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Michael J. Hunt "mjhunt21" (England)

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Sentinel of Truth : Gourgen Yanikian and the Struggle Against the Denial of the Armenian Genocide
Sentinel of Truth : Gourgen Yanikian and the Struggle Against the Denial of the Armenian Genocide
Price: £6.41

5.0 out of 5 stars A scholarly and informative book, 21 Nov 2012
Tigran Kalaydjian, in Sentinel of Truth, has written a scholarly account of one man's struggle against the consignment to the historical basement of a tragic series of events that briefly shook the world and then, through political exigency, were thereafter ignored, and, in many quarters, denied. The Armenian genocide by Turkey between 1915 and 1923 left one and a half million people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced and deported out of an estimated population of 2.1 million Armenians. Responsibility for perpetrating the murders, deportations and thefts of property has never been accepted by Turkey, which state, having been discovered, metaphorically, in a sealed room with a corpse at its feet and a smoking pistol in its hand, obdurately continues to disclaim responsibility for the crime to this day, aided and abetted shamelessly by Britain, the United States et al who have hidden their collusion behind unconvincing definitions of genocide. One of the consequences of the perpetrator never having been compelled to offer either apology or redress has been that millions of hapless citizens throughout the world were to become hostages to fortune at the hands of other unscrupulous states and leaders from that time on.

This, then, is the background. The story, however, as recounted and analysed by Tigran Kalaydjian - an Armenian whose paternal family escaped to Cyprus at the time of the genocide - is about Gourgen Yanikian, who also escaped the genocide, in his case to the United States. The first priority of this sensitive, intellectual man had always been to expose Turkish lies, en route to which he became a highly successful engineer, author, film producer and traveller. However, building up inside him was a rage for which he could find no legitimate outlet - and so, in his seventies, he planned and executed an act of extreme violence, the consequences of which he made no attempt to escape in order to draw attention at his trial to what he considered to have been the crime of the century.

Sentinel of Truth was originally published in Armenia and is lodged with the Government of the Republic of Armenia in its national library. Extremely well researched and written, with some of the source material being revealed for the first time, it carries illustrations, maps and a useful bibliography.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in the Armenian people, 20th Century history, United States jurisprudence, the triumph of the state over the individual and the paucity of morality in modern day politics; also, for the general reader, as an informative and heart-rending factual account of a little known chapter in European history.

The Guinea Fowl Girl: A colonial childhood Southern Rhodesia 1939-1958
The Guinea Fowl Girl: A colonial childhood Southern Rhodesia 1939-1958
Price: £5.10

