The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Winner of the Penguin/Orange Reader’s Group Prize 2006 and 2007 this book was a compelling read. Ranging from the cold Afghanistan winter of 1975 with friends Amir and Hassan in Kabul flying kites to the plight of refugees fleeing to Pakistan in the most appalling of circumstances we follow Amir to America and finally his return to his homeland in 2001.
At times it is an almost unbearably sad and tragic tale. There are striking contrasts between terror and tenderness, love and the cowardice and vengefulness of bullying. The main theme is one of ‘giving’ in boundless amounts yet not asking for anything in return as exemplified in Hassan’s friendship for Amir. Through these characters and the narrative the reader comes face to face with many of the challenges and tragedies that have beset Afghanis both in their homeland and in the immigrant San Francisco community
Rahim Khan, an old man by the end of the book promises ‘there is a way to be good again’ – a phrase that was borne out throughout the book as the characters journey through the decades. This was an excellent compelling book that combined depth of character, plot, setting and context into a riveting read.

18 / 64 books. 28% read!

Our Longest Days: A People's History of the Second World War by The Writers of Mass Observation edit

Ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous this wonderful piece of social history is presented chronologically month by month from September 1939 through to September 1945. Fifteen British diarists, nine men and six women chart the passage of life throughout the war years. Their locations range from Blackpool to Dorset and Barrow – in – Furness to Streatham. The fifteen were mostly literate and middle class but, as the editor points out they were not, nor did they pretend to be representative of the British people as a whole. Twenty three black and white photos compliment the entries and are a fitting addition to this wonderful piece of history.
As we read through the entries we learn of the hopes and fears, the trivia of day to day living, political thoughts and in one or two instances some reflective thinking upon the war. One such reflective comment is included from the May 1943 diary of an RAF corporal who was a trainer of recruits at Warrington. Following the dam buster raids he reflects, ‘rushing water cannot distinguish between a factory and a hospital, cannot distinguish between between soldiers and children. I know this is total war but are we to abandon all standards of mercy and humanity? An act like this makes us all barbarians.’
This book will appeal to a wide variety of readers. At one level there is the fascination of the diaries but there is also a wide range of additional material including the biographies of the diarists, along with a note on the selections. For those wishing to broaden their historical knowledge endnotes explain more fully some of the events to which the diarists refer. In addition there is a comprehensive further reading section, including websites and an excellent index.
Tragically and sadly the editor Sandra Koa Wing lost her fight against cancer in May 2007 at the age of twenty eight years. Reading her blog and many tributes her delightful joie de vivre shines through throughout. She edited an absorbing book that may be read at many levels - I would highly commend it to fellow people watchers.

17 / 64 books. 27% read!


What Book Would You Take If You Had To Flee Your Home?

Following my reading of July's People by Nadine Gordimer I began to reflect upon my question of the title here.  Which book would you choose I wonder?  Do comment here and I will post a list next Saturday!

Have edited this as I have just visited Jill over at The Magic Lasso who unbeknown to me is interested in which book you would save from a fire.  Go and share with her as well!

Should I be offering prizes to anyone who can guess mine without going over to Jill???

July's People as March draws to a lingering close ...

As the days pass and March is still hanging on, the Oxford Cambridge boat race is rowed and we move our clocks forward an hour and the pattern of the years is reassuringly repeated. In amongst work, life, family and friends the lives of my books ebb and flow. My impulsive picking up of Nadine Gordimer's July's People from the local library edged others back into the pile of 'to be read'.

This book was so idiosyncratic yet so relevant to all of us - what is it that we value in our lives? Just exactly how important is the 'trivia' in our lives? What will you take when the time comes to flee your home? In common with the woman in this novel I too would probably take a book. Poor Maureen, she was frightened to make a start on hers as 'she did not want to begin it. What would happen when she had read it? There was no other.' Reading on a few lines we find she has indeed made a start but Gordimer allows her to express the very reason we sometimes read and yet for Maureen it was the grim truth.

'But the transport of a novel, the false awareness of being in another time, place and life that was the pleasure of reading. for her, was not possible. She was in another time. place and consciousness; it pressed in upon her as someone's breath fills a balloon shape. She was already not what she was. No fiction could compete with what she was finding what she did not know, could not have imagined or discovered through imagination. They had nothing.'

So this book, written in 1981 set in South Africa is one in which apartheid and the revolutionary uprising of blacks is the backcloth for an adventure that has the white family and black servant role reversed - but in the hands of Nadine Gordimer it is so much more. 


16 / 64 books. 25% read!  

