2017 Man Booker Prize Winner

George Saunders has won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.  You may remember Saunders, known for his short story writing, for his story collection Tenth of December which was a 2013 National Book Award Finalist.lincoln in the bardo george saunders

2017 Chair of judges, Lola Young, explains why they chose Saunders’ novel:

“The form and style of this utterly original novel, reveals a witty, intelligent, and deeply moving narrative. This tale of the haunting and haunted souls in the afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s young son paradoxically creates a vivid and lively evocation of the characters that populate this other world. Lincoln in the Bardo is both rooted in, and plays with history, and explores the meaning and experience of empathy.”

What is George Saunders’ first novel about? Here’s the GoodReads blurb for Lincoln in the Bardo:

“On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body.

Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humour, pathos, and grace.”

You might be wondering, as I did, why he might have chosen this iconic figure for the subject of his first novel.  According to the Man Booker site:

“Saunders told TIME magazine that he didn’t really want to write about Lincoln, ‘but was so captivated by this story I’d heard years ago about him entering his son’s crypt. I thought of the book as a way of trying to instil the same reaction I’d had all those years ago.’”

You may or may not be in the habit of reading the Man Booker prize winner every year, but Lincoln in the Bardo has been rated highly by GoodReads readers and may well be one for the TBR list.

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was published in 2013 and won the Costa Book Award that year.  It was shortlisted for the 2013 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and a number of other awards that year and the following.  Many readers loved the book back then and I made a note to get to it myself.life after life kate atkinson

Life after Life, as the title suggests, is about Ursula Todd and the many times she lives one life after a multitude of deaths spread throughout her growing up.  The novel progresses and resets as she grows up and we follow Ursula as she lives and dies through WWI, the Spanish Flu epidemic, WWII, the London Blitz, and WWII in Berlin.

“What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.
Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can – will she?
Darkly comic, startlingly poignant, and utterly original – this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.” (GoodReads)

Atkinson has woven a beautiful number of tales in this one novel populated by some really great characters.  Her ability to flesh people and places really makes this book something special.  She creates interesting tension with the progression of each rebirth and each repetition of ‘darkness falls…’.  You can’t help but be intrigued by Ursula, the changes that occur after each rebirth to her and the people in her life, and the events of history.

A wonderful story and a fascinating structure, I definitely recommend this book.

Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day published in 1989 is Kazuo Ishiguro’s third novel and the 1989 Man Booker Prize winner.

“A contemporary classic, The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro’s beautiful and haunting evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House.
In 1956, Stevens, a long-serving butler at Darlington Hall, decides to take a motoring trip through the West Country. The six-day excursion becomes a journey into the past of Stevens and England, a past that takes in fascism, two world wars, and an unrealised love between the butler and his housekeeper. Ishiguro’s dazzling novel is a sad and humorous love story, a meditation on the condition of modern man, and an elegy for England at a time of acute change.” (GoodReads)

The novel starts out a bit slowly as you meet Darlington Hall’s long time butler, Stevens, and see his current working situation which he describes as being very different from the remains of the day ishigurodays he served Lord Darlington.  As you join Stevens on his road trip to see Miss Kenton you also join him on a trip back into the past as he recounts his time at Darlington Hall, the events held there, the famous and esteemed people who came to Darlington, and the day to day of a butler at such a highly regarded manor.  As he progresses through the past you begin to get a clear idea of just how different things had been for Stevens and how he is himself coming to grips with this new phase in his own life.

Stevens is a very well spoken man and the diction of the book consistently matches this which I enjoyed.  I felt it was the most important element of character development in this book as it conveys the real extent of how old school Stevens really is.  People describe this book as being part love story but in all honesty I didn’t really feel this way.  My understanding of the themes of this book were about a man coming to grips with moving into a new age, learning to be relevant in this new time with new ways of being.  Indeed Stevens goes on the journey to see Miss Kenton but it is much more about a man who goes on a journey of introspection to gain perspective on his life and sort through his feelings about where he is in his life now and how he will move forward.

