Thursday, 5 December 2019

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

It has taken me quite some time to write this post. Mainly, because I am about to make a very bold statement. This is the best book I have ever read! Yes, that is indeed a bold statement, but I have considered it for some time, and it feels good to say it. It is difficult to write about everything that crosses your mind while reading this book, mainly since I don't want to give away spoilers.
"In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery. 
Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose." (Summary from Penguin Random House)
In the beginning of the book I was thinking: "How can you write a whole book about someone in house arrest, in a small room, in a hotel?" What can really happen? Obviously, a lot of things.

A gentleman is "a chivalrous, courteous, or honourable man" according to Wikipedia. Count Rostov definitely applies to this characterisation. He is a charming man of the world, with a pragmatic attitude, which probably helps him live his life under extra ordinary circumstances. Nothing seems too complicated for him to grasp and deal with. He has his ups and downs, that is true, but he has a positive outlook on life, which helps keep him sane.
“if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.” 
― Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
As we follow his life in the hotel, the world around him is changing. The story starts in 1922 and continues thirty years into the future. It is a terrifying time in the Sovjet Union under Stalin's reign.  Amor Towles' story is nothing but genius. The small world inside the hotel, reflects what is happening in the outside world. All the terrible things, the hunger, the terror and the changing of society, effects him as concerns his friends, but in a way, he is all saved from the madness of the world. Even if the outer world and its changes are also visible in the hotel. Rules change, new employees and new kind of hotel guests.
“At the center of all that is Russia - of its culture, its psychology, and, perhaps, its destiny - stands the Kremlin, a walled fortress a thousand years old and four hundred miles from the sea. Physically speaking, its walls are no longer high enough to fend off attack, and yet, they still cast a shadow across the entire country.”
― Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
Through Count Rostov we meet people frequenting or working in the hotel. Some become his life long friends and some temporary acquaintances. He is a well known and liked character in the hotel, part of the decorations or, if you want to see it like that, a remnant of what once was. Through the story, the Count reflects on times passing by, anonymity and invisibility, regret and heartache, the past och future.
"Every year that passed, it seemed a little more of her had slipped away; and I began to fear that one day I would come to forget her altogether. But the truth is: No matter how much time passes, those we have loved never slip away from us entirely.”― Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
It is an amazing story that captures your heart. It reflects on life, politics and a changing world, and how we can live in it. Do we have to adapt, or can we live the life we want? What if your life is suddenly totally changed by a revolution and new political agendas? How are we able to adapt, even if we don't want to? What about the past, the present and the future? Usually, it is a gradual change.
“As we age, we are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade. We are familiar with the songs our grandparents favored, after all, even though we never danced to them ourselves. At festive holidays, the recipes we pull from the drawer are routinely decades old, and in some cases even written in the hand of a relative long since dead. And the objects in our homes? The oriental coffee tables and well-worn desks that have been handed down from generation to generation? Despite being “out of fashion,” not only do they add beauty to our daily lives, they lend material credibility to our presumption that the passing of an era will be glacial”― Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
The story has so many layers. It is both political and personal, and digs dip into the human mind. How do we live our life, and what do we make of it? Count Rostov manages to adapt to circumstances, and live a fulfilled life. I have only touched on a fragment of what is happening in this novel. There is so much more to enjoy. While nearing the end of the book, one can't help wondering; how will it all end? I can only say it is a surprisingly, perfect ending. As you, as a reader, have become an acquaintance of Count Rostov, it only makes sense. He follows his own motto; “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.” A perfect ending to an absolutely, wonderful, perfect novel.

It seems Kenneth Branagh has bought the rights to make a film of the book, and he will star as Count Rostov. Although, I don't imagine Count Rostov looking anything like Kenneth Branagh, I am sure he can make the character full justice. Can't wait to see his interpretation of the book.

I did read it in Swedish, but will buy the English version, re-read it, slowly, slowly, and enjoy the story all over again.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Nonfiction November - week 5

We have reached the last week of Nonfiction November. It has been a great month, with many discussions on nonfiction, various subjects and inspiration from people with other interests than my own.

