Anna's Bibliotheca

Anna's Bibliotheca

Carpe Librum. Grab the Book.

Review
4 Stars
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel - Lee Harper

The book was handed to me as a follow up from a quick discussion with a colleague. I decided to read it straightaway as I don’t like borrowing books from someone and keeping them for a long time. I honestly didn’t know what to expect: the title is ambiguous and the hype around the time of its release was quite substantial. All I knew is that it was by Harper Lee, the author of the famous To Kill A Mockingbird. I didn’t even read the blurb for the book. So, for some reason I was expecting another court room drama based on racial tensions of the American South. My advice: read the blurb.

 

Despite not reading the blurb, I was able to immerse into the book quickly enough. If you haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird it won’t play to your disadvantage as this novel can stand alone on its own feet. The writing is not complex, but intelligent enough to engage the reader. The theme of the book is politically charged – I can understand why it would not be printed back in the 1950s. It is set in the 1950s and feels more autobiographical, personal rather just another novel about the history of segregation in the South. The novel is threaded with Jean Louise’s reminiscence about her childhood. These memories where everything for her as a child was black and white, right and wrong serve as juxtaposition to the her adult world where nothing is black and white and some things may seem wrong, but motives might be right. 

 

A quick overview: Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch is now twenty six years old and live in New York City. She returns home to Maycomb, Alabama on her usual annual visit, but this time something is off. She secretly follows her father and her friend to a Citizens’ Council where one of the guests is permitted to give a racist speech. Shaken up that her father did not do anything to stop this man, Jean Louise is devastated. As she looks around her, she begins to notice increased sympathy with these kind of sentiments. She finds herself on the road of self-discovery and making a hard decision: to either stick to what she believes and leave her family or stay with her family and submit to the growing feeling of the place.

 

The novel does not answer any questions, but presents the day-to-day tensions and decisions that many American citizens had to live with in the 1950s. I would say that it is even relevant now. I found that the author’s call in this book is to reason. That reason will prevail above all. For me the book was summarised on page 270, “But the white supremacists fear reason, because they know cold reason beats them. Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”

Review
3 Stars
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

When a book is compared to a great classic, it’s unavoidable that the reader would have high expectations. In many reviews Fahrenheit 451 is compared to George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984. Sadly, Fahrenheit 451, is not even a little brother to 1984.  So, my review is in this comparison. 

 

In 1984 George Orwell created a world of fear and paranoia, where one has to either comply or die. Orwell is the one who coined the phrase ‘big brother’ that is so widely used these days. He is the one who created pages and pages of brainwashing doctrine that is the core of the 1984 world. 1984 is a story of survival and a failed attempt to love.  1984 is big, ground breaking, full of fear and it leaves you wanting more. 

 

On the contrast, Fahrenheit 451 feels like more a reflection of the writer on what would it be like to live in a dystopian world. It is a struggle of one man to discover and understand his true place in a society that does not accept dissent. The novel is more self-focused; the narrative primarily revolves around the main character, Guy Montag, and the scariest thing is a metal hound that injects people with poison. (Honestly, if one had to really defend oneself against the metal hound, all one had to do is to bash its head with a rock. *eye roll, please*). The only memorable thing from the book is its title. Supposedly, the Ray Bradbury thought it was autoingnition temperature of paper. I’ve looked it up online and, generally, scientists believe that it could be anywhere between 424–475 °F, depending on the type of paper. 

 

Listen, if not compared to Orwell’s masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451 is not a bad [stand alone] novel. A bit drawn out and basic in its form, but not bad. There are a couple of ideas here and there that I could connect with and consider, but that’s about it. The novel is worth reading as it is considered an American classic, but it won’t leave you thinking about it or wanting for more.

Review
5 Stars
Burial Rites - Hannah Kent

“Haunting” is the best word to describe this début novel by Hannah Kent. Set in the nineteenth century Iceland, the novel deals with matter of perception: how do you see yourself and how others see you. The novel also gently introduces the reader to the historical Iceland. 

 

Agnes Magnúsdóttir - central character of the story - is condemned to death for the brutal murder of two men. She is placed under the custody to live out her last days with a farming family in the north of Iceland. At first, the family is horrified and outraged at the prospect of having a murderess under their roof, but come to accept it as a necessary evil and duty to the government. Only the young Assistant Reverend, Tóti Jónsson, is willing to spend time listening to Agnes’s story in hope of bringing her closer to God. As the year progresses and the necessity and needs of everyday life force the family to work harder together, they begin to discover a different side to Agnes that is not shared in people’s gossips and assumptions about the woman. 