Upon arriving at his final destination before his trip back to Darlington, Stevens decides to take in the sea view one late afternoon sitting on a pier bench waiting for the pier lights to be switched on.  Stevens is lost in his own thoughts until a man seated beside him says, “Sea air does you a lot of good.”  As they got to talking Stevens learns this man was a footman in the old days and he confides in him about his feelings of the old days being over and his doubts of what was to come.  To which the man responds:

“You’ve got to enjoy yourself. The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it. That’s how I look at it. Ask anybody, they’ll all tell you. The evening’s the best part of the day.”

This is Stevens’ ultimate realisation in the face of all his thoughts, good and bad, about the past.  It is the past and he must decide what to do for the remains of the day.

“Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day.” 

I enjoyed this book because this is a message that will remain relevant for us all no matter the times.  It just so happens that this message is especially well illustrated when placed in the context of a time that really is vastly different from the times we live in today.  A good read.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

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Review: Euphoria by Lily King

In February this year Euphoria by Lily King was among the NBCC finalists and it interested me enough to make my Feb TBR Chronicles as well.  I got around to reading it this month and I was happily surprised by it.euphoria lily king

Upon initially reading the book blurb I wondered how the novel would play out being a historical novel about anthropologists.  I was interested in the story but there were a number of ways that, in my mind, this subject matter could have gone and it seemed possible to be a complete bore.  But it wasn’t!  It was a truly lovely book about relationships.

“From New England Book Award winner Lily King comes a breathtaking novel about three young anthropologists of the ’30s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives.  English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying the Kiona river tribe in the Territory of New Guinea. Haunted by the memory of his brothers’ deaths and increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when a chance encounter with colleagues, the controversial Nell Stone and her wry and mercurial Australian husband Fen, pulls him back from the brink. Nell and Fen have just fled the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo and, in spite of Nell’s poor health, are hungry for a new discovery. When Bankson finds them a new tribe nearby, the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and romantic firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control.” (GoodReads)

Euphoria is largely about the relationships between the three anthropologists but not exclusively.  There are many people and relationships to explore all of which give us insight into the characters.

It has wonderful depth and is set in a unique environment.  Those of you who have read a few of my other reviews will know I’m a sucker for new places and cultures in my reading.  If that sounds like something you’ll enjoy I highly recommend this book.

The story has its highs and lows and it shows the highs and lows of our humanity.  I really enjoyed this book. It is loosely based on the time American Anthropologist Margaret Mead, her husband Australian Reo Fortune, and the Englishman Gregory Bateson spent together on the Sepik River in New Guinea in the 30s.  This is a great holiday read and I highly recommend it.

 

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

Review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See was very popular this year and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  I wondered if I would enjoyAll the Light We Cannot See a book set in WW2 since I’m not really a fan of wartime fiction but I am very glad I gave it a chance.  I haven’t read anything like this story before and it was quite a captivating read.

Here is the blurb from GoodReads:

“Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.  In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.”

I was very taken by Marie Laure who has to navigate this terrifying time not only as a young girl but also blind.  This book has apparently been 10 years in the writing and I can see how the time spent on this novel has come to render a beautiful and full story.  I loved all the characters and felt the landscapes were described so vividly as if I too were blind.  I loved how all the stories came together in the end.  What a joy to read.  This book is fully deserving of its acclaim and is one of my favourite reads of 2014.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

 

A Guide to Reading Wilbur Smith’s Series

Wilbur Smith is a best-selling author with four series of wonderful novels.  He was born in Kabwe, Zambia in 1933 and went to university in South Africa.  His novels span centuries and follow different people and families on the African continent.  He has also written a number of stand alone novels so don’t miss out on those.

