Saturday, 22 April 2017

Review: The Spanish woman (book about life in the Ottoman empire)

When I bought the book I expected a traditional romance novel But it is a book written by a male historian. The book starts as a romance story in which a woman is taken (in both meanings of the word writes the historic source material) captive by a Turkish naval captain. This means that her pending marriage to a Spanish nobleman will be cancelled and even when her family will pay her ransom she will be send to a convent for the rest of her life. She cannot stand that thought. However, they marry and the story turns more into a narrative of life in Ottoman Turkey. Where you have to make sure you do not offend the Sultan by falling in love with your own prisoner without at least offering the spoils of war to him first. Where the whole court moves every summer to Adrianople. Where the Queen Mum can summon you to court. But where women although veiled have quite some freedom. Even more it seemed to me then she had in Spain. It seems to be based on a mention of a Spanish woman who was married to a Turkish admiral, in letters of the wife of an English diplomat at the Ottoman court. Interesting book. I reread it a year later and it was even better then because then you know it is no juicy romance but a realistic tale of a woman who had to take matters in her own hands and ended up very happy. In our days of internet and telephones you can hardly imagine however that couples would not see each other or even speak to each other for a year due to work and you would not even know if the other was still alive.
 

Monday, 10 April 2017

An impressive book about the scars of WW2: review of The women of the castle



(By The publisher) Bavaria, Germany. June, 1945.
The Third Reich has crumbled. The Russians are coming. Can Marianne von Lingenfels and the women in her care survive and build their ravaged world anew?
Marianne - widow of a resistor to the Nazi regime - returns to the grand, crumbling castle where she once played host to all of German high society. She assembles a makeshift family from the ruins of her husband's movement, rescuing her dearest friend's widow, Benita, from sexual slavery to the Russian army, and Ania from a work camp for political prisoners. She is certain their shared past will bind them together.
But as Benita begins a clandestine relationship and Ania struggles to conceal her role in the Nazi regime, Marianne learns that her clear-cut, highly principled world view has no place in these new, frightening and emotionally-charged days.
All three women must grapple with the realities they now face, and the consequences of decisions each made in the darkest of times . . .
.
(My Review) 
I was very impressed by this book. The story starts during a party on Burg Lingenfels in the late 1930-ties. The husband of Marianne von Lingenfelt, her childhood friend Connie and some others decide after long deliberations to overthrow Hitler because they see him as evil. That is the only moment I have doubts about the book as the guys join the Von Stauffenberg putch but that takes place in 1944 so why wait that long?

Marianne, flat chested and bony, is married to her old university professor. She seems to have a happy marriage but it seems more a good partnership than a passionate love affair. During the party at the beginning of the book Connie kisses her and I believe this man is the love of her life. Someone she was in love with as a teenager but who never noticed her as more than a friend she thought. And then he kisses her like that and introduces her to his pregnant fiancee Benita a beautiful young girl and she wonders what to think of it all. Reading the book we learn that he always called Marianne The judge and said to Benita Marianne could be so cruel. What has Marianne wondening why.

Then the story jumps to 1945. The husbands are all executed and Marianne sets out to find Benita and Connie's son. They are joined by Ania another widow who hides a secret. The women try to survive in the ruined castle dealing with famine, former Nazies and raiding Russians.

The book ends in 1991 and a very old Marianne is asked to speech at a book presentation in Burg Langenfels that is now a New Age, human rights center. Marianne realises that she is unworthy of all the praise. That she was indeed a harsch judge all those years ago who put herself on a moral high horse and time has come to forgive and be forgiven. Meanwhile the daughter of a Nazi and the son of the man executed by the Nazies make love.

To prevent spoilers I cannot delve too much into the story but I was very impressed by this book. The story deals with all the muddy details of the war and the time after the war. Like one of the children was in a Nazi-home but thinks back kindly to the lady who ran it. It reminded me of my elderly neighbour who worked in Germany as forced labourer but called the farmer Mutti (mother) and even years after the war when he was married would go to visit the old German woman. Landowners getting shot by advancing Russians, the rapes, the bombed out houses, the refugee trails, the movies showing concentration camps, the youth camps of the Nazies when they were still fun, the moments that people realise mass killings take place, the condemnation of people who did not do wrongs, the ways people try to pay for their sins or not. 

