Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Aaronovitch, David "Paddling to Jerusalem"

Aaronovitch, David "Paddling to Jerusalem. An Aquatic Tour of Our Small Country" - 2000

I had read a few books by the author's brother Ben, so when I saw the name Aaronovitch in a used bookstore, I just had to take it home. Plus, the title "Paddling to Jerusalem" promised an interesting story. I envisaged something taking place in Israel.How wrong I was.

My disappointment quickly changed into joy when I discovered that first, David Aaronovitch was paddling around England, so what's not to like? And second, he mentions a few people who have written books about his country before, i.a. Bill Bryson, one of my favourite writers whom this author also seems to admire. So, we see him first on his search for the kayak that is going to help him get around the country and then follow him and said kayak plus a copy of "Middlemarch" from London up to the north and back again where he meets all sorts of people and visits all kinds of towns and villages.

A nice story about someone who gets up and does something completely different where many people think they are getting too old for this kind of stuff, including myself. Thankfully, there are always writers like this one to help us discover the world.

From the back cover:
"David Aaronovitch, the award-winning columnist and broadcaster canoes round the waterways and canals of England on the eve of the new Millennium.
In the last summer of the twentieth century, a rather large man got into a small boat and went out to discover England. On its canals and rivers, from the Thames to the Trent, from Camden Lock to Skipton, David Aaronovitch fumbled for the pulse of the least known nation in Britain.
He discovered a land of saucy grannies, voyaging landladies, Barratt's estates with well-tended gardens, childhood museums, opticians, aromatherapy, steam railways, scented candles, shopping malls, computers, coffee cake, stress phalli, man Utd supporters, rock festivals, soap opera behaviour, young men driving too fast, Buddhists, urchins, dead deer, private property, new universities, tattooed anglers and pewter herons.
On the way, Aaronovitch survived rapids, camping, stone-throwing hooligans, attempted murder by swans, a whole day without much food, the Beaverbrook Hotel in Burnley, solitude and a terrible ennui. Death stalked him for the entire journey. After four days he gave up, and then began again.
And among the towns and villages he encountered a selection of ghosts from the nation's past: bad King John, Aaron the Jew of Lincoln, Stanley Baldwin and the painter, Hilda Carline.
Yet in the process he found out one or two useful things about himself. Like the lithe and unjustified optimism it required for an unfit forty-year-old to suddenly take off on his own for months, using a form of transport that was inherently unstable, for reasons which were occasionally inscrutable - even to himself.
Hilarious, provocative and moving, Paddling to Jerusalem is the story of what happens when a bad idea gets the better of you and, in the process, becomes a very good idea indeed."

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Abarbanell, Stephan "Displaced"

Abarbanell, Stephan "Displaced" (German: Morgenland) - 2015

What a highly interesting book. I always like to learn about history and what happens in other countries. Or even what happened in my own country a long time before I was born.

Well, this book brought me both. A young Jewish woman who grew up in Palestine before it was Israel. A young woman who became a member of the resistance, fighting for their own country. But now it is 1946, the war is over and the world is not what it used to be. So many questions, so many problems. Someone is looking for his brother, doesn't believe he was killed, many books have lost their owners, who do they belong to? Nobody knows how things will go on, especially not the British who have to deal with all these Jews who want to get a visa for their protectorate. The story leads us to many stations, former concentration camps as well as few kibbuzim in Germany, we meet many people who try to organize the new world, Americans and British but also Germans.

The author manages to bring life into a dark time, his protagonist, Lilya Wasserfall, is a woman with hope, a woman with determination. The story is fascinating and engaging, it keeps you enthralled, you want to know what's going on.

This is Stephan Abarbanell's first novel. I hope he'll write more.

From the back cover:
"It is 1946, and the full horrors of the previous six years are slowly coming to light.
But in Jerusalem, Elias Lind can't accept that his brother Raphael really did die in a concentration camp. He has evidence that the scientist is still alive but, unable to search for him himself, he persuades a young member of the Jewish resistance to help.
Lilya's search for Raphael takes her from the dusty streets of Jerusalem to the heart of political London, from US-controlled Munich to an overcrowded and underfunded displaced persons camp, before leading her to the devastated shell of Berlin itself. But before long Lilya realises that she isn't the only one searching for the missing scientist; a mysterious pursuer is hot on her heels, and it soon becomes clear that Raphael's life isn't the only one in question . . ."