This week is hosted by Rennie @ What's Nonfiction and the task is to go through recommendations through the month, and see what ended up on your TBR. In my case, they entered into my list of Wish to Read I am not entirely sure I will be able to track all of my recommendations, so sorry about that. If you recognise it, please let me know, and I will add your link.

The Brontë sisters are a big interest of mine. I love their books, but also enjoy reading about them. I have already read quite a few books, but I am happy to have received tips on some books, of which I was not aware. Lisa of Hopewell recommended three interesting books, and they all seem different from the ones I have read before. It is always good when an author/expert manages to near the subject from a different angle, whether it is fiction or nonfiction. Here are the three:

The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects by Deborah Lutz
The Brontës: Charlotte Brontë and Her Family by Rebecca Fraser
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë by Syrie James "A fictionalised look that I enjoyed (You know much more so may not! I don't always enjoy royal fiction for that reason)"

While on the Brontës, I also received a tip from What Cathy Read Next:

The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis. "It is a historical crime mystery which casts the Bronte sisters in the role of amateur detectives. It's a lot of fun and you might spot more allusions to their lives and novels than I did."

I don't think Mel @ The Reading Life, participates in Nonfiction November. Nevertheless, he often has very interesting reviews on Biographies, of which several has ended up on my wish list. He recently had a post on Elizabeth Cobbs' fictional account, The Hamilton Affair. Mel suggests to read Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton, before starting with the fictional one. So, both books will go on my wish list.

Here are four interesting books, I would like to look more into. If it is you who recommended, please send me a comment. I tried to find the expert...!

I love The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, and was so happy when someone recommended two books about him.

Beyond The Thirty-Nine Steps A Life of John Buchan by Ursula Buchan
Modern John Buchan: A Critical Introduction (scholarly reflections from a modern perspective on Buchan's books) by Nathan Waddel
Looking forward going into his world.

The last two are based on literary characters. Always interesting to read such analyses. Darcy is one of Jane Austen's fascinating characters, and I look forward reading about who he really was in There's Something About Darcy by Gabrielle Malcolm.

Another beloved and intriguing character is Alexander Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. Maybe we find a real character behind the enigmatic count in The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal 
and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. Emma at Word And Peace recommended this book. Emma and I seem to like the same kind of books! Having now read her post, I will add another three books to my list. Two by Alberto Manguel.  I recently read his excellent A History of Reading, so he is high on my list for other books. Fabulous Monsters: Dracula, Alice, Superman, and Other Literary Friends and Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions. Another interesting subject is old manuscripts. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts, by Joshua Hammer, probably has everything I like about history and old manuscripts.

Something to look forward to read in 2020. I have very much enjoyed this month. I am still reading Simon Sebag Montefiore's Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar. It is thick, but I am nearing the end. It is terrifying reading, and sometimes one just must stop. So many terrible things happened and it is difficult to take in at once.

Thank you all for your recommendations and comments. Looking forward to next year.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Nonfiction November - week 4

This weeks Nonfiction November is hosted by Leann of Shelf Aware. This week we look into how we choose our nonfiction books. Leading us to what makes a book you have read your favourite one. Is the topic important? Is it the way it is written? They way it tells a story? Do you look for a humorous approach, or a more serious one? Leann thinks that picking one of your favourite nonfiction books, is like picking your favourite human. Leann gives us a hint of what could be part of our favourite nonfiction read.
  • Time period – favourite this year or decade
  • Type of nonfiction – is it a big idea book, a how-to book, a memoir, a book aimed at academics or clinicians?
  • Use Case – are you trying to find out how to solve a problem? Do you need a new skills? Is the topic on business, creativity, mindset, relationships, etc?
  • How easy it is to understand and ultimately, how helpful was it?
Leann thinks it is hard to rate a book by using stars and numbers. I totally agree. Both as concerns fiction and nonfiction. I never use a rating, unless I add my book to Goodreads and the like. I want to convey my thoughts through my review, and hope that people will find it useful, and will find a hint of whether they would like it or not. For nonfiction it does depend a lot on the subject. Is it something you want to learn more of? Do you already know something and want to compare your own thoughts? Is the nonfiction easy to understand? Is it high above your head? It all depends on the subject, and what we want to achieve by reading it.

