Tag Archives: Books

RTY: Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

Hey Lovelies!

Hope you’re all enjoying the August weather. Whilst it’s pouring down outside (I can’t believe it myself!) I thought I would take the time to review my August book for the Penguin Read The Year Challenge. The focus for this month was: Choose a book which tells a migration story. This is not something that I would usually pick so I relished the chance to branch out once again. I did a bit of research and found Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. I knew nothing about the author or the novel, so I read this with completely fresh eyes. I wasn’t disappointed!

What’s it all about?

The novel centres around Nadia and Saeed. They meet when they are working students in an unnamed city. The two are different, Saeed is much more conservative and still lives at home, as custom requires. Whereas, Nadia is much more independent, choosing to live alone and has been disowned by her parents for doing so. As war breaks out and militants start attacking their beautiful city, the two fall in love.

“To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”

The two are struck with devastation as a stray bullet kills Saeed’s mother whilst she’s searching for a stray earring in her car. The sense of loss, particularly for Saeed’s father is huge. Nadia moves in with Saeed and his father but she doesn’t want to marry Saeed, as propriety requires.

The militants successfully gain control of the city from the government and violence becomes a normal part of every day life. Nadia and Saeed hear rumours of doors in the city that serve as a means to get to safer places. However, these are only rumours at this stage and the doors that do exist are heavily guarded by militants. Nevertheless, they take a risk and bribe someone to let them through. Saeed’s father chooses to stay. He cannot possibly conceive of a life where he is not near his wife’s grave. He doesn’t want to be a burden to them or bring them down. He asks Nadia to promise him to never leave Saeed until they are safe and settled.

“We are all migrants through time.”

It was a risk that paid off as the couple end up in Mykonos amongst other refugees and settle in a tent city. Over time, they become friendly, Nadia in particular, with a Greek girl who feels really compassionate towards them. She helps them to further their journey, this time to a luxury home in London.

“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

When they arrive in this luxury home, they settle and make it their own, not really believing their eyes or their luck. The owners are no where to be seen thus granting themselves ownership of the property.

More and more migrants arrive in London which results in increased tension and hostility between migrants and native born individuals. There are cases of threatening behaviour and mob rule. After time the migrants are sectioned off into a ghetto type place with minimal food and electricity. This is named ‘Dark London’.

“It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class—in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding—but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.”

Tensions come to a head when a raid goes horribly wrong. The natives decide to try and work together with the new migrants to clear the land for Halo London. The promise with this is that they will all receive 49 metres of space and a pipe, resulting in access to utilities. Nadia and Saeed are well aware of the distance growing between them to throw themselves into working.

Nadia and Saeed are one of the first on the list which means they will be one of the first to obtain a secure home. Despite this promise, Nadia has hopes for something more. They chance their luck through another portal, arriving in Marin County, California.

Both are welcomed there and seem to be quite happy. Nadia soon finds work at the food co-op whereas Saeed becomes even more religious. The pair realise that they have lost the spark between them, they no longer have feelings for one another. Nadia leaves Saeed and moves into a room at work, forming a new and vibrant relationship with the cook there. Meanwhile, Saeed married the native born daughter of a preacher.

“And so their memories took on potential, which is of course how our greatest nostalgias are born.”

Fast forward fifty years and Nadia returns to the country of her birth. She meets up again with Saeed who offers to take her to see the stars in Chile one day.

Overview

Despite this not being the type of book I would normally choose, I did really enjoy it. It opened my eyes to a time and a place where people had to fight for survival, where people took massive risks. It’s a short and powerful novel which does leave you grateful for what you have. It did me anyway. It’s a shame Nadia and Saeed’s relationship initially broke down. However, there was a sense of inevitability there. The ending gives me hope for the future, for their future. I’ve walked away from this novel thinking I need to take every chance I get. It’s not so easy for others in the world and it’s easy for us to forget that. Onto my next read!

Big love all xxx

Advertisements

20 Comments

Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

RTY: The Shadow Of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafron

Hi guys!

Amazingly, I have a spare couple of hours now whilst I’m sitting on a train, so I thought I would post my review of my choice of book for June for the Read The Year Challenge. I wholeheartedly promise that I did read it in June, I just didn’t quite get around to posting it in time. But it’s here now!

This month proved slightly challenging as the topic was ‘Pick up a book that delves into the experience of fatherhood’. Now I have some clear limitations here, obviously, but I think I found a book that fits. The Shadow of the Wind. Whilst not explicitly being centred around fatherhood, there are a number of fathers and/or father figures in it. The beauty of this reading challenge means that I have read something I’ve never even heard of. The bigger present – I enjoyed it!

