Guernica – Dave Boling

Guernica by Dave Boling.  War, romance, comedy and horror.  What more can you want?

Guernica by Dave Boling. War, romance, comedy and horror. What more can you want?

The bombing of Guernica is rightly recognised as one of the most shocking and inhumane raids in modern warfare.  The German Luftwaffe dropped bombs on a defenceless civilian population, allegedly for experimental purposes.  As many facts and figures as history books can tell us, as many horrors as they describe, we read with a slightly detached view.  By introducing individual characters, people who have a back story and a future and a family and a personality can we understand how it would feel to be part of such devastation. IT’S NOT GOING TO END WELL IS IT?

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Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernières

Captain Corelli's Mandolin “History is the propaganda of the victors.”

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
“History is the propaganda of the victors.”

Unusually this book was recommended to me by both my Mum and my Dad.  They tend to have very different tastes in literature so I suppose I initially read this out of curiosity.  It was the first De Bernières book I’d read and I had no expectations at all.  I began reading it whilst living abroad, hanging out in cafes, being very continental, bohemian etc.  This was a mistake…

At one point I started crying in a café.  Another time my friends turned up halfway through the last chapter.  I couldn’t wait to get home to read it, so after a fun night with my friends, I sat in a shop doorway and read the last few pages by the light of the lampposts.  Very few books have stayed with me as much as this one.  Ok, so it’s a bit schmaltzy and not entirely historically accurate, but it’s a good story so who cares.

Corelli is an Italian Captain, sent to Kefalonia during WW2 with the occupying forces.  He is met with resistance from the locals (perfectly understandable) until his charm and charisma win them over (not too believable, but I’ll let it slide).  Actually, he is charming.  I’d hang out with him.

Corelli is not a conscientious soldier. He wants, as much as possible, to have a peaceful war.  He doesn’t care about the Nazis or Hitler and would much rather discuss Puccini than politics.  His music is his first passion.  Then he meets Pelagia, a local girl who is engaged to a member of the resistance.  So far so Romeo and Juliet / love across the divide!

It’s essentially a love story, but there’s different forms of love at work here.  The love between Dr Iannis and his daughter Pelagia, the love between Corelli and Pelagia, Carlo’s love for Corelli, and the love and support of the community for each other.

De Bernières has a great imagination for character creation.  All of his characters are colourful and intriguing.  There’s none of his familiar magical realism here but it’s not needed.  This is a story about the impact of war on ordinary people.  These are the stories you’ll never find in the history books, yet the ones which truly bring home the horror and loss suffered.

I’ve read this book twice now (so far) and each time, I’ve laughed and cried at the same parts and loved the characters more each time.  Do yourself a favour and read it.  In fact, do yourself two favours: read the book and avoid the film.  Nicholas Cage?  What were they thinking?!

Sample Text:

“When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day. It is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body. No… don’t blush. I am telling you some truths. For that is just being in love; which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? But it is!”

Further Reading:

If you like a good wartime romance you might like Guernica

If you like a long-drawn out wartime romance you might like A Town Like Alice

If you like reading about life under occupation you might like The Moon Is Down

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?

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

72rebecca1Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .

Few novels have such a recognisable opening line.  A Tale Of Two Cities perhaps, and Pride and Prejudice.  Already in the opening line, there is atmosphere.  We never learn the name of the narrator, she is simply the second Mrs De Winter.  Naïve, vulnerable and young, whilst working in Monte Carlo she meets and is romanced by Maxim De Winter who marries her and takes her back to his stately home, Manderley.  There she is greeted by Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper, a character so deliciously evil and manipulative she undermines our narrator at every available opportunity OOH, I LIKE A GOOD BADDIE, TELL ME MORE…

The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

Meh!  I wouldn't bother to be honest.

Meh! I wouldn’t bother, to be honest.

On paper, this book totally appeals to me, mystery, romance, history – 3 things I enjoy in a novel.  Yet somehow it just didn’t work.  I’m not sure why, I just didn’t get it.

The primary story is set during WW2 in Italy. Hana, a Canadian nurse is living out the war in an abandoned villa, filled with hidden bombs (sensible?)  She has a patient there with her, who has a strong English accent (hence the title) but he is so badly burned she has no way of identifying him.  He remembers his explorations into the North African desert in great detail but cannot say his own name.  Also in the villa is Caravaggio, a spy friend of Hana’s father, who was killed in the war.  Like the patient, Caravaggio is addicted to morphine.  Lucky for them they have a nurse with a handy supply!

After a time, two British soldiers turn up at the villa, one of whom is Kip, an Indian sapper who quickly becomes friends with the patient. Encouraged to reveal his story, the patient unveils the tale of how he came to be there… SO, WHAT IS HIS STORY?

Memoirs Of A Geisha – Arthur Golden

Memoirs Of A Geisha - I thought it would be boring but, turns out I was wrong!

Memoirs Of A Geisha – I thought it would be boring, but turns out I was wrong!

This is the story of Chiyo Sakamoto, better known by her geisha name of Nitta Sayuri.  As a young girl, Chiyo is sold to an okiya (boarding house) in Gion  which is where her miseries begin.  Bullied by their housemate Hastumomo, Chiyo and her friend Pumpkin dream of becoming famous geisha in order to escape the life of a servant.  More importantly, Chiyo longs to find the Chairman, the only adult to have shown her true kindness since she arrived in Gion.

Several years later Chiyo is chosen as the protégé of Mameha, a beautiful and clever geisha who is also Hatsumomo’s greatest rival.  As Mameha plans to destroy Hatsumomo’s career she pays extra attention to Chiyo’s (by now known as Sayuri) development.  Through their work as geisha, Mameha and Sayuri once again come into contact with the Chairman and his business partner Nobu. BUT WILL THE CHAIRMAN REMEMBER HER?