On completion: Even before I finished the last chapter I knew I would give this book five stars, but the last chapter concisely and honestly tells how...moreOn completion: Even before I finished the last chapter I knew I would give this book five stars, but the last chapter concisely and honestly tells how he reacted to civilian life after the war. His struggles were not simply over when he returned to Scotland. I am speaking of the psychological battles that remained to be surmounted. This moved me to tears. He was gone for six years, but even beyond the six years he had terrible memories to conquer. There was euphoria when the Japanese capitualted. I had a hard time deatling with all the smiles, but then the aftermath was properly, touchingly and heart-wrenchingly described too. Bureaucratic decisions and the British demand that the POW were NOT speak a word about their experiences makes you want to kick somebody. Why was this demanded? Politics! What else? Japan was sought as an ally against the Russians and Chinese. For me, even more than the British Army's betrayal of these soldiers, the reader feels the psychological difficulties that Alistair had to confront. I will never look at ballroom dancing in the same light again. And now I really know about the "Death Railway", about the bridge over the River Kwai, about the hellships and the "Fat Man" in Nagasaki. And the trip home. And......
Furthermore, I leave this book with the thought that people should stop griping about their small insignificant problems. I leave this book admiring Alistair tremendously.
I have written more about the book under the comments, if you are intereested.
Through 94 pages: What pushes me most to read this book is that the Japanese deny the massacres which they committed in WW2! I am sure that you reading my review, you are not ignorant of what has occurred. That is because we read.
Singapore has been captured by the Japanese. Alistair is forced with those others captured to walk northward. He will be one of those to build the notorious "Death Railway" from Thailand into Burma. He was soon to be one of those working on the notoriuos bridge over the River Kwai. And according to the Japanese the Rape of Nanking in 0937 just didn't happen. According to the Japanese the prisoners working on the railway, they were treated humanely.......
Then as we marched along the dusty road, without warning a horrific sight confronted us. We came face to face with a thicket of severed Chinese heads, speared on poles on both sides of the road. The mutilated bodies of these poor souls lay nearby and the heads, with their eyes rolled back, presented a truly shocking spectacle. The sickly sweet smell of rotting, putrefying flesh smothered us. ....For the rest of our march spiked heads, mainly Chinese, appeared at intervals in this way....
Unknown to us we had walked into the middle of the 'Sook Ching' massacre, a well planned Japanese purge of Chinese opponents, both real and potential. More than fifty thousand Chinese were murdered with the sickening sadism that seemed endemic in the Japanese Army. (pages 95-96)
Time and time again Japanese have murdered Chinese in a manner that is hard to comprehend. And not just the Chinese. One comes to understand that no Chinese can look on a Japanese without mistrust. How does one forget such? Historu cannot be forgotten. Should it be forgotten? How does one go on living with the knowledge?(less)
An utterly amazing true story about an elephant, Mosie, and her trainer, Bram! If you like books about amazing animals and what they do - this is for...moreAn utterly amazing true story about an elephant, Mosie, and her trainer, Bram! If you like books about amazing animals and what they do - this is for you. Shipwrecks, fires, poisoning, terrorist revolutionary uprisings, teak forests, upspritualism and an anazing love story between one man and his elephant! This book is very plot driven. The bits on spiritualism didn't quite get me thinking.... I would say yup, I agree, and then that was the end. Nothing to ponder over. For example - one love never diminishes another love.
I don't quite know if I pick light books over Xmas b/c I know my emotions will be fully occupied with family matters - the result being that I never find fabulous books over Christmas. Don't get me wrong, this is definitely worth the time I spent reading it, and I do recommend it, but it is no thought provoking book! The writing is clear, but that is it! I wouldn't say it sparkled. Does every book sparkle? One thing annoyed me - there was no map and dates were sparse. For example where exactly were those teak forests and where was the maharaja's Elephantarium or what city was it near? I like to know this stuff
Before reading the book: I need to read something over Xmas that will grab me, usually my brain tends to stray! Check out the cover - can you see the little boy's hand around that elephant, the turn of the elephant's head, and the straightness of the little boy's back? A picture can say a thousand words.
PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO READ THE FIRST CHAPTER OF THIS BOOK AVAILABLE BOTHAT AMAZON AND B&N!(less)
I finished the book last night. This was for me a four star book. It is an adventure story about Jean-Baptiste Tavernier's life. It is h...moreNO SPOILERS!!!
I finished the book last night. This was for me a four star book. It is an adventure story about Jean-Baptiste Tavernier's life. It is historical fiction. I preferred the historical aspects of the story. Descriptions of people and places and customs were done magnificently. I was less drawn to the plot of the story. I enjoyed reading the separate episodes. I loved the chapter about Princess Jahamara and the Kama Sutra. You smile. Sex was delightfully depicted. This book is filled with many, many adventures, and they are fun to read about. I do believe that by the end of the book the reader understands who Tavernier was as a person. I understood Madeleine with my head, but I never cared for her with my heart, as I did with Tavernier. I liked her better in the beginning rather than at the end, but I will not say why. That would be a spoiler!
The reason why I give it four rather than five stars is because it remains to me an "adventure STORY". For many others, that is enough to award it five stars. I personally am more drawn to fact over fiction and although all the facts that are known about Tavernier's life are skillfully interwoven into the story, it remains a story. For me a five star book has to be utterly AMAZING! This book was very, very good. Maybe if all the fun, different episodes had held together more, it would have worked better for me. Instead, I enjoyed that episode and that episode and that one, but they were not linked together to build a whole that ended up AMAZING. I am very glad I read this book. I learned about history and locations and gens and the gentleman's code of behavior. One more thing - I loved how the appearance of a person was so wonderfully depicted. After reading a description, the characters stood before you, visible in your mind's eye! Some of them you could even smell!
Through page 226: I have been questioned if this book should be shelved as "history" or "non-fiction". In my mind it is good historical FICTION. It is a rollicking adventure story based on a real person's life. Furthermore, note the discussion Tara and I are having! I have now met Madeleine de Goisse, the love of his life. She has spirit. If I may quote one sentence:
I will be no man's chattel?
Are her actions believable? The reader must judge for themself. Is the story fun? Absolutely! Remember no spoiler.
Tara is currently reading this book too. Our views diverge. Check out the comments under her review too. Tara is a wonderfull friend of mine, but that does not mean we must always have the same views on books. ______________________________________________________
Through page 172: I am really enjoying myself. Gems, history, travels and captivating storytelling all rolled up in a marvelous bundle. Visiting thee ancient cities is marvelous. First of all they cannot today be seen as they were then and armchair travel is so much easier than real travel. One more quote about Istafan, Persia:
Istafan together with its suburbs is more than twice the size of Paris, and the population is ten times greater than our capital.The city has one hundred sixty-two mosques, forty-eight colleges, and twelve cemeteries. It is situated in the middle of a broad, fertile plain that spreads fifteen leagues in each direction. The plain is planted with all manner of trees and crops, sufficient to feed the entire population of the city. There are no villages, just tiny clusters of houses, used by those that work the land, and plain-tree shaded channels that have been dug to provide irrigation.
Between seven and eight o'clock each morning it is the custom of the citizens of Istafan to repair to the coffee houses where they smoke tobacco and gossip with friends.......
The next chapter, entitled Madame Twelve-Tomans, I imagine, will thrust me into the tale of Tavernier's love life! NOW I think I have said enouogh so I can just read the book for awhile!
Through page 158: The last chapter has cenntered upon the Thirty Years War - to put it succinctly a conflict between the Catholic and the Protestant faiths. Fascinationg to read again about King Gustav Adolf of Sweden and Wallenstein, the Austrian Generalissimo, and the Holy Roman Emperor, about the Battle at Lützen where Gustav Adolf was killed and about the assassination of Wallenstein. Tavernier's role in the assassination is plausible. In Prague I have visited the Wallenstein Palace and read all the nasty things they say about the Swedes...... There are beautiful peacocks in the gardens. Being Swedes ourselves, we chose to speak English as tourists. Prague is a city that MUST be visited, before it is inundated by all the tourists!
Through page 58: The best way to explain the manner of the storytelling is perhaps via a quote:
We departed the Persian capital with ten camels, four to carry my goodsand four to carry myself, Danusch and my two servants, with two animals as spares. The caravan consisted of more than one hundred-fifty merchants, our small retinue almost lost among the thousand men and beasts bound for the port of Bander Abbas on the Persian Gulf. My own goal was the island of Bahrain, the center of pearl fishing in the Gulf.