What’s it all about?

Set in Barcelona, the novel centres around a young boy, Daniel Sempere. Just after the Spanish Civil War, Daniel’s father takes him to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This is a place where old, forgotten books are loving preserved by a select few people. According to tradition, everyone initiated into this secret place is allowed to take one book and must protect it for life. The book Daniel chooses: The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax.

He takes the book home and reads it cover to cover. This sparks the need in Daniel to try and find other books by this unknown author but can’t find any. What he does discover are strange narratives of a man calling himself Laín Coubert. What is extraordinary about this is that name is the name of one of the characters in the book – the Devil, who has been finding Carax’s books for decades, buying and burning them.

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”

Structured as a story within a story, Daniel starts a quest to find Julian’s other works. In turn, he becomes involved in tracing the entire history of Carax. One of the father figures in the novel is Fermin Romero de Torres. He was imprisoned and tortured in Montjuic Castle for his involvement in an espionage against the Anarchists during the war. His background in government intelligent helps Daniel in numerous days. However, their probing into he past of people who are long dead or forgotten takes him to the path of Inspector Fumero, whom he had dealings with previously.

“Fools talk, cowards are silent, wise men listen.”

This narrative has long since been buried. However Daniel starts unravelling it, clue by clue. Daniel and Fermin find a love story, the beautiful yet tragic story of Julián and Penélope, both of whom have been missing since 1919, thirty years earlier. Julián, the son of a hatter, Antoni Fortuny and his wife Sophie Carax and Penélope Aldaya, the only daughter of the extremely weather Don Ricardo Aldaya and his narcissistic American wife developed an instant love for each other and lived a clandestine relationship, only through faint smiles and few glances for around four years. After this time they decided to elope to Paris. They were completely unaware that the shadows of misfortune had been creeping their way upon them ever since they met.

“Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”

Miquel Moliner, also the son of a wealthy father, was Julián’s best friend. He helped meticulously plan their elopement. It is eventually revealed that the loved Julián more than any brother and finally sacrificed his life for him. Julián eventually got to Paris. Penélope did not.

“Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.”

The memory of Penélope burns inside Julian’s heart and eventually this forces him to return to Barcelona in the mid 1930s. What greets him is nothing less than heartbreaking. She was nothing more than a memory. She had never been seen or heard of again by anyone after 1919. Daniel discovers from the note left for him by Nuria Monfort, that Julián and Penélope were actually half brother and sister. Her father had had an affair win his mother and Julián was the result. Tragically, after he had left Barcelona, it is revealed that Penélope’s parents imprisoned her because they were full of shame about her commuting incest with him. She was also pregnant with his child. The child, named David Aldaya, was stillborn. Penélope died during childbirth because her parents ignored her screams. Her body was placed in a family crypt along with her child’s.

“Memories are worse than bullets.”

When returning to Aldaya Mansion, Julián is bitter and angry by the news of his love’s death along with their child. He hates everyone and everything. Every second feels wasted; his books pointless. So he sets upon burning them all. Thus, the adventure of then and now is joined. Along the way. Fermin and Daniel know they’re in trouble with Inspector Fumero. They’re followed, they’re beaten up. Yet still their quest continues.

“A story is a letter that the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise.”

After Daniel finishes reading the book, he marries Beatriz ‘Bea’ Aguilar. He’s loved her for a long time, since 1956. Shortly after Bea gives birth to a son. They name him Julián Sempere, in honour of Julián Carax. 10 years later, Daniel takes his son to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where the copy of The Shadow of the Wind is kept.

“Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.”

Overview

The role of fathers or father figures in this book is paramount. Daniel’s father is a strong and quiet character. He doesn’t push Daniel to discuss what is going on. He’s quietly there for him.

Fermin takes a natural role of a father figure, becoming that partner in crime person for Daniel. He even sacrifices his life to help find out what he wants to know about Carax. Daniel and his father took him in and saved him from his past. He sees fatherhood as part of his future with his blossoming love and romance.

Julián’s loss of fatherhood is all the more tragic. You can tell he’s been grief stricken ever since Penélope failed to arrive. When he learns the truth he is a broken man.

Daniel too is a father at the end of the novel and how these role models have shaped him, lead us to know that he will be an excellent father to his own child.

This book was a complete surprise for me. I’d never heard of it before and I didn’t know anything about the author. However, I’ve really enjoyed it. Sometimes stories within a story can be quite confusing but this was weaved together seamlessly. I’m so glad I found it.

Enjoy the sunshine all!!

 

Big love xx

24 Comments

Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge, Reading

Land Of Green Ginger

Hello everyone!!