It is a book you cannot stop reading and then you will think about it for days afterwards.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A romance in the 15th century - The McKinnon the beginning

England, 15th century. Morgan finds her whole family slaughtered by an uncle who uses her as his ward to be able to rule her earldom. Her father had obtained a charter that his daughter would be able to rule it on her own after her 23rd birthday in the event he would die. When he uncle asks permission of the king to marry his ward and is turned down and her birthday is approaching Morgan fears for her life and escapes the castle posing as a stable-hand. In the forests she stumbles upon Sir Nic not knowing that he is ordered by the king to marry her (women and castles being seen as a reward).

The story is very well written but unfortunately the writer did cut the book in two parts and I got only part one to write a review about. I do not understand that marketing concept.

Monday, 3 April 2017

The hell of the Arctic runs during WW2: review of "Soldier, Sail North" by James Pattinson

This book was written in 1954 and is republished. It narrates the hell on earth that were the Arctic runs. The allies had promised Stalin to send him material to use in his fight against the Germans. The result were convoys under constant attack by the German navy and airforce.

Flint Whitlock describes it like this:
The voyages across the North Atlantic and from Iceland to the Russian ports of Murmansk, Archangel, and Kola Inlet involved more hazards than in any other kind of naval duty. Severe weather was commonplace. Ice fields could be encountered at any time of year. Floating mines were a constant menace. German submarines, surface craft, and warplanes could strike at will from nearby bases in German-occupied Norway. And, prior to the spring of 1943, when an effective Allied antisubmarine offensive got underway, ships and men making the so-called “Murmansk Run” had about one chance in three of returning.
This was no glamorous sea campaign, with full-sail, tall-masted men-of-war firing broadside after broadside into their enemy’s rigging. It was a cold, dirty, dangerous business in which seamen might be blown into a flaming sea of burning oil and left to die of wounds, burns, or hypothermia.
Once the convoys reached their destinations, there was no guarantee of safe harbor, either, for the Germans often attacked while the cargo ships were in port, unloading. Then there was the return trip.
The history of the convoy operations, which went on nearly continuously from the autumn of 1939 until May 1945, is one of intense suffering, great loss, unparalleled bravery, and uncompromising devotion to duty. The epic saga is one of the most remarkable chapters of World War II—one that has for too long been overshadowed by other events. (See: http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/running-the-gauntlet-the-murmansk-run-wwiis-arctic-convoys/)
It took many decades before those merchant sailors on the Murmansk runs were regarded as war veterans in the USA. No GI-bill benefits. And if I remember correctly only a few years ago the British survivors received a medal for having taken part in the campaign.

Most novels have one or maybe two or three central characters we readers can identify with. The heroes of the story. Here it is a whole team of gunners of the Maritime Royal Artillery who board the S.S. Golden Ray of Liverpool. The have to man the gun during the trip to Murmansk.

Of every gunner we come to know a bit of his background. But that is not enough to really bond with the person. However it is a great opportunity to narrate the different aspects of the war: The effects on marriages when the husband has to leave a few weeks into the marriage and only to return almost a year later, the bombardments on the British cities, the old officers who came back from retirement, the British communist and fascists movement, people surviving a sinking to see their mates die of hunger and thirst in the lifeboats, the very lives suddenly cut short. The book works well as a kind of history book.

The writer accomplishes to make you feel the stress. Icy waters with wolfpacks lurking in the depths, planes circling that are the scouts of the attack that will come. Ships going up in balls of flames all around you.

What is also quite special is that the only Germans mentioned are a pilot who is shot while he is floating by after his plane went down (by then a warcrime too) and the captain of a submarine who is described as quite a good bloke because he hands out food and water to survivors in a lifeboat.

The cover of the book is a real ship from the Arctic runs.

An interesting read.

There are a few editing issues in the beginning with words slurring together. I am sure the publisher will amend that.




How "un-sexy" can a novel be? Review of "The disappearence of Catherine Brodie"

Scanning NetGalley for new novels to read and review I noticed one with a beautiful cover. NetGalley qualified it as erotica but as my 18th birthday passed over 30 years ago that should not be a problem and the description sounded interesting: a young law student lies to her parents to attend a party and her parents and brother die as a result of that (it seemed). Every birthday after that she meets Alex somehow. And it is obvious people mean her harm.

