Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Rosa by Jonathan Rabb

Set in Berlin just after WWI, a Socialist revolution is sweeping across the whole of Germany. For Detective Inspector Nikolai Hoffner and his assistant Hans Fichte their attention is being taken up by the murders of six women from the slums that have identical markings carved into their backs.

When one of these women turns out to be the socialist revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg, the Polpo (political police) start to take an interest. Will their involvement help or hinder Hoffner and Fichte in their investigations? Neither man can envisage the road that lays ahead for them as this case takes a troubling and personal turn.

The author has done his research very well and thus presents us with a Berlin which is rich in atmosphere but is only portrayed in the bleakest of terms. At no point was I able to see any hope for the future within the book which made it a rather depressing read. However, Mr. Rabb has tried to portray a post war Berlin which has become a political battleground and he does this very well.

I can’t say that I really liked any of the characters. They were interesting and well developed but I did not seem able to find any kind of connection with them and this always gives me a problem in a novel.

The plot was interesting and detailed and did keep me guessing but still there was something lacking for me. Perhaps because the whole book is so bogged down in misery reading it became hard work and I was not finding myself rushing to get back to it. It lacked any hint of optimism throughout and consequently, I found that this essentially well thought out and soundly written book was something of a slog to get through.

I do not think there is anything wrong with this book per se and I think many people will enjoy this dark tale of politics and murder. It simply was not my cup of tea.

This is the first book in the Berlin Trilogy but I will be calling it a day with this one. Please let me know your thoughts on this book if you have read it. I would be really interested to hear what you thought of it.

ISBN: 978 1905559046

Publisher: Halban Publishers

Price (today at £9.99

About the author:  

Jonathan Rabb is the author of five novels: The Second Son, Shadow and Light, Rosa, The Overseer, and The Book of Q. He lives in Savannah, Georgia, with his wife and twin children.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

This is the story of Dorrigo Evans, a surgeon. His sole purpose in life is to survive and to use his medical knowledge to help the men around him to do the same. Dorrigo is a POW in Japan, slaving on the building of the Burma Death Railway.

Dorrigo is also  haunted by the love affair he had with the young wife of his uncle. As he clings to these memories amidst chaos and devastation, his whole future is being defined by the death and destruction around him:

Forever after, there were for them only two sorts of men: the men who were on the Line, and the rest of humanity, who were not."

This is a very worthy winner of this years Man Booker Prize and is one of the most powerful  novels I have read in quite some time and I am certain that it will stay with me for a long time. It’s intensity is unrelenting and I was completely gripped by this book.

This book is devastatingly beautiful. In so many ways it is not a pretty read. It describes the horrors of life as a POW; dysentery, cholera, beatings  etc but is composed in such a profound and unassuming style that I was completely entranced by this book. On several occasions I had to just stop reading  to contemplate and absorb what I had read and allow the horror and simplicity of the words sink in.

The characters in this book are vividly drawn, flaws and all, and I found myself empathising with most of them. Even those characters who do not play a large part in the book, Mr. Flanagan was able to bring them to life in such a way as they became integral to the plot.

The themes of this book are many and it is hard to pin them  down to a few words; love, loss, war, friendship, despair. The list could go on but suffice to say that the book considers war and it’s aftermath on the lives of ordinary people.

Mr Flanagan’s father was himself a POW on the Death Railway and the author has based much of this work on his father’s first hand experiences. This has enabled him to write a novel which is unflinchingly honest and filled with humanity.

This is a stunning book and easily one of the best I have read. The author is  a very deserving winner of the Man Booker prize and  I am very keen to look out some other of his books. I recommend this book very highly and encourage you all to read this for yourselves.

ISBN: 978-0701189051

Publisher: Chatto and Windus

Price: £10.99 on

About the Author: 

Born in Tasmania in 1961, Richard Flanagan is one of Australia’s leading novelists. His novels, Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould's Book of Fish (winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize),The Unknown Terrorist and Wanting have received numerous honours and been published in 26 countries. His father, who died the day Flanagan finished The Narrow Road to the Deep North, was a survivor of the Burma Death Railway.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Died of Wounds by Siegfried Sassoon


His wet white face and miserable eyes
Brought nurses to him more than groans and sighs;
But hoarse and low and rapid rose and fell
His troubled voice: he did the business well.

The ward grew dark; but he was still complaining
And calling out for 'Dickie'. 'Curse the Wood!
It's time to go, O Christ, and what's the good?
We'll never take it, and it's always raining.'

I wondered where he'd been; then heard him shout,
'They snipe like hell! O Dickie, don't go out'...
I fell asleep.... Next morning he was dead;
And some Slight Wound lay smiling on the bed.

by Siegried Sassoon

About the poet:   

Siegried Sassoon was born on the 8th September 1886. He was a poet, writer, and soldier and was decorated for bravery on the Western Front. 

Sassoon became a focal point for dissent within the armed forces when he made a lone protest against the continuation of the war in his "Soldier's Declaration" of 1917, culminating in his admission to a mental hospital; this resulted in his forming a friendship with Wilfred Owen, who was greatly influenced by him. Sassoon later won acclaim for his prose work, notably his three-volume fictionalised autobiography, collectively known as the "Sherston Trilogy".

He died,  aged 80, on 1st September 1967 of stomach cancer.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop

Set in 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the place to be seen. It is a beautiful Mediterranean retreat for the jet set to bathe in the glow of their good fortune.

It is also home to both Greek and Turkish Cypriots who live and work side by side. Aphroditi and Savvas Papacosta have opened the most luxurious hotel on the island. All their wealth has been poured into this hotel and their employees include both Greek and Turkish Cypriots who have previously escaped the unrest that previously swept through Cyprus.

However, in this golden paradise tensions are building as another violent conflict takes place. Families flee the island and only two families are left behind. Only the Georgious and the Oskans remain, refusing to flee their homes. Can they survive secretly on this broken island or will they be discovered by rapidly advancing soldiers?

This novel is based on true events and considers the lives of fictional individuals who lived and worked in Famagusta during the uprising. I found this book very elucidating through her portrayal of this aspect of Cypriot history. Even though these events occurred during my life time I knew very little about this devastating time in history.

Ms. Hislop portrays these terrible events in a a manner which enabled me to understand the impact the event had on individual people. She has written a novel which is highly atmospheric both in it’s descriptions of the place and  it’s people. Her portrayal of the wealth of the The Sunrise Hotel along with her descriptions of the beauty of the island turned words on a page into a tangible experience.

The plot moves along at a suitable pace for the story and I was gripped by both the narrative and characters. The author has taken a horrible series of events and made them palatable. However, she has not steered away from the violence and reality of the situation but has contrasted the beauty of the island and it’s people with the terror  of the events happening around them.

All in all I think the author has done a good job in portraying this particular period in history. Perhaps, like me, it is a past time that you understand little about. I think that she has created a perfect springboard to finding out about the events in Famagusta, which stands like a ghost town to this day. I think if reading this book encourages people to seek out a less fictionalised account then Ms Hislop has done her job and done it well. Personally, I love books where the subject matter refuses to be left when I close the book and this book has certainly ignited my interest in this period of Cypriot history.

ISBN:  978-0755377787

Publisher: Headline Review

Price: £9.00 on

About the author:  

Following a visit to Spinalonga, the abandoned Greek leprosy colony, Victoria Hislop wrote The Island in 2005. It became a best seller and was published in 30 languages. She was named Newcomer of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2007.

She went on to write The Return followed by The Thread and a set of short stories called The Last Dance and Other Stories. The Sunrise is her fourth novel.