Shew, readers. It has been a crazy few months with lots of working and (not enough) reading in between. Sometimes life takes over, I guess, but at least I can find escape in words. In the past months, I have found myself obsessed with Kent Haruf, underwhelmed by Nelson De Mille’s ‘The Gate House’, and bowing in reverence to the first in Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Series, ‘Palace Walk’. Added to these are works ranging from Pearl S. Buck to Robert Gailbraith – a cornucopia of imaginings 🙂
I also happened to watch the fabulous ‘Hemingway and Gellhorn’ (trailer below) and found myself completely immersed – yet again – in the mystique (dare I say) of Ernest Hemingway, but also found myself intrigued by Martha Gellhorn. Enter Naomi Wood.
‘Mrs Hemingway’ is a fantastic read. It is so enthralling, in fact, I would suggest reading it in one sitting (or as close as possible thereto). A novel written from the perspective of Hemingway’s wives, making provision for overlaps, Naomi Wood has given a voice to the women whose impact on the life of this literary icon is often underplayed. Each voice is distinct from the next. It is utterly sincere, convincing, and moving. The range of personalities is perfectly captured and, although Hemingway himself is the common denominator in the book, the style has the effect of making it seem like he is in the background, yet keeping him in the spotlight for the man that he was.
This was a beautifully real portrayal of love of the man in all of its forms and all of the consequences that follow – betrayal, regret, strength, etc. In the end, it has the effect of inciting pity, dismay, contempt, disbelief and rewarding us with a group of wives that are a diverse cross-section of womankind; women all female readers can identify with on one level or another. I can’t describe how much I enjoyed this book, save to recommend it to anyone with even a fleeting interest in Hemingway (or even without).
I found myself so captivated by the period and the characters that popped up during Mrs Hemingway, I moved straight on to ‘Z’ by Therese Anne Fowler. Even after finishing both, I am still excited by how well the two books complemented each other. Zelda Fitzgerald has a lot in common with the different Mrs Hemingways, but is vastly different. This book follows her beginnings in the American South to her time as one of history’s most famous flappers, and on to worldwide travel at the side of F. Scott Fitzgerald on a quest for inspiration. This book digs beneath this and is akin to getting to know a friend, watching her develop, becoming her confidante.
I finished this book with goose pimples all over and tears in my eyes. Although, prior to reading ‘Z’, I had a partial knowledge of Zelda, this book breathed life into her, made her my companion for a few days of reading, and gave her the identity she deserves independent of her husband. She ached, she yearned, she dreamed. She spent a lifetime at the side of a man she loved in spite of the hardships they encountered and was largely unrecognised for her obvious talents.
Of course, the Fitzgeralds appear in ‘Mrs Hemingway’ and Hemingway features quite prominently among the characters of ‘Z’, so a back-to-back reading of the two was a wonderful way to savour the magic of these two books which have won me over with their brilliance. Both of these fabulous authors have researched and written novels that are perfect for readers like me – those interested in the lives of certain figureheads, yet largely unwilling to pick up a biography (don’t hate me. I can’t help it) and for this I give thanks beyond thanks for books that have quickly jumped on to my list of favourites to be read and re-read.
For those interested in ‘Hemingway and Gellhorn’, here is the trailer.
Bought off the back of a Facebook review, I thought ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ would be a quick beach read; something simple to keep my brain occupied between putting on suntan lotion and picking sand from my belly button. Little did I know that it would end up being a book that would capture my imagination, so much so that I would look for any excuse to read just a couple more pages.
Peggy Hillcoat is taken into the woods by her survivalist father and told that the world around them has ended. Amongst those who have perished is her beloved concert pianist mother; beyond the cliffs lies The Great Divide; and that, somehow, they have managed to evade death along with the squirrels, deer, and fish, she is told. Over the course of nine years, they do all they can to survive through plentiful summers and harsh winters. As Peggy plays ‘La Campanella’ on a crude, homemade piano, her father seems plagued by the memory of her mother. When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest, the realisation of what brought her to be there in the first place is revealed and the quest to get back to her mother and a life interrupted begins.
‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ is completely addictive and I can’t help but wish it had a couple hundred more pages. It was a reminder of what made me start reading in the first place all those years ago, including that “must know what happens next” feeling that can lead to sleepless nights, undone work, and a somewhat lost sense of reality – life interrupted, I guess.
What would you put in a questionnaire for the perfect partner? In the case of Don Tillman, he was quite specific that the person he was going to marry was going to be someone of above average intelligence with a keen sense of punctuality who also definitely had to be a non-smoker.
Don Tillman is the socially inept yet strangely lovable protagonist of this easy, comic book. Bordering on Asperger’s symptoms, his strange quirks seem to doom him to a life alone, but he is on a quest for a partner and this woman should fit his stringent requirements. When Rosie comes into his life, she is the antithesis of what he is looking for, yet he finds himself confused by how deeply he enjoys his time with her. As the two set off on a scientific and personal mission to find Rosie’s father, can Don overcome his rigorous standards and find love?
This is a quick weekend read. Simple, yes; predictable, maybe; addictive and readable, absolutely. I found myself so amused by Don as a character, I had to find out what misadventures ensued. There was also a recognition of Sheldon from ‘Big Bang Theory’ and Temperance Brennan from ‘Bones’ in this character which was all the more amusing.
Ultimately, ‘The Rosie Project’ is about something we can all identify with – the compromise and struggles that come with finding the perfect person, stripping away fear and routine to accommodate another person in our lives, and love – that subject we never tire of reading about no matter what form it takes – and Don Tillman makes it look easy for the rest of us.
When East and West converge, you are in for a good story. Elif Shafak has once again produced a brilliant work of fiction that is bound to get you thinking beyond the typed word. I found myself debating all of the myriad themes and travelling the avenues they created in my mind beyond the last page.
‘Honor’ follows the story of Kurdish-born twins Pembe and Jamila. Pembe moves to England with her husband, Adem, while Jamila becomes an almost mystical midwife in the countryside of her own land. Living vastly different lives, this is the dramatic story of misunderstanding, tradition in a foreign land and its effects on a family divided by such tradition.
After Adem leaves Pembe, their son, Iskender, takes over as head of the household. Forced to uphold the honour of his family, he feels forced to act when he finds out about what appears to be an affair his mother is having in the absence of his father, an act of shame that cannot go unpunished.
Flitting between two very different worlds, ‘Honor’ is captivating and disturbing. One look at the news these days, it is easy for the western world to cast judgment on decisions driven by tradition in the general sense. This book, however, is a reminder of the human lives behind those traditions and of all of the extraneous forces that come into play in these people’s decisions.
Don’t you just love a novel with a legal theme? Or maybe it’s just me because of (or, dare I say, in spite of) the fact I am a law graduate and fiction-lover. If you, like me, take an interest in the law, go out now and buy ‘The Children Act’ and even if you don’t consider yourself a legal person, this gripping novel is a reminder of McEwan at his best.
Sitting in my family law class years ago, little did I know that the topic of transfusions for Jehovah’s witnesses and the courts’ right to intervene on behalf of what lies in the child’s best interests would outwardly be the central theme of a novel I would read years later. I fell in love with Fiona Maye, the judge whose private life is turned upside down when her husband asks her permission to have an affair to make up for a sexual deficit he feels is tarnishing their marriage. She is strong and intelligent and involved in her cases, with the law becoming her life. She is easy to relate to for how human she is – she could be any one of us. Against this backdrop of the professional judge suffering a personal crisis, the two worlds merge when she goes to the hospital to meet the young man whose life her ruling will save. This is even though his religion dictates he should die and, the thoughts of his parents aside, makes a decision, in faith and in rationality, that this is what he wants for himself. Being described as an exceptional young man on all fronts when the application is made before her, she does the unthinkable and goes to the hospital to see for herself. And so a chain of events are set in action that will impact Fiona’s life and bring perspective in light of her seemingly crumbling marriage.
The depth and nuances of this book make it hard for me to resist reading it again; something which wouldn’t be too labour-intensive considering the brevity of the book. ‘The Children Act’ is nostalgic of McEwan pre-‘Sweet Tooth’ (even though I loved that book too, although I can hardly describe it as a classic McEwan – call me obsessed). One of the best books I have read this year!