I hope you’re all well and enjoying soaking up the amazing sunshine we are currently having. Firstly, my apologies to you all, I’ve neglected you. I’m bogged down with exam marking but I promise to take time now to catch up and read all your wonderful posts. Secondly, I want to share a little treat with you today before my June post for the Read The Year Challenge. So whilst I had a spare twenty minutes to sit in the park (look how postcard perfect it is!) I want to show you this little wonder.

Last week, every house in Hull received a copy of the magical Land of Green Ginger book. This book follows the huge success the city has had as City of Culture in 2017. Inside this amazing little book are the stories of the city, a bonfire in Longhill and an enchanted golden nose in Bransholme. The writer, Katie Fuller, has expressed her love of the project and its impact on the city.

“The project was for everyone; it was designed to surprise, delight, intrigue and remind everyone of the joy of unleashing a childlike imagination.”

The Land of Green Ginger was a flagship project which contained a number of events homed under one narrative, coming together at the end of the year for Land of Green Ginger Unleashed parade. This book is the seventh and final Act of Wanton Wonder and it’s a pure gift to the people of Hull. This book keeps the magic alive for future generations. Katy Riddell’s illustrations are so beautiful too!

What’s it all about?

This book contains a number of poems about different events in Hull. It starts with the prologue explaining about the Acts of Wanton Wonder and what the book is about. The magic is in the ordinary people, the sounds of the city and the delights it holds for us.

Act One: 7 Alleys

To some, the 7 Alleys are a place of fun, games and laughter. However, to others they are spooky. This poem centres around Scary Mary and children playing Knock Off Ginger. However, one boy, Richard, had to knock the door but he fell over! Disaster! He lands at the door of the most feared lady around. Nervousness follows. Yet, he meets Scary Mary and she wants to hear tales of the alleys. He explores and adventures with his friends who mock him about the baby fairy tales he’s believing. Nevertheless, he continues to believe and experience them from the previous events. He reports back the following day. (Not So) Scary Mary wants to go! We see her energised and excited; young again.

“The ground beneath them moves, Vibrating with beat of hooves.

A whinny, bells, the violin;

Smoke and sparks and it begins.”

Act Two: The Gold Nose Of Green Ginger

This poem centres around the arrival of the Gold Nose in Bransholme (found 50 years before as the first homes were being built.) Chelsea, a shop owner who deals with gold, didn’t have a clue as to what all the fuss was about and was rather curious. However, as interest in the Gold Nose increased, trade for her decreased. Following the belief that those who came into contact with the nose would be blessed with good luck, she wished hard for a baby of her own. However, she was a little bit underwhelmed at the appearance of such a special nose…

“But Chelsea would always remember that day.

For standing alone there with the Gold Nose,

The hope in her belly ignited and rose.”

Act Three: The Longhill Burn

This is probably my favourite part of this book. It’s just so so lovely! This poem celebrates the Longhill Burn which involved singing, dancing and excitement. Jimmy Johnson didn’t feel quite right; he knew something was missing. That one person is Laura. He takes a walk and bumped into the Firesmiths. Here he learns that they have been asked to build a fire. Not just any old fire though, a fire beyond anyone’s belief for Eastmount Playing Fields. The Firesmiths ask everyone to write down what gives you hope on a card ready for the fire, to free them into the world. His joy: Laura returns!

“All their hopes are crammed within,

And burning them till black and curled,

Will send them out into the world.”

Act Four: Re-Rediffusion’s Voice Park

Agnes, the main character of this poem, is wandering around Walton market, looking for supplies when she is approached by a man collecting voices. Agnes can make herself disappear and believes she has nothing of any value to say. He gives her a card in the hope she changes her mind, with details of a future event in the city. The Voice Park. She heads to Pickering Park on the bus having completely forgotten that chat some months ago when she feels a pull towards those who have the same cards as her. The noises, the lights, they’re all calling her. She finds the man from before who gives her a potion to help her speak, to give her a voice of power. Three months later she is transformed and she is now confident and a Hull Volunteer, helping others live the city.

“Then all of a sudden, to her great surprise,

She feels like her body’s been magnetised;

The pull is insistent, and she’s not alone”

Act Five: Micropolis

Dave was a watchman at the Springhead site where workers there deal with the constant stream of rubbish discarded by everyone in the city. One thing that causes him constant irritation is the flashing light. One evening he heard a sudden crash! What he sees is this incredible little city with its own shops and schools. Hours go by but Dave doesn’t leave: he’s entranced. He rushes back to tell everyone what he has seen. Crowds form to see it which is completely unexpected for him. Thankfully, they all love it too!

