Sunday, 7 December 2014

Germany between the wars.

the Blindness of the Heart by Julia Franck (2007)

The Würsich sisters, Helene and Martha, have a Jewish mother and a father who is fatally wounded in World War I. While their father is away, their mother becomes the mad woman in the attic. The girls have to take care of themselves, and both of them become nurses. When Martha's lover, Leontine, goes to study medicine in Berlin and also ends up marrying a man, Martha is heartbroken and starts doing drugs. The economy is bad after WWI, and the girls are struggling to find work that pay well. They end up going to Berlin to live with their aunt.

Their aunt, Fanny, is rich, has a string of lovers and throws many parties. Helene is too young for the parties, but Martha fits right in and Helene must often help her sister to bed. And once in Berlin, Martha and Leontine revived their relationship. Years pass, and then Helene meets the love in her life, Carl. But danger and tragedy loom in the horizon.

A book that starts with a woman being raped by Soviet soldiers and then goes back in time and continues with incest, is a heavy read. And especially when you know because of the setting and characters that something is bound to go wrong. But thankfully, this book has its cheerful sides as well. I especially enjoyed the part  from where the sisters lived with their aunt in Berlin and until the epilogue.

It is one of those books which are entwined with history, and I learnt a lot about Germany between the wars. And especially how they executed the race laws. The only thing that really irked me with the book, was the epilogue. I get the main idea behind it and the symbolism, but it just left too many questions unanswered. And the biggest question of all, was the simple why.  But the book is really well-written, sad, beautiful and dark. I have already put the rest of Franck's books on my wish list.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

norsk på norsk.

(A summary of the Norwegians books I have read this autumn. You better hope Grimnes and Haavardsholm will be translated into a language you know, or learn Norwegian, because you're missing out.)

Jeg, i likhet med de fleste norske bokbloggere spurtleser norsk 2014 litteratur på tampen av året for å nominere til Bokbloggerprisen. Og takket være fantastiske eBokBib, så har jeg hivd meg på. Det er heftige diskusjoner rundt omkring om hva som er lesverdig og ulesbart. Mine to absolutte anbefalinger er Skåden og Haavardsholm.

42. Kaoshjerte av Lise Forfang Grimnes (2014)
  Tags: young adult fiction, family and self, supernatural

 Lise har skrevet en engasjerende ungdomsbok om Minja som har Pippikrefter og våkner opp en dag på slutten av sommerferien full av blåmerker og husker ingenting. Bestevennen Josef er sporløst borte, og da hun begynner å sette brikkene sammen, så oppdager hun at hun har vært på jakt etter sin ukjente bestemor. Jakten fører henne til ei liten bygd hvor bestemora er avvisende, folk merkelige, men i det minste så er det iallefall en kjekk gutt der. Bygda har mange hemmeligheter, og snart blir Minja trukket ned i mørket.

 Perfekt ungdomsbok, men for meg ble det litt for forutsigbart siden jeg fort skjønte mye av tegninga (men så er jeg heller ikke i rett målgruppe). Men masse pluss for at historien er spennende, traff rett i hjerterota og at den inneholder så mye fra eventyrverden. Hvis denne finner veien til skolebiblioteket, så skal jeg pushe den på ungdommene. Håper Lise fortsatter å skrive! (Og nei, jeg gidder ikke å bruke inhabilkortet selv om jeg har fått minst to klemmer av Lise.)


44. Forvandlinger: Fabler: Fabler av Aage Storm Borchgrevink (2014)
Tags: not impressed,  supernatural, family and self, sex drugs and rock'n'roll
Her er en bok full av moderne fabler om det norske folk. Det åpner med at Kongen har fått hale og horn, og må flytte opp på loftet i Slottet og fortsetter med partifyll, ungdomsfyll, utroskap og vold. Fablene er godt skrevet, og jeg lar meg lett rive med. Den beste er uten tvil den siste. MEN, så: det forbanna etterordet. Når det plutselig går fra fabler til virkelighet og den forferdelige dagen i juli 2011. Mitt store spørsmål er selvsagt hvorfor. Hvorfor måtte disse fablene knyttes opp til terroristen? Det var ingenting som sa meg at det var dette det handlet om når jeg leste dem, og selv om det var mye som var realistisk, så var det altfor mye urealistisk til at jeg tolket fablene som troverdig. Kunne ikke fiksjon bare være fiksjon, og essayet vært gitt ut for seg selv? Da hadde denne boka falt mye bedre i smak hos meg.


45. Til Nuuk av Espen Haavardsholm  (2014)
 Tags: books about the arctic, books you should read, family and self, war and travel

Espen Hå skal til København på besøk til sin barndomsvenn Klaus og familien hans. På toget støter han på en annen bekjent fra barndommen som gjør Københavnsbesøket meget ubehagelig. Det hjelper heller ikke at Klaus er lagt inn på psykiatrisk avdeling og hans kone, Sara, vil at Espen skal finne ut hvorfor. Sara er inuitt og ekteparets tvillinger er musikere som skal til Nuuk for å holde konsert. Mens Espen er i København så møter han mange kjente, funderer over livet og litteratur og leser seg opp om Grønland.

Jeg ble sugd rett inn i historien og det ble en fantastisk leseopplevelse. Boka virker veldig selvbiografisk og reflekterende uten at det gjør noe. Skildringene er så fine at jeg fikk lyst til å sykle rundt i København.. Vendepunktet i historien er både dramatisk og hjerteskjærende, og boka har så mange høydepunkt at det er vanskelig å velge et. Masse pluss for at den er full av kunnskap, særlig om Grønland. Den minner meg på at det er på høy tid å lese Profetene i Evighetsfjorden av Kim Leine og En Afrikaner på Grønland av Tété-Michel Kpomassie, og ikke minst å reise til Grønland. Boka seiler opp som en av favorittene på nominasjonslista mi. Anbefales!

Så to gode og en ikke fullt så god. Får se hvor mange flere jeg rekker før fristen, har mange på lista over bøker jeg vil sjekke ut. Apropos det; hvorfor kan ikke eBokBib ha en vil-lese-liste funksjon? Altfor mange bøker å huske på, og jeg er for lat til å notere de ned. 

(Kjenner at det er lenge siden jeg har skrevet langt og saklig på norsk, sikkert fullt av skriveleifer).

Saturday, 22 November 2014

fuck cancer.

the Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)

“But it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he has Cassius note, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.” 

Hazel Grace has terminal cancer and borrowed time. She is miserable and spends most of her days reading, so her parents force her to go to a support group for cancer kids. There she meets Augustus and they feel a mutual attraction and become instant friends. Hazel forces Augustus to read her favourite book, and he loves it and writes to the author because Hazel wants to know what happened to the characters in the book. The author then invites them to Amsterdam, where they get to taste champagne before their dreams are shattered.

