Author Archives: Oxana Gutu

“The strange adventures of H” by Sarah Burton

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A “from rags to riches” story line in London’s epic times of plague and big fire, this novel is heartwarming. H, a 15 year orphan, survives the streets of London without loosing her humanity, kindness and integrity, against all odds.

It is a truly epic journey of a girl in only a two year time lapse to remind us that “there is no disaster which can befall humanity, that we will not fail to make worse by our own hands, for it is fear that makes us cruel.” A happy ending, a marriage on a ship, justice restored and new born babies will bring a smile to the reader’s face at the end of this epic journey.

“Salt to the Sea” by Ruta Sepetys

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“The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is the deadliest disaster in maritime history, with losses dwarfing the death tolls of the famous ships Titanic and Lusitania. Yet remarkably, most people have never heard of it”, Sepetys tells us why she wrote “Salt to the Sea” in the Author’s Note. The effort and extent of the research she went through, together with an impressive number of people, is truly admirable.

“Salt to the Sea” is a story of refuge to the west during the WWII. It dispels the myth that people in the West had it easy. Once again, as in “Between shades of gray”, Sepetys chooses to tell the story through the eyes of children and youth, who caused none of the atrocities, yet endured it all: “Abandoned or separated from their families, they were forced to battle the beast of war on their own, left with an inheritance of heartache and responsibility for events they had no role in causing.” Books like these acknowledge them in ways no history book does it. And this is why Sepetys deserves all my respect for her work.

“Out of the Easy” by Ruta Sepetys

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Yet another great piece by Ruta Sepetys. “Out of the Easy” takes us into the world of a daughter of a prostitute in New Orleans of 1950s.

A mysterious death, the life in a brothel, a strong madam character, blackmail and mobsters, friendship and romance, dreams and aspirations, authenticity of the New Orleans atmosphere and the warmth of human relations all come together for a truly gripping reading.

“Between shades of gray” by Ruta Sepetys

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“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth?” in this world. A watch of a grand father for the life of a young boy?

This is not an easy reading, as it permeates with human suffering beyond understanding. The plot unfolds in soviet Lithuania of 1941 and takes us on the forced journey of a Lithuanian family to Altai and, then next to the arctic circle. The unbelievable hurdles they go through and their stamina are humbling.

I lived in the soviet Union in the years of its glory and we knew nothing about the price people paid to build the infrastructure and resources we benefited from. It took years for the veil over repressions, forced labour, mass deportation to come down after the fall of the Berlin wall.

I am grateful to authors like Sepetys who do the research, talk to people who lived through it all and then put it on paper for us to read, even as historical fiction.

“The Fountains of Silence » by Ruta Sepetys

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Ruta Sepetys knows how to write a story. It was my first book by her. It was truly gripping, even for my ever busy brain. This novel is definitely one of my top 5 favorite fiction works.

An estimated 300,000 children were stolen from their birth parents and sold into adoption during and after the Franco regime in Spain. Sepetys made us see the story through the eyes of these children and their mothers. And she did that with a dignifying and respectful writing style. Some sceneries bring tears to eyes, some can make you laugh. I find it truly admirable that she manages to stay both proud and humble in her writing. I am looking forward to read more by her.

“A thousand years of good prayers” by Yiyun Li

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I am usually not a big fan of short stories. Yet, “A thousand years of good prayers” made me adore each story on their own unique merits.

The love story of Granny Lin in « Extra », the prison of shame in « After a life », the vulnerability to time of cultural figures in “Immortality”, the nobleness of keeping a promise in “Love in the Marketplace”, breaking away from the traditions in “Son”, emotional barriers to communication in “A thousands years of good prayers” are some of the themes we’ll find in the collection along with mythology and storytelling for a great authenticity of Chinese characters. In sum, such an exquisite mastery of the plots makes each story a fully fledged novel.

The interview with Yiyun Li included in this edition offers numerous insights and provides a glimpse into how she writes in her unique way. Highly recommended.

“Five quarters of the orange” by Joanne Harris

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Yet another wonderful piece from the author of “Chocolat“. I enjoyed reading both. Harris’ pen manages to touch my inner chords by her distinguished touch to all that makes us human: our fears, our hopes, our pain, our aspirations. Her characters feel alive. And the scenery is vivid as we glance through the pages of the book, even on a Kindle. I could easily relate to the characters of this novel, especially Boise (i.e. Framboise).

The story, told by Boise, develops on a small farm run by a widow battling mental health issues, while raising her three children, against the WWII background in rural France. I loved that Harris chose to narrate events through the eyes of a nine year old. War, violence, relationships, food, housework – they all look different to children and adults need to learn to respect that. The story line is on rewind and forward, from Boise’s childhood to her adulthood, to remind us not to judge by appearances, as we never fully know what others went through.