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An English girl living in Penn's Woods. I live in an old Dutch style colonial house, with my husband Mr Bit Brit, our son Rob, and our two cats Tinkerbell and Tuppence. E-Mail:

Friday, July 31, 2009

Libraries of the World

In honour of the Persephone Challenge Read in August and my upcoming trip to the UK. I will be featuring Libraries of the United Kingdom. Starting off with the British Museum Reading Room. See my side bar.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Spy Game, by Georgina Harding.

On a foggy cold morning in 1961, Anna's mother drives off in the family car and that is the last she sees of her. The siblings, her older brother Peter and her are told that she died in a car accident. The same morning a spy case breaks, the case of the Krogers. Who seem to be ordinary people, living in suburbia, but this is at the height of the Cold War, and the Krogers are spying for Russia.

Peter becomes obsessed with spies and codes; their mother was from the eastern part of Germany, what if she was not who she seemed to be? She was a refugee, what if she were a sleeper or even an active spy too?

Peter weaves fact and fantasy, their childhood circles around this. But as adults, what do they now believe. Can Anna find out the truth of her mother's family history and place of birth? Does it have anything to do with Russian spies, or is there just as much another mystery to be uncovered.

I related to their childhood in the sixties, with all the period detail.

This is the first book I have read by Georgina Harding and I liked her style of writing a lot. So I will definitely seek out her other books.

  • Tranquebar: A Season in South India
  • In Another Europe
  • The Solitude of Thomas Cave

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Journal of Helene Berr

Helene Berr kept a journal from April 1942 to February 1944. She is a recent graduate of the Sorbonne, with a love for English literature and plays the violin, she calls her 'selfish magic'; which helps her to escape the everyday oppressiveness of living under a Nazi Vichy government.

The time covered is the same as Anne Frank's Diary. But while Anne was hiding in rooms in Amsterdam, Helene was a student at the Sorbonne, however their fate was the same eventual incarceration at Bergen-Belsen, both being there at the same time and dying in 1945, only weeks before liberation.

Her father is a director of a chemical company and a decorated WWI veteran., her background is one of privilege. Will their fate be the same as poor Jewish refugees?

She writes of everyday things, friendships and loves, the ups and downs of youth. She thinks she loves Gerard, until she meets Jean Morawiecki, a fellow student.

Early on the petty anti-Semitic laws are upsetting and bothersome, but as time goes by the signs become more and more clear that this is a noose, becoming tighter and tighter.

She writes in reference to the wearing of the star. A friend Vivi Lafon says '"I can't stand seeing people with that on." I realize that: it offends other people. But if only they knew what a crucifixion it is for me. I suffered there, in the sunlit Sorbonne courtyard, among my comrades. I suddenly felt I was no longer myself, that everything had changed, that I had become a foreigner, as if I were in the grip of a nightmare. I could see familiar faces all around me, but I could feel their awkwardness and bafflement. It was as if my forehead had been seared with a branding iron.'

She writes of inertia and even covert duplicity of French Catholics around her. 'And she was right Catholics no longer have the freedom to follow their conscience, they do what their priests tell them to do. And the latter are weak cowardly and often unintelligent. If there had been a mass uprising of Christians against these persecutions, would it not have won the day? I am sure it would have. But the Christians would have had to protest against the war in the first place, and they weren't able to do that. Is the Pope worthy of God's mandate on earth if he is an impotent bystander to the most flagrant violations of Christ's laws?

Do Catholics deserve the name of Christians when, if they applied Christ's teaching, religious difference, or even racial difference would not exist?'

She often quotes from Keats, reads Winnie-the-Pooh and recites Rudyard Kipling's 'Rikki, Tikki, Tavi.'

Helene was indeed a gifted writer. This book, I have read, has been immensely popular in Europe, and I think, stands on par with 'The Diary of Anne Frank.'


Friday, July 24, 2009

Little Boy Lost, by Marghanita Laski

I finished this book well over a week ago, so If I don't write a review of this book soon I will loose the flavour of it.

The style of writing is excellent, and one wants to read on, her word pictures are beautiful.

Hilary Wainwright is a poet and intellectual. He was married to a French girl, Lisa. They have a baby boy, who he sees one time before leaving for England in 1940, WWII. She dies during the war and now after the war he comes back to look for his son.

The questions asked are. Will he be able to find his son? How will he know it is his son? And does he even want his son? These questions are the basis of the story, and turn the ending into a cliff hanger.

Haunting pictures of post war France are drawn, people are coming to grips with their involvement during Nazi occupation.

What was Hilary Wainwright doing during the war? And his ambiguous relationship with his mother.

Why did he take so long in coming back to France to look for his son?

Hilary's relationship with Pierre, the Frenchman who found this child and takes him on an unfolding journey to look for his son.

Some quotes from the book.

The residence of Madame Quilleboeuf.

"'What an extraordinary place,' said Hilary, standing in the entrance and staring at the grass growing between the cobblestones. 'This isn't Paris - it's some shabby village away from all the routes natioanales.' He added with a kind of delight, 'It's a splendidly romantic place to begin a search from."

"But at the sight of Pierre her great hooked nose and nutcracker chin came together in a wide smile and in a hoarse voice she said, 'So you have come back with your friend, monsieur. Enter!' "

Hilary's description of Monsieur Mercatel. "He looks like an Englishman, was Hilary's first thought, but he did not. He might have been a native of any country, this small thin grey-haired gentleman, kindly mouth, mild blue eyes, the cultured European of true goodness, but of no importance what so ever."

