Saturday, 30 April 2011

Nadolny, Sten "The Discovery of Slowness"

Nadolny, Sten "Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit" (The Discovery of Slowness) - 1983

Interesting tale based on the successful arctic explorer, Sir John Franklin.

A wonderful account of his life and discoveries but also a great description how something that is usually conceived as negative, in this case a “slowness” that is regarded as “mental retardation” can be used for the good of something. In this case, the “slowness” enables the character to concentrate better on what he wants to achieve.

Very well written, interesting perspective, I really enjoyed this book.

(I did read the German original, so can't vouch for the translation.)

From the back cover: "Nadolny's masterpiece, a huge commercial and critical success in Germany and across Europe, recounts the life of one of the most interesting explorers of the nineteenth century - Sir John Franklin who, amongst other achievements, paved the way for the discovery of the NorthWest Passage. By means of Nadolny's acute reading of history and his storytelling prowess, the reader follows this misfit's development from awkward schoolboy to expedition leader, Governor of Tasmania, icon of adventure. Not only a riveting account of a remarkable life, 'The Discovery of Slowness' is also a profound and thought-provoking meditation on time. The result is an extraordinary reading experience that justifies the novel's reputation as one of the classics of contemporary German literature."

Clarke, Stephen “A Year in the Merde”

Clarke, Stephen “A Year in the Merde” - 2004

“A Year in the Merde” is a comic novel about an Englishman in France. The author brings about the cultural differences between the British and the French in a funny way.

I stumbled across this book a while ago and found the title quite funny already. Being an expat myself (spent more than a third of my life abroad) I can never overlook these kind of books and therefore had to read it right away.

I was not disappointed. The author goes through all the stereotypes that you come across, the prejudices you have before, the experiences you make that either reinforce these prejudices or - better still - teach you something better.

The book is quite funny. Don't see it with a critical eye towards prejudices, you come across this all the time when you live in another country. These observations can be positive or negative, the author definitely has a positive view about his host nation. The author himself says: "There are lots of French people who are not at all hypocritical, inefficient, treacherous, intolerant, adulterous or incredibly sexy … They just didn't make it into my book." which shows that he doesn't dislike the French people entirely. Well, Paul West (the main character) doesn't, since he tries to stay in Paris even though he has to face a lot of obstacles.

If you hate stereotypes, don't even think about reading this book. But if you like to think about the cultural differences between nations and like to laugh about the problems arising that way, this is a good book for you.

He has written several sequels, all probably just as successful as the first one:
“Merde Actually” - 2005
“Merde Happens” - 2007
“Dial M for Merde” - 2008
I'm also looking forward to:
“Talk to the Snail” - 2006,
“1000 Years of Annoying the French” - 2010 and
“Paris Revealed: The Secret Life of a City” - 2011 ("Not because I dislike the French, on the contrary, I love them.")

Friday, 29 April 2011

Young, William Paul “The Shack”

Young, William Paul “The Shack” - 2007

Even if you're not into spiritual books, this one is extraordinary. A man has to come to terms with the death of his daughter. He receives a mysterious invitation to a meeting in a shack. He drives there and meets three special people.

This book describes the  way to God in such a brilliant way that it will be around for generations. Certainly one of the books that make the most impression on anybody. It might still leave you with more questions than answers but if will make you think.

Fry, Stephen “Stephen Fry in America”

Fry, Stephen “Stephen Fry in America” - 2009

I have a lot of American friends and have read a lot of books about the States or situated in the States or written by American authors but I don't think I've ever read one that has given me so much information about that huge country.

Travelling through half a continent in a London taxi, this could only have been the idea of a Brit. I adore Stephen Fry, he is a very smart and witty person, everything a great comedian should be. Well, he did just as great a job as a reporter about America. He visited all 50 states and had a lot to say about every single one. The way he describes the individual ones makes you want to visit almost everyone immediately. He even found nice words for the ones he wasn't so impressed by.

I loved this book.

This was also a television series which is available on DVD.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Kertész, Imre „Fateless"

Kertész, Imre „Fateless" or „Fatelessness" (Sorstalanság) - 1975

The author is a Holocaust survivor, in fact he was in two of the major concentration camps and as such has a lot to tell about his history. But it's the unique way he chooses to tell us about his early life that makes his work so special. He tells the life of a fifteen year old boy who grows up in Hungary during World War II. Despite a lot of similarities to his own life, the author claims this is only a story based on his life.

Anyway, we see the Nazi regime and the concentration camps through the eyes of a child who doesn't know anything else. This is his life. It is "normal" for him that his father is sent to a labour camp, that his friends disappear, so he is not too surprised when he is sent there as well. He describes his time in the camp as if everything that happens there is the most normal thing in the world. How awful that must have been! He has more problems adjusting back into normal life when he returns to Budapest after the war where he meets people whose lives went on and who didn't go to the camps.

Apparently, Imre Kertész received a lot of criticism for his "naïve" portrayal of one of the worst genocides that ever happened. I think his writing is very interesting, who knows what a child thinks when they grow up in a crazy world, it's the only world they know. I'm not the only one who thinks so, though, because:

Imre Kertész received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002 "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history".

Book Description: "On his arrival Gyuri finds that he is unable to identify with other Jews, and in turn is rejected by them. An outsider among his own people, his estrangement makes him a preternaturally acute observer, dogmatically insisting on making sense of everything he witnesses."

Another interesting book by a Nobel Prize winner on the same topic:
Wiesel, Elie "Night"

Sington, Philip „The Einstein Girl“

Sington, Philip „The Einstein Girl“ - 2009

Apparently, an intriguing, first rate historical thriller. Revelations about Albert Einstein's life, correspondence between him and his first wife, a tragedy in their life.

