Mahir Guven – Older Brother

mahir-guven-older-brother
Mahir Guven – Older Brother

They are neither French, nor the typical Arabs you find in Paris who mainly come from the former colonies in the Maghreb countries. So no wonder the two brothers who grow up without their mother do not belong anywhere. Their father left Syria in the hope of a better life for his kids, but the older of his sons got in trouble early, only the younger one who works as a nurse in a hospital seems to have a promising future. Yet, the feeling of being unable to fulfil his dreams – becoming a real doctor, being treated like the French – throws him off the track. With a Muslim humanitarian organisation, he hopes to do something useful with his life at least and leaves the country for Syria and the war. Three years after abominable conditions leave their mark and when he returns, he is not only the same young man he was before anymore but he also has a mission to accomplish.

“We used to just be Syrians. Well, he was Syrian, and we were Maghrebins, Syrians, sometimes French, occasionally Breton; it depended who we were hanging out with. In real life, until the war in Syria, we were all more just banlieusards than anything else. But since the war, everyone’s been calling themselves Muslim.”

Mahir Guven portrays two possible ways of dealing with an undoubtedly highly demanding situation. No matter how much effort Europeans put into welcoming refugees and migrants of all kinds, societies are not easy to actually enter. The boys have a French mother and a Syrian father, thus by nature, do not completely belong anywhere. This makes them not only fragile and prone to all kinds of delinquencies, but also perceptible to questionable ideologies which on the surface seem to provide answers neither the family nor the society can offer.

The debut novel gives the young men not only a voice, but also the reader a chance to look into their heads and get an understanding of their feelings and lacking sense of belonging. It also shows that it is not inevitably the family, the friends or the milieu someone lives in which determine about their life. There are always options, decisions are made and even if you opt for one road, this does not obligatorily have to be a one-way street. Second, the terrorists who threaten our peaceful life are not always stupid idiots, but the intelligent ones who simply were refused their share of happiness and a chance in life.

I was immediately immersed in the novel which is written in a lively and authentic tone. But first and foremost, I find it highly relevant to read about these kinds of perceptions and feelings, by far too long other voices have domineered the discourse and if we want to live up to our ideals, we need to listen to them, too.

Jean-Philippe Blondel – La grand escapade

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Jean-Philippe Blondel – La grand escapade

Le Paris de l’année 1975 est bien différent de celui d’aujourd’hui. La petite communauté du groupe scolaire Denis-Diderot maintient encore l’image de la famille classique et tout marche bien en conformité avec les règles établies depuis toujours. Mais, peu à peu, la façade commence à avoir des fissures, ce sont avant tout les femmes qui commencent à se demander si la vie telle quelle se présente est vraiment ce dont elles rêvaient et celle qu’elles veulent mener. L’introduction de classes mixtes dans l’école alors n’est que le début de changements profonds qui, principalement, circulent autour des femmes.

Jean-Philippe Blondes a créé un microcosme qui – vu du dehors – fonctionne parfaitement et représente un idéal traditionnel. Les familles avec leurs gamins vivent une vie tranquille qui n’est pas perturbée de n’importe quoi. En regardant derrière ce portrait public, une autre image se présente. Les femmes ont le droit de travailler – mais seulement dans la maternelle, être institutrice, ça, c’est bien, mais prof en CM 2, c’est tout à fait autre chose, une tâche pour un homme certainement. Cela ne les empêche pas de rêver et d’imaginer une autre vie.

« On a vécu mai 68, même si on avait déjà la trentaine bien sonné et si on ne comprenait pas toutes les revendications des étudiants. Le monde occidental vit des transformations sociales et sexuelles qui remettent en cause l’ordre établi (…) »

La petite communauté a encore bien de pas à faire, mais c’est le début. Comme les autres livres de Jean-Philippe Blondel, j’ai bien aimé lire celui-ci. C’est avant tout son ton narratif que j’adore. Il y a une légèreté et une gaieté qui permet à l’auteur d’appuyer sur la chanterelle sans être trop dur ou malin. Ainsi, il fait le portrait d’un moment décisif au niveau de la société mais aussi au niveau personnel – c’est bien dans cette année-là que les gamins progressent de l’enfance à l’adolescence, le moment où ils perdent la naïveté et la confiance que tout finira bien.