 

The novel is inspired by the true life events. Every chapter begins with a related to the event historic evidence or correspondence of the persons involved. You can sense the depth of research that the author has done to convey the authenticity of the story. I appreciated that whilst reading the book. When I, driven by curiosity, started looking on-line about the events set in the book, I discovered contradictory views to the one Kent presents in her novel. However, in the afterword Kent shares that her goal was not to prove whether Agnes was guilty or not. Her concern was that many women at the time ‘were unable to author their public identity’, and any woman who dared to step outside the lines of the accepted standards were seen as suspicious (pp.350-351). Kent’s interest to tell the story of Agnes was to represent the ambiguity and humanity of the woman and leave the judging to the reader.

Review
4.5 Stars
The Life and Loves of a He Devil: A Memoir - Graham Norton

I like Graham Norton persona. I like The Graham Norton Show. Since I have not had a chance to meet the man or attend the show (can you imagine me as a celebrated guest on the red sofa – I would die!), I got this book. I liked the book. Reading the book is very much like lifting a curtain to take a peek behind the scenes of a glamorous lifestyle on the British television. You get what you see.

 

Truly, I’ve heard of celebrities who create a front stage persona that entertains the public, but in their personal lives they might be reserved or, worst: drama queens. But in his memoir, Graham Norton shows himself as you see him on TV. He is witty, charming, honest and generous. I was surprised to learn that with all of the fame garnered in the past several years, Graham does not let it go to his head. He loves it all (who wouldn’t!), but then remembers (with prompting from his family) to stay grounded. 

 

In his memoir, Graham Norton covers topics such as owning a dog (not a well-behaved one, too!), his growing up in Ireland and what it means to him to be Irish living in the UK. He reminisces about his time spent in New York when attempting to conquer American hearts. He shares his experience of meeting famous divas such as Dolly Parton and Madonna. He discusses things he loves to hate and matters like men, booze and work.

 

The memoir won’t have you roaring with laughter, but will get you chuckle and giggle here and there with an occasional “ooh” and “ahh”, and even perhaps have you wipe away an odd tear.

Review
5 Stars
A STORM OF SWORDS: BLOOD AND GOLD
A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold (A Song of Ice and Fire #3, Part 2) - George R.R. Martin

by George R. R. Martin

 

Now, this is the second tome of volume five in the fantasy saga of A Song of Ice and Fire (that is if you are reading UK edition of the books). To be honest, if you are just about to embark on further adventure in the Game of Thrones, you really needn’t someone else’s review on the book series. By now, you would’ve formed your own opinion on the style and manner of writing and content. Besides, it would be impossible to review this book without giving away too much. One thing I will say, ‘Goddam it! It is still darn brilliant.’ That’s all you’ll need to set yourself comfortable and start reading the book. And one other thing, at the end of the book, Martin gives a background to the Red Wedding (nice surprise!) and you though Catelyn Stark was a goner… happy reading! :)

Review
3 Stars
UNDER THE WEATHER: STORIES ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
Under the Weather: Stories About Climate Change - Tony Bradman

edited by Tony Bredman

 

When I picked up this book in the ‘On Sale’ box, little did I realise that the book is put together for children, I’d say, between 10-12 years old. Nevertheless, I was curious to read about climate change from a non-political point of view.

 

The book contains eight short stories written by authors from Philippines, Australia and England. They all talk about how human activities influence climate change in different parts of the world from  melting ice caps in the north, to floods in South East Asia. I found most of the stories slightly condescending and preachy, but then you have to remind yourself that you are reading a children’s book. Although, Moonlight struck a chord with me and I found it sadly beautiful.

 

Overall, the book will work well as a reading supplement to children who are being introduced to the topic of climate change.

 

The stories are:
How to Build the Perfect Sandcastle by Candy Gourlay – set in Philippines and deals with floods due to overharvesting the ocean that takes place in South East Asia.

 

Sea Canaries by Susan Sandercock – the story is about a teenager who is discovering her love for marine biology and what she can do to save the ocean life.

 

As busy As… by Francis McCrickard – obviously – BEE! Yes, the story is about bees and two pen pals: one is from England and the second is from Africa who find that they care about bees.

