Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

The Family Doctor‘ by Debra Oswald is the second Australian book I read in April. I discovered this book through Kim’s (from ‘Reading Matters’) review of it.

Paula Kaczmarek is a doctor. Her friend Stacey is currently staying with her with her two kids, after Stacey moved away from her husband because of domestic violence. One day Paula comes home and finds the door open. Inside the house she finds Stacey dead, shot through the head. She searches for Stacey’s kids and finds them dead in the same way. While she is reeling in shock, she sees Stacey’s estranged husband enter the room with a rifle. While we and Paula are terrified about what he is going to do next, he shoots himself. After Paula recovers from this traumatic experience, she gets back to work. One day she notices that one of her patients has injuries caused clearly by domestic violence. When Paula offers help, this patient refuses. She says that her life will get harder if she complains against her husband. Paula thinks. She doesn’t want this woman to suffer the same fate as her friend Stacey. She doesn’t want to sit quiet and watch another woman get killed by her partner. She finally does something unconventional.

I can’t tell you more, of course. You have to read the book to find out what happened.

I loved ‘The Family Doctor‘. The story is gripping, the action picks up on the first page and never lets go till the end. The friendship between Paula and Stacey and another friend Anita is beautifully depicted. The book asks some difficult questions on how the law works in domestic violence cases, on how it is possible for the perpetrator to get away with things. We can’t stop thinking of the first line from William Gaddis’A Frolic of His Own‘ – “Justice? – You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.” Dr.Kaczmarek, Paula to us, realizes that and she kicks ass and dispenses her own brand of justice.

I wondered how the book would end and I thought I wouldn’t be happy with it, but the author surprised me. It was a wonderful ending. It wasn’t the perfect ending I wanted (I always want good characters to live happily ever after), but it was a very satisfying ending. Brava Debra Oswald for getting it right!

Have you read ‘The Family Doctor‘? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read ‘A Fraction of the Whole‘ by Steve Toltz ever since it came out. I finally got around to reading it. It was a thick book, almost approaching chunkster-ish size at around 700 pages filled with tiny font, and while reading it, I was distracted by real life, elections, addiction to TV shows, temptations of slimmer books. But I persevered and I was thrilled when I crossed the last page today. It took me 21 days to read, and that is a really long time for a 700-page book, but I am glad that I stuck with it and didn’t give up.

The story starts with the narrator Jasper Dean describing his life in school and discovering one day that he had an uncle who was a famous outlaw and almost a folk hero. When Jasper asks his dad about his uncle, his dad, after some initial hesitation, tells the story. And we are taken on a roller coaster ride as the story moves from past to present through different time periods and things get crazier with every page.

Reading ‘A Fraction of the Whole‘ was like reading the literary version of a Coen brothers movie. The dark humour is amazing and I couldn’t stop laughing while reading the book. It was odd, because the story is mostly sad as bad things keep happening to the main characters, but the dark humour is so cool and stylish that it lightens the bleakness of the story. The book has a brilliant first passage which grabs our attention. I was thinking that as authors always give importance to the first passage and the first pages of a book, the first few pages will be gripping, but as the book progresses things will slip and the prose will lose its charm and become plain. But surprisingly, it was not the case here. The prose is cool and stylish and the pacing is taut even in page 200. It is hard to maintain that for hundreds of pages and Steve Toltz has done the impossible. I loved that aspect of the book.

The date on the first page that I have written says that I got the book in 2008, when it first came out. I am glad I didn’t read it then, because I didn’t understand dark humour then. Though I feel sad that the book lay on my shelf for years gathering dust, I am glad I read it now, because I could appreciate it better.

My favourite part of the book was the first part which is about Jasper’s father Martin and Martin’s brother Terry. It is a sad story, a realistic story, but the dark humour is at its most brilliant here. Later in the book, the events become more and more crazy and at some point we have to suspend our disbelief.

The book also makes references to real events like corruption in sports – the Shane Warne – Mark Waugh interaction with bookies is alluded to. There are even two characters who look suspiciously like the media moghul Rupert Murdoch and his son.

