Thursday, 19 October 2017

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, two young people notice one another.

They share a cup of coffee, a smile, an evening meal. They try not to hear the sound of bombs getting closer every night, the radio announcing new laws, the public executions.

Meanwhile, rumours are spreading of strange black doors in secret places across the city, doors that lead to London or San Francisco, Greece or Dubai. Someday soon, the time will come for this young couple to seek out one such door: joining the multitudes fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world.

From the Man Booker shortlisted author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist comes a journey crossing borders and continents, into a possible future. Exit West is a love story from the eye of the storm. It is a song of hope and compassion. It reaches towards something essential in humankind - something still alive, still breathing, an open hand and a thudding heart under all the rubble and dust.

This is a contemporary novel with both significance and relevance for modern times. Told from the perspective of refugees it provides an opportunity for the reader to understand the issues facing people who find themselves a long way from the place they call home and who frequently arrive in destinations where they are not made welcome.

The magical realism in this book is used to great effect and is designed to correspond with the feeling of some native born residents that refugees seem to arrive suddenly and from nowhere. This is an extremely clever device and very much enhances the main issues of the story.

However, the main thing that this book does is to allow the reader to empathise with the refugees and which makes this an extremely relevant book in today's current climate. We are able to understand the plight of refugees amidst our own current political and sociological situation.

This is a profound text which influences the reader and has the potential to make us understand how to be better people both as individuals and communities. This book deserves the accolades it has received and I would not be surprised if this does not appear on the school syllabus as there is so much to learn from it.

This is a slim volume with a massive significance and I encourage everyone to read this as I am sure that you will get as much from reading it as I have.

ISBN: 978 0241290088

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

 About the Author:

Mohsin Hamid writes regularly for The New York Times, the Guardian and the New York Review of Books, and is the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moth Smoke, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Discontent and its Civilizations. Born and mostly raised in Lahore, he has since lived between Lahore, London and New York.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

In Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen year old Noa saves a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him into the snowy wilderness.

Passing through the woods is a German circus - a troupe of waifs and strays, led by the infamous Herr Neuroff. They agree to help Noa and the baby - on one condition.

To earn her keep, Noa must master the flying trapeze - under the tutorage of mysterious aerialist, Astrid. Soaring high above the crowds, Noa and Astrid must learn to trust one another - or plummet. But, as war closes in, Noa will earn that loyalty can be the most dangerous trait.

Based on real events, The Orphan's Tale is a spectacular story of love, sacrifice and courage.

This book absorbed me from the very first page and captivated me right through to the end with it's original portrayal of the events of World War II. The circus setting for this novel dealt with the very serious circumstances that war brought to occupied territories but within the outwardly colourful and vibrant setting of the circus.

The chapters alternate between the two main characters of Noa and Astrid. I must confess there were times I could not find their individual voices but I was so gripped by their story that this really did not seem to matter. It was very interesting to observe their relationship develop as the back story for both of these characters was heartbreaking. Their bravery was astonishing and I felt nothing but admiration for them.

Based on true events Ms Jenoff  successfully weaves fact into fiction and has created a thoroughly well researched and captivating read.

Ultimately, this is an uplifting story of survival that I could not wait to get back to between reading sessions. It is a heartfelt and memorable story that I could imagine reading for a second time - and there are very few books that I place in that category.

ISBN: 978 1848455368

Publisher: HQ

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her Master's in History from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Pam moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Pam developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Pam left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for several years as a labor and employment attorney both at a firm and in-house in Philadelphia and now teaches law school at Rutgers.

Pam is the author of The Kommandant's Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Winter Guest, The Diplomat's Wife, The Ambassadors Daughter, Almost Home, A Hidden Affair and The Things We Cherished. She also authored a short story in the anthology Grand Central: Original Postwar Stories of Love and Reunion. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

(from the authors website http://www.pamjenoff.com/author.cfm)

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother's death, she resumes a dream long deferred - studying in America. But she can't stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London. Or their brother, Parvaiz, who's disappeared in pursuit of his own dream - to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters' lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from  theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birthright to live up to - or defy. The fates of these two families are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

A contemporary re-imagining of Sophocles' Antigone, Home Fire is an urgent, fiercely compelling story of loyalties torn apart when love and politics collide - confirming Kamila Shamsie as a master storyteller of our times.