I cried my eyes out. But before that, I laughed plenty. It's easy to see why half of the girls in one of my classes chose this for their book report project. And it was because of them that I read it as I was extremely bored while they were typing away their reports and not needing any helped so I picked up the book and began to read. I was hooked. 

I love the way it's written and the language. And there are so much information about everything from cancer to Amsterdam and Maslow's pyramid of needs. I'm saving the film for the next time I need a good cry.
  
“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

Sunday, 9 November 2014

on not reading nor writing.

the books I haven't blogged about

I cannot remember the last time I have spent so little time on books. I just don't seem to have the time nor energy to read. And I read so slow, it took over a month to finish the Lives of Others. And that would have been okay if I had read other books at the same time, but I haven't.  My main concern is that I won't be able to complete my main reading goal of reading 50 books this year. Nine books to go and less than two months left of the year. The most frustrating thing is that I don't seem able to write about the books I have read. I'm not going to care about the rest of my reading goals as long as I complete my main goal. Which means giving up on all the awesome reading circles, although I really want to read those awesome books, and I will try to read them as fast as I can (and link of course).  What went wrong? I have absolutely no idea. Anyway, here's a short summary of what I have actually read in the last few months:

36. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1996)
Tags: 1001 books, books into films, state of the nation, war and travel, books you should read, family and self, love, sex drugs and rock'n'roll

Two teenagers ride from their homes in Texas into Mexico where they find jobs at a horse ranch. The first book in the Border trilogy and it is as amazing and awful as all of McCarthy's works. I'll write more once I have finished the trilogy. Read it!





38. Encircling 1 by Carl Frode Tiller (2007)
Tags: family and self, sex drugs and rock'n'roll

David has lost his memory, and his friends, ex-lovers and family write him letters to help him get his memory back. This is the first book in the Encircling trilogy and I will write more once I have finished it. It will be published in English next year, and I hope it will be as well received worldwide as it has been in Norway, despite the fact that I'm not entirely convinced this is brilliant. That is probably why I'm still only a few chapters in in book 2 and haven't picked it up in a month or so.


40. Våke over dem som sover by Sigbjørn Skåden (2014)
Tags: books not yet translated into english, books about the arctic, books you should read, family and self, books that made me cry, from the library, sex drugs and rock'n'roll

Amund is a young Sami artist who travels to Kautokeino to work on his new project and with the kids at the local lower secondary school. When he is there, he learns about the extended abuse of under age girls while he himself forms a relationship with one of the pupils he got to know in the lower secondary school. The ending is disturbing, and the underlying theme of Sami identity in the flashbacks is thought-provoking. This is high on my list of best books read in 2014. Cross your fingers that it will be translated into English or another language you understand!



41. the Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee (2014)
Tags: man book prize, family and self, state of the nation, sex drugs and rock'n'roll

The extended Ghosh family lives in a big house in Calcutta. It is 1967 and India is seeing the start of the Naxalite movement. Supratik Ghosh suddenly disappears from the house to join the movement, and through his letters we learn how they work, while we follow the rest of the family's everyday drama and also get an insight in the family history. Why do I feel that I have read this before? Could it be because I have read both the Lowland and the God of Small Things this year? My conclusion is that writing about the Naxalite movement will get you nominated for the Booker Prize. My favourite parts of the book are the prologue, the final epilogue and the letters. The family saga was way too confusing and I don't think I have ever used the family tree as much as in this book (well, perhaps when I read Tolstoy). A lot of it could have been cut as it was just too much and not related to the plot. The book has a lot of strong points, and it was a lot of things; funny, gruesome, compelling, boring and thought-provoking. Mukherjee is on my list of the many authors I want to read more of.  I'm curious about how it will compare to the rest of the Booker shortlist, and the book was October's read in Clementine's Booker readalong.

I'm currently reading the Blindness of the Heart and it is really dark and beautiful. What am I going to read next? I have no idea, but I have 980 books to choose from + a library card.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

the Fox sisters.

Talking to the Dead by Barbara Weisberg (2004)
Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism


Kate was 14 and Maggie 11 in 1848, when they started hearing strange rapping in their bedroom. After a while, they realized they could communicate with the dead through the rapping. Through the communication they learnt that the spirit they were talking with had been murdered in the house they lived. Bewildered neighbours came to watch the seances. Rumour about the sisters' abilities spread, and they are today known as the symbols of modern spiritualism.

The rapping evolved into playing of instruments, pulling of hair and slaps in the face and the spirits becoming visible. And one of the spirits that often visited them was Benjamin Franklin. Many famous people met the sisters throughout the years, even the Presidents' wives. All through this, the girls were put to many tests, often scandalously only in their undergarments.  Their much older sister, Leah, was the one who arranged the seances and probably took most of the money as well. But it was the spirits that demanded that they should hold the meetings.

Although the girls were famous, their lives were sad. Both had broken hearts after love affairs gone wrong, and they both got addicted to alcohol and drugs. A few years before her death, Maggie confessed that it all had been a hoax and she travelled around showing how they made the raps.

It was an interesting read, and I learnt a lot about life in the late 1800s. But somehow I still felt like I couldn't quite get under the skin of the Fox sister. I'm also glad that the book wasn't as scary as I thought it would be, and I definitely believe that it was all hoax. I would never have read this book if it weren't for Ingalill's biography reading circle which was about alternative lifestyles this round. I chose the Fox sisters after listening to a radio programme about spiritualism, and I was curious about how it all started. And now I know.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Another Shetland mystery.

Thin Air by Ann Cleeves (2014)
Shetland #6

Four friends have come up from London, to the island Unst to celebrate a friend's wedding. The wedding is lovely, and the friend stay up late in the white night, drinking and talking. One of the things they talk about is Perrie Lizzie, a local ghost story. When the rest of the group goes to bed, Rebecca decides to stay outside for a little longer. In the morning she is gone, and Polly receives an e-mail with the suicide note. The body is found in a small loch. But is it suicide or murder? Perez and his team take the case.

The 6th Shetland books is just like the rest. Perez and his team, a murder or more, and the beautiful nature of Shetland. The plot is good, the story exciting and the ending very happy. I'm still torn about the fact that the series continued after the 4th book, which was the perfect ending, and I'm actually hoping that this is the last.  But Ann Cleeves should definitely continue to write crime novels. I'll read them.


Monday, 6 October 2014

hva?!