“Perhaps, he thinks, the time has come

To be a happier watchman.”

Act Six: Land of Green Ginger Unleashed

This final poem tells the story of how something is brewing in the city. People can hear horse hooves; something is approaching! Crates that brought this very book to the people of Hull are being described. People surround them, overtaken with curiosity. All of a sudden, the crates burst open and the tales of the city are for all to share. Giants, horses, Gold Noses, magic and song. Everyone is together, old and young. Life will not be the same again.

“And nevermore will life be dull.

Forevermore for those from Hull

These wanton, wondrous Acts will linger:

Memories of Land of Green Ginger.”

Overview:

This was a complete surprise in the post and what a magical little gift it is. I’ll treasure it forever. What a way to celebrate City of Culture. Life here has changed. Now, I realise many of you won’t get to see this. However, if you ever do get chance to read it or read about it, DO IT. Information Here!

Yet, the messages from this book are universal. The everyday, the ordinary, the people we meet make our lives extraordinary. You have all made a huge impact on my life.

Big love to you all xxx

17 Comments

Filed under Book review, City of Culture

RTY: The Wood (The Life & Times of Cockshutt Wood) – John Lewis Stempel

Hello Lovelies!!

Today I want to share with you my review of my book choice for Penguin’s Read The Year Challenge. The topic for May was use a book to get closer to nature. I chose to read The Wood – The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood. This book was a perfect choice for me because I’ve been wanting to branch out into reading more non fiction.

The novel, told in diary format by John Lewis-Stempel, focuses on his final year of working at Cockshutt Wood and tending to the three and a half acres of woodland. After four years, Stempel coppiced the trees, raised cows and pigs who roamed there. He knows the land like the back of his hand, it is a part of him. It’s a blissful sanctuary.

“Cockshutt was a sanctuary for me too; a place of ceaseless seasonal wonder where I withdrew into tranquility. No one comes looking for you in a wood.”

What’s it all about?

Following the last twelve months, we see Cockshutt Wood change through the seasons. The novel starts in December where we read vivid descriptions of the robin singing, the trees standing naked and the snow gently falling. It’s picturesque, peaceful, beautiful. Man and nature becoming one.

“There is always the sense of the unexpected in a wood, a constant feeling that, around the next bend in the path, behind the bole of the next tree, there will be a surprise.”

As a reader, we are invited into Stempel’s life during December’s chapter. We learn about his background in this profession, stemming from his grandfather, the farm animals they had and how traditions have continued, such as holly. Yet, what I have never given thought to before is how on the surface, winter seems to signal the end. It’s a time when plants wither, the weather drops and it becomes a chore to be outside. Nevertheless, nature is working hard behind the scenes to look after us. Mother Nature is waiting for a sign just like we do, for that moment when we all wake up ready to face the world; to start again.

“Oddly aware, walking through the wood this afternoon, that it is dormant rather than dead. How the seeds, the trees and hibernating animals…are locked in a safe sleep against the cold and wet.”

January’s entries provide something I get quite excited about: snowdrops. The description of the weather is still cold, crisp and glittered with snow. The songs of robins sing through the wood. I personally always admire the snowdrop. I feel a thrill of excitement whenever I see them. Every year I look for them, for the sign. They are so delicate and beautiful, yet the survive the harshest of conditions in winter. They represent that spring will come, we’ve nearly made it.

“If snowdrops are appearing, then the earth must be wakening. Of all our wild flowers the white bells are the purest, the most ethereal, the most chaste… Whatever; the snowdrop says that winter is not forever.”

Spring has sprung in the wood and we hear the songs of the birds and the plants are all starting to wake. Spring also provides a sense of renewal in Stempel as he feels he has a spring in his step. The wood continues to create a sense of awe and amazement. References to different poems by John Clare, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and Edward Thomas embody this sense of new life that spring brings. This lyrical way of writing means that the wood appears to be magical. For Stempel, it enables him to feel like he is a child again. I completely relate to this, being outside in the lush greenery makes me feel quite at peace. There’s a feeling that absolutely nobody can get to you.

“…the possibility of adventure in its secluded spaces. I’m still that boy. I cannot walk through a wood without a sense of wonder. And there is a relaxing privacy to a wood… A wood is an escape.”

Now we are in May, we have beautiful flowers, birdsong in abundance and longer, lighter evenings. It is the same for the wood. There’s a ‘blizzard of blossom’ and everything is growing at an enormous rate, a rate which Stempel (and every gardener too) only just about manages to keep a hold on. The new animals are appearing and finding their feet. It’s the best time of year and this lyrical narrative made me so excited and blissfully happy. If you close your eyes, you can imagine it, with the whole of your being.