The Man Booker Prize

Recently I was reading the hype around the 40th Anniversary of the Man Booker Prize here and found myself drawn into the 'best Booker prize debate'.  For me there was no debate - Possession by A S Byatt.  Totally immersed I enthused, discussed and shared the book in a manner that was unique to me at that time in my life. As we all know the advent of internet blogs, yahoo book groups and challenges has provided another huge audience for us to share our enthusiasms. I try to read widely and enjoy my bookish world but I do have to say that the only other book I have ever felt so passionate about is War and Peace. So Possession certainly had my vote!   Well you can't actually vote yet but I posted and it wet my appetite!

Thus armed and browsing in the real world of my lovely local library imagine my interest when I came across a sleek, slim slip of a book The Man Booker Prize - 35 Years of the best in contemporary fiction 1969 - 2003.   This little volume was informative, entertaining and full of snippets of information about many of those who have felt so passionately about reading.  Ranging from Michael Caine through to Tom Maschler founder of The Prize it is a great collection of thoughts and reflections of those whose lives have been close to the prize over the years.  If you are reading the prize winners or are simply curious about the history of this bookish institution enjoy this delightful selection of essays.


A Quarter of The Way Through 2008 .... a few ramblings and reflections ...

2008 has so far been a year of great variety.  My books have provoked so much thinking - far beyond the pages.  Friends who 'know' me will recognise the phrase 'resonate with me long after I place it back in the bookcase' .  A large soundboard is needed at present - probably due to the wide ranging books I have insisted on reading.  This is interesting as we occasionally read posts of friends who tend to look askance at challenge led reading.  As you may know my reading is all within the triple eight challenge with my eight categories.  

Anyway I digress.  The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, recommended by and lent to me by a dear friend, who grew up in war time Germany but now lives in France is a point in case.  Would I have ever read this book had I not been enthused and inspired by the ever broadening reading horizons afforded me through Library Thing et al?  This read was closely followed by Behind The Burqa by Sulima and Hala as I wished to follow up the Nawaal El Saadawi book I had recently read regarding women and their freedom in Egypt.  Sulima and Hala recount their story of life in Afghanistan and how they escaped to freedom.  I cannot help but reflect upon the Virginia Woolf essay in relation to the lives of these women.  What an eclectic path I have trod so far in 2008.  Afghanistan to War and Peace via The Lying Days and often in the company of my Benedictine friend!

Time to take stock as we journey on through 2008 … here are my five top highlights so far ;
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
The Road by Bernhard Schlink
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
The Lying Days by Nadine Gordimer

15 / 64 books. 23% read!

A Pilgrimage

I have travelled a challenging but inspirational journey over the last forty days. From the comfort of my arm chair I have made my own personal Lenten pilgrimage culminating in the hope and joy of Easter celebrations. Ash Wednesday to Easter day has seen me with my constant companion Albert Holtz. Who - you may well ask!

Albert is a Benedictine monk who, in his sabattical year journeyed widely and wrote forty short mediatations based on vignettes with pencil line drawings of the places he visited. Each day he led me to another destination - from Bolivia to Holland, via Santiago de Compostela and Assisi in Italy. Each day's destination was accompanied with a reflection, a bible verse and a quote from the Rule of St Benedict. Especially wonderful for me was that he visited places with which I was already acquainted and so had a special affinity.
This was an inspiring and delightful companion for my journey through Lent. If you ever think about taking a spiritual journey, be it Lent or not then do try this little volume - you will not be disappointed.

12 / 64 books. 19% read !

Winter Reading Challenge - A Wrap Up

 These were my choices for this challenge that ends today March 19th.

War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
Surviving with Wolves:  The Most Extraordinary Story of World War II Misha Defonseca (888) completed
I Have Lived A Thousand Years Livia Bitton-Jackson (888) completed
Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston (ZNH) completed
The Giver Lois Lowry (Newbery, Book Awards)
When The Emperor Was Divine (888, Book Around The World) completed 

As a wrap up to this adventure I will refer back to the original challenge we were given by Inksplasher in which she suggested the following

' i would like to suggest that we stretch a little. If you normally read fiction, put at least one non-fiction on your list (and vice versa). Or try a genre you don’t usually read. (I may have to read another romance.) Or try a new author chosen totally at random. But most importantly, make your list FUN so you'll want to read!'

My list was certainly fun but more importantly fulfilling.  As a quick glance at the list may suggest I did stretch myself in many ways.  This was especially evident as I read the Zora Neale Thurston dialect.  As for War and Peace this was the most amazing and wonderful book I have ever read - and has motivated me to read the Levear and Volokhonsky version of Anna Karenina.  The memoir genre that turned out to be a fiction read after all was another interesting read - probably for all the wrong reasons!   Finally the view of war in the USA for Japanese nationals was a complete revelation to me.  The joy of this book was that it was a gift from a dear web friend and thus epitomised the pleasure and joy I have discovered since reading along with my new found friends on the web.