Jeg har endelig fått fingeren ut av rævva og kommet meg på biblioteket og skaffet meg lånekort. Circa ti år etter mitt siste (som ble borte med lommeboka etter en fuktig kveld på byen). Tror somlinga kan være knyttet til traumer av å bli sjekket opp på biblioteket i Trondheim hver gang jeg var der. Der burde det ha hengt plakater med Pick up books, not girls. Uansett, jeg har allerede registrert meg på eBokBib. Planen er seff å lese så mange norske 2014 bøker at jeg kan nominere til Bokbloggerprisen.

Hva skal jeg lese????

Takk for tips. Betyr dette at jeg skal blogge mer på norsk? Who knows, who cares?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

who was Harriet Burden?

the Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (2014)

 Harriet Burden; struggling artist, mother of two and the widower of Felix Lord, a famous art dealer. Fed up with the sexist art world, where a man is more likely to get praised than women, she plots a project where a man should play the role as the artist behind her art. The unfolding of Harriet Burden and her project is done after Harriet's death by a professor Hess through a number of interviews and Harriet's notebooks.

Harriet chose three very different men for her maskings project. The first was a black gay man, the second a young man, and the third was an already quite famous artist, Rune. The project went well until Rune, and no one believed that Harriet was behind it all.

I have been having a hard time with this book and I think I finally can put my finger on why. I think it's because it simply became too technical for me. It is written in a very scientific way with footnotes and references to both fictional and real work. For people interested in psychology and neuroscience, this must be a great read, but I'm not. And that's why I couldn't really enjoy this book, despite it being well-written (especially towards the end) and I rather enjoyed the feminist approach.

The Blazing World is on the Man Booker Prize 2014 long list, the first year the prize includes American authors as well. This was the first book out in Clementine's Booker reading circle, and I'm excited to read the short list in the coming year. And this will not be the last Hustvedt I read, despite not quite getting into this book.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

the birth of a nation through a child's eyes.

A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz (2002)

"When my father was a young man in Vilna, every wall in Europe said, 'Jews go home to Palestine.' Fifty years later, when he went back to Europe on a visit, the walls all screamed, 'Jews get out of Palestine.'"

  Amos was 9 when Israel became a nation. And 12 when his mother committed suicide. In his memoir, he tells the story of his family and how they suddenly found themselves in the Holy Land. He also gives an insight about what it was like being a child in Jerusalem under the making of Israel. But most importantly, it's about the joys and sorrows of a family.

 Beautifully written, it's both tragic and funny at the same time. I have had a hard time coming up with something clever to say about it, and that usually means that the book is great.

What I liked best about the book, is that it doesn't feel like a memoir at all. I think it's because the story isn't chronological, but jumps back and forth in time. I also learnt a lot from the book. The most eye-opening information, at least for me, was the British involvement when Israel was created. It also reminded me how much I need to read Jerusalem. Needless to say that I have definitely added more books by Amos Oz to my reading list. I'm also excited that Natalie Portman is making this book into a film. 

I read this as a part of Bjørg and Hedda's off-the-shelf challenge, this time the theme was Asia. And A Tale of Love and Darkness has been on my shelf since 2011, so about time.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Thirty-one. Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age.

the God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)

“As Estha stirred the thick jam he thought Two Thoughts and the Two Thoughts he thought were these:
a) Anything can happen to anyone.
and
b) It is best to be prepared.” 

Rahel and Estha are twins that have returned to their childhood home. Estha hasn't been there since he was sent to his father after the terrible event of their cousin Sophie Mol's death, while Rahel stayed with her grandparents as her mother was sent away as well for loving the wrong man.

The story moves between the now at the twins' return and the then with the death of Sophie Mol as the main event with a couple of twists and turns. But what really makes this book is the beautiful prose. Sometimes a mere sentence could make me laugh out loud or just sigh. It's definitely a slow-reading book. Although it's beautifully written and I enjoyed the story, I felt that there was something missing, but I cannot put my finger on exactly what. It is also a hard book to write about. But it is definitely worth a read!

The book won the Man Booker Prize in 1997 and is also August's read in Line's 1001 books reading circle.

“And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Poets on the run.

the Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (1998)

“There is a time for reciting poems and a time for fists.” 

Juan Gárcia is a 17 year old, who through his diary tells the story about his meeting with the Visceral Realists, a gang of poets living in Mexico City. They usually hang around in bars, drinking and discussing books. He also falls in love with one of them, María Font, and stops attending classes at the university. Two of the most famous Visceral Realists, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, along with a prostitute, Lupe, and Juan Gárcia,  have to leave Mexico City on New Year's Eve 1975 because Lupe's pimp has found them.

The second part of the book are eyewitness accounts from around the world, spanning from 1976 to 1996. Here we learn what Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano are up to in Mexico, Europe, Israel, USA and Africa and all the interesting characters they meet on their way.  It took some time to get used to the jumping from one eyewitness to another and piecing together the story, but once I got used to it, it became addictive.

The story is interesting, but I think you have to be really into poetry, and especially Mexican, to get everything out of this book. I usually skimmed the very detailed poetry part of the book. The rest of the book was right up my alley. Arturo Belano is the alter ego of Roberto Bolaño, and most of the characters are based on real persons (Wikipedia has a nice who's who).

I read the book as a part of a book originally written in Spanish in Bjørg's off the shelf challenge, temporarily being supervised by Hedda. I'm about a month late for the challenge as I have been a super slow reader this summer. the Savage Detectives has been on my shelf since 2011, so about time.

"Everything that begins as a comedy ends as tragedy."

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Recipes for the heart and soul.

Just showing off some of my new purchases. Recipes and remedies for whatever the autumn has in store for me. How about a Bridget Jones' Daiquiri and a slice of Really easy chocolate cake with chilli salt and tequila while trying to cure your fear of commitment by reading Blindness by José Saramago? Bring it on, I say!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Of bees and men

the Bees by Laline Paull (2014)

 Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, the lowest of the low in the hive. Flora surprises the priestesses when she can speak and produce Flow, so they give her a job in the nursery. Accept, obey, serve is the slogan of the hive and they all work hard so the Queen will rule and give birth to their beloved sisters or brothers. The Queen is the only one who is allowed to produce offspring and those who disobey or mate are instantly killed by the Fertility Police. Flora is very devoted to the Queen and does her best to follow the strict rules of the hive, but then she produces an egg.

 The book is promoted as a mix between A Handmaid's Tale and the Hunger Games. The latter part worried me, but thankfully there's only the same desire of survival. But there's the same feminist message in the Bees as in A Handmaid's Tale. I really enjoyed those parts where they hailed to the Holy Mother and danced around with penises in their mouths.