“Dawn chorus II: starts with robin, then blackbird, song thrush, chiffchaff, willow warbler, wood warbler. They merge into a stream of song; I cannot distinguish their individual voices. They sing as one.”

Time rolls by and the summer months are passing like the gentle breeze being described. Trees are standing proud and tall, providing a home for a variety of insects and birds. The bees are working hard to provide for their own hive as well as us humans. Their buzz hums in the air. The does walk around the walk, their home with calm ease. Yet there is a sense of time passing, of seasons changing. The apples are swelling, nearly ready for picking. The fox cubs are sent into the wild to fend and find the way for themselves. Autumn is approaching.

“Colour change escalation, for the worse; most trees have lost vibrant hues in favour of a muddy brown mixed by a toddler let loose on a paintbox of watercolours.”

The novel ends by going full circle. We see the trees loose their leaves, squirrels nut collecting ready for hibernation, animals fighting one another for the berries on the bushes. It is inevitable; time moves on and seasons work together to change and nurture. This also means the end of Stempel’s time at Cockshutt Wood. During his four years here, he has become at one with the wood and the wood is at one with him.

“I thought the trees and the birds belonged to me. But now I realize that I belonged to them.”

Overview

This book is beautiful in its purest form. It’s lyrical, it oozes soul and it was a massive surprise for me. I am the first to admit I am not a great lover of non fiction. However, this has changed me. I went on a three mile walk with my dad and this book was all I could think about. It provides descriptions, poetry, recipes and tales of the inhabitants of the wood. It’s profound and I felt genuinely moved. I recommend it to anyone who wants to feel closer to nature, to have a moment of peace and tranquility. I’m off to find more of Stempel’s books.

If anyone has any suggestions for the next few months, please let me know! Topics can be found here.

Big love all! Enjoy the last day of May. Summer is approaching. Xx

11 Comments

Filed under Book review, Read The Year Challenge

The Storyteller Speaks – Annika Perry

Hello lovelies!

Sorry for the absence but we are in the thick of exam season and I’ve not been very well. My apologies. I do hope you’re all well and enjoying May. Time really is running away with us! It’s lovely to have such light evenings though.

Today I want to share with you a special book. My fellow blogger and friend Annika Perry published her first book, The Storyteller Speaks, and I’ve recently had the joy of reading it. I absolutely had to share it with you.

 

What’s it all about?

The Storyteller Speaks is a collection of short stories and poetry covering a wide range of such as love, loss and new beginnings. If you’re familiar with my reviews you’d know that I would review the whole plot. However, this being a collection of short stories has given me an opportunity to focus on my two favourites, the ones that have stayed with me. It’s also my first ever review of short stories. I hope I do this justice.

My first favourite is actually the first short story of the collection: Biding Her Time. This is such a sweet, innocent story with a fairytale ending. What’s not to like?

This piece of writing centres around Queenie and Thomas who meet as children at school. They’re quite competitive in the classroom; one being good at maths, the other producing an excellent critical essay. Everyone knew and waited to see who would be on top the next day. However, there wasn’t any animosity, quite the opposite in fact. They’re gentle and kind towards one another.

‘The infamous tales of Thomas and Queenie quickly spread across the small fishing island as the academic rivalled for first place in every subject.’

The two are rather smitten with each other, Queenie more so at first. She knew aged seven that she was in love. Thomas seems completely unaware of this. But, there are gestures from Thomas that are sweet and endearing. Every girl wants a boy to behave like a gentleman towards them, so I found this part really rather lovely. They’re childhood sweethearts, but Thomas doesn’t see it yet. On a cold day, Thomas gives her his gloves and walks her home, sharing with her his passion for fishing. She knew she liked him, we all can feel it.

‘She could bide her time.’

What I love about this story is the complete innocence surrounding it. Heartache appears when Thomas does not return to school because of the death of his father. Queenie is devastated and the tone of this story changes to grip our own hearts at his absence.

‘Without warning Queenie stood up. The chair screeched against the floor, and as silently as she arrived that morning she left, heading out into the warm sunshine. A warmth that failed to reach the chill in her heart.’

Life continues as it does for everyone but there is a change in Queenie. A spark from within her has diminished to an ember, only to be reignited on Thomas’s return. She waits patiently for him, watching, listening for him. Finally! At last! He returns and this rather marvellous short story, goes full circle, ending just as we want it to.

‘At that moment Thomas realised that this woman was destined to be his wife. She just didn’t know it yet.’

 

The second short piece which I really enjoyed was A Bouquet of White. I could personally relate to this story, arguably why I remember it and like it so much.