I mostly read nonfiction to learn something more about a subject, in my case...history. Or maybe the evolution of mankind. Or something about a historical person. All in all, I read nonfiction to learn more.

I have read many nonfiction books and it is difficult to name just a few that I like more than the rest. If I have to mention a writer, I would go for Simon Sebag Montefiore. A wonderful writer and historian, who manages to make history come alive. This is one of the most important aspects of me reading historical nonfiction. Imagine if all the history teachers out there, would make history interesting to their pupils! I think many more people would be interested in history. I am presently reading his book Stalin - The Court of the Red Tsar. Amazing story of how one paranoid man could rule a country for so many years. His Catherine the Great and Potemkin, is another wonderful story of an empress and her favourite lover.

Another great historical account is Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers, on how the First World War came to be. It seems to be as detailed as it can be.  For both historians they manage to make historical events come alive, and write it, as the most exciting fictional novel. That, I think, is what I am looking for in a nonfiction book. It should be written in a way, as if you are reading a fiction, although it is true. Because, after all, real life often exceeds anything you can make up in fiction.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Amok by Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer. He was one of the most popular writers in the 1920s and 30s. He published his first book in 1900 and his last in 1942, the same year he committed suicide, together with his wife. They were then living in exile in Brazil. Amok came in 1922.

Amok, or running amok, is often used when describing something wildly out of control or causing a frenzy (Wikipedia). It is a good title for this book of five short stories. The stories tell of men and women who, when something specific happens, loose their bearing in life, that is, they run amok.

We meet a man obsessed by playing chess, almost like an addict. One day he finds himself on a cruise ship, where the world's best chess player, a very young man, has challenged some enthusiast. Winning over the young man, he withdraws and refuses a return match. He quietly tells his story to a fellow passenger.
“People and events don't disappoint us, our models of reality do. It is my model of reality that determines my happiness or disappointments.”
― Stefan Zweig, Chess Story
Twenty four hours of a woman's life, can be very dramatic. A small group of strangers are holidaying in a small pension in the Riviera. Among them is an older lady, very correct and comme-il-faut. But, behind her quiet and proper facade, a story of love and passion is hiding.

A student gets mesmerised by his professor. A professor who manages to inspire his class of literature students to unknown heights. But, he has a secret. He goes away from time to time and no-one knows where or what is his business. The revelation in the end is somewhat chocking for our student.

The amok runner is a doctor, practicing in the countryside in Indonesia. He lives a lonely existence and is waiting for his contract to end, so he can go back to Europe. One day a mysterious, European woman from the upper classes, enters his small practise. She only hints her business. He refuses her plead and she leaves. However, the doctor cannot get her out of his mind, and follows her to the city. Embarking on a crazy run for something he does not understand himself, he is running amok. It can only end in disaster.

All in all, Zweig's stories are beautifully written with lots of insight into the human psyche. He was a friend of Sigmund Freud, so might have been influenced by his research. His people are living on the edge, not being able to control their feelings. He shows how passions can take over your life, and not always in a good way. At the same time it can be a help and a way out of where we are. His writing, as John Banville puts it in an article (Ruined souls) in the Guardian: "Zweig's work is marked by a clear, fluent and expressive style, which translates easily and well, a paramount requirement for international success,...".

Unfortunately, he is not much read today, but he is definitely worth being discovered by another generation. This is the first book I have read by him, but, it will not be the last. Are you familiar with Zweig? Any recommendations to start with?

Friday, 15 November 2019

Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56

This week's book beginnings and page 56 text comes from a book on my shelves. Since it is November and I am participating in Nonfiction November, I choose a non-fiction book; The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.

Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader

"What does the word 'medieval' conjure up in your mind? Knights and castles? Monks and abbeys? Huge tracts of forest in which outlaws live in defiance of the law" Such images may be popular but they say little about what life was like for the majority."

