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Motherland: A Novel
Motherland: A Novel
par Jo McMillan
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 10,95

4.0 étoiles sur 5 The struggle for world peace, 18 août 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Motherland: A Novel (Broché)
My hometown had one known communist, a trampoline instructor. Forgot about him until attending university. There, the CP thrived thanks to waves of students from novel backgrounds and rebellious, privileged ones. They were quickly organized and given tasks, joining an international anti-imperialist movement striving for world peace threatened by the USA and NATO…
“Motherland” brilliantly recreates the Cold War atmosphere in the minds of a few ignored or derided CP members in a sleepy UK West Midlands town. This daughter-mother book is Jessica’s account of the eventful years 1978-84, always sticking to mother Eleanor, but brainwashed from birth by her re UK and US imperialism, class struggle and solidarity with unaligned nations, crying together for victims in Vietnam, Chile, South Africa. Eleanor’s incredible zeal for activism gets noticed and results in a visit to the paradise of Actually Existing Socialism, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), then again in 1979, with Eleanor promoted beyond her wildest dreams. And in love with GDR comrade Peter. What follows is for readers to discover…
Jo McMillan has written a delightful chronological tale in 19 titled chapters full of authentic detail and drama, as seen through the eyes of an unpopular adolescent grammar school pupil quite adept at mindreading and communing with her mum through some form of telepathy. The author brilliantly weaves permutations of the concepts of death and time ( + clocks and watches) into the fabric of the novel. Many scenes and descriptions are very bitter-funny. Many sentences in all chapters begin with ‘My mum’. Eleanor, ‘weak on Theory’, otherwise unstoppable, is a fantastic book character and so are several others.
“Motherland” deals in a superior way with an unusual topic. Hope Jo McMillan will write another book of this stature, then another… Highly recommended.


Once in Europa
Once in Europa
par John Berger
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 9,38

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Demise of peasant farming, 13 août 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Once in Europa (Broché)
John Berger (b. 1926) is an art critic, TV-documentary maker, painter and prolific author with distinctly left-wing leanings, who won the Booker prize for his 1972 novel ‘G’. To research “Once in Europa”—the middle part of a much-praised triptych about change in peripheral regions in Europe in the early 1980s—he spent years living in a tiny village in the alpine Haute Savoie. The result is five stunning stories about fate, hope, despair, love and isolation against a backdrop of globalisation and migration, where “hell” is symbolized by a cathedral-like, lethal, metal-producing complex of furnaces relying on hydropower and foreign workers living in barracks, working 24/7 for seven years as part of a multinational conglomerate.

Non-judgemental and flowing, occasionally lyrical prose, lots of symbolism and authentic characters and surroundings make for a great reading experience. Berger’s care for detail, gift for dialogue and his subject matter may have inspired e.g. Annie Proulx to set her books among (carefully-researched) people working with their hands in risky circumstances. But she would probably hate to be called a humanistic Marxist...


What Am I Doing Here?
What Am I Doing Here?
par Bruce Chatwin
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 8,41

4.0 étoiles sur 5 What if..., 8 août 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : What Am I Doing Here? (Broché)
What if Mozart, Schubert or John Lennon had lived longer? Bruce Chatwin (BC;1940-89) died older, but also still brimming with ideas and material to research and write about for decades to come, about a vast array of topics and persons. Before his death he published five novels, two of which were turned into movies. The year 1988 was busy indeed: his novel “Utz” almost won the Booker prize and he corrected and edited his best stories and wrote a few more for this collection of 35 of what he considered his best pieces. He attributed his early demise to a rare bone marrow disease picked up in China.
He quickly rose from the ranks of auction house Sotheby to a senior position. It gave him plenty of contacts to embark on a travelling & writing career that led him to e.g. Patagonia, West Africa, Australia, Eastern Europe and China. Researching “The Viceroy of Ouidah” in Benin during a failed coup, he was mistaken for a white mercenary and narrowly escaped death by firing squad. Other adventures are described in his novels and is this collection.
He always remained an independent author. Only one of the 35 stories in this collection was commissioned. The rest was conceived and researched by himself and were first published in often prestigious papers and journals.
This volume provides some of the background for the novels he composed. It also contains stories from the world of trading in fine art, portrayals of what he considered unique personalities, travel stories, and reviews of expressions of art and artists he found important. Was he an important thinker, writer and essayist? I think he was a quirky thinker whose memory is fortunately kept alive by reprints of his books. This collection is exciting and has never a dull moment.