The story focuses on Ollie and begins with every day reminders of his Grandad. The reader doesn’t know quite what he’s done until we see his Grandmother’s (Margaret) reaction.

‘Get them out of here! Now, Ollie!… how dare you bring death into this house?’

Ollie is confused. In his eyes, he’s made a grand gesture to his Grandmother, showed her how much he cares and yet she reacts vehemently. Granted the gift, a bouquet of white lilies, weren’t honestly gained. Nevertheless, he had done it for her. However, to his Grandmother, she had been shocked to the core.

‘Margaret stood still for a long while, her breathing fast and shallow. Knees buckling, she pulled out a chair and sat by the table, by the discarded flowers.’

What is most endearing is the root cause of this reaction: her beloved late husband Dennis. The narrative moves to inform the reader of how Dennis used to bring these very flowers every Friday to her. Even after a stroke, he pushed himself to get his flowers for his wife. Only one time he didn’t make it and return to her.

‘…then glanced down the road. To Dennis, lying on the pavement, a jumper scrunched up under his head for a pillow, placed there by a kind passer by. Resting on his blazer were the lilies, the blasted lilies…’

Sadly albeit beautifully, we see a vivid description of the lilies at his funeral, the fact that they are so full of life when he was not. This flashback brought mixed feelings for Margaret. Led by the voice of Dennis in her head, she knew what she needed to do with her grandson.

‘With the tip of her fingers she lowered down the lid and shuffled indoors. Defeated.’

Whenever we miss someone or do something we regret, we turn to our friends which is exactly what happens with Ollie. By bumping into Allie, it helps him realise what he needs to do. Rather cleverly, the split narrative shows us Ollie and his Grandmother’s inner most thoughts and feelings. Ollie’s sweetness and naivety melted my heart a little. I could just about look past the fact that he’d stolen the flowers.

“He’d only thought the lilies would help fix her a bit. Fill the hole and bring some life into her. He’d messed up big time.”

When Ollie returned to his grandmother’s house, arms full of colourful flowers, they were both eager with their explanations and apologies. Together they devise a plan and the story ends with that plan being fulfilled. Ollie promises to work at the florist to pay back the cost of the flowers he stole and they put all the flowers up on Dennis’s grave. There is a real sense of everything falling into place, of wrong doing being fixed and love shining through. After all, it is only love that lasts. The most important lesson from this is they learn to understand each other.

‘She felt like a character from a black and white movie stepping into the technicolour of life.’

 

Overview

As I say, these are just two of my personal favourites from this collection as they cover two things that we shall all experience in life: love and death. They’re so well written that the voices stay with you. Across the whole book there are characters you feel you could know; they’re just so relatable. The variety of topics means that it appeals to everyone and I learnt about real life events I wasn’t aware of. A helpful touch is included at the back where we are able to read what inspired some of the pieces. It breaks down the wall of reader/writer because you become a part of it.

Annika, massive congratulations on your first book being published. It has a beautiful cover to match the beautifully crafted words inside. I urge you all to support a fellow blogger and read this eclectic array of delights.

Big love all!! Enjoy the Royal Wedding today! Xx

51 Comments

Filed under Book review

RTY: Letters To A Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke

Hi Everyone!

This sunny weather has been a complete joy. I’m so grateful it’s here! Gone are the dark days, hello to sunglasses and summer wardrobes. This increased amount of daylight also means more reading time. Finally!! I hope you’ve all been soaking up the sun and making time for yourselves, you lovely people, you.

I’m going to review my book choice for Penguin’s Read The Year theme for April today. I’d read this at the start of the month but work is so demanding (exam season is fast approaching) so I haven’t had chance, but I’m here now! The topic for April was: Grab a book that will help you explore your creativity. I thought this book would be perfect because it’s all about a journey into writing poetry.

 

What’s it all about?

Firstly, this little book needs some context to it. These letters were collected three years after the death of Rainer Maria Rilke by the recipient, Franz Xaver Kappus. He was 19 at the time and at a military university when he first wrote to the poet to ask whether he believed his poems were any good and to see whether he should proceed any further. These letters formed a beautiful friendship.

These ten letters span over a two year period, with each starting with the various locations Rilke was writing from. Rilke wrote them when he was 27, stopping just before he was 30. These letters provide advice about being honest to yourself and the encouragement to continue in pursuing a creative career. Despite such support and praise, the men never met.

Each of the men attended the same university, so their grounds of their communication was born. The first letter is from Paris on February 17th, 1903. He writes about how he doesn’t believe in criticism and that the best thing a creative mind can do is listen to himself. A poem is good when the poet feels that it derives from necessity. It is at that point that the poet won’t feel the need to ask others for their opinions.