Hidden between the monotone covers of the UK edition of this book lies a real gem. It is an original, thought-provoking and memorable story which deals with the contemporary issue of radicalisation.

Ms. Shamsie has created characters that are utterly believable. Five distinct character voices are woven together to produce a rich tapestry of atmospheric detail that a lesser novelist would not have attained. I have previously read novels where this multi narration merely makes for a disjointed telling of a story. However, with this book the method enhances the reading experience as each character adds a different dimension to the story.

Added to that a twist in the story at the very end and which contributes to a fine novel that I am certain means that this book will remain at the top of the bestseller list for a goodly while.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017 this is an outstanding example of writing at its best and has elevated the author to one of my favourites. I have every intention of reading more by the very talented Ms. Shamsie.


ISBN: 9781408886779

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

About the Author:

Kamila Shamsie is the author of six novels: In the City by the Sea (shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize): Salt and Saffron: Kartography (also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize): Broken Verses: Burnt Shadows (shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction): and most recently, A God in Every Stone, which was shortlisted for the Baileys Prize, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, Three of her novels have received awards from Pakistan's Academy of Letters. Kamila Shamsie is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was named a Granta Best of Young British Novelist in 2013. She grew up in Karachi and now lives in London.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Dr Eitan Green is a good man. He saves lives. Then, speeding along a deserted moonlit road in his SUV, he hits someone. Seeing that the man, an African migrant, is beyond help, he flees the scene. It is a decision that changes everything. 

Because the dead man’s wife knows what happened. When she knocks at Eitan’s door the next day, tall and beautiful, he discovers that her price is not money. It is something else entirely, something that will shatter Eitan’s safe existence and take him into a world of secrets and lies.


Waking Lions is a gripping, suspenseful and morally devastating drama of guilt and survival, shame and desire.


This beautifully written book is one that will stay with me for a long time. It is slow paced and packed with detail and deserved to be savoured rather than read at speed.

The book deals with some serious issues; identity, betrayal and morality. It closely explores the theme of self identity through the main character, Eitan, and through his pre-conceived ideas of how he would react in any given situation and which leads the reader to the same state of self-examination. This is a book that is about self-awakening to the problems of others outside of our own comfortable existence and the author sensitively examines both larger issues and the minutiae of the lives of her characters.

I thought this was a fantastic book and I am not surprised that it won The Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize 2017. I highly recommend it and I will certainly be reading more by this author.

ISBN: 978-1782272984

Publisher: Pushkin Press

About the Author:

Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Hebrew: איילת גונדר-גושן) was born in Israel in 1982 and holds an MA in Clinical Psychology from Tel Aviv University. Her film scripts have won prizes at international festivals, including the Berlin Today Award and the New York City Short Film Festival Award. Her debut novel, One Night, Markovitch, won the Sapir Prize in 2013 for best debut and is being translated into five languages.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Victorians Undone by Kathryn Hughes

Biographies will give you all the facts of their subjects' lives, but what they can't do is explain what it was like to be them - to fight for breath against the constriction of a whalebone corset, or attempt to eat with decorum despite the encroachments of a particularly bushy beard.

Nowhere is this more true than Britain in the nineteenth century. For while we like to think of the Victorians as prudishly detached from their unruly bodies, the fact is that they were just as subject to the tyrannies of their flesh as we are today. Now, in Victorians Undone, the major award winning historian and biographer Kathryn Hughes reveals what it was physically like to be a nineteenth century man or woman through a close examination of five famous, controversial or curious Victorian body parts.

Through her eyes we encounter Lady Flora Hastings's swelling belly, which sparks a scandal that almost brings young Queen Victoria's reign crashing down. We run our fingers through Charles Darwin's beard in an attempt to understand just what made men start sprouting whiskers in the 1850's. The novelist George Eliot, meanwhile, is proud that her right hand is bigger than her left, so why is her family so desperate to suppress this information? We learn how the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti takes his art in a revolutionary new direction, thanks to the bee stung lips of his secret mistress, Fanny Cornforth, Finally, we meet Fanny Adams, an eight year old from Hampshire whose tragic physical dissolution has come down to us in the phrase 'Sweet Fanny Adams'.

Based on a treasure trove of new archive material, groundbreaking in its methods and frequently very funny, Victorians Undone is a wholly original approach to life writing. You will never think of biography - or Victorians - in quite the same way again.

I do not read much in the way of non-fiction but I was tempted by this book when I saw that it dealt with often overlooked aspects of Victorian attitudes.

