The President’s Last Love

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Read 28/11/2021-07/12/2021

Rating 3 stars

I started reading Andrey Kurkov’s books almost 20 years ago, starting with the first of his Penguin books, about an investigative journalist and the penguin he adopts from a closing zoo. I enjoyed his satire of life in a former Soviet state and its struggles with a post independence relationship with Russia. The President’s Last Love, translated by George Bird, is a more ambitious work that spans four decades and explores the trajectory of one man from street gang member to catering manager to president.

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Dead Souls

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Read 27/10/2021-17/11/2021

Rating 5 stars

Next on my literary tour of Europe, I’m off to Russia. Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls is set in an unspecified Russian provincial capital, only referred to as N—. This undefined location means that I can fudge my journey on the map and visit Kaliningrad. This city is also a Russian provincial capital, but in a small exclave of Russia that sits on the Baltic coast between Lithuania and Poland, the Kaliningrad Oblast. Continue reading

Random Thoughts: European Book Tour

Political map of Europe from vidiani.com

I’ve been perusing my stack of books that I have yet to read, and have decided that I’m going on another book trip. I enjoyed “holidaying” over the summer via the books I’d bought on recent holidays. As it’s unlikely that I’ll get to Europe for a while (thanks pandemic, thanks Brexit), I thought I’d knock a few titles off the stack that are by European authors and head off on a virtual tour of the continent.

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Hadji Murat

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Read 11/08/2021-18/08/2021

Rating 4 stars

Hadji Murat is Tolstoy’s final novel, drafted and redrafted between 1896 and 1904, going through eight iterations before the final version was created. It is an examination of war and political posturing between opposing cultures that has relevance to the world we live in today. Continue reading

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 Shadow Girls

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Read 25/05/2016-28/05/2016

Rating: 5 stars

Henning Mankell’s Wallander series is one of my favourite discoveries of recent years. We stumbled upon the Swedish film adaptations late one night (the ones starring Krister Henriksson, not Rolf Lassgård) and I sought out the books. It was love at first read. I love crime and detective fiction anyway, but this was different to what I was familiar with. Wallander was more human, more vulnerable, more honestly ridiculous than most other middle aged, emotionally dysfunctional male detectives that populate the genre. He was those things as well, but he reflected on his inadequacies and used his job as a distraction and a proof that he wasn’t all bad. He also reflected on the nature of the crimes he investigated, not willing to pass them off as the inevitable actions of bad people, but recognising changes in society as an underlying cause. Wallander isn’t a hard boiled cop, he’s a cop with a conscience. The life Mankell built for him outside work was as richly described as his professional one, making him more real. I cared about him. For anyone who hasn’t read the series, I won’t give away the ending, but I will admit that I cried.

I’ve read other books by Mankell, too. I loved Italian Shoes and The Return of the Dancing Master. The Man from Beijing wasn’t my favourite, but it was readable. Mankell also had a passion for Africa and spent a lot of time there, developing a theatre company in Mozambique. He was politically active and supported social justice. He wrote a few novels based on his experiences in Africa, and when I went to change my books at the library recently, I decided to give one a try. I picked up The Shadow Girls, which is about refugees and immigration. Continue reading

Random thought: Una Stubbs loves Crime and Punishment too

I love Una Stubbs. Forget those silly boys dashing about London solving mysteries, she makes Sherlock for me.

She’s more than Mrs Hudson, though. She’s the cheeky foil to Cliff Richard who knows how to dance. She’s an expert at charades. Her episode of Who Do You Think You Are is one of the best they’ve ever done.

She’s in The Guardian today doing the Q&A. Quite aside from learning she despises Tony Blair, I love her even more today because she knows that you don’t need a fancy pants education to read Crime and Punishment (have I mentioned that it’s my favourite book in the world? Oh, I have?).