He writes that Franz’s poems are good but they are heavily influenced by Germany’s leading contemporary poets. The advice he offers is to look deeper into oneself. He explains how a good poem comes from connecting with one’s deepest and truest sui generis nature. This is most difficult to find in poems like love poems and is advised to stay away. Therefore, Franz would be better writing about his personal surroundings, even when it may seem the images aren’t exceptional enough to be in a poem.

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”

The second letter in the collection is from Italy. Rilke begins by apologising for the delay in response and reveals he has been fighting an illness. Having read Franz’s work, Rilke offers two pieces of practical advice: don’t over use irony and whilst composing a poem, have some inspiring works near by e.g The Bible which he uses whenever he has writer’s block. These inspirations will help with any stoppages in writing as it provides a change in focus.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart…live in the question.”

One of the most famous letters is where the poet shares his angst about love, sex and his future careers which can all be used as inspiration for his poetry. Franz reveals his complete and utter loneliness. The advice is to produce something amazing. It is only in loneliness that one can be uncomfortably honest with oneself. Use it to flourish and grow.

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

Throughout these letters we are also privy to some beautiful descriptions of foreign lands. Rome is described as a beautiful city and we see Rilke’s reaction to being here. Rome is full of beautiful paintings and astounding architecture. Despite this, Rilke is certain that if one can not find beauty in wherever they are, then one can only blame himself. The world is infinitely beautiful and if one is ever bored, it is because the individual is unwilling to exert some energy in seeing the world for what it really is. Go out and breathe it!

“Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend.”

The following letter contains some lovely praise. He says there has been significant improvement in the young poet’s work. It is evident that Franz is deepening the personal knowledge he possesses and his work is something that only Franz could create. Of course, this is the real aim of writing poetry – expressing ones truest self. To show his appreciation and this movement to revealing oneself, Rilke transcribes the sonnet onto a blank sheet of paper. He claims this is often a useful tool for enhancing ones self awareness. I imagine you couldn’t get a higher form of praise in those days.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

Letter eight deals with loss. From Sweden, Rilke writes that whenever one is sad, one should use the time to reflect on reasons why they are sad. Usually, it is due to some form of loss. We are able to recognise the nature of that loss and we create room for something new to enter our lives. Again, this can be used to create beautiful pieces of work. Channel those experiences into something wonderfully written.

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change.”

The next letter is arguably the most profound in its dealings as it is how to handle doubt during the creative process. Whether you are a poet or painter, any creative person would have experienced this. Rilke encourages the young poet it see doubt as an opportunity for further creative explorations, to enhance and develop. Even when one experiences such negative emotions, as long as they as intense, they are beneficial to the poet’s writing endeavours. They can be used to inspire more meaningful writing.

“Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions from what happens to you; simply let it happen. Otherwise it will be too easy for you to look with blame… at your past, which naturally has a share with everything that now meets you.”

The final letter holds deep congratulations as the young writer has decided to avoid a career in journalism and criticism. He writes that Franz seems more courageous and hope that these qualities only deepen in the years to come. He has grown as a writer and can now truly be himself.

 

Overview

What is fascinating is that these letters are probably the ‘truest’ thing I’ve read. Each of the emotions we probably have all felt. Self doubt is one of the hardest battles one can face and this advice is so reassuring. It’s really incredible to watch this young poet flourish over the course of these letters. Sometimes we all need a little reassurance and guidance to excel. This little book is so insightful. I believe it fits the criteria for Read The Year this month beautifully. It something I enjoyed reading and can take my lessons from it into my own life. I hope you can too.

Enjoy the sunshine everyone!

Big love xx

22 Comments

Filed under Book review, Little Black Classics, Read The Year Challenge

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

Hey Everyone!!

Happy April! I can’t believe we have reached this point in the year. January seems to be a distant memory. However, over this Easter holiday I have achieved one thing: to read plenty. I’ve chosen to review The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. This book completely took hold of me. I’d read it over two days. I couldn’t not read it. I was desperate to know what happened. However, it sounds so ridiculous but I was so scared to read it because I was terrified as to what the outcome was going to be. Prepare to be on the edge of your seat.

 

What’s it all about?

The novel focuses on telling the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who spent three years in Auschwitz. However, it isn’t like the other Holocaust novels. This novel focuses on love, hope and survival. The amazing Heather Morris spent time with Lale gathering experiences to create this book. Boy, what an absolute treasure it is.