To my surprise the book seemed to be a coming of age story for young adults. Well at least for 70% into the story. Then all of a sudden things like groupsex and kinkclubs it is. And that does not seem suitable for the young readers.

It is an accomplishment in itself to write sexscenes that are so unerotic. If you want to write about stuff like that why stop in the middle of things? How old is the author?

What irritated me from the start was the kind of "voice over"- style of telling a story. It felt like a summary of someone's biography.

It also did not help that all of a sudden the book ended and people are supposed to buy a part two.

Not a fan!


Monday, 27 March 2017

Review of "Revolution" by Piet Hein Wokke - Brilliant novel set in the Middle East

One of the best novels I read in a long time! "Shepherds use religion to fight; sheep fight over religion". It is one of the great quotes in the novel written by Dutch historian Piet Hein Wokke (3 June 1985) who studied history in Groningen, focusing on contemporary conflicts and Middle Eastern history. Even when the book is set in a fictitious country called Beledar situated between Jordan and Iraq, the novel sheds light on many real things regarding the region while telling a captivating story in the meantime: What is the difference between the Sunni and the Shi'a muslims? Why did people call followers of Islam Mohammedans in the past and why do Muslims prefer to be called Muslims? (Because they think the term Mohammedans implies they worship Mohammed like Christians worship Christ). And when you are familiar with the history of the region you recognise elements of Jordanian and Iraqi historic facts in the tale of fantasy Beledar.

The story is about two young boys: Abdullah and Khalid who are just in their teens when the story starts and when young emir Jalal (who will become King later on) takes over the reign from his father. Still children both boys have to kill someone.

Abdullah is a street rat from the city who is given the chance to go and work for king Jalal. Khalid a younger son of a more or less well-to-do merchant from a desert oasis who runs away to the army with his brother and rises through the ranks.

We follow both boys growing up into men and in between we see short glimpses of King Jelal who in my opinion is the real hero of the story. A king who quotes Shakespeare, is aware he is a descendant of the prophet Mohammed but refuses to believe in a God as mankind is "shortsighted, self-centered and treacherous" and no God would create a species like that in his opinion. Although an Arab lord he is more British than anything else. Stiff upper lip and all.

Beledar is emerging into something more modern under King Jelal but not everyone likes that policy so under a prospering society currents of discontent are whirling.


In the end it is the conscience and courage of both Abdullah and Khalid that are tested. And unlike in his youth when revenge was brought upon someone here one of them says in the end: "Retribution for an injury is equal injury. However who forgives an injury and make reconciliation will be rewarded by God" and the other man feels the eyes of the king burning into his soul again.

I have the feeling the writer wants to continue the story in another book. Maybe that is one of the reasons some things are not crystal clear in the end. The writer choose sto show us a glimpse into the future of Beledar and our hero. I would have advised against that or to continue writing the whole story.

Nevertheless a brilliant book that had my Muslim colleague and I discussing it. I certainly can recommend buying it. I myself was given the opportunity of an advanced copy for the Netgalley-site.





Monday, 20 March 2017

Review of "The strings of the Lute" - a book about love and a view into Moroccan, American and French daily life

The lute in the title is the instrument Moroccan Larbi was given by an uncle to help him overcome his grief. Later on in his life he gives the instrument to a friend to help her cope with her loss.

This is a book about love: the love between two girl friends growing up together, the love between a Moroccan architect and a girl from the US, the love between parents and children and the lingering love for people departed.

The book starts slow and it took me awhile to start liking it - it is not so much a novel as someone telling you their lifestory - but it becomes a lot more interesting when she meets Larbi. The writer successfully brings the world in it to life. The French town, the Moroccan daily life. As the writer is living for decades in Morocco the book gives you in my opinion a real glimpse of Moroccan life. I wondered if some things were not more or less a personal memoir.

At first I had the feeling the writer ended the book too suddenly. I was annoyed how the girlfriend did not tell the husband about how happy his wife had been when she had discovered something. The limbo we as readers ended up in. But after a day or so - while I was still thinking about the novel - I think that limbo might be part of the charm.