In conclusion: Unfortunately, I cannot whole-heartedly recommend this book to everyone, even though I loved parts. Some of the writing is beautiful an...moreIn conclusion: Unfortunately, I cannot whole-heartedly recommend this book to everyone, even though I loved parts. Some of the writing is beautiful and thought provoking, but there are verbose, sentimental, overly dramatic and sophomoric passages too. Whole chapters could/should have been completely eliminated. This book needs editing. The dialog IS often funny, but neither these clever lines nor the wonderful depiction of NYC save the book.
Every single woman mentioned is idealized. The two primary characters are beautiful, diligent, hard-working, moral, humble ....in other words simply too good to be true! The plot-line is sometimes long and drawn out, e.g. the war chapters, while the end is abrupt, unsatisfying and sappy. So much more could have been done with the ending.
I personally have no complaints with the narration of the audiobook by Sean Runnette, although my guess is that others will find it extremely slow. I thought the dialogs were in fact improved by the narrator's ability to catch the personality and class of the character speaking. It is the author's theorizing that is slow and ponderous, and this is not the narrator's fault.
So, how many stars? Parts I loved! I really did.....but then other parts were so overblown and never-ending. I am giving it three stars and recommending it to those readers who love NYC and philosophical tracts.
Through chapter 37:
I am not thrilled by the chapters and chapters and chapters depicting warfare in Europe. They go on and on and on. Boring and terrible, dreary rather than exciting or interesting! Another minus - women are ridiculously idealized. So the book is not perfect. Maybe if I complain it will change? I hope so.
Even the lines have lost their beauty and become, in my ears, pretentious:
She was no different from Harry, when before the jump, hands in the same position, head bent or upraised, he leaned into his reserve shoot, as the plane rose and fell in the wind, and he too not quite prayed, asking for nothing. From Catherine and from Harry came absolute surrender, and to Catherine and Harry came the deepest strength. The current was strong and magnetic, the exchange electric and warm as everything came alight from what the blind of spirit took for darkness. Catherine felt her heart swell with strength and love….
Both Harry, in his parachuting from airplanes and fighting in battles, and Catherine fighting her own battles against injustice, are being compared and united in a common struggle. Both pray. For me the tone has become sophistic. The philosophical reasoning has gone over-the-top. This is rapidly going downhill. The magical prose has become soppy gibberish. Disappointing....but if I praise the start of a book and it then goes down-hill, I must report that too. Maybe I simply lack the religious faith necessary to appreciate these lines? However it is not just these religious lines that are sophomoric. Some of the prose glorifying music, beauty, love, goodness, honor are quite simply over-blown.
Then I listened some more and the scene shifts back to NYC....the description of NYC is wonderful ..... and then humor is thrown in. Catherine asks Harry for a definition of a nudnick! Harry's definition will surely make you laugh. Very funny! And she, Catherine of course, reads a digit wrong in her cookbook. With little cooking experience, given all the servants in her very wealthy family, she hasn't a clue how to cook a chicken. She puts it in the oven for 6 hours. You've got to laugh!
So I guess my views are mixed on this book. Parts I absolutely love; other parts make me moan with frustration and yawn with boredom. I would have appreciated better editing.
Through Chapter 23:
I haven't quite made up my mind about the quality of the audiobook's narration. I love the tone of Catherine when she is REALLY mad. This lady, when truly annoyed, spits out lines that are scathing! The narrator's tone is spot-on! I like the s-l-o-w-n-e-s-s of the narration, but will others? I need it to give me time to think about what is being said. However there is often a peculiar upward lilt that is strange.
This book may annoy those readers who just want to follow a plot. This is a book where the author leads you off in all different tangents, taking quick perceptive psychological mini-trips. I just finished chapter 23 - "The Settee". It covers everything from Franklin D. Roosevelt, sensual love, acquiescence versus combat, religious discrimination to pride and the need to be financially independent. That is a wide range of subjects, isn't it? You will either love the writing or you will hate it. I love it. I was going to start copying the lines here, but I would have to copy the entire chapter. It went from one wonderful line to another. From one topic to another.The humor is perfect. Catherine's father knew FDR. There is the funniest story - tickling and being dumped into water.... The story is all imaginary. It is both hilarious and has a great message; one little story rolled into the rest of the chapter's events. Remember this chapter when you read the book and tell me if you too love it. Oh yes, I forgot to mention another funny line, about the color of Roosevelt's advisors. Read the book!