Finding the Centre: Two Narratives
Finding the Centre: Two Narratives
par V. S. Naipaul
Edition : Broché

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Best introduction, 7 août 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Finding the Centre: Two Narratives (Broché)
V.S. Naipaul’s slim autobiographic 1984 volume is a precursor to his sprawling 380 pp. 1994 novel “A Way in the World”. It consists of an introduction and two essays about his ambition to become a writer and his search for an identity to infuse and inspire his writing, a starting perspective. His essay “Prologue to an Autobiography” beautifully captures every stage of his piecing together his own past and ancestry and the history of his multi-ethnic birthplace Trinidad, where slaves from Africa, then indentured labour from British India worked on sugar and cocoa plantations. And it was always close to Venezuela, adding another dimension. This essay is devastatingly honest, still feeling insecure after 12 novels and 12 works of non-fiction.
“The Crocodiles of Yamoussoukro”, situated in Cote d’Ivoire describes his visit to another facet of his past: many black Trinidadians hailed from areas like this. Would they be better off here and now? Do the Trinidad slaves’ old customs of witchcraft and poisoning, persist in their ancient homeland? How do women of West Indian origin fare when married to an African? What lures whites to live and work there? And so on. Naipaul presents Cote d’Ivoire as a rock of stability amidst chaos, brutality and stagnation elsewhere in the region. But he also questioned in 1984 its sustainability, and history has proven him right. This essay was, perhaps because of its weird cast of characters, more fictional than fact-based.
Finally, this frank pair of essays deserves 5 stars, one more than I gave the novel he wrote 10 years later. Found that repetitious, a re-hash of his earlier books and book characters vs. two real ones, Sir Walter Raleigh and Francisco de Miranda (a Venezuelan revolutionary who died in 1816). Both were portrayed rather poorly and at great length. Gave it 4 stars out of respect. Should have been 3 because of other swipes at his universe of the Other, which is immense.


The Portrait
The Portrait
Prix : EUR 5,14

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Among artists and critics, 3 août 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Portrait (Format Kindle)
First acquaintance with this author whose novel’s theme and style invoke John Banville’s sardonic and precisely-formulated novels about artsy subjects and -people. Here the focus is on the relationship over time between the self-exiled Scottish painter Henry MacAlpine and the powerful and feared London-based art critic William Nasmyth. After a gap of over four years they meet again—shortly before the outbreak of WW I—on a small island off the coast of Brittany, ostensibly for Nasmyth to be portrayed, again, by the artist. What follows upon his arrival is written down by the painter as a monologue, covering both their careers, some of their associates, the introduction of Post-Impressionism in London, etc., with rancour, tension and a sense of doom rising slowly.
Throughout the account of the days and weeks of sitting, model Nasmyth remains silent, frozen in the required position, not responding to his accuser...
Iain Pears is a keen observer of the art scene and art appreciation. Impressed how he pictured the artist’s poor and puritanical Scottish youth and apprenticeship and subsequent struggles in London to break through. And by his analysis, time and again, of the symbiotic relationship between artist and critic and the permutations of success and failure, incl. suicide. He has used a difficult and challenging format expertly, right to the dramatic ending. Style, background and pace are perfect.
This book contains no easy writing nor easy reading. It could perhaps also be read as a chimera, wet dream, revenge campaign of a madman, locked up safely, but given paper to write on. Or just imagining it all alone on his Breton inland. Surely a novel worth rereading.


The Patience Stone
The Patience Stone
par Atiq Rahimi
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 6,07

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Brilliant, 28 juillet 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Patience Stone (Broché)
The book title refers to the last of Allah’s 99 names, the Patient One, and to a magical black stone that will explode when all one’s sins have been confessed.
A woman nurses her shot and wounded, comatose man, father of her 2 daughters for 16 days, when her account begins, with eye drops, refilling a drip, cleaning him up and reciting (99 times per day) the 16th of Allah’s 99 names. In what follows, and amidst violence and intrusions, she tells her moribund man what she thinks of him. Feeling increasingly desponded and confused by her memories and the ongoing mayhem, she begins to accuse him, then confesses her own sins...
Powerful, authentic and dramatic novella about Afghanistan’ s Stone Age attitudes towards girls and women. It is an indictment of male incompetence, selfishness and stupidity. Ignorant men bad at sex become violent and warlike, against invaders, then among themselves, with no end in sight. All to prove they are men and protectors, but of who or what?
Excellent four-page introduction by Khaled Hosseini. This book won the 2008 Prix Goncourt, France’s top literary prize.


