Tag Archives: WWII

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain Title: The Gustav Sonata
Author: Rose Tremain
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1784740047
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I don’t know how to begin this review. I will try. I will try to express what I feel – because what I feel about this book cannot really be put in words. “The Gustav Sonata” is one of those books that you keep coming back to after you have finished reading it. Not entirely, but in bits and pieces – to comprehend not the story but just to know that life works mysteriously sometimes and you cannot do much about it but live it for what it is.

I picked up this book on a whim. It was just one of those days when I entered Wayword and Wise and knew that I had to pick this one up. It was there – begging for my attention. When a book does that, you know you will love it, no matter what.

The book is set in a small town in Switzerland. World War II has ended but the effects remain, though not as much in this town. Gustav Perle grows up in this town and is certain of only one thing: He loves his mother who on the other hand is cool and distant with her son, never loving him, never showing him how she feels. Gustav’s only friend is the music prodigy Anton whom he adores. Anton just takes Gustav for granted since kids and well into adulthood. The story starts when they are children in 1947 and ends in 2002 when they are sixty, covering a gamut of explorations, emotions and what it means to be human.

The book is not only about their friendship, or about Gustav’s dead father or just the past and how it impacts the present and the future, but also about coming to terms with life and living it in its full glory or not. It is about a country that chose to be neutral and the impact that had on its citizens.

“The Gustav Sonata” is a big book with a big heart. It is delicate, sensible and asks the bigger questions of loyalty, betrayal, heartbreak and self-mastery in a way that no other book I’ve read has. It struck a chord in me in so many places. There were times I could not stop highlighting in the book – all I can say is that you must not let this year go by without reading this book. It will for sure change you in more than one way.

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Sagan, Paris 1954 by Anne Berest & Translated by Heather Lloyd

Sagan, Paris 1954 by Anne Berest Title: Sagan, Paris 1954
Author: Anne Berest
Translated by: Heather Lloyd
Publisher: Gallic Books
ISBN: 978-1908313898
Genre: Memoirs, Literary Fiction, Biography, Literary Biography
Pages: 160
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

Some books have an age for it. You just cannot read Catcher in the Rye at 30. You will not get it. No matter how hard you try. The same goes for a beautiful well-known book called “Bonjour Tristesse” whose author Francoise Sagan was only eighteen when she wrote it.

I was eighteen when I read. That was the time I came out to my family and this book was one of those read that year, after I came out, that helped me see myself better and clearer for sure. There is no other way to put it and no better way to pay homage to it than read a book about how “Bonjour Tristesse” became what it did and that’s what I did when I read “Sagan, Paris 1954” by Anne Berest and translated by Heather Lloyd from French.

“Sagan, Paris 1954” traces the life of Francoise Quoirez, before she became a literary sensation. It is of the months in 1954 that led to the publication of her legendary novel. Berest writes the book in the form of a paean – a poetic-prose meditation on the young author’s life – the atmosphere in which she grew, her friends, her parents, her brother and her life in Paris. The book reads like a journal – a journal of Sagan (in some bits – some fabricated) as written by Berest. The reader sometimes doesn’t know whose perspective or whose life is being talked about – I liked the intermingling. It worked for me for sure.

If you are looking for writing tips or how it is to be a writer at eighteen, then this book is not for you at all. This book is for lovers of literature who want to know more about Sagan and how she became what she did. Berest’s writing will keep you turning the pages and leave you hungering for more. Lloyd’s translation is precise and cuts clean through the book.

As a reader, I loved how Berest took me through the journey of a confident writer who knew that the only way she would be was in writing and getting a book published. She was never short on confidence. Sagan’s life in these couple of months was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride which Berest intricately and with great brevity takes us through. I love this book – it is a great mix – a take on real life and life that is closely reimagined – taking some liberties but which could very well be true.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Fourth Estate
ISBN: 978-0008130824
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books and then there are books you cannot tear yourself away from. Books with intricate details and sub-plots that make you beg for more. The kind of books where the writing shines on every page and all you want to do is get home and race through it, savour it, hold it and not let go of the book till you are done with it. The book is “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and while I was late to this party, I was glad that I attended it. The book will leave you speechless and I am not just saying that for the sake of it.

