Second World War

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Free Fruit For Young Widows by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published August 29, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Free Fruit For Young Widows all about?:

In Free Fruit For Young Widows, a father is telling his son the reasons why he is able to forgive a former colleague’s murderous rampage during the war.

What did I think?:

I’m not going to lie, some of the stories in this collection have been very up and down for me. The title story – What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank  was wonderful and I had high hopes for the collection then a couple of the others were just “okay.” However, Nathan Englander has chosen to end this collection with a powerful, hugely emotional short story that has made me look at his writing in a whole different way. Although fairly short, it packs an almighty punch and for me, made for some very uncomfortable reading moments, mainly because of the subject matter which greatly affected me being a pacifist and vehemently against war. However, anyone who knows me well will understand that I love fiction that challenges my own views as a reader and evokes an emotion within me, whether negative or positive and I adore when an author is able to do that to me.

Free Fruits for Young Widows is about a father and son – Shimmy and Etgar who own a fruit and vegetable stand in Jerusalem. Shimmy often gives free fruit to war widows as a matter of respect and honour but he also does the same for an old soldier colleague of his, Professor Tendler. After finding out more about Tendler, Shimmy’s son Etgar is aghast that his father would give him free fruit at all. You see, while his father was at war, Tendler brutally and without hesitation killed four soldiers while they were sitting having their lunch. Shimmy asks why he would do such a thing – why not just take them prisoner? In return, Tendler beats Shimmy violently, permanently altering the shape of his face. Etgar cannot help but despise Tendler for what he did to his father but then Shimmy proceeds to explain why exactly Tendler has his forgiveness and why he continues to give him free fruit on a regular basis. It’s some story, let me tell you!

Of course I’m not going to go into the reasons why Tendler is given a reprieve for his previously horrific behaviour during the war but if you’re at all intrigued I would definitely urge you to seek this little story out. Although it did not change my opinions about killing or war in the slightest it opened my eyes onto what young men were exposed to during the atrocities of battle. In fact, it might have even solidified my opinions about war and about how evil I find it to be. I may not have necessarily agreed with Tendler’s ways of dealing with a situation, especially at one point in the narrative (which was truly gut-wrenching) but I certainly sympathised with the things that he must have seen while serving in the army during a period of history I often wish could be completely erased and have never happened at all.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Monte Verità by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.

 

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Blog Tour – Bamboo Road by Ann Bennett

Published March 30, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to my spot on the Bamboo Road Blog Tour. Bamboo Road is the third in a trilogy of historical fiction books about Southeast Asia during the Second World War that can be read in any order. To see my review of the first book Bamboo Heart, please click HERE and for the second book, Bamboo Island, please click HERE.

What’s it all about?:

Thailand 1942: Sirinya and her family are members of the Thai underground, who risk their lives to resist the World War Two Japanese occupation and to and help British prisoners of war building the Thai-Burma railway. The events of those years have repercussions for decades to come. The book tells Sirinya s wartime story and how in the 1970s she returns to Kanchanaburi after a long absence abroad, to settle old scores from the war years. Bamboo Road is volume three in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Island (the books may be read in any order).”

What did I think?:

After the beautiful second novel in the trilogy that was Bamboo Island, I was eager to get to Bamboo Road, make friends with a host of new characters and find out even more about the horrific things that Japanese prisoners of war went through during the Second World War. I’m very pleased to report back that Bamboo Road did not disappoint. Brutal in points, that’s a given considering the subject matter but hugely interesting involving a lot of other themes including friendship, the importance of family and love.

Our protagonist for this story is Sirinya, a young woman living in Thailand with her uncle, aunt and cousin and whom, when the Japanese invade and take over, goes to extreme lengths with her family to help the prisoners of war when she is horrified to discover how they are being treated. As with the other novels in the trilogy, there are a couple of different time periods, that of 1942 when Sirinya was a huge part of the underground movement fighting against the cruel methods used by the Japanese to torture prisoners and the 1970’s where Sirinya as a grown woman returns to her family home to settle an old score from years ago that has shadowed and deeply affected her life ever since.