 

Tommo and the Bike Train by Miriam Halahmy – is set in England and discusses how floods affect our every day life.

 

Climate [Short] Change by Lily Hyde – set in Siberia and focuses on encouraging local people to take care of their environment.

 

Moonlight by Karen Ball. It is set in Sri Lanka and it is about orphaned sister and brother who have to work long hours to feed themselves and sacrifice they have to face in order to make it through the life.

 

Future Dreaming by George Ivanoff is set in Australia and about a girl who keeps dreaming of a boy who asks her for help as he is being swept away by floods.

 

Wasters by Linda Newberry – is set in the post-apocalyptic future and about two schoolchildren who have to write a report about how extravagant and wasteful previous generation has been with the world’s resources.

Review
5 Stars
MISS MARPLE'S SIX FINAL CASES. AND TWO STORIES
Miss Marple's Six Final Cases and Two Other Stories - Agatha Christie

by Agatha Christie

 

It was lovely to return to the queen of crime and her famous spinster (not offensive anymore!) sleuth, Miss Marple. No particular reason is given in the book as to why these are her final cases – Miss Marple does not die here, at least. So, a safe assumption could be made that Miss Marple just retired from sleuthing.

 

The book itself isn’t big – only 140 pages. So if you are fast reader it won’t take too long to page through six cases and two unrelated to Miss Marple stories.

 

Miss Marple’s cases are: Sanctuary, Strange Jest, Tape-Measure Murder, The Case of the Caretaker, The Case of the Perfect Maid, Miss Marple Tells a Story.

 

The two stories included in the book are: The Dressmaker’s Doll, In A Glass Darkly

 

Did I like the book? Yes! It’s Agatha Christie. Her way of storytelling is old-fashioned and classic. Nobody talks or even writes like this anymore. Nostalgic. The detective cases are short, but full of energy to keep you guessing. I have watched many of Miss Marple’s adaptations on TV, but never came across these particular ones. So, it might be a discovery for you too.

 

The two stories were a pleasant surprise for me as I only know and read Agatha Christie as a crime writer. The stories have gothic elements of storytelling and deal with loneliness, loyalty and love. Unregrettable read!

Review
4 Stars
Is It Just Me? - Miranda Hart

I enjoyed Miranda’s antics on her own BBC show ‘Miranda’. But I have to admit, it took me a while to “get into” the book. I blame an acquaintance of mine who told me she was given an audio version of the book (read by Ms Hart herself) and that the audiobook is great. That got me thinking perhaps I should get an audiobook to get me reading/listening. Nay, I stuck with the book. So, soon after I had overcome the block of the ‘audiobook is great’, I finished the book and this is what I have to say about it.

 

Firstly, if you are a big fan of the show, it will be difficult not to hear Miranda’s voice reading to you as you turn the pages. ‘Such Fun’,  ‘Dear Chum’, ‘Rude’ and other well-known Miranda phrases make a come back in the book. The book is more like an extension to the show, just in case you got nostalgic. Is It Just Me? covers various life topics such as Music, Hobbies, Work, Technology, Beauty, Bodies, Exercise, Health and Diets, Holidays and Relationships. Miranda boldly shares her own life experiences (some of them are so outrageous, it makes you wonder if they truly happened!). As Miranda discusses these topics, she also offers alternative solutions if there was such a place as Miranda-land. For example, there will be no gyms in Miranda-land and every adult will be required to gallop in an art gallery. The narrative is often interrupted by the eighteen-year-old Miranda who is either in shock to discover that the older Miranda never got married and never had those children, or seeks the older Miranda’s advice on different matters of life.

 

I found the book entertaining, light-hearted and ‘tell-me-about’ type. It finds a common ground with the reader and one can identify with many points Miranda discusses. In the book blurb, Miranda expresses her wish for a much desired manual to life. So, here is her attempt at making one – a Miran-ual.

 

So, I don’t know about the audiobook, but Is It Just Me? was quite enjoyable to read. Such fun!

Review
4 Stars
Child 44 (Leo Demidov,  #1) - Tom Rob Smith

You are thinking about reading Child 44 .. in that case, Welcome to the State-sanctioned paranoia! :)

 

First of all, if you think that Child 44 is a Cold War thriller – as one of the reviews on the book cover suggests – it’s not. Child 44 is a historical crime fiction, with a very strong emphasis on the fiction. As the author acknowledges in his own book Acknowledgments, “any liberties with the truth or historical inaccuracies in my novel are purely my own doing” (p. 472). And, dear oh dear, did he take those liberties! Tom Rob Smith sets the scene in 1952, uses the chaos and fear of the Great Purge of 1930s, and yet the book itself was inspired by the murders that were committed in 1970s. In the first few chapters, I found it slightly confusing at times as to what era Smith was trying to describe.

