Category Archives: Recommended

The Seventh Cross – Anna Seghers

The Seventh Cross – Anna Seghers

This was the second book for my historical fiction group in our new ‘each member selects and presents’ theme. I did the first book – ‘Book of Colours‘ by Robyn Cadwallader.

Here’s the blurb …

‘At once a suspenseful manhunt story and a knowing portrait of the perils of ordinary life in Hitler’s Germany, The Seventh Cross is not only an important novel, but an important historical document. This new, unabridged translation is a genuine publishing event’ JOSEPH KANON, author of The Good German and Leaving Berlin
Seven prisoners escape from Westhofen concentration camp. Seven crosses are erected in the grounds and the commandant vows to capture the fugitives within a week. Six men are caught quickly, but George Heisler slips through his pursuers’ fingers and it becomes a matter of pride to track him down, no matter what. 
The net is closing in. Who can George trust? Who will betray him? The years of fear have changed those he knew best: his favourite brother is now an SS officer; his lover turns him away. Hunted, injured and desperate, time is running out for George, and whoever helps him will pay with their life.
The Seventh Cross is a novel that powerfully documents the insidious rise of a fascist regime – the seething paranoia, the sudden arrests, the silence and fear. It has never before been published in the UK.
‘It was [Seghers] who taught my generation and anyone who had an ear to listen after that not-to-be-forgotten war to distinguish right from wrong. The Seventh Cross shaped me; it sharpened my vision’ – Gunter Grass
‘The material that this book is made from is long-lasting and indestructible; very few things on earth can be compared to it. It is known as justice’ – Christa Wolf
The Seventh Cross was written by one of the most important German writers of the twentieth century. Her aim was to write, ‘A tale that makes it possible to get to know the many layers of fascist Germany through the fortunes of a single man.’ She had four copies of the manuscript: one was destroyed in an air raid; a friend lost the second copy while fleeing the Nazis; another was found by the Gestapo; only the fourth copy, survived, which, fortunately, she sent to her publisher in America just before she fled Nazi-occupied France. Published in 1942, The Seventh Cross became an immediate bestseller, was made into an MGM film starring Spencer Tracy in 1944, and was one of the only depictions of concentration camps on page and screen during the War.

I found this book fascinating – there was detail, but at the same time a sweeping overview of life in Hitler’s Germany. There was bravery, resilience and despair. It was about ordinary people trying to live their lives – and the extraordinary decisions that have to make (to risk themselves to help someone or not, who can they trust?).

It is well worth reading – exciting and informative.

Another review.

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A Universe of Sufficient Size – Miriam Sved

A Universe of Sufficient Size – Miriam Sved

I read a review of this novel in the Weekend Australian Review and was intrigued. The combination of two of my passions – mathematics and reading. However, don’t worry if you’re not keen on maths, the maths doesn’t overwhelm the story.

It is based on the author’s grandmother and this is her second novel. The first being Game Day.

Here is the blurb …

“A fascinating, compelling, beautifully written novel.” Liane Moriarty 

“Miriam Sved has woven three generations and two periods of history into a page-turning, emotional rollercoaster to remind us all that families are messy, complicated and that the repercussions of decisions made decades ago can come back to haunt you… I cannot recommend this book highly enough.” Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

I have wished so many times that I had acted differently.

I wish that I had been more worthy of you…
Eventually the war will end, and then we will find each other.
Until then, remember me.

Budapest, 1938. In a city park, five young Jewish mathematicians gather to share ideas, trade proofs and whisper sedition.

Sydney, 2007. Illy has just buried her father, a violent, unpredictable man whose bitterness she never understood. And now Illy’s mother has gifted her a curious notebook, its pages a mix of personal story and mathematical discovery, recounted by a woman full of hopes and regrets.

Inspired by a true story, Miriam Sved’s beautifully crafted novel charts a course through both the light and dark of human relationships: a vivid recreation of 1930s Hungary, a decades-old mystery locked in the story of one enduring friendship, a tribute to the selfless power of the heart.

This novel spans generations and places; Budapest in the 1930’s and Sydney in the early 21st century. It is about being a talented, Jewish student at a time when Jews were restricted and persecuted. It is about friendship, sacrifice, survival and the strength of the human spirit.

I enjoyed it for several reasons; the depiction of Budapest and the relationship between the five friends, the mother/daughter relationship (a bit adversarial, but in a good way) were lovely. And there is a mystery/suspense/twist, which keeps you turning the pages.

If you enjoy historical fiction, mathematics or stories about families (the relationships, the secrets, the contrivances), then I think you will enjoy this novel.

Another review.