Some people may be annoyed by the philosophical meanderings. I am trying to warn off those readers who KNOW they prefer plot driven books; all the diversions will most probably drive them bonkers!
In Chapter 9:
I am loving this, and I am kind of surprised. It starts with a ridiculous infatuation. But even if it is ridiculous, I like it! It is the writing. I actually believe that Helprin has captured how crazy people act when they fall head over heels in love.
There is humor. And it is my kind of humor.
Everyone knows of the "Roaring Twenties", and why the behavior of this period was a consequence of having survived WW1. Why is there so little literature about how people behaved after WW2.....other than books on the travails of the Jewish emigrates? This book seems to delve into this very topic. Hasn't there occurred a similar change in behavior and view on life after WW2? These people, those who survived the war, are the age of my parents. Fascinating to see why my parents thought as they did, looked on life as they did and made the choices they did.
Read this. Harry is back from the war. He is crazy for Catherine and Catherine for him, but she is about to be engaged to another. That future had been planned ten years ago. Do you simply accept past plans? What was good then is not now:
…sea, air and sun having evaporized everything but memory. He stopped in front of a black shoe missing its laces. It was preserved well enough that with some softening and polish it might have been back in service. The heel was hardly worn. He thought that had things gone differently it might have been his shoe and that someone else might have been standing in front of it as a grave, grasping the lapels of his tuxedo in a tight grip and pressing a bottle of champagne close to his thigh, as if he were the one who was dead, he spoke to himself, the one who was living, urgently charging him with life. He let the breeze force its way into his lungs and looked ahead at his objective….. (chapter 9)
After living through the war, would one just accept that which has been planned? Wouldn’t one go after what one really wants? At least you’d give it a hard fight!
Another book that takes place in NYC right after the war. I am loving the feel of the city, since I lived there in the fifties. I am right back there, in a place I recognize. I feel the city, its odors and sights and the whole "NYC atmosphere"!
************************ After only one chapter:
He had long known that to see a woman like this across the floor in receptions or in gatherings is as arresting as a full moon was arising within the walls of the room, but this was more arresting yet. And what was a beautiful woman? For him beauty was something far more powerful than what fashion dictates and consensus decrees. It was both what creates love and what love creates. For Harry, because his sight was clear, the world was filled with beautiful women whether the world called them that or not. (chapter one)
I am already sucked in by the language. Mark Helprin can certainly write! I love lines that make me think. By writing down these lines, listening carefully to the narrator, Sean Runnette, of the audiobook, I realize that reading a paper book gives you more time to ponder, to let your thoughts fly where they will, but Runnette’s narration is very slow. With excellent prose that is a plus! (less)
Do you remember when you were a child and you lied there in bed while one of your parents told you a story? I am not talking about their reading you a...moreDo you remember when you were a child and you lied there in bed while one of your parents told you a story? I am not talking about their reading you a story, but rather they invent it for you as they speak. Or even better, you were told of your parent’s childhood memories, things that had happened to them when they were a child. THAT is how this book feels, if you listen to the audiobook version. I would recommend listening to it. The narrator is the author herself, and in this case the experience is magical. It is magical because she expresses what she wants to convey through her words. She sighs and laughs and is sorrowful at all the right points. This audiobook experience is wonderful. Let me add, while I speak of narration, that in her youth, growing up in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt, English, French and Italian were used. They were used daily. Arabic was also a central language to her life style. Arabic expressions make up her childhood experiences. All of these languages are who she is. As a result, when she speaks French in this autobiography it is not a learned tongue but the tongue of her youth, and it is wonderful. There is no translation. The language spoken is genuine. The narration is perfect, splendid and wonderful.
Through the words of this book you get a peek into another person’s life. That person is from a Sephardic Jewish household. She grew up in Egypt in an extremely affluent family. A large family with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents, and these people become your own friends. She traveled to Europe over the holidays – Paris and London and Switzerland and more cities. You visit them with this family. What I want to emphasize is that you are part of the group; you are one of them. You eat with them, the Jewish repasts are crunchy or sour or deliciously sweet. You splash in the waves with them. And then when granny dies you feel so terribly sad. I feel like I know these people.