Eva Kopp – Celle qui dérange

eva-kopp-celle-qui-dérange
Eva Kopp – Celle qui dérange

Héloïse, trentenaire qui habite à Toulouse et travaille comme aide-soignante, vit une vie joyeuse  et sans soucies. Mais, non, ce n’est pas vrai. Elle est célibataire et quoiqu’elle rencontre plein d’hommes, elle n’a pas encore trouvez celui avec qui passer la vie. C’est bien pour une nuit, mais, c’est tout. Avec son amie Kelly, elle fréquente les bars pour oublier le côté triste de leur vie avec plein d’alcool. Un jour, sa vie s’arrête brusquement: c’est son père qu’elle voit sur Internet. C’est l’homme qui a quitté Héloïse et sa mère quand elle a eu seulement six ans. Grâce aux moyens électroniques, elle commence à collectionner des informations pour enfin le confronter et pour comprendre ce qui se passait environ trente ans auparavant.

« Celle qui dérange » offre un tas d’aspects intéressants, c’est ce qui m’a attiré immédiatement. Une jeune femme oscillant entre liberté et le désir de trouver sa tendre moitié, qui a un travail exigeant qui la confronte aussi avec la mort et, bien sûr, le fait de tomber sur son père inconnu à l’improviste, tout cela a promis un roman intéressant.

Comme l’histoire est plutôt courte, il n’y a pas trop de possibilité pour la protagoniste d’évoluer et de progresser. C’est une chose que je trouve vraiment dommage comme c’est ce qu j’adore avant tout, de voir ce que fait un événement comme celui de retrouver son père après tant d’années avec un personnage. D’un autre côté, il y a plein de passage qui m’ont fait sourire, c’est avant tout le caractère de Kelly qui a réussi cela. En gros, un roman court amusant mais sans profondeur psychologique.

Chris Pavone – The Paris Diversion

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Chris Pavone – The Paris Diversion

They have been living in Paris for some time now and it took Kate more than one year to finally accept that she would never be like all the other stay-at-home mothers who only cared for the children and spent their days chatting in cafés. So, she decided to return to her job. She is supposed not to ask too many questions, just to do what is necessary when she gets a new mission. Yet, that morning, things are somehow strange in the city, police is everywhere and there is a threat perceptible, but where does it come from? Another series of attacks on the French capital? Kate is good at her jobs and that’s the reason why she soon figures out that the whole scenario is aimed at somebody completely different and that this could also mean that her family and especially her husband is the primary target.

“The Paris Diversion” is the second instalment of the Kate Moore series and continues “The Expats”. It is not absolutely necessary to have read the first novel, yet, the stories are closely interwoven and directly linked. The story moves at a high pace, the whole plot takes place in only a couple of hours, it is only slowed down by Kate’s memories of her time in Luxembourg and a love story that took place some years before. The first of the two makes sense for readers who are not familiar with the first book of the series, the second, however, could easily have been dropped for my liking since it does not contribute anyhow to the actual plot.

It takes some time to see through the whole story. There are many things going on at the same time in different places and how they connect does only unfold slowly. It is cleverly orchestrated and finally, all pieces fall into place, yet, the whole set-up is not really authentic. It is quite an interesting scenario playing with all the fears of modern world: the quick changes at the stock markets, terrorist attacks on a Western metropolis, kidnapping of CEOs, secret services operating in foreign countries – you name it. Chris Pavone masterfully combined all those ingredients into one story, but, as one might assume, it was a bit too much. Nevertheless, I liked the novel due to the high pace and the fantastic protagonist: a strong woman who just does what has to be done while at the same time being completely down to earth and making wrong decisions in her private life.

Sophie Hénaff – Kommando Abstellgleis

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Sophie Hénaff – Kommando Abstellgleis

Anne Capestan soll eine neue Chance erhalten und das, wo sie eigentlich mit ihrem endgültigen Rausschmiss aus der Pariser Polizei gerechnet hatte. Doch bald schon geht ihr auf, dass sie, genauso wie der Rest ihres Teams, ruhigstellt werden sollen. Eine schäbige Wohnung, der man nicht ansieht, dass sich dort ein Kommissariat befindet, ausgestattet mit aussortierten Möbeln kurz vorm Zusammenbrechen und das illustre Personal bietet ebenfalls alles, was man sich wünscht: den Denunzianten, den Whistle-Blower, den Alkoholiker – all die, die nicht entlassen werden können, aber irgendwo hin müssen. Und die Aufgabe? Ungelöste Altfälle, aber ach, eigentlich ist es egal, was oder ob sie überhaupt was tun, so lange sie nur die Füße ruhig halten. Doch das kann Anne Capestan nicht und schnell merkt sie, dass sie nicht nur ein ungewöhnliches, sondern ein sehr kompetentes Team und noch dazu zwei interessante Fälle hat.

