Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

Adaptation

Sunday, 28 August 2011
Cover of "In High Places (Crosstime Traff...

Cover of In High Places (Crosstime Traffic)

111. In High Places by Harry Turtledove

I just read this book this weekend and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a science-fiction novel for young adults (notably YA only in that the main characters are teenagers and there’s no bad language – it’s a good book with some really big issues in it) set 100/150 years in our future where a means of transferring between alternate realities has been found. A teenage girl and her parents (completely secular Jews) go to an alternate where the Black Death killed off far more of Christian Europe’s population, and thus the Muslims were never pushed out of Spain and now hold southern France as well. Europe is only now getting towards the beginning of a Renaissance and technologically is medieval. Since Jews are as badly considered in that world as they were in our medieval Europe, this family is acting as Muslim traders, and to fit into that world they are fully covered, with the women including face veils.

There are lots of different issues in the book, with slavery, tolerance and whistle-blowing some of the big ones, and covering only a minor one, but it’s fairly sympathetically covered at that.

Annette/Khadijia accepts her veil as a costume that she’s not especially fond of, but she realises quickly that her face covering is the only real difference from what the local Christian women are wearing, and that for a trader it can be quite useful to have her face covered in negociations, and that it’s not so terrible or derogatory as she’d previously have thought. Then when she and others are taken prisoner and forced to remove their veils she doesn’t mind the removal all that much, but the other women are shown as being horrified, and feeling practically stripped naked by the loss of something they’ve worn for years/life.

All in all I thought the book addressed the negatives and positives of its various issues well, and in a way to provoke thought. Those who are careful about what their kids read may well want to read it themselves first, but I doubt it’s one for anyone to reject out of hand.

Post Shavuot catch-up

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Well, I didn’t finish the dress I’m making DD, so she wore some existing clothes for Shavuot (and was proclaimed very cute when we went out for lunch today). I finally just now got around to adding five books to the reading list from the past few weeks, only the last of which was actually finished today. I’m looking forward to talking about some of them here, at least, and will try to do at least one review tomorrow.

Unfortunate ending

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Cover of The Land of Painted Caves75. The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel

This is not going to be the only fairly negative review of this book out there. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it over the past few days who’s read it seems to agree that it’s very repetitive and disappointing. Personally I really can’t think of anything it even really adds to the story of Ayla‘s life that wasn’t to be expected from the end of the previous book. Admittedly I haven’t read The Shelters of Stone in about a decade, (ie I read it once shortly after it came out in 2002), but at the end of that book Ayla and Jondalar had made it back to his people after a long and unusual journey, had had their matrimonial and then the birth of their daughter, and they were settling down to stable positions within the 9th Cave of the Zelandonii, he as a master flint knapper, she as new acolyte (trainee) to the local high priestess. They missed the friends made along their journey, but didn’t expect to see any who didn’t come looking for them ever again. They were deeply in love, but as two very intense, talented and admired people from very different backgrounds were still capable of deep misunderstandings.

So the new book adds another six years to the tale, but I don’t personally think it includes anything not to be easily anticipated from that, except the rather bizarre implication that as a highly unusual and capable woman who’s fought against conventions she didn’t agree with all her life, Ayla is the one who’s going to eventually (over generations at least) and unintentionally turn a fairly equal matriarchy where jealousy is one of the worst crimes into a controlling  patriarchy.

My impression is that Auel felt she was shadowing the climax of The Mammoth Hunters, but it’s such a straight copying of the storyline that I was bored by it. Not quite so bored as by the constant repetition of all the verses of the Earth Mother song that I kept skipping. Realistically that should have appeared no more than once in the story text, with a brief refrain of a couple of lines some (but definitely not all) of the times, with perhaps the whole thing from start to finish put as an appendix at the beginning or end of the book. Were we supposed to be learning the thing by heart the way Ayla had to?

Basically this book was crying out for a good editor’s red pen (or equivalent) to just cut out vast swathes of the book, including some of the step-by-step paths through every painted cave the author ever got to visit/sent her characters to see, as well as the reminders of stuff that happened in earlier books that wasn’t relevant to this one at all. Obviously in any series where the reader may not be familiar with the previous volumes lately or at all there have to be reminders of things that happened before, but in my opinion these should be strictly limited to what is important to the events of the current work.

I kept reading to the end because I was really expecting all this to lead to something unexpected, and for me it really really didn’t. I simply feel that as a finale to the series this book added little or nothing, and wasn’t worth the nine-year wait.

Ever busier

Monday, 23 May 2011

We’re moving. And we’re planning a complicated holiday. And I have some real problems with the latest Jean Auel book, but I’m also reading it pretty solidly (I’m nearly finished it now). I’m listening to lots of podcasts while pumping, too. That’s when DD agrees to sleep for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Down the side of the bed

Monday, 16 May 2011
The Speed of Dark

Image via Wikipedia

I read in bed quite a lot. It’s something I’ve always done, and it goes together quite well with a baby who doesn’t like to sleep without a parent next to her. I usually have a few on the go, piled on the top corner of the bed (in a corner of the room) and occasionally one or two fall down the side, from where I fish them out as I realise they’re missing. The bed got jogged out of place this morning, however, and when I went to retrieve the avalanche I realised that there were a few older escapees. To be unnoticed as missing these were ones I hadn’t actually got into, and sometimes hadn’t even started, but had just thought might be interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d list them here, with comments on how I’m getting on with them. (The order is just as they were piled.)