Once again, similar to Bamboo Island, it was wonderful to read about such a brave and independent female lead character who I instantly sympathised and felt connected to. Sirinya takes many risks, is subjected to the worst kind of torture and experiences many losses of her own yet remains strong and determined that the prisoners of war should categorically not be suffering. Once she catches a glimpse of their starving, emaciated bodies in the jungle she is willing to put her own life on the line to ensure that they got enough food and that medicines that they desperately needed were smuggled into the camp. She had so much heart and compassion, not only in this but in the way she reacted to the people around her, especially her close family and I loved rooting for her throughout the novel. Throughout the trilogy, the author has struck an excellent balance between the horror, challenges and moments of romance that her characters experience and I feel like I’ve learned not only about the terrible conditions of prisoner of war camps but about Southeast Asia as a region, something I was hoping for when beginning the series and Ann Bennett delivered on every level.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Road, you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bamboo-Road-BAMBOO-HEART-Bennett-ebook/dp/B06XFJSD7S

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

 Ann Bennett was born and raised in a small village in Northamptonshire, UK. She read Law at Cambridge and qualified and practised as a solicitor. During a career break, to have children, she started to write. Her father had been a prisoner of war on the Thailand– Burma Railway and the idea for a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy came from researching his wartime experiences. The research took her back to Asia, a place she loves and has returned to many times. She lives in Surrey with her husband and three sons and works in London as a lawyer.

Website: https://www.bambooheart.co.uk/
Blog: https://annbennettbambooheart.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/annbennett71
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Ann-Bennett-242663029444033/

Thank you once again to Monsoon Books and Faye Rogers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. Bamboo Road, the third in the Bamboo trilogy was published on 1st March 2017 and is available from all good book retailers now! If you’re hungry for more, why not check out some of the other stops on the tour from my fellow bloggers?

 

Bamboo Island – Ann Bennett

Published March 29, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Juliet Crosby has lived a reclusive life on her Malayan rubber plantation since the Second World War robbed her of everyone she loved. However, the sudden appearance of a young woman from Indonesia disrupts her lonely existence and stirs up unsettling memories. Juliet is forced to recollect her prewar marriage, her wartime ordeals in Japanese-occupied Singapore and the loss of those she once held dear. Bamboo Island is part of a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy of historical fiction that can be read in any order and includes Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Road.

What did I think?:

Hello everyone and welcome to the second of three very special days on my blog to celebrate the Bamboo Trilogy by Ann Bennett. To see my review of the first book in the series, Bamboo Heart, please click HERE. This post today will focus on the second novel, Bamboo Island which involves different characters than the first book but is set in the same time frame, in Southeast Asia during the Second World War. It means each book can be read as a stand alone but we do get certain events being referred to in the second and third book.

I really enjoyed the first book in the series but I was especially delighted to discover that I enjoyed Bamboo Island even more! It follows a British woman called Juliet Crosby who has lived with her husband, Gavin on a rubber plantation but their marriage is fraught with difficulties. Her only confidant is her sister Rose who is married herself and lives in Singapore so visiting and speaking with each other is a rare occurrence. There are a number of different time frames to this story (which was part of why I loved it most) and we switch between them seamlessly.

There is pre-war, naive Juliet and her struggles with her distant husband and distant sister (both distant for VERY different reasons, mind you!). Then there is Juliet during the war with full and heart-breaking description of her struggles and her internment at a horrific prison camp but also the friendships and bonds she makes along the way. Finally, there is post war Juliet living back on the rubber plantation and waiting for someone. The person who turns up is definitely not whom she is expecting, a young girl called Mary, claiming to have crucial information about Juliet’s family and the loss of those that she had been close to. Juliet is uncertain about whether to believe her but the two women journey to try and find evidence to back up Mary’s claims leading Juliet to go on an emotional journey back in time herself as she remembers her difficult life and comes to terms with what happened to her in the past.

I raced through this book in just over twenty-four hours, I kid you not. I literally could not put it down. I connected and sympathised with Juliet as a character so much, perhaps more than I did with the female lead in Bamboo Heart and I was constantly on edge whilst reading it, desperate to find out more about her past. I also can’t remember the last time I was willing a character to have a happy ending so bad! Again, the author does not avoid full and frank details about the conditions a prisoner of war under the Japanese would experience and once again, she had me disgusted, despairing but completely devoted to the story. I felt that the secondary characters in this novel were also people I wanted to get to know and felt like fully, fleshed out people who you could instantly love (or hate, in some cases!). After the strength of this second part of the trilogy, I now can’t wait to get to Bamboo Road where I hope to find further fascinating characters that will give me the intense feelings that Bamboo Island did.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Island, you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9814625175

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Come back tomorrow for my stop on the blog tour for Bamboo Road, the final book in the Bamboo trilogy.