Kurz und knapp: Ein toller Auftakt für diese Serie. Im Zentrum stehen die liebevoll gezeichneten Figuren, denen man ohne Frage abnimmt, dass sie in kein normales Team passen und deshalb unbequem geworden sind. Aber eigentlich sind sie nicht nur auf ihre verschrobene Art sympathisch, sondern vor allem auch kompetent in dem, was sie tun. Ihr erster Fall, bzw. zunächst die Fälle, die dann erwartungsgemäß eine Verbindung finden, ist mehr als komplex und droht wiederholt im Sande zu verlaufen. Aber mit aufmerksamer Beobachtung und ein wenig krimineller Energie kann das Team eine überzeugende Aufklärung leisten. All das locker erzählt und ohne die unnötigen Landschafts- und Essensbeschreibungen, an denen französische Krimis seit einiger Zeit massenhaft erkrankt zu sein scheinen. Man merkt, dass die Autorin von Haus aus Kolumnenschreiberin ist, denn trotz des Kriminalfalls bleibt die Atmosphäre doch eher humoristisch denn düster-angespannt, was vor allem an den charmanten Figuren liegt, die man sofort ins Herz schließt.

Isabella Hammad – The Parisian

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Isabella Hammad – The Parisian

When Midhat Kamal leaves his home town Nablus for France, he doesn’t know that the old continent is on the verge of World War I. The young Palestinian starts his studies in medicine close to the Mediterranean where he also gets his first insight in the French culture and society. He soon has to realise that not only the world is in a very fragile state but also that in private life coalitions change quickly and even though at the beginning of the new century, people are eager to explore the world and foreign cultures, this does not mean that people are open to consider someone from the Middle East their equal. From France, he returns only to learn that also is home country is not an easy place to live.

When opening the book I was already astonished by the sheer number of characters listed. Yet, this turned out to be only one of the factors that made the novel quite hard to read for me. I also could hardly relate to the protagonist who, in my opinion, was stubborn and narrow minded. Third, Isabella Hammad simply wanted too much for my liking. Setting a love story against world politics is one thing, but it rarely works to write a convincing story on several levels – the personal, the societal and the political – without losing focus. I found the story quite lengthy and thus boring. Additionally, the intercultural conflicts and misunderstanding between the characters could have provided a lot of food for thought, yet, in my view, much of them were drawn too stereotypically and reduced to one or two features to actually provide grounds for discussion.

Sadie Jones – The Snakes

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Sadie Jones – The Snakes

Bea and Dan are frustrated with their London life and jobs and therefore decide to take a couple of months off. They start their tour across Europe in France where Bea’s brother Alex runs a hotel. Yet, when they arrive in the Burgundy village, it seems completely deserted. The hotel has never seen any guests and the house is completely run down. However, Alex is happy with the way things are. Bea is all but close to her family and when her parents announce to visit their children, she is all but amused. Dan cannot understand his wife’s hostility towards her parents, but there is a lot more that he doesn’t know and when they are hit by a major incident, he finally gets to know his real in-laws.

It’s the third novel by Sadie Jones that I have read and just like the other two before, again I really enjoyed her style of writing. The full extent of the story only slowly reveals and even though it is not a classic suspense novel, you know that there is a lot buried that will be uncovered sooner or later and you eagerly wait for it to show.

The strongest aspect were the complicated family ties. It is not clear at the beginning why Bea resents her parents so much, only when these two characters show up you start to understand her hatred and why she tried to cut all bonds. It is clearly a dysfunctional family in all respects: a strong and stubborn father who, self-centred as he is, just ignores the needs of the other family members and egoistically subordinates all to his wishes. The mother, however, is rather weak and clearly has a very unhealthy relationship with her children, even though they vary a lot. Alex and Bea seem to get along quite well even though there is a big gap in their age, yet, their different attitude towards the parents makes it impossible for them to really unite.

And the novel is about money. It is difficult to talk about it without revealing too much of the plot, thus, quite obviously, it doesn’t really help to make you happy. Even if you got masses of it. All in all, a very compelling read that I enjoyed a lot.

