Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
I picked up The Parisianer last weekend at Albertine Books, a French bookstore on the upper east side of Manhattan.
First of all Albertine is a delight. Yes, they have current French and Francophone fiction and nonfiction, translations into and out of French and a beautiful setting. My favorite thing about Albertine is the nonfiction display table on the second floor where you can always find adorable, irresistible things you never knew you needed.
The Parisianer is a collection of "covers of an imaginary magazine," basically a Parisian version of The New Yorker. There is almost no text; instead, just magazine-cover illustrations by a panoply of French artists. I didn't recognize any of the names but the styles are all over the map, with some simple covers, some elaborate and detailed, some reminiscent of street art, some impressionistic, you name it.
I love this book. It was one of those things I just had to own, and I can't stop looking at it.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
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.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
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
And you? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
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.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
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.
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
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.
What are you reading this week? Have a great week. See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
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
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.
Priest wrote Pratchett's obituary for The Guardian.
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.
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.