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1001 Books Round Up January 2020

How did we get to the end of January already? Anyone else feel that 2020 is just flying by?

On to this months winners and losers from the 1001 list.

She by H. Rider Haggard – TBRWhat Wiki says: She, subtitled A History of Adventure, is a novel by English writer H. Rider Haggard, first serialised in The Graphic magazine from October 1886 to January 1887. She was extraordinarily popular upon its release and has never been out of print. That would explain the long chapters then.

The story is a first-person narrative that follows the journey of Horace Holly and his ward Leo Vincey to a lost kingdom in the African interior. There they encounter a primitive race of natives and a mysterious white queen named Ayesha who reigns as the all-powerful “She”, or “She-who-must-be-obeyed”. In this work, Rider Haggard developed many of the conventions of the lost world subgenre, which many later authors emulate. I would also say movie producers emulate or “steal” ideas from this – looking at you Indiana Jones.

She is placed firmly in the imperialist literature of nineteenth-century England, and inspired by Rider Haggard’s experiences of South Africa and British colonialism. The story expresses numerous racial and evolutionary conceptions of the late Victorians, especially notions of degeneration and racial decline prominent during the fin de siècle. In the figure of She, the novel notably explored themes of female authority and feminine behaviour. It has received praise and criticism alike for its representation of womanhood. Yes reading this I did notice the dated racist/sexist overtones.

My Thoughts: This was definitely a rollercoaster ride of an adventure and reading through it I can see the influence this book has had on other adventure stories particularly the Indiana Jones series of films.

The author uses diary entries, entries by editors and “source material” to give the book a realistic feel and as the characters are university men who swear themselves to secrecy until after their deaths who are we the reader to question the reality of the adventure.

At it’s heart this is a quest for immortality and the fountain of life however unlike many characters in an “Indie” film the characters in the book question the attractiveness of leading an extended life.

It does show its age in some of the casually racist/sexist portrayals that exist within the book and if you can see past “She’s” beauty to the woman underneath it is actually a quite touching love story as well as an adventure.

Overall I enjoyed the ride and as my hubby informs me there is a film version I am tempted to look it up and indulge in some good old fashioned action adventure.

The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi – TBRWhat Goodreads Says: The author tries to understand the rationale behind Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen. Dismissing stereotyped images of brutal Nazi torturers and helpless victims, Levi draws extensively on his own experiences to delve into the minds and motives of oppressors and oppressed alike. Describing the difficulty and shame of remembering, the limited forms of collaboration between inmates and SS goalers, the exploitation of useless violence and the plight of the intellectual, Levi writes about the issue of power, mercy and guilt, and their effects on the lives of the ordinary people who suffered so incomprehendingly. Yes to all of this!

My Thoughts: I think this is an important book that really looks at the detail of how Hitler managed to dehumanise the Jews to the point where “ordinary Germans” were willing to turn a blind eye to the mass extermination and I probably would not have read it if is wasn’t on the list, however I don’t think it belongs on this particular book list which is meant to look at books “that added to the development of the novel”. This is not a novel it is a non fiction historical book, if we are going down that road why is The Diary of Anne Frank not also included?

What this book does really well is to show how the camp prisoners were isolated; how Hitler used language to turn them into sub humans; how removing certain things we take for granted caused them to behave in a way that made others view them as animals particularly in regard to the transportation trains and bodily functions; how by removing prisoners from their own countries they were put at a disadvantage in terms of local language and landscape knowledge; why prisoners didn’t try to escape because the fate that awaited those left behind and them if they were caught was deemed worse than eeking out a life waiting for rescue and it also questions why those not directly responsible still turned a blind eye because, after all, everyone apart from the prisoners had a choice.

5 stars for the important message. Don’t read this if you are looking for a happy ending.

Sexing the Cherry by Jeannette Winterson: What GR saysIn a fantastic world that is and is not seventeenth-century England, a baby is found floating in the Thames. The child, Jordan, is rescued by Dog Woman and grows up to travel the world like Gulliver, though he finds that the world’s most curious oddities come from his own mind. Winterson leads the reader from discussions on the nature of time to Jordan’s fascination with journeys concealed within other journeys, all with a dizzying speed that shoots the reader from epiphany to shimmering epiphany.”  Fantastic – check, travel – check, new ideas about time – check.

My thoughts: I love Winterson’s writing and as far as I am concerned she can do no wrong, that said I can see why others might not enjoy this book. At times it is confusing trying to keep track of what is happening and who it is happening to.

As you would expect the writing is magical and poetic Winterson takes us on a journey around the world and through time giving a new spin to historical events and throwing in the odd historical lesson about famous personalities.

I loved the observations about men and several of them made me smile:

“Men are always seeking soft women but find their lives in ruins without strong women.”

“Men are best left in groups by themselves where they will entirely wear themselves out in drunkenness and competition. While this is taking place a woman may carry on with her own life unhindered.”

“Your greatest strength is that every man believes he knows the sum and possibility of every woman.”

“I don’t hate men, I just wish they’d try harder. They all want to be heroes and all we want is for them to stay at home and help with the housework and the kids. That’s not the kind of heroism they enjoy.”

I also loved the descriptions about travel, time and the nature of the world:

“Every journey conceals another within its lines: the path not taken and the forgotten angle. These are the journeys I wish to record. Not the ones I made, but the ones I might have made, or perhaps did make in some other place or time.”

“perhaps I could have changed our fate, for fate may hang on any moment and at any moment be changed.”

“Time has no meaning, space and place have no meaning, on this journey. All times can be inhabited, all places visited.”

“The earth is round and flat at the same time. This is obvious. That it is round appears indisputable; that it is flat is our common experience, also indisputable.”

4 Stars – if you love magical writing and whacky storylines this is definitely for you!




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