Lale knew exactly what was in store for him on that fateful day he was taken to Auschwitz. Luckily Lale landed a job as a tattooist, a job that gave him a slither of protection. Whilst doing this job, he meets a range of different people; one in particular catching his eye and changing his world forever.

‘Her eyes, however, dance before him. Looking into them his heart seems simultaneously to stop and begin beating for the first time, pounding, almost threatening to burst out of his chest.’

We see Lale travel to Auschwitz in a cattle cart with numerous people around him. You can imagine the sight, the smells and the sense of fear through the description. On his arrival to the camp he is stripped, searched and put into the striped uniform. During the cold, harsh nights, Lale sees people being shot for needing the toilet, one of whom is a child. It is at this moment that Lale makes a decision.

‘As they disappear into the darkness, Lale makes a vow to himself. I will leave this place. I will walk out a free man.’

 

There was a moment when my heart was in my mouth and I thought Lale wouldn’t make it. Actually, there were more than one. The first was when Lale got Typhus. As many historical accounts say, the sick were merely cast aside or shot. They were of no use as they couldn’t work. But in a tale of true heroism, many people saved him; the majority nameless. Pepan, a Tattooist, continues to look after him whenever he can along with those from Block 7.

“A young man was pleading with the SS to leave you, saying that he would take care of you. When they went into the next block he pushed you off the cart and started dragging you back inside.”

Not only did Pepan help save his life, he offered another lifeline: a job. Lale becomes a Tattooist with him. He can speak many languages which appeals to the officers. Yet tattooing causes a moral problem for Lale. He doesn’t wish to inflict harm on any other human being but he wants to survive. More than that, he wants to help others. Pepan reminds him of what an opportunity this is.

“I saw a half-starved young man risk his life to save you. I figure you must be someone worth saving.”

One huge reason why Lale survives is arguably because of Gita. With the help of an officer he finds which block she is in. This is the beginning of something beautiful after all. Despite the despair and daily horrors around him and many others in that situation, he tries to be friendly to everyone. He strikes a deal with Victor and Yuri who are working on the roof. They smuggle him food which he saves and passes around his friends. He asks the girls to keep looking for jewels so he can use them to repay the kindness of Victor. Of course, if any of them were caught, they’d be killed.

‘Victor closes his hand over Lale’s in a handshake, palming the jewels. Lale’s bag is already open and Victor quickly transfers some packages into it. Their alliance is now sealed.’

One of the most remarkable thing about this novel is the notion of hope. Lale is always hopeful about leaving; something he passes onto those he meets, especially Gita. Lale is completely in love with her. He goes out of his way to see her, strikes up a deal with officers in which chocolate plays a key role and they have beautiful, blissful moments together.

“There will be a tomorrow for us…We will survive and make a new life where we are free to kiss where we want to…”

Things take a turn for the worst when Lale’s stash is discovered. Rather fortunately (because once again my heart was in my mouth) Lale’s earlier kindness keeps him alive. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop him getting a severe beating. Everyone must do what needs to be done to survive in a place like that. This is just another example of that.

“You were kind to me and I will make the beating look worse than it is, but I will kill you before I let you tell me a name.”

The monotony of daily life at the camp is broken up. There is a sense of urgency as we proceed through the novel. It’s not just survival, it is a change in the atmosphere. Clearly something is happening to make the camp a hive of activity. People are coming to save them. It is at this point I probably felt most uncomfortable. Will they ever see each other again? Who will survive? What happens next? I was reading this and only noticed at the end just how tightly I was holding onto the book.

‘Whatever happens tomorrow will happen to all of them – together they will live or die.’

As they are all separated, the narrative almost splits. We see the girls taken away with many falling at the sides. We see Lale end up in a new role – providing nice girls for the soldiers, a role in which he is possibly even less comfortable than before. He pockets some jewels and finally decides to get freedom: a train to Bratislava. The whole time his thoughts are consumed with Gita. It takes two weeks but amazingly, thanks to the Red Cross, he finds her.

‘Then, with Gita’s arms around Lale’s waist and her head resting on his shoulder, they walk away, merging into the crowded street, one young couple among many in a war-ravaged city.’

Overview

It has been a long time since I’ve hung onto every word written in a book. I have probably never felt so much hope either. I bought and read this book with great trepidation. I find these events so utterly horrific and yet even though these were in the book, the overwhelming feeling is of hope. It is a remarkable story in every sense. Right until Gita’s death, Lale wanted to protect her, hence why the book wasn’t even written let alone published. Lale is a truly magnificent person and Heather Morris has done an amazing job in telling his story. Read this book; it will change your life.

Big love xx

11 Comments

Filed under Book review, Historical Fiction