On caravan, each morning is much the same.The most devout of the Arab camel herders unrolled their rugs in the direction of Mecca and prayed. Danush was not the most devout of men, but he could not resist the pointed glances of his co-religionists. Silently he would unroll his prayer rug and with a surly side-ways glance, kneel, and join their devotions while I stood silently beating my arms and stamping my feet to drive the cold from my night-stiff limbs.
Once the prayers were over Danush prepared breakfast. First he added small chips of camel dung to build up the fire that had been carefully banked the night before. He filled a fire blackened pot and boiled tea. Then he then dug up the pita, the thin flat bread that had been mixed, kneaded, flattened and placed in shallow holes scraped in the bare earth, covered over with dirt and hot ashes from the fire. Raw onions, tangy hummus, the warm pita and bitter green tea were our usual fare.
Most of the merchants were clad in Bedouin attire: long robes and....
Through such detailed description the reader can draw a picture in their minds of what is happening - the smells, the feel the texture of the surroundings. This is what I mean by wonderful storytelling. There is alot of action and the dialogue fits perfectly each given situation. Two minor complaints: there are small typographical errors and I wish MORE maps were provided! I would have loved to see the trajectory of all travels plotted onto maps. This is not serious, I just had to grap my own atlas! It is fun to see the voyages plotted out and think that this took place in the 1600s.
Through page 56: Before starting this book I had absolutely no interest in the gem trade. I picked this book out b/c I was interested in its emphasis on travel during the 1600s. Now I find the gem trade enthralling. Terms such as "washing the eyes" in the bargaining process, the different qualities of turquoise (Piruzeh in Farsi) angustari, arabi and barkhneh and both history and customs of the Persian sheks, shahs and tradesmen are depicted through delightful storytelling. This is proving to be a delightful adventure story for adults. Never boring. The subjects touched upon are to me both new and intriguing.
Through page 20: Marvelous storytelling from the first page explains why Tavernier from a young age becam interested in travelling the seas. The author adroitly chooses his words to anchor the setting in the 1600s, in a world of cartography, questions concerning Tera Australis Incognita, Portugese sailing prowess, the legendary cities of Goa and Madras, sites along the Malabar coast, hourglasses, fighting with cutlass, dirk and rapier..... The dialogue is perfect.
Tavernier made six voyages to India and Persia from 1630 to 1668. On his last voyage he returned with the French Blue, the diamond from which the Hope Diamond is carved. He sold this diamond tp France's Sun King, Louis XIV for 147 kilos of pure gold. In the next chapter Tavernier is off on his first voyage. No dwadling here, the adventurey has begun.
Before reading: Yoohoo, yoohoo - pay attention. I got it. Yipee!
Richard thank you very much for sending this. What is this - super jet airmail? Yesterday Richard said it was on the way and today I get it! And it is a hardcover signed by Richard. Lovely pictures and maps and drawings. What can I say? I am impressed. I adore hardovers, but I rarely treat myself to them!
Lauren, thank you putting in a good word for me!(less)
I WILL AVOID SPOILERS! My review is less about plot than what happens to my head and my emotions when I read this book.
Finished: Nope I was wrong abou...moreI WILL AVOID SPOILERS! My review is less about plot than what happens to my head and my emotions when I read this book.
Finished: Nope I was wrong about how it would end. My guesses were not exactly right and the difference was very important! The end has a surprising twist. As you know this book had wonderful writing. Good story and good ending. This book has just about everything a book can have, but not much humor. Somehow I didn't miss it, maybe b/c rather than being a grim tale,the book was simply terribly interesting.
Through page 204 of 311 + very good author's note which I have already read! I swear I know how this book will end. I think I have it all figured out. I should warn that descriptions are very detailed. Maybe one likes this, maybe one doesn't. HOW the Erard piano works mechanically was a bit too confusing for me, but probably VERY interesting for someone who really knows about pianos. Anyone who loves the piano must love this book.... You know the first piano were square, and pianos developed from the harpsicord, at least Erard's version did. Then there is one scene that is fabulous about a hollow rock that rumbles/sings. Lots of info also about plant and alternative medicine treatments too.
