Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Gomorrah: Italy's Other Mafia by Roberto Saviano

DATE PUBLISHED: 2007 DATE READ: January 2009 NOTES: A stunning book about crime in southern Italy. Saviano, an investigative journalist, writes about the Comorristas who run a parallel economy in the region fuelled by drugs and extortion. He explains how the tentacles of the criminal families have been able to reach out as far as Spain, Eastern Europe, the Americas and even to UK. Much of what he reveals is genuinely shocking and he writes with passion and eloquence. He has some fascinating insights – such as the way in which many of the criminals have modelled themselves on what they have seen in Hollywood gangster films. Saviano is not afraid to show his anger about how his homeland is suffering at the hands of the criminal families which has often been allowed to happen with the complicity of politicians and police.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Digging to America by Ann Tyler

DATE PUBLISHED: 2007 DATE READ: January 2009 NOTES: In August 1997 two Baltimore families meet for the first time at the airport as they both await the arrival of their adoptive daughters from Korea. From then on their lives become interlinked as they share family parties and celebrations. The Donaldsons (Bitsy and Brad) are noisy, brash and confident while the Yazdans are much more self-contained and uncertain of their own place in American society. Ziba immigrated from Iran while her husband had been born in the US following his mother’s arrival from Iran. The families have differing attitudes to their children. Bitsy feels it is important that Jin-Ho learns about her background and endeavours to dress her in Korean clothes and teach her Korean songs. Ziba gives little thought to any of this and Sooki’s name is soon changed to Susan and all her toys and clothes are very much American. (I would have liked to hear more about how their differing upbringing affected the girls – they both seemed to emerge as bright and confident and very similar in many ways) Over the years the two extended families meet up regularly and get to know and like each other. But at the same time there are irritations and petty annoyances as cultural differences emerge. Not a great deal happens in the story but the characters come alive and the book deals well with feelings of belonging and alienation. Ziba’s mother-in-law Maryam emerges as a strong and interesting person. By the end she becomes the central character and I found myself rooting for her! A charming book written in a clear style with some lovely insights.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Dracula by Bram Stoker

DATE PUBLISHED: 1897 DATE READ: January 2009 NOTES: Although it is a well known story this was my first reading of the classic vampire horror. So although the plot held few surprises I was amazed by how modern and accessible the prose was – especially when compared with something like The Turn of the Screw which was written about the same time. The story unfolds through the diaries, notebooks, letters and phonograph recordings of the main characters. Victorian attitudes to women are very evident throughout the book. The female vampires attempt to seduce Harker while he is very much the innocent victim. Arthur willingly (too willingly) puts a stake into the heart of his undead wife. The women in Dracula are in need of protection while the men are brave and resourceful. Having said that Mina Harker has lots of initiative and could be considered a Modern Woman of the time with her use of shorthand and typewriter. Readers at the time of publication must have been enthralled by Dracula but even a century later it is a great tale.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

My Reading Resolutions for 2009 - eliminating my book mountain

One of my resolutions for 2008 was not to buy so many books - but although I did cut down I still seemed to buy dozens and dozens. So I will repeat this resolution for 2009. I have just looked at one of our bookcases and put together on one shelf the books that I have acquired and have been intending to read but somehow haven't got round to it. I counted 35 books. So in 2009 I will finish the Frederica Quartet by A S Byatt (read the first two books in 2008) and will also try to include:
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (636 pages, yikes!)
  • Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra (950 pages, double yikes!)
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Let battle commence.....

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

DATE PUBLISHED: 2008 DATE READ: January 2009 NOTES: This thriller is set in Soviet Russia in the early 1950s. Leo is a member of the MGB, the State Security force and a willing participant in enforcing the law using a mixture of terror, false accusations and an unremitting belief in the rightness of the state. At first he is reluctant to believe that someone is systematically murdering children especially as his superiors are convinced that such crimes cannot happen. The opening chapters are riveting and show the awfulness of life in the country during the 1930s and the paranoia existing under Stalin where no-one could be trusted – not even members of your own family. Leo’s rocky relationship with his wife Raisa is well portrayed but some of the less sympathetic characters are much less believable (such as Vasili, almost a comic book baddie!) The writing is pacy and Child 44 is very much a page turner. As a thriller is it brilliant (even though there were some problems with the plot) and will keep you reading on to the end. However overall I was disappointed in this book. At the outset I thought it would be a psychological thriller about people trying to live in an insane society but about halfway through it became like the script for an action movie and the tone changed considerably. The final psycho-babble explaining the murderer’s motives was just silly.