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The Tin Ring (Love and survival in the Holocaust)
The Tin Ring (Love and survival in the Holocaust)
by Zdenka Fantlová
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars fanstical self-serving tosh, 19 Oct 2013
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There is a review on this website that politely says 'strange book' and the reviewer notes their sense of doubt about the picture of life in a concentration camp because as presented it did not match with other books on a similar topic. I couldn't agree more.

Of course, the sanctioned response to this book is 'oh isn't it marvelous and moving?' but frankly I think that is a response to the fact of what happened in WWII rather than a true reflection of the quality of this book. To my mind the book was poorly (if simply) written, and worse than that it was a pile of fantastical tosh which was better titled 'I Zendka: aren't I just a bit of alright?'. The author did not make a single authentic observation about anyone or anything that encountered and there was not a single real (as in well-drawn) character in the book - and I include the author in that comment.

While I have no doubt the author was in the concentration camps, my suspicion from reading this book is that she was staggeringly selfish, had a huge will to survive, and must have done some pretty terrible things to make sure she did. That is fine. Who can judge someone when they have not lived through the same events? But this book to my mind was an attempt by the author to rewrite history and make her past alright with herself and with the world. I for one would have been more interested in the true story not the fantastical self-serving tosh that was served up.

The book starts with the author going back to her home town as an old person and remembering how things were. This was an evocative starting point but it became self indulgent and went on way too long. I got bored and ended up skim-reading a large portion of this.

Then we were given a potted family history. Essentially, her real mother (who died when she was 6) was totally wonderful and beautiful and her stepmother wasn't and her father never loved the stepmother and only married her to look after the children. All this left a bad taste in my mouth given from what I could make out, the woman had done all right by both her stepchildren. The family history was followed up by a long series of incidents all designed to tell us about the author's brilliance in a range of areas. Of course she was brilliant at English and fluent with a year's lessons. She was also a brilliant pianist and a total femme fatale who captured the heart of a mature and massively wealthy man when she was but a teenager. Finally we get to Arno, the man who gave her the tin ring. Actually along with Arno, the tin ring plays very little part in the story, except as another mechanism for telling us about how lucky and heroic the author was in sticking it under her tongue when being searched one time. Arno stands out more for two illicit bonks (one before the concentration camp and one in it), and for giving her the tin ring. Who he was as a person and why he was supposed to be the love of her life is a mystery.

The descriptions of life in the concentration camps, as in the rest of the book, are more designed to make clear to the reader how amazing the author was, a heroine, a great leader and the smartest most resourceful gal in the room, ready with a solution for every occasion. It became a yawn. She was simply mistress within seconds of every problem, no soul-searching, no impotence, no exhaustion, or fight against hopeless or loss of self. What is more revealing are the things Zdenka does not explain, eg how did she manage to get a nice, cosy room for herself in the first place they were taken to? Why was she so eager to desert her family for this cosy room, at a time when most normal people would have been worrying about sticking close to their family and not losing them? How is it that she always got the best of everything that was going? Though she talks about doing the right things for others, it seemed to be so much lip service to me, and it was the things she lets slip that got me wondering about just how nice this person really was and what her real story was and what things is she trying to write out of her memory?

The book ends on a characteristically selfish and self-serving note. The author survives, goes to Sweden becomes the most amazing biscuit packer ever in an incredibly short amount of time, deserts her friend, to head to Stockholm and become the most amazing secretary ever. I am afraid my eyes were rolling. After so many pages of amazingness, was there anything this superhuman could not do? But the bit that left a really bad taste in my mouth .... she is invited to meet someone who survived and was with her father when he died. This man wants to share her father's last words and days with her. She decides she would rather not meet him. I think the author wanted to convey something profound about not wanting to live the past or something, but frankly this incident was the most authentic part of the whole book for me. It fit perfectly with my image of this woman. Everything was all about her and what was good for her. I felt incredibly sad for the man who had faithfully carried the memory of her father to give to the surviving members of his family, and rejected, and had to carry those memories and final words to the grave.