Okay, granted, there seems to be some kind of mystery around the young woman found almost dead in the woods near Berlin and the psychiatrist who tries to find the truth is somewhat inquisitive, his own life seems more interesting than that of the young woman who has lost her memory, can't even remember her name.

Not my type of book, neither dark nor mysterious. The only unanswered question I had at the end: Why did I waste my time reading this?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Turner, Nancy E. "The Water and the Blood"

Turner, Nancy E. "The Water and the Blood" - 2001

After reading "These is my Words , The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901", I just had to read Nancy E. Turner's next novel.

I loved it just as much as the first book of this interesting author. She writes vivid stories with a lot of heart and emotion, I'm looking forward to more of her work.

This book is about a young girl growing up in Texas during World War II, a white society, a religious society, a KKK society. A girl who observes everything well and has to come to terms with racism. A novel about poverty, religion and bigotry, growing up, even murder.

Nancy has continued the account of her grandmoter's life with "Sarah's Quilt. A Novel of Sarah Agnes Prine and the Arizona Territories, 1906" and "The Star Garden".

Turner, Nancy E. "Sarah's Quilt"

Turner, Nancy E. "Sarah's Quilt. A Novel of Sarah Agnes Prine and the Arizona Territories, 1906" - 2006

The second part of the trilogy that started with "These is my Words", the continuation of the life of Sarah Agnes Prine after the death of her beloved husband. Life has to go on for the widow and her children and Nancy Turner describes the events in her courageous grandmother's life as well as in her first book.

If you liked "These is my Words", you should carry on reading this one.

Nancy has continued the account of her grandmother's life with "The Star Garden". If you like her books, you might want to try "The Water and the Blood", as well.

From the back cover:
"In These Is My Words, Sarah Agnes Prine told the spellbinding story of an extraordinary pioneer woman and her struggle to make a home in the Arizona Territories. Now, in this mesmerizing sequel, a three-year drought has made Sarah desperate for water. And just when it seems that life couldn't get worse, she learns that her brother and his family are trapped in the Great San Francisco Earthquake. A heartwarming blend of stubbornness and compassion, Sarah Agnes Prine will once again capture the hearts of readers everywhere. "

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Calvino, Italo “If on a Winter's Night a Traveller”

Calvino, Italo “If on a Winter's Night a Traveller” (Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore) - 1979

One of the most weird books I ever read, a reader is trying to read a book called “If on a Winter's Night a Traveller”. The book is partly about the reader's life and partly about the books he is trying to read.

An interesting concept, I never read a book like this before. I'm not into short stories but these aren't short stories, these are beginnings of long stories, however, we never hear the end, so we have to make them up ourselves. Makes you think.

I really like this book.

Trollope, Anthony "Barchester Chronicles"

Trollope, Anthony “The Warden” - Barchester Chronicles 1 - 1855
Trollope, Anthony “Barchester Towers” - Barchester Chronicles 2 - 1857
Trollope, Anthony “Doctor Thorne” - Barchester Chronicles 3 - 1858
Trollope, Anthony “Framley Parsonage” - Barchester Chronicles 4 - 1861
Trollope, Anthony “The Small House at Allington” - Barchester Chronicles 5 - 1864
Trollope, Anthony “The Last Chronicle of Barset” - Barchester Chronicles 6 - 1867

Trollope, Anthony “The Warden” - Barchester Chronicles 1 - 1855

I read this first of the Barchester Chronicles with my former book club in England, so more than a decade ago. In the meantime, I have finished them all, so I put the descriptions about all of them into on post.

This novel from the middle of the 19th century describes the life of the people in the Victorian world, a fictive town, Barchester, in a fictive county, Barsetshire, with a cathedral and all its paraphernalia. Trollope describes mainly the life of the ecclesastical population, this time the main character is the warden of an almshouse and his conflicts.

I love these novels because there are so many different themes in the book, in the whole series. If you look for a long term commitment and like classical novals, this one's for you.

Trollope, Anthony “Barchester Towers” - Barchester Chronicles 2 - 1857

The second and probably the most popular of the Barchester Chronicles centres around the appointment of a new bishop and all the intrigues around that. It continues the story of the warden and his daughters and introduces new characters that will become more important as the story progresses.

You can read this novel on its own but it is so much more fulfilling if you read “The Warden” first.

As I said in my description of the first one, I really love these novels, they are so diverse.

Trollope, Anthony “Doctor Thorne” - Barchester Chronicles 3 - 1858

Even though I like all of the Barchester Chronicles, this is my favourite.

Trollope manages to describe the people in his fictive city so well, you think you live among them. The life of Mary Thorne and her uncle is quiet though there are quite a few skeletons in the closet.

Trollope, Anthony “Framley Parsonage” - Barchester Chronicles 4- 1861

As all the other novels of the Barchester Chronicles, this book is very interesting as it describes the life of ordinary and non-ordinary people of the author's time so well. The problems the main character has seem so well known even a century and a half after his story. He is a young clergyman with ambitions who gets caught up in politics. As in all the other novels, Anthony Trollope manages to tell the story with great compassion.

Trollope, Anthony “The Small House at Allington” - Barchester Chronicles 5 - 1864

A lot of events happen in this novel that would probably not happen today, at least not in that way. However, as all the other books in this series, Trollope is able to portray some very lively and modern personae, describe life at the end of the 19th century in a very interesting and accessible way and write a fascinating and enthralling story.

Trollope, Anthony “The Last Chronicle of Barset” - Barchester Chronicles 6 - 1867

As the title suggests, this is the last book in the series. It includes a couple of scandals and a lot of other social problems. We see many of our old friends again and meet quite a few new ones. This is the longest of the novels, almost 900 pages, very detailed and descriptive. Together with “Doctor Thorne”, this is one of my favourites.