Through page 179: OK, here is a little complaint. The author is trying to get me scared with numerous forewatnings. I feel like I am being played with. Like there is a mystery, but nothing happens. Then it is going to pounce on me. Most people like this - I don't. I don't have to read a book for the mystery in the plot. The travelogue, the history - that is what I enjoy. Oh yes, the dialogue is superbe. The author's dialogues at different occasions care ompletely different from eachother - drunk soldiers having a ribald talk over beers, a fancy colonial luncheon in Mandalay where the talk is more British than the British, the eccentirc speeches of Dr. Carroll himself. These dialogues are each perfect and each unique. They should be different and they certainly are. How the author is able to do this is beyond me. Still, I am annoyed about the mystery ploy.....
If you haven't notices, I am always spelling things incorrectly. I totally mix up English and French and Swedish. BTW English and French keyboards are different - that too explains crazy spellings. Sorry! I am too lazy to proofread. I just want to get my feelings out. Please be kind to me and ignore my misspellings and grammatical errors. I write reviews for enjoyment; I do it for me, b/c it helps me understnad my own views. I don't do it to write a correct essay for a school paper or for publication. I hope my views get other people thinking. I want to explain what the book is really about so others can accurately decide whether it is something they really want to read. There is so much to read that we cannot be wasting our time. And each of us like different types of literature.
hrough page 89: I am reading this very slowly - it is chockfull of interesting info. Before Edgar Drake reaches Rangoon on the Irrawaddy Delta he has spent much time reading reports from the War Office and Anthony Carroll himself, the man in Burma who had requested/demanded the piano tuner. Carroll's documents are fascinating and perhaps explain the antipathy between the military personel and Carroll. Carroll is self-educated, a very cultured man who knows everything from the physical geography of Burna to its history, the language of all the different tribes, the detailed information of the land's plants and animals and much, much more. BUT WE LEARN NOTHING ABOUT THE PIANO RHAT HAS TO BE REPAIRED. This is very unsettling for us the readers and of course Edgar Drake too. So Edgar writes a letter to those employing him, informing then of the history of the piano beginning in the early 1700s and the history of Sebastien Erard who made the piano shipped to Burma. This is all verey, very fascinating. All of it. Little hints are dropped about what is going to happen to Edgar - but I will not tell you any of that! Remember no spoilers! Then Edgar gets to Rangoon and the story turns into a travelogue again. The people, the clothing, the city, all are described, the things he saw as the carriage rolled through Rangoon:
"He blinked and the tea shop disappeared. replaced by a woman holding a plate of betel nuts and tiny leaves. She pressed close to the carriage and stared inside from beneath the shade of a wide straw hat. Like some of the vendors by the shore, her face was painted with white circles, moonlike against her dark skin."
"Edgar turned to the soldier,'What is that on her face?' 'The paint?' 'Yes, I saw it on some of the women by the docks. But different patterns. Peculiar.....' 'They call it "thanaka". It is made from ground sandalwood. Almost all of the women wear it and many of the men. They cover the babies with it too.'......"
"The lane widened and the carriage picked up speed. Soon the images spun past the window too fast to be seen."
Fascinating. There is so much to learn here. Did you know that the paiano was invented by a person called Cristofori. I didn't! All through the 1700s it underwent great modifications. What happened to musical instuments in France during the French Revolution also has a story all its own. I think soon something dramatic will occur to Edgar. My lips are zipped.
Through page 77: The reader encounter storytales, a travelogue and now Burmese History is th theme. I find the quite detailed history of the Burmese-Anglo Wars from the 1820-1880s interesting, but it isn't always so easy to follow since the tribal names are so strange. They don't stick in my head. Some of the details I am sure to forget but hopefully the major events will fasten. Soon Edgar, the piano tuner, will arive in Mae Lwin, his destination, located on the eastern Shan States of British Burma near the Burmese border to Siam(Thailand). Actually the Shan people felt a cultural tie with the people of Siam more than the Burman people.
