Category Archives: Sceptre

Moonstone – the Boy who never Was by Sjón

Moonstone - The Boy who Never Was by Sjon Title: Moonstone – the Boy who never Was
Author: Sjón
Publisher: Sceptre Books, Hachette
ISBN: 978-1473613133
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher, ARC
Rating: 5 Stars

“Moonstone – the Boy who Never was” by Sjón (pronounced Shawn) came to me in a boxful of other books. My eye rested on this one, because I had heard a lot about the author’s previous book “The Whispering Muse”. I wanted to find out for myself what the whole fuss was about this writer and his style. Let me tell you at the very onset that “Moonstone” will for sure be one of the top 10 books I would have read this year. Hands down!

It is the kind of book that doesn’t let you be till you are done with it. It is a historic novella in the sense. It is also a subtle love story. It is about struggle and the will to live against all odds and do what one must do anyway. It is about cinema- about the small things that make everything else seem so big and grand. It is a book set in 1918 and in Iceland – of course given the author is from there.

The book is about Mani Steinn (this is where Moonstone comes from – but again how it appears in the book is heartbreaking) – a 16-year old waif who is an enigmatic character. He lives with his great-grandmother’s sister. The volcano Katla has erupted and can be seen colouring the sky night and day from the streets of Reykjavik where the boy lives. The Spanish flu will arrive. The Great War grinds on. Things change. Mani has two loves of his life – Sola G and the movies. He loves the movies and well what he does for a living is something you will find out as you read the book.

The flu changes everything – the place, people, their lives, dimming the line between reality and delirium. For Mani it is about coming of age in one of the most brutal ways, about loving from afar, and the idea of watching movies one after the other is what life is all about. He cannot comprehend any other life till incidents set in motion and life changes completely.

Sjón’s prose is heartbreaking, crisp and there is so much said in such few words. This is the kind of writing that leaves you wanting more. From Mani’s life to the impact the flu has on the town to the magic of silent movies to describing the year 1918 and that too in about two months when the novel is set, is no easy feat. At this point, I must also speak of the translation by Victoria Cribb which is superlative. I’m sure it manages to convey what the author set of to.

“Moonstone” is the kind of book that evokes this melancholy feeling inside you, it makes you want to reach out and hug the writer for writing something so remarkable. It is a short book with a very big heart. I know for one that I will most certainly read a lot more that has been written by Sjón and I highly recommend that you do the same. Start with this one.

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Book Review: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

the yellow birds Title: The Yellow Birds
Author: Kevin Powers
Publisher: Sceptre, Hachette Books
ISBN: 978-1444756128
Genre: Literary Fiction, War Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books that you read, books that you love, books that you admire, and ultimately books that stay with you. This year the book that will stay with me for a very long time and the one that I have cherished the most is, “The Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers. I have never been so impacted by a book like I was with this one. I read it in a night and there were times that I just had to close the book and cry. I had to let it out and then go back to the book. Had I not done this, I would not have been able to finish this book.

“The Yellow Birds” is about war. There is something about war that attracts me to it – it has nothing to do with any government or political strategy or the pros and cons of it. What makes me want to read more about it or watch movies about the war condition, is what humans go through. The ones fighting the war and the ones impacted by it. The ones living it on a daily basis and the ones who pray for their children to come back home – safe and sound. That is War and its emotion and maybe more.

The book opens in 2005, Al Tafar in Iraq. Private John Bartle is the narrator and the protagonist of the book. He makes friends with a young private Daniel Murphy, and the friendship develops. Murph is eighteen years old and Bartle is twenty-one. They are fighting a war and at the same time trying to survive. Sergeant Sterling is the third character in the book whose nature and character is revealed only as the book goes along. The book is about Bartle’s experience in war and how it impacts him and the rest of the soldiers. He speaks of promises, betrayal and the ending will take the reader by shock. I am not going to reveal any significant sub-plot, because I really want the reader/s to experience this book, the way I did.

“The Yellow Birds” is not an easy book to read. The book moves across time – from the war, to how they enlisted to Bartle coming back home and how things change for him. There are passages and moments that will wrench your heart as you read along. What is also interesting to note is that Kevin Powers also served in the US Army, so it kind of also is scary for the reader to imagine which parts in the book are real and which aren’t.

The writing is stupendous. Kevin Powers deserves to win all the literary prizes on the circuit. He knows how to tell a story – in all its glory – with the way it is and the way it was. It is an engrossing read, which is quite short and at the same time does a lot more to your head and heart that you can imagine it to. There is pain, there is hope and at times there is the thin line of despair. There are places in the book when you just want to let the characters know that it will be all okay, but maybe they will not. War changes people I guess. “The Yellow Birds” is a book about hope and maybe the understanding that at the end of the day it is all about what it is to be human – in times of war and peace.

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