I am glad I read the series.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Interesting Links

The web is full of interesting links, links to books I read, links to subjects covered in the books I read, links to subjects not covered in the books I read. Some are helpful, some are interesting, some are just funny.

I would like to share some of those links that interest me, hopefully they will be interesting for some of you, too.

Everything about books
"Ten best bookshops in the world" - nice page about some great bookshops
"Tien beste bookhandels/mooiste ter wereld" - and another one in Dutch (but the shosp are also all over the world.
And here some interesting bookshelves.
The Book Surgeon - what one person can do with books.
Best Sellers the week you were born
Bookmans does dominoes
Did you know the BOOK?

For a better world
Half the Sky - How women can get help all over the world
A Walk to Beautiful - a fascinating movie about how Ethiopian women get help
The Girl Effect - how a twelve year old girl could be the solution to what the world needs now.
The Kindness Movement - it started with a small idea

Third Culture Kids" - a helpful site for everyone who raises their children abroad or who grew up in a different country from their parents.
Bilinguals see the world in a different way - an article about the studies to this .
The English Spelling Society - Spelling Poems
The worst language I've ever seen
Top list of the Hardest Languages to learn

You will find a lot of information about Esperanto in my Esperanto List.

"The Spoon Theory" - someone with a chronic disease explains how it feels to someone who is always healthy.
How to understand someone with Chronic Pain
There are more links about migraine in my list "Migraine Books and Links".

My talented friends:
The Artwork of Ardith Goodwin
CARA Designs - lovely jewelry
DCR Creations

Other Art Pages

Other topics
The True Size of Africa
Learn Morse Code
Evolution - a video all girls (and boys) should see

Some fun
London Underground Anagram Map
Cheap Flights by Fascinating Aida - great explanation how we end up paying a lot anyway
Axis of Awesome - 4 Chord Song
The Perils of Voice Recognition Technology

Lamb, Wally "She's Come Undone"

Lamb, Wally "She's Come Undone" - 1997

The first Wally Lamb I read, one of the books I discussed with my Dutch book club. I don't remember the discussion very well, it's been more than a decade ago but we never had very big discussions about our books there. I do remember the book, though.

Mother-daughter relationship, religion, death and coming to terms with it, obesity, self-delusion, women-men relationships, change in our culture, this book has it all. A lot of familiarity with the characters, sometimes you have to laugh about that, sometimes you feel "touché".

If you like a book that addresses problems and is fun to read, this will be a book for you. I liked it a lot.

From the back cover: “Meet Dolores Price. She's 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Stranded in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallomars, potato chips, and Pepsi her anxious mother supplies. When she finally orbits into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she's determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before she really goes under.”

We discussed "The Hour I First Believed" in our book club in January 2010. I have since also read "I know this much is true" and his next books, find the reviews here.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Kristof, Nicholas D. & WuDunn, Sheryl “Half the Sky”

Kristof, Nicholas D. & WuDunn, Sheryl “Half the Sky. How to Change the World” - 2009

"Half the Sky" - What shall I say about this book other than it is the most extraordinary one ever? Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are an American-Chinese journalist couple who have travelled the world and give us a heart-rendering account of women's lives all over this globe, women struggling to make ends meet, women who have to fight for every little thing but especially for their life.

The authors don't just tell us about the problems that exist in various parts of Africa and Asia, they also come up with a lot of ideas on how to help these women, ideas that already work, ideas that help. That is the best thing about this report, it gives us hope that something can be done to end this misery and injustice.

The subjects go from human trafficking, slavery, prostitution, rape, honour killings to genital mutilation, maternal mortality, family planning, education, microcredits, anything you can think of that can be done to a human being will be done somewhere, and it's usually the women who have to suffer.

The authors won the Pulitzer prize for their reports about China in the New York Times in 1990. 

They also have started a foundation, read more about it here: “Half the Sky Foundation

This book can change your life. Read it.

We discussed this in our book club in May 2012.

Rutherfurd, Edward "The Forest"

Rutherfurd, Edward "The Forest" - 2000

After having read and enjoyed "London", I was really looking forward to another one of Edward Rutherfurd's historical novels. Sometimes, you read one book by an author and then put so much hope into his next one that it can only be a disappointment. Not in this case. “The Forest” is just as exciting and detailed as "London".

Edward Rutherford describes the history of the New Forest, from William the Conqueror until today through the people living there. This book has it all, from the Normans to the Spanish Armada, the days of witchcraft, smuggling and Jane Austen, the people stay faithful to the forest that is giving them their livelihood.

If you love England, this is the book for you. If you love Ireland and/or Edward Rutherfurd, I also recommend "Dublin" and "Awakening"

From the back cover: "Few places lie closer to the heart of the nation's heritage than the New Forest. Now, Edward Rutherfurd, weaves its history and legends into compelling fiction. From the mysterious killing of King William Rufus, treachery and witchcraft, smuggling and poaching run through this epic tale of well-born ladies, lowly woodsmen, sailors, merchants and Cistercian monks. The feuds, wars, loyalties and passions of generations reach their climax in a crime that shatters the decorous society of Jane Austen's Bath, and whose ramifications continue through the age of the Victorian railway builders to the ecologists of the present day."

Find a link to all my reviews on his other novels here.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Albom, Mitch “Tuesdays with Morrie”

Albom, Mitch “Tuesdays with Morrie” - 1997

This book is telling the relationship between Mitch Albom, a sports reporter, and his former university professor. The author hears about his professor falling sick and starts visiting him every Tuesday.

It is a very moving and touching book. You learn about life and death and how to deal with it.

