Tag Archives: book

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

Capital
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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Gripping

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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Women

If John Burnside writes well about men, Siri Hustvedt writes well about women. The title The Summer Without Men somehow implies who plays the main role. Men have a presence in this book. A presence that is examined and re-evaluated.
And then there are the women – remarkable in old, middle and young age. A very loving portrayal of what it means to be old and frail is one aspect that I loved about this book. And what it means to have hidden so much in a lifetime, yet to find a  way to tell the story in the end  (in the case of  Abigail – one of the so-called Five Swans). Then there are the changes of perspective. The analysis of „indirect“ emotions (while watching a film) versus „direct emotions“ confronted with the death of a loved one. The dialogue with me, the reader. A woman myself, drawn into the circle in Boden.
After the bout of madness comes Mia’s healing. The only thing I was missing in that process was a female friend from her past. Somehow, that person didn’t seem to exist. Maybe she’ll come after the return to New York. After all, a substantially changed life always invites new people in. Let’s see where it takes the poet and teacher Mia. I liked her. And I liked reading about her circle.

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Family men

I had met the author before I read the book. It was a beautiful summer evening in Berlin. Das Blaue Sofa  – brilliantly hosted by Barbara Wahlster – was taken apart and the discussion began. About the importance of editors. And translators. Social networks were also mentioned. And when we all gathered on the roof of the house to admire the sights and building sites of  ‚Unter den Linden‘, the conversation continued, the story unfolded and I knew what I wanted to read next. A Lie About My Father by John Burnside is one of those books that I won’t forget. It’s honest. It’s fiction and autobiography and it let me choose between the two. It is uncomfortable and heart-warming. It rummages in a family’s entrails and leaves me wondering why it’s so easy to take the wrong turn. And yes – it’s about addiction. Alcohol, other drugs – it’s all there. The mess, the hurt and the betrayals of self and others. And about men who want to hide.

At the beginning, there’s a quote by Patti Smith. I went to her concert the day after ‚Das Blaue Sofa‘.

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