I loved ‘A Fraction of the Whole‘. It is one of my favourite books of the year. I am glad I finally read it. This book came out in 2008 and it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I wondered why it didn’t win. So I went and checked the shortlist. That year the Booker Prize was won by Aravind Adiga’s ‘The White Tiger’. I don’t know in which world ‘The White Tiger’ is better than Steve Toltz’ book. That is one more decision that the Booker Prize committee got wrong. Toltz’ book deserved the prize. Steve Toltz has written one more book since, but has otherwise kept quiet and slipped into anonymity. I don’t know whether he is one-book-a-decade writer like Donna Tartt and Jeffrey Eugenides, or whether that is all there is and he is like Patrick Süskind and has retired to a quiet life in the outback. I hope this is not the end, and hope he writes more.

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite passages from the book. I hope they make you laugh.

“I was taking a 45-minute shower. I know I was being unforgivably inconsiderate of the environment, but I’d read in ‘New Scientist’ that in a couple of billion years the expanding universe will have stretched to breaking point and will start contracting like a rubber band, time will run backward, and (therefore) the water will eventually return to the showerhead.”

“The worst thing you can say about someone in a society like ours is that they can’t hold down a job. It conjures images of unshaven losers with weak grips watching sadly as the jobs slip free and float away. There’s nothing we respect more than work, and there’s nothing we denigrate more than the unwillingness to work, and if someone wants to dedicate himself to painting or writing poetry, he’d better be holding down a job at a hamburger restaurant if he knows what’s good for him.”

Have you read ‘A Fraction of the Whole’? What do you think about it?

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After reading Australian crime fiction last month, I thought that I’ll read Australian literature for the whole of April and maybe in May too. I also thought I’ll sneak in an NZ book or two (Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand). While getting started, I made a whole reading list. This is what is there in it.

(1) Two novels by Shirley HazzardThe Transit of Venus and The Great Fire – I’ve always wanted to read a Shirley Hazzard book. She loved reading and was a great romantic and was married to the Flaubert scholar Francis Steigmuller. Shirley and Francis used to read books together, taking turns while reading aloud. They did it till the last day before Francis died – they read Antony and Cleopatra on the last day. When I think of that, it gives me goosebumps, it brings tears to my eyes. I can’t wait to read her own books and find out how they are.

(2) A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz – This was Toltz’ first novel and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I’m nearly one-third in and it is hilarious and amazing with lots of dark humour.

(3) Two novels by Peter CareyOscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang – Peter Carey is a two-time Booker Prize winner, which is an exclusive club because it has just four members (the others are J.M.Coetzee, Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood), and both these books won that prize. Oscar and Lucinda is about a woman and a priest who fall in love with each other and it looks suspiciously like Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, which is Australia’s most famous love story. I want to find out whether Carey just copycatted that or shaped that story into something different. True History of the Kelly Gang is about Australia’s outlaw folk hero, Ned Kelly.

(4) Two novels by Tim WintonThe Riders and Dirt Music – Tim Winton is a four time winner of the Miles Franklin award (Australia’s leading literary award) I think, and I’ve wanted to explore his works for a long time.

(5) Keith Miller : The Life of a Great All-Rounder by Roland Perry – I’ve always wanted to sneak in a cricket book into a reading challenge and what better time to do that 😊 Keith Miller was one of the greatest cricketers to have ever played for Australia and during his prime he was adored by both young men and women (see how incredibly handsome he is in the picture). He was one of my sporting heroes when I was a kid, though he had long retired before I was born. Australia is one of the great sporting nations, not just in terms of sporting achievement or Olympic medals, but because of the pure love that Australians have for sport. It is one of the few countries where women go out to the field during the weekend and play sport for fun, and it is a common sight to see whole families out in the park during the weekend playing cricket or Aussie football or another sport. While it has become a fad today across the world to run and participate in running competitions, it was never that way in Australia. In Australia, playing and enjoying sport, was part of the culture, it was part of the Australian spirit, and it is something that the rest of us can learn from. What better way to celebrate the great Australian sporting spirit and celebrate my favourite team sport, than reading the biography of one of the greatest cricketers to grace the cricketing field.