The following quote so sums up Hilary and his relationship with Pierre and what type of men they both are.

"And this led him to think about Pierre who had said that under the Occupation people had done what they must, and that what this was had been settled long before. He thought, Pierre is a better man than I. He has the liberal virtues that I profess and personally lack. I am an intolerant perfectionist; Pierre refrains from judging anyone but himself. And yet I am a liberal intellectual, and Pierre is devoting himself to the furtherance of illiberal perfection. But Pierre can be tolerant of me, but I can't be tolerant of him."

The mother superior talking to Hilary at the orphanage.

"She smiled, 'Ah, you feel it too,' she said, 'and I wonder whether you share the other rather strange feeling I had about this boy - that here was a child that would give one great happiness to help?' She peered intently at him, shading her eyes with a frail yellow hand on which the mauve veins stood out in swollen relief. But Hilary's face showed none of the sudden comprehension and hope he felt at her words, and she let her hand fall into her lap and added gently, 'And have you any idea whether he is your son, Mr. Wainwright?'"

"Monsieur Mercatel said. 'I have been wanting to tell you, monsieur, speaking as his schoolmaster, what I think of the boy. Whether he is your son or not, of course I cannot say. What I can say, is that he is certainly the son of someone like you.'"

"Hilary said vehemently, 'I couldn't bear to take the wrong child and then perhaps find my own later on.'

'But you will not.' said the nun, 'that is as nearly certain as anything can be. If this child is not yours, then you will never find your son.'"

"'Why? asked Hilary sharply, 'Why are you so anxious that I should take him?' She looked at him steadily for a moment and then said, 'There are many reasons. One is that I am deeply sorry for you. You seem to me to be lost and in need of comfort. I would not wish to withhold that comfort from you.'"

Hilary thinking while with the woman who he picked up.

"The chatter flared around him while he thought of the queer change Parisian women undergo between the delicate faun-like beauty of their youth and the predatory brassiness of their middle age and how seldom it was that one saw, as he could see in Nelly, the brief stage of transition between the two."

"Hilary said nothing. He stood there watching the child, feeling only hate for the creature who had put him in this predicament, through whose intervention he had made a fool of himself. The little coward, he was saying, the little coward."

"You see, Pleaded Hilary, I am incapable of giving. I dare not give and so I'm running away. I've finished with ordeals. I am fleeing to the anaesthesia of immediate comfort and absolute non-obligation."

I had two more quotes but I think that will give away the ending. The beauty of the well written word shines through.

Did I totally understand Hilary? No, as a mother I found him very hard to connect with. Academically I understood where he was coming from, but it did not endear him to me.

Did I enjoy reading the book and would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Resistance, A woman's journal of struggle and defiance in occupied France, by Agnes Humbert

Before I start this book review of Resistance, remind me if I ever write a book about WWII, I must remember not to title it Resistance. Have you ever tried to find a book on Amazon just using the title Resistance, almost impossible to come up with the right book quickly.

Having said that, and this being my second book review of a book entitled Resistance, the other one was fictional, this is an autobiography of Agnes Humbert's second world war years in France. In the French it was entitled, Notre

She worked at the Musee de l'
Homme. As the occupation started, Agnes and some fellow co-workers and others, started the fledgling Resistance movement. She kept a diary, which forms the beginning of the book. After being arrested by the Germans, it is her remembered account of what happened to her. Where she kept that diary hidden we do not know, but it would have been devastating if it had ever fallen into German hands.

Agnes Humbert's account is interesting, she was arrested early on and at that time the German's were not sending imprisoned resistance workers to the concentration camps, but rather to work in the factories in Germany, not that they weren't treated terribly, but at least there wasn't a gas chamber at the end.

The details of her imprisonment in France before her trial and ones she got to know there, although in a solitary cell, were interesting. Many of the ones she was in prison with were executed. At this time the SS had not perfected their
interrogation skills. She writes while in the French prison>

"I think back to all the happy times in my life. Just the happy times. The rest you have to forget, especially in here you must forget, or else you get wrinkles. Wrinkles on your face are bad enough; in your heart they are even worse. ..."

Her detailed account of working in a Viscose factory in Germany, making synthetic silk fabric, which uses acid in the process. They had no protective clothing such as gloves, boots or aprons and
inhaled the fumes all the time, their clothes already in tatters, became even worse with every spot of acid which spat on them.

Her strength of character and
descriptions of fellow prisoners, which ran the gamut, from German woman, there for stealing, murder and prostitution, to the political prisoners. She formed several friendships, which were mutually sustaining in the terrible places she was at.

After being liberated she worked alongside the Americans and two close friends, in a small German town, documenting details of ones who were SS and involved in war crimes. One American she worked very closely with, but others she found to be too trusting of any German who could speak English.

There were many groups who were gradually coming back to the village after being liberated from the concentration camps, this is what she writes about one of them.

"I have been in contact with a sect that seems to be quite widespread in Germany, known as Bibelforscher, or Jehovah's Witnesses. Those whom I have met conduct themselves with outstanding dignity. Today our investigations led us to the home of Herr Mengel, recently freed from the concentration camp where he had been held since 1937. While the Bibelforscher are greatly to be respected, they have never been of the slightest practical help to us. Infinitely discreet, they refuse to denounce their persecutors, trusting in God to avenge them. I have tried in vain to suggest discreetly that perhaps we have been sent by God to help them, but they obstinately refuse to view us as archangels in disguise, and keep their lips firmly sealed."

