Malayan Communist soldiers during the Malayan emergency

Sublime and seductive, The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

There’s alot going on in this garden!


Sublime and seductive, The Garden of Evening Mists has it all.
Intriguing characters in a fascinating historical context, written with lyricism and a deep philosophical heart.

Teoh Yun Ling is returning to her past before she loses her memory. A prisoner of the Japanese during the war, she and her sister had a dream that kept them going, the dream of creating a Japanese garden. Her sister didn’t make it, but after the war, against the backdrop of the Malayan Emergency, Yun Ling became the apprentice to the former gardener of Emperor Hirohito.
Now a retired judge, Yun Ling returns to the garden they created. As her story unravels, memories and secrets are revealed.

Malayan Communist soldiers during the Malayan emergency


Love, guilt and memory haunt this beautiful book. But don’t be fooled. Despite all the dreaminess, the story moves along at a cracking pace, sweeping across multiple characters. This book is immensely readable and beautiful. Not a simple combination to pull off!

I am in absolute agreement with Claire Armistead at The Guardian, this book should have won the Booker!
Vikzwrites is also a fan
I liked Matt’s insights on the book too.
It is my absolute favourite book of the year so far.

The book even has a kamikaze pilot love story subplot!

Hukosai’s Shower Below The Summit

kinglake too tough

An intriguing and inspiring look at Black Saturday

Sergeant Roger Wood, central character in Kinglake-350

Kinglake-350 is a non-fiction account of the happenings in and around Kinglake during the Black Saturday bushfire disaster of 2009. Hyland creates a ripping story around the experiences of Acting Sergeant Roger Wood, on duty in Kinglake on the day of the fires.
The book centres on Roger Wood’s experiences as he fights to save what he can of a town under extreme attack from nature. He goes about doing his best for the locals in his community, all the while cut off from his own family, unable to find out whether they are alive or dead.
Woven through the story are plenty of interesting, scientific asides. Covering topics like how bushfires behave, climate basics or, of most interest to me personally, how people behave in disasters and what makes a hero do what they do.
There are some tremendously sad events described. Hyland very sensitively handles the tragedy of the day’s events and individual’s experiences as well as the psychological aftermath for the survivors.
I expected this book to be grueling. But it wasn’t. Yes, it is sad. But beyond the sadness, I found this book uplifting. An intriguing and inspiring portrait of the heroes, fighters and survivors in this little community.

Read the Herald Sun article: “Intimate Look at Black Saturday”.

Watch Adrian Hyland talking about Kinglake-350 on the First Tuesday Book Club website.

Kinglake-350
by Adrian Hyland

04.05. But who’s going to play Finnick Odair?

Source: bit.ly via Robbie on Pinterest

I have finished Catching Fire, part 2 of The Hunger Games trilogy.
Just like The Hunger Games, this was gripping. But boy has it left me hanging. I must start book 3 immediately!
Not the best writing in the world, but Lord, Suzanne Collins knows how to suck you in to a story.
Filed under guilty pleasures, I really loved this book!

I’m just left pondering the question though, who will play Finnick Odair in the movie!?!?!?!
Thoughts?
It’s already a hot topic on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/search/?q=finnick+odair

19.02. Sylvia Rafael, Mossad Agentin

Image

When we were away, I read a book.
I loved it.
I couldn’t stop talking about it, thinking about it.
Picturing what I would do in situations this heroine found herself in.
Asking myself if I would make the same decisions and choices.
My husband started getting a bit jealous of Sylvia Rafael.
Why? Because Sylvia Rafael had an amazing life and her story is true.
We have a Mossad agent, Sylvia Rafael, glamorous as a film star, whose cover is working as a photographer for a leading photo agency in Paris.
We have a handsome man, Ali Salameh, born into the leadership of Fatah. He loves the party life of an international student and is an unwilling terrorist at first, but becomes the mastermind of Black September and Yassar Arafat’s close confidante (oh, yes and coincidentally courts a Miss Universe contestant).
Their paths cross with the attack on the Munich Olympics in 1972 and this book documents the before and after from both perspectives.
Written by Moti Kfir, former Head of the Academy for Special Operations of the Mossad, and Ram Oren, a thriller author who is very popular in Israel, this book has plenty of history and information with the pace of a thriller.
I was so absorbed in this book. Fascinated in equal part by the personal story of Sylvia, the insight into spycraft in the sixties and seventies as well as the historical backdrop of the establishment of Israel and the role of Black September. A history of which I had largely been ignorant.
This book was written in Hebrew and unfortunately so far has only been translated into German (the language I read it it).
I would love an English language publisher to pick this up. It is a terrific read!.