The Courtney Series

The Courtney Novels are a series of fourteen novels published between 1964 and 2015. They chronicle the lives of the Courtney family from the 1860s to 1987. The novels can be split into three parts; the original trilogy of novels follow the twins Sean and Garrick Courtney from the 1860s until 1925; the second part is five books which follow Centaine de Thiry Courtney, her sons, and grandchildren between 1917 and 1987; and the third part, the most recently written, follows the Courtney family from the 1660s until 1918, focusing on successive generations of the family. This is the suggested reading order based on time period covered not publication date.

    1. Birds of Prey  – 1660s
    2. The Golden Lion – 1670s
    3. Monsoon – 1690s
    4. Blue Horizon  – 1730s
    5. When the Lion Feeds – 1860s-1890s
    6. Triumph of the Sun – 1880s
    7. The Sound of Thunder – 1899-1906
    8. Assegai – 1906-1918
    9. The Burning Shore – 1917-1920
    10. A Sparrow Falls – 1918-1925
    11. Power of the Sword – 1931-1948
    12. Rage – 1950s & 1960s
    13. Golden Fox – 1969-1979
    14. A Time To Die – 1987

For those of you reading the Courtney series here is a family tree diagram created by Dennis Wheeler for Wikipedia:

Courtney-tree

 The Ballantyne Series

The Ballantyne Novels are a series of five novels published between 1980 and 1992. They chronicle the lives of the Ballantyne family, from the 1860s through until 1980’s against a background of Rhodesian history (now Zimbabwe). A fifth novel published in 2005 seeks to combine the Ballantyne narrative with that of Smith’s other family saga, The Courtney novels.

  1. A Falcon Flies – 1860
  2. Men of Men – 1870s-1890s
  3. The Angels Weep – 1st part 1890s, 2nd part 1977
  4. The Leopard Hunts in Darkness – 1980s
  5. The Triumph of the Sun – 1884

The Egyptian Series

A historical fiction series of six novels published between 1993 and 2016 based in a large part on Pharaoh Memnon’s time along with his story and that of his mother Lostris through the eyes of his mother’s slave Taita mixing in elements of the Hyksos’ domination and eventual overthrow.

  1. River God (1993)
  2. The Seventh Scroll (1995)
  3. Warlock (1995)
  4. The Quest (2007)
  5. Desert God (2014)
  6. Pharaoh (2016)

The Hector Cross Series

A series following the adventures of Hector Cross of Cross Bow Security.

  1. Those in Peril (2011)
  2. Vicious Circle (2013)
  3. Predator (2016)

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Review: Philida by Andre Brink

Philida was written by South African author Andre Brink in 2012 and longlisted for the Man Booker prize.

It is 1832 in South Africa, the year before slavery is abolished and the slaves are emancipated. Philida is the mother of four children by Francois Brink, the son of her master. When Francois’s father orders him to marry a woman from a prominent Cape Town family, Francois reneges on his promise to give Philida her freedom, threatening instead to sell her to Philidanew owners in the harsh country up north.  Here is the remarkable story—based on individuals connected to the author’s family—of a fiercely independent woman who will settle for nothing and for no one. Unwilling to accept the future that lies ahead of her, Philida continues to test the limits and lodges a complaint against the Brink family. Then she sets off on a journey—from the southernmost reaches of the Cape, across a great wilderness, to the far north of the country—in order to reclaim her soul. (read more on GoodReads)

Brink says in the acknowledgements that this novel was borne out of his discovery of Philida’s story as a slave at Zandvliet owned by Cornelis Brink who in reality is the brother of a direct ancestor of his.  Every detail of this book has been based on fact from the spelling of the names of places like ‘Caab’ (for Cape) to the exchange rate from Pounds Sterling to the local Rix Dollar of the time.  Every element of the way that the slaves were treated and the running of the slave auctions is based on his research.  The cultural aspects of this story are also a true reflection of the time.  The only part of the book that really came from the author’s imagination is the part of Philida’s life that follows her being sold at the auction in Worcester because at this point she vanishes completely from the historical records.

