Autopsy of a Father by Pascale Kramer

AutopsyFather 2I think it is fair to say that Kramer manages to sneak into your head-space and then lets the events unfold in front of you like a slideshow of personal memories.

Family can give you the best experiences in life, but also the worst. Parental relationships can be the foundations of your identity, however the flip-side of the coin can also be a dysfunctional relationship that means there is no foundation of identity at all or a lack of one.

Although the relationship between Ania and Gabriel takes the main stage in this story, it is so much more than a daughter’s autopsy of the relationship with her father.

Kramer rips a plaster off of the pus filled boil of immigration. She has chosen the suburbs of Paris to point a spotlight at this and the underlying racial tensions in France. To be completely fair, to France that is, it is a topic of contention in quite a lot of western countries at the moment. An issue that has swayed elections and given fodder to the right-wing. We are living in an era where we have to be very careful that we don’t repeat mistakes of the past.

Gabriel is a well-known and admired journalist until he decides to publicly support a group of young French men, who ruthlessly murdered an innocent African immigrant. The victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gabriel is vilified for his xenophobic rant. He loses his job, and his neighbours and fellow villagers aren’t afraid to show him how displeased they are by his opinion.

The former left-wing intellectual has suddenly taken on an anti-immigrant stance, which is sort of hypocritical considering that his wife was Iranian. His family structure sort of mirrors that of his home country. His half French and half Iranian daughter embraces her dead mother’s culture and religion. He loved his wife, and yet he rejects his daughter. He used to embrace the diversity in his country and now he rejects anything but the French culture.

Ania is unaware of all of this. The two of them have a fractured relationship. She never lived up to his expectations and he never accepted her shortcomings. The two of them are strangers bound by nothing more than blood. Ania isn’t really bothered by the lack of interest, at least that is what she tells herself. What really gets her goat is when her father treats his grandson, her son, with the same disinterest. I think most readers will be able to comprehend the difference. You get used to the indifference or the negative qualities your parents have and accept them as part of their eccentricities, however we react like protective parents when our children are subjected to the same personality flaws.

There is a moment in the story when Gabriel and Ania are in the same train compartment, and yet he pretends he hasn’t seen them. Almost as if he doesn’t want to associate himself with the two of them in public. Are these the actions of a xenophobe or of a man ashamed of his past actions? Is this realisation the reason he commits suicide?

In a way the story ends without any definitive answers. There is no clarification between Ania and Gabriel, and no resolution in general. Of course that is the reality of life and relationships, sometimes conflicts aren’t resolved.

Aside from the parallels Kramer draws to the political situation in France, which is quite cleverly done in the context of a family setting, I really think she portrayed the relationship between daughter and father well. The dysfunctional side of family, the distances that grow between people, and the hard and hurtful truth that usually remains unspoken.

Buy Autopsy of a Father at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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Blog-Tour: Reconciliation for the Dead by Paul E. Hardisty

Today it is my turn on the Blog-Tour for Reconciliation for the Dead by Paul E. Hardisty. It is a fascinating read, and yet also one that may make you sit back and ponder it, especially when you read the historical note and acknowledgement at the end of the book.

About the Author

For the past 30 years, Paul E Hardisty has worked all over the world as an engineer and environmental scientist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, and rehabilitated village water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Yemen in 1994 as the civil war broke out, and in Ethiopia as the Mengistu regime fell. In 2015, his first novel, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, was published to great acclaim – it was shortlisted for the CWA Creasy dagger award for best thriller or crime novel in 2015, and was one of the London Telegraph’s 2015 crime books of the year.

Lee Child called the sequel, The Evolution of Fear: “A solid, meaty thriller. Hardisty is a fine writer and Claymore Straker is a great lead character.” Paul is currently working on the third Claymore Straker novel, a prequel set in Apartheid era South Africa. One of his short stories, Blue Nile, will shortly appear in an anthology entitled “Sunshine Noir”. He lives in Western Australia, and is a keen outdoorsman, triathlete, and martial artist.

To connect with Paul E. Hardisty follow @Hardisty_Paul or @Orendabooks on Twitter or on facebook.com/paul.hardisty.9

Buy Reconciliation for the Dead

About the book

Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu’s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier. It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make.

Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed. Exploring true events from one of the most hateful chapters in South African history, Reconciliation for the Dead is a shocking, explosive and gripping thriller from one finest writers in contemporary crime fiction.

Review

When it suddenly dawns on you that the story is more than just a fictional plot or the creative imagination of the author in question. It’s actually worse when you realise that even the most talented weaver of stories hasn’t got a thing on the actual depths of inhumane behaviour and unimaginable cruelty real humans are capable of.

South Africa has a very turbulent and volatile history, especially events that took place in the 20th century. I think, like many countries, there is plenty of revisionism going on and selective amnesia seems to be a problem. Apartheid, genocide, land dispossession and the South African Police, who were little more than a murder squad during certain periods of time in history.

Claymore Straker is an interesting character. He doesn’t try to excuse his actions, in fact he feels such immense guilt that he finds it difficult to find any peace at all. Clay is a soldier, a killer who follows orders, and yet he is also a man with a conscience. He often tries to do the right thing, despite putting himself and others in danger.

On a side note, I really enjoyed the banter and relationship between Clay and Eben. The two of them are on the same wavelength when it comes to justice. Eben just tends to be a wee bit more reckless. They have a bond, a brotherhood, which is often formed between soldiers in dangerous situations.

Hardisty has only taken a small section of that history and of the political unrest of South Africa and combined it with a fast-paced and heart-wrenching plot. It is also brutal, violent and not for the faint of heart. At the same time the author has managed to create characters, who evoke empathy, which is quite extraordinary considering the hardcore events that unfold around them.

Reconciliation for the Dead isn’t just a story, it is a stark reminder of South African history. Without delving too much into the plot and revealing any spoilers it is a cracking read, and it is and was a shocking plan. What is even more disgraceful is the real lack of restitution, despite the reconciliation. Criminals who deserved a firing squad walked away scot-free.

When it comes to military thrillers authors often can’t find the right balance between the cold hard facts of war, weaponry, logistics and the storytelling. Well, let me tell you Hardisty doesn’t have any problem at all in that regard. He strikes exactly the right tone in both areas. This is a captivating and poignant read, and yet it is also one that made my soul weep for humanity.

Buy Reconciliation for the Dead at Amazon Uk or go Goodreads for any other retailer.

The Sunset Gang by Warren Adler

sunset gangWarren Adler is perhaps best known for The War of the Roses. His work is infused with his special brand of dark wit, hard-hitting truths and sense of humour.

The Sunset Gang is a collection of ten stories revolving around the retirement village called Sunset Village. The feature connecting them all, aside from retirement and old-age, is the fact they are all Jews.

It is the cotton which connects and threads through all the stories. Their language, identity, lives and where their stories start and end.

Yiddish is about the way the ancient language helps two people to discover themselves and their love of life again. It felt as if the kinship and brother/sisterhood was the message in this story. Conversing in Yiddish reignites something buried deep inside them. Perhaps something others could and should discover too.

Itch is, as many of the stories are, a testament to how lonely advanced age can be, even after an eventful and full life. Thrust suddenly into the strange schedule of a retirement community many find themselves missing the days of old and friends, who have since passed away.

An Unexpected Visit is an excellent example of how parents and children grow apart when both are adults. Suddenly life is so busy that families grow apart. In this case a visit with his father helps a son to re-evaluate his own life and priorities.

The Detective, this story is painfully true and it happens more often than people might think. It is all about compassion, empathy and more importantly how pride can be a huge obstacle when it comes to survival.

God Made Me That Way, same attracts same in this tale. It is probably karma when these two elderly people cross paths. Their mutual affinity for the opposite gender places them in the strange category of con-people or thieves of the heart.

The Braggart doesn’t just apply to older generations, it is the truth for many people. Successful careers and money may sound great, but they aren’t a replacement for genuine emotions and children who care enough to keep in touch.

The Demonstration is perhaps the most poignant from a political point of view. A man determined to stand up for his people. To not sit by silently and do nothing. It is about anti-Semitism, racism and hatred.