 

So, if you are thinking about reading serious stuff about the Soviet Russia and the awful shit that happened under the Stalin’s regime, I am sure there are many authors out there who offer their more educated opinions on the matter. Solzhenitsyn, anyone?

 

Having established that Child 44 must not be read as a history book, I will admit that it is the first book I’ve read up to date that comes close to portraying the Big Brother paranoia of 1984 (George Orwell). The language style is clean and fast-paced, it leaves you gasping for air as the scenes move quickly by. The storyline holds your attention well. It has a tunnel vision, makes you feel claustrophobic and constantly checking if anyone’s watching over your shoulder. There are a couple of plot twists when even I exclaimed, ‘Now, I did not expect that!’ One thing that I did not appreciate as much is Smith using characters’ thoughts to communicate with his reader how much HE himself hates the Soviet regime. In the paragraphs, where he goes on and on about the awfulness of the system, at times the reading becomes uncomfortable as it would be if you happen to read a hate entry in the diary of an adolescent boy whose love was rejected.

 

Overall, I liked it. And I will say to you, dear reader, ‘Go on, give it a go’.

 

Here’s a quick summary: Leo Demidov is a war hero and a successful MGB (secret police) officer. However, his reputation comes to question when he is ordered to investigate his wife as the potential enemy of the state. Having seen how interrogations are conducted, he begins to question the reliability of the procedure. Meanwhile, more and more cases are beginning to draw his attention where children are found dead in similar circumstances. Could they be coincidences? There is no such thing as ‘murder’ in the perfect state. However, Demidov finds his ideals and his life falling apart when he chooses to do what is right.

 

Child 44 is followed by the second instalment titled The Secret Speech.

 

Happy reading! The Big Brother is watching.

Now THAT I didn't expect!

 

#PlotTwist #Child44 #Surprised

Blocked by the author

Wow, that's a first - I've been blocked on Twitter by @tomrobsmith for asking questions about ‪#‎child44. WTH? The unfairness, injustice and control of the Soviet authority ‪#‎tomrobsmith‬ ridicules in the book is now displayed in his action because he could not handle simple trivia questions. What?! What kind of an author is this who cannot own up to his work? 

Review
3 Stars
Divergent  - Veronica Roth

Now, oh dear, where to start on this review. I love any story post-apocalyptic. There is something redemptive reading about the humankind having a second chance at life. I like 1984 (by George Orwell), the classic that gave birth to this genre. I even enjoyed The Hunger Games, the modern take of it. However, with all the hype surrounding the Divergent book series and film franchise, it is wanting and barely scratches the surface of the potential that the plot possesses.

 

The stylistics of the book is very basic. I had to keep reminding myself that the book is written for teenagers. But then as teenagers we read heavy duty Russian and French classics with complex texts and concepts. I didn’t feel that the author even tried to use a more serious writing style to convey the story and give it a bit of weight. One of the annoying things authors can do to their readers is to keep asking questions in the text. Veronica Roth does it in every single paragraph. There is a point where I though I was reading a quiz book (see my sample of question nuisance in the paragraph below).

 

So, what’s Divergent like and what is the story about? Well, Divergent is a mixture of great stories that have done well for themselves. There is no solid background, no depth of conviction nor its own identity to the storyline. For the first two hundred pages, you cannot help but muse that you are reading a fusion of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Here is why: The story is set in Chicago. Actually, if it wasn’t for the film, there is no indication in the book where the story takes place. There was a war (what war? what happened? who fought? who won?). So to avoid another war (who with? who is the enemy?) people divided themselves into five factions (why five only?): Abnegation (The Selfless), Amity (The Peaceful), Candor (The Honest), Dauntless (The Brave), Erudite (The Intelligent). There is an outcast group of people present in this utopian society. They are called Factionless. It is made of people who were not chosen by the Sorting Hat.. sorry, I mean failed their initiation process.