Favorite book of the challenge - War and Peace
Least favorite book of the challenge - Surviving With Wolves
Any new authors read in this challenge - Zora Neale Hurston and Julie Otsuka
What I learned - that variety is the spice of life!

Thank you Karlene for hosting!

The Lying Days by Nadine Gordimer

Have you ever experienced that brain tingling  sensation  as you lower yourself, as if into water and become gradually immersed in writing that is so engaging that you wish to savour again and again the feel of the water lapping over you and caressing you. This is my rather humble attempt to describe reading Nadine Gordimer's first novel published in 1953.  Grateful thanks must go to Incurable logophilia for drawing me to read this South African author who had her first story
published when she was only 15.  Imagine my frustration as I researched this author and found that she had been on Oxford only last year....

  I missed the author who, in 1991 received the following citation for The Nobel Prize in Literature

''who through her magnificent epic writing has - in the words of Alfred Nobel - been of very great benefit to humanity"

Almost every page of Nadine Gordimer's writing drew me in to reflect upon situations and relationships in the context of South Africa of the 1950's.  She brings into close juxtaposition the emotional and political climate as her story unfolds.  It was no wonder for me as I read that she had been one of the first people that Nelson Mandela met following his release.  In addition she has been awarded fifteen honorary degrees from universites in USA, Belgium, South Africa, and from York, Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK. She was made a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), and is Vice President of International PEN and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She was also a founder of the Congress of South African Writers.  In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in 2007, the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (France).  

‘Learning to write sent me falling, falling through the surface of the South African way of life,’ said Gordimer.  It is evident that she has a real affection for her homeland in the deepest sense of the word.  This poignantly highlights the political persecution on the lives of ordinary South Africans that she portrays in The Lying Days.

One question I have relates to the WB Yeats poem quoted at the beginning of the book and I quote

The Coming of Wisdom with Time:

“Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun
Now I may wither into the truth” 

In this short poem Yeats seems to express an unhappiness about the finality of aging .  So we move from three lively, vibrant lines to a dried up final line that suggests a passive, rather beyond my control type of change.  As I followed the growing into young adulthood of Helen through the emotional and political landscape of the novel it was not the 'withering into a truth' that was reflected to me.  It was more an optimism borne of her choice, a sense of self
realisation that I felt with Helen on the quayside as she awaited her departure.

Reading this work led me to become interested in researching more of this amazing lady's life and works.  A notable quote, taken from an interview with the author for BBC Radio 3 captured for me Helen's journey; ‘As a white SA you go through a second birth – take privileges for granted round about adolescence you realize there is something very strange and as you get older something very wrong …’ 18th October 1998
Finally, the power of this work lay for me in the descriptions of place, a way of living, the sadness of lives that were so inexorably intertwined with conventions of the time and place. My copy is littered with multi colouredstickies’ highlighting yet another passage worthy of comment and reflection. My remaining lingering thought is that this is a work of fiction yet lives were lived in this novel and man’s inhumanity to man and his inability to respect his fellow human continue to this day – wherever we are. What is our response to the injustices around and within us today?

11 / 64 books. 17% read!

A Woman at Point Zero by Nawan El Saadawi

Based upon the author’s encounter with a woman imprisoned in Qanatir prison in Cairo, Egypt this novel was written by Dr Nawan El Saadawi, a psychiatrist who came upon a woman in solitary confinement, awaiting her execution. She is an Egyptian feminist novelist born in 1931. A challenging read in terms of content yet written in a sparse and apparently simple style. This is a powerful and uncomfortable story with a depth of meaning far beneath the surface of the words.
Following the first 1978 Arabic publication in Beirut it was banned across several middle east countries, including Egypt. The French edition of the novel was awarded the 1982 Literary Prize for Franco-Arab Friendship.
At one point I recalled A Women of One’s Own as the twenty five year old Firdaus speaks of a room in her apartment. This part of her story finds her saying … ‘Now I could decide on the food I wanted to eat, the house I preferred to live in, refuse the man for whom I felt an aversion no matter what the reason, and choose the man I wished to have ….’ She then talks of her liking of culture. ... ‘ever since I had started to go to school and had learned to read, but especially during this last period, since I could buy books. I had a large library in my apartment, and it was here that I spent most of my free time. On the walls I had hung …. And right in the middle was my secondary school certificate surrounded by an expensive frame. I never received anyone in the library. It was a very special room reserved for me alone’ … (page 69)
I found this work inspiring, deeply thought provoking and at many points it drove me to reflect on 'my' life choices. Thoughts of freedom, dignity, respect for others and for oneself ... all of which I have a choice to accept - or not. Doris Lessing wrote of this book as one in which we are reminded not to take our good fortune for granted. That certainly rang true for me and compelled me to ask how am I using the freedom that I have?
I highly recommend this book for all to ponder upon the value and meaning of life, wherever you are and whatever your gender.

10 / 64 books. 16% read!