Archives for war

#BookReview ‘The Return’ by Victoria Hislop @VicHislop #Spain #historical

I like books that stay with me after I’ve finished reading them. The re-telling of the Spanish Civil War by Victoria Hislop in The Return made me want to read more history books about the period. Before we lived in Spain I knew little about the Civil War. If pressed, I would quote only Picasso’s Guernica, the death of Lorca, and George Orwell fighting with the International Brigades. That, and Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in the film of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. So, The Return added a new layer to my understanding of Andalucía’s experience in the war and particularly of Granada. The legacy is there, if you look for it. Even in modern-day Malaga, evidence of the savage bombing of the port can be seen in the ugly apartment blocks built on derelict land. Thankfully the Old Town, catedrál and Alcazaba survived reasonably unscathed. It was impossible to visit Ronda for the weekly supermarket shop without seeing the Puente Nuevo and shuddering at the memory of the 512 suspected Nationalists who were marched off the bridge into the Tajo, the gorge, in the first month of the war. The atrocity is said to be the inspiration
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Bone Church

This was a difficult story to get into for me, which surprised me. The premise by Victoria Dougherty seems so good – Czechoslovakia, wartime, fugitive lovers, a faked religious icon, and a plot to assassinate Josef Goebbels – the promise of which kept me reading. But I found the time shifts, the point of view shifts, and the way the action changed from paragraph to paragraph quite confusing. Assuming this was a formatting issue with my Kindle copy, I kept reading. The story starts in Rome in 1956 in the Vatican City with a Cardinal and a man called Felix. Then we see Magdalena and her son Ales in Czechoslovakia, a man arrives and takes away her son. Then the action switched to 1943, as Felix and Magdalena are on the run in Prague. He is a famous hockey player, a celebrity, she is a Jew. By this point, the story should have gripped me but I’m afraid it didn’t, I hadn’t read enough about the two characters to care. I think my basic problem is the way the story was told, not the actual story itself; the writing is rich with description and the author certainly knows her history. Halfway
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Aftermath

Post-war Germany, Hamburg. The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook is a gentle novel with an emotionally difficult core: the adjustment of two families, one German one English, to the landscape of rubble a year after the end of the Second World War. Broken country, broken families, broken minds. The title refers to the aftermath of the war and also to the aftermath of events in the lives of both families. Both are grieving and are in new territory, geographically and emotionally. They are proud and unsure. Together, will they heal? The English family: Colonel Lewis Morgan is occupied with the Occupied while his newly-arrived wife Rachael prevaricates, “I don’t know. It was suffix and prefix to her every other thought. This indecision was becoming her signature.” Their son Edmund has no such doubts, facing a challenging encounter with the teenage girl upstairs involving a glimpse of knickers and a steaming pisspot, he then ventures beyond the house’s garden into forbidden territory and meets the local feral youth. The German family: Herr Lubert, a widower, and his daughter move upstairs when the Morgans arrive in the requisitioned house. Ironically Stefan Lubert is an architect, surrounded by broken buildings, but works instead in
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Wake

Amongst the profusion of novels about the Great War, Wake stood out for me from the rest because it is about the aftermath rather than the fighting. The spine of the narrative is the journey of the body to be entombed in Westminster Abbey as the ‘Unknown Soldier’. I have visited the tomb but had not considered its selection, the post-war politics and social consequences of choosing one soldier’s remains rather than another. Anna Hope handles a delicate topic – isn’t everything to do with war emotionally-delicate? – with confidence. Wake is a powerful novel by a debut author. There is something unsettling about the first scenes where un-named soldiers drive out into what was no-man’s-land, not knowing where they are going or why. They are directed to dig up the remains of a soldier: unidentified soldiers dig up the remains of an unidentified victim. Four bodies are laid out, not so much bodies as heaps of remains. A Brigadier-General closes his eyes and rests his hand on one of the stretchers, this body is put into a thin wooden coffin. The three not chosen are put into a shell hole at the side of the road, a chaplain says a short
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Life after Life

It’s a while since I read a book I didn’t want to put down, a book that made me continue reading in bed gone midnight. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is that book. Kate Atkinson manages the macro settings and the micro details with ease, from the petty sibling squabbles at Fox Corner to the camaraderie of the ARP wardens in the Blitz. Before I started reading ‘Life after Life’ I read the phrase ‘Groundhog Day’ a few times in reviews, which belittles the intricate weaving of Ursula Todd’s lives. In the way that Logan Mountstuart’s life runs parallel to the great historical moments of the last century, Ursula’s life stories are book-ended by the approach and aftermath of the First and Second World Wars. Ursula, little bear, is an engaging character we see born and die, again and again through her own personal déjà vu.  I wasn’t sure how this was going to work but once I stopped worrying about it and surrendered myself to Ursula, I was transfixed. This is another work of art, as mesmerising as her first Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It is such an ambitious novel, that I can only guess at
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Categories: Book Love.