Eventually she was repatriated to France and met up with her adult son.

She had finished the book by 1946. So unlike many first hand accounts of the war written quite a few years after it, her memories were fresh and recorded very soon after the war ended.

Her resolve comes through, she was in her forties when all this happened to her, so not in the throws of youth. The idealism with small achievements met with such dreadful sentences. She writes.

"How bizarre it all is! Here we are, most of us the wrong side of forty, careering along like students all fired up with passion and fervour, in the wake of a leader of whom we know absolutely nothing, of whom none of us has ever seen a photograph. In the whole course of human history, has there ever been anything like it? Thousand upon thousands of people, fired by blind faith, following an unknown figure. Perhaps this strange anonymity is even an asset: the mystery of the unknown."

You do get the feeling that she thought it was all a great adventure, almost in the way the boys of WWI went to war. Actually her mother was British, Mabel Annie Wells Rourke, (1869-1943), who was part of the large expatriate community in Dieppe. She was very close to her mum and it grieved her terribly that she was not with her mum at the end.

Agnes Humbert's account is an historically important one. It details the fledgling beginnings of the French Resistance, and their thoughts, feelings and idealism.

I enjoyed reading it.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple

As you can see I'm on a run with Dorothy Whipple. Now I'm wondering whether I should save a couple of books to take on holiday, because I know she is always a good read. Greenbanks, the name of the house, starts in 1908, the copy write of the book I read was 1932. And concludes no later than the mid 1920's.

It is set in the town of Elton in the Midlands. This is the story of the Ashton family, Robert and Louisa, the parents in their forties, and their children. Rose and Thomas , who are both married, and do not feature much in the story. Letty is married to Ambrose Harding, they have Dick, a set of twin boys and Rachel, who live close by. Laura who lives at home and is dating and Jim and Charles who live at home, all are young adults.

Robert has aged well and has always been a philanderer. Louise knowing this, but keeping the peace and family together. Loise is the central character around which all the others orbit. Suddenly a big change comes when Robert and his lady friend are thrown out of a trap and he is killed. Ambrose takes over looking after Louise investments, Jim and Thomas decide that Jim will take over and run the family business, a wood yard and Charles, who all the brothers feel is a waster, but is most beloved of Louise, has been persuaded to try his chances in South Africa.

Jim who is very much influenced by his fiance, eventually leaves home and marries her, much to his mother's relief, he always found fault with everything. At this time with the loss of Charles, Louisa decides to ask a lady Kate Barlow to come and live with her. Kate was befriended by Louise many years ago when she was just coming out, unfortunately she fell in love with Philip Symonds a married man and become pregnant with a boy, who she gave up for adoption. Kate left town and has been living as a companion, so Louise decides that maybe she can show her kindness by inviting Kate to live with her. Kate proves to be a prickly, frozen individual, so it does not turn out as Louise would have wished.

Laura has been dating Cecil Bradfield and taking little Rachel along as a chaperon, it seems they are quite in love. Laura though who has always been prone to be selfish and prideful, has a tiff with Cyril; which leads to a separation, that is not repaired. So in a silly mood of pettishness she decides to visit her sister Rose down south and meets George, a rather over weight but rich man and she marries him. Letty visits with Laura and basks in all the things money can buy as Ambrose is a penny pincher.

In reference to being married Laura says to Letty, "Oh, Letty said Laura, wiping her eyes. "You've got it boiled down to that, have you?" Letty still looked blank. "What's the matter?" she said. "Nothing .....nothing! Have some more keep - I mean cake. Let's plaster our souls with chocolate cake, darling. It will perhaps hold them together as well as anything else ..."

Rachel is a comfort to her grandmother, and is growing up..Ambrose feels that "He looked forward with pleasure to forming Rachel according to his influence."

Letty visits her aunt Alice regularly, hoping that some day she will inherit, and have some money of her own. "It's not really me, having the children and living with Ambrose,' she would think in bewilderment. 'This isn't my life really; it will all be different soon. I shall begin to live as I want to soon."

Charles who although set up quite well by his family money wise, decides to come back from South Africa, as he has a billiard room invention he wants to work on. His mother hears him playing the piano as she walks up the street home, she knows it's Charles and is delighted. The Invention does not pan out and his brothers ever glad to get rid of him find a job in the Far East for him. He isn't there too long when WWI breaks out and he comes home again, only to join up, the others being far to busy making money off the war to join up.

War brings changes in Elton. "The spoon of war stirred the contents of the provincial pan very thoroughly and Mrs. Spence called at Greenbanks one Saturday afternoon to ask Kate Barlow to join the Bandage Class." Ambrose with his solid good looks and southern diction, that fell pleasantly on Lancashire ears, helps in a figurehead position with the War Relief , Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. "I don't care what you do it for,' said the woman. 'But I'd like to know what yer mean by being late with my money, 'And it over. I'm waiting to go out.' 'Savages.' muttered Ambrose .... I love this comparison.

By the gate, under the laurel bushes there were snowdrops like little congregations of White Nuns at prayer....' It is March and news is received at Greenbanks that Charles has been killed in action. Laura comes home for the funeral, bumps into Cecil on leave and all is reconciled between them, leaving George out in the cold. Laura in her usual way leaves it to her mother to break the news to George. As she takes off with Cecil to seize happiness. He goes back to the front and she becomes a nurse and gets assigned to France.

