Thursday, April 2, 2015

Review: THE GERMAN MUJAHID, by Boualem Sansal

The German Mujahid, by Boualem Sansal. Published 2009 by Europa Editions. Translated from the French. Literary Fiction.

If you read about the Holocaust, or Islamic fundamentalism, or France, or immigration, or Algeria, or about people, The German Mujahid is required reading.

Set in modern day France among a French-Algerian-German family, Boualem Sansid's book tells the story of Rachel and Malrich Schiller, born in Algeria to a German father and an Algerian mother. The brothers move to France, and Rachel becomes a successful executive while Malrich flounders  in the banlieue, one of the sprawling suburban high-rise communities filled with the poor encircling Paris. While Rachel assimilates, travels the world and becomes a model citizen, Malrich falls in with the Islamic fundamentalist gang ruling the roost in his housing development.

The narrative is made of excerpts from the two brothers' diaries. When the book opens Rachel is dead. There was a massacre in their Algerian village in which their parents were killed.Their father Hans was an esteemed member of his community, but after his death Rachel finds out that his father was also an escaped Nazi war criminal. Rachel then destroys himself trying to ferret out his father's every last secret, spending the rest of his life learning as much as he can about what his father did and documenting his search in his diaries. He wills his diaries to his brother, whose journals reflect his own torment and struggle to understand what Rachel did, what his father did and how to make sense of his own life.

It's a tough read all around, a really difficult book that will challenge readers' assumptions on many levels. Sansal offers us a glimpse into corners of French life rarely seen and into the hearts of two men who battle conflicts difficult to imagine. The brilliance of this book is how Sansal shows us how hard they fight for air, for understanding and for life even as the tides try to drown them. Rachel didn't make it, but there is some hope that Malrich will. In any case I think this is a really important, powerful book and one everyone should read.

I read it for the 2015 Europa Challenge.


Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Europa Challenge- Playing Catch-Up

Taking the NYC subway has given me a lot of time to read and most days you can find me with my nose stuck in a book, usually a Europa. But I haven't been blogging a lot, for various reasons, and once again I'm behind on reviews. So I'm going to do a big post with lots of little reviews to catch up.

Of Beasts and Beings, by Ian Holding. This book is comprised of two intertwined stories, one set in modern day Zimbabwe as a white teacher named Ian is getting ready to pull up stakes for South Africa. He's disassembling his home, selling possessions, saying goodbye to friends and his longtime servant. He's also reassessing his life and himself. The second story is set in a nameless place and indefinite time, about a man who becomes literally shackled to an itinerant group who use him as a human mule. One story is terrifying, the other thought-provoking, and then they intersect in a most unexpected way. I loved this book but it was a tough read in places. Buy.

Arctic Summer, by Damon Galgut, is a fictionalized biography of E.M.Forster. I'd recommend it to readers of memoir and biography, because it is so heavily character-driven. It covers the period of his life leading up to the creation of his masterpiece A Passage to India and features his failed attempts at relationships. Galgut depicts his character has self-absorbed, misogynistic and insecure, and yet still makes the narrative compelling. I enjoyed reading Arctic Summer but it was slow at times. LGBT. Backlist.

The Island of Last Truth, by Flavia Company, is a quick read about a man trapped on a desert island after the boat he is sailing is overrun by pirates. This is a modern-day story and the pirates are terrorists of the sea, engaging in any number of crimes. The man finds out he's not alone, and what comes next is breathtakingly suspenseful and ends with a shocking twist. I liked this one a lot but it was too short. Translated from the Italian. Backlist.

My Berlin Child, by Anne Wiazemsky, is a World War 2 story about a privileged young woman named Claire who becomes an ambulance driver and falls in love with an impoverished Russian prince. Based on the life of Claire Mauriac and written by her daughter, it's romantic but probably only of interest to fans of the author, a famous French actress, or her mother, the daughter of writer Francois Mauriac. It would make a good movie probably but I found it self-absorbed and dull. Translated from the French. Borrow.

