And Then I’m Gone … a review

I started reading some of Matt Freese’s work a few years ago and so I jumped at the chance to read his latest – a memoir and a sort-of-sequel. I enjoy reading memoirs because I like peoples’ personal stories, there is so much more to each one of us than what is evident on the surface.

So it is with Matt. At 76 and getting on a bit now, he worries about the usual stuff, health, running out of time to do things, reconciling with his estranged child. What runs through the entire book, however, is a deep need to understand his emotions and using a mix of logic, history and philosophy. I enjoyed the interludes where he references the great words of Krishnamurthi. It continues to surprise me that it is hard to find reviewers who will review Holocaust literature. I believe it requires a special type of spineless to shy away from the horrors of history. How will we move forward as a species if we do not learn from our past collectively?

It is nice to be taken through a long life, but through its most salient parts – I still find it hard to compute what a long life holds – so many heartbreaks and smiles, tears and love, distances and horizons. And of course, dreams. Freese brings them out beautifully through his words, as in his previous works (here, here, and here). At times, the prose is a bit halting in this one, but it all lends itself well to this short work that hold the substance of a tome.

I recommend this book, especially as this time of the year is a wonderful time for reflection and looking back. To say the least, Matt is ‘felt’. It is available here.

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The Sunrise … a review

I picked this book up at a local book swap. It was set in Europe, seemed a good sized travel read, and it’s summer – so if those two boxes are ticked I’m set. What took me by surprise is how moving, beautiful and tangible Victoria Hislop’s writing is.

The book is set in Cyprus in the 1970s. Now, I will admit, before I read this book I knew nothing about Cyprus. But that was just as well, because the backdrop is the social, political and economic climate of the country in the 70s and 80s. In the heart of the action are the couple that owns the fancy hotel on the beach in Famagusta ‘The Sunrise’ and their business manager of sorts. As riots and rivalry break out between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, we read on as families are torn apart, entire cities razed to dust and love crumbles. If you haven’t read anything by Hislop yet, I highly recommend it. And if you have been or are planning to go to Cyprus, then this should be on your must-read list.

The only thing I will say is, this isn’t a light read. It has substance, it is not your typical ‘I can zone out while reading this…’ type of book. So with that word of caution, I will leave you. Have you read anything else by Hislop? Recommendations?

The Daylight Gate … a review

I was at Lancaster University last week and spending some time walking around Pendle College and ended up at their very impressive student library. What do I do when that happens? Pick up a book and make a beeline for an empty couch! I picked up this book because I had been to Lancaster Castle the day before and only just found out about the area’s connection to witches!

The book is set in 1612, when James I, a Protestant King, is on the throne. He was James VI of Scotland, of course, the son of Mary Queen of Scots. Apparently, he was obsessed with ridding his realm of twin evils, witchcraft and Catholicism, at any price…

The narrative has an old fashioned writing style, it is not halting though, just different. The local sheriff at Pendle hill interrupts a strange meeting as he suspects it to be a witches’ Sabbat. I won’t tell you how, but even Shakespeare plays a cameo – how cool is that!?

It is a very short read although it looks deceptively thick. It took me a couple of hours and a bit to read, although I was totally engrossed in it. The library was fab and the weather outside was, well, underwhelming, so there.

An Atlas of Impossible Longing … a review

It has been a long time since I read an Indian author writing in English. I cannot say I have read a lot of them anyway, but Amitav Ghosh has always been close to my heart. And I still remember reading The Hungry Tide a long time ago and how it touched me.

This novel by Anuradha Roy touches on some similar themes. The idea of caste in rural Bengal, the frequent floods, the ache of unrequited love are all similar and deftly captured. The story of two generations of young men and women, whose live just meander along with little or no meaning, with the passage of time is written in a poignant way.

There is a Macondo-esque village in this novel, a kind of place that has life infused in it easily and one can almost imagine it standing as a still witness to the coming and goings of its characters. I also loved the descriptions and imagery in the passing of the seasons and the effects upon the soft green lands.

Roy’s writing is very beautiful, and it lends itself well to the theme of longing. I hadn’t even heard of her but will definitely keep an eye out for more of her works. I’ll leave you with this quote…

“A veritable atlas. What rivers of desire, what mountains of ambition. Want, want, hope, hope, this is what your palm say, your palm is nothing but an atlas of impossible longings.”

