This book does two things. It covers the biographies of eight generations of women in the author's family as well as offering a close study of the freThis book does two things. It covers the biographies of eight generations of women in the author's family as well as offering a close study of the frequently fraught mother- daughter relationship all women recognize. It starts with the mother of the author's great-great-grandmother, who was born in 1830. It concludes with the author's own granddaughter born in the second decade of the 21st Century. By studying these women what do we learn? Mistakes are repeated. To some extent the author is writing this book to help her understand her own behavior and to stop making the same mistakes! Secondly she is writing simply because her family has always written about themselves. Writing is a family trait. Many of Vita Sackville-West’s novels are in fact about herself and her family. Hopefully readers too will learn from what the author has learned.
Mistakes are often repeated from one generation to the next. I have noticed this, and haven’t you? The author is very honest; she recognized that she was repeating the very same mistakes made by previous women in her family. Every woman reading this account will recognize that we do tend to repeat the same errors. So how do we stop this? Through understanding and a conscious decision to shape our own lives as we want them to be. This is not a self-help book, but it does offer food for thought. What starts as an interesting study of particular women moves on to become a psychological study of relationships.
There is much about the Sackville-West family and Vita Sackville-West in particular. The author is an historian, but history is not the focus of the book. Historical events are thrown in as a backdrop, only mentioned to the extent with which they influence family life. Historical details are dispersed as interesting tidbits that help explain the era and why particular choices were made. Authors, literature and trends are detailed; these are important since they draw the atmosphere of the time and place. Clothes and food and particularly place play a prominent role in these women's lives. Much is said about the Sackville-West residencies. Places and life in France, in Spain and in NYC are well described.
I must point out the writing is good, both in its description of places and how people behave. In expression of thoughts too. Just two examples:
-Grief, such a small word, and yet an iceberg of a word....Grief is the price you pay for love.
-Within dying there is so much living.
The book gets better the further you go. Why? Because it gets more personal. The author speaks from her heart. She had a deep relationship with her grandmother, Vita Sackville-West; she had a difficult relationship with her mother, a close relationship with her father and when she herself has a granddaughter she has begun a path toward deeper self-understanding. With this understanding comes appreciation of the granddaughter held in her arms. I am left feeling a bit envious, a little bit jealous. Me? I don’t have all my answers. Family relationships are difficult, quite simply because they are so important. Nobody can teach you how to deal with vulnerability, and aren't most of us unsure, vulnerable and uncertain of ourselves? Also, there isn't one answer; you have to find it for yourself, but we can read to see how others reason.
It is not hard to keep track of who is who. Each person becomes a real identity. There aren't too many extraneous people to confuse the reader.
Alcoholism, feminism, lesbianism and aging are covered too. Some of the ideas drawn by the author stopped too short, or rather they didn’t cover ideas I have pondered. For example, I wanted more about how it feels when both your parents have passed away. Of course maybe the author’s thoughts were simply different from mine.
I enjoyed the audiobook narration by Julie Teal. For the most part, it’s easy to follow, but sometimes there is so much to consider. Then I did wish it had been a teeny bit slower. I had to have time to think. I was forced to rewind on several occasions.
So good writing, food for thought and interesting people, but it takes a while to be drawn in. I recommend it to those interested in the Sackville-West family and those interested in thinking about their own mother-daughter relationships. I made that plural on purpose! We all have a mother and many of us have a daughter too.
ETA: it takes a while to get into this book. Don't judge it too quickly. The longer interviews are more interesting and it takes a while until you getETA: it takes a while to get into this book. Don't judge it too quickly. The longer interviews are more interesting and it takes a while until you get to them.
I definitely recommend reading this book. I think it has a few shortcomings but it is still well worth your time. It is an important book; it captures Russian history through the voices of the people who lived through Stalin’s terror, the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. and the first decade and a half of the 21st Century. It captures what is the Russian character remarkably well.
The words in the book are not the author’s, but it is she that has spoken with the many Russians interviewed. It is she that has transcribed what they said. It is she that has decided how to organize the information, what to include and what to exclude. It is she that has posed questions and gotten the people to talk. That is an art in in itself. She realized the value of recording these Russians' experiences.
The book is based on interviews from 1991- 2012. The printed book has also an appendix covering the years 2013-2014, thus the Crimean invasion of 2014. This is not included in the audiobook version; I was annoyed by this.
Subjects covered? Life during the Stalin years, the Great Patriotic War, camp prisoners as well as Siberian exiles, the Chechen Wars, terrorism, the disintegration of the 90s with corruption and gangsters, unemployment, all that could now be bought but no money to spend, the discrimination and hatred that arose between different cultural groups (Armenians, Chechens, Tajiks, Uzbekistani) as the U.S.S.R fell apart. Always from the perspective of the ordinary person. How did these events impact on the people personally? That is what is shown here.
The book has both longer interviews and short bits of conversations. I preferred the longer interviews, but at the same time the shorter snippets give the reader a general feel for the sentiment of the masses, of the Russian people as a whole.