Gourmet Rhapsody, by Muriel Barbery. Since Europa just announced they'll be publishing her third book, I thought I should catch up and make sure I've read the first two. This book takes a minor character from The Elegance of the Hedgehog and put him front and center as he's dying.  Pierre Arthens, famous food critic, is dying and reminiscing about his favorite foods. Rhapsodic food writing alternates with bitter remembrances by those who knew him, and you can read between the lines in his chapters to get his take on the relationships in his life. I enjoyed this book but didn't love it. It felt a little disjointed to me. Translated from the French. Backlist.

I have a few more to review so stay tuned over the next week or so.

Monday, March 23, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm still reading my Persephone from last week- Tea with Mr. Rochester is an off-center book of short stories set in England approximately during World War 2, about young women and love. The heroines are all slightly unconventional young women who are having trouble dealing with their family and/or their expectations.
I also started reading another Persephone, Marjory Fleming, by Oriel Malet. Marjory Fleming is the fictionalized biography of a real little girl who lived from 1803-1811. She was a poet and writer and died at the tender age of 8, but her writings were very popular during the Victorian period and the book is a bittersweet tale of a bright girl putting her feelers out into the world.

Finally, I started a new Europa book, The Frost on His Shoulders, by Lorenzo Mediano, about an ill-fated love affair in the Spanish Pyrenees. It's a short book and I expect to finish it in a day or two.

And you? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: NOT MY FATHER'S SON, by Alan Cumming

Not My Father's Son, by Alan Cumming. Published 2014 by Dey St./William Morrow. Memoir.

I don't read a ton of celebrity memoirs- usually I have to be a fan of the author, and even then let's just say I manage my expectations. I can't say I'm a particular fan of Alan Cumming (I did see "Circle of Friends" on a flight to Ireland in 1995) but the buzz on his book was just so intriguing that I had to check it out, and I'm so glad I did.

Cumming's book tells two stories. First, he tells us about his father, Alex, who was monstrously abusive, both emotionally and physically, towards Alan, his brother Tom and their mother Mary. Alex tormented his children even into adulthood, first by telling Alan that Alan was not his biological child and then by playing a cruel trick designed to come to light after his death. Cumming tells Alex's story in alternating chapters with the present-tense search for the truth about his maternal grandfather. Tom Darling was a World War 2 soldier with the Cameron Highlanders, a Scottish unit that served in Europe. He died under shaded circumstances in Malaysia; Cumming sets out to find out what happened to him, with the help of a British television show called "Who Do You Think You Are". This reality show helps celebrities find out things about their families and documents the search.

Cumming's writing is very good and I found the narrative compelling and emotionally affecting. I was sorry to see it end, and I really enjoyed following his journey to find out more about Darling- a journey with two endings, one bitter and one very, very sweet. The story of coming to terms with Alex Cumming's sad legacy is also very emotional, but I loved the way Cumming finds of turning his father's last betrayal into something beautiful for Mary Darling. He also turned out a beautiful book full of love and forgiveness and acceptance. In the end that's all we can ask. I would certainly recommend the book to memoir readers and to people who enjoy reading about families. Ultimately it's a very happy story.

P.S., if you're interested in the story of Tom Darling, you can find the entire episode of "Who Do You Think You Are" on YouTube.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Leabhair Eireannach For You

Ireland is known as the land of saints and scholars- and writers, too. If you're interested in Irish literature you don't have to stop at Yeats and Joyce. Here are some recent favorites of mine from the Emerald Isle.

The All of It, by Jeannette Haien, is a dark Irish family story about a dying woman with a secret, which she confesses to her priest on her deathbed. It's a short novel, enough to read over a cup of tea, and a particular favorite of author Ann Patchett.


 
Time Present and Time Past by Deirdre Madden, is one of my favorite recent Irish novels, about
an average family just before the crash of 2008. It tells the story of troubles and triumphs, love and the passage of time. It's beautiful!

 



Arimathea, by Frank McGuinness, is a quiet novel about an Italian painter who comes to a small town in Donegal to decorate church just after World War 2. It was a bookseller favorite all around Ireland in 2013.
How the Irish Saved Civilization is Thomas Cahill's love letter to Ireland, about the little-understood role of the early Catholic Church in preserving classical literature. It's a wonderful, engaging and informative read.