This House is Not for Sale
This House is Not for Sale
par E. C. Osondu
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 11,09

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Very readable & full of ideas, 27 juillet 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : This House is Not for Sale (Broché)
A novel or a collection of short stories? Each brief chapter is named after a person living in or associated with the Family House overseen by Grandpa, a Nigerian entrepreneur who puts its docile occupants to work for him. It is also a famous place of refuge for people who have failed in life. It reads like a fairy tale and contains many elements from Christianity, Islam and traditional beliefs. No character relies on just one belief system to explain death, infertility, sickness, or failure in business or love.
How and why it was built is described full of magic in Ch. 1. The overcrowded Family House and the street noise invoke VS Naipaul’s early novels and works of fellow African writers. Here, E. C.. Osondu, writing in basic English and in fewer words than others, appears to illustrate the Ten Commandments via hard luck stories. And each case story is judged upon by Grandpa and commented on by a chorus of street people like in Ancient Greek theatre, representing public opinion, gossip, persecution and defence. This stylistic inclusion adds an extra dimension to this attractive and challenging novel.
Challenging why? Some readers may find some casually-raised ideas rather more universal. A small example: Osondu describes the practise of appeasing a river goddess via a significant sacrifice before building a bridge. Ismail Kadare described how a human sacrifice in 13th century Albania was meant to guarantee durability. In Indonesia, bulls are sacrificed where earlier, e.g. on the Sumatran island of Nias and other locations, human sacrifices were common. On all three continents “for strength” of construction. Unpretentious and concise.


Sarah's Key
Sarah's Key
par Tatiana De Rosnay
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 10,08

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Timely masterpiece full of emotions, 20 juillet 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Sarah's Key (Broché)
It is quite fitting that this novel starts with a quotation from Irene Nemirovsky’s stunningly disquieting “Suite francaise” about the French army’s cowardice in 1940 and the nation’s widespread apathy, indifference and collaboration later on, esp. regarding its Jews. “Sarah’s Key” is a work of fiction based on facts: 76.000 French Jews were deported and never returned. The Nazi occupiers delegated much of the work to collaborating French authorities. French police played a key role, as did French concierges, bus and train drivers.
The story itself is a particularly dramatic case study and begins with a massive cliff-hanger that runs until halfway into the story. Events in 1942 are italicised, present-time events not, in brief chapters that converge beautifully. The other half concentrates on Julia, the novel’s US-born hero and her quest for more details about the drama that took place in 1942 in the Parisian apartment that came into her French in-law family’s possession soon after a dawn razzia in July 1942. Her reconstruction of events is plausible, but contains one seriously implausible fact or gap that even a seasoned author like Tatiana de Rosnay failed to solve or cover up. Attentive readers will spot it.
Otherwise, it is clearly a book targeting woman readers and female worries and concerns. It tries to bond with working women on both sides of the Atlantic and shuns few clichés re perfumes, sights and sounds of Paris and New York and its males.
Bought my home in Amsterdam in 1985. Until 1942, its neighbourhood was 66% Jewish. In the Netherlands 102.000 Jews were deported, much along the lines described above. I recently agreed to stick a poster with the personalia of the Jewish family who until the summer of 1942 owned or rented my home, to my front window on 4 May, the annual day to commemorate our war dead, for every passerby to see: they are Leizer Sonnenberg (b. Lancut, 8 July 1894), wife Dina Steiner: b. Rzeszow, 16 July 1900 and their children Rachela (1937), Lea (1930) and Toni (1924). Toni was born in Duisburg, Germany, his sisters in Amsterdam. The mother and children were all murdered in Auschwitz on 7 September 1942, most likely upon arrival. The father was killed on 11 February 1944. Michel and Sarah are well described and will be remembered. Please, say a little prayer too for Leizer, Dina and their kids.


