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Posts tagged ‘World War II’

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.

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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

 

The End of January

The first month of the now not so new year is over and with it, some of newness of 2019. One month into the year, work is as crazy as ever, like I never went away and the usual cycle of Dad in the hospital made me realize the more things change, the more the remain the same! But the key is not to give into the doom-gloom but believe and hang on and with some good friends and great books, life is not all that unmanageable!

So what did I read this first month of 2019?

Henrietta’s War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 by Joyce Dennys (Thank You Cleo for the great recommendation!)

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How happy we were, and how little we realized how nice it was to be lazy and happy, without fear and anxiety and horror knocking at the back of one’s brain like a little gnome with a hammer.

Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise

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I’m gonna have to get my eyes checked. I can’t see crap until it’s right in front of me

The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’ Neil

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“I am as flawed as any” he said

“I know, I see you, you know!”

Early Indians by Tony Joseph

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When the first group of modern humans walked into India, perhaps no more than a few hundred people in groups of twenty or twenty-five, trekking all the way from the Arabian peninsula over hundreds of years or perhaps even a thousand or more years, did they have a cosmology of their own that tried to explain the inexplicable? And did they have any inkling that they were entering a special place that more than a billion of their descendants would one day call their home

So I read, one classic, two popular fiction and one non fiction! I can unequivocally state, of all the 4, Joyce Dunning’s book was the best and maybe for the month of February, I should stick to tried and tested, aka, Classics.

Speaking of Classics, I am reading, Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope as part of and Jane and Cleo have joined me for a read along! This book was a personal favorite of Trollope himself and is considered to be one of the best introductions to his work! It is a chunkster at 700 pages, but we take it slow and easy through February and if need be March! So join us for this Victorian sojourn and together, we can enrich our minds and have some fun while doing it!

 

 

The 24 Hour Madness – Special Summer Edition!

This post should have been up several days back, but work, as always intervened! Long hours and sometimes pretty horrible hours kept all good things at bay, including more reading and talking about a REVERSE READATHON! A Reverse Readathon! What is that, you ask? Ah! Let me enlighten from an explanation directly from the source – the lovely people at Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon : “we’ll start this readathon at 8:00 PM Friday, July 27 and run through July 28 at 8pm, Eastern Standard time, where we normally start at 8:00 AM Saturday. Still 24 hours.” Now for me, situated in between the borderlines of the Equator and Tropics, this is actually a Readthon in straight, normal hours and how in the world could I pass that up? Actually, let me rescind that, I would have never given up an opportunity for any Readathon, but this starting in early morning hours is kind of supra exciting!

Now for the books line up – since work has been so crazy lately, I have not had  the usual luxury to plan and consider and plan! Fortunately, I did manage to sneak in a spate of Book Buying a week before and that alone gives me enough ammunition for the  ‘great read’! So here goes my list –

  1. The Bengalis – A Portrait of a Community by Sudeep Chakravarty – Published in 2017, this book has gained a lot of appreciation for its nuanced and impartial socio-political portrait of a community split between two countries – Bengal in Eastern India & Bangladesh. I am very curious as ethnically, I belong to this community and this history with many of its finer telling on the Cultural Revolution in 1800s and the Partition in 1947, have close links home!
  2. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – A book that has been on my TBR for some time and a book I am very excited to start. Set in the immediate years after the Russian Revolution, it follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov as he stays in Moscow as an unrepentant bourgeois. I have never read any book by Towles but I have heard so many great things about this one, that I cannot wait to get started. Also this is historical fiction and historical fiction, set in a time and a place that I am always interested and eager to read about! So double yay!
  3. Augustus Carp Esq. by Henry Howarth Bashford – Another book lying in my TBR forever and one that I had major problems getting hold off! But finally I have managed to get a copy and I am on Chapter 4 and all I can say was it was well worth the wait! A satire of the best kinds following the life of an middle class Englishman at the turn of the century as he waddles, yes that the word, waddles through life!
  4. We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter – Yet another historical fiction, following the lives of the three generations of the Kurc family as they struggle in the aftermath of Poland’s conquest by Nazi Jews and are asked to pay the price for being Jews!
  5. Open Book – Always a good idea not to plan for an additional book as we always need that one book on the fly , when the very best laid plans fail!

That now is the plan for tomorrow, when I start for change, all bright and shiny at the early morn! This early morn may be a tad difficult as I am really a night person, but I will be there, by morn, for sure!

