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Category Archives: History

Chernobyl Prayer – Svetlana Alexievich

chernobylprayerThere is no blurb for this one, partly because this copy didn’t come with one – just excerpts from newspaper reviews – and partly because it needs no blurb.  The book speaks for itself and with Alexievich’s Nobel Prize in Literature award, it means it will thankfully never be forgotten.

After a short historical background on the explosion of reactor no. 4 (whose radioactive particles reached as far as China and Africa), the reader is introduced to A lone human voice. This  truly shocking and saddening account sets the scene for this outstanding and powerful chronicle of eyewitness recollections  from those that were involved with the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Often forgotten in the face of overwhelming statistics are the real human lives who have suffered, those forgotten get a voice here.  The cost is not just in lives lost but dreams and hopes shattered, health ruined and families torn apart.  This book focuses on the Belarusians who bore the brunt of the disaster and of those who helped try to contain it and the risks they took.

The beauty of this series of monologues is that Alexievich didn’t ask questions, instead she did the one thing that the people had been wanting for years, she listened. Apart from an essay of her own the author merely adds only the briefest additions to the text such as ‘he looks pensive’, ‘she cries’ and so on.

This allows the people to talk about whatever they need to and follow the direction of their thoughts and there is a surprising amount of philosophical views that come out.  Especially as many still don’t accept the subtle devastation that hit their lands and destroyed them,  who were then shunned by an uneducated public.  What shines through is that they loved their land and animals, most of those living there knew little else and the passion for their lost place is ever present.
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Posted by on 13/02/2017 in History, Modern Classics, Politics

 

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Their Duty Done: Forest Town and the Great War – Tim Priestley

wp_20161122_001Forest Town in Nottinghamshire would send many of its men to war.  This is the story of those who never returned and whose names are inscribed on the local memorial.

From every city to the smallest of villages around Britain, every traveller will always come across a war memorial dedicated – most often – to those fallen in World War One and World War Two.

All too often one finds themself looking at the names of these people and imagining those times and of the utter devastation of the population and the trauma suffered both at the front and of those waiting back home to hear news; yet waiting in dread as each letter may be an official notification of death.

Their Duty Done, reminds us that each name on the memorial stones and the graveyards spread around the world belonged to real people, with families, jobs and a sense of duty.

Whether you are familiar with my neck of the woods or not, Forest Town and its surrounding area is a typical example of any town you care to pick from, all of which saw many men go to war. FT has the distinction of being a mining town which perhaps aided (for those in that occupation) with the speed of demobilisation and arguably saved many from the early stages of the war, if they chose not to volunteer.

The first half of the book gives a brief overview of each year of the war and chronicles those who died, giving details of their ages, rank and date of death.  There is also a write-up about each soldier, from their birthplace , parent’s names, job, army history and the details of their demise and resting places, where the bodies could be recovered.

It brings home the fact that each person was real, it seems obvious, of course  but with all the literature, films and so on, it is easy to be fixated on the final body count of various battles and the war in total.  In essence we have become desensitised to the human side of war, in the face of the sheer scale of carnage. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 24/11/2016 in History, Life

 

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I Remember Sunnyside: The Rise and Fall of a Magical Era – Mike Filey

sunnysideupFirst published in 1982, I Remember Sunnyside is a mine of golden memories, bringing back to life an earlier Toronto, only hints of which remain today.

Like the city itself, Sunnyside was an ever-changing landscape from its heady opening days in the early 1920s to its final sad demolition in the 1950s. The book captures the spirit of the best of times a magical era which can only be recaptured in memory and photographs. It also presents the reality of a newer Toronto where change, although necessary, is sometimes regrettable.

In a bid to further inspire me to words, Resa recommended this book  which had already grabbed my imagination before it even arrived and although it didn’t pull me in quite as much as I had convinced myself it would, it was nonetheless still a quirky, interesting, immersive and speedy read.

Mostly my pre-reading thoughts were inspired by such literary mainstays as Joseph Heller’s thoughts on Coney Island, Stephen King’s Joyland as well as, to a lesser extent the feeling of exploring Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. Films such as The Lost Boys and The Warriors played a part with their atmospheres as well.

Establishing a fundamentally, albeit mostly American idea of what to expect, I feel the fond imagery of these amusement parks is established in the romantic landscape these days as something of a golden age. It is hard to imagine people speaking so eloquently today about their experiences at Alton Towers or Disneyland as this:

…as I thought of the days of Sunnyside when all things seemed possible and the late afternoon sun lit up the summits of the rollercoaster and you felt you were somehow at the source of things, a warm and tattered tent of life, convinced that something wonderful was going to happen within the next few minutes…

It’s a fond feeling of nostalgia to those who lived it and a love transmitted down to those readers who never got to experience such times and instead got the sanitised parks of later years.  It’s an evocative adventure to put ourselves back there, a place of charm and excitement, it makes me think of those long ago nostalgic days of rides and shows sadly gone in this modern age of queueing for hours to get 30 seconds of ‘thrill’. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 28/09/2016 in History, Memoir, Photography

 

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Arguably – Christopher Hitchens

AnotherHitchSlapChristopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a matchless writer, debater and humanist. Throughout his life he shone the light of reason and truth into the eyes of charlatans and hucksters, exposing falsehood and decrying hypocrisy wherever he found it. With his passing, the world has lost a great soul, the written word one of its finest advocates and those who stand for freedom everywhere have lost one of their clearest voices.