Dov Alfon – A Long Night in Paris

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Dov Alfon – A Long Night in Paris

When an Israeli IT specialist is abducted at Charles de Gaulle airport, this is not given too much attention at first. But since it can serve as a great story to redirect public interest from the latest of the Prime Minister’s misconducts, suddenly this incident turns into the top issue. And as it turns out, the case of the abducted Israeli becomes one of the most complicated and deadly warfares on French ground. While the newly appointed head of the Israel Special Section 8200 Abadi is fighting Chinese killers with a clear and uncompromising mission in the French capital, his deputy Oriana Talmor is struggling in Tel Aviv with their own people who appear to be much more interested in their personal agendas than in the country’s security. A long day and an even longer night lies in front of this seemingly mismatched pair.

Dov Alfon certainly knows what he is writing about and there are some interesting parallels between his own life and his protagonist Abadi. Both grew up in France which their parents left when they were still school boys. He did his military service in the IDF’s technological intelligence unit before becoming an awarded journalist. To sum up, “A Long Night in Paris” is a fast-paced spy novel which is highly complex in its plot and gives a lot of insight in what is going on behind the closed doors of one of the world’s most famous and most secretive services.

The story is simply addictive. Once you’ve started you can’t put the book down since you’re hooked and you want to know how all the different dots connect. What I liked most about it was the fact that it is not by surprising coincidences that the plot advances but by the doing of very intelligent characters. They are not only well-trained soldiers, but also the elite which is demonstrated breath-takingly. Even under the highest pressure, they keep calm and can control the situation.

Oriana Talmor is certainly a very interesting character. It is rare to have a female protagonist in a spy novel (who is not just the seductive sidekick of the big enemy), and in my impression she is well-balanced between the intelligent soldier and the human being who is sensitive and to whom also self-doubts aren’t unknown. This was especially shown in the scene where she motivates her female duty sergeant Rachel to continue her career as an officer.

The 2017 book sensation from Israel luckily now also available in other languages and without a doubt a novel that can compete with John Le Carré’s or Daniel Silva’s novels.

Gauz – Camarade Papa

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Gauz – Camarade Papa

„Camarade Papa“ offre une vue particulière sur la colonisation française. C’est cela qui m’a avant tout attiré. L’histoire se passe vers la fin du 19e siècle au milieu du combat entre la France et l’Angleterre pour la prédominance en Afrique. Qui sera le premier, qui aura plus de terre gagnée à la fin ? La perspective des Africains n’intéresse pas, c’est l’Europe qui domine et qui décide. Un siècle plus tard, un descendant des Africains qui ont vu leur terre être emparée par les Français, se met à la recherche de son histoire à Amsterdam et en Afrique.

L’intrigue et le point de vue particulier sont deux forts arguments pour lire ce roman. C’est dommage que j’avais de grands problèmes à vraiment y retrouver ce que j’attendais, je me sentais parfois plutôt perdue. Quoique je sois parvenue à le terminer, j’ai l’impression de ne pas vraiment avoir compris le contenu.

Sebastian Faulks – Paris Echo

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Sebastian Faulks – Paris Echo

Tariq is 19 when he finds his Moroccan home too small, too far away from the real world. Paris is the place he wants to be, not just because of the dreams of the city of lights he has, but also to follow his deceased mother’s traces who was born and raised there. On his way, he meets a young girl and together they arrive in the French capital without any place to stay or any idea of how to earn money. Hannah, an American researcher twice their age, accommodates them; what was meant as an arrangement just for a couple of days becomes a cohabitation for months in which Tariq not only discovers that he is not only ignorant of Europe’s history, but also of the struggles between France and its former colonies in northern Africa. But also Hannah not only makes progress in her work on women in the second World War, but also in her personal love life.

I was eager to read Sebastian Fault’s novel because seeing the French history through the eyes of a Moroccan teenager seemed to be quite an interesting perspective. The author certainly has chosen quite a unique approach to history, since it is mainly strangers who do not actually have a family bond or personal connection to what has happened and thus, can look at things a bit more freely.

What I liked best was actually Tariq’s education through the metro, especially since he didn’t learn because he was told to, but because he felt a need and wanted to. This informal kind of education lead to a lot more depth than any formal teaching could ever have provided. And it clearly showed that this kind of knowledge has a certain relevance in everyday life and it not just dusty knowledge of no practical use.

Even though the whole set-up of the novel was not really authentic – which middle-aged American woman would ever house a refugee in her expensive Parisian flat and how could a Moroccan teenager move around Paris without ever being eyed closely by the police or the people around him – I enjoyed reading it, especially since the narration of the past events was much more inspiring than the plot set in the present.