Bamboo Heart – Ann Bennett

Published March 28, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Shortlisted for Best Fiction Title, Singapore Book Awards 2016

Thailand, 1943: Thomas Ellis, captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore, is a prisoner-of-war on the Death Railway. In stifling heat he endures endless days of clearing jungle, breaking stone and lugging wood. He must stay alive, although he is struck down by disease and tortured by Japanese guards, and he must stay strong, although he is starving and exhausted. For Tom has made himself a promise: to return home. Not to the grey streets of London, where he once lived, but to Penang, where he found paradise and love. London, 1986: Laura Ellis, a successful City lawyer, turns her back on her yuppie existence and travels to Southeast Asia. In Thailand and Malaysia she retraces her father’s past and discovers the truths he has refused to tell her. And in the place where her father once suffered and survived, she will finally find out how he got his Bamboo Heart. In a blend of stirring fiction and heart-wrenching history, Ann Bennett narrates the story of a soldier’s strength and survival in the bleakest of times and a daughter’s journey of discovery about her father and herself. Bamboo Heart is volume one in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Island and Bamboo Road.

What did I think?:

Hello everyone and welcome to a very special three days on my blog. For the next three days, including today, I will be talking about a wonderful new trilogy that I’ve just completed – The Bamboo Trilogy by Ann Bennett. I shall be reviewing the first book today, Bamboo Heart then the second, Bamboo Island tomorrow and finally the third, Bamboo Road as part of a blog tour celebrating the final book in the series and the trilogy as a whole. The books can be read in any order as they are all stand-alone stories although they do make references to things that have already happened in the previous books (in the case of the second and third novels).

Faye Rogers, who works as a freelance PR contacted me and asked me to be a part of this blog tour and when I read the synopsis of the books, I immediately accepted. A huge thank you to her and also to Monsoon Books for sending me a copy of the trilogy in exchange for an honest review. I’m a great lover of historical fiction and one of the periods of interest for me is the Second World War. As it is also set mainly in Southeast Asia, a region I find fascinating, that was the icing on the cake for me. What I wasn’t expecting is how emotionally invested I became in the stories. Bamboo Heart is the story of Laura Ellis in London, 1986 whom after the tragic death of her father, becomes desperate to find out more about his life during the Second World War. What happened to her father in the forties in Thailand and Malaysia is difficult for her father to talk about, the horrific experiences that he went through are nothing short of devastating and he deliberately shielded his daughter from the heart-break of his story.

After undergoing a break up of her own and still grieving for the loss of her father, Laura decides to journey to Thailand and Malaysia so that she can understand some of what her father went through. The story takes us through Laura’s hunt for that terrible knowledge and back in time to the 1940’s when her father, Tom Ellis is a prisoner of war of the Japanese, helping to build a railway from Thailand to Burma. The conditions he works in are brutal and almost indescribable but the author does not shy away from the honesty of how the prisoners were treated. They were beaten on a daily basis, starved, punished for the slightest infraction and before long, were mere skeletons, too weak to undergo the hard labour that was expected of them but terrified of repercussions if they didn’t. Laura goes through an emotional journey of her own as she realises what her father suffered and we learn more about Tom’s life both during this horrific time and when he first came to the East and fell in love with a local woman.

I found this novel to be a fascinating read, especially I have to say Tom’s story and his experiences whilst building the railway as a prisoner of war. I was slightly less invested in Laura’s story but I enjoyed how the author linked the two together. I must also mention that the author began writing this story whilst carrying out research into her own father’s involvement in the very same railway so I believe this makes the story all the more poignant, being based on real life anecdotes/experiences. It made me think a lot, mainly about the brutality of war but there was also a somewhat hopeful message within – how the soldiers banded together building strong friendships and being incredibly brave in the face of such torture was amazing to read about. I’m looking forward to reading another story based around the same time period but involving different characters in the next novel, Bamboo Island which I’m certain will be just as gut-wrenching but informative as this one.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Heart you can buy it here:

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9814423734

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Come back tomorrow where I’ll be reviewing the second book in the trilogy, Bamboo Island.

 

Etta And Otto and Russell And James – Emma Hooper

Published March 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. I will try to remember to come back.

Etta’s greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. And so, at the age of eighty-two she gets up very early one morning, takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 2,000 miles to water.

Meanwhile her husband Otto waits patiently at home, left only with his memories. Their neighbour Russell remembers too, but differently – and he still loves Etta as much as he did more than fifty years ago, before she married Otto.

What did I think?:

There were quite a few things that immediately drew me to Emma Hooper’s debut novel. First of all, the lovely cover with the cheeky little animal on the front (which I now know to be a coyote). Secondly, the title – I mean, four names in a title, what’s that all about? I simply had to find out! Finally, there had been a lot of comparisons of this book to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce which happens to be one of my all time favourite novels. I normally don’t like it when books are compared to others but I loved Harold Fry so much I needed to give Etta & Co a chance to stand as a story on its own merits.