It started as a slow read for me, especially because I felt like the chapters were written poorly, but fortunately the writing got better the further I got, and I ended up really enjoying it. I was definitely fascinated by the story and the lives of bees. Another part I really liked was the dancing routines, which is supposedly something bees do.

I'm hoping this will be translated into Norwegian because I think this will be the perfect book for my sister. And if you want to save the bees and have a garden, here's a list of plants they like.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Kings, queens and infidelities.

Three weeks away. Two of them were spent in New York, partying it up and sweating it out. A week was spent in Quebec and Nova Scotia, never enough time and I'm seriously considering migrating. I'm happy to report that I had an amazing time and only bought 5 books, and read 2 and a half of them. To celebrate my accomplishment, I made 3 orders at Amazon and 2 at BetterWorldBooks.

I don't think I have ever read so little as I have done this summer. Only 4 in 5 weeks. Let's start with the one I liked the least and end with the one you should read. Why, oh why, won't you let me have as many tags as I want, Blogspot?

 Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow (1959)
Tags: not impressed, family and self, war and travel

Henderson is a millionaire who has all his life been driven by his inner voice saying I want, I want. This voice has driven him to primitive tribes in Africa where he tries to impress them with his greatness. Henderson is a serious contestant to the most annoying character award and that made the book really hard to read. The ethnocentric view didn't help either. I had such high hopes for this Canadian Nobel Prize winning 1001-book, but was disappointed. So I'm reluctant to pick up Saul Bellow again. I read this as a part of Bjørg's off the shelf project, this time the theme was books first published in English and it was supposed to be finished in May. Oops.


the Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham (2014)
Tags: family and self, queer, sex drugs and rock'n'roll


Barrett Meeks lives with his almost famous drug addicted brother and his dying wife. Barrett is too smart for his own good, never able to hold on to boyfriends or jobs. One night while walking through Central Park, he sees a light in the sky and he believes it has to mean something. I really enjoyed reading this book, but when I finished it was that all ran through my head. I expected something more out of this story and it is definitely not Cunningham at his best.



 Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814)
Tags: family and self, love

Fanny Price comes from a poor family with too many children and is therefore sent to live with her richer relatives at Mansfield Park.  Being an Austen novel, there will be love and there will be drama. But the build up was so slow that it took two months to finish the 500 pages, but when the drama finally started (around page 300 or so), I wasn't able to put it down. There's quite a scandal in this one. Of the 3 Austens I have read, this is a solid number two after Pride and Prejudice. This was June's read in Line's 1001 books reading circle, but I'm way behind. Another oops.

the Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner (2014)
 Tags: books you should read, books that made me cry, family and self, sex drugs and rock'n'roll, supernatural, crime and mystery

The Kings have been lobster fishers on Loosewood Island for generations, and now Cordelia has her own boat. The family legend says that when the first Kings settled on the island, the sea gave him food and a wife, but in return, the family have to give a son back to the sea. The interesting thing about Loosewood is that it is disputed, both Canada and USA claim it. There is also a feud going on with lobster fishers from another town because they fish in their waters and bring drugs to the island. I had been waiting for this book ever since I read Touch and it didn't disappoint. I love how the island itself is a character and that it suddenly turned very gangster. Cordelia is a wonderful heroine and the selkies and mermaids brought their magical touch. Y'all need to love Zentner!

Hopefully my reading will pick up during the last two weeks of my summer, but those will be busy as well with wedding, music festival and general fun coming up! I'll leave you with a picture of a fat woman wearing a bikini (scandalous I know) gazing at her childhood dream destination, Prince Edward Island. Hope you have a great summer!


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

I'm not here because I'm here.

Brooklyn, that's it. Two weeks, then a week in Canada.

I didn't finish the books I meant to before going. Henderson the Rain King has turned annoying and difficult, and I'm about to choke Mr Henderson. Leaving Mansfield Park alone for too long was a mistake and now I struggle with the who's who. 

My plan is to limit myself to buying one book and then read it before buying the next one. I know exactly which book to read first, I just need to go shopping first. Three days and no shopping, just a lot of wining and dining. 

I only brought my ipad so pictures and links will be added once I get back. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

the German Enlightenment

Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann (2005)

"That was the moment when he grasped that nobody wanted to use their minds. People wanted peace. They wanted to eat and sleep and have other people be nice to them. What they didn't want to do was think."

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a German scientist and adventurer who mapped Latin-America. He also collaborated and corresponded with another great German scientist, Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855). Gauss was nicknamed the Prince of Mathematics and he also did great things for physics. 

Kehlmann has written an exciting and accessible account of their friendship and Humboldt's travels. Yet I felt that it should be something more to this book, because it felt too light and easy. I think it is because I never got mesmerised and involved with the story as I usually do, but this time I never really connected with the story. And three days later I don't remember much of the book. Which is weird, because it should be right up my alley.

And now it sounds like the book is awful, but it's definitely not! I enjoyed it there and then and I definitely learnt a lot about Germany at that time in history. I just wish it was more to it.

I picked this up after reading Rose-Marie's glowing review, and I read it for Ingalill's biography reading circle where this round's theme was crossovers.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Oh, Alberta.

the Alberta Trilogy by Cora Sandel
(Alberta and Jacob 1926, Alberta and Freedom 1931 and Alberta Alone 1939)
 
“The truth was Alberta only knew what she did not want. She had no idea what she did want. And not knowing brought unrest and a giddy sensation under her heart. She existed like a negative of herself, and this flaw was added to all the others. To get away, out into the world! Beyond this all details were blurred. She imagined somewhere open, free, bathed in sunshine. And a throng of people, none of them her relatives, none of whom could criticize her appearance and character, and to whom she was not responsible for being other than herself.” 

 Alberta is a young woman living in Northern Norway with her brother, Jacob, and their parents. Alberta is unable to continue her education, and spends her days at home helping out, while her friends have either moved south or are busy getting hitched. She is constantly cold, both physically and emotionally.

In the second book, we find Alberte a few years later in Paris, where she sometimes works as a model for painters. She lives in the cheapest hotels and is constantly broke. She hangs with a crowd of international artists and their muses. She has changed a lot from the one she used to be in Norway, and she is independent and hates running into fellow countrymen, as she is worried about what they'd say behind her back. I'm not going to say anything about the third book, because then I'll spoil the essentials of the second book. But it is set a few years later, just after World War I. 

Alberta definitely found a special place in my heart. She reminded me a lot of my younger self, especially in her insecurity and constant coldness. And the whole part about finding yourself. Cora Sandel also writes well, and I was surprised that there weren't more quotes on Goodreads. I'd definitely have written some there myself if I had read it in English. I have a feeling that this book was controversial when it was published, and especially the second book where there are sex and even an abortion. I know that during World War II, the German regime in Norway banned the third book because they believed it to be anti-German.

