trust me, I’m telling you stories.

the Passion by Jeanette Winterson (1987)
 Henri is the man who prepares chickens for Napoleon. And because of that he gets to see the battlefields of Europe, all the way to Moscow. Meanwhile, in Venice, a web-footed girl named Villanelle works at a casino. At work she cross dresses to flirt with the customers and she falls in love with a married woman. Years later, Henri and Villanelle meet on the outskirts of a burning Moscow and they decide to desert together, making their way to Venice where Henri has to find Villanelle’s heart.

I’m amazed by the fact that this book is a mere 180 pages long, but has so many stories within the story. I loved the setting, and if I could time travel, Venice would be one of the places I’d visit (but not now, as it is a tourist trap). I also learnt more about Napoleon. All in all, it’s a great read and that was a pleasant surprise as I didn’t enjoy Orange is the Only Fruit when I read it years ago.

(Why is it always so hard to write a lot about the books you have come to love?)

This was my choice for Hedda’s off-the-shelf 2016 reading challenge; a book with a red cover. I’m months behind in blogging.

performing Shakespeare at the end of the world.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
 A pandemic has wiped out most of the world’s population and has left the towns and cities desolate. The Traveling Symphony is a troupe of performers travelling through a vast area around the Great Lakes. Kirsten was a child actress in a production of King Lear in Toronto when the pandemic broke out, but doesn’t remember much of the years before she found the Traveling Symphony. But what she does remember, is that an actor, Arthur Leander, died on stage that last night, and ever since she has been obsessed with him; and searches empty houses for magazines and other memorabilia. 

The post-apocalyptic world is a dangerous place, and the town St. Deborah by the Water has really changed since the last time they were in town. A Prophet has taken over and banished all non-believers. When they leave the town, they discover that a young girl has sneaked on board, and they find themselves in danger as the villagers are trying to get the girl back as she is to be married to the Prophet.

In addition to follow the Traveling Symphony, the book also has flashbacks to the world before the pandemic, and it especially focuses on Arthur and his wife, Miranda, but also on the man who tried to save Arthur on the night he died. I think the most interesting part is the difference between the now and the then, and how quickly everything we are used to just vanished. I had a burning question all through the book and I’m glad it was answered at the end and that it was the answer I was hoping for (and no, I won’t tell you what it is as it sort of spoil things). The only person I would love to get to know better is the Prophet, what happened in between his childhood and becoming the Prophet?  It is a really interesting read, perfect for long sleepless summer nights.

the dragon’s mist.

the Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015)
 “Yet are you so certain, good mistress, you wish to be free of this mist? Is it not better some things remain hidden from our minds?”
“It may be for some, father, but not for us. Axl and I wish to have again the happy moments we shared together. To be robbed of them is as if a thief came in the night and took what’s most precious from us.”
“Yet the mist covers all memories, the bad as well as the good. Isn’t that so, mistress?”
“We’ll have the bad ones come back too, even if they make us weep or shake with anger. For isn’t it the life we’ve shared?” 

Beatrice and Axl set out to visit their son in a neighbouring village.  The way to the village is dangerous as it is filled with ogres, bandits and other foul creatures. They spend a night in a Saxon village which is on guard as some villagers have just been attacked by ogres. When they are leaving, they’re asked to take a young boy, Edwin, with them as he has been bitten by a strange creature and the villagers banish him. A warrior, Wistan, also follows them to ensure that they will be safe.

Axl has lately been concerned about that they seem to have forgotten most of their lives. Whilst they are travelling he learns that the memory losses are caused by the shedragon’s breath which is also the reason for the misty valleys. He also learns that both Wistan and Lord Gawain, who they also meet, have been given the roles as dragonslayers. And after a lot of twists and turns, Beatrice and Axl find themselves at the dragon’s lair.

The book is certainly different from what I have been reading lately, and it’s refreshing. It has the perfect amount of fantasy for me, which means just a dash, and I love books about travelling. It was certainly an unexpected book from Ishiguro. I’m also curious about whether it will be nominated to any prizes this year. I certainly hope so, but I know that there are many books coming out this year by excellent authors like Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Louis de Bernières and more, so it will be a tough competition.   

the cabin in the woods.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (2015)
“’Dates only make us aware of how numbered our days are, how much closer to death we are for each one we cross off. From now on, Punzel, we’re going to live by the sun and the seasons.’ He picked me up and spun me around, laughing.’Our days will be endless.’” 
Peggy is 8 when her father takes her from her home in London to a remote cabin in Germany. He tells her that the rest of the world is destroyed and that they are the only ones left. They barely make it through the first hard winter, and Punzel, as she now calls herself, has to survive on roots and insects. She spends 8 years in the cottage before going back to London.

I absolutely loved the idea of this book, but the way the plot was structured ruined it for me. I wish that it would have been chronologically instead of flashbacks, because then it would have been more exciting. When you already know in the beginning of the book that she makes it back after eight years, it’s not really exciting.

I do understand that it is meant to be more about the mental aspect of being kidnapped and brainwashed than a thriller, but it didn’t really work for me. And the real shocker in the book came way too late to make a real impact on me. But yet, I still think of Peggy and that awful cabin.

in the midnight hour she cried more, more, more.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
 “Who what am I? My answer: I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each ‘I’, every one of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow the world.”
Saleem Sinai is born at the strike of midnight when India gained its independence, and then he is switched at birth. He discovers that he has a superpower, telepathy. He can communicate with the other children with superpowers whom are born in the midnight hour of India’s independence. Saleem’s life is influenced by the events that shape India’s history.

The book is high up on the list of the most difficult books I have read. I spent nearly three months on the 650 pages, and many pages had to be read over and over so I could decipher some meaning from it. But it was definitely worth it! There’s a myriad of characters, a large dose of magic realism and you will learn a lot about the history of India.

 It’s one of those books which are impossible to explain what it is about and why it is so mesmerising. I guess you have to read it yourself to discover what’s so great about it. I’m actually proud of myself for finally completing a Rushdie. I tried years ago to read the Satanic Verses, but I was way too young. I still don’t think I’m ready for that one yet, but I also have more to choose from on my shelves (and a new one to be published this year).

This was the November read(!) in Line’s 1001 books reading circle.

 “I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.