So where this book is similar to Harold Fry is that it involves an adult in their eighties undergoing a long walk to get to a destination, meeting different people and well-wishers along the way. In this novel, our protagonist is Etta, 83 and slowly losing her memory. She wakes up one day and decides to walk to the ocean as she has never seen it, leaving her husband Otto a note explaining this and that she would “try to remember to come back.” The story follows Etta’s journey but is in no way chronological and dips back into the past and present as memories surface for Etta during her journey. We learn about her life as a teacher when she first met Otto. We also learn about Otto’s early life, part of a family fifteen-strong with the addition of his best friend (and current neighbour) Russell who becomes the honorary sixteenth member.

Most of Etta and Otto’s relationship is told in the form of letters, particularly when Otto has to go away to fight in World War II. Russell is Etta’s main support system when Otto is gone, unable to join up himself because of a childhood accident that left him with a lame leg. Russell is also deeply in love with Etta and when he hears about her pilgrimage later in life, immediately sets out to find her. Otto, her husband, stays at home making paper mache animals for Etta’s return and learning to bake from the recipes Etta has left him, deliberately so he can manage without her. Meanwhile on her journey, Etta meets many well-wishers and makes new friends, particularly a wily talking coyote called James who has quite the gift of the gab but encourages Etta through harder times on the road. The ending is somewhat bitter-sweet and very much left open to the readers own interpretation – it’s something I was slightly surprised by but thoroughly enjoyed at the same time.

I guess if you’ve read Harold Fry before you can see the similarities between them but I think this novel deserves to be talked about as a story all of its own. There are many differences between the stories also, particularly the magical realism part with the talking coyote, James, the dementia that Etta is sliding into and the hardships that Etta and Otto have suffered as a couple. I really fell in love with Etta as a character and the pure whimsical nature of this book (yes a talking coyote was always going to be a bonus for me, even if he was just in Etta’s mind?). It was also nice to hear from the spouse left behind, in this case Otto whose little paper mache animals and determination to learn to cook warmed the cockles of my heart. Initially, I was a bit wary of the ending of this novel and I have to admit, slightly disappointed but on closer reflection, I realise it was a perfect way for the reader to make up their own mind as to what happens. I’ll certainly be reading anything else Emma Hooper releases, this is one debut author with a bucket load of talent and beautiful writing to boot.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

 

Sweet Caress – William Boyd

Published August 8, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

When Amory Clay was born, in the decade before the Great War, her disappointed father gave her an androgynous name and announced the birth of a son. But this daughter was not one to let others define her; Amory became a woman who accepted no limits to what that could mean, and from the time she picked up her first camera, one who would record her own version of events.

Moving freely between London and New York, between photojournalism and fashion photography, and between the men who love her on complicated terms, Amory establishes her reputation as a risk taker and a passionate life traveler. Her hunger for experience draws her to the decadence of Weimar-era Berlin and the violence of London’s Blackshirt riots, to the Rhineland with Allied troops and into the political tangle of war-torn Vietnam. During her ambitious career, the seminal moments of the twentieth century will become the unforgettable moments of her own biography as well.

In Sweet Caress, Amory Clay comes wondrously to life, her vibrant personality enveloping the reader from the start. And, running through the novel, her photographs over the decades allow us to experience this vast story not only with Amory’s voice but with her vision. William Boyd’s Sweet Caress captures an entire lifetime unforgettably within its pages. It captivates.

What did I think?:

I haven’t read much by William Boyd before although I am very aware of the genius of his writing and Sweet Caress is a beautiful example of just how amazing he can be. What makes this book really special though, is the inclusion of multiple photographs (supposed to be taken by Amory) but actually amassed from Boyd’s own collection of intriguing and anonymous photographs he has amassed. The entire narrative has actually been written around and occasionally altered by the author to fit some of the photos. It blends historical fact and fiction seamlessly to the extent that I actually had to go investigating after reading this novel as to whether Amory Clay as a person actually existed! Unfortunately, she seems to be entirely fictional but it represents the strength of writing that I actually believed this woman was a “real life” historical figure.

The story is told in two parts – the first is Amory’s journal entries from the 1970’s where she is happily ensconced on a Scottish island enjoying her retirement and taking the occasional photographs, her one true passion and something she did very successfully in her youth to middle age. Then as Amory reminisces over her life, we learn of her early life experiences at boarding school, her troubled relationship with her father – a war hero who has been deeply psychologically affected by what he experienced during the war and, as a result, tries to kill both Amory and himself by driving their car into a lake.