“Brink wrote this book after discovering that a collateral ancestor of his owned a slave named Philida in the early 1800s. As he recounts in the acknowledgments, the real Philida lodged a brave complaint to the Slave Protector in 1832 about her treatment by Francois Brink, who was the son of her owner, Cornelis. She claimed that she had four children by Francois, and André Brink uses this historical record as a launching pad for his imagined version of Philida’s life. In the novel, she tells the Slave Protector that Francois reneged on his promise of freedom and was planning to sell her, in order to follow his father’s orders to marry a white woman.” (NYT review Cape Fear by Ceridwen Dovey)

There are paragraphs upon paragraphs of descriptions about what people went through living in those times in the Cape Colony.  Living through slavery and living on a harsh and unforgiving landscape.  I found this book both interesting and tragic to read.  It is personal for me as I am from Cape Town.  There were moments where I was saddened and when I was shocked.  It’s a book that definitely made me think about what took place on the land that I know so well, on the streets that I have walked on.  This is because of the historical detail of this book not necessarily the story itself (hence the 3 star rating instead of 5) albeit well written.

This novel is about slavery in general in the Cape but I feel it is important to acknowledge through Philida that, in the Cape, slavery did not only extend to black Africans but also to all those people brought from Batavia (now Jakarta) and other areas in Indonesia.  The slaves like Philida left their mark on this African country through the vibrant ‘Cape Malay’ culture we have in the Cape today which as many may know includes some of our best known national culinary dishes.  I digress…

I have noticed in a number of reviews that the voice Brink chose for Philida was not to their liking.  Philida’s verbs are never conjugated.  This I am sure is to distinguish her voice from the others whose points of view are taken throughout the novel.  It didn’t bother me, personally.  Maybe it’s because I know Brink’s books are originally written in Afrikaans and I can imagine how Philida may have spoken Afrikaans in those times compared to the Afrikaans of the Brinks.  Brink translates all his own novels into English, extremely well, but I can attest to the fact that a great deal is lost in translation.  There are even words that were left in Afrikaans in the English Philida because there simply aren’t equivalents that would suffice.  I am also glad he did that for the sake of maintaining its South African flavour for those that choose to read the English version.

All in all I’m happy to have read it. It isn’t a happy ending story per se.  It isn’t a story where you can expect fast paced action.  It is a glimpse into a time, a glimpse into the life of a slave woman who wants to seize the opportunity to wear shoes of her own instead of the imposed bare feet of slavery.

 

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

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Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni is Helene Wecker’s first novel which I found surprising because it is such a beautiful and well written book.  I was attracted to this book firstly because lots of people were raving about it on the web and secondly because of its lovely cover.  Sometimes you’ll read the blurb of a book and think what a great story this has to be…often you’ll be The Golem and the Jinnidisappointed but in this case you definitely won’t be.

“Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.  Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.  The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.” (more on GoodReads)

I loved this book and I found the story so unique and interesting.  I really enjoyed following Chava the golem and Ahmad the jinni around 19th century New York, exploring it for the first time along with them.  This book is full of lovely little details about the destination of many; New York, and their homelands; Europe, Syria, about the people themselves and their cultures.  All these details about what led so many people to emigrate and how they survive in this new world.  These details form the colourful backstory and set the stage for a whole cast of great characters.

I really enjoyed all these historical details together with the fantastical elements of the golem, a jewish folkloric creature, the jinni, an arabic folkloric creature, and the wizard that brings them together in a twist of events I won’t reveal.  What made this story really special though is that none of this is overdone.  The historical element is just enough to set the scene and let you get a feel for the place without boring you to death, the fantastical element is only present in so much that you can experience what Chava and Ahmad feel as not only outsiders in a new world but as beings outside of the human experience.

There are also some wonderful passages that deal with Ahmad’s past in the Syrian desert which I enjoyed for this blend of historical and fantastical detail.  It’s this blend that Wecker does so well I think that made me connect with this book so much – every moment is believable and so great to read.  I highly recommend this book, I loved it.

