Monday, 15 April 2013

Thoughts: The Third Son by Julie Wu

The book starts out in Japanese occupied Taiwan in 1943. Air-raids are going down over the beautiful island, while eight-year old Saburo walks home from school. He is in no hurry though because as the least favorite third son in the family he can not expect to be greeted friendly by his parents or his older brothers. Walking through the forests he runs into Yoshiko. She seems a most lovely creature to Saburo and he cannot ever forget their friendly encounter determined to find her. He comes of age in an oppressed Taiwan, now ruled by the Chinese Nationalists. As best he can he tries to build a future for himself as he cannot count on the help of his parents. He dreams of going to America.  

I often felt really depressed by the injustice Saburo has to face. It seems he is never lucky and has to work hard for his future which always seems at the edge of being destroyed by some envious or evil characters. Although he struggles really hard, I could not quite get engaged in Saburo's character. I read about his fate from a distance.

Another issue I had is that some parts of the story were revisited again and again, although I already got it how important they were (e.g. the meeting with Yoshiko when they were children or the abusive behavior of Saburo's parents), where others were leaped over. I enjoyed the historical and cultural aspects of the first half of the story though and understand that the author was very much engaged in giving a picture of a Taiwan as it was back then.

I would only recommend this for readers that a are interested in the history and culture of Taiwan or who can stand a depressing tale of a young man trying to make something for him in the world.

The book will be released in spring this year.

*I received a review copy from Alonquin over Netgalley.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Thoughts: The Picture of Dorian Grey

The plot is all that matters in this book. The beautiful Dorian Grey stands for a picture and while being painted prays for eternal good looks. As a consequence the picture ages and fades while he stays the young Adonis "made out of ivory and rose leaves". Influence by the witty Lord Henry he starts to lead a corrupt life.
Unfortunately the book starts out promising but as soon as the premises are over the book starts to dwell on uninteresting details and takes forever to get to the end. I was already warned of that by my team mates. Nonetheless the book offers a lot of possibilities for the exploration of the nature of good and evil in human beings. But the author never follows them until a conclusion can be formed. The language though is picturesque and all characters in this book are described in a unique satisfying way. One woman for example is described as "so dreadfully dowdy that she reminded one of a badly bound hymn book".
Oscar Wildes one and only book is an attempt at Gothic horror and was received badly at the time (in 1890) and caused a scandal. For our nowadays callousness the book causes us no such impression. But I am certainly glad I read it. To me especially Wilde's cynicism appealed and made me smile.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Thoughts: The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

The Tiger's Wife is like every good book more than just a book. It is entertainment and subject for discussion as it addresses the Balkan wars for example. Center point is the story of Natalia, a young doctor, who learns from her grandfathers death, who was a doctor too, and wants to figure out its particulars. A story unfolds which is made from childhood memories, superstitious myths told by Balkan villagers and the after-war present in which Natalia tries to find her truth.

The story starts out with Natalia and her grandfather visiting the local zoo to see the tigers. The dustpan man's arm lands in the tiger's mouth, which is only a hint on a tiger's role later in the novel. Two different myths draw through the book: the myth of the tiger's wife and second the myth of the deathless man both adding to the magical realism genre in which this book belongs.

What stays most with me are Obreht's descriptions of war, "Those first sixteen months of wartime held almost no reality, and this made them irresistible... Never mind that, three hundred miles away, girls sitting in bomb shelters were getting their periods at the age of seven." Reading the book certainly feels like Obreht describing her everyday surroundings but mind you she left former Yugoslavia when she was only seven. I'd definitely pick up another book by her.

Monday, 11 February 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's been ages since my last Monday post... But as I understand this is a weekly meme I'm going to tell you what I read the past week. It's Monday is hosted by Sheila from Book Journey.

I finished reading:
The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Look out for reviews of both books on my blog this week.

I started reading:
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
So far I really enjoy the story. Friends who recommended this book to me pointed out that Morton is an original writer and that things turn out differently than expected in the end. I am looking forward to that.

I posted reviews for:
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, a book I liked a lot in the end but had a hard time with nonetheless.

Books I need to review:
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, which I liked better than Sense and Sensibility.
Wildthorn by Jane Eagland, a pleasant young adult book which takes place in a hospital for lunatics where a gentle love develops.
Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto, featuring six short stories, which center around change in the lifes of ordinary people.

Have you read any of the mentioned books? Did you like them? Are you going to read them?

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Thoughts: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

This was my second attempt of reading something by Krauss and like it. I already read Great House and never could really plunge into the story. It was the same with this book. I took me like forever to get into it.

Alma's mother is sad because after the death of Alma's dad she is lonely. Alma wants to make her happy again and tries to set her up with man. Unexpectedly Alma's mother is asked to translate a book because that is her job. But the History of Love is the book that was the first present of her late husband to her and Alma is named after the main character in this book.
Leo Gursky on the other hand is lonely, too. He is a Polish immigrant and came to America full of hopes to reconnect with his former love who due to second world war left Poland for America. Now he is old and couldn't get together with the woman he loved but has a son he longs to get to know.
Zvi Litvinoff is an author and his best known piece of work is The History of Love. But he has a secret too.

