Milena Busquets – Auch das wird vergehen

Blancas Mutter ist gerade gestorben und die Frau verliert den Halt. Obwohl die Mutter krank und schon alt war, ist der Verlust doch schmerzlich. In Erinnerung an ihre Kindheit fährt sie wieder nach Cadaqués, wo sie im Familienhaus die Sommer zu verbringen pflegte und wo sie leichter die Erinnerungen aufkommen lassen kann. Mit Freundinnen und zwei Exmännern geht es ans Meer. Die zeit könnte so schön sein, wenn nicht dauernd ihre Mutter die Gedanken stören würde.

Blancas Trauer wird an vielen Stellen sichtbar, ihre Erinnerungen an die Mutter und die dadurch immer wieder hervorgerufenen Schmerzen, aber auch Freuden, werden sehr sichtbar. Was fehlt jedoch, ist ein roter Faden, es bleibt unklar, was da Buch bezweckt, wo es hin möchte. Auch stört ein wenig, dass die Protagonistin keinem Mann begegnen kann, ohne auch mit ihm im Bett zu landen. Letztlich fehlt mir die Tiefe, ein paar Erinnerungen schaffen diese nicht herzustellen und so bleibt der Roman belang- und aussagelos.

Donna Leon – The Waters of Eternal Youth

A beautiful young woman, since an accident condemned to the life of a seven-year-old girl and a grand-mother who cannot believe in the accident – Commissario Guido Brunetti’s 25th case differs quite from the ones before. What happened in that night 15 years before when Manuela only survived a fall in the Venetian waters because a drunkard sprang after her and risked her life? Why is this man now stabbed? Obviously there is something hidden in the young woman’s damaged brain and in the memory of Venetians and now seems to be the time to let it all out.
As with all the novels before, you can just sit down and rely while reading about the Venetian upper class living in palazzi and ignoring everyday hardships we know. Brunetti solves his case assisted by lovely and underestimated Elettra who once more shows hidden talents. Also the commissario’s family has a role to play which lead into the depth of mafia doings in Italy and the slight but relevant difference between foreigners and foreigners. Venice itself with the special setup of the city is again wonderfully integrated not just as the set for the plot, but plays an integral role in the action.

All in all, Donna Leon and her famous protagonist have not lost their appeal and can convince once more.

Yann Martel – The High Mountains of Portugal

Three episodes, thee lives, three times the High Mountains of Portugal. In his latest novel, Yann Martel escapes to the Portuguese mountains where a life as a recluse still is possible. The first chapter, “Homeless”, is set at the beginning of the 20th century and narrates Tomás’ quest for a crucifix mentioned in an old book. The second chapter, “Homeward”, leads us to Braganca in the late 1930s and Dr Lozora’s morgue where he established curious philosophical and religious theories. In “Home” finally, a Canadian politician of Portuguese origin returns to his native country accompanied by an ape.
It is rare that a book manages to combine humour with philosophy, love and death, Christianity and Agatha Christie and can entertain and challenge you at the same time. While reading, I went from great fun in the first episode (after the rather sad introduction) where we are sent back to the time when cars were new and people wondered about the strange animal. Martel could have been witness at the time; at least his account of how villagers react seems to be very authentic. What I appreciated most was the philosophy of Dr Lozora and his comparisons of crime novels and the bible. This actually shed a completely new light on the holy book and left me thinking for a while. It is rare that the love between two beings as represented in a novel can really drag me in. Yet, in the last part of this book you can hardly miss the connection between Peter and Odo which seems to be much stronger than anyone can imagine. While reading you could really feel the glow inside which bonds the two and leaves you with happiness, too.

All in all, if you are ready to go on a journey full of surprises and deep emotion of different kinds, take up Yann Martel’s novel. 