Time moves on, the war ends. Cecil and Laura move to Kenya to live. 'But in spite of the fact that she did not come home, it got about that she had gone away with Cecil Bradfield. There was not the sensation in Elton that there would once have been. The war had blown most peoples ideas sky-high, and the pieces had not yet come down. When they did come down they would never fit together again as they had before the war.'

Rachel is now seventeen. She has passed all her exams with flying colours and has been offered a scholarship to Oxford. Her father will not think of letting her go, to be a blue stocking. It's interesting he says that as
Vera Britain in her autobiography writes that her father said the same thing. Girls of that time were just not expected to go to college, just marry well. Rachel does not hold back in telling her father a few home truths, about how he has always spoiled everything through out their lives and that is why all the boys left, Dick to work with his uncle in the engineering firm and the twins to South Africa.
Dorothy Whipple writes, 'Children make parents as wretched as parents make children; but children do not really believe that. They can't understand how it is that those whom they take for tyrants can be hurt by the victims of the tyranny.'

Rachel mopes around for a year and even her father has to admit, that maybe he made the wrong choice, and allows her to attend Liverpool University three days a week. Laura writes, can her mother intercede with George as she is expecting a baby and she must have a divorce.

Again Laura leaves it to others to sort things out for her. Letty and Louise go to visit George and this time he is only to happy to comply, maybe he'll be landed with a wife and baby this would upset him and his finances.

Who turns up one day at Greenbanks, John Barlow, Kate's son and guess who he falls in love with? Letty's aunt dies, will she stay with Ambrose?

Well of course I have sketched out the bare bones and one must read the book to feel the ambiance of Dorothy Whipple's writing. Now should I move on to the Lockwood's or take it back to the library and save it for another time.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Librairies of the World

Over a period of time, in the side bar, I'm going to add pictures of different libraries throughout the world.

I've started in Portugal. Why Portugal, because I fell in love with Lisbon when we were there last year.

These libraries are amazing.


The Priory, by Dorothy Whipple

Is set on the cusp of WWII. The Priory around which the story revolves is the stately home of Major
Marwood and has been in the family for generations, along with surrounding farms and farmland, which are gradually being sold off to keep the Major happy in his expensive hobby of cricket.

His daughters Christine and Penelope are entering into womanhood, still occupy the upstairs nursery, having the whole floor to themselves and liking it that way; their mother died when they were young, and they've pretty much been left to their own devices.

Into this comes Major Marwood's idea, that he maybe should remarry, someone who will take over the household and possibly guide his girls. So with the least effort he proposes to Anthea. Isn't he shocked when Anthea declares that she is pregnant with twins. But in his usual style he carries on with arranging for the annual summer cricket tournament. Aided by his trusted retainer, Thompson.

Anthea decides she needs a nurse and implores Nurse Pym, to aid her through the pregnancy. They become so attached that this becomes a permanent arrangement.

Thompson, who is a bit of a lad, but most handsome, and good at heart has got himself entangled with Bertha, who on seeing that she is about to be ditched for the young housemaid Bessy, who he really is in love with, says she's pregnant and he had best do the right thing by her; which he does. Only to find out it was a lie.

Bessy wants to leave but Anthea with the pregnancy wants her to stay and persuades her to do so. "In the end, she persuaded Bessy to stay. She meant to be kind."

The Major has invited an excellent player to join his team for the summer, Nicholas Ashwell, who comes from a wealthy industrial family, his father is Sir James a little blustery, and his mother Sarah, good people.

Christine and Nicholas fall in love and marry, but not all is rosy as young Mr. Ashwell, has never found his own path and made is own way in life. They have a child, a little girl, Angela. After things revealed Christine leaves him, taking Angela, and goes to live with her sister, who has also married, but not for love, to the ever faithful Paul.

What transpires to both of them in the mean time, makes them grow up and see things so much more clearly.

Saunby Priory is to be put up for sale. Christine is the one who truly loves the house. Sir James is the means by which all is fulfilled and brought to a happy conclusion for all.

In 'Somewhere at a Distance' money is the ruination of the family. In 'The Priory', money makes all things possible, an interesting contrast.

I found the beginning a tad slow and it took me a while to become in tune with the characters. By the time I got to the end I was enthralled by her wonderful fleshing out of characters.

This book was written and published in 1939, it brings out how the people of Britain and indeed Europe, were so hopeful that the Prime Minister would bring about peace with Hitler and Mussolini, and for a moment they were ecstatic in thinking that it had been achieved. Dorothy Whipple writes.

"Life had been given back to them and they were delirious with the gift. The immense wave of hope and goodwill that was sweeping over the world engulfed Red Lodge too. This was the time when miracles could have been accomplished, when if they could have come at each other, the peoples of Europe would have fallen on one another's necks like brothers and wrung one anothers hands with promises of peace."


Monday, July 20, 2009

The Blue Castle, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

A charming delightful book. The book I read from was dated 1926. The central character is Valancy Stirling, don't you love that name? Who is in her later twenties and has led what only can be called a very grey, molded, restrictive, socially overbearing life. She lives with her mother and her Cousin Stickles, all is ugly.