(6) The Bone People by Keri Hulme – When Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries won the Booker Prize, the biggest question on everyone’s mind was who was the last New Zealander to win the Booker Prize. The answer to that question was Keri Hulme. This book of hers won the Booker Prize in 1985. Keri Hulme was virtually unknown before that. She continues to be unknown since. Which is a shame. Because this book looks wonderful. The main characters in the book seem to be native Maori New Zealanders, and this book deserves to be more well known.

(7) A Short History of the World by Geoffrey Blainey – This was probably the first Australian book that I’ve ever read. Geoffrey Blainey is one of Australia’s pre-eminent historians and his book on Australian history ‘The Tyranny of Distance’ is a classic. I couldn’t get that but I got this. I read this one years back and it is one of my favourite one-volume history books. Hoping to read it again soon.

Books not in the picture (mostly in the Kindle)

(8) True Country by Kim Scott – Kim Scott is a native / indigenous Australian. I’ve never read a book by a native / indigenous Australian writer before. This is a highly recommended book and I’m looking forward to reading it.

(9) The Family Doctor by Debra Oswald – This is a crime novel which tackles contemporary issues and it came highly recommended. Can’t wait to read it.

(10) The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough – Australia’s most famous love story. I want to read this first before reading Peter Carey’s book.

(11) A History of Victoria by Geoffrey Blainey – More Geoffrey Blainey is always good 😊

(12) The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay – Bryce Courtenay worked as an advertising professional for years, before he became a novelist. This was his first and his most famous novel. Courtenay had South African roots and this story is set in South Africa. It is about boxing. One of my friends tells me that it is one of her all-time favourite books. Hoping to read it soon.

Do you like ANZ literature? Which are your favourite ANZ books?

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Force and Fraud : A Tale of the Bush‘ by Ellen Davitt is regarded as the first Australian crime novel. It was first published in 1865. I discovered it recently and read it for ‘Southern Cross Crime Month‘ hosted by Kim from ‘Reading Matters’.

A rich man is found murdered in the bush. It looks like he was stabbed with a bowie knife. The knife belongs to a younger man who is engaged to this rich man’s daughter. This younger man pleads his innocence. But unfortunately for him, the evidence is against him. In addition to his knife being the murder weapon, this younger man’s garments are blood-stained. Also, the rich man hated this younger man and had told his daughter that he disapproved of her fiance and if she insisted on marrying him, he’d disown her and cut her off in his will. So the younger man has motive too. What actually happened and who is the actual murderer is revealed in the rest of the story.

Reading ‘Force and Fraud‘ was like watching an old movie. There is, of course, the central mystery, but the story is not just about the mystery. There is a huge cast of characters, there is humour and a comedy track, there is witty and sharp dialogue, there is wholesome entertainment for the whole family. There are many adorable characters in the story who have their own unique personality traits. The depiction of Australia of the middle of the 19th century is very fascinating and feels realistic, as it is probably based on the author’s own experiences. The revelation when it comes is not at all surprising – we can guess it a mile away – but that doesn’t take away our enjoyment of the novel.

The edition I read has a fascinating introduction about Ellen Davitt and her life – how she came to Australia as a teacher and how she ended up becoming a novelist. There is even a treat for quiz lovers – that Ellen Davitt was Anthony Trollope’s sister-in-law. I loved that introduction.

I’ll repeat here what I said in my previous post on Ellen Davitt –

“Ellen Davitt is regarded as the mother of Australian crime fiction. Her crime mystery ‘Force and Fraud : A Tale of the Bush’ was first published in 1865. It pre-dated Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel ‘A Study in Scarlet’ (published in 1887) by more than two decades. More interestingly, it pre-dated Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Moonstone’ (published in 1868) by a few years. ‘The Moonstone’ is regarded by many as the first detective crime mystery published. I don’t know why, because Ellen Davitt’s book came  before that. Out of the famous detective crime mysteries, only Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin mysteries pre-date Ellen Davitt’s book. Ellen Davitt was a pioneer and she broke new ground. She needs to be celebrated not just in Australia but across the world.”