 

Beatrice Prior is at the age when she has to choose whether she stays with her family in the Abnegation faction, or adopts another faction that is close to her heart, Dauntless. Her aptitude tests were inconclusive, i.e. she has natural ability for three factions instead of one. The test proctor warns her not to tell anyone as this result indicates she is ‘Divergent’ and, therefore, a threat to the society. Eventually, Beatrice chooses Dauntless as her new faction and her life takes a new route.

 

Part Two: for the next two hundred pages cue in the Matrix theme. Part of the Dauntless’ training is confronting your fears. The initiates are hooked up to a computer to enter a simulation programme that will help you deal with fears. Sounds familiar? “Tank? Load us up!” And, no, there is no woman in the red dress.

 

During her initiation training with Dauntless, Beatrice (now ‘Tris) is taunted by the sadistic young leader, bullied by fellow initiates and befriends her trainer, Four (yes, that’s his nickname) who plays an important part in the series. Tris soon discovers evil plans of an Erudite leader and sets her mind to undo them, even though it means putting her life at risk.

 

Having noticed weaknesses in the plot and its stylistics, I must give credit to the book for addressing the issues that many young adults struggle with: bullying, negative authority, stereotyping and suicide.

 

As I mentioned, the plot has so much potential, but it is not explored in depth. I give generous 3* for the potential, effort to address adolescent issues through fiction and the level of light entertainment.

Review
5 Stars
A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow - George R.R. Martin

A Steel and Snow is book one in the third instalment – A Storm of Swords – of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. If you had the pleasure of reading the first two books, you don’t need much introduction to the style and grandness of the books. While many book series lose the strength of the storyline by the second book: the strength, the form and the plot of this book steadily continue to develop without losing the flavour of the story.

 

There are ten primary points of view: Jamie, Catelyn, Arya, Tyrion, Sansa, Jon, Daenerys, Davos, Bran, Samwell. Davos’s point of view was expanded from the previous book giving him a more prominent stand amongst the original main characters. Samwell’s point of view is a new addition and could only be assumed that he is yet to play a very important part further in the plot.

 

There are no spoilers in my review, so please continue reading.

 

Part one of A Storm of Swords opens up with a Prologue that serves as a recap of the last events of the previous book. The remaining men of the Night’s Watch are retreating back to the Wall defeated. There is discord among the sworn brothers and that only dooms trouble. Samwell’s point of view conveys the gradual disintegration of the remaining brotherhood throughout the book.

 

Jamie and Brienne’s fateful journey finds them captive in the hands of the cunning Roose Bolton, who is deciding how to profit the most of Jamie’s status.

 

Arya is trying to get home to her family only to be intercepted by brotherhood without banners who deliver her to Lord Beric. Lord Beric, a mysterious figure, serves the Lord of Light and uses the flaming sword in the trials by combat to carry out justice. Thoros of Myr, a red priest of R’hllor, is also revealed through Arya’s point of view.

 

Bran, Meera, Jojen and Hodor continue north in search of the three-eyed crow. There is no mention of Rickon and Osha in the book.

 

Tyrion’s attempt to regain his physical and political strength only leads to his demotion to Master of Coin, replacing Petyr Baelish. Sansa’s life at King’s Landing is further dictated by the royal family who are keen to keep her close as the next heir to Winterfell. Tyrion’s and Sansa’s world collide in the most unlikely way.

 

In the north, Jon is still with the wildlings as they prepare to attack on Castle Black. In the south, Daenerys is building her army. She is becoming a woman of will and cunning. Watch out!

 

Catelyn is no longer a stately woman that was introduced to us in the beginning of the series. She realises that she is losing her family and her influence on her son Robb, the King of the North.

 

Davos, however, recovering from the defeat at the Battle of Blackwater is once again called in by Stannis Baratheon to speak the truth. He is made a knight. Davos continues to be weary of Melisandre.

 

I give a worthy 5* rating.

Review
5 Stars
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer - John E. Woods

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 

by Patrick Süskind
(translated from the German By John E. Woods)

 

"In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages."

 

This novel might as well have 'once upon a time' as an opening line for I would identify the story as a dark fairy tale for grown ups.

 

Perfume is a masterpiece that deals with issues of identity, self-discovery and human morality. Patrick Süskind takes his reader on a philosophical journey of what is right and what is beautiful. The world we live in very much focuses on the external and the visible - the extraverted world. Patrick Süskind introduces the unseen world, the world that is not as obvious to an average mind, but which has a tremendous subtle impact on each individual - the world of scent.