Her life continues to fascinate and compel the reader as by defying the standards of society at that time as to what is an acceptable career for a woman and she is determined to become a world class photographer. She starts small with the help of her uncle by assisting him in photographing society ladies but soon develops a bit of a reputation for herself when she starts to push the boundaries of what photographs should show. This leads to her completing occasionally risky assignments, like going to the brothels of Berlin in the 1920’s, covering fascist riots in London in the 1930’s and being very close to the front-line in World War II and Vietnam. She makes some very wobbly decisions regarding her career, her personal safety and the men she chooses to love but despite everything comes across as an independent, dynamic and endlessly intriguing character that led such an admirable and exciting life.

I simply loved Amory as a character and because the reader gets to see her whole life in its entirety from tentative girl to assured and brave woman, you really felt like you knew her and when it ended, it almost felt like you were leaving a friend behind. As I mentioned before, the beauty of Boyd’s words is increased exponentially by his decision to include some riveting photographs that really enhanced the text and the story as a whole. Even though some of the images were quite shocking (I’m thinking of a particular photo showing a dead German soldier), you couldn’t help but go backwards to look at them again and I thought it was a really unique way to tell a story. I’ll definitely be checking out some more of William Boyd’s work – he’s a force to be reckoned with!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2016 – FEBRUARY READ – Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden

Published February 28, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

It is the Second World War and Carrie and Nick are evacuated from London to a small town in Wales, where they are placed with strict Mr Evans and his timid mouse of a sister. Their friend Albert is luckier, living in Druid’s Bottom with Hepzibah Green who tells wonderful stories, and the strange Mister Johnny, who speaks a language all of his own.

What did I think?:

Carrie’s War was an absolute must for our Kid Lit challenge in 2016 as I was determined this was the year I was finally going to read it. What a surprise I got to find that I remembered certain parts of the book as I came across them – yes, I had already read it! Goodness knows when, but as I read it for the second time some sections felt very familiar and others very new. From the synopsis, you assume it’s going to be another one of those “war books,” involving children, similar to War Horse by Michael Morpurgo and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. In essence it is – it tells the story of Carrie and her little brother Nick and their new friend Albert Sandwich as they are all evacuated from London on the train to the countryside in Wales as it is presumed a safer place to be. To be honest, not a whole lot more is mentioned about the war so if you are hoping for gas masks, bombs dropping and horrific carnage, this is perhaps not the book for you.

Carrie’s War is a compelling read in a completely different way. It focuses on how Carrie and Nick settle into their new home with the religious and very strict Mr Evans and his quiet, fearful sister (who they quickly become comfortable with and call Auntie Lou). Carrie and Nick find it very difficult to please Mr Evans who insists on rules and behaving with the utmost decorum and find refuge with their friend Albert’s hosts who live in a magical place called Druid’s Bottom. This is actually the home of Mr Evans sister Mrs Gotobed, whom funnily enough is bed-bound, very ill and expected to die soon. Hepzibah Green, her maid, looks after her, runs the household, looks after the animals on the farm and takes care of Mister Johnny, a young boy who is unlike anyone Carrie and Nick have ever met before and although he frightens them initially, they soon develop a strong bond.

Hepzibah and Auntie Lou are provided as motherly figures that Carrie and Nick lack being evacuees and away from their own family. Almost immediately, it becomes a real treat to visit Druid’s Bottom to help out with the chores, eat amazing home-cooked food and hear Hepzibah’s stories. One in particular involves a skull that has an ancient and terrifying history and is of utmost importance to the story when an adult Carrie returns with her own children and reminisces about her time in the country and a “terrible thing she did.”

There are a lot of things in this novel to love. It was such an interesting reading experience for me as I remembered some things so clearly – like when the children first happen upon Mister Johnny while some things felt entirely new, like the children’s relationship with Mr Evans which goes to a completely different level when his sister, Mrs Gotobed passes away. I think it’s a brilliant story to read as an introduction to the Second World War and the variety and diversity of characters is very commendable and something I think children will enjoy. I especially loved Mister Johnny and his wonderful language all of his own (gobble, gobble) and although I felt a bit frustrated with Carrie at times, she emerged as a great heroine and role model. I’m already a big fan of Nina Bawden after her amazing book for adults The Ice House and I can’t wait to read more of her work, kid-lit or otherwise!

For Chrissi’s fabulous review, please see her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Carrie_s_War

Image from http://www.radiotimes.com/episode/jrvw9/carries-war

Carrie’s War was turned into a BBC adaptation starring Pauline Quirke as Hepzibah Green in 2004.