It was wonderful to travel through the river (aka Australian crime fiction) and discover its source. It was like sailing in the middle of the gorge with tall mountains on both sides, and then the mountains end suddenly and the river widens and we see the beautiful town on the river bank unfurled in all its glory. The scene is splendid. It is spectacular. I’m honoured to be here.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“Nowhere is human nature exhibited with more truth than amongst the mixed community of a crowded ship; amongst people who embarked for the most part in amity towards each other, but who are now aroused from their better feelings by petty animosities, by the inconvenience attendant upon limited space or by want of occupation, and who jostle one another, and strive for pre-eminence – just as in the wider world, where every trade and calling illustrates the jealousy between man and man. But when they part at length, probably to meet no more, a kind of forgiveness of the past – a desire to obliterate all remembrance of the injury – generally takes the place of ill-will. It is as if they were making their peace with the dying, and (to continue the simile) after our fellow passengers of a voyage have been gone from the vessel a few weeks, they become as entirely forgotten as fellow-passengers through life who have gone to their graves.”

Have you read ‘Force and Fraud‘? What do you think about it? Did you participate in ‘Southern Cross Crime Month‘?

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The Story of Chunhyang‘ is one of the five classic pansoris of Korean literature. Pansoris are classical stories which are performed by a storyteller accompanied by music. The origins of Chunhyang’s story are shrouded in mystery and its author is unknown.

Poster of the 1961 film adaptation of Chunhyang’s Story

Chunhyang is a beautiful teenage girl who lives with her mother in a small town. She was born when her mother was in her forties – after her mother went to different temples and prayed to different deities. So her mother regards her as a magical child. Chunhyang lives her carefree, happy life in her small town when one day a new governor is appointed to that place. The governor’s son sees Chunhyang playing in her swing, and he falls in love with her. He visits Chunhyang’s home and asks her mother for permission to marry Chunhyang. But the governor’s son is nobility while Chunhyang is from a regular family. The social gap is too wide to be bridged. This marriage will probably never work. What Chunhyang’s mother does and what happens after that forms the rest of the story.

As the story is a pansori, there are lots of songs and poems in the book. Even the prose is sometimes musical, set to a rhythm. We feel that our experience will be more rich if we watch it or listen to it being performed. It has many references to Chinese poetry and mythology, and it even talks about one of my favourites, ‘The Nine Cloud Dream’. Even the famous butterfly dream is mentioned. Many of the descriptions in the book evoke the imagery of Tang dynasty poetry. For example, this one –

“The dangling sprays of the willows were silhouetted against the candlelight like the strands of a beaded curtain; to the right a phoenix tree was dripping with clear dew, like a crane startled in a dream; to the left an umbrella pine was rustled by the clear breeze, like an old and dreaming dragon; on the big plantain by the window, the first tender leaves of the season were springing like phoenix’s tail-feathers. The new lotus-flowers, like jewels from the heart of the water, were barely above the surface of the pond, catching the drops of dew;”

One of my favourite descriptions is that of Chunhyang playing in the swing –

“‘I looked at what was before me, and suddenly it was behind me,’ say the Analects. She flew forward like a little swallow darting to seize a branch of peach-blossom; and then swung backward like a butterfly that has lost its mate, buffeted against a stone by a gust of wind. Like the fairy of Wu-shan riding on the cloud to arrive at Yang-t’ai, she had a spray of leaves in her lips and a flower stuck enchantingly in her hair.”

Another of my favourite descriptions is that of the governor’s son’s calligraphy –

“When he writes a dot, it’s like a stone dropped from a high peak; when he draws a straight line, it’s like a thousand-li cloud; he writes the top of a character as neatly as can be. His style is like waves and lightning. When he makes a slanting stroke, it is like an old pine bending from a cliff. He writes the character for ‘spear’ like a spreading wisteria vine, and he draws a hook like a taut bow. Even if some of the strokes lack strength, they all have perfect form.’”

The poetry and songs in the book are beautiful, but because of the wordplay, they probably bring more pleasure when read in Korean.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Story of Chunhyang‘. It is one of the great, classic love stories. I think it will work better as a pansori performance or as a play or as a movie. I hope to watch one of the movie adaptations sometime.

Have you read ‘The Story of Chunhyang‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘The Godmother‘ by Hannelore Cayre recently and I just finished reading it.