For me, it was even more personal when I found out that a friend of mine had been diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) a couple of weeks later. Unfortunately, she was too far away by then for me to help her but she had a great circle of friends who accompanied her until the end.

We discussed Mitch Albom's next book "The five people you meet in heaven" in our book club in December 2008.

Kehlmann, Daniel “Measuring the World"

Kehlmann, Daniel “Measuring the World" (Die Vermessung der Welt)  - 2005

Apparently, this is the most successful German novel since Patrick Suskind's “Perfume” and has knocked J. K. Rowling and Dan Brown off the bestseller lists.

I can very well believe that. The author talks about two brilliant German scientists of the 18th century, the explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and the great mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss. These two guys were the brain of the late 18th century. Humboldt explored the world, well, mainly South America and accounts for a lot of discoveries and findings of that time, Gauss was one of the biggest mathematicians ever, already as a young boy he developed mathematical formulas we still use today, he found out a lot about space, you can say together they “measured the world” as we know it. This is a wonderful story of two extremely successful and interesting lives, and  even if you're not interested in science at all, there is a lot to be learned from that period.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Byatt, A.S. “Possession”

Byatt, A.S. “Possession” - 1990

I have read this book three times and my paperback is falling to pieces. So I have decided that I need another copy - something I hardly ever do.

Anyway, Possession is a great book. I love it. There are two stories playing at the same time. Roland Mitchell, an American researcher at a London university, tries to find information about the fictitious Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash. This leads him to Maud Bailey, a professor at Lincoln University who is an expert on another fictitious Victorian poet, Christabel LaMotte. While they discover a common past of the two poets and unfold a mystery, their lives begin to take on a turn parallel to that of the two poets.

The different chapters always start with a poem written by one of the two poets. When I read the book for the first time, I just left them out, I'm not a big poetry lover. However, when I read it again, I concentrated on them because they add a lot to the story.

I love classic novels and although this isn't one, it reads like one. Plus there is the time the two poets lived in that gives you the feeling of being in a classic book. Did I say I love it?

There is also a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart as the contemporary and Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Northam as the Victorian characters, I am often disappointed about movies made of my favourite books but this one is just as interesting as the novel.

I have read this book about half a dozen times and my paperback is falling to pieces. So I have decided that I need another copy - something I hardly ever do.

A.S. Byatt won the Booker Prize for "Possession" in 1990.

In the meantime, I have also read "Ragnarok. The End of the Gods" by A.S. Byatt. I did not enjoy it as much as this one.

Abdolah, Kader “The House of the Mosque“

Abdolah, Kader (Hossein Sadjadi Ghaemmaghami Farahani) “The House of the Mosque“ (Het huis van de moskee) - 2005

This book had been on our wish list since 2005, unfortunately, it took a couple of years until it was translated, even though it was elected the 2nd best Dutch novel ever (after "The Discovery of Heaven" which we read in February 2004). It seems to always take ages to translate novels into English. Our Dutch member heard a lot about the novel in the Netherlands, even saw the author.

Even though this is not an autobiography, the author's life resembles that of his main character, e.g. he wanted to study literature but studied physics.

Everybody present liked or really loved the book, most really loved it. We liked to read about the symbols, grandmothers, place of women, warning against fundamentalists, fanaticism. The book is a good teacher. The novel contains a lot of information about Iran, immigrants, the political situation.
It is told on three different levels, mythical, mystical, actual. Many symbols. Each chapter is introduced by a phrase from the Koran, we loved that. Persians seem intelligent, educated, beautiful, elegant. It is a beautiful description of the sense of displacement and loss. The author shows life in different classes, the power of industrialisation, the power of the bazaar. This book definitely makes you want to know more about the topic.

It is hard to  imagine living in the midst of the revolution, therefore this gives you a very good account. They had an ordinary society before, then everything went wrong.

Some were also more interested in the political aspects, communism, religious dictatorship, this book had it all. It also contains a lot of poetry which not all of us liked. We loved the description of people, society, history.

Apparently, Kader Abdolah suggests “My Father's Notebook”, he likes it better. He also writes a weekly article in the “Volkskrant”, a Dutch newspaper.

We discussed this in our book club in September 2010.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Gruen, Sara “Water for Elephants”

Gruen, Sara “Water for Elephants” - 2006

The majority of our readers liked this book. I didn't. The pro arguments: it was a nice, light, easy, fast read. Not necessarily something I'm usually looking for.

Anyway, an old man in a care center reminisces about his life in the circus. The readers who liked the book quite liked the stories about the circus and some of us were caregivers and they liked that description. I'm not a huge fan of circuses in the first place and I didn't like that the main character more or less threw his life away. I found the story shallow (and I wasn't the only one).

From the back cover: "When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth a second-rate travelling circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town.
Jacob, a veterinary student who almost earned his degree, is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.
Water for Elephants' is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford."

We discussed this in our book club in September 2009.

Pollock, David C., & Van Reken, Ruth “Third Culture Kids"

Pollock, David C. & Van Reken, Ruth “Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds” - 2001

“In this publication, the authors explore the experiences of those who have become known as 'third culture kids' (TCKs) - children who grow up or spend a significant part of their childhood living abroad.”

If you live/d abroad with your children for only a couple of years or if you grew up in different countries or in a country different from your parents, this is the book to read. The authors examine the impact on children moving from their home country (1st culture) to another country (2nd culture) who generate a 3rd one. They look at the challenges of both moving to the new culture and returning to the old one. We found the book insightful and helpful, and it gave some practical advice on how to approach some of the challenges.