I love the words this author uses to express herself. She offers us lines that melt in my mouth. That is what her lines did to me. I am not sure that others will react as I did…….. I like how she wonders if writing this book was merely an ego trip, but concludes that “the past is the foundation on which we build our lives”. I will read more by this author. I like her writing style and her life philosophy.
I thought this book would teach me about Egyptian history. I thought this book would show me what it was like to live through the Suez crisis in 1956. It did, but not really. What I mean is that this is only one family’s experiences and their wealthy lifestyle is certainly not typical; you do not get a general depiction of the times. What I did experience was a wonderful and unique peek into another world. It was so honest, and yet told with politeness and understanding. Don’t expect family brawls, even when views conflict. This is not really a book to choose if you are looking for history. I didn’t get what I expected, but indeed much more!
The title is explained in the book, and it is fun. There is Arabian music at the beginning and end of each chapter, the ambiance created is enticing, you are drawn right in. An advantage to reading the book, I have been told, is that there are wonderful pictures included. Maybe a family tree is included? That would be helpful! Then you would see in the chart exactly who is who. Still, listening to this book was delightful from beginning to end. I highly recommend it. (less)
ETA: please see message 27 below. This is a concise summary of my view: I am glad I read it, but I do believe it has too many problems to give it more...moreETA: please see message 27 below. This is a concise summary of my view: I am glad I read it, but I do believe it has too many problems to give it more stars. I am glad I learned about this French group of women - particularly since I live and spend time in France! I also appreciated that the French behavior during the war is shown honestly. Many of them supported Pétain. This is not washed over. I also found the info about Mengele's experiments both riveting and horrible. I just wish I had come to know a few of the characters more intimately.
On completion: If I had read this book, rather than choosing the audio book, I may have given it four stars, but honestly I am not sure. It is hard to feel compassion for so many women. I believe that to look at them as a group, to draw general conclusions may not be worthwhile. People are individuals. One cannot and should not draw guidelines for how to survive or how to find happiness. What works for one will not work for another. I prefer looking at an individual rather than a group. It becomes a clinical exercise.
This book has both good and bad aspects. I will start with the bad. I advise you to not listen to this book, at least not with the narrator Patience Tomlinson! She speaks French words incorrectly. She mispronounces other words too. She overemphasizes words. Revolution or the French word grand need not be explained through intonation. Most of us do know what these words mean. She uses a very low gruff voice for men. I started laughing and could not listen to the words. I tested this on another and that person reacted as I did. The narration is so bad that you will be unable to pay attention to the words. And the words of the book are worth paying attention to.
Below I mention an error that I discovered. I will make the assumption that this was an error in the book's printing/editing. One does not treat pleurisy with insulin!
In that the author studies a large group of French women, 230, it is difficult for a reader to feel close to any one of them. Perhaps she should have focused on just a few. I believe she did this because an important theme of the book is how the friendship between the women was of prime importance for their survival. That they were a cohesive group is perhaps what saved some of them. But only 49 survived. Age and luck also played in.
The latter half of the book is better than the first half, which on the whole was dry because of the emphasis on numbers and people who meant little to the reader. The experiences of the women's time in Birkenau/Auschwitz and Ravenbrück are riveting. This is not easy reading. The book looks at how women, emotionally and physically, reacted to life in concentration camps - Ravensbrück being a labor camp and Auschwitz an extermination camp. This perspective is interesting. One looks at how the French women as a group behaved differently compared to women of other nationalities.
And finally the book studies how the surviving women reacted to life afterwards. In fact they found it just as difficult as life in the camp. Does that surprise you? This book is worth reading. Please read it - don't listen to it! The perspectives are different from most other books on the holocaust.
ETA: I am making the assumption that what I found below was an error that occrred when the book was printed/edited. I hope so at least.