It is ordinary people that are talking. Some of these people have riveting stories to tell, others were of less interest to me. Some spoke eloquently and clearly, others were confusing. Some used colloquial terms and referred to officials few Westerners will have heard of. Explanatory notes from the author would have helped.
There is scarcely any order to the interviews.
While this book is predominantly about suffering, there are moments of love and happiness too. There is a crazy tale about a married woman with three kids who divorces her husband to marry a murderer in prison! I just could not relate to this! There is appreciation of nature - lilacs and wheat bending in the wind, almond trees in bloom and sun-warmed pavement. Some people, when they have absolutely nothing, do find beauty. Some speakers are superbly eloquent in the simplicity of their words.
The audiobook has a full cast narration - eleven different narrators, both men and women. It was clear, easy to follow and had a good speed. Some narrations were stunning, others less so. One of the narrators was exceptional; always she captured the personality of the person speaking to a tee. A reason why the audiobook should not be chosen is that the appendix is not read.
The book is translated by Bela Shavevitch. While I cannot compare the English to the original Russian I was impressed by the flow of the lines. The words felt alternately horrifying, heartfelt and gripping. Always genuine. This is how people talk.
The author's extensive research and knowledge of Indonesia makes this a worthwhile read. The book is primarily based on her thirteen months of travelThe author's extensive research and knowledge of Indonesia makes this a worthwhile read. The book is primarily based on her thirteen months of travel over Indonesia during 2011-2012. The route covered small rural villages and large cities (Jakarta and Surabaya), 20 provinces and the four main islands Sumatra, Sulawesi, Indonesian New Guinea aka Papua, and Kalimantan on Borneo. The cultural diversity of Indonesia is so wide that although her travels cannot be considered all-inclusive, they are a good start. The author has been a Reuters journalist as well as a reporter for The Economist and the Asia Times. With Reuters she was stationed in Indonesia twenty years before the writing of this book. Even these experiences add to her knowledge and the content of the book. Now she is working as an epidemiologist on HIV/AIDS.
I found the organization of the book weak. This is my prime complaint. It is this that makes it hard to absorb the information provided. Chapters focused on the respective topics of religion, history, politics and cultural traditions would have helped. Instead the writing is journalistic in tone. Essentially it reads as a travelogue with factual snippets on history, politics and religion thrown in. You are given interesting examples but little comprehensive structure to the information.
While the author is fluent in Indonesian, she was not fluent in the languages of some of the remote sites visited. The people she spoke with were for the most part strangers, not long-time friends, even if Indonesians as a people are open, welcoming and friendly. She did not reveal her true identity to them; one cannot but wonder if they revealed their innermost thoughts or the complete truth about themselves.
It helps to have a map of Indonesia accessible while listening to the audiobook.
The audiobook narration is by Jan Cramer. It is fast but clear. With time I grew accustomed to the speed. The tone is light. ...more
Interesting and well written. Filled with pertinent information, yet a bit long-winded at times.
The book is not merely a biography covering the lifeInteresting and well written. Filled with pertinent information, yet a bit long-winded at times.
The book is not merely a biography covering the life of one man, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). It starts with a description of the world he was born into - Prussia, Pre-Romanticism and the eminent philosophers, poets and writers of the time, i.e. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant and Friedrich von Schiller, to name but a few. Humboldt came to spend long hours with Goethe. These prominent thinkers influenced who he was to become. Their lives and the lives of others Humboldt associated with are discussed. Another two such men are Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson. Humboldt’s theories, experiments, books, travels and companions are covered. The book does not conclude with his death. It continues, showing how he directly influenced others, in particular Charles Darwin, George Perkins Marsh, Ernst Haeckel and John Muir. It is through these men that ecology, conservation and preservation has become what it is today. Others are mentioned too. The book ends with the hope that we reclaim Humboldt as our hero or at least re-acknowledge the importance he has played in how we view nature. Humboldt's thoughts and writings lie at the beginning of a chain of men who have brought us to where we are today in the field of environmentalism.
How much do we learn about Humboldt’s personality? Well he never kept his mouth shut, and he was indefatigable. In a conversation you couldn't get a word in edgewise. Being with him must have been quite a strain. Whether he was homosexual or not is unclear. How he could have possibly had time for anything other than his artistic, philosophical and scientific pursuits is the prime question. He seems to have had neither the time nor the interest for a lover. He was a fervent abolitionist.
The audiobook narration is by David Drummond. I found it too fast, particularly in the beginning. There is just too much information to absorb. Later it gets easier. Some words are unclear. Narration does not influence my rating.