It was hard for me because I didn't like how I couldn't connect the three different story lines at first. I liked reading about Alma the best and felt for Leo. Other than that I couldn't figure it out. Until near the end I suddenly could and right then I happened to like what I read and appreciate Krauss' prose. As soon as it made sense I liked it. Really. I pondered reading from the beginning to see what hints were given early on but somehow I couldn't make me.

I wonder if everybody was clueless like me about the book until near the end...

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Thoughts: Habibi by Craig Thompson

First things first. I am not into graphic novels. But there is always a but, isn't it? I stumbled across this piece in my friend's bookshelf because you can just not miss it. It's huge, and the cover art is lovely. It's like a big bible but it is not a bible. It is though an approach to get to know religion, to be specific the Islam religion and other cultural aspects of the middle east.
This tome includes nine stories and all center around Dodola, first a young girl who is married still being a child, later a slave and then a lady in the sultan's harem. All the while she cares for a little boy, whose name is Ham. And as he is always very afraid she tells him stories. And this is also the way the reader gets to know the myths and legends and biblical stories and how they are interpreted in the Islam. There is a lot of social criticism involved in the telling of these stories, too, which I enjoyed.
I liked quote unquote reading this book. Following Dodola's story and the ones she has to tell is interesting and I liked the art work in this book and how calligraphy can be used to paint pictures, too. I would recommend this for adult readers as there is some defined adult content.
Accompanying reads:
Blankets by Craig Thompson - explores the sibling rivalry of two brothers growing up in the isolated country, and the budding romance of two coming-of-age lovers + added to tbr

Friday, 11 January 2013

Thoughts: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

I had this book for a while now but with my slow reading lately I never felt attracted enough to pick this book up. But it surprised me. Because what could be more fascinating than the bohemian life in the 1920s Paris or the early life of one of the best known American writers through the eyes of his first wife? Not much, for me anyway.
The writing was just brilliant. I felt with Hadley, I suffered with Hadley, I hurt with Hadley. I came to love the character Hadley. I know that McLain fictionalized Hadley Richardson's thoughts and feelings and as a consequence that the expressed thoughts and feelings might not have been really hers. But I don't care because I cared about Hadley only the more for it.
*Spoiler Warning*
For example when she felt miserable about losing the bag with Ernest's complete early work. Or when she must have been so miserable when he got together with Pauline. If the book was only an accurate description of the Hemingway's marriage but not for the emotion McLain added to the story it would not have been such a great reading experience. You get my point.
*Spoiler End*
Also the character of Earnest felt very real. It seems to me that being in a relationship with him might not have been easy. That he might have demanded more than given back.
And though I finished this book days ago I still find myself thinking about it, which of course only happens to me when a book made an impression and gave me something to think about. I'm glad that I finally picked it up due to Anita's recommendation.
Accompanying reads:
A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway - Earnest's account on their marriage and his years as young and aspiring writer. +added to tbr
Like Family by Paula McLain - Memoir about her living in care of foster parents with her two sisters +added to tbr

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Thoughts: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Marion and Shiva, identical twin brothers are born under bad circumstances in Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Their mother Sister Mary Joseph Praise, an Indian nun, dies giving birth and their father Dr. Stone, a British surgeon, is overwhelmed with the situation and flees the hospital for good. Now orphaned they come of age at the mission hospital, in an Ethiopia on the brink of revolution, cared for by loving people, Hema and Gosh, doctors on the mission's grounds. Both twins come to share fascination and love for medicine. But their special connection, their ShivaMarion union, is on risk when the love for the same woman drives them apart and force Marion to leave the country for New York City. There he pursues his career as an intern in an underfunded teaching hospital. But the past will get to him during a seemingly fatal illness. He now has to entrust his life on the two man he came to trust the least - his father and brother.
The mood that accompanies the story and the rich language made this book a had-to force-myself-to-stop-reading kind of book. I caught myself thinking about Marion's fate when I was not reading wanting to go back as soon as possible to pursue the story. I also liked reading about healing people and surgery and how passionate Marion and Shiva and many other guiding characters in that book were about practicing medicine. The medical jargon and sometimes gory descriptions of diseases and following surgeries made this book even more vivid somehow. And although the story may move a little bit slow at first the real depth of the novel is only revealed as Marion's life unfolds. Also the means of being a twin were very well outlined, like the brothers see another more like on individual than two, which was also essential to the story when later they brake in two, becoming two individuals.
But it's not only a well done family saga it's also a historical account on Ethiopia. The story may not fit the time frame exactly, nonetheless the historical background feels like the story could be real. It felt like taking a vacation and experiencing Ethiopia.
Though I tried to think of something I came up with nothing to not like about this book. Five stars.