The Book of Ramallah

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Read 29/05/2022-02/06/2022

Rating 5 stars

Comma Press in Manchester publishes a series called Reading the City, in which stories from cities around the world are brought together in an anthology, often stories that have not been translated into English before. I picked up The Book of Ramallah at the recent Northern Publishers’ Fair at Manchester Central Library.

During the pandemic, I’d watched Mayor, the 2020 documentary by David Osit that follows Mousa Hadid as Mayor of Ramallah over a two year period. Hadid comes across as that rare thing – a man of honour in politics. It’s a moving, funny, heartwarming look at what it means to be a Palestinian in a city hemmed in by occupation. It made me want to know more about Ramallah. This collection seemed a good place to start. Continue reading

The Silence of the Sea

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Read 07/04/2022

Rating 4 stars

The Silence of the Sea is a novella of occupation and resistance. It was published in German-occupied France in 1942, not quite two years after the occupation began. Its author, Jean Bruller, wrote it in roughly eight months, publishing under the pseudonym Vercors. I borrowed a bilingual edition from the library that reproduces the definitive French text published in 1964 alongside Cyril Connolly’s 1944 translation into English. Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation: From The End of the Affair to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Here we are at the first Saturday in March, meaning it’s time for Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

The starting book for this month’s chain is Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, about extramarital love in a time of war. Although I haven’t read this one, I like Graham Greene’s writing and am interested in reading this novel at some point.

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Six Degrees of Separation: From No One Is Talking About This to Pachinko

January disappeared quickly, which is most unlike it. Here we are at the first Saturday in February, which makes it time for Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

This month, Kate has chosen a recent novel that made the Booker shortlist last year, No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I haven’t read it myself, but I have read other people’s opinions of it.

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The Radetzky March

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Read 02/01/2022-09/01/2022

Rating 5 stars

Onwards in my European literary tour to Austria. Joseph Roth was born in a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now in Ukraine, but studied in Vienna and is considered to be an Austrian writer. I have his novel The Radetzky March in a Folio edition, which is no longer in print.

The Radetzky March is considered to be a political masterpiece that draws parallels between the elevation and subsequent fall of a military family and the decline and eventual collapse of the Habsburg monarchy. The focus of the novel is the Trotta family, Austro-Hungarians of Slovenian origin, the patriarch of whom rescues Emperor Franz Joseph I from death during the Battle of Solferino. This earns him an elevation to the nobility and the title Baron Trotta von Sipolje.

It’s a funny book that captures the camaraderie of military life, the ridiculous nature of civil service life, the generational changes in parent-child relationships, and the curious rigidity of friendship between men of a certain class. Having studied the causes of the First World War at school, it also provided a different, more social context to the political one I garnered from O Level text books in the 1980s.

It’s also a poetic book, in the way Roth describes landscape, seasons, thoughts and emotions. His turn of phrase is perfection. I loved the lightness of his touch, the humour and fondness for his characters, and the way he skewers the social structures of the time, while simultaneously mourning their passing. Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation: From Rules of Civility to Daisy Miller

It’s 2022, so a Happy New Year to you. 1 January was also the first Saturday of the month, making it time for Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Our starting book this month is one that I included in my January chain two years agoRules of Civility by Amor Towles. This is a book I read before I started this blog. It was recommended to me by a good friend in New York, and I loved it.

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The Invisible Bridge

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Read 08/12/2021-27/12/2021

Rating 4 stars

An unplanned side trip to Hungary with my next book. On Margaret’s Six Degrees chain for December 2021, I spied a title that interested me. The Invisible Bridge is a novel about the experiences of Hungarian Jews following Hitler’s rise to power and during the Second World War.

Author Julie Orringer is American, so the book doesn’t fit my loose rule for my European literary tour of reading books by authors from the countries I virtually visit. A large amount of the book is set in Paris, too, with a brief period in Ukraine. Continue reading

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

The Shadow King

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Read 18/04/2021-04/05/2021

Rating 4 stars

Hirut, a woman with a long scar “that puckers at the base of her neck and trails over her shoulder like a broken necklace”, waits in Addis Ababa station for a man she hasn’t seen in almost 40 years. They are connected by a secret, one from history, involving Mussolini and Emperor Haile Selassie. Continue reading

The Anarchy: the Relentless Rise of the East India Company

Read 08/02/2021-14/02/2021

Rating 3 stars

For my next read, I travelled from the 17th century and Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and England fighting to control trade across East Asia, as fictionalised in Shōgun, to the 18th century and the rise of a trading corporation with violence in its constitution. William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy is a boiled down history of the East India Company and its violent occupation and control of the Indian subcontinent that laid the foundations of the British Raj.

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