to be quite clever - with the two main characters alternately telling each other their side of the story, creating in some places a mixture between 1st-person and the rarely used 2nd-person narrative.
What prevents me from giving this the top-rating is that I personally didn't always find the characterisations very convincing. I realise that, as a satire, a lot of the characters would have been forms of stereotypes and more exaggerated examples of real people than true characters in their own right. However, even the two main characters didn't completely sit right with me. The way the female protagonist talked about her inner feelings felt a bit forced at times. There was also a glossary of Welsh words and sentences used in the narrative at the back which didn't always tally with what was written in the text, which I thought would be confusing and off-putting for readers who know no Welsh.
On the whole, though, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about a culture and politics which can often be ignored outside of Wales....more