 

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent

 

 

2012 Man Booker Prize Winner

From the author that brought us the 2009 Man Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall comes the sequel to the Thomas Cromwell featured story, Bringing Up the Bodies.  This sequel, Bringing Up the Bodies, has won the 2012 prize making Hilary Mantel the 3rd author to have won the Man Booker Prize twice.  She is, however, the first author to have won a second time with a sequel and the first to win with such little time between wins.

What’s Bringing Up the Bodies about?  Goodreads provides us with the low down.

Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.
At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne’s head?

This second installation of the Wolf Hall series by Hilary Mantel is sure to please historical fiction fans and has been described by readers as even better than the first novel with many Goodreads members awarding Bringing Up the Bodies 5 star reviews.

Links:

http://www.themanbookerprize.com/news/hilary-mantel-wins-2012-man-booker-prize

http://www.themanbookerprize.com/books/bring-bodies

2009 NBCC Award Winner

The 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award goes to Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  This historical novel claimed last year’s Man Booker Prize and although I have not read it myself I believe it must be an incredible read.  In the month leading up to the NBCC award winner announcement, Critical Mass (the official NBCC blog), posted a series of posts entitled 30 Books in 30 Days which provided reviews of the work of the thirty finalists.  The 30 Books in 30 Days post for Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is a magnificent article.  Here is an excerpt:

“It’s the story of the rise to power of Thomas Cromwell, who emerged from humble origins to become one of the richest and most powerful men in Tudor England. Brilliant, hardworking, and competent, Cromwell caught the attention of Henry VIII, who made him his confidante, his chief secretary, his Lord Privy Seal, and in time a nobleman–all before sending him, as Henry sent so many of his confidantes and capable administrators, to the executioner’s block. In the process of telling the enthralling tale of Cromwell’s early years, Mantel takes the hoary genre of historical fiction, turns it on its head, and makes it as fresh and new as the latest of postmodern fiction.

She finds the other side of that story and gives us a man whose politics were far ahead of his time, a humanitarian and social radical who is as loving to his family and friends as he is harsh to those he opposes. Her Cromwell “is at home in courtroom or waterfront, bishop’s palace or inns yard. He can draft a contract, train a falcon. Draw a map, stop a street fight, furnish a house and fix a jury.” Lawyer and financier, he’s a master of languages, an admirer of Latin poetry, an adoring husband and father, a man who can speak truth to power, brandish a stiletto, cook up a gingery eel sauce, evaluate the worth of an oriental rug, and stay loyal to his friends even when the rest of the world shuns them. More, he’s efficient. “My sins are my strength,” he ruminates. “The sins I have done, that others have not even found the opportunity of committing. I hug them close; they’re mine. Besides, when I come to judgment I mean to come with a memorandum in my hands; I shall say to my Maker, I have fifty items here, possibly more.” What a man to get to know!

Why is the book called Wolf Hall when Wolf Hall, the ancestral home of Jane Seymour, who will be Henry’s third wife, figures only minimally in the narrative? Yes, there’s a passage about the scandalous shenanigans at the manor, where Jane’s father is having an affair with her brother’s young wife. And yes, there’s a mention of the Latin saying homo homini lupus. “Man is wolf to man.” Some critics have attempted to explain the title by focusing on one or the other of these references, speculating that the book is called Wolf Hall because the doings at the estate indicate that the English nobility was so depraved it could not rule, or that the Latin proverb indicates the lesson to be drawn from the period’s invidious politics. But to me it seems far more likely that the title is another of the author’s cunning tricks. The book ends with Mantel’s Cromwell noting in his diary that he is about to make an excursion to Wolf Hall. It is after this excursion that history’s Cromwell will reach the height of his aspirations, becoming virtually royal by wedding his son to the future queen’s sister, and it is after that grand slam that his mighty career will begin to unravel. The book, like Cromwell, goes to Wolf Hall. What happens afterward is the subject of the sequel Mantel is planning.”

Go on over to Critical Mass to read the full article: 30 Books in 30 Days: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

 

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