A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

a horse

Stick with it, would be my first observation. It may take a while for you to be drawn into this, and to be fair Grossman plays his cards close to his chest. The majority of the book takes place on stage with Dov and his stand-up comedy routine.

Dov bares his emotions and soul to the audience. He pays particular attention to his old acquaintance Avi, after extending a personal invitation to him. Why comedy? Well, that becomes self explanatory when Dov tells everyone what happens to his parents.

Avishai is both observer and narrator, through past and present. I think one of the most important questions is what role he plays in the story. Why does Dovaleh want him there? What will his presence change? Does Dov expect something from Avishai?

I do believe Dov wants Avi to comprehend what he did and how he treated Dov all those years ago. There is a moment during the comedy routine or rather the life monologue where Avi is once again given the choice between looking away or intervening. This decision may be the beginning of a healing process, then again perhaps it is just late justice.

Grossman reminds me of Roald Dahl in a sense that his writing reflects his grief. You can feel the pain of losing his son in his words. Even after a decade he still seems to be searching for the why of it all. This is also a theme within this particular story. Why Dov? What is the point of our existence? Why one person and not the other? Perhaps most importantly why so many of us look the other way when someone is in need or just needs some support.

This is an unusual read, one I can imagine well as a short film. It is a confession of sorts, the type that needs absolution or maybe Dov is seeking it for others. A Horse Walks into a Bar is a complex conversation full of self flagellation in the form of jokes.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

eleanor oliphantYou can’t help but love Eleanor Oliphant, despite all her eccentricities and her complete lack of social skills.

As you read you may feel the need to give Eleanor a little nudge when she says something rude, completely inappropriate or politically incorrect.

Then at times you just want embrace and comfort her, especially when she is interacting with her mother. Or in my case I would happily give her a mother a mouthful of abuse worthy of an aggravated sailor.

The reader follows Eleanor on her path of self-discovery, as she embraces the novelty and finer nuances of friendship, and interacting with people who actually care about her. After years of complete emotional isolation she starts to test the tepid waters of unknown situations, new relationships and finally she steps out of her shell.

She seems to be unable to halt her self-inflicted cycle of punishment and destruction when she is by herself. That is when the loneliness kicks in, and the vodka helps her to forget all those terrible memories she keeps hidden deep inside her.

I have to admit to drawing the stares of a room full of people when I was reading this book. Laughing out loud and chortling to yourself in your doctor’s waiting room is, in my humble opinion, a definitive sign you have picked a cracking read. This is actually quite a heart-rending read at times, so kudos to Honeyman for being able to infuse it with a very subtle layer of humour.

This is a story about the invisible people in our society. We live in an era of disinterest and lack of compassion. People like Eleanor are often swallowed whole by the shallow and cold attitudes they encounter on a day-to-day basis. Nobody cares what they have been through or has any desire to help them get through life with a little more ease.

This is the kind of read you pass on or recommend to others, because it’s a story, a lesson and it is also a reflection of the mirror of life nearly all of us try to avoid seeing. A poignant and yet in equal measures a heart-warming reading experience.

Buy Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @GailHoneyman and @HarperCollinsUK

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

gustavNeutrality, yes it is a word Switzerland likes to wave around like a flag of honour. The truth is rather more dismal I’m afraid.

What they call neutrality I call collaboration, what they call being an objective observer I call turning a blind eye to the atrocities going on. The Swiss closed their borders to the Jews, the Swiss helped the criminals to escape and the Swiss are still sat on illegal war gains.

Money, art and artefacts belonging to the victims of WW2 and hidden by so-called neutral Switzerland. Yeh, so much for sitting on your fake laurels and praising yourselves for being such outstanding citizens of the world. Switzerland: synonymous with sanctimonious.

In The Gustav Sonata the horrific events of the Second World War are still influencing the people and their day-to-day lives. Anti-Semitism is still rife, albeit in a subtle way and yet often more insidious in its nature. This is definitely apparent when it comes to Emilie. Gustav finds it hard enough to maintain friendships without his mother weeding out his friends based on their religious beliefs.

Gustav strikes up an unlikely friendship in pre-school with a lonely little boy called Anton Zwiebel. The two of them connect, and despite the occasional argument, they have a friendship that lasts many decades.

Essentially their friendship is the main focus of the story or rather the denial of the emotional attachment between the two of them. In essence the moral of the story is, if you aren’t true to yourself and what you feel, you will never truly be at peace, content and happy.

For me The Gustav Sonata had a certain Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) feel to it. The little boy who lives inside his head, whilst he battles the injustices around him and fights to survive in a world that doesn’t care whether he is there or not. The relationship between Gustav and his mother is a one-sided one. Emilie can’t seem to get over the traumatic experiences in her past. She feeds and clothes her son, but emotionally she is stunted and Gustav suffers for it. As a child he filters this information in a way which is more comfortable and less hurtful for his own sanity.

Even without the complex and emotional relationship between Anton and Gustav, and the story of discovery of self, it is an interesting read. It’s possibly a book that may fall under the radar. Hopefully it won’t.

Buy The Gustav Sonata at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

history-of-wolvesWhilst I do agree that History of Wolves deserves a place on the bookshelf of literary fiction you should take a look at, and indeed it is quite a remarkable read. However I did feel as if it lacked a certain purpose, moral of the story and perhaps even direction.

What I mean by that is the many unanswered questions the reader still has about Madeleine, also known as Linda and/or Maddie throughout the book. By the way, the fact her name isn’t a constant factor is indicative of her lack of identity. Is the reader supposed to ponder her guilt or lack of it? Or is it about the neglect she suffers or the loneliness she experiences?