The narrator of the story, Patience, is a 50-year old woman. She starts the story by telling us about her parents and her childhood, about the good things and the bad things that happened in her life, and how she reached the present stage she is in. She is working as an translator for the police department now, especially translating wiretaps of drug smugglers from Arabic to English. One day she uses what she hears in the wiretap to do something. Whether what she does is good or bad, I won’t tell you. Things snowball beyond that, the action explodes and what happens after that is told in the rest of the story.

The thing I loved the most about the story was the narrator’s voice. It is cool, charming, irreverent, doesn’t beat around the bush, calls a spade a spade. From the first passage –

“My parents were crooks, with a visceral love of money. For them it wasn’t an inert substance stashed away in a suitcase or held in some account. No. They loved it as a living, intelligent being that could create and destroy, possessing the gift of reproduction. Something mighty that forged destinies, that separated beauty from ugliness, winners from losers. Money was Everything; the distillation of all that could be bought in a world where everything was for sale. It was the answer to every question. It was the pre-Babel language that united mankind.”

– Patience’s voice grabs our attention and never lets go. Patience is such an awesome narrator.

The story is very gripping too. I read most of the book on one day. We can call this noir fiction and it is up there with the best. French crime fiction is soaring high these days and this is a shining example of that.

Another thing I loved about the book is that there are really no bad characters. Or rather the story depicts people as imperfect with flaws and so we see people as they really are – there are no simplistic black-and-white depictions here. I loved that aspect of the book. I loved most of the characters in the book, especially the nurse Khadija who takes care of Patience’s mom, Khadija’s son Afid, Philippe the police officer who is in love with Patience, Bouchta Patience’s nanny when she was a kid, Madame Lò Patience’s neighbour, and DNA, Patience’s dog. They are all fascinating characters.

I don’t know whether the story is pure imagination or is inspired by real events. The author is a practising criminal lawyer and she has thanked translators who work in the court. If the story is inspired by real events, then the book is a scathing commentary on some aspects of life in today’s France.

I loved ‘The Godmother‘. I discovered that it has been made into a movie with Isabelle Huppert in the lead role. I can’t wait to watch that. I want to read more books by Hannelore Cayre now.

You can find Emma’s (from ‘Book Around the Corner‘) review of the book here.

Have you read ‘The Godmother‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘The Dry‘ by Jane Harper through Kim’s post. I decided to read it for ‘Southern Cross Crime Month‘ hosted by Kim from ‘Reading Matters‘, which is an event which celebrates crime fiction and nonfiction from Australia and New Zealand.

It is a small town in Australia, in the middle of nowhere. It is hot and dry, there has been a drought for nearly two years, the river has dried, and things are going bad for the people there. As if this was not enough, one day, suddenly, three people are killed – a dad, a mom and their young son. All the three people have been shot dead. Initial appearances suggest that the dad shot dead his wife and son. Probably because their financial situation was bad. But initial appearances can be deceptive. Because they have a baby daughter too, who is miraculously alive. Why didn’t the dad shoot her? Or is there more to it than meets the eye? You have to read the story to find out.

The main mystery in ‘The Dry‘ is gripping and it makes us turn the page to find out what happens next. There is also an old mystery which resurfaces which is interesting too. The way Jane Harper brings alive the small town life in Australia, where everyone knows everyone and everything, where there are no secrets (or it is hard to keep a secret), where people live in the same house for generations, working in the farm or in the same professions, where one has to get along with people that one doesn’t like because you’re in there for the long haul – all these are realistically, beautifully depicted in the book. I felt that I was living in this town and meeting these characters, loving some of them, hating others. I loved this aspect of the book even more than the mystery.

The revelation is surprising and I didn’t see that coming. The second revelation is not that surprising, but I’m also not sure what exactly happened after that, because it felt unresolved. I can’t tell you more. Strictly no spoilers 😊

I enjoyed reading ‘The Dry‘. I’ll look forward to reading more books by Jane Harper. Australian crime fiction looks like a goldmine – the more we dig, the more treasures come out.

Have you read ‘The Dry‘? What do you think about it?

