A couple of crackers

I don’t often post book reviews although I am a voracious reader, but these two really got to me in different ways and I thought I would share them. I am rarely drawn to “light reads” and am more attracted to novels about relationships that are fraught and turbulent.

 

IMG_20180624_142045.jpg This is the quirky tale about a quiet young man called Charlie, who applies for and gets the job of Harbinger of Death.

He visits people around the globe bringing (often tatty) gifts of deep meaning to individuals. He describes his job as being a courtesy and it is Death who tells him who to visit.

The other characters include Pestilence, War and Famine and his intermittent love-interest, as well as the supporting cast of people who do not necessarily want him to visit (although, his visiting is not always a precursor to dying).

His travels often take him into dangerous territory and occasionally he has been close to dying himself, but his job means he no longer fears death and his calm approach helps a lot of the people he visits.

I described this book as quirky, it is certainly a fresh way of looking at the moving towards leaving this world, and making human the characters of Death, Famine and others is engaging (although War is frivolous and to me, very unlikeable) and slightly unnerving.

It was not an easy, it took me a week to get through this book as I couldn’t read much more than a chapter at a time, there was a lot to digest. It was an enjoyable, though at times, disconcerting read.

The next book is  IMG20180703041902.jpg.

Mette Jakobsen is Danish but now living in Sydney and this short novel is a real tug at the heart strings. The main character is a man whose son has died in unfortunate circumstances, he can’t believe the reality of his son being gone and instead starts a journey to look for him.

I won’t say any more because I don’t want to spoil it for you should you wish to read it, the pain of the main character and his wife is palpable, their estrangement as they deal with the reality of the death of their only child was enough to reduce me to tears at times.

It is a wonderful book, again, not easy reading but difficult to put down. If there is a downside to it, it is the amount of sex that is described in detail. I don’t think of myself as a prude, but the cynical soon-to-be divorcee in me wonders at the spontaneity of the couple sex life after so many years together. I will concede however, that the sex in the book is always loving (and not always successful).

Some heavy, but worthwhile reading for you to ponder and maybe delve into?

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Gilgamesh- thoughts on a book

This was going to be a tirade about a crime fiction book that I read, y’know the sort, lots of machismo and guns…I finished it only because I wanted to know what happened. But, here in Oz we don’t much care for, or about guns; so reading about a whole lot of specs about different weapons and how many people they can kill, well…yawn!

So instead of boring you with that book review, I thought I would tell you about my thoughts on a real cracker, “Gilgamesh” by Joan London. gilgamesh It was her first book written a few years ago, set in the South West of Western Australia. The title comes from the epic of Gilgamesh, a poem which has a profound effect on at least two of the main characters.

It starts in post WW1 London with two characters who seem ill-suited but get together anyway, they move to Western Australia to take up the offer of the Group Settlement Scheme (more info here).

They have two daughters and live in poverty, isolated from the community and unsuccessful at farming, barely scratching a living. Time moves on and after “he” dies two young men (one a relative) visit them. The younger daughter, Edith enjoys their company and is intrigued by their tales of the world past her isolated patch, after they leave she discovers she is pregnant and the story really starts from here. It is on the cusp of WW2 and Edith decides to find the father of her child, an Armenian (and that is almost all she knows). Reading this, it sounds ridiculous that this novel would be believable; but there it is. So much of what happens to Edith and her son Jim is almost serendipitous, but it all comes out at the end, how these events melded together into a plausible scenario where coincidence played almost no part at all.

I couldn’t put the book down, there was always a need to find out what happens next, as a lot of the events seemed so fantastic. It took me two days to read this and I was sorry when it finished, there were so many questions and it begs for a sequel (but it is unlikely to get one). If you are curious about the Australia that isn’t found in Sydney, Melbourne or the Gold Coast, this book throws out little tidbits which may whet your appetite for discovery, or totally put you off ever visiting.

Whatever your thoughts, I enjoyed Gilgamesh and encourage you to have a look at it for yourselves.

If you want a more comprehensive review read the transcript of this discussion it covers aspects of the book quite well and is entertaining to boot!

A book and some thoughts

I have read a really stunning book recently,  The Invisible Bridge  8733603.

Regular readers will know that I have a longstanding interest in the Holocaust and this wonderful book looks at the lives of two families of Hungarian Jews and the effects of the War (that is WW2) upon them. I am very ignorant about the lives of Eastern Europeans and know little about Hungary and it’s people. All I knew was that the relationship between Hungary and Nazi Germany was complicated and depended upon who was in power. I didn’t know that on the whole, Hungarians treated their Jewish population much better than a lot of countries (relatively-speaking) and that it wasn’t until later in the War that many Hungarian Jews were transported and lost their lives in the Holocaust.

The beauty of this book, is the see-saw of emotions that the reader experiences. I smiled, I cried, my heart raced, I felt cocooned in the story… this book talked about friends who I hoped would survive the terrible circumstances of their lives. As one would expect, it was not all good news, most of it was horrible and blighted, but to find out at the end that the characters were real made me cry loudly for them and the hardships they endured.