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The Sewing Machine – Natalie Fergie

The Sewing Machine – Natalie Fergie

Amazon suggested that I might like to read this one (it might even have been a kindle daily or monthly deal).

Here’s the blurb …

It is 1911, and Jean is about to join the mass strike at the Singer factory. For her, nothing will be the same again.

Decades later, in Edinburgh, Connie sews coded moments of her life into a notebook, as her mother did before her.

More than 100 years after his grandmother’s sewing machine was made, Fred discovers a treasure trove of documents. His family history is laid out before him in a patchwork of unfamiliar handwriting and colourful seams. 

He starts to unpick the secrets of four generations, one stitch at a time.

I really enjoyed this novel – particularly Fred’s section. It was entertaining and informative (and had stuff about sewing and sewing machines).

Another review.

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Now We Shall Be Entirely Free – Andrew Miller

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free – Andrew Miller

I saw Andrew speak at the Perth Writers Festival (I selected his session based solely on the book cover). I borrowed the book from the library, but it wasn’t available until after his talk. His talk only made me want to read it more – it has been shortlisted for the Sir Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.

Here is the blurb …


By the Costa Award-winning author of PURE, a stunning historical novel with the grip of a thriller, written in richly evocative, luminous prose.

One rain-swept February night in 1809, an unconscious man is carried into a house in Somerset. He is Captain John Lacroix, home from Britain’s disastrous campaign against Napoleon’s forces in Spain.

Gradually Lacroix recovers his health, but not his peace of mind – he cannot talk about the war or face the memory of what happened in a village on the gruelling retreat to Corunna. After the command comes to return to his regiment, he sets out instead for the Hebrides, with the vague intent of reviving his musical interests and collecting local folksongs.

Lacroix sails north incognito, unaware that he has far worse to fear than being dragged back to the army: a vicious English corporal and a Spanish officer are on his trail, with orders to kill. The haven he finds on a remote island with a family of free-thinkers and the sister he falls for are not safe, at all

I really enjoyed this novel – it was beautifully written (obviously well-researched, but it all felt very natural. No beating me over the head with obvious historical facts).

If you enjoy historical fiction, then you will love this novel.

Another review and another one.

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Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

I am reading this one because I am going to see Esi Edugyan at the Writers Festival.

Here’s the blurb …


ESCAPE IS ONLY THE BEGINNING…

A stunning new novel of slavery and freedom by the author of the Man Booker and Orange Prize shortlisted Half Blood Blues

When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – finds himself selected as personal servant to one of these men. The eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist, whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him. 

Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape the island together, but then then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life. Inspired by a true story, Washington Black is the extraordinary tale of a world destroyed and made whole again

I knew nothing about this novel I just downloaded the kindle version – I didn’t even read the blurb. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have read it as I don’t like slavery novels (I find them too brutal), but that would have been a mistake as this is a well-written coming of age/tale of adventure. Don’t mistake me their is brutality and violence but it is more than that. The ‘world creation’ is fabulous – Barbados, the arctic regions of Canada, Newfoundland, England and Morocco.

Wash starts of a young slave – with no control of anything and ends his own man in charge of his destiny. On the way there is action and adventure (almost swashbuckling adventure) and an eccentric cast of characters.

Another review and another.

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Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton

Cover image of Boy Swallows Universe
Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton

This was a last minute decision made by my book club and, at first, it was impossible to find – in the end I bought it as a Kindle. Impossible to find because it was sold out everywhere. I am always a bit nervous about very popular books (and I have to say the title and the cover art weren’t helping)

Here’s the blurb …


A novel of love, crime, magic, fate and coming of age, set in Brisbane’s violent working class suburban fringe – from one of Australia’s most exciting new writers.

Brisbane, 1983: A lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious crim for a babysitter. It’s not as if Eli’s life isn’t complicated enough already. He’s just trying to follow his heart, learning what it takes to be a good man, but life just keeps throwing obstacles in the way – not least of which is Tytus Broz, legendary Brisbane drug dealer.

But if Eli’s life is about to get a whole lot more serious. He’s about to fall in love. And, oh yeah, he has to break into Boggo Road Gaol on Christmas Day, to save his mum.

A story of brotherhood, true love and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe will be the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novel you will read all year.

I love it – found it compelling. The writing is beautiful and the characters are fabulous and sympathetically (and generously) written. I also enjoyed all of the Australian cultural references (sometimes it’s nice to read something that feels familiar).

Trent Dalton is coming to the Perth Writers Festival and I am looking forward to his session (just how much is autobiographical, did the red telephone ring?)

Below is an article about the writing of Boy Swallows Universe.