As always, I will run an update post and will be going nuts on Twitter (here) & Insta (here)! And now, nothing much left to do,except say, Let’s READ!

Friendships & War

It’s been more than 6 years that I have been blogging and if I had to describe the experience in one sentence, I would simply say, that Blogging made me find my tribe! I  found friends who read books and authors I never knew and friends who helped me read texts that I never thought I could and finally friends, I could talk too without judgement or prejudices, talking in the language only readers understand! Stemming from this unshakable faith in my tribe, I always listen very closely to recommendations that come my way and naturally, when Helen, over at She Reads Novels, introduced me to Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce a couple of weeks back, in her wonderful post, I knew this is was far too good to pass away!

Mrs Bird

Set in 1941, the book chronicles, the life of Emmeline Lake as she quits her boring but stable job as a secretary, in a Law Firm, to embark on a journey as journalist and that she thinks will finally lead her to her ultimate goal of becoming a  Lady War Correspondent.  Only on the first day of her job, does she realize that she never asked for what role is she being  hired for, and finds her self as a junior staff of a Women’s Self Column called Dear Mrs. Bird. Emmy never one to give in to gloom for too long, grits her teeth and gets down to her job, ably supported by her colleagues, including Kathleen and the cyncial Mr. Collins. She soon finds, that Mrs. Bird, a formidable elderly woman, believes the current generation has lost all sense of proper conduct and has a list of subjects, “Unpleasantness” as she calls them, on which she refuses to give advise  – affairs, pregnancies out side of marriage, girls who have gone too far and other such “riff -raff”. However Emmy believes that these woman in the time of War as as is having a hard time and truly need help. She thus embarks on a project to help them. Of course, she has to keep it all quiet, not only from her office colleagues, but also more importantly from Bunty, her best friend and roommate who would never approve of meddling in other’s affairs, against the instructions of her Superiors, but Emmy is convinced she is on the right path, until fate dislodges all her best laid plans!

What can I say about the book? Whatever I say, will not suffice! In the character of Emmy and Bunty, Ms. Pearce has created a real life portrait of deep friendships among women, who are sisters not by birth, but by their soul. She captures the whole gamut of emotions that are at the core of such relationships – loyalty, support, love, sometimes even anger and finally humor, dollops and dollops of it! In Emmy, the author has created a heroine whose indomitable spirit and optimism conquers everything! Smart, loyal, funny and sometimes crazy, she is you or one your friends, with all the madcap zanniness, that goes with people like them! Bunty is what a Bunty should be – supportive, sensible, capable of drawing her claws when her loved ones are hurt and finally loyal! The ensemble cast is wonderfully drawn with my heart, literally going out for Mr. Collins, and ably supported by ‘Charles’, Bill and the formidable Mrs. Bird. Written in bright, optimistic and funny note, the book however manages to stay very realistic and captures the grim realities of London, during the German bombing. The plot is fast paced, and holds your attention so strongly, that you finish the book in one sitting! There are more than enough laugh out loud moments, and you should be careful if reading in public as me discovered when reading it in a cafe! Most importantly, for me what really made this novel stand out, was while there are many works set in this era, they all somehow end up focusing on the “romance” angle of the plot; this book in a stark departure from such angle, (it does have some romance) instead followed a narrative that showcased how woman helped woman, through self help columns, through long nights of vigil at the fire stations and as friends, when the chips are truly down!

I cannot say enough great things about this book; it is brilliant, funny, real and heart rending. all in one go! So just please read it, especially, if you are fortunate to have a Em or a Bunts in your life!

The German Guard

I am as many know obsessed with History and the World Wars are especially close to my heart, because, well simply because I do not understand how men and women could have been so cruel to their own kind and secondly, most importantly, I am sometimes scared, that we as a species never learn from our mistakes and we are going down the same path! This urge to read up on the subjects leads me down to various paths of Fiction and Non Fiction and sometimes, I find myself with a book, I would not usually venture to read, had it not been set on this premises so close to my heart!

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is one such novel. I have not seen the film, but I have heard rave reviews about both the novel and the film and both were highly recommended by many people whose opinion I respect. However I could not quite bring myself to read this one; the idea of sexual relations between a 15 and 36 year old, somehow seemed to have hints of pedophilia and even my broad, live and let live philosophy had trouble digesting! So I waited and procrastinated and then one Sunday afternoon, I found myself at lose ends, challenging myself to do something different and suddenly The Reader found me!

