A Gentleman in Moscow

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Read 29/04/2017-30/04/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room March Madness Challenge

I’ve been itching for an excuse to read A Gentleman in Moscow for a while, so I was pleased when it came up as one of the reads for the March Madness Challenge over at The Reader’s Room. I was even more pleased when my local library accepted my request for it to be added to their stock. It only arrived on Thursday, though, so I didn’t have much time to read it in. Fortunately, it was gripping.

Now that I’ve read some Zweig, every time I think a novel reminds me of a Wes Anderson film, I’m going to remind myself that it’s Zweig I’m thinking of.

The beginning of A Gentleman in Moscow made me think of Zweig. Moscow in 1923. The early days of the Bolshevik regime. Sasha Rostov, who may or may not have been on the side of the revolutionaries before they brought down the bourgeoisie, finds himself firmly viewed as an opponent of The People, if not quite their enemy. Continue reading

The Essex Serpent

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Read 15/04/2017-20/04/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room March Madness Challenge

Although the book opens with the mysterious death of a young man in a section of the Blackwater river that flows through Essex to the North Sea, possibly killed by an ancient creature freed from its riverbed prison, The Essex Serpent is a story about a woman and the life she chooses to lead beyond the constraints of conventional Victorian society. Cora Seaborne is a complex and strong willed woman who has had much to contend with in her life already. Continue reading

Nora Webster

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Read 12/04/2017-15/04/2017

Rating: 2.5 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room March Madness Challenge

I didn’t enjoy this book. I was looking forward to it, because I’d enjoyed Brooklyn and Nora Webster is set in the same town, Enniscorthy, that Elly Lacey leaves for Brooklyn. I had no patience with the title character in this companion piece.

There was something lackluster about the writing, almost as though Tóibín was too familiar with the characters and setting, and couldn’t be bothered injecting any passion into the narrative. It felt too safe, steadily going along, describing one woman’s life in the aftermath of her husband’s death. I found my mind wandering as I read. Continue reading

Hidden Figures

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Read 07/04/2017-10/04/2017

Rating: 4 stars

What I wanted was for them to have the grand, sweeping narrative that they deserved, the kind of American history that belongs to the Wright Brothers and the astronauts, to Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King Jr. Not told as a separate history, but as a part of the story we all know. Not at the margins, but at the very center, the protagonists of the drama. And not just because they are black, or because they are women, but because they are part of the American epic.

So says Margot Lee Shetterly in the prologue to her history of the black female mathematicians working at NASA from the 1940s onwards. Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia. Her father was an engineer at Langley, working for NASA. She grew up among the women who worked alongside her father as human computers. Until a chance remark made by her father on a visit Shetterly made with her husband in 2010, she had no idea about the pioneering work these black women carried out, or about just how many black women worked at NASA. And so began her research into the subject. Continue reading

Homegoing

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Read 01/04/2017-07/04/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room March Madness Challenge

Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel is an ambitious one. It charts the lives of two half-sisters from Ghana who have very different experiences of slavery. The book sets off in the 18th century and follows the descendants of each sister to see how slavery impacted on African women depending on the form their slavery took. Continue reading

Grief is the Thing with Feathers

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Read 30/03/2017-31/03/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room March Madness Challenge.

I was in two minds about reading this book, but I’m glad I did. It’s sad and raw, but funny, too, in its sorrowful sweetness. The melancholy and the magic of the ugly, sarcastic, relentless Crow made me think of the Thistledown Man in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Something in the way death has a mysticism about it, and grief makes you believe strange things about reality, and the chosen embodiment of grief is as harsh as is necessary. In grief, nothing matters and everything matters. Grieving is very personal and hard to explain, but at the same time it’s universal. For me, Grief is the Thing with Feathers encapsulated that very well. Continue reading

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

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Read 24/03/2017-30/03/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room March Madness Challenge.

In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien tells a family saga lived through the tumult of political upheaval in Communist China. The story moves from Canada in 1989, in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square student-led rebellion, to China in the years following the Communist victory in the civil war, through the land reforming Great Leap Forward to Mao’s Cultural Revolution and on to the events that took place in and around Tiananmen Square. It’s a political novel, but in a quiet way. It talks about loss of beauty as well as loss of freedom. It talks of how music inhabits us, is part of everything we do, has a power in people’s lives every bit as potent as politics. It talks about the violence of politics under an autocratic regime, but matter of factly. It is a thing that happens, it is devastating, but life goes on. Continue reading