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The Year of The Farmer – Rosalie Ham

Cover image of the 'Year of the Farmer' by Rosalie Ham
The Year of the Farmer – Rosalie Ham

I have enjoyed all of Rosalie Ham’s novels. Summer at Mount Hope, There Should be More Dancing and The Dressmaker. 

I reserved it at the library (trying to reduce the enormous number of books in my house) thinking it would take ages to be my turn, but it arrived very swiftly.

It was very good – laugh out loud funny, very Australian  and with something to say about rural living, and water (its scarcity, how it’s used and who gets to use it).

Here’s the blurb…

In a quiet farming town somewhere in country New South Wales, war is brewing.

The last few years have been punishingly dry, especially for the farmers, but otherwise, it’s all Neralie Mackintosh’s fault. If she’d never left town then her ex, the hapless but extremely eligible Mitchell Bishop, would never have fallen into the clutches of the truly awful Mandy, who now lords it over everyone as if she owns the place.

So, now that Neralie has returned to run the local pub, the whole town is determined to reinstate her to her rightful position in the social order. But Mandy Bishop has other ideas. Meanwhile the head of the local water board – Glenys ‘Gravedigger’ Dingle – is looking for a way to line her pockets at the expense of hardworking farmers already up to their eyes in debt. And Mandy and Neralie’s war may be just the chance she was looking for…

More reviews …

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/rosalie-ham-down-on-the-farm-for-another-dark-satire-20180919-h15lh5.html

https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/abr-online/archive/2018/5125-brenda-walker-reviews-the-year-of-the-farmer-by-rosalie-ham

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The Givenness Of Things – Marilynne Robinson

The Givenness of Things – Marilynne Robinson

I have enjoyed all of Ms Robinson’s novels and enjoyed listening to her on the BBC World Book Club. I was keen to read her essays.

Here is the description from Goodreads …

A profound essay collection from the beloved author of GileadHouskeeping and Lila, now including Marilynne Robinson’s conversation with President Barack Obama.

Robinson has plumbed the depths of the human spirit in her trilogy of novels – Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, Orange-Prize winning Home and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Lila – and in her moving essay collection When I Was a Child I Read Books.

Now, in The Givenness of Things, she brings a profound sense of awe and an incisive mind to the essential questions of contemporary life and faith. Through fourteen essays of remarkable depth and insight, Robinson explores the dilemmas of our modern predicament. How has our so-called Christian nation strayed from so many of the teachings of Christ? How could the great minds of the past, Calvin and Locke-and Shakespeare-guide our lives? And what might the world look like if we could see the sacredness in each other?

Exquisite and bold, these essays are a necessary call for us to find wisdom and guidance in our cultural treasures, to seek humanity and compassion in each other. The Givenness of Thingsis a reminder of what a marvel our existence is in its grandeur – and its humility.

I will say from the outset that I am not a christian and I think most of the world’s ills are caused by white, christian men, but if anyone could convert me it would be Ms Robinson. And if all christians were christian like her the world would be a better place.

It took me a long time to read this book and I am not sure reading it cover to cover is the best way of reading it. Each essay required focus and concentration and it might be better to dip into it from time to time reading one essay at a time.

It is academic, thoughtful and thought-provoking.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/16/givenness-of-things-marylinne-robinson-review

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Circe – Madeline Miller

Circe – Madeline Miller

This was one of those super popular books available (at a discounted price) at Target. Usually I avoid those books, but this one was recommended by a friend.

Here’s the blurb …

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.

There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

I have to say I knew nothing about Circe, Helios, etc – I knew their names, but not much else.

I found this compelling – quite the page turner – and now I want to read The Song of Achilles and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey .

It is beautifully written and gives female characters silenced by male writers a voice.

More reviews …

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/the-original-nasty-woman-is-a-goddess-for-our-times/2018/04/09/742c54d0-3b88-11e8-974f-aacd97698cef_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1da987779d23

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/21/circe-by-madeline-miller-review

 

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Less – Andrew Sean Greer

Less – Andrew Sean Greer

I had to read this – my friend knows the author! I even bought a paper version as another friend tells me the author is paid more for paper copies – why? I don’t know.

Here is the blurb …

You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, LESS is, above all, a love story.

A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as “inspired, lyrical,” “elegiac,” “ingenious,” as well as “too sappy by half,” LESS shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy.

I loved this book – finally something that is ‘literary’, but not grim. It was witty and clever (probably too clever for me, but I did notice things like…

[In the Paris section]

Less is left breathless below and old house all covered in vines. A group of school girls passes in two straight lines

This is my favourite book so far this year.

Another review

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/01/less-andrew-sean-greer-review

 

 

 

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