LMM writes 'Valancy, so cowed and subdued and overridden and snubbed in real life, was wont to let herself go rather splendidly in her day-dreams. Nobody in the Stirling clan, or its ramifications, suspected this, least of all her mother and Cousin Stickles. They never knew that Valancy had two homes - the ugly red brick box of a home, on Elm Street, and the Blue Castle in Spain.' Thus the title of the book - The Blue Castle.

Valancy also delights in reading John Foster's books about the woods, which she gets from the library, even these are eked out by her mother, who does not know how much she enjoys them.

She is having some trouble with palpitations of the heart, so decides to go to the doctor, and not their own family clan doctor. This is a big step for Valancy. While at the doctor's he is called away urgently to see his son in Montreal, who is involved in an accident. A few days later Valancy receives a letter in the mail from the doctor, stating that she has a very serious heart condition and has only at the most about a year to live.

At this time Valancy makes a monumental decision in her life. She is going to do exactly what she wants to do. She wants to live life, what ever short life she has left.

Thus she decides to help a young woman, Cissy, who lives with her father, the town drunk Roaring Abel. Cissy has been ostracised by the town for having an illegitimate baby, that died at a year old. Cissy has never gotten over this and is herself dying of consumption, TB.

In comes Valancy to live with them, as their house-keeper and companion to Cissy. The Stirling clan are beside themselves, what will people think.

Into this pot is thrown the other leading character, Barney Smith. Nobody knows where he came from and he drives around in a terrible old car, called Lady Jane. Is he a jail bird? Is he a murderer, all stories abound. At best he is a reprobate, or so the town thinks, and therefore a very bad association for one's good name. But Valancy likes him, and decides to ask him to marry her, explaining it's only for a year.

He lives on a beautiful island in a lake, it is idyllic. Here Valancy blossoms, from a very plain woman into an alluring, interesting, and somewhat beautiful woman. The island is her Blue Castle.

And who is John foster?

I will not tell you anymore. You must try and find the book for yourself to read. I managed to find it at my local library, filed in what they call old shelving. Books that you have to request, and they are brought down to you, in all their mustiness, and expectation of what forgotten stories will unfold from within.

I cannot finish this review without addressing the book written by Coleen McCullough, published in 1987, The Ladies of Missolonghi. I read this book a long while ago and just loved it. It is set in Australia, where as LMM's is set in Canada. At that time I did not know of LMM's book.

The story and plots of the two books are so similar. As I read 'The Blue Castle', 'The Ladies of Missolonghi', kept coming back to me. The word plagiarism does come to mind.

You must read them both, first LMM's book, then Coleen McCullough's book. See what you think.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Somone At A Distance, by Dorothy Whipple

Dorothy Whipple can take what would ordinarily be a mundane predictable story and takes it to the pinnacle of character studies. With just as much insight into a man's thinking, as a woman's.

Someone at a distance set after WWII, is based around a wealthy, upper class family, the North's. Mr North, is a co-owner of a publishing house in London, and goes up every day on the train. Ellen his wife is a stay at home mum, but is very busy with a big house, and looking after all the household duties. As this is post WWII and domestic staff, willing to live in the country are hard to find. Their eldest son, Hugh, who is doing his national service time and their daughter is away at boarding school.

What falls into all this British country idealism, Ms Louise Lanier, a young French woman who is socially conscious of her working class position, in her small town. She had for a long time secretly dated Paul, the son of a wealthy town family, but he had jilted her for the socially acceptable Germaine, right family, right class.

Mrs North senior answers an add in the paper for a companion. Feeling left out and not payed enough attention to, even though she has her lovely own house and a companion servant, plus the family do visit here, she feels slighted.

So begins the circle of events that spiral down to the breaking up the the North's happy family. Very near the beginning you know this will happen. It is the character studies that carry this story through. I was able to jump to the end and read it, which usually would totally ruin a book but not this one. You just want to read what they think, why they act the way they do, and Dorothy Whipple is a master character builder.

A few quotes of the many I enjoyed.

Ellen says of Louise, "When you don't mind how rude you are, you have every advantage."

Speaking of old Mrs North and Louise's relationship together, Ms. Whipple writes 'They were very pleased with each other.'

Louise's parents looking at a photograph of the North's said 'She has a sweet face," said Madame Lanier. 'What a very nice family. They all look so happy.'

Louise's thoughts, 'For a long time, she had been looking on at money without having any herself. It was too bad. The lack of it had ruined her life. If she had, had money, Paul wouldn't have left her for Germaine Brouet.'

In reference to Avery, 'She always had to listen carefully, ..... he barely moved his lips when he spoke. It gave her the air of hanging on his words, which he thought very attractive in her.'

Louise looking in the mirror, after having married Avery. 'She always gave as much pleasure to her own eyes as others. More, in fact, because she alone knew what perfect finish she had achieved.'

Mrs Brokington an elderly close friend of Ellen's. 'They were silent during Ellen's tale, the old woman saw or thought she saw that it was the child, Anne, who was keeping her parents apart. But she said nothing. It was too late the divorce had happened. She wouldn't throw Ellen into worse agitation and confusion by saying that Avery might not have wanted it at all.'

Well I could go on and on quoting passages from the book.

It's hard from our 2009 viewpoint to understand the class system of the time period. But I can say of my own experience as a child in the 60's it was strong. I'll give you an example.

Of a baby boomer class of 40 children strong, only one child passed her eleven plus examination to go to the prestigious High School, every one else was denigrated to the secondary modern school. This was so based on the class you came from, what your parents did for a living.