A few years ago, I had the privilege of travelling through Zimbabwe (albeit as an avenue back home to South Africa). It is a place that terrifies and intrigues me. I could write for hours about how Zim became a talking point, an archetype of 21st century white African fear, a hotbed of controversy quickly ignored, treated with apathy by the international community. However, this is a book blog. Far be it for me to indulge too deeply in political banter 🙂
Nonetheless, most everyone holds an opinion on the situation in Zimbabwe and why wouldn’t they? It is the perfect combination of issues for critical thinking – the fight for post-colonial freedom, generations of denigrated Africans, the task of co-existence between the previous oppressor and the previously oppressed, the plight for peace, a despot, the true cost of equality. The list goes on. But for readers interested in Zimbabwe, one thing is guaranteed – empathetic outpouring for both sides. Perhaps this is felt somewhat more acutely by South Africans. For us, Zimbabwe became a powerful and frightening symbol of freedom gone bad. We house their refugees, we watch on as the world turns a blind eye to gross human rights violations on all sides, and we pray at night that we too will not fall into that category of African countries that went from being liberal to radical in the blink of an eye.
‘House of Stone’ came to be on my reading list simply because I loved ‘Africa House’ by the same author, but the book has etched itself on my memory for being one of the most moving stories I have ever read. It is the true story of the Houghs, who are a few of the last white farmers in Zimbabwe, and their domestic worker, Aqui. When their farm is being seized, Nigel Hough is shocked to see Aqui – the woman who helped raise their children and someone who was considered a much-loved part of the family – at the front of the crowd: “Get out or we’ll kill you. There’s no place for whites in this country.” Tracing the very different backgrounds of Nigel and Aqui in Zimbabwe, this is a book that shows how both came to be standing at the gates of the farm that day.
I have tired of books about Africa over the years – many being a replica of the next in one way or another – but ‘House of Stone’ had me weeping at the end for the sincerity of the story. The way the facts are conveyed gives us a glimpse into the lives of blacks and whites in Zimbabwe and endows the reader with a greater understanding of the place than any history book could. It is a reminder of Africa as a land that has suffered and continues to suffer as its people attempt to find equilibrium after centuries of oppression and, in spite of all that, it is more than anything a reminder that there is hope to be found even in the darkest times. It is a reminder that, despite the frailty of morality in a land fraught with problems, the kindness of the human spirit often stands out above all else.
If you are looking for a book that puts a face on what is happening in Zimbabwe, ‘House of Stone’ could not come more highly recommended. It has worked its way into my heart as a book deserving of an audience; not only for Africans, but for every member of the human race (bold, I know :))
Sorry I have been so quiet, chaps. Meet one of the reasons why – Hemingway the dog, my toe-nibbling assistant. I have come under fire from some for giving such a little man such a big name, but he will definitely grow into it (and, if I needed a sign, I first went to see him on what would have been Hemingway’s birthday this year)!
Hemingway the man has always intrigued me. The adventurer, soldier, and writer (above all), who was a famous cat person, is probably rolling in his grave at what I have done, but I take it as some form of confirmation that the only thing that really soothes the adventurousness of the hound is the sound of my fingers clacking away on the keyboard day in and day out.
Shockingly, as much as the man himself may interest me, I hadn’t read any of Hemingway’s books (dismay), so I quickly dusted off my copy of ‘The Sun Also Rises’ from the ‘to be read’ pile and got reading (not that much reading could be done between cleaning up puddles and saving hostage shoes). Last Saturday, I got a glimpse into my future dog ownership that reminds me why the creatures make me so happy. I sat in the sun with a sleeping doggy and read until I did the same. It was heaven.
‘The Sun Also Rises’ immediately struck me as a work that came from the Montparnasse Quarter, a bevy of writers who bounced ideas off one another that became great fiction. It is also a deeply masculine book that deals with love, death, and nature in following the Lost Generation. There are sections of this book I will remember forever; the fishing, the bull fights. I can’t wait to read more of the man… if the dog will let me.