The Angel of Mercy is actually both sad and very mystical. If there is one thing that hovers over a retirement village it is definitely death. Mrs Klugerman seems to not only know when death is hovering over certain people, she also seems to be able to heal. Either way she catches the attention of someone under their own shadow of death.

Poor Herman, they do say that everyone meets twice in their lifetimes. In this case the strong embers of young love have been buried beneath the mediocrity of a more suitable lifestyle and partner. When they meet again after many decades the two of them reconnect as if they were teenagers again.

The Home is a situation many of us will possibly face, although the majority of us won’t want it to happen them. After a lifetime of being in control and being considered the head of the family one is suddenly considered a problem. An inconvenience that is too old to make decisions and unable to take care of themselves. A scary thought.

I enjoyed the humour, the Jewishness of it all and the fact each story spoke to me. Adler excels at describing every day situations and emotions. I liked the way the author managed to make excellent emotional, moral and even strong political points in the midst of such touching stories.

Buy The Sunset Gang at Amazon Uk or go Goodreads for any other retailer.

Connect with @WarrenAdler on Twitter or www.facebook.com/warrenadler or visit www.warrenadler.com

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.

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!

Six Four by Hideo Yokoayama

six fourThis is Hideo Yokoyama’s first novel to be translated into English. He is an immensely popular crime writer in Japan.

It is a long read and a slow burner. It certainly isn’t an atypical crime thriller, in fact it appears to be more of a political game of chess with the odd crime thrown in.

Bear with it though, because eventually all roads lead to a riveting conclusion.

Mikami struggles with his position and loyalties at work. Once on the straight track to highest ranking in the Criminal Division. Mikami has been side-tracked to the Media Relations department. He spends his days fending off the press and is known, much to his dismay, as the ‘guard dog for Administrative Affairs.’

The bulk of the book is spent analysing the political quagmire of the Criminal Division, Admin Affairs, Media Relations, the press, the Prefectural HQ and the bigwigs in Tokyo. Whilst this is going on Mikami is looking into a cold case, a kidnapping from fourteen years ago. Simultaneously Mikami is also waiting for some sign of life from his daughter Ayumi. She is suffering from mental health issues, which have culminated in a growing hatred towards her parents.

Ayumi’s body dysmorphia is quite fascinating. She hates her own face, despises her mother’s beauty and the fact she has inherited her father’s looks. It isn’t until she leaves that Mikami actually starts feeling self-conscious about his own facial features and becomes insecure about being able to snag such a beautiful wife.

While the majority of the book is a perpetual cat and mouse game of internal politics, the cold case remains an integral part of the story. The errors made by individuals are still causing a wave of backlash even years after the kidnapping.

Amamiya has lost his young daughter, and his wife. It seems almost like an insult to ask him to allow a high ranking police official to use his daughter’s murder as a political platform. It’s up to Mikami to convince Amamiya. Little does Mikami know that the grieving father and widower isn’t quite as docile as he seems.

Yokoyama does a really good job of a literary sleight of hand. The reader is so busy looking in one direction they don’t see what is going on in the background. Interesting read, definitely an author I will revisit.

Buy Six Four at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Boko Haram, Inside Nigeria’s Unholy War by Mike Smith

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Even Al-Qaeda has criticized the mindless killing of their fellow Muslims and many civilians by regional groups. When you are being called out by the most renowned terrorist group for being disingenuous to the global cause then I guess everyone else can question the validity of their so-called ’cause.’

What it comes down to is that this group is fuelled by greed and the pleasure of committing violence. The boys and men who are recruited to join, do so because they are interested foremost in financial gain.

The Nigerian President and the government claim that they are trying to cease the violence, but say that the members of the group are faceless ghosts. They stand accused of using military raids to try to flush them out, and yet in doing so harm and kill many innocent civilians.

I think the book could have done with a little more structure from a chronological point of view. I understand wanting to try and give historical details or an overview to be able to comprehend how and why certain events have taken place, but it was a wee bit all over the place.

However the main focus is and should be this monstrous group of terrorists, which is holding Nigeria and innocent people to ransom, Smith makes valid points about specific connections to other terrorist groups, the corruption of police and state, and the lack of help from other countries.

As the title rightly says this isn’t a holy war, because Boko Haram is driven by greed and not by religion.
I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley.