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Tag Archives: Life

Four Days in January: A Letter to Jillsan – Nils-Johan Jørgensen

letteringThis is a modern tale, a journey of the heart, a road back, revisiting many cities and enduring Eastern and Western sentiments to light and lighten our understanding of life’s fleeting appearance.

It is a way of honouring the life of a loved one, to tell a personal story that reflects the shared, universal truth of the silence of loss from Kakimoto to Goethe and beyond.

Four Days in January is a beautifully told, deeply moving and poignant letter of loss, yet also the celebration of the life of a loved one through allegory, music, poetry and personal records.

Told in letter-form, Four Days in January records the story of two lovers and their lives through marriage and parenthood following his diplomatic career spent in different parts of the world, and the role and dedication of the diplomat’s wife.

Here is a very open volume that offers an array of inspirational thoughts for anyone facing loss and bereavement.

Having read most of Mr Jørgensen’s other books this one, whilst no less readable was an altogether different beast. It is a meditation on life as well as loss.  A union of two coming together to live as one, of a love that really shines through, a life lived fully but also a statement on the cruelty of having it cut short.

The beginning takes us through the unfolding tragedy of a life suddenly declining. It is told in an unflinching way and it moved this reader immensely.  Despite reading this book in January, I know that the opening will be the best one I read all year, which is saying something as I continue to amass great literature.

This personal final letter to his love is an intimate portrait, delicately penned, a chronicle of a shared existence, told through a number of key vignettes.  What makes this an intensely moving piece of work is that it is real life, good and bad things happen but it is a reminder to appreciate it every day for what it is.  Even the most mundane of times can become something beautiful when viewed the right way. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 23/02/2017 in Autobiography, Life, Memoir

 

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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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The Sacrifice – Indrajit Garai

sacrificeIn this collection meet:  Guillame, who gives up everything to protect his child; Mathew, who stakes his life to save his home; and, François, who makes the biggest sacrifice to rescue his grandson.

Having previously had to decline  this offering due to a mountain of other books needing their reviews done for their respective deadlines, I am appreciative of Estelle for offering me another opportunity to read and talk about these short stories, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Each of the three stories contained in volume 1 have plenty of themes both on the human and natural side.  The reader will see the price of ‘progress’ and the loss it entails with the destruction of nature – which is neatly countered with the positive effects it has on the characters actions – and the uncertain legacy of what will be left of it for the next generation.

The human consequences on nature run in tandem with the heartache of families struggling; parents aren’t there, money is tight and life grinds away at the soul but there is always hope in each other and what they do have.

It is precisely this humanity that kept me reading, seeing these people going through life, trying to do the right thing.  That’s not to say that the book is preachy in any way, it isn’t, it allows the characters and their circumstances to unfold in an organic way and clearly shows us their thoughts and feelings in a given situation.

Each of the participants are just ordinary folk and that is the beauty of the storytelling,  the reader can instantly connect with them and just go with the story – regardless of setting and circumstance – what they do and who they are doesn’t matter because they are in existing in all their flawed glory.  The titular sacrifice therefore feels more powerful because it is something truly costly to the individual which the reader can appreciate and in terms of seismic impact.  The book excels at showing the ripples made by decisions, whether large or of a more subtle variety. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 30/01/2017 in Fiction

 

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A Dance to the Music of Time: Summer – Anthony Powell

hammertimeAnthony Powell’s brilliant twelve-novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations.

Volume 2 contains the second three novels in the sequence: At Lady Molly’s; Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant; The Kindly Ones

Having no other blurb would usually be inadequate for the eager reader but in this instance I’m glad of it.  It would take a talented writer to not only quantify the story of all these collected lives but to tease out a discernible thread within the whirl of time and meeting, both chance and planned.

Sometimes a story is not about the end goal but about the experience, the furthering of this particular encounter is a pleasurable one.  I loved the first omnibus and books four to six better it in a lot of ways but I still prefer the overall consistency of the ‘Spring’ books.

A couple of months since reading the last omnibus, which I loved, I was slightly worried I would lose the thread of some of the characters and their convoluted histories but Powell always allows for that and made it easy to recall them through the narrative.  It may have helped that I read the Spring omnibus straight though, rather than taking my time but with a writer such as Powell, it is doubtful the reader will wish to leave long between novels.

Along the walls frescoes tinted in pastel shades, executed with infinite feebleness of design, appealed to heaven knows what nadir of aesthetic degradation.

It was easy to slip back into that world of gossip and dinner parties framed with plenty of references, to art, literature, and music.  This time it felt more world-weary as Narrator Nick Jenkins takes us into further through all these lives and most notably opens up gradually about more himself, rather than being the detached observer he was in the previous volume. There is a sense of time catching up and of a growing maturity. the zest of the young lessening and life taking its toll in myriad ways. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 23/01/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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Stowaway to Mars – John Wyndham

extraweightFor British pilot Dale Curtance the Keuntz Prize – to be awarded to the first person to take a spaceship to another planet and back – is the ultimate challenge. Not only has he to build a ship to survive the journey, assemble a top-notch crew and choose a destination, he’s also got to beat the Russians and Americans.

Soon the GLORIA MUNDI blasts off from Salisbury Plain, bound for Mars. There’s only one problem – a stowaway called Joan. Not only does her presence wreck calculations and threaten the mission, but her tale suggests that Mars may be a more dangerous destination than they ever expected.

Written in the 30s, this is an early effort by John Wyndham and it shows.  This is not a bad thing though as the book is a fun read and despite its flaws there is plenty here to enjoy.

The story feels like a solid B-movie effort, of which I like to term ‘B-Literature’ and not the Wyndham that I am used to.  This a more speculative effort rather than the ‘logical fantasy’ he later wrote, with much success.  In this case, Britain is Great again at the forefront of exploration and a major contender in the space race and in particular to reach Mars first.

The story flows well, action is mixed up with speculation on the mysteries of the universe and the boredom of floating about in space, as well as the anticipations surrounding arrival to Mars and take off are captured well. The satire of the Press, especially the British is remarkably spot on now as it no doubt was back in the day; as is the Cold War feel he almost presciently managed to summon up a decade before the term was even used.

There are enough signs of the writer the author would become scattered throughout the pages especially when the astronauts speculate on the big questions.  Space always brings out the pertinent existential questions of our place in the universe and what precisely life is and there are some fascinating conversations set up throughout. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 07/01/2017 in Sci Fi

 

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Moving On and Up(stairs)

Finally I have returned!  After an absolutely tiring week (a fortnight ago now), which is now thankfully over, I managed to not only pack and move to Nottingham but also secure a job closer to my new home. Since then I have largely loafed about flipping my sleeping pattern which is more challenging than I remember from last year.  I did manage to unpack the majority of my books though…except for these ones pictured here, which are a moving in present to myself and a celebration of an end to seven months of night work.

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I only went in to look for one book (Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies) but not having been around for a while, it morphed from being a secondhand shop with familiar spines to a new treasure trove which combined into a haul faster than those Transformers did to make a really big one in the classic 80’s cartoon and merchandise machine.  I was also delighted to note the addition of some chairs and a roaring fire which will make my stays longer now.

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There are as ever plenty more good books for me to get down and review and will finally be able to catch up with you all in the next couple of days as well.  It’s been too long and there has been little reading in my life of late so I will get back to it soon and hopefully help you out with a few Christmas present ideas.

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Posted by on 12/12/2016 in Life, Lists/Ephemera

 

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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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