4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Personal History, 18 Nov 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A memoir can serve many purposes. It can serve ones descendants with personal information that would otherwise be lost, it can cast light on an era and place that may too easily be forgotten because of political, social and attitudinal changes and, perhaps more importantly for the writer, it can serve as a catharsis by which the past may be laid to rest. I believe The Guinea Fowl Girl fulfils all these elements, although only the writer will ever know how effective the last element has been.
In The Guinea Fowl Girl, Val Sherwell (Borgie Hawkey, to those who new her then) describes a period of history that has receded over the horizon with very little to mark its existence. No prominent writer, with the exception perhaps of Doris Lessing, has recorded the strange - sometimes incomprehensible - life-styles and attitudes of the British settler and expatriate in Southern Rhodesia. Val's experiences of a childhood that spanned WWll, its aftermath and the run-up to the demise of settler dominated Southern Rhodesia, serve to highlight the fact that standard histories about any society can only brush the surface. Underneath there is (or was) a random mix of families, many of which had already been split by past events, both political and personal, such as war, marriage, divorce, and, in some cases, estrangement from kith and kin from the homeland.
For anyone unfamiliar with Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), it's important to note that the guinea fowl of the title is not a bird, but a school. Situated on the Gwelo-Selukwe road in the Midlands, the `School in the Bush', as it was known in the country, was a whites only (all schools were segregated) co-educational boarding school catering for children from all three countries of the Central African Federation (Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland). I won't give away what this highly unorthodox and idiosyncratic school meant to Val, other than that it could not have contrasted more starkly with the Benedictine all-girls' school she'd previously had to endure.
The early part of Val's memoir describes a typical family living in the late 1930s in Southern Rhodesia. Her father was a resident magistrate, which meant they were afforded automatic status. Consequently, Val and her brother, John, led orthodox lives, getting into the usual scrapes with neighbours, school-friends, etc that might be expected of children growing up in a small, white rural community. But, beneath the respectable façade of family life, unbeknown to either child, their parents' incompatibility was taking its toll in ways that would probably have been totally incomprehensible to either of them.
However, what moved me most was the `cathartic' element which is central to Val's memoir. In particular, her relationship with her father and the extraordinary effect he was to have on her life, both while she was at GFS and in the years following. Here she describes a highly flawed, yet, in his own way, loving and well-meaning father, whose clumsy attempts to ingratiate himself with her eventually led to their estrangement.
Val Sherwell's memoir stands out as a rare, personal recording of the tail-end of what was known as `British Africa'. It describes a childhood spent in the protective cocoon of a community that had little in common with the wider native society, and it also offers a graphic account of her growing realisation of how fragile her family really was, where neither parent appeared to understand the complex needs of an intelligent and energetic girl. It also highlights how a timely move - from one school to another - can have such a profound affect on a child's life.
Val Sherwell has been brave enough to tackle what must have been at times a difficult childhood memoir to write. Her recollection of past events, especially when she was very little, is astounding, as is her ability to convey her feelings in a simple and unfussy narrative.
I recommend The Guinea Fowl Girl for anyone interested in both the history of the region and in the parent/child relationship.

The Editor's Lexicon: Essential Writing Terms for Novelists
The Editor's Lexicon: Essential Writing Terms for Novelists
by Sarah Cypher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.95

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent little Book, 28 April 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Indispensable - a must for every fiction writer and editor. Literary reference books are often too wordy, with their over-lengthy examples and valuable information difficult to locate. This lexicon is just the opposite: it offers all the principle terminology in alphabetical order under five useful categories - Premiss, Theme, Voice, Plot, Character and Style - and is cleverly designed for easy reference.

For writers, especially newbies, this little book will almost certainly de-mystify the often cryptic comments made by publishers in those maddeningly brief rejection letters; for editors it makes for a very handy reference to check out first impressions; for book reviewers it will help prevent errors of judgement, and for editors it will sit well alongside their more comprehensive literary texts. In fact, there's something for everyone here.

I shall be recommending this to the would-be authors in my novel writers' support groups and to all my other writing acquaintances in England, so well done Sarah and Glyd-Evans Press.

Matabele Gold The African Journals of Petros Amm Two Days in Tehran

Small Island
Small Island
by Andrea Levy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.09

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic, 6 Nov 2008
This review is from: Small Island (Paperback)
From a novel writing point of view Small Island is a classic. The key element of a novel is characterisation, and Andrea Levy excels herself here. Four `first person' accounts of events occurring in Jamaica, Britain and India, illustrating the random fall-out of war. Ms Levy's `voices' rung authentically and she appeared as capable in rendering idiosyncratic Jamaican as she was with RAF 'squaddie'. She also dealt convincingly with basic realities - the reality of war (the randomness of death and destruction) and the reality of attitudes (racist bigotry) in a most uncompromising way. This made for uncomfortable reading, to the extent that there were times when I was longing for someone to show a mere flicker of a hint of the milk of human kindness (someone, perhaps, with an English accent). In this way she showed admirable discipline as a writer, with only an occasional nod towards a more common understanding of the plight of others (Jamaicans and bombed out 'cockneys' alike), and, when she could have ameliorated the response of an out-and-out bigot, she created a humorous post-script (suggesting 'once a bigot, always a bigot').