Arguably collects Hitchens’ writing on politics, literature and religion when he was at the zenith of his career; it is the indispensable companion to the finest English essayist since Orwell.

The joys of learning about scintillating new books, of stories both fact and fiction is tempered by the sheer amount and scope of the eclectic selection already on offer.  The never-ending list of books I need to read has grown by around fifty books since reading this tome but on the other hand I will never be short of a quality read..

It turns out, if this book is anything to go by, that I am distinctly under read, despite my best efforts to the contrary.  I shall not let that soul-destroying revelation ruin my enjoyment of what is a magnificent set of essays, that should be required reading for all those who love to learn and think for themselves.

The finite amount of time that the reader has to tackle such a broad base of literature is at best daunting and at worst obscenely short.  As one who rushes from one to the other in a futile battle to read and process them all; whilst simultaneously collecting even more avenues of enquiry, it occurs that all I can do is horde these treasures (read and unread) to one day pass on to another enquiring mind who will appreciate them.

In these days of ignorant and woefully ill-informed internet commentors and the prevalence of lazy journalism, it is refreshing to not only be able to read a literate and educated voice but also one that knows no fear in not only arguing but backing up said points with actual facts and a clarity that is most welcome.  Being critical is a right afforded to citizens in  many (not enough) countries and it should be used in debate to better ourselves, Hitchens was one man who never shied from giving his opinion and we should be thankful for his body of work. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 14/08/2016 in Essays, History, Journalism, Philosophy, Politics

 

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Book Haul the Nth

Finally I can get around to catching up with all the books I have bought in the last couple of months.  I am particularly proud of this lot as there is plenty of quality and variety which will keep me happy in the upcoming months.

WP_20160720_001Currently I am halfway through the mammoth Arguably by Christopher Hitchens and it was by no means an easy choice of pick with all the other books having an equally persuasive argument for my time and attention.  In the en it made sense to read that first so I could catch up on the many outstanding reviews that need doing, whilst not adding many more to the list in the meantime.

WP_20160719_002Hanging around bookshops is not only an exhilarating experience but also reminds me on how narrow I find my field of reading is.  When looking at one’s book collection critically, it is easy to spot many yawning gaps, which is great as they demand plugging with yet another trip and a keen eye for bargains. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 03/08/2016 in Essays, Fiction, History, Lists/Ephemera, Travel

 

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Days of Reading – Marcel Proust

Books!In these inspiring essays about why we read, Proust explores all the pleasures and trials that we take from books, as well as explaining the beauty of Ruskin and his work, and the joys of losing yourself in literature as a child.

Part of the challenge with Proust is finding plenty of time in which to become intimately involved with his approach to writing.  This is my first reading experience of P. and his style is impressively immersive and made me feel nostalgic for places  and a time I have never experienced.

Plenty of essays ramble on but P. prefers clear concise language whilst being able to digress at will, yet each meandering discovery the reader makes always – eventually – comes back to the original point but makes one feel richer for the detour.

It’s a joy to read, although it is understandable that Proust splits readers due to his technique.  This reader had to change his mindset and learn to soak up the ambience of the prose, rather than feeling I was getting somewhere with plot or idea like I usually would.  In that regard the first few pages were a grind but realising that the author was going to take his time puts the reader either resigns the reader to a long haul or to the appreciation of a slow meditation of life.

The book opens with an essay on John Ruskin’s contribution to the understanding and appreciation of art and architecture, especially inspired by Christianity.  How art in general echoes its greatness (when it is) through the centuries and reaches to us emotionally, each example studied is a communing with antiquity.  It’s a study of us as well as a celebration of what we can achieve through our own creativity.

The essays on childhood memories and in particular of reading books when the mind is still open to the most innocent wonder and imagination is gloriously evocative writing.  Proust appreciates how rereading books brings forth a tangible memory of his formative years, he mirrors the echoing of art down the ages with thoughts, of ideas from our past that define modern life; not to mention timeless characters, books and the universal joy for all seasons and people. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 30/07/2016 in Architecture, Art, Autobiography, Essays, History, Life

 

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Plymouth and Narcotics

Saturday found me sat in the park on my own with about 20% worth of battery that I had been saving up )thanks to the charger breaking_ so I could ring my aunty and uncle who live locally.  They ended up taking me out to Plymouth, which was the site of the landing of everyone’s favourite puritan Pilgrims.  Going there now with such ease really makes the efforts and hazards they were forced to endure to get there all the more impressive…and then the real challenges began for them.

SAM_2847After a fine meal of fish and chips – well fries – we had a potter up towards the replica of the Mayflower, which as so often with things of history is built up one’s mind to be a lot bigger than in reality.  Highlights, ‘heroic’ rhetoric aside (below photo) was picking up the worst souvenir fridge magnet that I have ever come across.  It is a rubber rock with 1620 stamped on it.  Taken out of context it makes no sense and looks beleaguered in amongst my mum’s (vastly better) collection of fridge magnets but at least it is memorable.

SAM_2854As I mentioned in a past post, I met a fellow blogger, Morgan who made the trip from Pennsylvania to join two English lads – who sprinkle everything with liberal colloquialisms – for the biggest pieces of Sushi the city had to offer and plenty of language teaching.  Meeting a fellow blogger is always fascinating, it forever changes how you view their writings and you understand their mind more, their physical expressions and interpretations.  I urge everybody to go do it. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 19/07/2016 in Boston, History, Transport, Travel

 

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