I liked the second book best of all, and I believe that it should be on the 1001 books you should read list instead of Alberta and Jacob. And I would have loved to be in Paris in the that time period myself. Alberta and Jacob was April's read in Line's 1001 books reading circle, and although I read it then, I wanted to read the whole trilogy before writing about it.

And oh, does anyone know why the names have been changed from the Norwegian version (Alberte, Jakob) to the English one (Alberta, Jacob)? I have only seen that in children's books before. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

“What use is it to him now that he was such a good mathematician at school?

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1928)

 “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.” 

Paul Bäumer is a young German soldier on the Western Front. He conscripted with many of his fellow class mates and some of them are in the same troop. As the years go by, he watches them die one by one, and ponders about the meaning of it all.

We follow Paul in the trenches, in the hospital and home on leave. And what do we learn? That war is awful and meaningless. The intensity in the book mixed with sudden prose hit me straight in the face and it was impossible to lay down.

While reading, I kept wondering if this book would have been so powerful if it had been written from the perspective of the winning side. Because once we know that Paul is German, we know he is doomed to lose. It is definitely a really important book, and as it is a century since the Great War began, you should read it.

This was May's read in Line's 1001 books reading circle. I probably wouldn't have picked it up otherwise (at this time in life anyway), so I'm grateful.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

twenty-two.

the Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (2013)

 “But he was no longer in Tollygunge. He had stepped out of it as he had stepped so many mornings out of his dreams, its reality and its particular logic rendered meaningless in the light of day. The difference was so extreme that he could not accommodate the two places together in his mind. In this enormous new country, there seemed to be nowhere for the old to reside. There was nothing to link them; he was the sole link. Here life ceased to obstruct or assault him. Here was a place where humanity was not always pushing, rushing, running as if with a fire at its back.” 

Subhash and Udayan Mitra are brothers, growing up in Calcutta. While Subhash has an academic mind, Udayan is fascinated by the Naxalite movement, which wants Communist rule in India. Subhash moves to Rhode Island to continue his education, Udayan stays behind and gets more active in illegal activities, but also marries a girl without his parents consent.

The police are rounding up the members of the Naxalite movement, and one day they are coming to the Mitra household. After capturing Udayan, they murder him in front of his parents and wife. Returned for the funeral, Subhash learns that Udayan's wife, Gauri, is pregnant. He decides to marry her and bring her back to Rhode Island.

The themes of the book are interesting, and I enjoyed reading it. But towards the end, the book felt too long and especially the last chapters seemed unnecessary. Jhumpa Lahiri has an interesting voice, and I will definitely read more by her.

Having read all the shortlisted works for Man Booker Prize 2013, I have to say that although I enjoyed the winner; the Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, my favourite is Harvest by Jim Crace.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

twenty.

Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc (2012)

 An ancient Sami drum is stolen from a gallery in Kautokeino and a reindeer herder is found murdered out on the vidde. And with a UN conference on indigenous peoples coming up, the drum needs to be found as fast as possible. Kenneth Nango and Nina Nansen from the reindeer police are asked to help out on the cases. 

Kenneth, a local Sami, who has been in the police for decades has admirers and enemies, even within the police. He knows most of the people in Kautokeino. Nina Nansen has just started working in the reindeer police and as she is from the south of Norway, she is not used to the conditions and cultures of the north. And she is especially fascinated by the sun coming back on the horizon.

As the plot thickens, a Frenchman with a taste for young girls and metals, makes his presence known in Kautokeino. It also seems that corrupt politicians and police are involved in the case. And then there is an old map indicating a gold mine.

It is always interesting to read books about Norway written by foreign authors. Olivier Truc is a French journalist who has worked mainly in Sweden and he definitely has a lot of knowledge about the Northern Scandinavia. The atmosphere of Kautokeino is spot on at times, and I especially think he explained the political climate well.  As this is fiction, some things are made up, such as the transnational structure of the reindeer police, but I think that is necessary for the story. I found the beginning of the book slow, probably because of too much information which didn't really fit in with the story. But as the story progressed, the information became more integrated. The end came too fast and I was confused when there were no pages left on the Kindle. I would really like to know how Kenneth and Nina reacted to what had happened.

A good read which made me homesick for the Arctic and longing for snow and darkness while being in sunny Edinburgh. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

nineteen.

the Beggar and the Hare by Tuomas Kyrö (2011)

 In order to earn easy money and buy his son a pair of football boots, Vatanescu from Romania,  signs a contract with a Russian human trafficker, Yegor Kugar, who quickly puts him on the streets of Helsinki as a beggar. Vatanescu is crafty and discovers that a lot of edible food is thrown into dumpsters and is feasting on the food when Yegor discovers it. Yegor is furious and sacks Vatanescu, but Vatanescu fights back and runs away with a lot of money.

And then Vatanescu saves the rabbit from a group of angry men. Together they travel through Finland, wherever their luck takes them.

The story is entertaining and I really felt sorry for Vatanescu and really hoped that he finally could buy those football shoes for his son. And it was also interesting to read the narrative of Yegor. It became disappointing towards the end, and I think the part about the political party was a bit too much over the top. But I forgave everything when I came to the last page. Perfect ending.

I stumbled upon this book at Waterstones in Edinburgh and it was the perfect companion to three meals and many glasses of wine. The Beggar and the Hare is a modern rewrite of the Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna, where Vatanen injures a hare and then they go into the Finnish wilderness together. I read that book six years ago while living in Finland and I really enjoyed it. Read it before reading this.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

eighteen.

the Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (1984)

 Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That's my score to date. I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through.” 

 Francis and his father are the only residents on a small Scottish island. Francis' father never registered him as a new born, so he doesn't officially exist and has therefore only been home schooled. He spends his days running around the island, blowing up his dams and killing animals. His older brother, Eric, who has spent the last years in jail for killing dogs and scaring children, has escaped and is on his way home, which worries Francis. In addition to have killed three young kids, Francis has many other secrets. The Wasp Factory is a huge machine which gives him the answers in the times of need, and he uses this machine to figure out what to do about Eric. 

I think the Cauldhame family just won the award for creepiest family ever. Two brothers, where one kills dogs and the other children with a mad scientist as a father. I haven't come across any worse in my time of reading. And the funniest thing is that despite all the awful stuff Francis does, I manage to feel sorry for him. Because after all, he is a product of his father. 