 

The story focuses on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the "gifted and abominable personage". Grenouille was born at a fish market to a mother who rejects him as yet another stillborn baby. He was born without a body scent himself, but a very keen sense of smell. He begins to learn and discover the world around him through olfaction. He does not have any friends, he does not partake in any child play - any idea of human interaction is foreign to Grenouille. He prefers to disappear into the internal world of smells, building himself his own olfactory paradise. Until one day whilst strolling through Paris and looking for new scents, Grenouille discovers a scent that stirs a feeling he has not known before. It is the ultimate scent of Grenouille, the scent that lifts him onto the highest planes of his being. He follows his nose and discovers that this scent belongs to a girl with red-hair who has not been spoiled by physical love, who is still in her age of innocence. Wanting to possess her smell, he smothers her; he drinks in the scent that made him feel ecstatic for the first time in his life. To his disappointment, he discovers that with death the smell gradually disappears. Grenouille now has a goal - to be able to preserve the ultimate scent. No matter what it takes him - murdering 24 innocent maidens - he wanted to become the one who will create the ultimate scent. He wants to see the world bow down before this scent and adore him as the Creator.

 

Why I liked it? - I would like to acknowledge the brilliance of the translation. The language of the book is consistent to the storytelling. As a mentioned earlier, the novel is written in the fairy tale style. It allows the story to present different moral points of view without being preachy. The author leaves it to the reader to make a decision whose side to take. You are the maker - he just tells you a story.

 

Whether you will feel sorry for Grenouille or outraged at his ambition, Perfume will not leave you indifferent. It will stir emotions and passions; it will challenge your comforts; it will leave you wanting more. A must have and a must read book. A classic!

 

 

Review
5 Stars
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S
Breakfast At Tiffany's: Breakf - Truman Capote

In my desire to “finally read the book”, I have uncovered a literary treasure. It is such a rarity when short stories are able to leave you with an impression of depth and emotion. This particular edition contains four short stories, including the titular story. The review covers all of the stories as they each deserve individual attention.

 

Why did I like it so much? Truman Capote “drops” the reader into a story and introduces each character in such a manner that you feel as you have known them all your life. The language: its phrases, metaphors are so beautifully used, I wanted to drink them in to be refreshed.

 

I rate all of the stories 5 golden stars!

 

Breakfast At Tiffany’s (novella) –
‘Fred’, the narrator of the story, meets Holly Golightly soon after he moves into a brownstone house. He is intrigued by (and instantaneously attracted to) the young woman as she is everything opposite to him. He is reserved, steady and practical. She is a out-going, carefree and always trying to escape her world. He is bound by the mundane of everyday life. She is a free spirit. He is an aspiring writer. She is… well, she is an aspiring gold-digger. Thus begins their unlikely friendship.

 

Holly is presented as a woman who could charm any man and who loves to be the centre of attention. Her goal in life is to find a rich man and live a rich life. Wasn’t that an expectation of all women in the 1940s? (Isn’t that a lingering expectation of women even now?) However, Holly is also a contradiction to her own goal. Her philosophical discourses throughout the book show more depth to her internal world than she only shares with ‘Fred’. She constantly fights against being placed in a cage and always seeks a place to belong. “Home is where you feel at home. I’m still looking.”  

 

The whole novella is driven by dialogue. It never gets boring. The dialogue (or most of the time, Holly’s philosophical musings) addresses many human issues and societal prejudices, such as belonging and acceptance, love and friendship, sexual orientation and status in the society. The story reveals to the reader life’s obvious contradiction – either having to live a bleak reality caged up by expectations (Holly’s gift to ‘Fred’ was a golden cage) or constantly looking for a fantasy like having breakfast at Tiffany’s. “It’s better to look at the sky than live there”.  

 

House of Flowers -
This short story is about Ottilie, a young woman from Haiti, making the best out of the choices life presents her with. When her mother dies and her father’s gone to France, Ottilie finds herself living with a peasant family whose sons take advantage of her youth. When the family sends her to the market in Port-au-Prince with a heavy sack of grain, she ‘lightens’ her load by spilling the grain on the way. She soon realizes that she’s got no grain nor money to bring back to the peasant family. A chanced meeting with a “nice” stranger brings her to a house everyone calls “Champs-Élysées” in Port-au-Prince. there Ottilie lives a fairly comfortable life as a prostitute, spoiled by men who lavish their attention and gifts on her. Soon, she realizes that all of that is not good unless she loves someone. Enter, Royal Bonaparte, a champion cockfighter from the mountains. She follows him back to his house which ‘was like a house of flowers; wistaria sheltered the roof, a curtain of vines shaded the windows, lilies bloomed at the door.” The house of flowers might appear as an idyllic place of happily ever after, but Royal Bonaparte has a grandmother from hell. Old Bonaparte does everything to drive Ottilie out of her mind and out the house. Ottilie has a choice to run defeated back to Port-au-Prince or stand up to the haggard and, consequently, become a woman of her own and a good wife to her husband.