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I thought for a long time that Wales was a county in England (and that is why Charles is called the Prince of Wales) and everyone in Wales spoke in English. There was even a county cricket team from Wales called Glamorgan and I admired many cricketers who played for that team. (Even the great Viv Richards played for Glamorgan towards the end of his career.) So I was surprised when I discovered that everything I knew about Wales was wrong, and Wales had its own language, literature, history and culture. March is a special time of celebrations in Wales. It is also the time of the annual Wales Readathon or Dewithon hosted by Paula from Book Jotter. I decided to participate this year and read Caradog Prichard’s classic novel ‘One Moonlit Night‘.

The narrator of ‘One Moonlit Night‘ is a boy who is around ten years old. He lives in a small village with his mother, who raises him on her own. Most people in the village are poor. The story happens at around the time of the First World War. Our unnamed narrator describes his life in the village, the adventures he has with his best friends Huw and Moi, the poverty that people experience everyday, how people are still happy and show kindness to each other inspite of being poor, the role of the church in village life, how the war impacts the life of the people and the tragedy and occasional glory it brings, how a child’s life can suddenly change and be turned upside down because of things that grownups do – these and other things are explored in the book. Our ten year old narrator’s voice is beautiful and charming and his friendship with his besties Huw and Moi is beautifully depicted. The narrator even falls in love with a girl who is older than him and it is beautiful and sad at the same time. I love the way the narrator’s voice takes us into the mind of a ten year old boy and makes us see the world through his eyes. It is brilliant. Caradog Prichard manages to capture that time so beautifully and there are many scenes which made me smile with pleasure and there are also some scenes that made me cry.

This passage made me smile.

“Thanks very much, I said, taking the big piece of buttered bread and the big glass of milk and going to sit on the slate seat under the window. I’ll be fit to walk miles after this. Then while I was busy drinking, who should come zooming round the end of the house but the dog who I’d heard barking in the back. Leave the little boy alone, Toss, said someone from the kitchen and Toss stopped dead when he saw me sitting on the slate seat. He was a big sheepdog with eyes the same colour as glass eyes. He growled a little bit to start with and I was frightened that he was going to bite me. So I made a sort of kissing sound with my mouth. Come on then, Toss, I said, and when he heard me say his name he wagged his tail and opened his mouth and let his tongue dangle out the way dogs do when they’re laughing. Come on then, Toss, I said again, and broke off a piece of my bread and put it beside me on the slate seat. Then he came up very slowly, wagging his tail and took the piece of bread from the seat. When I broke off another bit for him, he took that from my hand and then put his front feet on my knees and began licking my face. We were great friends in no time and after we’d finished eating the bread and butter, we played throw the stone in the field for a while. Then I took the empty glass back to the house and knocked at the door, and Toss ran inside to the kitchen. There you are, said the rosy-cheeked lady as she took the glass. You look a bit better now, my boy. Go straight home now or your Mam will start to worry about you. I’m going. Thanks a lot. How old is Toss? Fourteen. Lor, he’s older than me. Good afternoon.”

This passage made me cry. It has spoilers and so if you are planning to read the book, please don’t read this passage.

“Jesus, the people in the South talk funny, don’t they? said Moi when we went to see him the following day. Pass me that pot again. And there was poor Moi, still in bed and still spitting blood. And that was the last time we saw old Moi. The following Sunday night, Huw called round and his face was like chalk. Have you heard? he said at the door without coming in. Heard what? said Mam. Come in from the door, Huw, I said. What’s up? Moi’s dead, he said quietly. Moi? No, you’re telling lies, Huw. But I knew by his face that Huw was telling the truth. I just needed to say something, just like ages ago when I used to whistle as I went along Post Lane after dark, pretending that I wasn’t frightened of bogeymen. And we were talking to him on Monday night, I said, as though I still didn’t believe it. He was spitting a lot of blood that night, said Huw. That bloomin’ TB, said Mam. It takes young and old alike. Then I started to cry like a baby. I couldn’t stop for the life of me, though I tried my very best to stop cos I was embarrassed with Huw and Mam watching me. Moi and him were close friends, Huw said to Mam. But, of course, Huw was making excuses for me crying cos he was as close to Moi as I was. You never saw Huw crying like I did. But Huw cried, too, at the funeral though nobody saw him that time except me. It was only one little tear that rolled down his cheek and even I wouldn’t have seen that if he hadn’t wiped his eye with the sleeve of his surplice, as we both stood with the Choir at the graveside singing: My friends are homeward going Before me one by one And I am left an orphan A pilgrim all alone That’s what we sang at Griffith Evans Braich’s funeral, and Canon’s and all the others, too, but we were just singing cos we got tuppence for singing at those. It was different at Moi’s funeral cos he was our friend and the words were true. I couldn’t see anything when Hughes the Parson threw a handful of soil onto Moi’s coffin after they’d lowered it into the grave with a rope cos my eyes were just like two windows after it’s been raining.”

