The Island of Missing Trees

Elif Shafak’s part-magical realism novel about family, ancestry, war and the inner thoughts of trees is a wonderful wintery read. The Island of Missing Trees crossed my path thanks to Emma’s review at Em with Pen. Emma’s thoughts on the novel made me want to read it, so I reserved it at the library.

The story starts with a history of an island divided by war. The island is Cyprus, its long history bound up with legend, its recent history one of violence. In a well lies a pocket watch and the chained together bodies of the joint owners of a tavern. The tavern is significant to the story in this novel.

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Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain

Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain is a scholarly tome from the team at the Hepworth Wakefield. Written to accompany an exhibition there in 2018, which I didn’t see, it attempts to position the photographer Lee Miller at the heart of the British surrealist movement in the 1930s and 1940s.

I can’t remember where I first encountered Miller’s photography. It was in an exhibition many years ago. I recall seeing solarised images she had made in collaboration with Man Ray alongside the photographs she took as a war correspondent during and at the end of the Second World War. I bought a postcard of her image ‘Portrait of Space’, depicting a landscape seen through a torn piece of netting with an empty picture frame hovering over the sky, because it made me think of Magritte. I was drawn by the framing and lighting of her images, that borrowed from the world of fashion she had experienced as a model and that also had a theatrical feel to them.

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Japanese Fairy Tales

Yei Theodora Ozaki’s translated compendium of Japanese fairy tales is a charming read. Published in 1903 and now out of copyright, I got mine from the Kindle store a while ago for free. It’s also available to download or read for free on Project Gutenberg.

In her introduction, Ozaki explains that she wanted to bring the world of Japanese fairy tales to a western audience and her selection of twenty-two stories is based on Sadanami Sanjin/Sazanami Iwaya’s Meiji era collection for children, with a few tales from other sources. Ozaki rewrote the stories into English with a younger audience in mind. While some are gentle in tone, the fact that they are for children is no guarantee that violence and brutality won’t make an appearance. Some of the stories are quite shocking and upsetting in their cruelty. I suppose an argument can be made that nature and the world are cruel and brutal things, and these stories are reflections of that. I don’t think it’s a collection that I would put in front of a child today, despite knowing what I was like as a child and how much I loved spooky stories.

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Saving Lucia

When I plucked Saving Lucia from my To Read pile, I wasn’t expecting another time travelling novel that takes imagination and rethinks reality. I also wasn’t expecting such a slim book to be so dense with ideas and feelings.

The Lucia of the title of Anna Vaught’s book is the daughter of James Joyce, incarcerated in St Andrew’s Hospital for Mental Diseases in Northampton in 1953. One of her fellow residents is the Honourable Violet Gibson, daughter of a Lord Chancellor of Ireland and famous for her attempted assassination attempt on Benito Mussolini. Violet makes it the work of her last few years to save Lucia from the pain of life in a psychiatric institution.

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This Time Tomorrow

I reserved This Time Tomorrow at the library back in August and it came up for collection last week. It crossed my radar thanks to Jeanne’s review at Necromancy Never Pays and how she described the character development and story arc.

It’s a time travel story, but a very specific form of time travel, where the traveller always goes back to the same moment in their past before returning to their present. A sort of revisiting the action embedded and refracted in memory to see it from a different angle and see if a change might be made. It made for a nice fit with the last book I read and the thoughts that presented on memory.

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A Pale View of Hills

A Pale View of Hills concerns Etsuko, a Japanese woman living in England, and the story of her past in Nagasaki. It opens with a visit from her daughter, Niki, and a conversation about her older daughter, Niki’s half-sister Keiko. This conversation triggers a memory for Etsuko of when she was pregnant with Keiko and developed a friendship with a strange, independent woman living in a run down old cottage with her young daughter.

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The Communist Manifesto

I’ve had a copy of The Communist Manifesto on my e-reader for years. In the first year of my Economics and Economic & Social History degree, I did a module on political philosophy. I work at a museum that documents the times that Marx and Engels were writing in/against/for/about. Somehow I have lived for more than half a century without reading this prime text for anyone who claims to be socialist.

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The Rings of Saturn

The Rings of Saturn by W G Sebald is a novel disguised as a travel book, recording a walk along the Suffolk coast and inland to Norfolk but also documenting local culture, the interplay between people and landscape, and how transient life is. I read Sebald’s Vertigo a few years ago and loved it, and have wanted to read more by Sebald since.

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