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice

"The foregoing makes the woman's lot seem a particularly harsh one. However, there are some great advantages to being a woman. When the king issues writs to his sheriffs summoning an army, it is the men who have to risk their lives and fight, not the women. Despite this, high-status women are still entitled to all the benefits of being connected to 'those who fight'."

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Nonfiction November - week 3

We have reached week 3 in Nonfiction November, hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey This is all about being the expert, asking the expert or becoming an expert. There are three ways to approach this week.
  • Be the Expert: Share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend
  • Ask the Expert: Put a call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read
  • Become the Expert: Create your own list of books on a topic that you would like to rea
Can I be so bold as to use all three of the options? It is rewarding to be an expert, fantastic to be able to ask and expert, which will, hopefully, made you become an expert.

My main interest in nonfiction is history. Although it seems to take a lesser part in the educational flow (at least in Sweden), I think it is important to know and remember our history. The German philosopher Friedrich Hegel said: "The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history."  Another philosopher, George Santayana, said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." How true are not those reflections?

To be the expert of the Brontës

While living in Brussels I was a member of the Brussels Brontë Group. Charlotte and Emily Brontë spent some time there in order to study to become teachers. They wanted to open a school of their own. That was not to be. Instead they became world famous writers, still tremendously popular. I read a lot about them and have read all their books (except the Juvenilia, but I will do). Here are three of their books (one from each of them) and three books about them, that I like very much. I can recommend them all. The nonfiction ones will make you an expert in not time at all.

Charlotte Brontë - Jane Eyre
Emily Brontë - Wuthering Heights
Anne Brontë - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Brontës by Juliet Barker is THE biography of the family. A thick book with everything connected to them. Excellent read and you get to know it all.
The Brontës in Brussels by Helen MacEwan. If you are interested about their stay in Brussels, and want to follow in their footsteps, this is the guide to where they lived and enjoyed life in Brussels. Helen is the founder of the Brussels Brontë Group, which has researched the sisters stay in Brussels, and given it another angle, as well as highlighted the influence their stay had on their writing, Charlotte especially. Her book Villette is about her stay there, and Villette is a synonym for Brussels. Emily was not as easily influenced by anything except her beloved moors.
Charlotte Brontë's Promised Land and The Pensionnat Revisited (More light shed on the Brussels of the Brontës) by Eric Ruijssenars are two books going into details about Charlotte's and Emily's life at the pensionnat. Well researched, it gives you everything you need to know about how it was to live in Brussels at the time, and how they spent their time in the school and surroundings.

Ask the expert about the Congress of Vienna

This is an interesting Congress, held from November 1814 to June 1815, where the great powers of the day met to provide a longterm peace plan for Europe. It took place in the aftermath of the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. Participants were Austria, Britain, Russia, Prussia and France.

It would be interesting to read more about the political situation and the implications of the decisions made by the congress. Interested in anything you can recommend.

After reading your suggestions I hope to become the expert. 

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Nonfiction November - week 2

The second week of nonfiction reading is hosted by Sarah's Book Shelves. This is a week of pairing nonfiction books with fiction. From Sarah: "It can be a "If you loved this book, read this!" or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it's a historical novel and you'd like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story."

Pairing nonfiction and fiction - theme Russia

I am still reading the very big and thick book about Stalin: Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Excellent, scary and terrifying reading of the situation behind the scenes. Still 150 pages to go.

While visiting the library the other day, I saw the book Stalin's Children. Three Generations of Love and War by Owen Matthews. Matthews tries to find out what happened to his family. His mother is Russian. Her father was picked up one day in 1937, never to be seen again. Her mother was sent to one of Stalin's camps, and miraculously survived. Decades later Owen Matthews lives in Moscow as a reporter, and starts investigating the story of his family.

I recently finished the excellent novel A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (review will follow). This is a fictional story which takes place from 1922 until present time, and thus touching the same era as Stalin's reign.

