Friday, November 27, 2015

Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War, by Ian Buruma. Penguin Press, 2016

Prolific writer of history and sociology Ian Buruma has focused on a very personal history in this book: that of his grandparents, Win and Bun (Winifred and Bernard) Schlesinger. Their love affair started around the same time that WW I did (although at that point it was discouraged by both families because of their youth) and continued right up to Bernard’s death in 1984, and it’s an affair that was closely narrated by their letters. During their separations during both World Wars, they wrote every day and many of those letters were saved, providing a treasure trove for Buruma.

Bun and Win’s parents were all prosperous- both their fathers were stock brokers- Jews who emigrated from Germany to England. They strove to fit into their adoptive country, celebrating Christmas and ignoring the anti-Semitism they ran into. When the First World War came, Win and Bun both desired to serve; Win became a nurse and Bun was a stretcher bearer on the fields, where he saw horrible things. Between the wars they married and started a family- which, during WW 2, increased suddenly by 12 Jewish children rescued from the Nazis.

Buruma’s focus is not just on the loving marriage of his grandparent’s, however. It’s also about cultural assimilation and anti-Semitism. Despite facing prejudice- Bernard’s employment prospects were limited because he was Jewish- the family remained devoted to England and *almost* all it stood for. This is a fascinating look at what is going on all around us now as people leave their home countries and face the same kind of prejudice. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Word Child, by Iris Murdoch. Chatto and Windus, 1975

Hilary Burde is the word child of the title. In school, the only thing he did really well in was languages. He excelled at words, but not in using them creatively; his interest was in learning how they worked together; the grammar, not the poetry. An abused orphan, his plan was to get a position at Oxford- which he did- and bring his sister, Crystal, to come live with him and be educated by him. But an ill-advised love affair with a married woman results in a tragedy and he finds himself working at a dead end government job, his sister supporting herself as a seamstress. He has a girlfriend, Tommy, who he treats horribly, and a few friends who tolerate him. It seems he has found his niche- or, rather, his rut- and will go on this way. Until the wronged husband of his ill-advised love affair comes to work as a higher up at the office he works at. How will he deal with this? Will he do the right thing this time around?

Burde is a thoroughly unlikable character. He’s weak, he’s narcissistic, he expects the women in his life to just orbit quietly around him until he has use for them. He has no ambition and no longer any dreams. Basically, he contributes little or nothing to the world. Despite this, Murdoch as managed to make the novel one I could not stop reading. I have to admit it was rather like watching a slow motion car crash, one where you wonder how many others he will take down with him this time.

Thankfully, the supporting cast members are more likable than Burde- well, most of them are. His office mates are pretty strange. All the supporting characters show themselves, ultimately, to have a lot more to themselves than Burde assumes- they have life, love, and volition beyond their association with him. A very good book all round, if you can take a main character who is a d**s***. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. 

This in no way influenced my review.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

nEvermore: Tales of Murder, Mystery and the Macabre, edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles. Edge, 2015

‘nEvermore’ is a collection of 21 tales inspired by Edgar Allen Poe. Some are updates of Poe stories- ‘The Orange Cat’ is a modern day “The Black Cat’- while another, “Street of the Dead House” is a retelling of ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ through the eyes of the ape. Others simply have the aura and atmosphere of Poe. The anthology features some great authors, including Tanith Lee, Michael Jecks, and Margaret Atwood(!).

Most short story collections have many stories that I either don’t like or just don’t do it for me; to my surprise, I appreciated every story in this one. If you are a Poe fan or a  horror fan, give it a try. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free in return for a fair review.

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Children’s Home, by Charles Lambert. Scribner, 2016

Morgan, acid scarred son of wealth, lives alone in a mansion. He spends his days cataloging the maps and books collected by his wandering grandfather. Morgan has had a troubled life; a mother ill both physically and mentally and an isolated childhood have left him ill-equipped to deal with the outside world he has never seen.

Then children start to arrive at the estate. The youngest are infants; the oldest is five year old David. Where they come from and how they get there is a mystery. They just are. They are preternaturally well behaved, quiet, and smarter than normal for their ages. David is their leader; he talks and acts like a small adult. They provide needed company for Morgan. They simply accept his scarred face as he accepts them. When one of the children becomes ill, the housekeeper calls in a medical man, Dr. Crane, who accepts both Morgan and the children just as they are. He completes their family odd little family.

The children obviously have a purpose, but Morgan cannot figure out what it is. They learn from his books and instruction. They disappear into the many rooms of the house for hours, sometimes finding truly odd and rather macabre items.

Outside the estate, a dystopian world lies. When it intrudes in the form of officials who say he cannot be harboring children, Morgan must face the outside world- and his family’s place in it- for the first time. What he finds is grim and bizarre.

I’m not sure what to call this novel. It’s like a dystopian fairy tale, a fable written by Kafka. After a ways into the story, I would not have been surprised if Morgan had turned into a giant cockroach. The story is uneven; the first part is very good but as it heads into the ending it changes tone completely, and, frankly, I am left thinking “WTH was that about?!?!” If I could, I’d give the first part of the book a 4-star rating and the ending a 2-star rating. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received my copy of this book free from Net Galley in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things changed my review.