Let’s Read in English Challenge 2016

# 16 Julian Barnes – The Noise of Time

# 17 Sunil Yapa – Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

# 18 Anne Holt – The Lion’s Mouth

# 19 Kathryn Croft – The Girl You Lost

# 20 Arthur Byrne – Killing Hemingway

# 21 Adrian Churchward – Moscow Bound

# 22 Terri Ann Leidich – Family Inheritance

# 23 Jonathan Harnisch – When We Were Invincible

# 24 Tamar Cohen – The Broken

# 25 Caroline Wallace – The Finding of Martha Lost

# 26 Catherine Lowell – The Madwoman Upstairs

# 27 Dana Spiotta – Inoocents and Others

# 28 John Irving – Avenue of Mysteries

# 29 Matt Haig – The Radleys

# 30 Lynn Steger Strong – Hold Still

# 31 Michael Faber – The Book of Strange New Things

# 32 Rumer Haven – What the Clocks Know

# 33 Gaito Gazdanov – The Flight

# 34 James Naughtie – Paris Spring

# 35 Lesley Allen – The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir

# 36 Hannah Rothschild – The Improbability of Love

# 37 Jonas Jonasson – Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All

# 38 Tom Avery – My Brother’s Shadow

# 39 Curtis Sittenfeld – Eligible

# 40 Celeste Ng – Everything I Never Told You

# 41 DBC Pierre – Breakfast with the Borgias

# 42 William Boyd – Solo

# 43 Don DeLillo – Zero K

# 44 Salla Simukka – As Red as Blood

# 45 Meg Wolitzer – Belzhar

# 46 Christine Reilly – Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday

# 47 Adrian J. Walker – The End of the World Running Club

# 48 Val McDermid – The Torment of Others

# 49 Hanya Yanagihara – A Little Life

# 50 Marina Lewycka – We are all made of Glue

# 51 Gillian Slove – Ten Days

# 52 Emma Cline – The Girls

# 53 Marina Lewycka – The Lubetkin Legacy

# 54 Martin Walker – Fatal Pursuit 

# 55 Paul Torday – Breakfast at the Hotel Déjà Vu

# 56 John DosPassos – Manhattan Transfer

# 57 Wendy Walker – All is not forgotten

# 58 Fiona Barton – The Widow

# 59 Margaret de Rohan – Night Train to Berlin

# 60 Amy Stuart – Still Mine

# 61 Ruth Ware – The Woman in Cabin 10

# 62 Jandy Nelson – I’ll give you the sun

# 63 Shari Lapena – The Couple Next Door

# 64 Harriet Lane – Her

# 65 Ian Simpson – Murder on the Second Tee

# 66 Delia Ephron – Siracusa

# 67 Lisa Unger – Ink and Bone

# 68 Shappi Khorsandi – Nina is not ok

# 69 Eunice Charlton-Trujillo – Fat Angie

# 70 Howard Jacobson – Shylock is My Name

# 71 Michael Harvey – Brighton

# 72 Jane Gardam – Old Filth

# 73 Jane Gardam – The Man in the Wooden Hat

# 74 Han Kang – The Vegetarian

# 75 Antoine Laurain – The President’s Hat

# 76 Beryl Bainbridge – The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress 

# 77 Simon Mayo – Blame

# 78 David Szalay – All that Man Is

# 79 BA Paris – Behind Closed Doors

# 80 Scott Stambach – The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko

# 81 Alan Sillitoe – A Start in Life

# 82 A.L. Kennedy – Serious Sweet

# 83 Imbolo Mbue – Behold the Dreamers

# 84 Elizabeth Bowen – The Heat of the Day

# 85 James Patterson – Cross Kill

# 86 Graham Greene – The Power and the Glory

# 87 James Lee Burke – The Jealous Kind

# 88 Teddy Wayne – Loner

# 89 James Patterson – The Trial

# 90 James Patterson – Chase

# 91 Ian McEwan – Nutshell

# 92 Megan Abbot – You will know me

# 93 Paul Beatty – The Sellout

# 94 J.M. Coetzee – The Schooldays of Jesus

# 95 Jonathan Safran Foer – Here I am

# 96 Sarah Combs – The Light Fantastic

# 97 Jennifer Niven – Holding up the Universe

# 98 Rabih Alameddine – The Angel of History

# 99 Lucy Foley – The Invitation

Zeruya Shalev – Schmerz

Zehn Jahre ist das Selbstmordattentat inzwischen her und dennoch wird Iris täglich an den Tag erinnert, der ihr Leben veränderte. Nicht nur ihr Körper, mühevoll wieder zusammengeflickt, leidet nach wie vor unter Schmerzen. Auch ihre Familie wurde durch das Ereignis nachhaltig verändert. Ihrem Mann Micki hat sie kaum mehr was zu sagen, ihre erwachsene Tochter Alma hat sich völlig von ihr entfremdet und ihr Sohn Omer geht ebenfalls seines Weges. Als sie ihrer Jugendliebe Eitan zufällig begegnet, scheint dies das Ende der Familie zu sein.