Everything in this book is so true for children of our international book club members. Maybe the culture shock isn't as large as if they moved from Asia or Africa to Europe or America. Or is it larger because you don't expect a huge difference between, for example, Germany and England or England and the Netherlands? We agreed that our children are definitely more independent, better equipped for living on their own.

We discussed this in our book club in September 2007.

The authors have set up a website for more information:
TCKWorld: The Official Home of Third Culture Kids (TCKs) 
An interesting blog: Language on the Move

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Sobel, Dava “Galileo's Daughter"

Sobel, Dava “Galileo's Daughter: A Drama of Science, Faith and Love" - 2000

“Galileo Galilei is famous for many things: for his science (Einstein called him the 'father of modern physics'); for his flamboyant style (he wrote in Italian not Latin, enlivened texts with rough humour, argued loudly in staged debates) and for his harsh treatment by the Catholic Church. What's less well known are the details of his private life - a life that, as Dava Sobel points out in Galileo's Daughter, was just as complex as the scientist's public life. Galileo had three illegitimate children; the book's title refers to the oldest, Virginia, later Suor Maria Celeste (she took the name in acknowledgement of her father's fascination with the stars). Unable to marry because of her illegitimate status, Virginia entered a convent at 13 and maintained a lifelong correspondence with her father. Sobel has translated Virginia's surviving letters for the first time and, combining those letters, commentary, and gorgeous illustrations, she sets out in Galileo's Daughter to illuminate a different side of Galileo, the father deeply committed to his daughter and to her faith.”

A very interesting book. Although, we thought the title is not entirely correct since this book is more about Galileo himself than about his daughter.

However, the life Galileo led is portrayed very well. He was a brilliant mind - and so was his daughter. The book describes the time and the difficulties scientists had to deal with as well as the different circumstances in which people lived at the time. The choice women had was not great, well, almost non-existent. They could either marry or enter a convent. They had to deal with a lot of illnesses, including the plague. The inhabitants of the Franciscan convent had to endure a hard life, they almost starved themselves to death because of their poverty. They showed tremendous courage.

I liked this book very much because I love reading about people in different times. We agreed that most of us would never have picked up this book if it wasn't for the book club.

My favourite quote: “The Bible is about how one goes to Heaven - not how Heaven goes.” (page 65)

We discussed this in our book club in September 2006.

Cullen, Bill "It's a long way from Penny Apples"

Cullen, Bill "It's a long way from Penny Apples" - 2003

“Cullen's memoir attempts to do for Dublin what Angela's Ashes did for Limerick. Born in the slums in 1942, one of 12 children, Cullen lived a life shaped by hard work, the Catholic Church and family. But unlike McCourt's unrelentingly sad account, Cullen's work trumpets the inner strength and humanity of Irish tenement dwellers. The Cullens may have been poor, but they were resilient. Young Liam, as he was called, worked the market stalls, selling everything from fish to newspapers. En route, he acquired an early and invaluable business education. His parents are a study in true grit, often toiling 15-hour days, while his grandmother instills in Liam a fierce pride in all things Irish, insisting, 'Never forget your roots.' And he never does. Indeed, he parlays a gift for math into a scholarship, managing to attend school and work every day. By the time he's a teen, he's putting in 75 hours a week at a Ford dealership. And it's there, aided by luck and street smarts, that he strikes it rich. The poor boy turns millionaire, moving from Ford franchise owner to CEO of Glencullen Motor Group. Although his early years are far more colorful and compelling than his later adult experiences, Cullen tells this rousing, heartfelt story with flair, honestly recounting the verbal and sexual brutality of some priests, the generosity of his community and his drive to succeed.biography.”

The story of an Irish boy who grew up in poverty and made it to one of the top businessmen in Ireland. I liked the way Bill Cullen told his story as much as the story itself. It's funny and full of love. You got to know the family and everything well. A story that shows how determination and hard work can get you somewhere with a little bit of luck. And, I finally understood the pre-decimal monetary system. I really liked this autobiography.

We discussed this in our book club in September 2004.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Milton, Giles “Nathaniel's Nutmeg”

Milton, Giles “Nathaniel's Nutmeg: How One Man's Courage Changed the Course of History” - 1999

“Would you believe that nutmeg formed the basis of one of the most bitter international conflicts of the 17th century, and was also intimately connected to New York City's rise to global preeminence? Strange but true: nutmeg was, in fact, one of the most prized commodities in Renaissance Europe, and its fascinating story is told in Giles Milton's delightful “Nathaniel's Nutmeg”.

This historical book is written like a crime novel. We learned a lot about the history in the Pacific, as well as colonialism, and how one guy and small island can change the whole world forever. Very interestingly written, hugely fascinating story.

We learned a lot about the history of the 17th century, how the British East Indian Company and the Dutch East Indian Company fought over parts on the other side of the world and how that affected even today's world.

How did it happen that we chose this book as our first ever read? We all had brought our favourite books to the first meeting at my house but then decided we'd rather choose a book nobody had read so far. I then brought in some new books that I'd just bought and this sounded so interesting, we only found out while reading it that it is non-fiction. Still, it was a great start.

From the back cover: "In 1616, an English adventurer, Nathaniel Courthope, stepped ashore on a remote island in the East Indies on a secret mission - to persuade the islanders of Run to grant a monopoly to England over their nutmeg, a fabulously valuable spice in Europe. This infuriated the Dutch, who were determined to control the world’s nutmeg supply. For five years Courthope and his band of thirty men were besieged by a force one hundred times greater - and his heroism set in motion the events that led to the founding of the greatest city on earth.

A beautifully told adventure story and a fascinating depiction of exploration in the seventeenth century, NATHANIEL’S NUTMEG sheds a remarkable light on history.

We discussed this in our book club in September 2001.