Then there is the whole situation with Lily, and perhaps to a certain degree also with Patra. The flutterings of curiosity and sexuality combined with the colourful imagination of Linda. Is the pity and concern she feels for Lily also in part jealousy and a need to be something less than invisible to her peers and the people around her.

The relationship between her and Paul is sometimes sibling-like and then at other times Linda becomes the pseudo parent. Although the reader gets the impression that her parents are never really bothered where she is and what she is doing, she passes on the things she has learnt from her father to the child in her charge.

Fridlund circles around the topic of paedophilia in an interesting way. You get the vulnerable victim, the predator and the possible scenario, and yet the author also levels out the blame by introducing the awakening sexuality of the possible victims and the positions they want to escape from. So, despite the fact the ‘alleged’ predator is actually one who is thinking of it and tempted, Fridlund makes him the victim at the same time. Of course, this is a double edged sword and leads us into the murky waters of victim-blaming.

I think some of the most interesting passages are the events on the day of the traumatic event. As a reader I began to question what her intentions were and whether her decisions could all be excused by innocence, inexperience and age. In fact, and that is my only problem with the book, I wondered what exactly the author was trying to say. What exactly does she want to leave the reader with? There are so many paths and moral questions, that Linda often seems to slip into the cracks in between all of them. I guess that is the biggest statement of all, how disposable, forgettable and unimportant Madeleine-Linda is and most importantly feels in the grand scheme of things.

As I said, it is definitely worth the read. The more a book gets me waffling and thinking, the more I think the author has done their job.

Buy History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

homo_deusIt’s smart, complex and quite frankly a wee bit terrifying. Harari doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to saying it like it is. It certainly isn’t the kind of book you read and just delegate to the back rows of read books. It’s the kind of read you digest and ponder over.

One of the issues he discusses or argues is that humans have tried their hand at everything, and the only thing that could possibly stroke their egos more is extending the length of their power. Immortality or as close as we can come to it. It just proves how egotistical and self-enamoured humans are.

Harari wants the reader to put down their phones, step away from technology and perhaps reflect upon the questions, facts and suppositions he throws into the room. It is a very thought-provoking read.

It is quite hard to put the content into just a few words. There is just too much information to do that. I do however have to hand it to Harari for making all the information and hypothetical situations readable and understandable.

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The Orphan Mother by Robert Hicks

the-orphan-motherHicks portrays the contentious political atmosphere in 1867 quite well. Despite the Civil Rights Bill and the Freeman’s Bureau, there was still great opposition to the rights and freedom of ex-slaves.

Many of the white people find it difficult to accept the fact the former slaves now have a voice and aren’t afraid to use it. Those that weren’t born into a life of slavery view the ex-slaves as different to themselves, there is even a hierarchy amongst the slaves.

However they do agree on their common enemy. Those that hate all of them, because of the colour of their skin.

There are also the beginnings of the structure of organised disruption and attacks on blacks and white sympathizers. White men banding together to commit murder, arson and torture.

The story wanders from the future into the past and the atmosphere above. Mariah’s tale is slowly woven one, but certainly one worth staying with until the end. The loss of her son determines the rest of her life. His death is the catalyst to the entire events that unfold.

Hicks hits upon so many important issues during that era, but they never overshadow the actual main plot. From Mariah’s strange bond between herself and her former owner, and her quest for answers, which isn’t about vengeance, although Tole mistakenly thinks it is.

I could go on for quite a while about this book, it is a good read, and I just have to add that the author’s note was an interesting conclusion to the read. I really enjoyed the way the author kept a comfortable pace and took his time to let the characters grow, feel and explore within the narrative.

Buy The Orphan Mother at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

P.S: I adore the cover!

Susi, die Enkelin von Haus Nummer 4 von Birgitta Behr

susiEs ist ein bemerkenswertes Buch. Es sollte zum Lehrmaterial in Grundschulen und weiterbildenden Schulen dazugehören. Mit diesem Buch kann man den geschichtlichen Ereignissen in diesem bestimmten Zeitraum gerecht werden, und dabei hoffentlich den neuen Generationen aus den Fehlern der Vergangenheit lehren lassen.

Die Geschichte handelt von einem jungen jüdischen Mädchen dessen Familie und Leben auseinander gerissen wird, wahrend des Zeitalters der National-Sozialisten und des Zweiten Weltkrieges.

Susi muss mit ansehen wie ihr Leben und alles was ihre lieb ist langsam zerstört wird. Juden sind plötzlich persona non grata. Ihre Familie muss sich auf Freunde und Fremde verlassen, die sich selbst in Lebensgefahr begeben um die kleine Familie zu schützen.

Mir gefällt die Kombination von Illustrationen, historische Fakten und Behr bringt einem nahe an das Geschehen ohne nackte Gewalt oder Schreckensbilder. Die Worte sind effektiv in dem Sinne, das Sie die starken Kontraste, die Ungerechtigkeiten und die Wahrheit darstellt ohne auf Spezialeffekte zurückgreifen zu müssen.

Behr macht den Leser auch darauf aufmerksam, das es auch Lichtblicke gab in diesem schrecklichen Zeitalter. Es gab auch viele mutige Menschen, dessen Namen und Geschichten unter dem großen Gewicht der Schuld verschwanden.

Der Schwerpunkt dieser Geschichte liegt auf die Ereignisse von dem diese Familie persönlich betroffen sind. Dadurch werden die restlichen historischen Ereignisse nicht vermindert, sondern eher in den Hintergrund verschoben, um mehr Aufmerksamkeit auf die einzelnen Schicksale zu lenken.

Eine Bilderbuchgeschichte mit historisch wichtigen Inhalt.

Kaufe Susi, die Enkelin von Haus Nummer 4 bei Amazon de, Amazon UK oder schau mal bei Goodreads vorbei für andere Anbieter.

Read Susi, the granddaughter from house nr. 4 (English review) here