Set in the early years post World War II Germany, The Reader, traces the lives of Michael Berg, a lawyer and Hannah Schmitz, a former guard at Auschwitz. Micheal first meets Hannah, a streetcar conductor, when he is 15 and falls ill, near her house and she assists him with aid, before sending him back home. Once recovered, he goes to thank Hannah and they begin a relationship. One key aspect of the relationship is that Hannah expects Micheal to read to her, every time he visits. One day however, Hannah abruptly leaves town and Micheal is left with the guilt that it was his conduct that drove Hannah away! After a gap of several years, while attending a seminar that follows the trial of some of the former Nazi guards and soldiers, Michael meets Hannah again, only this time she is one of the accused, held responsible for the death of many Jewish woman and children, who died in a church fire where they were being held captive under the supervision of Hannah and several other women guards, when an allies bomb stuck the church trapping the women and children in a horrific fire, killing all most everyone. As the trial progresses, Micheal realizes that the evidence is circumstantial and a good lawyer, would have disposed off the whole thing in a couple of days. However, Hannah seemed to willfully volunteer information, that held her, more of the accused guards responsible for the death of those women and children and agree on matters that may not be wholly true. As the trial progresses, Micheal wonders about Hannah’s behavior and action, until stumbling on the secret that holds key to Hannah’s action and in protecting that secret, Hannah accepts all that is thrown her way, leading to unintended consequences!

Like I said, I was not comfortable with the premises of the book, because of which I held of on reading it for a long time. There is no denying that there is streak of eroticism that is there in the book, but as I rushed through its pages, I realized it so much more than that! The guilt of the war of the post war generation of Germans, comes searing through the pages, as Michael speaks for a whole generation, that could not believe that their parents were capable of the kind of brutality that Nazi Germany unleashed. Their struggle to ‘love and respect” the elders comes clashing with the historic reality of their elders and the struggle to somehow make peace or distance themselves from that past is heartbreaking! The burden of this generation with what to condemn and who to condemn and how to make sense of it all, is tragically and beautifully described by the author, capturing the pain, the guilt, the confusion and raging anger!Hannah’s secret that symbolizes the German population during the Nazi rule, is at the very heart of the book, that questions on how the common man could turn away from what was truly an abhorrence in the name of mankind and live to exist with it everyday! This sheer negligence of moral responsibility and how that generation tackled this, forms the very essence of this novel. Sensitively written, in some of the most heart rending prose, the book offers no apology for the Nazi Germany, but rather a bewilderment of how a nation and its people can go so wrong and its consequences that echo on the future generation. With a deep understanding of his country and the people, Schlink, wrote on what can only be called a masterpiece that makes us question our sense of morality and the option of “no alternative” that hides behind it the complete and utter failure of moral courage!

I did not love this book, but I was touched by it. It remained with me for a long time and I needed to distance myself from its overwhelming difficult questions, to write an objective review. It is not an easy read; I do not mean in terms of word count, but in terms of message it brings. But it fulfills the most important criterion of a novel, the ability to make the reader hold up a mirror to his or her face and question the most important principles of life! It is a book that needs to be read, if for no other reason, than simply because we need ensure that we do not commit the same mistakes as our predecessors!

What The July Showers Bring

Finally July…Fall is only 3 months away and I survived yet another horrid Indian Summer. Actually, there are 3 more months to go, but these are technically the Monsoon months, where it rains and floods and while it is quite pleasant when it rains, immediately after that the humidity soars and the baking heat now with high humidity, makes life, well miserable to say the very least!! But like my oft repeated motto, as long as there are books, life will always look up!

Whats in my July book bag then? A very eclectic collection! I am slowly and by slowly, I mean barely crawling through Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War as part of the The Well Educated Mind Reading Challenge – Reading The Histories! And I cannot say, like Herodotus’s The Histories, I am enjoying it! In addition there is OMG-I-CANNOT-BELIEVE-HOW-PONDEROUS-IT-IS reading of The City of God by Saint Augustine, again part of the same project. History, the subject I love has never seemed such an uphill task! To continue my interest in the subject, it is extremely important, that I spice things up and I go to other end of the spectrum to read The Raj at War – A People’s History of India’s Second World War by Yasmin Khan. I have heard some amazing things about the book and am really looking forward to it! Now for Fiction, I have everything from 19th century Russia to 19th century England and finally, 19th century India. I should complete Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. I also continue with The Pickwick Paper Read Along and finally, I am hosting The Shadow of the Moon Read Along, for which the plan is to finish reading this month! I also have on my Kindle, The Red House Mystery by A.A.Milne (of Winnie The Pooh fame and yes, he wrote a adult mysteries as well!) and Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy; his first book which is considered to very different from his Wessex Rural novels.