The book is both wonderful and awful at the same time. There was one scene, involving the brain of child, that made me sick to the stomach because it was so easy to picture the scene. It is definitely a book you should read if you can stomach it. And Iain Banks is making his way onto my favourite author list, such a shame that it happens after his death.  

Monday, 7 April 2014

seventeen.

Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (1998)

 Pedro Juan is content as long as he has some money, rum and a woman. Rum and women are easy to find, money is harder as Cuba in the 90s is a rough place. Pedro Juan goes from woman to woman, job to job and also spends some time in jail. The book is more like a collection of many short stories, some with Pedro Juan as the main character and some are stories about others.

I'm guessing this isn't the Cuba that tourists get to explore. It is the life within those crumbled buildings that they are taking pictures of. The life of whores, the unemployed, the crazies and poorest of the poor. It's about the ups and downs and those random life altering events. And of course sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.

Dirty is definitely the right word for this book. Not only because of the sexual content, but also because of the conditions Pedro Juan finds himself living and working in. A work that manages to combine both sex, drugs and rock'n'roll and state of the nation is easily one of my instant favourites. The genre is apparently called dirty realism and Charles Bukowski was of course the king of it. 
Read it for the social commentary, or the sex, or both. 

Monday, 31 March 2014

eleven, thirteen, sixteen: george smiley

by John le Carré (1961-1963)


 George Smiley was a British agent during the war. When a man he had interviewed for the agency is found murdered and the agency doesn't do anything about it, he decides to leave. Before he leaves, he is determined to solve the case. The case is a tricky one and involves German agents on British solved, and one of them manages to run off to Germany.

After leaving the agency, he is asked to look into a murder at a religious private school. The wife of one of the professors was found murdered after she had written to a Christian newspaper's advisory column about fearing for her life. The victim believes that her husband will kill her, but he has an alibi for the time of the murder.

A spy should always be out in the cold, because that means that no one takes notice of him.  When the circle of Leamas' agents is killed one by one in East Germany, all signs lead to the leader of the East Germany's secret agency. As it turns out, he is the one who ran the operation in Britain a few years earlier. Leamas decides to infiltrate the East German agency, but first he must make himself interesting enough for them to recruit him.

I have spent the previous month reading about George Smiley, one of the most famous character in crime and mystery novels. Even after three books, it is hard to paint a picture of George, except that he is peculiar looking and his wife left him. He is definitely a character that manages to go unnoticed. And in the Spy Who Came in from the Cold he is only mentioned, and it is hard to understand which role he played in the infiltration of the East German agency.


I have yet to discover why John le Carré is such a popular writer. I found the first book incredibly hard to read because of the language. I wanted to find my red pen and rewrite a lot of the sentences. The plot didn't make the reading easier and in all three books it seems like too much is left out for us readers who haven't spent time working as a secret agent. Luckily the language improved in the second book and I hardly had no complaints when I came to the third book, and I guess it will continue to improve in the rest of his work.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold must have been a great read when it was published in the height of the Cold War drama. It gives a good picture of the Cold War, and I really liked the British Communist Elizabeth Gold and how brainwashed the East German Communists were. I'm fortunate because I have just taught the kids about the Cold War and especially Berlin, so I had no problems with the setting and background. If you are interested in reading this, you should at least read about the Cold War on Wikipedia at some point so you understand the background of the book.

What I really cannot fathom is that not only one, but three of the George Smiley novels have made it onto the 1001 books you must read before you die list (insert some rant about male experts and male readers and their thirst for action here). Surely there must be better books to put on the list. Because I need to read books in a chronological order, I must endure all the George Smiley books in order to cross off Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People. Let's hope that Smiley grows on me.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was March's read in Line's 1001 books reading circle

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

fifteen.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (2013)

 “And when they asked us where we were from, we exchanged glances and smiled with the shyness of child brides. They said, Africa? We nodded yes. What part of Africa? We smiled. Is it that part where vultures wait for famished children to die? We smiled. Where the life expectancy is thirty-five years? We smiled. Is is there where dissidents shove AK-47s between women's legs? We smiled. Where people run about naked? We smiled. That part where they massacred each other? We smiled. Is it where the old president rigged the election and people were tortured and killed and a whole bunch of them put in prison and all, there where they are dying of cholera - oh my God, yes, we've seen your country; it's been on the news.” 

Darling grows up in a shantytown called Paradise in Zimbabwe. Her family used to be rich, but then lost everything, her father went to South Africa and hasn't returned, so all Darling has is her group of friends. Then, when she is 10, she is sent to DestroyedMichygen to live with her aunt. Though she gets all the food she can eat and has every Apple product available, she is homesick. 

Darling's narrative is a delight to read, first of all because it starts out with the voice of small child who doesn't understand everything she witnesses and then grows until Darling is a teenager who is an expert in American slang. It is easy to follow her narrative and it is an easy read despite the serious topics which are brewing underneath. Although Zimbabwe is never mentioned, it is easy to figure out which country and despot it's all about. And yet, my favourite part was the American one. It is probably because of the culture crash, and the way she describes the perfect normal life of teenagers.

This book would have dazzled me if it wasn't for the fact that I have read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie last year. They are very similar in both theme and setting, although Darling is just a kid. They are both great and I recommend them both.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

fourteen.

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih (1966)


"'You remind me of a dear friend with whom I was on very close terms in London - Dr Mustafa Sa'eed. He used to be my teacher. In 1928 he was President of the Society for the Struggle for African Freedom of which I was a committee member. What a man he was! He's one of the greatest Africans I've known. He had wide contacts. Heavens, that man - women fell for him like flies. He used to say "I'll liberate Africa with my penis", and he laughed so widely you could see the back of his throat.'"

When the narrator comes home to the village by a bend in the Nile, he notices a stranger amongst the crowd. The stranger is intriguing, and soon the narrator is obsessed about him. His name is Mustafa Sa'eed and he had suddenly settled down in the village and married a local girl. Right before his sudden death, Mustafa tells the narrator about his life.


He grew up around Khartoum and happened to be one of the smartest in his class, so he was sent to Cairo to continue his education. From there, he went to London, where he became very successful and popular, especially with the ladies. So popular that a couple of them committed suicide after he was finished with them. And then he killed the one he married, spent some time in jail and went back to Sudan.

It's a mix between north and south, old and new, and when you read it, you realise that there are no differences between us and them, regardless of who you or they are. It's a story about love and madness. I liked the prose and the book gave me a lot of things to think about. It's definitely a good quick read that will leave you pondering.

I chose this for an African book in Bjørg's off the shelf challenge and it's been on my shelf since 2010, so it was about time to read it. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

twelve.