Soueif, Ahdaf "The Map of Love"

Soueif, Ahdaf "The Map of Love" - 1999

I have read this book a couple of times now, first with my old Dutch book club, then I suggested it to the international one.

The story informs about the history of Egypt, is a family saga and a love story, well, actually a couple of love stories. An American worman discovers old documents of her family, both in English and Arabic. Through a friend she is directed to an Egyptian woman and the two of them go through the documents and their mutual history. Most of the documents relate to the love between an English Lady and an Egyptian Nationalist in 1900. The two women find a link between their two families.
This book describes British Colonialism, Egyptian nationalism and the difference between the two people both a hundred years ago and today.

The novel has everything, drama, history, modern times, love story, politics, you name it. I loved it. It might be even more important today than it was ten years ago.

From the back cover: "In 1900 Lady Anna Winterbourne travels to Egypt where she falls in love with Sharif, and Egyptian Nationalist utterly committed to his country's cause. A hundred years later, Isabel Parkman, an American divorcee and a descendant of Anna and Sharif, goes to Egypt, taking with her an old family trunk, inside which are found notebooks and journals which reveal Anna and Sharif's secret."

Ahdaf Soueif was shortlisted for the Booker Prize "The Map of Love" in 1999.

We discussed this in our book club in September 2002.

I also read “Aisha”, a collection of short stories. I'm not a big fan of short stories but these are very good. One could say that I am a fan of Ahdaf Soueid's work.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Némirovsky, Irène “Suite Française”

Némirovsky, Irène “Suite Française” (dto.) - 2004

Even though Iréne Némirovsky died in the concentration camp in Auschwitz in 1942, her novel “Suite Française” was only discovered after her daughter wanted to donate all her papers to a French archive and then had it published in 2004, more than sixty years after her far too early death. Originally, she had intended to write this book in five parts, alas, she only managed to finish two of them.

The interesting side of this novel is that it was written during the war when everything was very fresh and nobody knew the outcome, especially not the author. You have the feeling you are there, it is not an account that someone wrote a couple of decades later, it is “now”.

The first part describes the flight of the rich people from Paris after the Germans advance toward the city. The second part is situated in a small town during the German occupation. The third part was planned to be about the restiance and then one about the battles and the last about peace. Nice plan, would have been the greatest book about France and its role during the war, if she had been able to finish it.

However, both parts can stand for themselves (even though one or the other person appears again), so you can read it without the missing parts.

If you're at all interested in WWII, read this book. I read the French original but I've been told that the English translation is very good.

From the back cover: "In 1941, Irène Némirovsky sat down to write a book that would convey the magnitude of what she was living through by evoking the domestic lives and personal trials of the ordinary citizens of France. Némirovsky's death in Auschwitz in 1942 prevented her from seeing the day, sixty-five years later, that the existing two sections of her planned novel sequence, Suite Française, would be rediscovered and hailed as a masterpiece.
Set during the year that France fell to the Nazis, Suite Française falls into two parts. The first is a brilliant depiction of a group of Parisians as they flee the Nazi invasion; the second follows the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation. Suite Française is a novel that teems with wonderful characters struggling with the new regime. However, amidst the mess of defeat, and all the hypocrisy and compromise, there is hope. True nobility and love exist, but often in surprising places.

Carter, Jimmy “We Can Have Peace In The Holy Land”

Carter, Jimmy “We Can Have Peace In The Holy Land. A Plan That Will Work” - 2008

You can tell Jimmy Carter has a lot of experience in this very difficult situation. His ideas are certainly worth considering. He explains the whole background about the problems in the Middle East including all his and other people's efforts to try solving the mess created decades (or even longer) ago.

Anyone should be interested in this topic since it has gone far beyond that little area. And even if it was only for that area, it is far too important to bring peace to an area that has suffered for so long.

An interesting book for anyone who is interested in world politics, especially the Middle East.

Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2002 "for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development".

Mortenson, Greg & Bryan, Mike "Stones into Schools"

Mortenson, Greg & Bryan, Mike "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan" - 2009

After having read Greg Mortenson's "Three Cups of Tea. : One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time" in our book club in 2005, I was delighted that his follow-up was chosen as one of our reads for this year.

Quite a few of us had read "Three Cups of Tea" but you can easily read this just on its own because he gives a good introduction and also revisits stations of his projects throughout the book.

We all loved it, thought this was even better than the first one, maybe it was because he had a different co-writer or he was getting further with his project, whatever, it was a very pleasurable read.

We could not help thinking about him and his wife. They raised lovely kids. He has a great strength of character and patience. If he is a hero, his wife is a saint.

He describes his local co-workers as "The Dirty Dozen", they reminded us more of the United Nations, and being the head of such a diverse group is a great achievement.

Even though someone said she had more questions after than before, and we all agreed to that, we did find the book has a great message. Education is important, especially for women. Being able to read is so essential. If you cannot read, you cannot achieve anything.

Someone quoted "Teach a man and you teach an individual, teach a woman and you teach a generation". This is true, today more than ever.

We also learned that it is very important that help is coordinated, we have to know what people need. And: Listen more, speak less.

My favourite quote from the book: "When you take the time to actually listen, with humility, to what people have to say, it's amazing what you can learn. Especially if people who are doing the talking also happen to be children."

We discussed this in our book club in April 2011.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Hamsun, Knut „Pan"

Hamsun, Knut „Pan" (Pan) - 1894

We were lucky to have a Norwegian member who is a huge fan of this author, she was the right mediator between us and the world Knut Hamsun takes us too.

She had a difficult time to choose her favourite book of her favourite author, the other good ones according to her: "Victoria", "Hunger", "Growth of the Soil". She studied this one at school.