I loved the line (from Jamaican, Gilbert) 'I knew ... had put on a bit of weight but what an astonishment to find it was the type you could dress in a bonnet'. Yes, the humour was there, which was just about the only amelioration Ms Levy allowed in the whole of the novel. OK, there were tiny little achievements, rescued from larger defeats, that perhaps prevented the main characters from high-tailing it back to Jamaica (of course, had they done so, there would have been no Small Island). She also creates a most wonderfully ironic ending - not a 'happy ever after' ending, either, but one that fits the overall feel of the book admirably. Well worthy of the Orange prize and five stars from this reader.

I have read one of the more critical reviews (of which there are very, very few here)to the effect that Ms Levy over-loaded her 'Indian' account with too much research (I certainly wasn't aware of it), and also that there were certain inaccuracies in her descriptions. I can't speak authoritatively about India during the war, but I do know there was an RAF 'mutiny' along the lines she described. [It would be useful that, if a reader does find errors, he/she actually says what they are.]

In summary, a brilliantly written book that paints a less roseate picture of London during and immediately after WW2 than we have become accustomed to being presented with. Brilliantly characterised with authentic voices and written in the first person (which, I believe, is the most vital of all view-points).

From Beyond Belief
From Beyond Belief
by Paul Charles
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Read, 23 July 2008
This review is from: From Beyond Belief (Paperback)
The theme of From Beyond Belief is of alien abduction and the sense that not everything 'out there' has a common sense explanation. While I'm not a 'died in the wool' sceptic, I do have a high threshold of belief, so it takes something compelling to have me signing up to conspiracy theories etc. The book has a strong plot and engaging characters, and it demonstrates that fine line between reality and what happens inside ones head that informs reality. This powerful book is for people from both sides of the 'belief' divide and it deserves to receive more attention.

Miracles of Life
Miracles of Life
by J. G. Ballard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.51

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest Accounting, 13 May 2008
This review is from: Miracles of Life (Hardcover)
I won't give a synopsis since this has already been done ably by other reviewers. Why this autobiography 'worked' for me is that Mr Ballard has reflected his past experiences to his present situation so movingly, and with characteristic modesty. As a young man he considered his unusual childhood to be of little interest to anyone; only late on in his life has it provided him with explicit material for fiction - and now, with this account - for fact - only latterly has he recognised that he had unconsciously used his childhood experiences as literary motifs.

Judging by his enthusiasm that came through in the middle part of the book, I suspect that Mr Ballard derived most satisfaction in his life from raising his three children on his own following the tragic death of his wife whilst on holiday - an event that he describes briefly, yet deeply movingly.

He doesn't say a great deal about his actual writing (apart from, in his earlier years, writing a short story between dropping off his children at school in the morning and picking them up in the afternoon) although he does refer interestingly to some of his books and short stories, and to his literary acquaintances. With some exceptions (Kingsley Amis, Michael Moorcock, Ian Sinclair and Will Self) he appears to have been more 'at home' with avante garde artists than with fellow writers.

I spent some time in a British expatriate community as a youngster, albeit some twenty years after Mr Ballard's time, so I could relate to this part of his life. I'm familiar with the type of people he observed, although I don't recall the grown-ups as leading nearly such dissipated life styles, neither did I witness such extremes of poverty and affluence as existed in pre-war Shanghai ... and neither was I interned by 'the enemy' for two years.

Miracles of Life is not in the slightest bit pretentious, it is simply written and lacks in any real rancour, which is so refreshing, given some of the back-biting one comes to expect from autobiographies these days, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in what lies behind a considerable writer.