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura (2002)

 Taro Azuma is a billionaire who grew up as a poor boy with his aunt's family where he was treated poorly. Taro is the gossip of the Japanese community in New York as he as always been stand-offish and mysterious. Minae meets him first when she is a young girl and he is the private chauffeur to one of the big men in her father's company. Later, when Taro is rich and Minae is a writer, she is sought out by a Japanese, Yusuke, who wants to tell her Taro's story.

Yusuke got to know the story when he by accident or pure luck crashed into a gate of a cottage in Karuizawa, where an old maid lives. She lets him sleep in the shed and from there he swears he sees the ghost of a young girl. The maid, Fumiko, has served the same family since the war, and has known Taro from he was a kid living in the neighbouring house and until now, when she is his employee. She decides to tell him about her life, and the story of Taro and Yoko, probably because she wants it off her chest.

The prologue to this story is so long that it's a story in itself. And then when the real story begins and takes you back over time, it's like reading a completely different book. At first I struggled with the real story because I was so caught up in the prologue, but as the story progressed it mesmerised me. I have been spending months reading this, just a couple of pages in bed at night, because I didn't want it to end.

The author says that this is a Japanese twist of Wuthering Heights. It's been 10 years since I read Wuthering Heights and I don't remember much except moors and Heathcliff (but this might also been influenced by Kate Bush). I'm going to reread Wuthering Heights as soon as possible, and then I might (but probably not) write a note on the two books.

This is also a tough competitor to the prettiest book in my collection. Just look at the cover(s). And it was the thing which caught my eye and made me buy it (yes, I always judge the book by its cover). The paper is glossy and the book is full of black and white pictures of the places in the story. And dividing it in two makes it a lot easier to carry it around because it's nearly 900 pages long.

Did I mention that this book is great?

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

ten.

the Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955)

“They were not friends. They didn't know each other. It struck Tom like a horrible truth, true for all time, true for the people he had known in the past and for those he would know in the future: each had stood and would stand before him, and he would know time and time again that he would never know them, and the worst was that there would always be the illusion, for a time, that he did know them, and that he and they were completely in harmony and alike. For an instant the wordless shock of his realization seemed more than he could bear.”

Tom Ripley is a man with no purpose and he takes whatever he can get. When he gets an invitation to go to Italy to try persuading an acquaintance to go back home, he immediately says yes. But the man, Dickie Greenleaf doesn't want to go home, so Tom decides to stay as well in Mongibello, and eventually moves in with Dickie. Tom is a sociopath and he is insanely jealous of Dickie. He then murders Dickie and pretends to be Dickie, but Dickie's friends are suspicious. Will they find out the truth?

 Highsmith has made the impossible possible, and I actually rooted for the murderer, even if he has nothing likeable about him. It was fascinating to read about how he fooled everyone and just kept spinning his net of lies. The book made me yearn for a time I have never known and travelling around Europe. I think she captures the mood of Americans in Europe at that time and the book reminded me both of Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald and American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I became hooked on Mr Ripley, and I'm glad that there are 4 more books to look forward to.

This was February's book in Line's 1001 books reading circle, and although I read it in February, I just have been too busy to write about it until now. Which is bad because I have forgotten what I wanted to say.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

nine.

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves (2014)
Vera Stanhope #6 

 On their way home on the Metro, Detective Joe Ashworth and his daughter Jess discover a dead woman in their carriage. The woman is running a small B&B on Harbour Street. The police has a hard time finding a motive for the killing as the victim seemed to have lived a quiet life. But even the quiet ones have their secrets.

The sixth Vera Stanhope novel, and this is the one I liked the least. I just didn't get as sucked in as I normally have when reading Ann Cleeves' novels. This novel was more narrated by others than Vera, and although it was nice to finally get into Holly's mind, it didn't do anything for the story. And the plot didn't convince me at all.

Hopefully the next one will be better, and I have really enjoyed the other Vera Stanhope novels, so read them! And also watch the series. 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

eight.

Harvest by Jim Crace (2013)

“Any hawk looking down on the orchard's cloistered square, hoping for the titbit of a beetle or a mouse, would see a patterned canopy of trees, line on line, the orchard's melancholy solitude, the jewellery of leaves. It would see the backs of horses, the russet, apple-dotted grass, the saltire of two crossing paths worn smooth by centuries of feet, and two grey heads, swirling in a lover's dance, like blown seed husks caught up in an impish and exacting wind and with no telling when or where they'll come to ground again.” 

The Village is just a few houses inhabited by the families who work at the estate owned by Master Kent. When three strangers arrive, Walter Thirsk sees it as an ominous sign. The same night, a barn burns down, and the strangers are accused of the fire. The week following the fire sees dramatic and unforgivable changes in the Village.

A dark tale with the beautiful and rhythmic language. You get pulled right in and you are just waiting for disaster to strike. I learnt so many new words while reading this. I could probably have quoted the entire book. And as with every good book I read, I have trouble praising it. You just have to take my words for its greatness. Needless to say that Jim Crace is an author I will read more of.  
“I am excused, I think, for wondering if I am the only one alive this afternoon with no other living soul who wants to cling to me, no other soul who'll let me dampen her. The day has ended and the light has snuffed. I'm left to trudge into the final evening with nobody to loop their soaking hands through mine.” 

seven.

Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang (2013)
The Concubine Who Launched Modern China

Empress Dowager Cixi, born in 1835, ruled China until her death in 1908. She was the one who modernised China, and fought wars against Japan and the great European powers. But as Cixi was just the Empress Dowager she had to rule behind the curtain and make sure that the Emperor was under her thumb.

Because she was just a concubine, and not married to the Emperor, she was not entitled to any power. But the Empress had not given birth to any sons, something which Cixi managed to do. When the Emperor died, her son, Tongzhi, was made the Emperor and Cixi, along with the Empress, were upgraded to Empress Dowagers. As Tongzhi was only 5, the Empress Dowgers were in charge. They also staged a coup which resulted in the removal of the Emperor's advisors and the insertion of Cixi's trusted men.

Her son became the ruler when he was married. Cixi stayed away from politics, but she didn't agree with her son's decisions. Tongzhi died in 1875, and because he had no sons, a boy was chosen and adopted by the Dowager Empresses to become the new Emperor. When Ci'an died in 1881, Cixi became the sole ruler until the boy, Guangxu, was old enough to rule himself.

In this period, Cixi had a lot of enemies. The most famous one was Wild Fox Kang who tried to murder Cixi several times. He didn't succeed and Cixi found out about it. She believed that the Emperor himself was in on it, and successfully put him in house arrest so she again became the ruler, and this time she was in power until her death. This period was marked by the Boxer rebellion and the following war with the European powers. And after the war, China needed to reform in order to survive.

