Tag Archives: novel

“Honour” by Elif Shafak

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Honour. Think about this word. “An action of honoring or paying respect to; act or gesture displaying reverence or esteem; state or condition inspiring respect; nobleness of character or manners; high station or rank; a mark of respect or esteem; a source of glory, a cause of good reputation.” Sounds heavy, obliging, demanding, and in total opposition to “humble”.

What do you honor by killing? Can you get rid of guilt of killing for honour? … this novel raises so many questions from a variety of perspectives. What is “honour” to a sister, a daughter, a loving son, an unforgiving son, a wife, a community of the same faith, a society of many faiths… I loved the story line, and the dual timelines, and every single character. Shafak is a unique writer to me, as she breaths the life into her characters as if she lived each of their stories separately and then jointly. And she does so with grace and humility.

“The Secrets we left behind” by Soraya M. Lane

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I am very much enjoying books telling stories from the perspective of vulnerable. « The secrets we left behind » tells the story of British nurses left behind during the army’s evacuation from France at the beggining of the WWII. Cate, a brave nurse and Jack, her rescued patient, meet two French sisters who shelter them under the nose of Germans. The story takes time to unfold, so you might need to be patient at the beginning. The author tried to show us that even during unbelivable hurdles humans can fall in love. I found though this part a bit overboard, perhaps because all female characters fell in love one after another.

The background scenery serves well its purpose, so that the mind can picture and place the characters in Normandie at the time of the action.

« The Bastard of Istanbul » by Elif Shafak

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An Armenian family, a Turkish family, United States, Turkey, past and present and the unspoken atrocities of what was done… « The Bastard of Istanbul » is not a light, entertaining reading. I have enormous admiration for the unbiased way Shafak tells us the story with love and respect to all concerned.

“The Architect’s Apprentice” by Elif Shafak

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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.

“Three Daughters of Eve” by Elif Shafak

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I found this novel enchanting and best absorbed together with a mug of coffee with a pinch of nutmeg. Three female characters. A quest for God. A professor as a guide. Traditions and chains. Beliefs and confusion. Freedom and peace. Love and betrayal. Religion and faith. West and East. Luxury and poverty. … Only Elif Shafak can entangle them all for each of us to find what we are looking for.

My favorite quotes:

“There’s no wisdom without love. No love without freedom. And no freedom unless we dare to walk away from what we have become.”

“The degree of one’s emotions varies inversely with one’s knowledge of the facts.”, quoting Russell.

« Certainty was to curiosity what the sun was to the wings of Icarus. Where one shone forcefully, the other couldn’t survive. With certainty came arrogance; with arrogance, blindness; with blindness, darkness; and with darkness, more certainty. »

« Believers favour answers over questions, clarity over uncertainty. Atheists, more or less the same. Funny, when it comes to God, Whom we know next to nothing about, very few of us actually say, ‘I don’t know.’ »

“The silence of the girls” by Pat Barker

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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.

“The eighth life” by Nino Haratischvili

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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”.

“Ten Things About Writing” by Joanne Harris

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Joanne Harris knows a thing or two about writing, as a world renown author and the Chair of the Society of Authors. I was delighted to discover her book about writing. I love it when people are generous in sharing their knowledge.

The book will take you into the insights of the writing process from start to the publication and beyond. It will unveil the secrets of what makes a story, characterisation and detailing. And it is all written with honesty and no-non-sense. Joanne is incredibly encouraging towards aspiring writers: “Remember, … , that just writing is an act of bravery. You have the courage to do what it takes to give your voice the chance to be heard. Don’t do it because you want to be the next J.K. Rowling, or Maya Angelou, or Margaret Atwood. Those are already taken. Do it because your voice is unique. Only you can take this chance. No one else will ever be you, or tell your story the way you can”.

After this book, I also realized that I am more demanding as a reader. Joanne is right. If after 10 pages I am not fully absorbed by the story or if the author states the obvious (“the rain is wet” ), I will close the book and look for something else to read.

“Independent people” by Halldor Laxness

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“Do yourself a favour and read Independent People. Opening this book is like opening a chest of treasures.”. – Chicago Tribune. Indeed, though arm yourself with a ton of patience, I would say. This was not a fun reading and I suspect it was not a fun translation job. It has to be said that the English translation by J. A. THOMPSON is considered one of the finest into any language of Laxness’s masterpiece.

The main character, Bjartur, requires a lot of patience. His stubbornness is monumental and costs him his wives and children’s lives. His idea of an independent man as an owner of sheep and land is explained at length against the background of economic rise and fall of Iceland during the WWI and shortly after. At some point, the novel felt like a economics and political science book, which was rather annoying, as it did not seem to add to the understanding of the character. Nevertheless, the value of the book of this author awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and its translation in English remains indisputable.

“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.