All in all and exciting (I think!) and somewhat exasperating Reading month! I leave you all with a video that I think capture the very essence of Indian monsoons!

Happy Reading!

All About the Ladies from the Choir

Everybody and by that I mean EVERYBODY who reads my posts knows that I have a blind spot for Historical Fiction. And historical fiction that is set in the backdrop of a small English village, during the early years of World War II – well, there is no way I am going to pass up that book! Hence, I was supremely satisfied to find The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan, when one day browsing through bloggingforbooks.com.

Jennifer Ryan

The novel opens in March 1940, with England beginning it’s initial foray into World War II and the Ladies of Chilbury Choir realizing that their singing in the church has come to an end, since the men, so very necessary to produce the right balance in the choir have left to join the armed forces. Each member of the choir has her own thoughts and reservation about this ending of their Choir singing. There is Mrs. Tilling, a widow and a nurse and one the premier members of the troupe; her concerns are divided into the worry of her son leaving for the front, the horrors that war will bring and of course the demise of the beloved choir which brought much peace to her. Then there is Edwina Paltry, the village mid-wife, guilt ridden by her past conduct that robbed her sister and herself of a good life; she is now desperate for a fortune, to ensure she can get away from the village and re-posses her old home with her sister and whose only motive of joining the choir is to use it as a means to her ends. Kitty Winthrop, the talented and precocious 13 year old daughter of the local gentry Brigadier Winthrop, who dreams of becoming a famous singer and leading a happily ever after life with the much older Henry Brampton-Boyd, who in turn seems to be infatuated with her elder sister, Venetia. Venetia, yet another member of the choir is a willful, pampered and bereft of any worries, 18 year old, seeking adventures and entertainment. Finally, there is Sylvie, the 10 year old refugee form Czechoslovakia who is troubled from the memories of a Nazi occupied homeland and a constant yearning for her family. The ending of choir leaves all the members at lose ends, with a sense of loss of something comfortable, in absence of singing when the new Music Teacher in the town,  Miss Prim starts the  revolutionary idea of  a women’s only choir, forcing the members into life changing situations, forcing them to confront their long held believes and do things that they never quite thought possible. As they all try and grapple with these changes, the meet and are forced to shape their lives around strangers who pour into the village, like the mysterious painter Mr. Slater, Colonel Mallard and the London evacuee, Tom.

This is a wonderful and delightful tale told in the form of diary/journal entries and letters exchanged and the narrative is well woven among the characters and the historical backdrop. Ms. Ryan is able to deftly portray the impact of the war on a small village community, balancing it well, with the more immediate concerns of its inhabitants. The life and concerns of the small community is extremely well captured. She creates some wonderful characters in Mrs. Tilling and Miss Prim and Sylvie. The way her characters evolve as the war goes on is very well done, especially when the way she manages to convey the changing belief system of her characters, from denial to tolerance to respect.  The slow sense of empowerment that comes through to the women of the choir as they stand up like never before is very well captured! I loved the way the author was able to intersperse the whole book with hymns and songs that were so apt for the occasion! The only call out I had was some of the events, which I thought were cliched and could have been managed better – for eg. from the moment, Kitty mentions Mr. Slater, I knew what he was about, as well as the way it would finish off. Similarly, I knew how Colonel Mallard would end up in the narrative, from the very moment he was introduced. Some of the interactions depicted are kind of jerky and jump from one emotion to other without sufficient reasoning of why it was happening and how did  the change come about; like the one between Mr. Slater and Venetia. The end also seemed to suddenly tie up neatly in a package, leaving one wondering about where did that come from. However despite, some of these flaws, the book remains a good read – a perfect anecdote to a hectic day, in the accompaniment of some good tea!

I understand from her website that the novel was based on the experience of Ms. Ryan’s grandmother who lived through World War II and shared her stories with the family.  The author does a wonderful job of taking these real life stories and turning them into fiction with enough dash of reality to make it believable and readable!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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