Rivers, minerals, lakes, parks and many, many places are named after this Prussian. I didn't even know who he was! It is stated that more places have been named after this man than anyone else. His views have shaped our very concept of how we see nature. He realized back in 1800 the interrelationship between all aspects of nature. He understood that nature is one unified whole, and that an interdisciplinary approach is essential to solving problems, one such being climate control. ...more
I definitely enjoyed this. It covers life in the White House under the administrations of FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and finally the fiI definitely enjoyed this. It covers life in the White House under the administrations of FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and finally the first six weeks of Nixon's first term. The author began as Assistant Usher in 1941 to the Chief Usher Howell Crim. In 1957 he became the Chief Usher and continued in this post until March 1969. A Chief Usher oversees the First Family's private as well as public life, ensuring that public and private events don't conflict. They are responsible for the management, maintenance and budget of the Executive Residence. Budgetary duties are extensive and intricate. (For example, costs for a State Dinner are not to be charged to the Executive Residence.) They supervise the White House staff. The post is not political; they must be able to provide exemplary, individualized service without personal preference. It is both a powerful and a delicate position that calls for the ability to communicate with politicians, officials, servants and First Families of widely divergent character. Diplomacy is essential to hold this job.
Much of what is presented here concerns what the author learned about the respective First Ladies. Funny incidents. Each of these women was very different and you get a feel for their personalities. Eleanor Roosevelt was a whirlwind. Bess Truman treated the staff with immense respect, even taking the time to introduce each to visitors. Mamie Eisenhower knew what she wanted. She was friendly, out-going and vivacious. But she insisted that no footprints should ever be visible on rugs and the staff was only to use service elevators, no matter how impractical that might be. There is a hysterical incident about once when she had a cold. In bed, in the dark, she thought she grabbed Vicks Vapor Rub but instead.....read the book. Very funny! Marital relationships are revealed. One bed was broken. The Roosevelts were distant, the Trumans loving and discrete, the Eisenhowers visibly affectionate. Oh, and the Johnsons, they were fanatical about turning off the lights. I haven't said a word about the Kennedys.
2 stars means I thought the book/audiobook was OK, certainly not terrible. I thought I should point this out.
The audiobook gives short snippets about2 stars means I thought the book/audiobook was OK, certainly not terrible. I thought I should point this out.
The audiobook gives short snippets about the First Ladies from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama. It is a radio series from National Public Radio. The earlier First Ladies are often interviews with authors having written books on one of the women. The later day First Ladies are often NPR interviews with the women themselves. There are also recordings of speeches, for example of Eleanor Roosevelt. I did learn little interesting things about some of these women, but I quite simply wanted more.
I very much disliked the presentation. People interrupt each other. There are little giggles and schmaltzy music and side comments that I could have done without. Some of the recordings had very poor quality. Some of the interviewers talked more than the women interviewed! Chatty small talk tends to put me off; there was too much of that here. I am less interested in learning about the actress Sally Fields than learning about the woman she was to portray - Mary Todd Lincoln.
Cokie Roberts does not do all the interviews. She is classified as the narrator of the audiobook. She of course did stick in a word or two about her own books. ...more
The book pulled me in. It is an excruciatingly difficult read.
The primary focus is the siege, not the man. This is not a biography of the composer ShThe book pulled me in. It is an excruciatingly difficult read.
The primary focus is the siege, not the man. This is not a biography of the composer Shostakovich. Both this book and Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad complement each other. The latter book has more about the composer, his personality, his family and his life up to and through the siege. Moynahan, historian and journalist, documents the battles and the military strategies with much more detail. (The paper book has maps; these are not provided in the audio format.) The book is an accumulation of a huge number of individual experiences of people who were there during the siege and who fought in the battles. It is filled with quotes taken from diaries and letters. We hear hungry, lice-ridden combatants from both sides. German soldiers of all ranks, Russians, not just soldiers but also the starving and dying within the city, musicians and artists, wives and children, widowers and widows and orphans and ........NKVD interrogators! The Russians were battled from without and from within, by Hitler and the Germans, by Stalin and his accomplices. A misspoken word meant immediate death or deportation to the Gulag.
Events are haunting. The writing is vivid. Reading large portions at a time is difficult. There are explicit references to cannibalism, a woman admits to eating her own newborn child. A starving orphan breaks his silence, at least for a while having been given his daily ration of half an egg. That there are so many quotes, from people who were there, makes what we are told heart wrenching.
Yet the quantity of quotes and details is daunting. Some editing wouldn’t have hurt. You switch between Germans and Russians, the starving and the soldiers as well as the NKVD agents. Who is speaking now?! You switch locations too - Leningrad, Moscow, Kuibyshev. It is in Kuibyshev that Shostakovich completed the symphony. You follow the process by which the Seventh Symphony came to be written and finally performed in Leningrad on August 9, 1942, the 335th day of the siege. In the audio format is easy to get confused.
The symphony may be marvelous, but it was also propaganda. Stalin’s propaganda.
I absolutely loved the narration by Jamie Parker. I loved how he read the quotes. I loved how he described what was happening. I think it is totally terrible that the audiobook has no accompanying PDF file with maps and dramatis personae. These are in the paper book! Furthermore, that a portion of the symphony itself is not played in the audiobook is downright unbelievable!