Double Fault
Double Fault
by Lionel Shriver
Edition: Paperback

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Love Six, Love Six, 31 Jan 2008
This review is from: Double Fault (Paperback)
Double Fault is a 'double entendre' in this case, I fear. In order for a book to be appreciated, the author needs to develop realistic characters - not necessarily likeable, but realistic. This requires great care with dialogue and actions. I can only speak about Double Fault as far as page 42, and I only got there out of curiosity. The more I tried to visualise that 'tennis court tryst', the more I wondered how it would fare in the annual 'worst sex scene' literary competition (well up with the masters, I concluded). Eric's speech and Willy's thoughts seemed more appropriate to a college bar-room debate, than to actual foreplay. Equally improbable were the contortions of their first coupling: `Willy's back pressed the net cord; it groaned ... (he) lifted her to cradled the small of her back on the tape, crouched, stood and closed his eyes. Consequently Wilhemina Novinsky discovered what a match was like without the go-between meddling of a tennis ball'.
Wow. You won't find that position in the Kama Sutra.
And that's where I left them, because I couldn't bear to read any further. I do hope they didn't pull any muscles.

Q &  A
Q & A
by Vikas Swarup
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Writer's Read, 14 Jan 2008
This review is from: Q & A (Paperback)
If I were to single out only one feature that, above all others, is the most important attribute of a successful book it would have to be 'voice' above all else - even character. Q and A is narrated in the first person by an uneducated, if precocious, young man who had the misfortune to have been born on 'the wrong side of the tracks' in urban India, and the good fortune to be endowed with more than his share of luck, which he exploits in a 'no limits' publicity quiz programme, designed carefully to create the maximum publicity for its sponsors with the least chance of having to pay money out by its expedient selection of uneducated participants.

I'll say nothing of the means by which his luck comes about, because that would give away the subtle sub-plots of the story. Suffice to say that he 'bankrupts' the programme, and the producers, calling 'foul' try to have him gaoled.

A couple of reviewers on this site chide the author for some childish, or simplistic, prose. But that's the whole point. This is a childish and simplistic young man. His lack of sophistication is beautifully captured in Vikas Swarup's narration.

Anyone wishing to develop their writing skills should read this book to see how 'voice' can create an absorbing and entertaining story. Along the way they will discover love and pathos and much amusement.

Highly recommended.

Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self
Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self
by Claire Tomalin
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True to Himself, 2 Jan 2008
I read this book some time ago, consequently the finer details escape me. However, what remains vivid is the sense that Ms Tomalin's book evinces of a remarkable man from our distant past, and of the social and political context of the times in which he lived. It is a cliche to say that 'someone is of his time', but there's no better way of saying it in Pepys's case. Yes, he could be cruel in his remarks about others, particularly when he's been disappointed, or when he feels that he's been misunderstood. But, then, there are no doubt many equally successful men (and women) today, who are much more ruthless in their dealings with others, both domestically and professionally.

However, it is highly unlikely (if not utterly unlikely) to comment so honestly about how unpleasant he has been - either to his wife, his maid or his underlings. Granted, he wrote in 'code', but he knew the code could easily be cracked by someone who had shorthand skills (as indeed it was) so he could have destroyed his diaries after he stopped writing them.

The other thing that stood out for me, was the pain he experienced with his 'stone'. This is something I could relate to, since, a couple of years before I read this book, I too had a 'stone', and, until it was removed, I was in considerable discomfort, and often pain, every night. My stone was about an inch long by a quarter of an inch thick. Pepys's was the size of a grape-fruit. Mine was removed painlessly while I was anaesthetised. Pepys's was removed while he was fully conscious (albeit by the best man in London). He wasn't even allowed alcohol (too dangerous) and his chances of survival had been about 20%. Small wonder that, afterwards, he reflected on life 'before the stone' in a way that suggests his re-birth. Nobody, from no matter what era, could have gone through that amount of pain and fear without being considerably changed.

The other remarkable honesty Pepys' displayed was regarding his sexual liaisons; one of his most endearing features was the feelings of guilt he expressed - always immediately afterwards. All right, he made little attempt to curb his habits, but he does come across as a man with a conscience and well aware of his bad behaviour. In our own times such men are pretty rare.

