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

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?

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

"We're not supposed to be friends, you and me. We're meant to be enemies. Did you know that? ”   The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

“We’re not supposed to be friends, you and me. We’re meant to be enemies. Did you know that? ” The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

Apparently the first draft of this book was written in just 3 days.  I have to say that doesn’t entirely surprise me.  It’s not that I don’t think the book is good, it’s just not the sort of story which demands a whole lot of research.  It’s subject matter is pretty straightforward and it’s style is quite simplistic.  At times, it’s a bit too simplistic for my liking, written as it is from the perspective of a 9 year old German boy during WW2.  There were times when I had to remind myself that kids then were a lot more innocent and naïve than they are today, but still I felt as if Bruno, our protagonist, seemed younger than 9. SO, TELL ME BRUNO’S STORY…

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

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?

A Prayer For Owen Meany – John Irving

“Never confuse faith, or belief—of any kind—with something even remotely intellectual.”

“Never confuse faith, or belief—of any kind—with something even remotely intellectual.”

Poor little Owen.  If you read this book you’ll know what I mean.  Offbeat and tender, this is the story of Owen Meany and his best friend, the narrator, John Wheelwright.  Owen is a peculiar child, he’s undersized with a squeaky voice and a strange aura about him.  Owen tries hard to fit in, yet he never quite can.

The story is told in two time frames, the first follows John as an adult in self imposed exile in Canada and bookends the second, far more intriguing story, which follows John and Owen as kids in small town New Hampshire.  John is middle class, kind of wimpy, unambitious and pre-occupied with the identity of his errant father.  Owen is working class, very intelligent and determined.  Owen is from a stable family background, but has a curious relationship with his parents, both of whom seems afraid of him. TELL ME MORE ABOUT THIS FREAKY KID