“So many things had a way of looking finer, when they were not so close.” is to me the light-motive of this novel. An estimated 30000 women were concealed, incarcerated and forced to labour in so-called Magdalene laundries run by the Catholic church with the tacit agreement of the Irish state. The last Magdalene house was closed down in 1996. The unanswered questions, the unseen lives of thousands of women and their children inspired the novel.
A work of historical fiction, it nevertheless seemed very realistic to me. The Irish way of speaking definitely helped me get into the atmosphere of the pre-Christmas period of 1985 in an Irish town. I looked at those laundries through the eyes of a father of five daughters, a coal and timber merchant, the main character of this book by the name of Bill Furlong. There is a very clear turning point in the otherwise steady life of this man when he asked himself the eternal question: “As they carried on along and met more people Furlong did and did not know, he found himself asking was there any point in being alive without helping one another? Was it possible to carry on along through all the years, the decades, through an entire life, without once being brave enough to go against what was there and yet call yourself a Christian, and face yourself in the mirror?” His rescue of a young woman from the Magdalene laundry triggered an insight into his own birth story. His mother and him could have had the same faith as these thousands of women if there would not have been for the big heart of their patron, who took care of them. And these are not small things at all when you think about it.
I lived across the border and we knew nothing about what was happening 150 km away. Maybe the adults knew some things, but it was never discussed in our presence. Romania was not spoken about. We only learned about Romanians in early nighties. When the Soviet Union fell, my mother travelled to Romania to sell basic food items, as many people from Moldova did. She was so upset by the poverty she saw there that she gave the sugar, pasta and rice for free to a Romanian, a mother like herself.
I love Sepetys’ writing because she gives a voice to those we will not read about in history books. She makes us aware about the way the history would be told by young and elderly, by mothers and sisters, by brothers and simple solders. I am always in awe about the extent of the research she does for her books and the time she takes to read, talk to people, ask questions and go into the depth of archives, in Romania in this case. All this to tell the story of a 17 year old Romanian in late 1989, the year of a Revolution which brought answers but also many questions. Historical fiction like this reminds us that “… history is nuanced, complicated, and doesn’t easily fit into defined categories” in the author’s own words.
Yet another delight from Elif Shafak. I loved it. Shafak guides the reader through intricacies of humanity with wit and love, compassion and wisdom. Her Istanbul became mine.
“The Architect’s Apprentice” is to me a love story, a story of brotherhood, a story of creation, a story of jealousy, a story of grandiose failures and humble beginnings. In other words, it is fully human. I found her characters authentic to the core.
I rejoiced yet another time in the tides of Safak’s wisdom. Here are a few of favourite quotes:
‘When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.’
“Little did he know, back then, that the worth of one’s faith depended not on how solid and strong it was, but on how many times one would lose it and still be able to get it back.”
“Centre of the universe was neither in the East nor in the West. It was where one surrendered to love.”
‘Truth is a butterfly: it lands on this flower and that. You run after it with a net. If you capture it, you are happy. But it won’t live long. Truth is a delicate thing.’
In her Autor’s Note, Shafak expresses “hope that this story, too, will flow like water in the hearts of its readers.” I definitely did in my heart.
The story of the war of Troy has been told and retold, yet never before it has been brought to light by the voices of its women. “The silence of the girls” is a historical fiction, yet aren’t all (his)stories fiction? The novel has something important to say and for me it’s the truth that (his)story would look differently if it would have been written by young girls and boys, parents, elderly or anyone on what we call “the loosing side”.
The author’s imagination takes us to places no longer on Earth, to minds of people we never knew existed. And Barker does so with so much respect that my own imagination worked slowly through the story of slavery to freedom, glory to dust, cruelty to honor under the light of lines written with microscopic truthfulness about human nature on Earth.
Haratischvili takes the reader through historical events on Georgian soil with the ease of a seasoned local. She introduces us to events as if she was there at that time: “It’s ten thirty on a beautiful sunny morning scented with cardamom, coffee, dust, and cloves, the kind of morning you will only find in Tbilissi.” That was the day Stalin robbed the Tsar’s carriage in plain day in the center of the town.
« The eighth life » could be the story of any family on Georgian soil, who had members living in Russia, as the events of those times joined and separated people of these two countries at most unexpected crossroads. And Haratischvili gives us the story with the intimate knowledge of someone who might have lived more than one life on earth. It is beautiful, touching and utterly brave.
Haratischvili does not take us on a simple straight journey. It is rather a carpet weaving as she adds characters and events to the story. And she does so because « I often used to wonder what would happen if the world’s collective memory had retained different things and lost others. If we had forgotten all the wars and all those countless kings, rulers, leaders, and mercenaries, and the only people to be read about in books were those who had built a house with their own hands, planted a garden, discovered a giraffe, described a cloud, praised the nape of a woman’s neck. I wondered how we know that the people whose names have endured were better, cleverer, or more interesting just because they’ve stood the test of time. What of those who are forgotten? » Yes, what about those?
Anyone wishing to understand more about recent history of Georgia and the reasons behind many of its current institutions should read “The eighth life ». And do that with an open mind, as our guide David said: «Nino was very considerate to the reader in presenting many facts of our recent history. She probably thought that it would be to complicated to grasp for those who have not lived through those times”.
“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.
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.
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.
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