Category Archives: Books

“The Confessions of Catherine de Medici” by C.W. Gortner

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Do you ever wonder how things really happened down the history path? As stories were told and told, written and re-written, translated and interpreted, which parts are really true? We will only know it to some extent and that only if we really want to.

I picked up the novel because the author made an effort to find out more than just what remained in the “official” history. He researched the correspondence of those times and letters written by this amazing women, a mother of nine, who survived her husband and 7 of her children, while reigning a country torn apart by bloody religious wars between men who called themselves “Christians”.

Historians chose to depict her as a cold-blooded poisoner and author of the infamous St Bartholomew night in Paris. If you want to learn more and debunk some myths surrounding this famous historical figure, then this novel will take you through Catherine’s tough childhood as an orphan, her ascend to the French throne, her international diplomatic skills, her sacrifices as a mother to save her children and the Valois dynasty, her titanic efforts to bring peace by promoting religious tolerance, her contributions to the French art and architecture, among many many more.

“A gift in December” by Jenny Gladwell

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Cheesy romance are not my thing. Unless they are cheesy-Roquefort-ian.

This novel was perfect for December evenings: a wartime love story of two spies, a journalist investigation, a group of bloggers, journalists and a TV star on a Christmas tree cutting trip to Norway, sharp English humour, a bit of deception and advantage taking, all with a masterly stroke of the pen.

“A year in Provence” by Peter Mayle

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12 months of life in Provence told by an Englishman who relocated there with his wife and two dogs. They moved to slow down. Slowly they learned that “slow-down” has a meaning of its own in Provence. “Normalement” is a measure of time, making each deadline nothing but a dream. The Mayles learned it through endless repairs of the house and the maintaining of the farm.

The pace of the book is superb, as Mayle takes the reader through local traditions of hunting, goat races, wine and oil making, to neighbours interactions and most gourmet pauses outside the regular touristic circuits.

I live in France and after reading the book I realised how diverse the country is. Rural and urban mind-sets live on different timescales and values chains. Yet, with a great deal of sense of humour mixed with a bottle of good wine, one can make it alright, as Meyers show us. I now officially make the chapter on December my Christmas day reading. It is beyond funny and entertaining. “Appy Christmas” and “Bonne Annee!”

“Just Mercy. A story of justice and redemption” by Bryan Stevenson

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The book had a humbling effect on me. Bryan STEVENSON, founder of Equal Justice Initiative, is a trully remarkable personality. He achieved remarkable things in overturning century old court practices where black and poor, white and poor stood no chance.

The book was fascinating to read as it was written from the juncture where the author exquisitely brought the criminal justice public policies, law, justice and the lives of ordinary Americans. As Bryan puts it: “I worked in a broken system of justice. My clients were broken by mental illness, poverty, and racism. They were torn apart by disease, drugs and alcohol, pride, fear, and anger.”

The narrative is so human that it makes you shed tears of joy for the won legal battles and tears of sadness for lives lost on the death rows. “Why do we want to kill all the broken people? What is wrong with us, that we think a thing like that can be right?” Broken Americans suffering from serious mental illness, abused and neglected children, traumatised mothers, disabled, drugs dependent …

“My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.” Then read this “a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent” And think about it. It triggers a revolt, when in development management contexts, that system is proclaimed as the best to follow. A bit of sobriety is a must. Despite America’s preeminent status among developed nations, it has always struggled with high rates of infant mortality. And it then creates a hysteria around “bad mothers” all to eager to incarcerate them.

My favourite part:

‘I began thinking about what would happen if we all just acknowledged our brokenness, if we owned up to our weaknesses, our deficits, our biases, our fears. Maybe if we did, we wouldn’t want to kill the broken among us who have killed others. Maybe we would look harder for solutions to caring for the disabled, the abused, the neglected, and the traumatized.”

Maybe.

“The orphan master’s son” by Adam Johnson

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I knew very little about North Korea before I read this novel.

I paused for a long moment, when I finished the book.

Adam Johnson researched for a long period the country and the period. He was allowed to visit it once, under close scrutiny. Hence the realism of characters and depiction of events. In a recent history of the country when human life was worth nothing, Johnson puts is upfront.

The protagonist is such a complex character. At a first impression, it is incredible that a human being can go through so many things and with such an intensity. Hunger, bitter cold, deprivations, pain training,  “re-birth” as a national hero and then – a regime’s general, love, torture and  annihilation. His character is a tribute to all Koreans who suffered, struggled, loved and made sacrifices in times of extreme tyranny and harsh repression.

The genre is so nuanced and complex that I would not give it a name: is it a thriller, a love story, a political dystopia? Perhaps “trauma narrative”, as Johnson himself puts it is the closest to the dominant genre. And stay assured, it is no trauma-drama. It is poignant and respective of all the suffering of all concerned.

The novel is a compassion booster and a reminder that one never knows what a person has been through. Be kind.

“Now we shall be entirely free” by Andrew Miller

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Reading this book was like drinking my carrot-apple-beetroot juice. It was not particularly easy to “digest”, yet it was great for learning from the writer’s style. It was the Costa award of the author, which sold it to me.

The author takes you through war, honour, love and camradery, dedication and pursuit of happiness, revenge and selflessness, all mixed with mistery and a touch of thriller.

The main character is a British army officer, who did what he could in a shamefull campaign in Spain in 1800s, and who was not afraid to admit his part in less than honourable acts, for the sake of keeping the love of a woman he adored.

“Across many mountains” by Yangzom Brauen

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“Across many mountains” tells a story of a family who had to flee Tibet to escape the Chinese regime. It is narrated by Yangzom, born to a Tibetan mother and a Swiss father. It is a memoir of three generations.

I learned many new things about Tibetan culture, religion, social structures and Institutions. As the author herself puts it “that’s why I have written this book, in an attempt to prevent the culture, traditions and true story of Mola and Amala’s country from being forgotten.”, as the life of Tibetan refugees and their descendants on foreign lands takes precedence over their native food, beliefs, faith and way of life.

The author touches upon the internal divide of Tibetan people over autonomy vs independence and their struggle to keep the international attention to Tibet and Chinese invasion. It is a personal account, so I understand why some lines befriend cautiousness in expressing views. Still, it requires courage to put on paper the account of Chinese regime’s acts and their impact on Tibetans’ lives.