Monday, 30 October 2017

A Horse Walks Into Bar by David Grossman

A comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience has come expecting an evening of amusement. Instead they see a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic  - charming, erratic, repellent - exposes a wound he has been living with for years; a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between two  people who were dearest to him.

Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dov provokes revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn't know whether to laugh or cry - and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he's been summoned to this performance.

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2017, at 198 pages this is a very short but brilliant novel. Whilst I found this an excellent read in every way I am glad that it was not any longer because it is very intense and any longer would have been hard to bear.

Like the audience in the novel, I was expecting some humour. What we, and the audience get, is to witness the disintegration of a comedian on stage, and quite frankly, it is shockingly painful to observe. However, it is done with such humanity and with an anguished genius that I can easily envisage reading this book again.

Please don't be put off by the sombre nature of this book as it is well worth reading. Having never read anything quite like this book before I read it in one sitting. I really hope you will all read it.

Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen

ISBN: 978 1784704223

Publisher: Vintage

About the Author:

David Grossman is the bestselling author of numerous works, which have been translated into thirty-six language. His most recent novels were To the End of the Land, described by Jacqueline Rose as 'without question one of the most powerful and moving novels I have ever read', and Falling Out of Time. He is the recipient of the French Chevalier de l'Ordre des Art et des Lettres and the 2010 Frankfurt Peace Prize.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, two young people notice one another.

They share a cup of coffee, a smile, an evening meal. They try not to hear the sound of bombs getting closer every night, the radio announcing new laws, the public executions.

Meanwhile, rumours are spreading of strange black doors in secret places across the city, doors that lead to London or San Francisco, Greece or Dubai. Someday soon, the time will come for this young couple to seek out one such door: joining the multitudes fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world.

From the Man Booker shortlisted author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist comes a journey crossing borders and continents, into a possible future. Exit West is a love story from the eye of the storm. It is a song of hope and compassion. It reaches towards something essential in humankind - something still alive, still breathing, an open hand and a thudding heart under all the rubble and dust.

This is a contemporary novel with both significance and relevance for modern times. Told from the perspective of refugees it provides an opportunity for the reader to understand the issues facing people who find themselves a long way from the place they call home and who frequently arrive in destinations where they are not made welcome.

The magical realism in this book is used to great effect and is designed to correspond with the feeling of some native born residents that refugees seem to arrive suddenly and from nowhere. This is an extremely clever device and very much enhances the main issues of the story.

However, the main thing that this book does is to allow the reader to empathise with the refugees and which makes this an extremely relevant book in today's current climate. We are able to understand the plight of refugees amidst our own current political and sociological situation.

This is a profound text which influences the reader and has the potential to make us understand how to be better people both as individuals and communities. This book deserves the accolades it has received and I would not be surprised if this does not appear on the school syllabus as there is so much to learn from it.

This is a slim volume with a massive significance and I encourage everyone to read this as I am sure that you will get as much from reading it as I have.

ISBN: 978 0241290088

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

 About the Author:

Mohsin Hamid writes regularly for The New York Times, the Guardian and the New York Review of Books, and is the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moth Smoke, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Discontent and its Civilizations. Born and mostly raised in Lahore, he has since lived between Lahore, London and New York.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

In Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen year old Noa saves a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him into the snowy wilderness.

Passing through the woods is a German circus - a troupe of waifs and strays, led by the infamous Herr Neuroff. They agree to help Noa and the baby - on one condition.

To earn her keep, Noa must master the flying trapeze - under the tutorage of mysterious aerialist, Astrid. Soaring high above the crowds, Noa and Astrid must learn to trust one another - or plummet. But, as war closes in, Noa will earn that loyalty can be the most dangerous trait.

Based on real events, The Orphan's Tale is a spectacular story of love, sacrifice and courage.

This book absorbed me from the very first page and captivated me right through to the end with it's original portrayal of the events of World War II. The circus setting for this novel dealt with the very serious circumstances that war brought to occupied territories but within the outwardly colourful and vibrant setting of the circus.

The chapters alternate between the two main characters of Noa and Astrid. I must confess there were times I could not find their individual voices but I was so gripped by their story that this really did not seem to matter. It was very interesting to observe their relationship develop as the back story for both of these characters was heartbreaking. Their bravery was astonishing and I felt nothing but admiration for them.

Based on true events Ms Jenoff  successfully weaves fact into fiction and has created a thoroughly well researched and captivating read.

Ultimately, this is an uplifting story of survival that I could not wait to get back to between reading sessions. It is a heartfelt and memorable story that I could imagine reading for a second time - and there are very few books that I place in that category.

ISBN: 978 1848455368

Publisher: HQ

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her Master's in History from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Pam moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Pam developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Pam left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for several years as a labor and employment attorney both at a firm and in-house in Philadelphia and now teaches law school at Rutgers.

Pam is the author of The Kommandant's Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Winter Guest, The Diplomat's Wife, The Ambassadors Daughter, Almost Home, A Hidden Affair and The Things We Cherished. She also authored a short story in the anthology Grand Central: Original Postwar Stories of Love and Reunion. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

(from the authors website