The Spinning Story

I know, I know, the path to hell is paved with good intentions! 2019 was supposed to be the year, I read more and post more! In fact in spirit of unrivaled ambition and complete disassociation from reality, I chose a 100 books as a Reading Goal on my Good Reads. Half a year has since passed by and I am so behind, that the word “catch -up” is something that can only tickle my funny bone!

In a year of dismal reading record, the one thing that I am proud of is that I was able to participate in the 20th Classic Club Spin Read and what’s more, surprise, surprise, I was able to complete my spin book well within the timelines; though the blog post, as usual is late! I had a very “Quixotic” list this year and I cannot honestly say, I was looking forward with enthusiasm. However, the spin number turned out to be a good number and I got James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic – Tales of the South Pacific as my Spin book.


Tales of South Pacific is a series of short stories or novellas, related with a character or an event and was published in 1947. The stories were based on Michener’s own World War II experience in the South Pacific and the stories are all fiction, steeped in real life events, based on the author’s observation and experience during his stay there. The stories deal with a variety of aspects that the US armed forces stationed in the island had to deal with – from the harsh realities of war, where death is inevitable and expected to the emotional aspects, of loves found and lost and friendships that survive the worst possible tests! The Cave , is a description of an action that happened in islands and where US Navy triumphed with of an English informer who infiltrated into the heart of Japanese military base and was later caught and killed. Mutiny traces the lives of the descendants of the infamous, Mutiny on HMS Bounty and their effort to save the natural habitat of the islands from the US Navy as the latter try and build a landing strip for the aircrafts that was vital for the success of the war in the region. An Officer and a Gentleman, looks at the loneliness and emotional desert that some of the officers felt and the many ways that they tried to conquer it, not always in the best manner or conduct. Stories like The Heroine, Fo’ Dolla, and Those Who Fraternize are all love stories that takes on the questions of color, acceptance and challenging the set norm, in times when old prejudices were slowly being dismantled by a world that had gone of the hinge. There poignant tales of courage and valour like The Aristrip at Konora and the happy memories that help keep sailors hold on to reality, like Frisco.

I can understand, why the book won a Pulitzer. It gave a brutal, honest and somewhat emotional narrative of a war, from which the US and the World was just recovering. It challenged the set status quo of class and color and privileges and sang the songs of a new World Order, which the Dumbarton Oaks Conference was supposed to achieve in the form of United Nations.  This book is all of that and then some! This was Michener’s first book and the unique narrative style that he would pioneer over other novels, like The Source, Alaska and Texas, was put down in paper for the first time. Short stories linked with one event or character came into being in the Tales of South Pacific. But it is not just the narrative style and the subject which makes this book a great read, it is the characters whom he brings to life, with all their nobleness and frailty that captures the readers imagination and makes them relate to them, admire them and sometimes, disparage them as well. The author’s thorough understanding of the Military affairs and conduct, comes through in every story, bringing authenticity and history to act as strong pillars to the stories. The  author captures the tiny detail of the people, the heat, the lack of facilities and the make do efforts to bring some semblance of comfort in the harshest conditions, and makes for the very heart of the book! While not all stories are all at par, most are and the last few tales especially bring out the brilliance of the author as he captures, in a moving and heart-breaking style, the unnecessary loss of lives of good men and women, in a war that makes little sense! 

To end, I believe in later years, James Michener produced a much higher degree of fiction, especially in novels like Caravan and The Source. However, the Tales of South Pacific is a must read for an honest, authentic and powerful story of World War II


World War II and such like…….

I am sure by now its apparent to all and sundry that I am sucker for historical novels. So I recently indulged myself again (Sigh! Yes! I do not know when and where to stop….actually I do! When I see the credit card bills!) and bought myself like 8 new novels of which I finished 3 –

  • The Light behind the Window by Lucinda Riley
  • Hothouse Flowers by Lucinda Rilley
  • Russian winter by Daphne Kalotay

The Light behind the Window traces the lives of The Martiniéres family, switching from present day Emilie de la Martiniéres’s life to delve back into the very heart of World War II and Sophia Martiniéres, whose tragic life is intertwined by an English SOE Constance Carruthers, who is sent to England as a spy in the German occupied France. First for the good things in the book – I love World War II history, so I was sold by the very subject of the book. The book does give a rare glimpse into an aspect of World War II that is rarely discussed or even known to the public – the SOEs. More than 100 women from all walks of lives were sent by British Intelligence into the heart of German occupied Europe to spy on the Nazi activities. Only 14 lost their lives. The book does bring this often overlooked aspect of history back into limelight. Further the author’s attempt to build a strong quiet and resilient character in Constance Carruthers is appreciable. In fact Constance Carruthers is the only character that I liked in the book. To begin with, the book is filled with cliché’s, a French girl falling in  love with a high-ranking German officer – I mean from the word go, this affair is doomed. Then there is typical Nazi general who is a sadomasochist and you know he is brutal and aggressive! Finally there is a so-called kind Nazi who wishes he could have helped save people’s lives! I mean there were people, Germans included, who risked their life and limb to save innocent lives instead of wishing for it. The cherry on the cake is Emilie de la Martiniéres’s – the poor little spoilt rich girl who could not become a lady and live up to mother’s expectation and ran away to become a vet only to throw it all up when the right man came along! Ugh ! Ugh and super ugh! I mean Emilie de la Martiniéres’s character is supposed to be strong and brave, when all she does is crawl into her bed and cry and cry, until you want to cry The history of the times hardly comes through and while I understand that the era is just a setting for the story, the book should have provided some concrete sense of the times.

Now there is no fool like an old fool, so when I finish reading The Light behind the  Window, I pick up another Lucinda Riley – yes I am an idiot. So I start Hothouse Flowers, which I believe was the first book by the author and I have to say it was an honest attempt and a much better effort that The Light behind the Window. This book is also set in the back drop of World War II and traces the lives of Olivia and Harry Crawford whose tenuous marriage is tested as the world plunges into a brutal war and the consequences of which are felt in the modern-day lives of Kit Crawford and Julia Forrester. This book is far better attempt – again like The Light, the book brings forth another aspect of World War II not always highlighted – the 3 year imprisonment of British POWs in the Changi jail. The word horrific does not even remotely capture the harrowing experience of these soldiers.  The characters are meatier and though Julia Forrester also seems to be crying a lot, at least her reasons for doing so are far more apt than that of Emilie de la Martiniéres’s. Then there is Olivia Crawford, the quintessential heroine, beautiful, kind and intelligent and in a deep departure from clichés, the author does not make everything wonderful and right for her.  The only weak character is Harry Crawford, but I do think that was a deliberate attempt and again, the author departs from clichés and does not give us a silent, strong towering character of moral rectitude, but a sensitive and a more human hero. In fact it makes one wonder why when the author showed so much promise in moving away from the stereotypes, did she falter back on the trite in her other novels. Having said all this, one cannot deny that the book is uni linear. It’s far too simplistic and though I cannot and will not call it shallow, it could have done with some more depth. However if you have to read a Lucinda Riley and prefer something light, I would definitely recommend, Hothouse Flowers.

Sigh! I think I have blabbed enough for one post and will continue with Russian Winter in the next blog.