Schon bei früheren Büchern der Autorin war das Lesen über weite Strecken eine Quälerei. Nun ein weiterer Versuch, da die Feuilletons sich beinahe überschlagen haben vor Lob. Doch weshalb? Hatte ich erwartet, dass dieses Attentat im Zentrum steht mit seinen Folgen auf die betroffene Frau und die Familie, so wurden diese Erwartungen völlig enttäuscht. Was man bekommt ist eine zermürbte, vom Leben und den Männern enttäuschte Frau, die sich relativ passiv ihrem Schicksal hingibt und sich selbst bemitleidet. Darüber vergisst sie die Menschen um sich rum – insbesondere ihre Kinder – und ist dann wütend, wenn diese sich mehr und mehr abwenden. Das Selbstmitleid der Protagonistin ist schwer zu ertragen, der Titel ist Programm, vor allem ihre Ignoranz über die eigene Mitschuld. Erst als mehr und mehr die Tochter in den Fokus der Handlung gerät, wird der Roman erträglich und gewinnt an Profil. Für mich jetzt definitiv das letzte Werk von Zeruya Shalev. 

Simon Michael – The Brief

Charles Holborne has made his way from the despised Jewish boy to a recognized barrister in 1960s London. Not afraid of digging, he can solve tricky cases and made himself a name in the criminal classes. Yet, his private life is far from being this successful. His wife is unfaithful and he has to admit that a divorce is the only solution left. Not realizing that dark forces are against him, he suddenly finds himself the main suspect of his wife’s murder and has to retreat to the underground from where he now has to fight for his right and name.
The novel starts at a slow pace, the characters are introduced thoroughly and their way of moving around described in detail. However, it is worth keeping on reading because with the murder of Holborne’s wife, the story accelerates and it getting better from page to page. The way the protagonist has to act now to defend himself and to deliver the real culprits is very thrilling and full of suspense. There are some dead ends to who might be behind the whole complot and untangling the conspiracy is great to read.

What I appreciated most is the atmosphere of the time. Simon Michael manages to evoke the spirit of the 60s and thus provides a suitable set for the plot. His characters are designed authentically and the crime is solved completely without leaving any questions open or by providing surprises out of the blue. All in all, a convincing crime novel.

Christina Nichol – Im Himmel gibt es Coca-Cola

Georgien im Jahre 2002. Das Land ist im Umbruch, von der Sowjetunion befreit sind der Aufschwung und die Moderne noch nicht wirklich angekommen und die Menschen hangeln sich so durchs Leben. Slims will dies ändern, er träumt von amerikanischen Verhältnissen und als sich zufällig die Chance auftut, ins gelobte Land aufzubrechen, ergreift er diese sofort. Doch auch auf der anderen Seite des Teiches ist nicht alles Gold, was glänzt und bald schon erkennt Slims, dass es auch im Kapitalismus Verlierer gibt und die schiere Verfügbarkeit von Konsumgütern (oder banalen Dingen wie Strom) die Menschen auch nicht glücklicher macht. Seine Rückkehr in die Heimat und der dortige poltische Umschwung lassen ihn letztlich kapitulieren – der geordnete Rückzug scheint die einzige Lösung.
Eine exemplarische Studie, wie sie sich in vielen ehemaligen Sowjetrepubliken zutragen könnte. Das Gefühl, von der Welt zurückgelassen und abgehängt zu sein, dass woanders alles besser sein muss und man dort glücklicher wäre und die Ernüchterung, wenn man das vermeintliche Paradies aus der Nähe betrachtet und das eigene Land den vermeintlichen Fortschritt wagt. Sehr plakativ kontrastiert die Autorin Georgien und die USA und beide Länder kommen nicht gut dabei weg. Nichtsdestotrotz zeigt sich im Kleinen, im Persönlichen, was zählt und dass es in einem schlechten System doch Platz für gute und hilfsbereite Menschen gibt. Weder das eine noch das andere Modell ist eine Lösung, diese liegt aber vielleicht gar nicht in den großen Dingen, sondern zeigt sich viel mehr im täglichen Miteinander und vor allem Füreinander.