 

The style of the story is so beautiful and exotic that you could feel transported into the picturesque Haiti. The Haitian dialect seeps through the pages in terms and phrases that are used through the story. Ottilie has a choice between living a lavish life at Champs-Élysées and not belong to herself, or live a simple life at the house of flowers and be her own woman. The humour and lightness of the storyline reassures the reader that no matter what happens in life, there is a brighter side of things.

 

A Diamond Guitar focuses on Mr Schaeffer, a prison inmate serving a ninety-nine year sentence for murder, and Tico Feo, a newly arrived prisoner, sentenced to two years for stabbing two men. Mr Schaeffer and Tico develop a strong friendship that has undercurrent intimate feel. Tico has a young fiery personality. He constantly talks about his escape plans. Mr Schaeffer is an older character and is respected by other inmate due to his ability to read and write. He becomes inspired by Tico’s passion. On Valentine’s Day, whilst making an attempt to escape, Tico betrays Mr Schaeffer leaving him behind. Because of his reputation, Mr Schaeffer is credited for his attempt to capture Tico and as a reward receives Tico’s prized possession – a diamond guitar.

 

No matter how you look at it, A Diamond Guitar is a story of unrequited love. Beautifully written, it possess the feel of nostalgia and longing for something unattainable. A Diamond Guitar is a critically acclaimed story and has been studied by literary scholars for its cultural and literary merits. I couldn’t agree more.

 

A Christmas Memory - as the title suggests, this short story is a memory of a seven-year-old boy about one particular Christmas that he spent with his elder cousin. His cousin calls him ‘Buddy’ and he refers to his cousin as ‘my best friend’. Both Buddy, his cousin and a dog named Queenie live in the house with other relatives who are stern and authoritative. The family is poor, but during the year Buddy and his cousin would collect pennies for their Fruitcake Fund. In late November, they would collect windfall pecans and buy whiskey from a scary American Indian bootlegger, who turns out to be quite generous, and gives them whiskey in return for one of their fruitcakes. Buddy and his elderly eccentric cousin send their fruitcakes to people they have met once or twice, or whom they have never met at all, like President Roosevelt himself. After sending fruitcakes out, they begin preparations for Christmas: wrapping presents, making each other special kites and finding the best Christmas tree. This is their last Christmas together. Buddy is send to a military school to become a proper man, losing the contact with his best friend.

 

The story feels very autobiographical. It has a message of friendship, joy of giving and enjoying what you have and whom you have in your life. It also touches on themes of loneliness and loss. “This is our last Christmas together. Life separates us. Those who Know Best decide that I belong in a military school. […] I have a new home too. But it doesn’t count. Home is where my friend is, and there I never go.”

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
by Jonas Jonasson (translated by Rod Bradbury)

 

If you like Forrest Gump, then you will definitely enjoy this book.

 

The Hundred-Year-Old Man is full of unlikely adventures and escapades of Allan Karlsson, a Swedish dynamite expert. The novel opens up with Allan's one hundredth birthday. As the whole Old People's Home is expecting the mayor to join the celebrations, the birthday boy decides he's had enough, climbs out of the window and sets off on his final adventure in life.

 

Allan's adventure is full of cash, criminals, murders, incompetent police, unlikely friends and, of course, and elephant. As his journey progresses, we are introduced to Allan's past - he was friends with American presidents, Chinese and Soviet leaders; he helped create an atomic bomb and was part in many important events of the twentieth century, just like Forrest Gump.

 

I liked it: it is tongue-in-cheek novel and full of quirky humour. The style of writing is so light-hearted and laid back that you can imagine Allan telling the story himself sitting on a veranda with his cup of coffee (or glass of vodka!). Kudos to the translator.

 

"Never try to out drink a Swede, unless you happen to be a Finn or at least a Russian."

 

Source: http://bibliotheca4anna.wordpress.com

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The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides, Nick Landrum