Clearly well researched through a variety of sources Ms Hughes presents anatomical references relating to well known people of the Victorian era in a way that is both intelligent and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the section on Fanny Adams and how her name came to be part of everyday language both then and now.

Although Kathryn Hughes is an academic this book does not read as an academic text. It is a very easy and engaging read which I recommend to anyone interested in history.

ISBN:  978 0 00 754836 1

Publisher: 4th Estate

About the Author:

Kathryn Hughes is the author of award winning biographies of Mrs. Beeton and George Eliot, both of which were filmed for the BBC. For the past fifteen years she has been a literary critic and columnist for the Guardian. Educated at Oxford University and with a PhD in Victorian Studies, she is currently Professor of Life Writing at the University of East Anglia and Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Historical Society.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Set in Yeongdo, Korea in 1911 in a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man  marries a fifteen year old girl.

The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza the family faces ruin until Isak, a young Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country where she has no friends and no home, Sunja's salvation is just the beginning of her story.

Spanning eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.

Things have been fairly quiet on the blog recently. I have done lots of reading, the weather has been wonderful and somehow, I have been lacking in opportunity to write reviews. However, this book has stirred me from my summer slumber and I want to share my thoughts on it with you all.

I have read few novels set in either Korea or Japan (the exception to the latter being Haruki Murakami whose work I adore) and I have honestly never considered how difficult life was for those who made Japan their home. Racial prejudice is the overriding theme of this book and as such, makes this a very relevant read as the experience of the characters could be transposed to anywhere in the world where racism exists today.

The characters are wonderfully evoked in this novel and the author has a very acute sense of detail in her descriptions of them. Their history and cultural background were vital to my understanding of them as individuals and I was completely engrossed by the four generations of this family.

My one minor criticism is that the ending felt rather hurried and I wanted to know more about some of the characters. For a book that was so character focused I felt that the previous level of detail fell away. However, this did not distract from my enjoyment of this superb novel.

Despite serious themes this book was an easy read with beautiful prose and I am glad to have read a book which taught me something new. Anyone who enjoys historical fictions will love this book and I highly recommend it.



About the Author:

Min Jin Lee is a Korean-American author and journalist. Her debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was one of the 'Top 10 Novels of the Year' for The Times, NPR's Fresh Air and USA Today. She has written for the New York Times, Conde Nast, The Times, Vogue and the Wall Street Journal amongst others, She wrote Pachinko whilst living in Tokyo, and now lives in New York with her family.

Friday, 9 June 2017

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

For seventy years, Josef Weber has been hiding in plain sight.
He is a pillar of his local community.
He is also a murderer.
When Josef decides to confess, it is to Sage Singer, a young woman who trusts him as her friend. What she hears shatters everything she thought she knew and believed.
As Sage uncovers the truth from the darkest horrors of war, she must follow a twisting trail between terror and mercy, betrayal and forgiveness, love - and revenge.

Throughout this book there is a story within a story coupled with the different voices of the main characters. This is seamlessly done and all comes together perfectly.

At times it was harrowing to read as all books dealing with the holocaust are. However, Ms Picoult treats her characters and subject matter with an intelligent sensitivity which made me want to read on in this excellent novel. In fact, I slowed my reading at times, partly in order to allow myself to process some of the shocking scenes in this book and also because the characters were easy to engage with and I wanted to spend the time getting to know them.

Well researched and written with great care, Ms. Picoult has created a novel which is heartbreaking yet redemptive and deals with difficult issues. Thought provoking and meticulously considered, this book has the capacity to stay with me for a long time after reading it.
ISBN:  9781444766660
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks



About the Author:


Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty-three novels, including the number 1 New York Times bestsellers Leaving Time, The Storyteller, Lone Wolf, Between the Lines, Sing You Home, House Rules, Handle with Care, Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, and My Sister’s Keeper

She studied creative writing with Mary Morris at Princeton, and had two short stories published in Seventeen magazine while still a student. Realism - and a profound desire to be able to pay the rent - led her to a series of different jobs following her graduation: as a technical writer for a Wall Street brokerage firm, as a copywriter at an ad agency, as an editor at a textbook publisher, and as an 8th grade English teacher - before entering Harvard to pursue a master’s in education. She married Tim Van Leer, whom she had known at Princeton, and it was while she was pregnant with her first child that she wrote her first novel. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.