Der Roman besticht durch deine sehr scharfe Beobachtung der beiden Kulturen und kann diese mit viel Ironie und bisweilen Sarkasmus durch den Munde des Protagonisten transferieren. Georgien dürfte vielen Lesern ein unbekanntes Land sein und sowohl die politische wie auch soziale Lage sind eher Randerscheinungen in unseren Nachrichten, umso interessanter dieser spezielle aber vielleicht doch repräsentative Einblick in die kleine Republik.

Francesca Kay – The Long Room

Stephen Donaldson, a single well-educated young man, was recruited for the Institute after completing his studies at Oxford. The aim and tasks of his employer remained rather unclear and so he finds himself listening to audio tapes and scanning them for hints of communist and revolutionary plans. Day by day he gets more familiar with the individuals he observes, he feels like being part of their family since he gets to hear every word spoken at their homes. The target PHOENIX becomes especially interesting when Stephen kind of falls in love with Helen who seems to be lonely and disconnected from her husband.

Sending the reader back into the beginning of the 1980s with the cold war at a critical point, Francesca Kay provides us with a glance through the keyhole of espionage and state intervention. Yet, it is less the political implication that comes into the focus but the very private lives of the targets which are portrayed via the tapes and which do not hide anything. Not just Stephen is very carefully drawn and quite authentic in his thoughts and manner, but also the persons observed and it is the details, e.g. the Christmas presents Stephen offers to one of his colleagues, which show an incredible capacity of close observation of the human being. Apart from this, the atmosphere at the time, the fear of IRA bombs or even a 3rd World War, is exceptionally well translated into the text.

Anne Berest – Sagan, Paris 1954

The last days before the unknown girl Françoise Quoirez turns into one of the most sought-after writer of her time, idol of her fellows and icon of her time. The year 1954 marked the turning point, when she offered her manuscript of “Bonjour tristesse” to three publishing houses and to her family’s astonishment was immediately accepted. A star in literature was born, in those days which also marked the beginning of Brigitte Bardot’s career as an actress and Paris was the centre of the global intellectual and cultural life. Françoise, now named Sagan, was suddenly catapulted into the middle of it.
Already for I long time I have admired Françoise Sagan’s writing, not just the best known “Bonjour tristesse”, but also “Aimez-vous Brahms” left me thinking for weeks after reading it. Anne Berest’s way of approaching the phenomenon is quite unique:  she is not providing another biography with an accurate account of what happened exactly in this year. She uses print materials as well as interviews and memories of companions to create a partly invented and partly accurate description of the last days of Françoise Quoirez and the first days of Françoise Sagan. This is mixed with her own thoughts in the process of writing and the problems in the writing process itself. The result is an interesting book which is always entertaining to read and makes you feel like part of the process of approaching the phenomenon Françoise Sagan.

Apart from the protagonist, you also get a deep insight in the French culture and society of the 1950s, it is often just side remarks that reveal a lot about the time.

Sheila Hamilton – All The Things We Never Knew

How do you react when your beloved husband suddenly is not the same anymore? When your life slowly falls apart and you can only watch but do nothing about it? Sheila Hamilton has gone through this with her husband suffering from mental illness without acknowledging his need for help. The author looks back on how gradually the illness took over her life and shows the signs she was not able to recognize at the time but which should have been a warning. Short episodes like losing the wallet again and again, getting more chaotic day-by-day and unbearable outbursts were a nuisance at the time but could have been read as warnings.

Sheila Hamilton’s very personal account of her life with an ill partner is not only interesting but admirable, because this is a very personal insight in other people’s life at a point where you normally try everything to hide to outer world that there is a serious problem. There are two things I appreciated most: first, the report on the single incidents made it easy to follow her line of narration and helped to understand how the illness develops; second, at the end of each chapter she provides useful information and help on various aspects of mental illnesses which can be very useful for caretakers and they are presented in a way that a non expert can understand it and can take it as a start for further research. The detailed annotations at the end of the book are also very helpful.