The Rage, by Gene Kerrigan, is gritty and dark crime fiction set in Dublin, perfect for readers who like Tana French who want more Ireland. I love this guy's books. If you like Irish crime, also check out author Stuart Neville, whose books are set in and around Belfast. His The Ghosts of Belfast is a contemporary classic about the Troubles and the damage left in its wake.


Round Ireland with a Fridge is British comedian Tony Hawks's true, strange and irresistible tale of hitchhiking around Ireland...with a fridge. Reading this book is like being there. He does such a great job giving the reader the flavor and flow of this wonderful country.

These are just a few of my more recent favorite Irish reads. I hope you can find something to enjoy this St. Patrick's Day, or any time you want a taste of one of the best countries in the world!

Monday, March 16, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, last week did not turn out as expected! Literally on my way out the door to a sewing class, I tripped and fractured a toe, so I spent most of the week with my foot on an orthopedic pillow. Now, you'd think that that would mean I'd do a ton of reading. But I did not. I did watch a ton of television, especially since the news came down that some of my favorite shows are leaving Netflix in March.

On the reading front, I decided to abandon the books I was reading, because if being laid up was not motivating me to read them, nothing would. So, so long to The French Lieutenant's Woman and The Lunatic, at least for now. They'll be there if I want them later.

I decided to treat myself to a Persephone book instead. A few months ago my husband and I were spending a weekend in the Berkshires and I stumbled on a cache of used Persephones at a little used bookstore nestled in the woods. Tea with Mr. Rochester is a collection of mildly-mannered, slightly off-center short stories set in WW2-era England, about young girls and love and such. I'm enjoying it a lot. It's a nice change from the things I've been reading for the past little while.

Persephone books come with very simple gray covers, but they also come with beautiful, individual and unique endpapers. The picture above is from the end papers of Tea with Mr. Rochester. If you go to the shop in London you can buy extra sheets of many of the endpapers to take home.

Here's a display from the Persephone bookshop in London showing some of the papers. So pretty! This picture just puts me in the mood for spring, something we East Coasters sorely need right now!

What are you reading this week? Have a great week. See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Crafturday- Bamboo Handled Purse


A long time ago I bought a bamboo purse handle and a pattern to make a bag with it, but this was before I was into bag-making and I was put off making it by all the interfacings I would have had to buy to complete the project. But nowadays I buy interfacing by the bolt, and there's no problem with having special bagmaking supplies. So I decided to try the pattern, and this is how it came out!

The fabric was a gift from a bookstore friend and I fussy-cut it to center the floral motif on the front of the bag. There is something similar on the other side. The lining is a pink batik Hawaiian fabric.

I'm more of a shoulder-bag lady than a handbag lady per se, so this isn't a bag I'm really going to use, but it was fun to make and I'd love to make more for gifts and such. It came together in just a couple of hours. The most challenging aspect for me was the flat bottom, but I got the hang of it in no time- flat!

The next time I make it, I will add a couple of extra features- purse feet and an interior zippered pocket. Can't wait!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

R.I.P. Terry Pratchett: A Reading List

Today we lost one of the greats of contemporary literature; Sir Terry Pratchett has died at the age of 66. I have only read one of his books, but I know the mark he's made on the literary landscape will never be erased. Here are some books, some of his and some of his admirers' and some others that you might like if you want to dip your toe into his world.

Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett.  This book appears somewhere in the middle of Pratchett's Discworld story and it's both a perennial favorite and a great entry point. Or you could just start at the beginning with The Colour of Magic. Up to you, really.

Ragnarok, by AS Byatt. Byatt is a fan of Pratchett's work and wrote the foreword to Pratchett's A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction. This book is a retelling of the Norse myth.

In Other Worlds: SF And the Human Imagination, by Margaret Atwood. In this collection of essays, Atwood, herself a Pratchett admirer (and Hugo-winning author), examines fantasy and speculative fiction in literature.
Good Omens, by Pratchett an Neil Gaiman. This comic novel, a retelling of the The Omen (yes, that one) is a great collaboration between two giants of the fantasy genre, and two good friends.

The Islanders, by Christopher Priest.  A dark, twisty, Nabokovian tale of obsession, murder and love masquerading as a gazetteer of an otherworldly island archipelago, this book takes fantasy to a whole new level. Priest wrote Pratchett's obituary for The Guardian.

A comic fantasy that Pratchett might have enjoyed, Rebecca Miller's 2013 novel Jacob's Folly tells the story of a dead Frenchman returned to modern-day New York as a literal fly on the wall to two confused New Yorkers.
 Railsea. China Mieville retells Moby-Dick in this fun, imaginative book aimed at teens.

The Eyre Affair. Jasper Fforde's comic-fantasy-detective take on Jane Eyre (and its several sequels) will appeal to fantasy and literary readers alike.


The Secret History of Moscow, by Ekaterina Sedia, blends fantasy and folklore in a touching tale of a young woman searching for her missing sister among the mythology of Russia.

Isabel Greenberg's 2013 graphic novel The Encyclopedia of Early Earth weaves a beautiful tapestry of words and pictures over a mythic-cycle story of the beginning of time, how one man finds his true love, the love of mothers for a child, and more.

Any of these books would make a fine introduction or next step to the world of fantasy for the reader new to fantasy who'd like to get know Pratchett's work and that of his peers in the SFF world.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mr. Selfridge is Coming Back to PBS: A Reading List

I'm so excited that "Mr. Selfridge" is coming back to PBS for Season Three on March 29. It's such a fun show about love, shopping and society. Based on the story behind a real London department store (although heavily fictionalized) "Mr. Selfridge" is a sugary confection and always a treat to watch. Love "Mr. Selfridge"? Here are some suggested reads, fiction and non-, about living, working and shopping (of course).

Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge, by Lindy Woodhead. This is nonfiction about the real Henry Selfridge and what made him and his store tick.

Why We Buy, by Paco Underhill. A fascinating study of the psychology of shopping that's great for the average reader or the professional looking to learn the basics.

The Paradise, by Emile Zola. Zola's 19th century novel was itself the basis for another PBS series about the rise of the department store.

Seven Sisters Style, by Rebecca C. Tuite. The styles we covet by designers like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger have their origins in the casualwear of the East Coast college campus of the mid 20th century; this book tells us how the women (and men) of that time and place influenced the fashions we still wear today. 

Parisian Chic, by Ines de la Fressange. French model and current-day Uniqlo designer Ines de la Fressange offers specific and easy to follow shopping tips and advice to put together a simple but classic wardrobe (spoiler alert: wear a lot of navy).

Confessions of a Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella. The first in the bestselling series of chick-lit novels will definitely put you in the mood for the mall.

Margherita Dolce Vita, by Stefano Benni. For another point of view, read this anti-consumerist Italian novel about a young girl whose new neighbors are obsessed with having every latest trend. Something different!

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble, by Zac Bissonnette. Business writer Bissonnette tells the story of the rise and fall of everyone's favorite plush cuties- why we loved them, and why we stopped. It's a great take on a 90s shopping craze.

Sima's Undergarments for Women, by Ilana Stanger-Ross. This novel tells the story of a neighborhood lingerie shop in an Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood and how it fits into the community.

Shopgirl, by Steve Martin. I love this novel about a young woman finding her way in the world working in the glove department of an upscale department store. It's a quiet and beautiful novel.

Monday, March 9, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Last week I finished My Berlin Child, a novel based on the real-life experiences of the author's mother, who was herself the daughter of French author François Mauriac. Claire leaves her privileged background for work as an ambulance driver in France and Germany during and just after World War 2; she breaks up with her fiancé and falls in love with a Russian emigre. It's a good book, and I'd recommend it for memoir readers even though it's (nominally) fiction.

This week I'm continuing with The French Lieutenant's Woman and I started The Lunatic, by Anthony C. Winkler. I picked this up at a library conference literally years ago and it's finally made its way into my hands to actually read. It's set in Jamaica, about a mentally-disturbed man who falls in love with a German tourist, and the shenanigans they get up to. It's colorful and ribald and fun, and I can't wait to have an excuse to sit down with it again.

That's what I'm reading this week. What about you? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com and have a great week!