Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life In Wartime Sarajevo – Zlata Filipović

Zlata's Diary - a true account of life in wartorn Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic

Zlata’s Diary – a true account of life in wartorn Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic

Yet again, I must confess to buying this book for purely shallow reasons.  I used to work in a charity shop and this book sat on the shelf for so long that I began to feel sorry for it and so bought it myself.  This isn’t a novel, but a diary kept between 1991 and 1993 by Zlata Filipović, an 11 year old girl (born in 1980) living in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. EEK, SOUNDS A BIT LIKE ANNE FRANK! BUT DOES SHE SURVIVE

Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol

Dead Souls.  A very intriguing title, I'm sure you'll agree.

Dead Souls. A very intriguing title, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I’m not gonna lie to you, I first picked up this book because I like Gogol Bordello and found out they were named after this author. I googled the author, thought this book sounded interesting and downloaded it to my Kindle.  I wish I could tell you that I was just interested in Gogol’s satirical representation of Soviet mentality, but the truth I just like pop music.

Saying that, I did genuinely like the storyline here.  The basic premise is this:  Chichikov is a fraudster.  That’s not a spoiler by the way, we are privy to this information from the beginning.  He travels around Russia buying up ‘dead souls’.  Continue reading

The Lord Of The Flies – William Golding

The Lord Of The Flies.  Did you know that is a literal translation of Beelzebub?  No, neither did I.

The Lord Of The Flies. Did you know that is a literal translation of Beelzebub? No, neither did I.

Oh this is a horrible book, but I love it!  Actually, the book isn’t horrible, the characters are.  What would happen in a society without adults?  As a kid, I used to dream of a world without authority, as I’m sure all kids do.  Turns out, that world is vile, sick and disturbing.

So what happens?  Basically, a plane crashes on a non-specific island in the Pacific leaving only preadolescent boys as survivors.  Three of these boys become the main characters in the book, Ralph – a level-headed leader, Piggy – an overweight bespectacled outsider and Jack – basically a bully.  Whereas Ralph is representative of order and civilisation, Piggy, as the most intellectual of the boys represents adult reason.  Jack represents all that is animalistic in human nature.

During their time on the island all the boys come to fear the ‘beast’ – a figment of their imagination brought on by their isolation.  In order to appease this beast, the boys make an offering of the ‘Lord Of The Flies’ – a decapitated pigs head, maniacally grinning as it rots on a pole.

When Simon (representative of innocence) tries to reason with the others about the existence of the beast, they turn on him, believing him to be the beast and savagely tear him apart.  After this, there is no going back, as brutality and depravity reign.  Can Ralph and Piggy restore order to their bloodthirsty comrades?  Not very likely!

Focusing as it does on young boys, this wasn’t a book that really appealed to me and I put off reading it for ages, only giving in as it’s on the BBC’s Book Challenge List.  How glad am I that I gave in?!  It’s excellent.  Disturbing and sadistic, but what a book!  This is the sort of book that once read will never be forgotten.  It’s style is easy to read and as such it’s regularly on the English Literature’s GCSE syllabus across the UK. The themes discussed are as relevant across society today as when the book was written in 1954.  It’s a story that’s keeps being reinvented and appealing to new audiences, with successes such as Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.  Beyond all the brutality and vileness, The Lord Of The Flies is an adventure story with the boys battling for survival and, ultimately rescue.  What they lose in the process is their humanity, reason and innocence.

Sample Text:

“The pile of guts was a black blob of flies that buzzed like a saw. After a while these flies found Simon. Gorged, they alighted by his runnels of sweat and drank. They tickled under his nostrils and played leapfrog on his thighs. They were black and iridescent green and without number; and in front of Simon, the Lord of the Flies hung on his stick and grinned. At last Simon gave up and looked back; saw the white teeth and dim eyes, the blood—and his gaze was held by that ancient, inescapable recognition.”

Further Reading:

If you like reading about the savageness of youth you might like The Wasp Factory

If you like the struggle for survival you might like The Grapes Of Wrath

If you like the theme of lost humanity you might like Heart Of Darkness

If you like reading about a lawless society you might like The Stand

The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

“...if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom...”

“…if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom…”

Written in 1850 but set in 1642, The Scarlet Letter is the story of Hester Prynne, a single mother in puritanical Boston.  Hester was married, but her husband is presumed dead, missing at sea on his voyage over to the USA and so, when she has a child out of wedlock it’s too much for the puritans to accept.  She is punished publicly, forced to stand on public display for several hours and then imprisoned.  Furthermore, for the rest of her life she must wear a red letter A on all her clothes (A for Adulterer).

Whilst on public display Hester spots her ‘dead’ husband in the crowd.  He enquires what her crime is, and, unable to bear the shame, he assumes a new identity, Roger Chillingworth.  Chillingworth poses as a physician and, together with Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, visits Hester in prison in order to question her about the child’s father.  Hester refuses to speak.  In private, Chillingworth then tells her that if she ever reveals his true identity he will find and kill the child’s father. SO, WHO’S THE DADDY?

Everything Is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

“I don't think that there are any limits to how excellent we could make life seem.”  Everything Is Illuminated

“I don’t think that there are any limits to how excellent we could make life seem.” Everything Is Illuminated

I admit it, I’m totally fickle.  I bought this book purely because I like the front cover.  My local charity shop sells books for 20p so I can afford to do this and it’s something I’d recommend doing occasionally as you never know what gems you might find.

Straight away with this book I was sold.  The opening chapter is narrated by Alex, a young Ukrainian who has been hired to translate for Jonathon Safran Foer, an American Jew.  Jonathon has travelled to Ukraine to seek out Augustine, a woman who helped his grandfather escape the Nazis.  Although the author himself features in the book, it is fictional.  The book unravels in three strands – the first is Alex’s description of escorting ‘Jon fen’ around Ukraine, with his faux-blind grandfather as driver and stinking ‘seeing eye bitch’ Sammy Davis Junior Junior, in the search for Augustine.  SO…DO THEY EVER FIND HER?

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

“Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."

“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

So, I’ve been working my way through the BBC’s Book List challenge and there’s several books I’ve been putting off reading.  War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Ulysses etc.  I think you can probably guess why I’m putting off reading them!  But I’d also been putting off Catch 22.  Not for the same reasons though, I wanted to save it so I’d still have a fun book to read amongst all those weighty classics.  In the end I gave in, I wanted to see what I’ve been missing out on all this time. SO…WAS IT WORTH THE WAIT?

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Brave New World.  More original than 1984

Brave New World. More original than 1984

Before 1984, before The Handmaids Tale and even before The Hunger Games (imagine that kids!)  there was Brave New World.  Written in 1931 the novel was originally written as a parody of HG Wells’ utopian books and in response the political climate after WW1.  Reflecting on the book’s progress, Huxley himself admitted ‘I got caught up in the excitement of my own ideas’ and the result is a terrifyingly prophetic tale. SO WHAT’S THE PREMISE?