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Reading the World: Europe (Three)

Five final recommendations from the depths of marvellous Europe!

97800071774241. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (Bosnia)
People of the Book takes place in the aftermath of the Bosnian War, as a young book conservator arrives in Sarajevo to restore a lost treasure. When Hannah Heath gets a call in the middle of the night in her Sydney home about a precious medieval manuscript which has been recovered from the smouldering ruins of wartorn Sarajevo, she knows she is on the brink of the experience of a lifetime. A renowned book conservator, she must now make her way to Bosnia to start work on restoring The Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book – to discover its secrets and piece together the story of its miraculous survival. But the trip will also set in motion a series of events that threaten to rock Hannah’s orderly life, including her encounter with Ozren Karamen, the young librarian who risked his life to save the book. As meticulously researched as all of Brooks’ previous work, ‘People of the Book’ is a gripping and moving novel about war, art, love and survival.’

2. Purge by Sofi Oksanen (Estonia)
‘Deep in the overgrown Estonian forest, two women are caught in a deadly snare. Zara is a prostitute, and a murderer. Aliide is a communist sympathizer, the widow of a party member, a blood traitor. And retribution is coming for them both. A haunting, intimate and gripping story of suspicion and betrayal set against a backdrop of the oppressive Soviet regime and European war.’

3. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy (Poland) 9780142003077
‘In the last months of the Nazi occupation of Poland, two children are left by their father and stepmother to find safety in a dense forest. Because their real names will reveal their Jewishness, they are renamed “Hansel” and “Gretel.” They wander in the woods until they are taken in by Magda, an eccentric and stubborn old woman called “witch” by the nearby villagers. Magda is determined to save them, even as a German officer arrives in the village with his own plans for the children. Combining classic themes of fairy tales and war literature, Louise Murphy s haunting novel of journey and survival, of redemption and memory, powerfully depicts how war is experienced by families and especially by children.’

4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (All over Europe)
‘The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads: Opens at Nightfalll Closes at Dawn As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears. Le Cirque des Reves The Circus of Dreams. Now the circus is open. Now you may enter.’

5. Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner (Switzerland) 9780140147476
‘Into the rarefied atmosphere of the Hotel du Lac timidly walks Edith Hope, romantic novelist and holder of modest dreams. Edith has been exiled from home after embarrassing herself and her friends. She has refused to sacrifice her ideals and remains stubbornly single. But among the pampered women and minor nobility Edith finds Mr Neville, and her chance to escape from a life of humiliating spinsterhood is renewed…’

 

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Flash Reviews: Three Novels (17th June 2014)

I Am China by Xiaolu Guo ****
Storyline: Two stories are intertwined here; Iona, a translator, is working her way through the correspondence of a pair of Chinese lovers, Jian and Mu.

‘I Am China’

1. The novel is so well written.  The letters between Jian and Mu are often filled with such beauty, and the third person perspective works wonderfully with the unfolding story.
2. I really liked the use of several different tales mixing with one another, each of them coming to the forefront of the novel at intervals.
3. The use of different cultures, and the way in which Guo outlined them, were so strong.

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Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks ***
Storyline: The novel begins in 1660 in Martha’s Vineyard, and deals with a teenage girl named Bethia and her family.  Caleb, who lives on a native settlement nearby, soon becomes involved with Bethia’s life in various ways.

1. Whilst the narrative voice was well built up, it did feel a little too modern in its style to work at times.
2. The sections which dealt with the ways in which the white English settlers got on with those who had been on the land for generations were interesting, and certainly form a strong backbone for the story.
3. Sadly, it did not seem as compelling or as well written as Brooks’ sumptuous The People of the Book, but for the historical perspective it offers, it is well worth a read.

 

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‘The Parrot Cage’

The Parrot Cage by Daphne Wright **
Storyline: The Parrot Cage takes place in the Second World War, and centres upon a young woman named Gerry, whose husband is away in Palestine.  He refuses to let her do anything to help the war effort, and it is only when she is offered a vital and top secret job that she feels satisfied.

1. Whilst I did not enjoy this as much as I had thought I would, it still makes an interesting read to take on holiday.  I read much of it whilst I was in Malta in May, and certainly found myself engrossed in some portions of it.
2. Some of The Parrot Cage is very well written and seemed to have been meticulously planned out, but at times it felt overly predictable, and the way in which things occurred was unlikely.
3. The entire cast of characters sadly felt a little lacklustre to me.

 

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