After five parents kicked up a rumpus, saying it was impossible for all the other 39 children to have failed, they got their children into the Grammar School, not even the High School. Class distinction at it's worst.

To be quite honest the curriculum at the secondary school was very good, but it was the stigma, you just cannot know how that felt to work so hard as an eleven year old, know you truly were good enough and not make it. Not to wear that uniform.

So I can just a little have empathy for Louise Lanier.

Do read it. It is available through, Persephone Classics.

Persephone Books reprints forgotten twentieth century novels, short stories, cookery books and memoirs, by mostly women writers. It is their 10th Anniversary this year. Someone at a Distance was among the first group of books offered.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, by Colleen McCullough

Can you open a book review, by saying absolute rubbish.
After reading the first opening chapter, which I thought held some promise, from there onwards it was downhill. Victorian Gothic gone aerie. I enjoyed reading Sanditon, which was an unfinished manuscript of Jane Austen's, which was finished in the style of her writing, so thought I might enjoy this.
Colleen Mccullough of 'The Thorn Birds' fame, made into the for TV series, and a book which I do very much like and would recommend, 'The Ladies of Missalonghi', should never have gone down this path. I hope she writes another book to redeem herself.
Mary has been left at home, the spinster, to look after their mother, their father died two years after Lizzie and Jane married. It opens with mum dieing, Mary is now 38 and has changed so much as to be interesting and a beauty, in the line of Lizzie. She has saved up the allowance Darcy gave her for looking after the girls mother, keeping her off his hands and out of his way. With this money she intends to travel England, see the poor and write a book about it, publishing it with her own money. Mary very much likes the writings of Argus, a socially conscious person, who turns out to be Angus, the love interest in the story.
Lizzie and Jane's marriages, have not turned out to be particularly happy. The story center's around Mary, and Darcy's hunger for power and his wanting to become Prime Minister, therefore having to keep his wife's family under wraps. He regrets marrying beneath him. Lydia is an ongoing disgrace to the family.
Darcy has a younger half brother from his father's liaison with a Jamaican lady of ill repute, who he has brought up. Ned is totally loyal and loves Darcy, who was good to him as a boy, but now as an adult willingly does his beckoning, what ever Darcy may call for and more.
Mary leaves on her travels, trying to do so as cheaply as possible, by stage coach. This leads to all sorts of problems. Eventually she is hijacked by a highwayman, found by Ned, then taken by a Father Dominus and The Children of Jesus, who live in the caves in Derby shire. Here she is held prisoner, to write a dictated book by Father Dominus. Who turns out to be an old servant of Darcy's father. Stole the gold which was acquired illicitly by Darcy's father and buried it under an alter in the caves. Mary thinks the children who he has acquired, probably from their parents for gin money, that help him in the caves and only leave at night, may be murdered when they reach adolescence.
Well need I say more. I did not read the book all the way through, just skipping through and read the end. It wasn't worth the time.
Do read 'The Ladies of Missalonghi' a delightful story.
P.S. Oh dear! I just found out that The Ladies of Missalonghi and L. M. Montgomery's Blue Castle have a great similarity of ideas. I will have to find Blue Castle to read.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Zookeeper's Wife, by Diane Ackerman

I did enjoy this book and would call it a good read. My friend C. loaned it to me and I have been rather remiss in getting stuck in to reading it. I went through rather a dry spell on the reading front, I wanted to read a book, but just could not get settled down to do so. C. said you should like this, as I'm interested in history and books set around the period of the two world wars, which wreaked such havoc on people, changed empires and the course of where and how we live today.

The Zookeepers Wife is set in Warsaw, Poland. Jan and Antonina Zabinski were Polish christian zookeepers. Horrified at the Nazi atrocities, they were able to save over 300 people. Hiding them in their house and in the empty cages of the zoo.

What I found so upsetting was the empty cages of the zoo. We think of people dying in war but so many animals are killed too. Plus war with many people who perpetrate it, brings out the worst in people. Not only were many animals at the zoo killed during the initial bombings of Warsaw, but on new years day many drunken SS men came in and shot the animals in their cages for sport, a despicable act. Many animals escaped from there gashed cages and just wandered down the cobbled streets. camels and llamas, ostriches, foxes and wolves, seen from apartment windows just walking though the city.

The Nazi party also had a programme of eugenics for animals. The keepers of the Berlin Zoo, father Heck and his two sons Heinz and Lutz, known to Jan and Antonina in zookeeper circles. Had this idea of the resurrection of three pure blooded extinct species - the Neolithic horses known as forest tarpans, aurochsen (the wild progenitor of all European cattle breeds), and the European or "forest" bison. Lutz's thinking was: an animal inherits 50% of its' genes from each parent, and even an extinct animals genes remain in the living gene pool, so if he concentrated the genes by breeding together animals that most resembled an extinct one, in time he would arrive at their purebred ancestor. The war gave him the excuse to loot east European zoos and wilds for the best specimens. Their thinking on this matter went along with the ideologies of the Nazi party.

So here I thought the book would be about keeping the animals alive during the war, but unfortunately there were hardly a handful of animals left at the zoo to keep alive. Antonina kept a diary and there are many quotes right from her diary as to how she felt about things. What day to day life was like for them. All the personalities of the people they sheltered, along with the animals that were part of her household. Her husband's involvement in the resistance and getting Jewish people out of the Warsaw ghetto. So a view of Warsaw under occupation and a snapshot into wartime history.