It’s fascinating how the author describes nature and makes it come alive. He smells the forest, paints a picture, reminds us of our youth, love, culture, nature, civilization. It’s an echo of childhood and youth for some of us, the inner soul of the human being, he loved to explore that. There is a struggle between opposites, men and women, nature and town, the love story is eminent, there are obstacles, pride, jealousy.

We liked the symbolism and the metaphors, e.g. the changing seasons.

Mythology plays a big part in the novel, the division between his love of nature and with people, we were taken by his love of nature.

The descriptions both of nature as well as the characters are beautiful. There were a lot of interactive descriptions as well as psychological analogies and comparisons.

Someone approached the book with an obtuse mind, yet, she could identify.

Conclusion: this tells us something about the dream and the longing, better than the life itself.

And even though not all of us were swept away by the story, we agreed it had been a very interesting read.

The question came up whether his characters in other novels are also dysfunctional? The answer to that: absolutely. He investigates the mind. His love to nature is tremendous, there is some extreme nature above the arctic circle.

Knut Hamsum has and is one of the favourite authors of many of his colleagues, even other Nobel prize recipients like Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse and Ernest Hemingway. He has influenced all sorts of literature and not just written his own. Definitely deserved his Nobel Prize.

From the back cover: "One of Knut Hamsun's most famous works, "Pan" is the story of Lieutenant Thomas Glahn, an ex-military man who lives alone in the woods with his faithful dog Aesop. Glahn's life changes when he meets Edvarda, a merchant's daughter, whom he quickly falls in love with. She, however, is not entirely faithful to him, which affects him profoundly. "Pan" is a fascinating study in the psychological impact of unrequited love and helped to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for Hamsun."

We discussed this in our book club in March 2011.

Knut Hamsun received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920 "for his monumental work, 'Growth of the Soil'"

Arnold, Gaynor "Girl in a Blue Dress"

Arnold, Gaynor "Girl in a Blue Dress" - 2008

This is a novel based on the life of Charles Dickens' wife. We were quite astonished about the way he treated her. Of course, we all had read novels from that time and weren't too surprised that women didn't count much. But this was quite different. Well, genius and madness must really be related because this guy had it all.

Anyway, a very interesting read.

We discussed this in our book club in April 2009.

Bender, Sue "Plain and Simple: A Woman's Journey to the Amish"

Bender, Sue "Plain and Simple: A Woman's Journey to the Amish" - 1991

Our book club read and discussed this as one of our members had received the book from a friend. We all liked the book but had a few observations, e.g. we thought the title should have been: "A woman's journey to herself".

The description of Amish life isn't too bad, the author managed to live with two different Amish families for a while but she didn't go very deep into the religion and culture of this group which is certainly a major part for the Amish. She didn't seem to need/want to know more about their religion which we thought is the most important part of their life. There are already many books for simplifying your life/decluttering, we didn't need this one for that.

If you don't know anything about the Amish, this is certainly a good book to read, it's not very long either. There could have been a lot more. Quite a few of us only knew only a little bit about the Amish through the movie "Witness".

A thought that came up nevertheless: We found the report about Amish life very peaceful, it puts things into perspective. Why do we always have to rush? The idea is the journey on the way.

Other discussion points: We have a lot of respect for the Amish and would have liked to know what makes the Amish different to other Christians, what makes them the way they are?

There are many reasons why we should lead a simple life, environment, climate change, etc.

We were fascinated by their life and their quilts which was really the main reason for the author to write the book.

It was also amazing how they managed to keep their language over all those years.

We discussed this in our book club in April 2007.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Brontë, Charlotte "Jane Eyre"

Brontë, Charlotte "Jane Eyre" - 1847

If you are a fan of English classics (like me), "Jane Eyre" is a definitive must.

Charlotte Brontë has created a wonderful, strong young woman. If she had lived today, she certainly would have gone exploring and conquering the world. But she doesn't live now. She is an orphan in Victorian England  who lives with an aunt who doesn't like her. After attending a school, she has to work as a governess for the children of Mr. Rochester.

But I don't want to give away too much, this is where the story starts.

If you like this story and writing, I can also recommend Charlotte's sister Anne's books (e.g. "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall"). Her novels are just as interesting and well written. I did not like Emily Brontë's book "Wuthering Heights", even though that is a very well liked and famous classic, as well.

Books about and/or related to the book:
Fforde, Jasper "The Eyre Affair"
Kohler, Sheila "Becoming Jane Eyre"
Rhys, Jean "Wide Sargasso Sea"

In the meantime, the novel was chosen and discussed in our book club.

This is what we talked about:
The book was suggested because our member said she reads it every couple of years. I think we were all very grateful that she suggested it because everybody really liked it. Some didn't like the part in school very much but we are aware that this is how it was at the time. The idea of charity for its own sake, because people want to help someone, only started recently.

We found Jane very mature for her age, again, probably the different time made children grow up quicker, especially if they had to fend for themselves. Most of us did not understand how she could go back to her aunt and forgive her. She surely showed a lot of strength there.

We also agreed that Charlotte Brontë was a fabulous feminist, willing to chance the future, writing a book at a time where women were not supposed to write those kind of books.

We were also told about a Turkish film about Jane Eyre, the story set in Turkey. Apparently, it changed the making of Turkish films.

Someone said the book was easy to read, easy to walk into. Again, we all agreed.

From the back cover: "Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity.She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.
With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte's innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.

We discussed this in our book club in January 2012.

Munro, Alice "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage"

Munro, Alice "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage" - 2001

A collection of short stories. Not really my type of thing, I like long novels, I like to get to know the characters, be part of their lives, not just a visitor for an hour or so.

