Tag Archives: book

A book that kept me awake at night…

… was Paul Lynch’s Prophet Song. I felt Eilish’s sorrow, how she made decisions and got it wrong, but any other decision could have been as wrong as the one she made. The plot draws the reader into a maze of totalitarianism in Ireland of all places, first showing its ugly face here and there, than everywhere. Family is at the core of the story, and this strong unit is slowly falling apart. What was once normal everyday happiness is no longer there, and its absence is increasingly felt by Eilish and her children. Her father is slowly sliding into dementia, but in his lucid moments sees the threats that come from the state and warns his daughter to get out – yet she can’t, doesn’t want to, wants to hold on to hope until there is no hope to hold on to. Because of the times we live in the book has a particularly urgent power, it is incredibly well written and incredibly sad. A must-read!

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Companion piece

That’s the title of the book I just finished reading. It’s a companion piece to Ali Smith’s season series, and it has been my companion for a while, particularly its final part telling the story of the girl and the curlew, their unlikely companionship and her struggle to find her place in a hostile world. It resonated with me, and if I quote from it, you may want to read it too:

„But the world with people in it is a kind of filth compared to this afterlife she actually did not need to die to find.“


„Take care what you make. Beauty can anger as well as please.“

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Shuggie Bain …

… is relentless. When I started to read it, I needed long breaks between chapters to take in the harsh realities of Hugh’s (aka Shuggie’s) life. The author Douglas Stuart describes the boy’s relationship with his mother – a Liz Tayloresque beauty with a drinking problem of epic proportions – in all brutal honesty, showing the meanderings of hope during her „dry“ episodes and the repeated falls back into the fog of alcohol that seem to be unavoidable. The book is also an introduction to some parts of Glasgow, a city I haven’t been to yet. Places like black & white photographs where lost people live, left behind by economic policy changes that got rid of mining. Hope seems scarce, children grow up tormenting those who don’t fit in (boys that don’t want to finger girls, for example), and Shuggie bears the brunt of the envy that surrounds his mother in spite of her many problems. Men fall for her and are ultimately her downfall. Predictably, things don’t end well for Agnes, but Shuggie finds some beauty in a new friendship. Towards the middle of the book, I didn’t need to pause reading any more. Not because the words didn’t hurt any more, but because I’d fallen for their harsh beauty. A must-read!

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A Holiday Read

Michael Palin promises no less than The Truth with a novel that loves its main protagonist. Hamish Melville is a really nice man – with all the flaws that go with it. He is not particularly successful in his work or private life, yet somehow always stumbles into something new when he’s about to give up. Sometimes the plot is a bit far-fetched, which made me like it even more …. and the fact that it is partly set in London and partly in some remote place in India adds to the attraction. It’s for all those who don’t quite go with the flow and still find their place in life. Take it on holiday with you. Or read it on the sofa on a rainy day. Or on a deckchair on your balcony. I hope you’ll like it as much as I did.

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Musical book swap….

… in Kaliningrad

Book Swap

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Two (Crime) Stories

I listened to John Lanchester when he read from his book Capital and knew I had to read it. It is about London after all – or rather about a street in London. It tells the tale of several families and their sorrows and joys in 2008. Their lives are disrupted by postcards, followed by nastier messages.
The book is also about suspected and real criminal activity, fraudulent and destructive behaviour, love in various forms and great despair. The „hurly-burly of family life“, as the author puts it, is presented to the reader without judgement. The double entendre of the title stayed with me throughout the story – and on a recent visit to London, I was wondering whether it would always be the place of choice for those who have made this city truly great – its people from all over the world and their creative approach to life.

A friend recommended the other story  to me. Luckily, one of my favourite London bookshops had this little gem in stock. Dag Solstad’s Professor Andersen’s Night is a fascinating study on solitude, inner monologues, their sometimes rather destructive and misleading nature and on friendships and how they evolve over time. I think it’s a novella. Would you agree?


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Just a quick note to say: Ratlines by the Northern Irish writer Stuart Neville is a GOOD read and hadn’t been on my book wish list for nothing. After reading a review in the Saturday edition of the Financial Times on 25 January 2013), I was intrigued by this story that travels between Germany’s, France’s and Ireland’s past and the present. But then I forgot about it for a while, until it caught my eyes on my way back to Berlin at Dublin airport. It’s not your ordinary crime thriller, since it uses quite a lot of historical facts and blends them with the fictional (and sometimes not so fictional characters). The main character Lieutenant Albert Ryan has a tough job to do and some difficult decisions to make, testing his integrity and makes him wonder what loyalty means. There are lots of twists in the story and yes, there’s love, too.  Or something like it. I know now what the title means. Do you want to find out, too?

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Philosophical in 2013

I was given a question for Christmas – and quite a big one it was. No less than Who Are We? was on the agenda. This book by the journalist Gary Younge takes the reader’s thoughts into new directions. Every time I thought „Yes, that’s what I’m already doing. Ok, that’s something I could do better“, there was still another thought around the corner that I hadn’t even contemplated. All wrapped into stories about different people’s identities, why they feel comfortable (or too comfortable) in their own skin or why they don’t. Never really having to justify why I want to cross a particular border is a great privilege. I knew that before I’d read the book. But now I understand even better what it means not to be in that position. Plus: It’s great about Ireland ….
I pass the question on – and recommend the book to anybody who might want to discuss this big question with me and others.

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The writer John Boyne

… writes fiction for children and adults. First, I read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and introduced it to a group of kids. They all wanted to read about the precarious friendship between two boys who lived in dangerous times and different worlds. A sad and utterly readable story. I was hooked and wanted to understand this writer’s world better.
Next came Noah Barleywater runs away, followed by The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket. Both books tell us what it feels like to be different. And how lonely it can be to be a child in a world of often indecipherable and incomprehensible adults. John Boyne evokes new destinies. And tells me as his adult reader how important it is to never lose our sense of wonder. I guess I ought to read one of John Boyne’s novels for adults next ….

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A fashion statement

I like clothes and what they say about me and others. I like reading Vogue magazine. And I was intrigued by ‚The Thoughtful Dresser‘, because the title implied that it goes beyond skin-deep observations on fashions. In fact, the book does all but that and Linda Grant (who has a blog with the same title) finds unusual ways into the minds of fashionistas. She writes about Auschwitz. And 9/11. About the truths of nakedness and the comfort (and discomforts) of a pair of shoes. And the family stories told by handbags. One German translation of ‚thoughtful‘ is ‚wohlüberlegt‘ – I try to apply that to the clothes and accessories I wear. And another is ’nachdenklich‘ – and that’s what the book made me.

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