Through page 59: I very much like the author's writing style. Writing style is more important to me than the plot! I am a member of the Historical Fictionistas Group. In this group under "blurbs" there is a thread for quotes from page 42 of the book you are reading. I think this thread gives you a chance to see some random text. The text must be from page 42, NOT the beginning of the book. What a good idea! Anyhow since I copied some text there, I will now copy it here too. Basically I am very lazy! :0) Here follows what I quoted in that thread. "They" in the quote refers to the peiano tuner, who will be leaving for Burma in a few days, and his wife, who is to remain in London.
"They walk home, now they speak of inconsequentials like how many pairs of stockings he has packed, how often he will write, gifts he should bring home, how not to become ill. The conversation rests uneasily; one doesn't expect goodbyes to be burdened by trivialities. This is not how it is in the books, he thinks, or in the theater; and he feels the need to speak of mission, of dity, of love. They reach home and close the door and he doesn't drop her hand. Where speach fails, touch compensates."
I find this very, very real. THIS is exactly what happens when someone dear leaves. No words are adequate to express your feelings so one resorts to trivialities. Don't you think?
The piano tuner then travels by boat and rail. You should experience how delightfully this is described - the fog in London, the color of the Mediterranean, the French views on Gerard! Fun stories are thrown in about the travelers on the boat. Here is a snippet of part of one such story:
"For when I looked up, the boys were running down a broad slope, chasing the goats. Below them stretched one of the most stunning visions I had ever seen. Indeed, had I been struck with blindness, rather than deafness, I think I would have been content. For nothing, not even the pounding surf of Babelmandeb, could match the scene that stretched out before me, the slope descending, flattening into a flat desert plain that stretched into a horizon blurred with sandstorms. And out of the thick dust, whose silence belied the rage known to anyone who has ever been caught in the terror of one of the storms, marched legions of caravans, from every point of the compass, long dark trails of horses and camels, all emerging from the blur that swept across the valley, and all converging on a tent enpcampment that lay at the base of the hill."
Wow, draw a picture of THAT in your head! Then paint in the colors....
Before starting: Can music conquer nations more effectively than military operations? Of course not, but.....
Kirkus says: "A wealth of information-musical, medical, historical, political-and numerous colorfully detailed vignettes of life in Burma's teeming cities and jungle villages."
I guess I have to add this too my must shelf!(less)
I am glad I read this book. It is brutal reading. It is detailed, and I mean very detailed! But if you want to know about the 200.000 Asians and 60.00...moreI am glad I read this book. It is brutal reading. It is detailed, and I mean very detailed! But if you want to know about the 200.000 Asians and 60.000 Allied POWs who were forced by the Japanese to build this 415km railway between Bangkok, Thailand, and Rangoon, Burma, during WW2, this is the book to choose. 90.000 Asians were killed and 16.000 Allied POWs. This is what is often called the Death Railway.
It tells you everything, told by the author who survived. Every detail of the railways construction is there. The working conditions are worse than anything you could ever imagine. Every bit of this is detailed and true. At the same time there is comradeship and courage and bravery, shouldering brutality and cowardice.
First there is the barbarism of the Japanese. I want to emphasize that sentence, so it gets its very own paragraph.
As normally is the situation in POW camps, the officers of the captured army remain in control of their own men. There were plenty of officers who did nothing for their men. Let's just say, as always in real life, nothing is simple. To honestly portray all aspects of this event you must relate it in detail, and for that reason I do not see the abundant detail as a criticism of the book. It does make for hard reading. The author relates every detail, all his own experiences. The book moves forward chronologically. Each chapter states the name of the camp and the dates when Ian Denys Peek was there. There are clear maps. The author did not study other accounts or books in writing this. It is his account of what he went through from October 1942 to November 1945. His brother, Ron, was with him. Both had joined the Singapore Volunteers and had been taken POW when Singapore capitulated. His mother was in India. His father was in a Japanese internment camp in Singapore.
The book is written with detail and a lack of sentimentality. Here is what happened.
Wonderful lines about love, death, happiness and the senses. Traditional Burmese beliefs described within the story. You must pay careful attention or...moreWonderful lines about love, death, happiness and the senses. Traditional Burmese beliefs described within the story. You must pay careful attention or you will find yourself confused. I was a bit upset at the end when I was not sure who one main character was. (view spoiler)[Was U Ba Mi Mi’s brother? (hide spoiler)] That is why I gave it three rather than four stars. This could have been my fault rather than the book’s.(less)