A Way in the World: A Novel
A Way in the World: A Novel
Prix : EUR 8,48

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Ultra-rich & hard to summarize, 17 juillet 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : A Way in the World: A Novel (Format Kindle)
This novel retraces in a unique fashion the settlement history of Trinidad, starting with the aboriginal Caribs and Arawaks, but not chronologically. On top of describing Spanish- and British-led immigration of waves of black African slaves (and contract workers from the Indian subcontinent), VS Naipaul (VSN ) also discusses the fate of a few great-grandsons and -daughters who later left Trinidad to pursue a life elsewhere, like senior clerk Blair and the author himself.
Written aged 61 and first published in 1994, VSN reassesses the hopes, ambitions and mistakes of his early writing years. It produces a highly personal book written with zest and great enthusiasm, occasionally a bit shady, opinionated or nasty. It contains nine interdependent stories about Trinidad against the backdrop of the author’s own development in life. VSN has always been an acute observer of the impact of race on human relations. Every one of the stories deals with race and each of them is rich enough to deserve a review of its own.
This sprawling collection is beautifully written, at times overwritten because VSN is unstoppable when he gets going. Many of the stories refer vaguely to his earlier published works, but 3/9 stories are prototypes for books he never wrote. Are they more thrilling than the rest? The middle one is boring. They occupy lots of space and frustrate the flow VSN may have intended. Much of the book reads like true history, personal, Caribbean and African (Benin, Uganda). He presents four (4) key persons who helped shape his worldview and he gives them colourful biographies. Sir Walter Raleigh and the Venezuelan revolutionary Miranda are real, rather shifty historic characters, meticulously researched in archives and books. English author/advisor Foster Morris and peripatetic Caribbean revolutionary Lebrun are constructs, fruits of VSN’s imagination.
Does it matter? It is poetic license and why this work is advertised as a novel. Does it have flow and is it a pleasant read? No. It is super-rich in content, strange characters, dialogues, writing styles and descriptions of landscapes and weather, but unbalanced re lengths of chapters. Its longest—about Trinidad < ten years after Britain chased out the Spaniards—depicts the worst traits of Empire: penury, corruption, impunity, and intrigue and conspiracy from aristocratic French slave-owners exiled by the French Revolution, then from a slave uprising in Haiti. Perhaps its best and most disturbing chapter.
Found this a true challenge to review in so few words.


Passenger 23: An Audible Original Drama
Passenger 23: An Audible Original Drama
Proposé par Audible FR

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Scary and quasi-challenging an industry, 5 juillet 2016
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Passenger 23: An Audible Original Drama (Téléchargement audio)
Fritzek’s scary novels deal with psychopaths long able to disguise their true nature. They are exceptionally well- plotted -paced, -researched and –written, and situated in Germany. This thriller starts in Berlin and quickly turns very international, to a mega cruise liner plying the oceans with many thousands of passengers and crew. With no law enforcement on board, but with lots of underpaid workers, carefully-operating thieves and other nasty guests, what other crimes can be perpetrated with impunity in international waters beyond the reach of mobile phones?
Read this and shiver.
This book’s hero is Martin Schwartz, a deeply-distressed Berlin undercover police detective whose wife and son disappeared five years earlier during a cruise on the ‘Sultan of the Seas’. Ever since, he is prepared to take risks well beyond standard German police protocols. When he receives an urgent call for help, he deserts his job without notice, flies out and books himself on board the very same mega cruise ship in Southampton, with New York as its destination.
Its relentless pace, constant (sub-)plot twists and brief chapters with cliff hangers will delight lovers of fear and horror, some quite disturbing indeed. Otherwise, I found the book’s characters unconvincing, alone or interacting; found it hard to bond with any of them. However, its background is superbly-realistic, based on websites following the cruise industry and law firms that thrive on its mistakes and mishaps. [Its content and fear of lawsuits may have scared EN language publishers from bringing out a paper version. I read it in book form in Dutch translation].
Fritzek’s imagination is boundless, his writing is inspired and rich, his discipline is iron and his helpers many, as always acknowledged and thanked in his trademark ebullient fashion.


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