These are the paring I have done as regards my main book about Stalin. I am a fan of historical fiction and often, when I have read about a specific person or event, I am eager to read a nonfiction book about what really took place.

Combine reading

Under my label, Connected Reading, (which I think I will rename 'Pairing') I try to connect one finished book with a new one (have to updated!) It is interesting to connect your reading, in whatever way you can.

I always tend to read more than one book at the time. Therefore, I am reading another nonfiction book for this November challenge; The Ascent of Money by Niall Fergusson. Very interesting account on how economic thinking, money, banks, inflation, and all the other things connected to economy, started.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

The Mystery Path - part II

The first Mystery Path you find under link. I have read a few very good mystery/thrillers and would like to share a few short reviews with you.

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton

Another typical Kate Morton story. I love her way of telling two parallell stories; a modern one and a mystery in the past. This time we meet Elodie Winslow, a young archivist, living in London. She is working for a prestigious, old lawyer's firm and take care of their archives. One day she finds a leather satchel with two unrelated items; a sepia photograph of a beautiful, mysterious woman dressed in Victorian clothing, and an artist's sketchbook containing a drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river. It is a drawing of Birchwood Manor and it feels familiar to Elodie.

The past story takes place in the summer of 1862, when a group of young artists meet in the house of talented painter Edward Radcliffe. They are meeting to spend a secluded summer with friends and to find inspiration for their creative work. However, it does not turn out as expected; one woman has been shot dead, one has disappeared and a priceless heirloom is missing. Edward Radcliffe's life is in ruins and will never be the same.

When Elodie finds the photograph of the mysterious woman, she gets mesmerised by her. She wants to find out who she is. What is her story? How is she connected to the house in the drawing? And why does Elodie has a feeling she knows the place. As always an interesting, dramatic story and Kate Morton takes us through time to find out a hidden mystery and disastrous circumstances. It is exciting, well written and difficult to put down.

Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti

"Ilaria Tuti’s debut thriller explores a remote community in Northern Italy—a place of secrets, eerie folktales, and primal instincts. In a quiet village surrounded by ancient woods and the imposing Italian Alps, a man is found naked with his eyes gouged out. It is the first in a string of gruesome murders. 
Superintendent Teresa Battaglia, a detective with a background in criminal profiling, is called to investigate. Battaglia is in her mid-sixties, her rank and expertise hard-won from decades of battling for respect in a male-dominated Italian police force. While she’s not sure she trusts the young city inspector assigned to assist her, she sees right away that this is no ordinary case: buried deep in these mountains is a dark history that may endanger a group of eight-year-old children toward whom the killer seems to gravitate." (Summary from Penguin Random House)
It is interesting to find a new kind of detective. A mid-sixties, very experience female detective. She is tough to her colleagues, but they seem all to admire her, and always wanting to do their best for her. Although she seems strong outwards, she has her own demons to fight. I like the personal struggle between Battaglia and her new city inspector.

A rather amazing debut novel. The setting in a small village in the Alps, with a small community, where everyone knows each other, gives and extra twist and underlying tensions. Also here, we find two stories; one in the past and one in the present. We do understand that the past one will have a bearing on the modern murder case. However, even the past one is a mystery, and we only get small hints as we read along. It is gruesome, exciting, thrilling and scary. It is a very dark story, and though it is a murder mystery, it can as well be seen as a life drama. While reading I came to think of the story of Frankenstein's monster. As with the monster, we do, in this story, get a kind of sympathy for the culprit. Really looking forward to another novel by Tuti.