The ones I really wasn’t reading will probably go back on the shelf for now, but renoticing them has got me intrigued by some of them again. Watch this space to see which ones make it to the ‘Read’ lists…

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Unstarted, although it looks interesting. Looks a bit different from the other science-fiction I’ve been reading of late.

Cover of

Cover of Farewell, My Queen

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

About three-quarters of the way through this novel of the last days French royal court in July 1789, and enjoying it quite a lot.

Cover of "The Green Flag: A history of Ir...

Cover via Amazon

The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism by Robert Kee

While this officially covers the history right from the 12th century it really picks up the detail from the mid-17th century. I’m up to the late 18th century, approaching but not yet at the 1798 rebellion.

The Little Girl Book by David Laskin and Kathleen O’Neill

A rather different approach to a parenting book than I’ve come across before, this discusses the complicated issue of bringing up little girls while negotiating the stereotypes and sexism of our societies. The book was published in 1992, so still seeing how it stands up two decades later to my own opinions. Definitely interesting, though.

Cover of "Byzantium Endures"

Cover of Byzantium Endures

Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock

The two or three chapters I’ve read of this so far are decidedly odd. I’ll give it more time gradually and hope it grabs my attention. I wasn’t enjoying it all that much, and yet it was somewhat compelling.

Cover of "PEOPLE OF DARKNESS"

Cover of PEOPLE OF DARKNESS

People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman

I got side-tracked from the Hillerman books, but will get back to them. (I’d better, seeing as I ordered the entire set on Bookmooch!) I’d read a chapter or so of this one, but would probably restart from the beginning.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

I haven’t read any London since I was seven, and read White Fang in one sitting (staying with my grandparents I picked it up off their shelves to sustain me through a long morning meeting of my grandmother’s). I’m still in the introduction here, and I hadn’t realised what a fascinating life the author himself had.

Cover of How I Came West

Cover of How I Came West

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

A rather bizarre collection of often fantastical (but always so far set in modern-day USA) stories that I’m enjoying so long as I read each story in a single sitting, as they can be hard to keep track of after a break.

I don’t think I’ve read a collection of stories that was neither from one of the orthodox Jewish publishers nor aimed at children in an absolute age. (These are definitely not for children, although not crude, just for adults.) I’m enjoying the different perspective, and wondering why the general market avoids them so much.

Med Ship by Murray Leinster

I think this is a compilation of a lot of stories and novellas Leinster set in the same universe, but which aren’t always about the same characters, but I’m not far enough in to be sure.

Cover of China WitnessChina Witness by Xinran

More academic in its feel than the other books by Xinran I’ve read, this offers a very broad sweep of 20th century experience in China, as told by the survivors and thrivers of that period, an apparently reticent and now elderly generation. Each chapter, about a different person or small group, is relatively short, and tends to leave me wanting more, but that’s not a bad thing.

Wisdom of the Fox by Harry Turtledove

I don’t know why I haven’t got into this, seeing as I’ve been enjoying Turtledove’s alternate histories so much. I think I wasn’t really in the mood for what appeared to be more classic fantasy. I’ll try again at some point.

Cover of Wild Swans

Cover of Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

The first book about Chinese history I read. That was as a teenager, shortly after it first came out, and with all the Xinran I’ve been reading I thought I should go back to this one too. I’m picking up on details I certainly hadn’t remembered, partly because I’m older and partly because I do know a bit more about China now and can make more sense of what was going on (not that it’s badly explained in the book, but there’s only so much context a writer can be expected to give). Still looking for other modern writers on the country.

Worth waiting for

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

I feel like I’ve been looking forward to this one for a very long time, and thankfully it didn’t disappoint.

Cover of The Ruby Spy Ring71. The Ruby Spy Ring by Libi Astaire

We’re several months after the events of The Disappearing Dowry, and our narrator Rebecca Lyon’s elder sister Hannah is happily married and thus out of the parental home, leaving Rebecca with the burden of trying to be a role model for the younger siblings, while missing Harriet Franks, her best friend, whose family have moved from the vicinity of the Great Synagogue to the more expensive and fashionable Mayfair. Seeing the growing stress levels among his children, and Rebecca in particular, Mr Lyon suggests she goes to visit Harriet for a fortnight to lift her spirits. On the first night of the visit the Franks family take her with them to an exhibition, which is the start of some unfortunate events for the family, requiring the investigative talents of Mr Ezra Melamed, with Rebecca as an interested observer and would-be participant.