Although the book gives a detailed account of the life of Cixi, I never felt that I got to know her. I found her boring, and I also felt that Jung Chang spent a lot of time defending her. It also gives a detailed account of China at that time, and I definitely learnt a lot about Chinese history.  I became more fascinated by Wild Fox Kang, and I'm glad that Jung Chang wrote so much about him as well. The collection of pictures in the end was also very fascinating.

I'm going to read Wild Swans later this year, and Mao is also going to be read sooner or later, probably as a part of Ingalill's superb biographies reading circle which this book was a part of.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

six.

the Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1860)

 Walter Hartright has got the job as a drawing master to two young girls, Ms. Laura Fairlie and her half-sister, Marion Halcombe. On his way there, he helps a woman dressed in white to escape from her followers. When he finally met Laura, he is struck by how she looks like the Woman in White. He (as all good heroes) falls in love with Laura, but she is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde and decides to marry him. Sir Percival Glyde is a terrible man with a terrible plan along with his Italian accomplice Count Fosco.

The book is narrated by the person who has most insight at that time, and the best is that the narrations are different. I was laughing hard when reading Laura's hypochondriac uncle's narrative.

Based on the cover and the title I thought this would be a ghost story, but instead it is one of the first sensations novel; a mix of Gothic literature and the psychological realism of the domestic novel. It is also said to be one of the first crime novels. It is entertaining, as all Gothic novels are, and one can write pages about the female portraits. Marion is the smart spinster, completely devoted to her Laura. And Laura is the stereotypical weak blonde who cannot see danger when it's in her face. But Count Fosco is definitely my favourite character, despite being the villain.

I think it's a tie between the Moonstone and the Woman in White as my favourite Wilkie Collins novel. I just downloaded about 7 more of his works to my Kindle and I hope they are as good as his famous works.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

five.

the Birds by Tarjei Vesaas (1957)

 Mattis is the village idiot, and he knows he is different from every one else in the small village where he and his sister, Hege, live. They are in their 40s, and poor as Hege makes a living sewing clothes, while Mattis is unable to work more than a day because of his thoughts. Then Hege suggests that Mattis should become the boatman on the lake just to get him out of the house, and one day he actually gets a passenger in his small boat. The passenger is looking for a place to stay, so Mattis invites him to stay with them, and this changes things around the house.

So Vesaas is one of those authors I have been putting off reading for years as every one I know loathes his books. Is is because they were forced to read him at school? I didn't find anything loathsome about the book, in fact I got hooked. It was easy to get into Mattis' narrative.

It is interesting to read Mattis opinion of himself and those around him. He knows he's different and not as smart as the others, and he often blames his sister for not understanding him. I also like how we don't ever get to know Hege's thoughts, and that it leaves you guessing how she is dealing with living with a brother who is mentally challenged. But perhaps the book is better with just Mattis' narrative.

Bjørg has made an off-the-shelf challenge and this is my contribution to a book by a Scandinavian author. It's been on my shelf for nearly two years, so it was about time. Next round it will be a book set in Africa.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

four.

Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb (1999)

 “Ancient Japanese protocol stipulated that the Emperor be addressed with "fear and trembling". I've always loved the expression, which so perfectly describes the way actors in Samurai films speak to their leader, their voices tremulous with almost superhuman reverence. 
So I put on the mask of terror and started to tremble.”

Amélie is excited about spending a year in a Japanese firm. She was born and lived in Japan until she was 5, but her parents were Belgian. The big Japanese corporation turns out to be a culture shock for Amélie, with its hierarchy and secret codes of conduct.

The book makes an attempt at being funny, but it didn't make me laugh. I also found it to be shallow and too many things and words were repeated for a novel of just 130 pages. How about finding some synonyms for beautiful and blunder? But this may be the translator's fault. I also wished the author would take a look at Japan outside the workplace as well, as I think that would maybe make it more interesting. I found the section about how Japanese women should behave to be the most interesting in the book. How this book got to be on the list of 1001 books you should read before you die is beyond me.

But I have high hopes for the film, as I think there is so much potential which can be played out on the big screen.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

three.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013)

 “Hi!
My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.

A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be. As for me, right now I am sitting in a French maid cafe in Akiba Electricity Town, listening to a sad Chanson that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you, somewhere in my future. And if you're reading this, then maybe by now you're wondering about me, too.

You wonder about me.
I Wonder about you.
Who are you and what are you doing?” 

Ruth finds a box containing a diary in English, a notebook in French and some letters in Japanese washed ashore on an island in British Columbia. The diary is written by a young Japanese girl, Nao, who is getting bullied and wants to talk about her 104 year old Zen Buddhist nun great-grandmother. The book alters between Nao's diary and Ruth reading it. As Nao's story progresses, Ruth gets more worried about her and tries to find her on the Internet.

Once I started this, I couldn't put it down. I was fascinated, both by Nao's diary and by Ruth's island life. But the end was such a let down. I mean, so much potential, and then you end it with a conversation about quantum physics? And the other thing which annoyed me was that she chose to put herself and her husband in it. Especially when Ruth turned out to be my least favourite character. Oliver was more likeable. And although I read this great interview, I worry that I will always link the author Ruth to the Ruth in the book, and I fear that this will make it harder to read her other books.

But, yes to everything else! I loved the mesmerising and sad tale of Nao, her awesome great-grandmother and the island community. I also like how the nature on the island is a character, and that there are so much to learn from this book; both of Japanese culture and how the environment works.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

two.

Cain by José Saramago (2009)

 “The history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn't understand us, and we don't understand him.”

After killing his brother, Cain, is condemned to walk on the earth for eternity. He is lead from one major event in the Old Testament to an other, while witnessing the wickedness of God.

Cain is the last novel the Nobel Prize winner wrote before his death, and it is hard to not read it as a personal argument with God. That doesn't mean that this isn't an interesting or good book. I really enjoyed reading it, probably because I always teach the kids about God's bad side in the Old Testament.

Another thing which stuck with me after reading the book, was the style. The first letter in the sentences were written with capital letters, the rest not. And the chapters didn't have any paragraphs. At first it was hard to get used to, but it totally fits with the story and makes it more intriguing.

I kept comparing the book to the Testament of Mary because of the obvious Bible retelling, and I definitely liked Cain better. I think it is because Saramago dared to be personal and controversial and went a long way with the interpretation and retelling of the famous Bible stories. And the ending is brilliant.

This is the third book by Saramago that I have read, and my favourite. I definitely must read the Gospel According to Jesus Christ one day.

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