In the book, the protagonist mentions a few German books she read to improve her German:
Mann, Thomas "Tonio Kröger"
Kästner, Erich "Fabian"
Stifter, Adalbert "Nachsommer"
Baum, Vicki "Menschen im Hotel", "Tanzpause", "Welt ohne Sünde"

Monday, 19 February 2018

Unigwe, Chika "On Black Sisters' Street"

Unigwe, Chika "On Black Sisters' Street" (Fata Morgana) - 2007

4 African girls live in Antwerp, Belgium. A beautiful city. But the life of the girls is not that beautiful, they were brought to Europe to work as prostitutes, their Antwerp is the red light district. We often hear stories about these girls who are kept like slaves but never with many details.
Chika Unigwe described their world to us in a highly interesting manner, she is certainly an author worth watching for.

Sisi, Ama, Efe and Joyce all come from Nigeria (well, Joyce came to Belgium from Sudan via Nigeria) and we learn their stories bit by bit, how they ended up in this life, even think they chose this life themselves, how their old lives had crumbled slowly but surely. We don't just get to meet the girls but also their families, learn about their background.

A challenging, breathtaking story. And of course, this happens in any city in the Western world. Time to do something about it.

Like Mariama Bâ's "So Long a Letter" this book was mentioned in the article "The non-western books that every student should read". I think I need to write another blog about that.

From the back cover:
"On Black Sisters Street tells the haunting story of four very different women who have left their African homeland for the riches of Europe -and who are thrown together by bad luck and big dreams into a sisterhood that will change their lives.
Each night, Sisi, Ama, Efe, and Joyce stand in the windows of Antwerp’s red-light district, promising to make men’s desires come true - if only for half an hour. Pledged to the fierce Madam and a mysterious pimp named Dele, the girls share an apartment but little else - they keep their heads down, knowing that one step out of line could cost them a week’s wages. They open their bodies to strangers but their hearts to no one, each focused on earning enough to get herself free, to send money home or save up for her own future.
Then, suddenly, a murder shatters the still surface of their lives. Drawn together by tragedy and the loss of one of their own, the women realize that they must choose between their secrets and their safety. As they begin to tell their stories, their confessions reveal the face in Efe’s hidden photograph, Ama’s lifelong search for a father, Joyce’s true name, and Sisi’s deepest secrets - and all their tales of fear, displacement, and love, concluding in a chance meeting with a powerful, sinister stranger.
On Black Sisters Street marks the U.S. publication debut of Chika Unigwe, a brilliant new writer and a standout voice among contemporary African authors. Raw, vivid, unforgettable, and inspired by a powerful oral storytelling tradition, this novel illuminates the dream of the West - and that dream’s illusion and annihilation - as seen through African eyes. It is a story of courage, unity, and hope, of women’s friendships and of bonds that, once forged, cannot be broken."

Friday, 16 February 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"Reading forces you to be quiet in a world that no longer makes place for that." John Green

"A good bookshop shows you the books that you never knew you wanted. It doesn't merely fulfill your desires, it expands them. It you know the book you want, go into a bookshop and buy it, you have failed." Mark Forsyth

"Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting." Aldous Huxley

"If I'm not reading a book I'm normally talking about them!" N.N.

Find more book quotes here.

[If anyone can tell me the originator of this quote, I'd be very thankful and would happily include the name.]

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Scott, Mary; West, Joyce "Such Nice People"

Scott, Mary; West, Joyce "Such Nice People" (Inspector Wright #2) - 1962

The second time I come across Inspector Wright and his work in the New Zealand bush. Mary Scott's books are lighthearted and pleasant to read, even if there is a murderer among the lovely people on the pages.

If you have read my other reviews about Mary Scott's novels, you will know that these are about the most easy going books I read. This is not different, not scary or anything. Mary Scott, in collaboration with Joyce West, has written another lovely book.

From the back cover (translated):
"Lucia happily accepts her uncle's offer to take over his petrol station at the Half Moon Lake- at least temporarily. Because - as the uncle writes - "I can't promise exciting adventures you, all the people here are downright scarily law-abiding but you will find the freedom to live your own life, books, enough people, the lake and the bush.

A rural idyll - just the thing for someone like Lucia, who suffers from a broken heart. But the hope of a secluded, peaceful life is not fulfilled. Just after her arrival, Lucia experiences an earthquake - and a fire! And when she learns the next day that the local postman, Bert Davies, is probably the victim of a murder, Lucia senses that exciting days are coming.

However, should there really be a murderer among these law-abiding, alluringly lovely people?"

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Campbell, Jen "The Bookshop Book"

Campbell, Jen "The Bookshop Book" - 2014

This book starts with:
"Bookshops are
time machines
& safe places.
(this book is for those who know this to be true)"

Every reader loves bookshops as much as books. That's my theory and I stick to it. I am one of those people who cannot pass by a bookshop and who cannot leave a bookshop without buying at least one book. I have no problem leaving other shops without a purchase but it's impossible when entering a bookshop.