This passage made me cry even more. I can’t tell you why he is crying. You have to read the book to find out.

“And then I started crying. Not crying like I used to years ago whenever I fell down and hurt myself; and not crying like I used to at some funerals either; and not crying like when Mam went home and left me in Guto’s bed at Bwlch Farm ages ago. But crying just like being sick. Crying without caring who was looking at me. Crying as though it was the end of the world. Crying and screaming the place down, not caring who was listening. And glad to be crying, the same way some people are glad when they’re singing, and others are glad when they’re laughing. Dew, I’d never cried like that before, and I’ve never cried like that since, either. I’d love to be able to cry like that again, just once more.”

I loved ‘One Moonlit Night‘. It is the first novel written in Welsh that I’ve ever read (this book was translated into English by Philip Mitchell) and I feel that I am breaking new ground today as a reader, reading my first novel in a new language. It is an exceptional book and it is one of the great stories about childhood, one of the great coming-of-age novels. It made me think of my favourite coming-of-age stories – Marlen Haushofer’sNowhere Ending Sky‘, the film ‘Stand By Me‘ which was based on Stephen King’s story, and the Tamil film ‘Azhiyadha Kolangal‘. I am glad I read it. It is the only novel that Caradog Prichard wrote and I feel sad when I think about that.

Have you read ‘One Moonlit Night‘? What do you think about it? Have you read any novel which was originally written in Welsh? Are you participating in the Wales Readathon / Dewithon?

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Chinatown‘ by Oh Jung-hee was the first ever Korean story that I read. I got it many years back as a present from one of my favourite friends who worked in South Korea as a teacher at that time. I can’t remember much of the story now, but I remember it didn’t create much of an impact then. This time around, the reading experience was very different. I loved it. I found it very fascinating.

The story told in ‘Chinatown‘ happens just after the Korean war in the ’50s. The place where the story happens is just hinted at, but it is revealed in the short essays at the end of the book as Incheon. The story is narrated by a nine year old girl whose family moves to this coastal town from the north. The experiences she has, the good times she has with her best friend, the poverty that her family and others experience, the happiness they manage to find inspite of life being hard, the bleakness of the post war years, how children growup very fast and get thrust into the adult world suddenly, the presence of American GIs and the adverse impact of that on Korean life – these and other things are explored in the book. The narrator’s voice is fascinating and real.

The illustrations of Nam Joo-hyun are charming and bring alive the Korea of that time. I have shared some of the illustrations below so that you can get a feel of their charm.

The essay at the back of the book says this about the illustrations –

“The streets and rooms are often drawn out of proportion, but somehow the perspective reflects the way childhood scenes are remembered. Actual places are invariably much smaller than we remember them. Without explaining whether the reason is a slip of the memory or a false rendering of time, Nam Joo-hyun renders the curious wonders of our childhood memories in her own, personal style.”

This book is classified as a short story, but it is more a long story – it is 65 pages long with 17 pages of illustrations (it is in bilingual format – so it is 65 pages of English and 65 pages of Korean) – longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella, the kind of stuff Stefan Zweig was famous for.

This book is published by an indie publisher called Hollym which has published other Korean stories in this series in book format with beautiful illustrations and has tried bringing out Korean literature to an international audience at a time when Korean literature was not famous as it is today. I want to read more books from this series, but unfortunately they seem to be hard to find.

I loved ‘Chinatown‘. I want to read more stories by Oh Jung-hee and more stories in the Hollym series.

I’ll leave you with two of my favourite passages from the book.