Title: Sylvia Rafael. Mossad Agentin
Authors: Moti Kfir + Ram Oren
Available on http://www.amazon.de

26.03. Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I find it daunting to review a book that is a classic and has received as much critical acclaim as this book has. And it is, an amazing book.
OK, I’m just going to unpack my little case of superlatives- because I just can’t find enough of them to describe this book. Where do I start?
I loved the rhythm of the writing in this book and the poetry in Neale Hurston’s metaphors.
I loved the heroine of the book, her spunk and gumption are truly inspiring.
I loved the story- I was genuinely intrigued to find out where the story was going.
I loved the love- this book for me is ultimately about finding the right one, the one who will accept you as you are and love you no matter what.
It’s funny and witty, brimming over with endearing characters and cracking stories.

But first things first. Written in 1937, this is the story of Janie Crawford and her journey to womanhood and independence.
Janie, married off at 16 to an older man by the grandmother who raised her, waits for the love to follow their marriage.
“Yes, she would love Logan after they were married. She could see no other way for it to come about, but Nanny and the old folks had said it, so it must be so. Husbands and wives always loved each other, and that was what marriage meant. It was just so. Janie felt glad of the thought…She wouldn’t be lonely anymore.”

The book traces her journey of love and independence. It’s quite a journey for her to understand what true love is, and what love isn’t.

The language used by the characters has the lilt and rhythm of a different time. It takes a few pages to get used to, but is worth persevering with – and rather fun to read out loud.

But what I liked most about this book was that it truly fulfilled the Italo Calvino definition of a “Classic”:
“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”
For me the messages at the heart of the book are that no matter what obstacles we face in life we should back ourselves and go our own way.
The message of true love being real and being worth it is also fundamental to the story.
And I believe these are very important messages for everyone- especially today.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is an incredibly enjoyable read with a lovely message at it’s heart.

4 Stars out of 5 from me.

1/50 for The Classics Club

04.02. Pigeon English by Stephen Kelmen

Travelling days are a great opportunity to relax for the day, get a bit of reading done and recover from sensory overload. I picked this book up at Orly airport on the way to Berlin and read it over the course of a couple of flights.
It sounded promising, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011 and the cover has recommendations from the Guardian and Emma Donoghue. But to be honest, I was a little disappointed by this book- though it was an easy and enjoyable read.
It’s the story of 11 year-old Harrison Opoku, newly arrived in an English public housing estate from Ghana. And it is told in Harrison’s voice. He is an endearing character, an innocent surrounded by evil and danger. The book is funny in parts, as Harrison relates the world just as he sees it. But the pervading feeling of the novel is ominous, opening as it does at the scene of a murder- the murder of a “half friend” of Harri.
Kelman is keen for us to have a sense of how social injustice impacts even the strongest family, as Harri’s sister and mother find themselves increasingly compromised and out of control. The pervading sense of menace throughout the book is very strong and compels you forward through the novel.
Just a bit disappointed, but 3 stars all the same.

16.01. Another rather good read: John Williams’ Stoner

My book club is fabulous.  I meet once a month with 11 fabulous women.  Each of us choose one book per year.  We read the same book each month and then meet over a wine or two to discuss.

Book club often forces me out of my comfort zone, to books I would not normally read.  And Stoner is one of those books.

Chosen by the lovely Angela, this book was published in 1965 and I had never even heard of it.  But ended up enjoying it thoroughly.  Here are my thoughts.

Stoner by John Williams

Stoner is the story of an inconsequential man, the author tells us so right at the start, then proceeds to prove himself wrong.  Even the “smallest” existence can be so full of life, so full of meaning, Williams seems to be saying.

John Stoner grows up dirt poor but discovers a passion for literature and becomes a teacher at Columbia University.  The book chronicles university life and politics, love, marriage and parenthood and finally, the thoughts a man has as he prepares himself for departure from this world.

The book is very quiet and elegantly written.  It is also profoundly sad.  At every turn, Stoner is denied happiness, and yet he faces every situation with integrity and stoicism, like his farmer parents.  Life is endured, not enjoyed.

”…within a month he knew that his marriage was a failure; within a year he stopped hoping that it would improve. He learned silence and did not insist upon his love.”

For all it’s sadness, the book is strangely compelling.  Williams’ insights into the working of human relationships are timeless.  And his eloquent prose is an absolute pleasure to read and has a poignancy that I found deeply moving.

Rating: thoroughly readable