Tuesday 4 September 2012

The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas

After their mother's death, Mair and her siblings are left to clear out the house that had been her parents home in Wales and where she'd been brought up.  I've been through this process myself and I know what it can be like.  You find all sorts of things that make you wonder and about the story behind them.  And this is what happened to mair.

She found a beautiful Kashmir pashmina shawl with a lock of dark brown hair and these led her to try to discover their story and that of her grandmother.

The story is told both from the perspective of Mair and of her grandmother who had left rural Wales to set off for a life as a missionary's wife in India and then in Kashmir.  Mair attempted to follow in her footsteps and so we see the region both as it was during the time of the British Raj before independence and more recently.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story even though it was a little overly romantic for my taste and the plot a bit contrived, but the descriptions of the area and the mental images they conjured up will stay with me a long time.

An article comparing The Kashmir Shawl and A Carpet Ride to Khiva.

The Kashmir Shawl is available on Amazon.com
and also on Amazon UK
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Tuesday 21 August 2012

The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa

I first heard about this book in its original French when Shan Sa won the 2001 Prix Goncourt des Lycéens for La Joueuse de Go or The Girl Who Played Go.  The Prix Goncourt des Lycéens is a literary prize voted for by secondary school students.

Shan Sa was born in China and didn't move to France until she had finished secondary school herself so winning a literary prize in her adopted language was no small achievement.

I read it for that reason and because I wanted to read a book set in China.  It wasn't until I'd finished the book that I realised that the format of the story was based on the game of Go, a very tactical that game I don't really know or quite understand.

It is set in China, Manchuria, at the time of Japanese occupation.  The chapters alternate telling the story of the girl and her opponent in Go, a Japanese soldier.  The chapters mirror the conflict in the game as well as the conflict between the girl and the soldier, and between China and Japan.  It wasn't the easiest read, but a fascinating glimpse into a part of Chinese history I hardly knew, nevertheless.

The Girl Who Played Go from Amazon.com

The Girl Who Played Go from Amazon.co.uk

Thursday 9 February 2012

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Not a light and rapid read, this one: my copy had over 700 pages and it's full of detailed descriptions.  The cover is dark and the story is dark, the story of a young girl who is searching for her father who in turn is searching for Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula.

Judging from the blurb on the back and the selected reviews, it seems to be aimed at people who enjoy books about vampires and I've seen more than once the suggestion that it is an update of Bram Stoker's Dracula.  It isn't.

I will confess that I found my attention wandering at times and in part this was due to finding it hard to tell who was the narrator.  There are three narrators: the daughter who remains nameless throughout, her father, Paul, and her father's mentor, Professor Bartholomew Rossi.  They all sounded much the same.  I have to say, the narrative wandered a bit and there were many times when I wondered how much of the history/geography was fact or fiction. 

However this was more than compensated by the wonderful, atmospheric, descriptions of Eastern Europe and Turkey.  In many ways this is padding to the plot and I can appreciate there is rather a lot of it but it may be what saved an overly long novel as far as I'm concerned.
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Monday 30 January 2012

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbø

Jo Nesbø is widely promoted as the next Stieg Larsson which is very unfair, it turns out, because he's been writing from long before the famous trilogy of Stieg Larsson was published.  However there are some similarities - a gripping thriller, Scandinavia (Stieg Larsson was from Sweden while Jo Nesbo is Norwegian).

Things you should know:  the surname of the hero, Harry Hole, is pronounced Hooleh, the "oo" rhymes with "pool"; Jo Nesbø is a man his name sounds a little like Nesber (ø is very similar to ö in German); and that "The Devil's Star" is part of a series.  These things always hold me up when I don't know.

The central character, Harry Hole, is an alcoholic detective.  Where have I heard that before?  However I found him more engaging than many others.  He is at the point of being in grave danger of losing his job but, in the midst of the summer when everyone is on holiday, he is the only hope when a series of murders take place.  The plot is detailed and intricate, and carries you along at a great pace.  I could hardly put the book down.

All the action takes place in and around Oslo which is a first for me and has made me want to visit the city.

The Devil's Star from Amazon USA

The Devil's Star from Amazon UK

Friday 6 January 2012

The Collaborator by Gerald Seymour

The Collaborator is the brutal but compelling story of the daughter of a Mafia-like family who becomes a collaborator with the police.  The story revolves around Immacolata, the daughter of a criminal family who realises that her family has been responsible for the death of a friend.  She has been living in London where she meets Eddie who ends up being an innocent victim in the efforts of the family to prevent Immacolata giving evidence against them.  Be warned though, it really is grim and brutal in places, realistic though that may be.

The book describes the very different worlds of London and Naples very well.  I thought Naples particularly vivid but that may only be because that's new to me and not the fairly familiar world of London.  But more than that, it provides a great insight into Naples, its history and the local Mafia.  And it's one I won't forget in a hurry - unlike many thrillers.

The Collaborator is available from Amazon.com and from Amazon UK