Daily Archives: October 11, 2011

Book Review: Inspector Cataldo’s Criminal Summer by Luigi Guicciardi

Title: Inspector Cataldo’s Criminal Summer
Author: Luigi Guicciardi
Publisher: Hersilia Press
ISBN: 978-0-9563796-0-3
Genre: Mystery, Crime
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I could not stop turning the pages of “Inspector Cataldo’s Criminal Summer” written by Luigi Guicciardi. It was a great mystery read for me this year. I for one was taken in by the plot and the characters and let me tell you that a cup of hot chocolate goes best with a mystery read.

The book is set in Northern Italy in the 1990s. A 20-year old death comes back to disrupt the lives of Italian professionals and intellectuals in a small Italian town. He was originally convicted of murder and wants to actualize revenge from the ones responsible for the crime. That is the plot in a nutshell. I cannot give away more since this is a mystery.

Inspector Cataldo – a quiet and unassuming man is then called on to investigate the deaths of the intellectuals. At this stage in the book, the identity of the killer is yet unknown, however that is what adds to the mystery but obviously. Who is the killer then? Is it the wrongly convicted person or someone else?

I loved how the characters were etched to perfection. Each and every character in the book has his or her place cut out. Not once while reading the book does the reader feel a miss in any of the parts. The pace of the book starts off slow however once the murders start taking place one after the other, the pace picks up.

“Criminal Summer” is a stunningly atmospheric book. Luigi Guicciardi does not lose the opportunity to describe Northern Italy for what it is and make it come alive for the readers. For instance, the scenes when the author is describing the summer heat, makes you want to grab a chill glass of lemonade. That is the magic of strong and powerful writing. The author delivers on almost all counts – plot, pace, level of mystery, style of writing and building the environment. The translation by Iain Halliday is well done.

I must at this point also accolade the efforts of the publisher, Hersilia Press who have undertaken the task to translate good Italian Crime Fiction Books to English and present us with great reading material. There are three more Cataldo mysteries in the offing and I cannot wait to lay my hands on all of them as I am certain they will prove to be satisfying reads.

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Inspector Cataldo’s Criminal Summer

Book Review: Far to Go by Alison Pick

Title: Far to Go
Author: Alison Pick
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
ISBN: 978-0-88784-238-2
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Author/Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Far to Go by Alison Pick is one of the best reads for me this year. It made me realize a lot more in-depth about the Holocaust and its aftermath, that may be I wasn’t aware of earlier (This was before reading “The End” by Ian Kershaw). The entire idea of what one man was capable of shook me to my very being. We all know about the World War II and what happened to the Jews. We all know the mercenary behaviour of one man in the face of supremacy and the idea of creation of a, “supreme race”. Based on this, Far to Go has been written and I can only say one thing: I am glad that this book was written.

Far to Go follows two parallel stories (one set in the year leading to the start of World War II and the other is set in the present). The narrative takes place through the months from 1938 to 1939, when Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia is handed over to Nazi Germany. This brings out turmoil in the city’s residents and one particular secular Jewish family of the Bauers.

The Bauers – Pavel and Anneliese are living in peace and harmony till the invasion takes place. At the beginning they believe they will be safe as they aren’t practicing Jews. However, as events begin to unfold in front of their eyes, they decide to leave the country and protect themselves and their son Pepik.

The book is told through the eyes of Pepik’s Nanny Marta, and the reader is able to see the devastating effect the painful decisions have on the Bauer family. The parents are unable to leave the country, so they send their son to Britain on the Kindertransport, to keep him safe. Kindertransport in those times was a program through which 10,000 children were sent to Non-occupied Nazi areas without their parents. Marta on the other hand is Non-Jewish and is confused with all the anti-Jewish sentiments and comments prevalent in the air. She meets Ernst, Pavel’s colleague secretly every night and gets influenced by Ernst’s comments and opinions, though she is fully aware of how the Jewish are just regular people. And yet she betrays the family she works for.

I could understand Marta’s point of view to some extent. In the sense that she was lured and only wanted to impress Ernst and how she felt for him dictated most of her actions and drove her to be the person she wasn’t. While reading that, the questions that came to mind were: Is it so easy to betray the people you once liked and loved? How strong or weak are people in the face of circumstances? Who decides people’s fates then – other people or one man?
Far to Go questions identity and race as well – What does it mean to wake up one fine day and discover that life isn’t the same anymore just because you belong to a certain race of people? How would we feel if that were to happen to us in today’s time and age?

Alison Pick writes the book with great urgency and beauty. There were portions that overwhelmed me to such an extent that it was difficult for me to read further. Certain passages that spoke of the treatment vetted to Jews literally break the readers’ heart. The intensity of the writing comes from the fact that Alison’s grandparents were also survivors of World War II and fled from Czechoslovakia to Canada. I was deeply moved by the writing and my heart went out to characters more than once and I guess that is the beauty of powerful writing.

Far to Go was nominated for the Booker Long List 2011, however did not make it to the short list. I am amazed at that. Nonetheless, Far to Go is a book that I will not forget in a long time to come. Far to Go is a moving, human tale of perseverance and sometimes of the difficult choices we make as humans.

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Far to Go: A Novel (P.S.)

Book Review: The End: Hitler’s Germany: 1944-1945 by Ian Kershaw

Title: The End: Hitler’s Germany: 1944-1945
Author: Ian Kershaw
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0-713-99716-3
Genre: Non-Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I had never read a single book by Ian Kershaw before “The End”. To be honest, none of his works ever fascinated me and even if they did sometimes, I could not get myself to read them because of my basic preconception: They would be highly pedantic, but I was proved wrong when I picked up The End and could not let go till I had finished reading it.

The End: Hitler’s Germany: 1944-1945 is a clear indication by the title as to what kind of a book this will be. It is about the End days of Hitler’s Germany and how his soldiers and army were still not willing to give up till the very end, despite being fully aware of how this was going to end for them.

A lot has been written on this topic. Almost every World War II historian has made it a point to document and publish the Nazi Regime, and yet something about this book is unique. The very thought and idea of how Hitler’s imagery and perception was so engrained in his regime that even though he was broken man, they fought on regardless, almost unwilling to believe that their demi-god had met his fate – that of ruin.

All this while, as his empire was falling, Hitler tried keeping things normal. From postal service to magazine publication to the day-to-day living – nothing changed. A mask had to be kept on. Ian Kershaw attempts to explore the idea of German people to go down with the regime. He touches upon the structure and mentality of the “charismatic rule” which I personally found very intriguing throughout the book.

Ian Kershaw is an authority on the Third Reich with all that he has written on the topic. Like I said I haven’t read a book by him earlier, however The End has been written with great depth and intensity. Sir Ian Kershaw also focuses on The End as seen through the eyes of commoners – the Germans who instilled all faith in Adolf.

The End closes with the surrender and defeat of Germany. Hitler as well know committed suicide and no one even knew for days on. Civilians suffered and so did soldiers. Everything came to a standstill and despite this earlier Germany continued to fight.

I will not forget this book for a long time because of the kind of impact it had on me. Hitler’s regime ended and the consequences prior and post that were paid by all – especially innocent people. The book did not seem dense or a heavy read to me all. In fact at one point I wished it would not end so soon. A must read for all History lovers.

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