Alice Munro has a good writing style and I would have loved to read all nine of these stories as a book, wouldn't have minded reading 500+ pages on every single one of them. Alas, it was not to be, short stories she set out to write and short stories she wrote. Granted, good ones, and if you enjoy short stories, you should read these.

From the back cover: "In these stories lives come into focus through single events or sudden memories which bring the past bubbling to the surface. The past, as Alice Munro's characters discover, is made up not only of what is remembered, but also what isn't. The past is there, just out of the picture, but if memories haven't been savoured, recalled in the mind and boxed away, it's as if they have never been - until a moment when the pieces of the jigsaw re-form suddenly, sometimes pleasurably but more often painfully. Women look back at their young selves, at first marriages made when they were naive and trusting, at husbands and their difficult, demanding little ways.

There is in this new collection an underlying heartbreak, a sense of regret in her characters for what might have been, for a fork in the road not taken, a memory suppressed in an act of prudent emotional housekeeping. But at the same time there is hope, there are second chances - here are people who reinvent themselves, seize life by the throat, who have moved on and can dare to conjure up the hidden memories, daring to go beyond what is remembered.

We discussed this in our book club in April 2005.

I have also read "Runaway" in the meantime.

Alice Munro received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013 for being the "master of the contemporary short story".

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Shakib, Siba “Samira and Samir”

Shakib, Siba “Samira and Samir: The Heartrending Story of Love and Oppression in Afghanistan” (Samira und Samir) - 2004

“When the young Afghanistanian girl Samira is born, her father, a commander fighting in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan, decides to raise her as a boy called Samir. The fact that Samir is really a girl is soon forgotton as Samir learns to fight, ride and shoot as well as any boy and when her father is killed she becomes the head of the family. As an adult, she falls in love with the male friend of her youth and is forced to reveal her true identity. In order to marry Bashir, she must relinquish the freedom she is afforded as a man. Samira follows her heart but hates wearing the veil. Eventually, the torment becomes too great and she decides that there must be a third way to live, as a confident woman not confined by the rules of her culture. This is her story.”

After reading "Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes To Weep", I wanted to read more of this author.

I am always amazed about the challenges women go through in order to live their lives as a man. But then I grew up in a culture where the difference isn't that large any more, I have the same human rights as men etc.

The author was born in Iran but has lived in the Western world, mainly in Germany. Her books are written in German and this is a translation (I read the original so cannot vouch for the English version).

Anyway, the book is very interesting. Read it.

Shakib, Siba “Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep“

Shakib, Siba “Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep“ (Nach Afghanistan kommt Gott nur noch zum Weinen) - 2002

“One woman's harrowing story about life under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Shirin-Gol was just a young girl when her village was levelled by the Russians in 1979. When the men in her family joined the resistance, she fled with the other women and children to Kabul, and so began a life of day-to-day struggle in her war-torn country.

A life that included a Pakistani refugee camp, a forced marriage to pay off her brother's gambling debts, selling her body and begging for money to feed her growing family, an attempted suicide and an unsuccessful attempt to leave Afghanistan for Iran after the Taliban seized control of her country.

This is the story of the fate of many women in Afghanistan. But it is also a story of a courageous and proud woman who refused to be banished to a life behind the walls of her house, who wanted an education for her children so that they could have a chance to live their lives without fear and poverty.”

I wasn't sure where to place this book, the author herself calls it faction since some of the events happened to Shirin-Gol herself, others to other Afghan women.

In any case, it's a great account of the struggles and problems women have to go through, not only in Afghanistan but anywhere in the poorer part of the world where war and/or disaster strucks. It's always the women who suffer most, the women who have to look after their families, the old and the young, when the men go and fight for their country, religion, freedom, whatever.

I thought this book was great, it gave a good insight into the lives of people in that part of the world where you usually just get political or military news.

We discussed this in our book club in April 2006.

By the same author: “Samira and Samir: The Heartrending Story of Love and Oppression in Afghanistan

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Chabon, Michael “The Yiddish Policemen's Union”

Chabon, Michael “The Yiddish Policemen's Union” - 2007

This book had been suggested for our book club but hadn't been chosen. As I had enjoyed “Summerland” and like alternative history novels, I tried this one, as well. It was graded as a detective story as well as science fiction. Science fiction is even less my kind of read and I'm also not very keen on detective stories but this novel just sounded very interesting. Instead of settling in Israel, Jewish refugees are sent to Alaska after World War II, especially after the State was Israel was destroyed (remember: “alternative history”). They move to Sitka which becomes a Yiddish-speaking town.

We have quite an interesting detective story here with many riddles, it's the story of a loser who tries to achieve something and always fails, as well as the saga of an unsettled people trying to find a home. Despite the negative background and the glum outlook on the future, the book is spiced with a lot of good humour.

Interesting novel, good writing.

Apparently, the Coen Brothers want to use the material for a film, should be interesting.

Chabon, Michael "Summerland”

Chabon, Michael "Summerland” - 2002 

As a lot of us had young children/teenagers at the time, someone suggested we read a youth book. Several were suggested and we chose this one, “Summerland” by Michael Chabon.

This novel describes a little island in Washington state that has been blessed with perfect weather during all their baseball games. There is a reason for this, and the reader soon finds out that not only human being inhabit this little piece of our earth and that there is more to our globe than what we call our world.

This is fantasy mixed with a little sports and adventure, a perfect book for young teens and pre-teens who enjoy magic but also for anybody older who likes fairy tales and fantasy. I'm not a big fantasy fan myself but quite enjoyed this little novel. And I learned a little about baseball, something a European will probably never understand, at least not this one. ;-)

We discussed this in our book club in April 2004.

If you enjoyed this, you might also like Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policeman's Union".