THIS is important! How do you feel when you find absolutely incorrect information in a book? Doesn't that make you question all the other information you have been given? I am a diabetic. Insulin is used to treat diabetes, not pleurisy. It says in this book that when "Paulette Prunier" came down with pleurisy, the French woman doctor, "Adeleide", managed to get insulin to treat her!!! Here is a link to Wikipedia that explains pleurisy:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleurisy.... This makes me feel very uncomfortable..... BTW, I have put the names in quotes because I perhaps am not spelling them correctly; I am listening to the audio book.
I just have to add this: now the 230 French women have come to Birkenau/Auschwitz and this is terribly gruesome to listen to! Yes, I DO empathize even though I do not know these women. Anybody would find listening to this difficult. Just horrible! The dispassionate relating of what happens to woman X or woman Y is almost impossible to follow, it is so horrible. On day XX/XX at roll-call, 14 of 32 died. On day XX/XX so many of the Poles died, so many of the Belgians and so many of the French.... I had to take a break.
Halfway through: I am currently listening to A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France. I am very disappointed with the audio version. The narrator cannot pronounce French words properly! It is really wrecking my appreciation of what maybe is a good book. I must also add that the reader is acquainted with MANY French women. So many that you can scarcely keep track of them all, so do not expect to develop a close relationship with any one of them.
The theme of the book is very interesting - the French Resistance during Nazi Occupation during WW2 and particularly the role women played.
The Blue Bicycle is the first book of an historical fiction series that is extremely enjoyable to read. It not only gives you a picture of the French Resistance but also how it impacted on a few lives. It is much easier to understand French life at this time if you care for the characters. In the audio book I am listening to now the women mean nothing to me. I have listened to about half of the audio book.
You do nave to read several books of Régine Deforges' series to get a full picture of French life under the Nazis, and I am not sure if all of them have been translated into English. I read them in French. They must be read in order. After reading these books you feel in your bones how it might have been to live during these times.
Another book I might try is The Children Of Freedom. The author is very popular in France, but I have not read him. I am not sure - the book might be just too patriotic. You know - love of nation!
The reader cannot empathize with the women in Moorehead's book. There are over 200 to keep track of!The narration in the audio book is totally terrible. You should hear what she sounds like when she uses her gruff "men's voice". It is laughable. I get so distracted I cannot think about the author's words..... (less)
I listened to the audio version of this novel and I have no complaint with the narration. It is the content and tone of the story that didn’t work for...moreI listened to the audio version of this novel and I have no complaint with the narration. It is the content and tone of the story that didn’t work for me. Let me explain.
The story is about an American couple vacationing in Europe after the Second World War. The story focuses on the couple’s travels in France, although they also visited Italy, Switzerland and other countries. They stayed in a country manor near Blois, thus in the Loire valley with all its chateaux. And they visited Paris too. The trip was for a few months. They hoped to improve their French. They hoped that by staying in a chateau they would come to know some French on a more intimate level It was not merely the sites that drew them; but also a better understanding of the French mentality. But can you learn that over such a short stay? Do you truly become intimate when you are a paying customer? The book has a peculiar philosophical tone. It takes you into the lives of a group of people, but it also poses the question: is what you see really the truth? There is much the Americans do not understand about the past experiences of the people they come to know. The questions go even further. Is their any point in searching for an understanding of what has happened or why people act as they do? Yes, we may wonder, but there are so many interpretations! Is there one right answer? The book seems to say: so why bother? You will never understand any way! My response is: even if there is no right answer the search is tantalizing. How do you squash curiosity? is my response. The author seemed to be saying it doesn’t matter since we will never really understand anyway. But how do you stop curiosity. The message is clearly that people continually misjudge and misconstrue what happens around them. My question is: so where does that leave you?!
Furthermore the third person narrative makes it harder to empathize with the characters. I liked none! Even those that you warm to disappoint in the end.
What I did like very much in the book were the descriptions of places and often the author perfectly conjured a picture of how a French person would react to a given circumstance. For this reason it could be fun to read the book before visiting France. Maybe…… Or having visited France you will clearly recognize certain French behavior characteristics.
Put very simply the philosophical meanderings left me cold. The depiction of places and French people were wonderful. Although I felt like kicking the American couple at a few points, eventually they learned to appreciate French provincial life and Paris. And there is some humor concerning how French and Americans view each other. However I can only give the book two stars. (less)