The Hiding Places by Katherine Webb

"Wiltshire, 1922. Fifteen-year old Pudding Cartwright has begun the career she always wanted, as girl groom to the Hadleigh family's horses at Manor Farm. Irene Hadleigh is struggling to adjust to her new life in sleepy Slaughterford, having married Alistair to escape a scandal in London. At a loss to occupy herself, Irene sets about restyling Manor Farm, and during the work the chance finding of a strange object, hidden away in the house for years, will change everything. 
When somebody close to both of them is murdered, Pudding and Irene are thrown together to seek out the identity of the killer in their midst, unaware of just how deep the roots of the crime lie. 
During a hot, humid summer of grief, betrayal, and misapprehensions, they will uncover truths neither of them could ever have foreseen." (Summary from Goodreads)
This novel is much more than just a murder mystery. It is a book about relationships, interaction between high and low, rich and poor. The characters are very well drawn and you connect with most of them. The mystery itself does not get an answer until the very end, and I was not able to guess who it was. There is a twist here that is not obvious at all as you read along, but I don't want to give any spoilers here, unless you want to read it. Quite a different murder mystery, but also a story of people in a village and obstacles in relationships, whether it is love or just with your neighbour. A little bit of witchcraft always complicate the matter.

Sen Frost (Später Frost/Late Frost) by Kerstin Danielsson and Roman Voosen

This is the first detective story by this Swedish/German duo translated into Swedish. They have written seven books about Nyström and Forss in German. I got interested in it, because it takes place in Växjö, a city in the south of Sweden, of which I am familiar. I have many relatives there, one has actually worked with the police force.

An old man, a butterfly researcher, is brutally murdered, in his house in the forests. There seem to be no direct motive for the murder, but as the detectives Ingrid Nyström and Stina Forss find out more, they realise that he lived a double life. It takes them to the higher circles of Stockholm as well as to a hospital in Jerusalem, before they have the answer to who the murder is.

I found it a little bit slow in the beginning, but it changed quickly. I love detective stories where there is an intriguing mystery about the victim. Here you have it all, and it is only in the end that you can guess who did it.

Black Water Lilies (Nymphéas noir) by Michel Bussi

I read Bussi's After the Crash and liked it very much. When I saw Black Water Lilies in the library I quickly grabbed it. Michel Bussi is one of the most popular writers in France, and you know why when you have read some of his books. It is a murder mystery, but so much more. There is really a story, or two, behind the murder and the characters.
"This is the story of thirteen days that begin with one murder and end with another. Jérôme Morval, a man whose passion for art was matched only by his passion for women, has been found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens at Giverny, where Monet did his famous paintings. In Jérôme's pocket is a postcard of Monet's Water Lilies with the words: Eleven years old. Happy Birthday. 
Entangled in the mystery are three women: a young painting prodigy, the seductive village schoolteacher and an old widow who watches over the village from a mill by the stream. All three of them share a secret. But what do they know about the discovery of Jérôme Morval's corpse? And what is the connection to the mysterious Black Water Lilies, a rumoured masterpiece by Monet that has never been found..." (Summary from Goodreads)
A murder mystery, where it is almost impossible to guess who did it. As you see from the summary, it is also so much more than a murder. A story of a village, the people in it, relationships and agonies, friends and enemies. All set against Monet's beautiful garden in Giverny. What does the old woman in the windmill know of what is happening? She has a view overlooking the whole village. Who is she and which story does she carry? A marvellous mystery where you don't see the end coming until you are there. And what a wonderful ending!

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Nonfiction November: My year in nonfiction, so far

Week 1 in Nonfiction November 2019, runs from Oct 28 - Nov 1

First week is hosted by Julz of Julz Reads. We have a few questions guiding us on what we have read so far this year.
  • What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year? 
  • Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? 
  • What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 
  • What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

List of nonfiction books read this year (by category)

  • Linnés skånska resa (Carl von Linné's Scania Travel) by Ove Torgny 
  • Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore (audio)
  • Skånes slott och borgar by C Karlsson, P Karlsson, M Christensen
  • Med Örnen mot polen by Svenska Sällskapet för Antropologi och Geografi (Scientific account of the Andrée expedition 1897)
  • Politik och passion  - Svenska kungliga äktenskap under 600 år (Politics and Passion - Swedish Royal Marriages during 600 years) by (editors) Henric Bagerius and Louise Berglund 
  • Eleanor, The Secret Queen - The Woman who put Richard III on the Throne by John Ashdown-Hill
Biographies or memoires:
  • Till minne av en villkorslös kärlek by Jonas Gardell. The author is a famous entertainer in Sweden and this is his memories of his mother. It is very touching. 
Grammar and studies: 
  • Grejen med verb (The Thing With Verbs, my transl.) by Sara Lövestam
  • Grejen med substantiv (The Thing With Nones, my transl.) by Sara Lövestam
  • Grejen med ordföljd (The Thing With Word Order)by Sara Lövestam
  • F in Exams. The Best Test Paper Blunders by Richard Benson