And the third thing that remains in my memory was his unique use of 'pidgin' English when describing his sexual adventures. He would use a combination of French, English and (I think) Latin, in order to 'obscure' (or, possibly, negate) the reality of his behaviour, even though what he was doing was as plain as a pikestaff to even the most naive of readers. In this way he was very child-like.

Yes, Pepys was a womaniser and, occasionally, a wife-beater. He was as flawed as any man in this respect, but put anyone under a microscope for a life-time and see if he remains faultless.

What was such a joy in this book was Ms Tomalin's impeccable writing. The biography read almost as a novel would, and Pepys's character flowed across every page. The humour, occasional violence, anger, opportunism (oh, yes, he was probably as dishonest in his naval dealings as any man, in any century has ever been) and skill, both as an administrator and as a survivor.

In fact, his greatest achievement was as a survivor of possibly the greatest upheaval in English history (including the blitz and the Battle of Britain) - the execution of Charles l, the social and political mayhem of the Commonwealth years, the Great Fire of London and the recurrent Plagues. His was a consummate balancing act - particularly given his elevated position - from being a known (or at least suspected) Royalist sympathiser, to acceptance by the Puritans and then to a timely and convincing reversion to the Royal cause. Although he had numerous close-shaves, generally he prosperred and maintained friendships at several levels of society, including the very highest, in spite of his humble start in life.

Pepys must rate alongside William Shakespeare as being a key figure, without whom England would have a much poorer history, and Miss Tomalyn's biography has made him eminently accessible to the twenty-first century reader.

Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives)
Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives)
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Know less - know more, 2 Jan 2008
After reading this entertaining book I now know less about Shakespeare than I knew before. This is not a criticism of the book, more a criticism of the thousands of misleading and ill-researched books and essays about this mysterious (not necessarily deliberately mysterious) man.

Bill Bryson appears to have been meticulous in his research in that he only uses proven facts(i.e. documented from first-hand, un-disproven sources) to support this, necessarily, slim book. The reason why it's a slim book is that there are so few un-disproven sources available, public records being what they were in the 16th and early 17th centuries. He also shows the pointlessness of adducing anything about Shakespeare's character from his writing, since it's impossible to separate his own voice from that of his characters.

About Shakespeare, the man, little is known. Huge chunks of his life have been obliterated with the passage of time, which leaves it open to speculation, of which there has been no let-up since about two hundred years after his death. This has led to a conspiracy theorist's charter, which covers his sexuality (which could still have been 'three ways', given the lack of evidence, apart from his his being married and having three children, none of whom were ever questioned about their father) to his character (the evidence of which is ambiguous) and, even, to his very existence (at least as the writer). On this latter point cojecture is rife, but there is even less un-disproven evidence to support it (i.e. nil) and his non-existence as a writer would have required an impossible degree of secrecy by numerous literate and reliable individuals in London at the time, including members of two Royal households and his 'rival' playwright, Ben Jonson.

Even one 'fact' that I've always believed to be true about Shakespeare turns out only to be a 'best guess' - i.e. that he spent time before his arrival in London, as a player/tutor to a Lancashire Catholic family (the Hoghtons).

One major thing that I wasn't aware of before (there are also many minor things in this book that I wasn't aware of) is the hugely important role that two of his contemporaries played in preserving his works for posterity. Had it not been for Henry Condell and John Hemingse none of his marvellous plays would have been saved, and we English, and our wonderful language, would have been the poorer to a massive degree.

For those who believe that Francis Bacon, or the Earl of Derby, or a Frenchman called Jaques Pierre, or any one of dozens of 'contenders' for Shakespeare's throne, reading this book will be like taking a dip in the Thames in mid-winter - unless your constitution's up to it, don't go near it. Otherwise, it's a safe book to read if you are interested in the English language in general, or the theatre in particular.
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