“Dad was constantly fixing up the house. It was as if he was trying to make up for the days when we had to live in a rented room as refugees or stay up all night huddled together under a bridge or in a tent. The yard was small enough as it was, but Dad was adding rooms and putting in floors like little girls learning to sew sometimes add hidden pockets to purses and clothes. The house became riddled with narrow, tangled passageways that seemed to appear out of nowhere. There was always at least one place where you could hide and not be found.”

“An almost endless toiling of a bell came from the chapel at the back of the park…It continued steadily in measured waves and intervals. A radically restrained sound, it reduced all kinds of desires and feelings into a single ring of sound. It was like waking up from a dream and hearing a distant birdcall made on a summer night or the sound of a train passing wearily in the middle of the night. There was something fearful and secretive about the sound. “A nun must have died,” someone concluded. We knew that when a church bell rang continuously in that way, it meant that a nun was quietly dying.”

Have you read ‘Chinatown‘? What do you think about it?

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I have this big giant book called ‘Deadlier : 100 of the Best Crime Stories Written by Women‘. I decided to look through this book and identify ANZ writers and read their stories for ‘Southern Cross Crime Month‘ hosted by Kim from ‘Reading Matters’.

It was fun browsing through the book, discovering new writers and reading about them. I spent a whole pleasurable afternoon doing this. The book is edited by Sophie Hannah and so I was expecting to find a lot of British writers there, but I also hoped that she had squeezed in a few ANZ writers. I was hoping that there would be somewhere between five and ten ANZ writers / stories. There were six ANZ writers featured and seven stories by them. I was happy.

Out of the six ANZ writers featured, one was from New Zealand. As expected, it was the legendary Ngaio Marsh. Her story ‘I Can Find My Way Out‘ featured her famous detective Roderick Alleyn and is a classic mystery story marrying her twin passions of mystery writing and theatre with an interesting surprise in the end.

Out of the five Australian authors featured, two were 19th century authors. Ellen Davitt, whose story ‘The Highlander’s Revenge‘ was featured here, is regarded as the mother of Australian crime fiction. Her crime mystery ‘Force and Fraud : A Tale of the Bush‘ was first published in 1865. It pre-dated Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel ‘A Study in Scarlet’ (published in 1887) by more than two decades. More interestingly, it pre-dated Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Moonstone’ (published in 1868) by a few years. ‘The Moonstone’ is regarded by many as the first detective crime mystery published. I don’t know why, because Ellen Davitt’s book came  before that. Out of the famous detective crime mysteries, only Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin mysteries pre-date Ellen Davitt’s book. Ellen Davitt was a pioneer and she broke new ground. She needs to be celebrated not just in Australia but across the world.

Davitt’s story ‘The Highlander’s Revenge’ featured in this book wasn’t much to read. It was about settlers and aborigines killing each other and I didn’t like it much. But I’m happy to have read a story by Australia’s first ever crime fiction writer. Her novel looks more promising and I hope to read it soon.

The second 19th century writer featured in the book was Mary Helena Fortune. Two of her stories were featured in the book – ‘The White Maniac : A Doctor’s Tale‘ and ‘Traces of Crime‘. The first story was one of my favourite stories out of the seven, but it was not exactly a crime story, it was more a mystery and a scary story. Mary Helena Fortune was one of the earliest writers to feature a female detective in her stories, and she wrote more than 500 stories between the 1860s and the early 1900s.

The three contemporary writers featured were Kerry Greenwood, Angela Savage and Emma Viskic. Kerry Greenwood has said some nice things about Ellen Davitt’s novel and so I have a soft corner for her. Her story ‘The Voice is Jacob’s Voice‘ is about a themed party in which everyone is dressed as a historical character, but then soon bad things happen. Angela Savage’s ‘The Odds‘ was my most favourite story out of the seven. In the beginning the narrator describes a doctor that she is following or rather stalking and slowly all is revealed. The story had a beautiful, satisfying ending. Emma Viskic’s ‘Web Design‘ was the shortest story in the book at four pages. I liked it very much. It had a lot of potential of being spun into a novel because we are curious about what happened before and what happened after.

I enjoyed reading these seven crime stories by women ANZ writers. More than the stories themselves it was lots of fun discovering new writers. I want to read Ellen Davitt’s novel now and explore more of Angela Savage’s work.

Have you read stories by any of these writers? Which ones are your favourites? Have you read this collection?

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