My favourite nonfiction read this year

My favourite book(s) have to be Sara Lövestam's three small books about Swedish grammar. They are hilariously funny, and makes a rather boring(? or not) subject into something spectacular. I made me realise that the Swedish language is rather more difficult than I imagined.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

Looking at the list of books I have read, I realise that for this year, I have a little bit more variety in my nonfiction reading than usual. Mostly, my nonfiction relates to history. This covers both historical events and specific persons. Of the 11 nonfiction books I have read, only five can be directed towards this category.  I can be quite pleased that I have read a little bit more various nonfiction books so far this year.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 

That would have to be the same as my favourites; the grammar books.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

To continue reading several books I have started but got stuck.  The books I have chosen are:

Simon Sebag Montefiore (one of my favourite historian authors) Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar
Andrew Wheatcroft, The Habsburgs
Penelope Fitzgerald, Edward Burne-Jones, A Life
Cressida Connolly, The Rare and the Beautiful, The lives of the Garmans
Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money

I realised when starting that I have already read about The Lives of the Garmans. However, the other books are rather thick, so I will not add another one. Will probably not be able to read them all. I have started two books (of course, can't just read one at the time!); Simon Sebag Montefiore's biography about Stalin and Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money. Always a current subject!

Monday, 28 October 2019

The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa

I love the cover

Eight o'clock on Saturday, May 13, 1939, steamer St Louis, sailing with the Amerika Linie (HAPAG), set sail from Hamburg with destination Cuba. On board were 900 people, mostly German-Jewish refugees leaving a more and more troublesome Germany for freedom at the other side of the world. The passengers had entry visas for Cuba. Nearing the island, the Cuban president Federico Laredo Brú, cancelled those visas, signed by one of his own general director. Only those visas, signed by a specific ministry, were valid. The result was that most of the 900 passengers had to stay on board and, in the end, return to Europe. Since all of them had entry visas for the US, the ship sailed on to the States and Canada, but they both refused to admit the people. They had to return to Europe. A couple of days before touching European soil, a committee had agreed with Great Britain, France, Belgium and Holland to receive the remaining refugees. In principal, only the people who were accepted by Great Britain survived the war.

The story follows Hannah, who is 12 years old in 1939, and her best friend Leo. They make their way around Berlin as the situation for the Jews become more stringent. Her parents are well off, even have money put away abroad. But as their lives are tightened, they talk about leaving their beloved Germany.

Anna is 12 years old in 2014. She grows up with her mother in New York. Her father died before she was born in mysterious circumstances. Her mother does not want to talk about what happened to him, so Anna make up his character from an old photo she has. Her mother is devastated about her loss, and it is Anna who has to take care of her mother. One day a letter and a small box arrive from Cuba and her mother is taken back to life. Her husband's aunt has sent them letters and photos, so they decide to travel to Cuba.

Of this sad exodus, Armando Lucas Correa has written a touching story of survival. But what exactly is survival? Is it just to survive, or should it be a possibility for a new future? Are there similarities between Hannah and Anna, although they are one, or even two, generations apart? Life in Cuba was another upheaval for the refugees from Germany. Revolution and a new system. How many times can you change your whole life, you sense of being? Is it better to just survive, thinking of old times, or is it better to try to adjust to whatever new life is there for you?

With this novel Armando Lucas Correa touches the essential questions in life. His characters are well drawn, which does not mean that you always agree with them. It is said of the Rosenthals (the name of Hannah's family) that they did not die. They just let go when they thought it was time. To let go can mean many things, also the prospects of a new, better life.