Lately, I have read some other books about bookshops:
Rice, Ronald (Ed.) "My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop" - 2012
Taylor, Andrew James "Books That Changed the World" - 2008

This is yet another approach to discovering bookshops. The author has more or less travelled around the world for us, interviewed bookshop owners, employees, authors, readers, anyone who has anything to do with producing and consuming books. Granted, she describes more shops in the UK and the US than in all the other parts of the world together but it still is a pleasure to follow her around. She describes all sorts of exotic places that I doubt I will ever get to, like Cambodia and Mongolia, Sudan and Tanzania, bookshops in North and South America, Australasia, wherever you can find one, she found them. If there were a bookshop on the moon, it would get a mention in here.

The stories about the people are all wonderful - what's not to like about book lovers? For example, there is Jessica A. Fox from the States who wanted to visit a second-hand bookshop in Scotland, googled it, found  and visited one (The Bookshop in Wigtown). Apparently, we can read all about her falling in love with the owner in "Three Things You Need To Know About Rockets: A Real-Life Scottish Fairy Tale".

I would love to visit all of those bookstores but there is one I have been visiting lots of times. Every time we have a visitor in our area, we take them to Maastricht to go into Selexyz Dominicanen. Imagine the surprise when people enter a church and end up in a books hop. Definitely visit their website. And let me know when you're in the area, I always love to meet other book nerds.

For anyone who loves boats more than books - or at least just as much - the Book Barge in Lichfield seems to be the answer. The owner, Sarah Henshaw, also wrote a book about her adventures. "The Bookshop That Floated Away". But she also describes bookshops that distributed their goods on donkeys or tanks.

Then there's the story about Stephen Fowler from Toronto who created the Biblio-Mat in his bookshop "The Monkey's Paw" where you can buy a second hand book for $2 with the promise: "Every book a surprise. No two alike. Collect all 112 million titles". Their most loyal customer Vincent bought one book every week in 2013 and he did not just read it but also wrote a review on his blog Certainly a site worth looking into.

I also loved the way she describes how different kind of bookshops organize their books. My favourite would be the one where the cover all the books face the customer. But there are all sorts of different set-ups. In Japan, there is a shop that sorts the books by date, not of publication but of the period in which it is set.

The author also recommends books to read, these were my two favourites:
Gowdy, Barbara "The White Bone", a journey into the minds of elephants - my favourite animals!
Berthoud, Ella; Elderkin, Susan "The Novel Cure" - a novel for any ailment you might have.
I know I must put both of them on my wish list.

The book is also full of quotes. I particularly loved this one:
"A good bookshop shows you the books that you never knew you wanted. It doesn't merely fulfill your desires, it expands them. It you know the book you want, go into a bookshop and buy it, you have failed." Mark Forsyth

So, whether you like to read about books, bookshops or see some amazing pictures of some weird and not so weird places, this is a fantastic book to delve into.

From the back cover:
"Every bookshop has a story.

We’re not talking about rooms that are just full of books. We’re talking about bookshops in barns, disused factories, converted churches and underground car parks. Bookshops on boats, on buses, and in old run-down train stations. Fold-out bookshops, undercover bookshops, this-is-the-best-place-I’ve-ever-been-to-bookshops.

Meet Sarah and her Book Barge sailing across the sea to France; meet Sebastien, in Mongolia, who sells books to herders of the Altai mountains; meet the bookshop in Canada that’s invented the world’s first antiquarian book vending machine.

And that’s just the beginning.

From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine, The Bookshop Book examines the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at over three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents (sadly, we’ve yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole).

The Bookshop Book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world."

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Tremain, Rose "The Gustav Sonata"

Tremain, Rose "The Gustav Sonata" - 2016

This is my second book by this author. I have read "Music and Silence" before which was about Denmark in the 17th century. This one is about Switzerland in the 20th. Well, one boy in particular. He is born shortly before the end of WWII and we see him growing up without his father who dies shortly after his death, with a mother who is bitter without her son knowing why. He finds out after many years.

This is a nice story about friendship that survives everything - love, betrayal, life and death. Short and easy read.

From the back cover:
"Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem only a distant echo. An only child, he lives alone with Emilie, the mother he adores but who treats him with bitter severity. He begins an intense friendship with a Jewish boy his age, talented and mercurial Anton Zwiebel, a budding concert pianist. The novel follows Gustav’s family, tracing the roots of his mother’s anti-Semitism and its impact on her son and his beloved friend.

Moving backward to the war years and the painful repercussions of an act of conscience, and forward through the lives and careers of Gustav and Anton, The Gustav Sonata explores the passionate love of childhood friendship as it's lost, transformed, and regained over a lifetime. It's a powerful and deeply moving addition to the beloved oeuvre of one of our greatest contemporary novelists."