I enjoyed reading this book and if it is the genera of book you enjoy, you will too.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Alfred & Emily, by Doris Lessing

This is an interesting book. It's about Doris Lessing's parents, who both went through WWI. Her father loosing a leg and almost dying and her mother a nurse, where she met her father, in hospital.

The first half of the book she has imagined how her parents would have been if WWI had never been and the second half of the book is how her parents actually were. Interesting, but I found the second half a little fragmented, but still worth reading.

She quoted from D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover.

This I think so applies to ones who have been through war.

And dimly she realised one of the great laws of the human soul: that when the emotional soul receives a wounding shock, which does not kill the body, the soul seems to recover as the body recovers. But this is only appearance. It is, really, only the mechanism of re assumed habit. Slowly, slowly the wound to the soul begins to make itself felt, like a bruise which only slowly deepens it's terrible ache, till it fills all the psyche. And when we think we have recovered and forgotten, it is then that the terrible after-effects have to be encountered at their worst.

So with Doris Lessing's parents.

My neighbour G., went through WWII, he actually was stationed near, and went to the Pub in Earles Colne, the village where my mum lived as a girl, funny to think of them being so close and moving in different circles.

In any case his eldest son was in the Vietnam War. He came home, married, he had a thriving business, then after 40 years all of a sudden he starts getting flash backs. He can't concentrate, he lost his business, his wife, after all that time. Not that the signs weren't there before.

So when I read the above quote from D. H. Lawrence, it made me think about my neighbour's son and so many others.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Facing The Lion, by Simone Arnold Liebster

I enjoyed reading this book very much and would highly recommend it. Facing the Lion is an autobiographical account of a young girl's faith and courage. In the years immediately preceding World War II and through the war years.

You get to know her family, the every day life of town and country pre-war Alsace-Lorraine and what it was like during Hitler's regime.

She has a close family, loving parents, grand parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. In the pre-war years her parents turn from the Catholic church and become Jehovah's Witnesses. The war years come, the schools are the propaganda machine of Hitler. Simone refuses to accept the Nazi party as being above God. Her simple acts of defiance lead her to be persecuted by the school staff and local officials, and ignored by friends.

With her father already in a concentration camp, Simone is wrested away from her mother and sent to a reform school to be "reeducated". While there she learns that her mother also has been sent to a concentration camp, and she remains in this harsh, embittered environment until the end of the war.

How she stands up for her beliefs under overwhelming pressure to conform to society, when all her peers around are conforming, is a potent reminder to stay true to one's beliefs.

I enjoyed the picture into a young girl's life, what it was like before the war, where her dad worked, where they lived. How she felt, what her feelings were. It is a snap shot, just as Anne Franke's Diary is a snapshot into a young girls life during this time period.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Lost,A Search For Six Of Six Milion, by Daniel Mendelsohn

I liked this book. In fact I read almost all 512 pages in one evening and a whole day. I don't think I've done that since I was a teenager. It coincided with me having the right book and the time to read it.

The Lost is about the writer's search for the truth as to what happened to his grandfather's brother, wife and four children. Growing up listening to his grandfather's stories and the rich way he told them about the old life in Europe. Where it was said you could be born in Austria, grow up in Poland get married in Russia and die in the Ukraine, with out ever leaving town.

The search takes him to the small Ukrainian town where his family has lived for three hundred years, to speak with eye witnesses of events. His travels will take him to Israel, Australia, Sweden and Denmark, to name a few.

He has to become a detective listening to what these eye witnesses have to say and what they hold back, cross referencing these stories one to the other. It's part memoir, part mystery, and part scholarly work.

Daniel Mendelsohn speaks of his grandfather never telling a story from its beginning to end, but rather jumping around and pulling in other pieces, which hold you spell bound and I think this is how he has told this memoir. It unfolds like one of those paper finger puzzles you used to play with as a child. Lifting one corner peeking underneath and closing it back up again.

Daniel Mendelsohn is a Hebrew, Greek and Latin scholar and I found this to be of interest in the book with his definitions of words and references from the Bible and Torah.

"Sunt lacrimae rerum, there are tears in things."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Resistance, by Owen Sheers

Resistance is set in 1944. When you first pick up the book you think that the cover is depicting France and of course the title makes you think that. The premise of the book is this what if Nazi Germany was successful in invading Britain. How the lives of woman living in an isolated valley in Wales are changed by the war.

Sarah Lewis a twenty-six year old farmers wife wakes up one morning to find that her husband has left during the night. It turns out that all the men in the valley have left during the night to join a resistance movement. The women had no previous knowledge of this, they are left to do the best they can and band together helping each other run the farms.

Later a German patrol comes to the valley on a mysterious mission. Sarah begins a faltering acquaintance with the commanding officer, Albrecht Wolfram.

After this basically all that happens is set in the valley, between the women and the German patrol. The end is up beat, but leaves you wondering, does Sarah meet up with Albrecht for a future life together? Or does she become her own woman and take charge of her destiny? I came to the first conclusion, but you could quite easily come to the second, it's ambiguous.

I did like it the premise was interesting. I think a whole other book could be written on that idea, but moved out of the confines of the valley.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Easy Company Soldier, by Don Malarkey

This is a memoir of a "Band of Brothers" soldier, from his early life in Oregon, to his being drafted in 1942. He spent more consecutive days in combat than any other member of Easy Company. Battled his way across France into Germany.

I enjoyed reading about his family, his childhood, growing up in Oregon of Irish descent, and also some of his life after he returned from war.