The history and culture seems accurate, with the narrative voice strong and plausible, and the characters distinct and consistent with the previous book. The Jewish references are clearly but largely unobtrusively explained, so I’d recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction (especially of Regency England), or mysteries, or tales of Jewish communities. As a pocket-size paperback it’s cheaper than most of the Jewish novels, but is very nicely produced nonetheless. Highly recommended. I hope there are more to come!

Up to Speed

Monday, 2 May 2011

With this year’s book numbers surpassing last year’s total already, I really should finish discussing the last book on that list.

Cover of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Ar...

Cover via Amazon

67. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Not sure when, if ever, I’d have got to reading this myself, but Heather did this as a Craftlit book last year and DH and I both greatly enjoyed it.

I previously mentioned this while listening to it.

Twain is often bitingly cynical in this novel, and his characters aren’t always all that likeable either. Heather’s commentary certainly helped to bring out the themes, however. As someone who’d never read it, but thought she knew the basic premise, the ending was rather a dark shock, and has overshadowed my memories of the earlier humour. Neither Twain nor The Boss (our narrator) pull many punches at all, and we have many an attack on 19th century values, as caricatured in a pretend early medieval England. Our eponymous protagonist is rather an anti-hero in many ways, and likes to make fun of basically everyone with whom he comes into contact, often somewhat cruelly.

It doesn’t sound like I enjoyed the book, does it? I actually did enjoy a lot of it, and certainly felt the rest was worthwhile. The reading was very good, and I’d recommend the Craftlit commentary (as always) too.

Alternatives

Sunday, 24 April 2011
Days of Infamy series

Image via Wikipedia

53. Days of Infamy by Harry Turtledove

It seems Turtledove writes two types of alternative history: one, as in The Guns of the South, previously discussed here, uses a science fiction mechanism to change things (there time travel, in his Worldwar series an alien invasion); the second, as here, simply posits a different decision being taken somewhere along the line that he feels would have caused a significant deviation from our recorded history. He will then write about the same episodes in history (usually major wars, from the books I’ve seen) through both mechanisms, as completely separate series or individual books.

In this particular book, the Japanese when attacking Pearl Harbor (my UK spell-check thinks that should be ‘harbour’, but as a place name I’m disagreeing) back up the devastation of its forces by air attack with an invasion, taking the islands and thereby not only slowing the Americans down in the Pacific, but also giving themselves a base from which to attack the US mainland‘s West Coast.

This is where I should admit that my knowledge of the Pacific part of WWII is pretty sketchy, and largely based on novels and films. (As a European Jew, my studies of WWII tended towards the Holocaust and the war in Europe.) I can’t comment much, therefore, on where the history and the alternative diverge, but certainly Turtledove makes everything seem pretty plausible.

As a novel, the story certainly works. We have several viewpoint characters, both Japanese and American (and one Japanese man who’s been living on Hawaii for decades but can’t quite understand why his sons consider themselves American rather than Japanese). All but one or two of these are based on and around the Hawaiian islands for most of the novel, and those are US mainlanders who give us some perspective on how things are being seen from afar, as well as in positions likely to get them more involved later in the series. I think the mix is good to show us what’s happening to the various populations involved, and yet the characters are developed individuals that we can care about or at least understand.

I don’t have the sequel to this yet, but I am looking forward to it. I’ve really taken to Turtledove’s alt. history, and they’re good and thought provoking.

Interesting

Friday, 15 April 2011

As longer term readers of this blog may know, Dorothy Dunnett has been my favourite author since I was thirteen and first read the Lymond Chronicles during, on the way home from and after a family holiday to Turkey, so when my mother just emailed me the link to the video of an interview with her I had to watch. (Unfortunately embedding is disabled on this video, apparently.)

It being Friday afternoon, this has taken all my blogging time before Shabbat, so I hope some of you at least will enjoy the interview too.

Life story

Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Memoirs of a Geisha

Image via Wikipedia

28. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Right from the beginning this reminded me of Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki, which I last read in 2008. Then in the acknowledgements at the end I discovered that Mineko Iwasaki was actually Golden’s primary informant about the lives and customs of the the Geisha, or Geiko of Gion, in Kyoto, Japan. She was a primary member of that circle in the 1960s and 70s, while the heroine of Golden’s novel was there in the 1930s, but one stressed point in both books is the importance of the continuing tradition.

So, the novel. Well the first thing to remember is that this is a novel, historical and researched as it may be. As a story, it works, as the first person tale of a woman’s life among men and women of power, wealth and prestige. (Outside Gion, all those with power are men.) In a way, although the story is very different, it reminds me in that of Moll Flanders (which I haven’t read in many years) and Pamela (which I’ve admittedly only read about). This certainly isn’t a love story.

It’s a good book, but having read Iwasaki’s book I actually found the parts of this about Japan just after WWII the most interesting, as that’s a topic I really feel I’d like to know more about. The rest was more (in the words of a reviewer on Amazon.com) fairytale-ish. Yes the lifestyles of the very very wealthy in Japan, as well as those who served them, is interesting, but it’s simply outside the realm of anyone I’m likely to come across, and yet wasn’t new enough to me in novel form.