Every time I read another account, every time I see another photo, every time I view another film about the War; I wonder just how my Father’s family and more specifically his Father and Older Brother survived. I am sure their experiences moulded the people they were, the families they raised and the fears they felt; I am a product of all those things. Opa in Vienna (This is my Opa and other men, taken as slave labourers to Austria)

It is really only when I got older, that I could honestly forgive the people who loved and raised me for their mistakes, after all, we can only do the best we can, with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

This book was an education, thankyou Julie Orringer.

Busy, busy, busy and a book!

So my husband and daughter have gone on a road trip down the coast for beach, fish and bush. School has finished for the year and the long stretch of summer holidays is upon us.

I am home with my (nearly) 21 year old son and it has been interesting. The dynamics are very different when the mix of people at home changes 🙂

I am sitting here munching pepernoten ( two days late!) and having a cup of tea, it is nice to relax after a hectic weekend…I have given myself a long list of jobs to do while the home population is halved and I am probably insane for trying to get it all done, but hey?!

The front garden is tidied (although the marri tree is dropping leaves like there is no tomorrow), I am tilling and composting the vege garden and then leaving it fallow over summer. Summer used to be our most bountiful season in the backyard, but our neighbour decided to chop all his trees down and now our backyard is too hot to support any plant that needs a lot of water…it is a pain really, I miss growing stupendous lettuce and artichokes and my asparagus has just been pathetic this spring 😦

The Christmas tree and decorations are up, Mum’s art bag is completed (thankyou little Pfaff for sewing through 8 layers of upholstery fabric like it was butter!!!) and presents wrapped (to avoid snoopage by recipients)’ finally menu planning for the day has begun in earnest. As there will be five nationalities represented, I am going all-out ethnic! It will be an interesting menu and very unlike the usual fare found at an Aussie Christmas lunch (prawns and crayfish, ham and cold chicken, salads etc), I am going to try and make pirogi for the first time, they don’t look difficult, but we’ll see…does anyone have a good recipe, I am thinking pork (it is my favourite meat)?

Meanwhile, I have read a very evocative book. Do you ever continue reading books where you dislike all the main characters? I usually put them library returns bin pronto; not this one…

275982 This novel centres around a young teenager who has grown up in a very dysfunctional home, she ingratiates herself into a spartan Christian sect and what ensues could be inconsequential in the everyday, but isn’t within the rites of this group of extreme Protestants. The novel is takes place in the present and in flashback to 1969 when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon. We know that there is something different about her face in the present because people find it difficult to look at her, but we don’t find out what it is until the end. This description gives away very little, mainly because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might have a look at, my advice is to persist past the “unlikeability” of the main characters- it is worth it 🙂

I have a big pile of books to read over my holidays, 26 wonderful days off work!!! Watch this space, there will be no (repeat, no) reports of boredom from this happy little Vegemite 🙂

Cheers.

Book Review: We Will Remember Them, Max Arthur

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I read this book over the days I spent commuting to and from work.

April/May is a time in Europe and Australia (and elsewhere?) when we are remembering our war dead. In the Netherlands it was a couple of days ago when the liberation of the country by predominantly Canadian forces at the end of World War 2 was celebrated. In Australia, April 25th is ANZAC Day, when we remember the ill-fated invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli (Gelibolu) by allied forces in The Great War. ANZAC Day is an opportunity for us to remember all the people who have been affected by war up to the present day, it is usually quite sobering and these days I cannot attend a service or march through the city without sobbing loudly.

I think of my Dutch family’s wartime history, the childhood my Father and Uncle had that was ruled by fear and hunger. My Opa and another Uncle taken to work as slaves in Austria. The disappearance of yet another Uncle for three years and the heartache my Oma must have had, thinking and worrying about him- sobering indeed- and this is just one family. Lately however, my thoughts have turned towards my Welsh Grandfather and his experiences as a Gunner on the Western Front in France in The Great War. My Mother says he made his wartime service sound like a lot of fun, but I think somehow that being gassed twice and serving for the duration was anything but, his was a generation of men who did not talk much about the bad times.

Some of my questions have been answered by this book. We Will Remember Them is a collection of anecdotes and thoughts from men and women, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers about their experiences in the First World War, The Great War, The War to end all Wars (unfortunately not).

As I wrote before, I read it commuting and often found myself crying, smiling, sniffing and anything in between. I experienced so many emotions reading people’s thoughts that I was often exhausted after a ten minute train trip.

I don’t have much to say really, I recommend this to anyone who has had a family member who has fought in a war, or an interest in twentieth century history. There are no holds barred in the descriptions of the dead and maimed; but there is also outrage at the treatment  of these ex-servicemen and women and/or their families after the end of hostilities and the loss of a generation of young men who never married the young women they left behind, the families they never had, the opportunities missed. There is also comment on the Versailles Treaty which contributed so much toward the rise of Nazism in Germany and ultimately, the Second World War.

This book includes all opinions. Some men found life in the army (and fighting) a wonderful, empowering time, a time of cameraderie not equalled since; others were left embittered at lost opportunities and a lifetime of hardship due to injury, or lack of education, or the changed world.

One thing was constant however, that War changed everyone.

 

The eloquence of the old soldiers and thier families talking about the horrors they lived through during and afterwards, makes me wonder what has happened to the vernacular where the lowest common denominator rules and nowadays we abbreviate, OMG, LOL, LMAO etc etc- are we any better off…really?