Something that really makes you think though, is the fact that so many WWII veterans became alcoholics. My husband's father was a flight engineer in WWII and flew many missions over Germany. I'm happy to say he did not become an alcoholic. But Don Malarkey did, a functioning alcoholic. So many of his company became alcoholics, even ending up homeless. I have a friend who's father flew the regular route over the Himalayas, taking supplies to China. A great guy to talk to, a wealth of stories, but an alcoholic. You cannot possibly see all that and not be effected.

Something, a statistic I heard recently, which when explained you understand. A Japanese kamikaze pilot had a better chance of living, than an American or English bombing crew. The reason being because these crews and squadrons, were flying day after day. A kamikaze pilot only flew when the weather was right and they had located the target and that was not as often. An amazing fact.

So I'm very happy that Bo's father made it back to later have a son.

To get back to the book, did I like it? Yes. See My Bookshelf for this book.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Charlotte Gray, by Sebastian Faulks (the book verses the film)

The book or the film?

A Scottish girl recruited by secret service to work with the resistance in France during WWII. Falls in love with a British pilot Peter, who is shot down over France.

Julian is her resistance co-worker in France, who she also likes.

A full one third of the book was dedicated to Peter and Charlotte, which gave you a much closer insight into both of their personalities and why they made the decisions they did. Charlotte was in a way a strong character, making things happen. Peter came across, and he said it himself, as one that didn’t think things through but went along and acted on a situation that came up. He was very much disturbed by loosing almost all of his friends in the Battle of Britain. Which was the first big air fight for control of the skies over Britain. Even the two men who recruited Charlotte pretty much said he and all men who came through there were emotionally disturbed.

Charlotte was distanced from both her parents. The hinted at problem of her child hood with her father was sorted out in a satisfactory way in the book. Referring back to WWI and how it had affected him as a doctor. Her relationship with Julian’s father was tied into her relationship with her father. Both had fought in WWI. I felt so much of the book was about her relationship with Julian’s father not with Julian and not with the children. At the end of the book she felt a need to let him know why Julian did what he did. Traveling up to the internment camp, paying for a guard to tell him. She did not go for the children, although she saw their suitcase on the station platform, what was that about? I don’t think I ever came to a conclusion on that. Was it just that she knew that they had left the internment camp and had been transported. I thought she would act on that knowledge, but she didn’t do anything.

Julian’s father was a painter. You didn’t get the impression that the house was as run down as they depicted in the movie, because Charlotte was hired to clean it. They also had another servant I think and the girl who came to pose, whose house the children were eventually hidden in, not for long though. Julian’s mother did not die young she was around when he was a boy. He spent time with his father at the shore along with other artistic friends. Although he was not a good father, the animosity towards his father did not come across so strongly as in the film.

I didn’t think that her going to France was primarily to find Peter; it was secondary to her need, although part of it. Her relationship with Julian I did not find at all central to the story. Also she was never told by her contact that Peter was dead, was she? She did try to find Peter initially, but the contact was cold and she left it there. The book did go into more detail about how Peter escaped from France. Which builds up more about Peter, and that is why when you come to the end of the book, you have no feeling that she has even thought about staying or going back to Julian.

The two Jewish children, Andre and Jacob, Julian was the one that I think was more especially close to them, and the two older ladies whose house they stayed in, in town. Julian would visit them. Charlotte would go now and again, you didn’t get the idea though that they were constantly on her mind. Also after the children were moved to the country the old lady at the house betrayed them, although they probably would have found them.

I haven’t mentioned the movie too much. The movie gave Hope for both Julian’s father, who was one quarter Jewish and the boys. Also they did not have to face the ordeal alone. The book left you no hope, taking both to their ultimate conclusion. There was no letter in the book. When the boys were taken in the movie, I did think, better they had been taken all at once with their parents, but then they had Julian’s father. In the book they never came to know his father. So I felt they definitely would have been better off if they had been taken with their parents in view of the outcome. If the outcome had been different and they had not been found then of course I would say it was a good thing they did not go with their parents.

How about B. I cannot think of his name. Benoir comes to my mind but I don’t think that’s right. The schoolteacher. There was a lot more background as to why he did what he did, his thinking on how the war would go. Also the fact that many thought like him and did not like Churchill and the British, but would rather have the German’s there with a Vichy government, and get rid of the Jews and the Communists. B’s need for recognition and power. The girl who was the telephoned exchange operator, she was not so much against them.

There were many more characters in the book, all the different resistance workers and a mention of the two groups, the Gaullist’s and the Communists.

The conclusion of the book was satisfactory, with the good outcome with her father. Peter coming to the realization that he truly did love her and he lived to be reunited with her. But as in true life the sadness. The small wish of Julian’s father that Charlotte would like Julian, but he knew it wasn’t so, because she had told him about Peter and knew she didn’t feel that way towards him. No hope for the father and the children.

The book did leave you to think that Peter and Charlotte would go back to France to visit the families and individuals who had helped them. As with Peter and the elderly couple who took him in with his bad leg and shared all they had with him. Julian and Charlotte had a strong friendship, which was more, for a brief moment of need. You felt that after the war Peter and Charlotte would go back to France together to visit.

In the movie Charlotte sees Peter, tells him it's all over, too much water under the bridge. After the war she goes back to France, to see Julian, and their future is together.

Which did I like more, well I liked both, but the movie held out more hope.