The characters in this book do things that ordinary people do not. They are also a part of circumstances and situations that only ordinary people are capable of being in. Doerr brings to forth WWII stories that could have been forgotten. These are fictional, however these could also be true, given all that is hidden or not seen (a wonderful play on the title).

“All the Light We Cannot See” is a book of three stories – intertwining strangely enough, and not so. There are three stories. One of a French girl, who becomes blind and her father builds her a perfect miniature of their Parisian neighborhood so she can find her way home and navigate in their town. The second story is of an orphan named Werner who grows up with his sister in a mining town in Germany and has no choice but to join the force of Hitler Academy. He is interested in science and will do anything to learn that instead of joining the forces. The third story in the book is of a man who refuses to leave his home till he has no choice but to.

The book is about these stories and how Marie and Werner’s lives converge into Saint-Malo, where the action begins and ends, almost. Doerr makes the book profound on so many levels, that it is impossible to just speak of one. The writing is around seashells, physics, electricity, love, war and what it means to be human. I was completely overwhelmed and taken in by the writing. It is pure, surreal and makes you wonder why you didn’t pick this one up sooner than later. “All the Light We Cannot See” is a treat for all literary fiction lovers and you shouldn’t miss this one at all.

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All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit Title: The Wives of Los Alamos
Author: TaraShea Nesbit
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408845998
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I was way too kicked to read this book. May be this is what happens to me all the time. I get kicked about a book and then somehow it does not live up the way I thought it would, to my expectations. “The Wives of Los Alamos” though surprised me after the first hundred pages or so. I think sometimes, the beauty of reading a book is perhaps not to give up on it. There is this voice that keeps telling you to go with the book and you do, and sometimes you end up thanking that voice.

As the title suggests, this book has got to do with Los Alamos, the military town that laid the ground for the invention of the atomic bomb by the United States of America. The wives of the scientists and physicists also arrive with their husbands to the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico. They start lives afresh, not knowing what is in store, with WWII looming large. They wonder, they speculate, and they cannot figure anything. Their children are brought up just like that – randomly almost, their households just take care of themselves and nothing seems right, as they are away from home.

“The Wives of Los Alamos” starts off slow and ends up picking up pace, right at the end of the book. I somehow got bored mid-way but it was the last part that really got me hooked to the book. Nesbit’s writing is of collective people – the nouns are collective, the wives are together – thinking, feeling and experiencing the same events and agonies and joys.

The husbands, the director and the General are also very strong characters in the book. The Manhattan Project as it was then called is explained quite succinctly in the book. From Oppenheimer the director to the views of the wives and the household help, Nesbit covers every tract of information beautifully. I would most certainly recommend this book to you, if you like history and the events it unfolds.

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Book Review: Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski Title: Little Boy Lost
Author: Marghanita Laski
Publisher: Persephone Books
ISBN: 9781906462055
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 234
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“Little Boy Lost” is one of those books which you will read and will keep coming back to again and again. I have reread it twice in less than a year and it is one of those lost classics which I am very happy that Persephone Books decided to reprint.

The plot sucks the reader right in from page on. A Christmas Day, which is supposed to be the happiest day for a family, however it isn’t for Hilary Wainwright, a poet and intellectual who returns to France after WWII, to find his lost child of five years ago. One doesn’t know whether the child is his or not, who is now in Normandy. There are several other questions that arise in the narrative which make this the most compelling and nail-biting read you would encounter.

Marghanita Laski’s style of writing is also rather linear – and she has also ensured that while writing quite simply, the plot gets entangled at most points. That seemed a little confusing at first; however I soon got used to the writing style. The emotions are quite raw and unapologetic in the entire narrative. The book also speaks of war, but obviously and that is running parallel to the search of his boy.

There is a lot of challenge and adventure and mystery at the same time in this book, which perhaps made it so special to me that I reread it. Every aspect of the narrative shakes you up and wants you to know what is going to eventually going to happen. I cannot stop raving about the book and highly recommend this one.