Tesserae … a review

I have reviewed a couple of books by Matt Freese previously. You can read my reviews here and here. The thing that has struck me every time is that although his books tend to be a collection of narratives rather than a single discourse, the topics are very different. In this latest work, Freese recalls the memories of two summers in the late 60s, when he spent time at Woodstock. I love the name of the book too, it means the pieces of stone whch make up a mosaic – it seemed to me the perfect name for a book of this kind.

The collection is part-memoir part-adventure-novel. By using his experiences on those two summers in particular, and interspersing the narrative with the past of the past and the future of the past, Freese has created a marvellous book. The thing that will stay with me, is how very intimate the book is. It is a deep-dive into the author’s innermost fears, dreams, insecurities. He talks of his first love, his wife, a failed marriage, and his intense but brief relationship with his daughter. He talks of these events as if talking to a friend, and it took a lot of stepping back on my part to not feel upset and embroiled in it all.

The only slight downside, for me, was that there are a few American references which were lost on me. I have never been to America, nor have I had close friends, so understandably, that is a want from my end. But those who have lived through the American 60s will definitely find events to relate to and empathise with. I really enjoyed reading it and will recommend it for sure.

It is available to buy from Wheatmark or Amazon.

The Silver Skates … a review

A couple of months ago, I went to the Netherlands. It was my first trip to continental Europe and Amsterdam (and its surrounding towns) did not disappoint. As I tend to after lovely travels, I picked up this classic set in the 1840s Holland. If you have never been, if you have and want to revisit your memories, or if you just want to renew your faith in miracles, this should be your New Year read.

The Silver Skates is the story of Hans and Gretel Brinker and an annual tradition in Holland – ice-skating on the frozen canals that abound the country. The Brinker siblings are poor, with an ailing bedridden father and a mother who works to make ends meet. The Brinker children are good, honest, and hard-working. So good comes to them in the form of an expected present. Good skating shoes to participate in the race! The novel then leads up to the race itself. It follows the local children through the country as they train for the race, it follows the dynamics of a society when the rich and poor brush shoulders, and it takes the reader through the humble dynamics of every day family life in the Brinker household.

When Hans, like his sister, is given money to buy new skates, he decides to approach the famous Dr Boekman to treat his father. The gentleman doctor takes a liking towards him and agrees to take a look at Mr Brinker for free. The book then comes up to a tantalising climax of the treatment and the agonising wait to find out if the father will be alright. At the same time, Gretel is flying along frozen canals on the new skates and has the reader rooting for her victory.

The style of writing is very lucid, with Dutch history and folktales interwoven with the storyline. The narrative is fast paced at times and slows down in comfortable bits that takes the reader along the streets and towns of Holland. This book was a bestseller right away after publication and one can rightly see why. It has the excitement of travel, the redemption of problems and will leave you with a renewed outlook towards life and living.

Windmills at Zaanse-Saans

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The Secret Life of Bees … a review

What a book! What a tremendous piece of literature that I had not come across until now. I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough, if you haven’t read it, you must do.

Set in 1960s South Carolina, this book is the coming of age story of 14 year old Lily Owens. She is white and her nanny of sorts, Rosaleen is black. When the latter gets into trouble for being vocal about black peoples’ rights and ends up in jail, Lily decides to do the inevitable – leave her abusive father T Ray and escape with Rosaleen. The only place that they know to go to is to August Boatwright’s  honey bee farm. This is from the only semblance of Lily’s mother’s life she has, a honey jar label with a black Mother Mary on it.

The honey farm takes these fugitives in and so begins Lily’s journey of self-awareness, love, honey harvesting, religion, and lessons of people reading. The greater part of the book shows the entwining of Lily and Rosaleen’s life with those of the Boatwright sisters – May, June, August. There are many instances of racism but none of them are as horrible as, say, The Bluest Eye. Rather, the distinction between white and black is presented through Lily’s eyes and is a poignant reminder of the differences that are made by man.

The book also has a happy ending. There are times when I thought that once the entire truth about why Lily’s mother was in Tiburon would come out, they would both be maybe sent back to the police or even worse, back to the father. And after all, the father was looking for his daughter in anger. But the book brings a lovely resolution at the end. So for a tender account of love and life and colour, this is one of the most uplifting books I have read. Must read!