For me, one star is too much for this book. If interested in understanding more about the human condition in such hideous circumstances, read 'If this is a man' Primo Levi'. You will learn a lot more. If you want to know about the nature of survivors - King Rat James Clavell. I suspect it shines a light on the some of the truth behind Zdenka the most amazing.
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Jennie - Lady Randolph Churchill - The Complete Series [DVD] [1974]
Jennie - Lady Randolph Churchill - The Complete Series [DVD] [1974]
Dvd ~ Lee Remick
Price: £7.80

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars miscast and short on charisma and wit, 5 Oct 2013
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Jennie was a society beauty with serious wit, charm and ambition. She married a duke's son, inspired the undying love of a count, followed it up with marriages to two much younger wealthy men, made connections throughout the upper echelons of society which supported the establishment of her son's political career and ultimately was the mother of one of our greatest prime ministers. This was always going to be a difficult role to cast but essential to get right. One needs to make allowances, because charisma is a difficult thing to find, but I am afraid Lee Remick really not cut it for me and as a consequence the script and story became increasingly laughable, and out of sync with what could be seen on the screen. The woman on the screen was ordinary in the extreme and became increasingly more ordinary as she aged. Sadly for Lee she was cast beside Sian Phillips who acted her off the stage for the short time that she was there. Unlike Lee, Sian was seriously charismatic and I fully understood why Jennie's husband dumped her.
Other poor casting - Ronald Pickup who came across as a bit of a boor. It was hard to believe he was potential prime minister material. Warren Clarke - laughable as a young Churchill talking about his toy soldiers with his father (why didn't they find a child or teenager for this?). He did improve when he was able to act his age.
Good casting - Christopher Casanove as a toyboy husband and Jeremy Brett as a very attractive count (one wondered why Jennie stuck with her husband with this wonderful man around).
Other comments
The costumes were excellent and the serial was shot on location at times. The script was adequate rather than good.
Management of the passing of time was very poorly handled so I got disoriented sometimes and I found myself trying to estimate how much time must have passed and how old the characters must have been. This was annoying after a while.
Provision of historical context to understand what was going on around Jennie eg Churchill getting booted out of office because of Gallipoli - very skimpy so the viewer learns nothing.
Overall, I would say not very good, and a bit of a waste of time. All I got out of it was an image of a rather unappealing person who liked expensive clothes and could not manage money. Not impressive and I could not have told you at the end of the show why it was important to make a programme about such a woman. Jennie deserved better.

How Green Was My Valley [DVD] [1975]
How Green Was My Valley [DVD] [1975]
Dvd ~ Stanley Baker
Price: £9.40

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars pleasant entertainment of the soapy kind, 13 Sep 2013
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I would describe this as mildly entertaining, telling the story of a family from a welsh valley. There were some good performances but they were not particularly powerful and occasionally a bit saccharine. For me, part of the problem was that the serial spanned quite a long period and it was a bit home and away, meaning a snap shot of a situation and then fast forward to another time and scene. I tend to seek out and enjoy the older serials from the 70 because they are more leisurely and allow time to develop insights into characters, much as the authors originally intended. This serial lacked that level of interest. The goodies were super good, the baddies clearly rotten, and not much complexity in-between. In the end, I felt like I was watching a short format soap. Ok of its kind, I was happy enough to have seen it and I will probably not watch again.

Total Recall
Total Recall
by Arnold Schwarzenegger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A non-fan converted - fabulous!, 1 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Total Recall (Paperback)
This was a book club choice. Never, ever would I have picked this book up left to my own devices. I groaned when we agreed to do it and thought it was going to be 600 odd pages of tough going which would need some skim-reading to survive. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I found the book completely engrossing. I sat reading it all day one weekend and spent the rest of the week racing to bed to carry on.

Pre-reading the book, I was utterly dismissive of this man. Post-reading it, I am uplifted and inspired and a total admirer. It is an inspirational book on all levels.

I always looked at body-building as rather pointless and body-builders as having very ugly bodies. I was not interested. His description of that world and his part in it was fascinating and I have now bought 'Pumping Iron' to learn more.

I dismissed out of hand, Conan the Barbarian as a joke. Under no circumstances would I have considered seeing it back in the 80s or now. Reading the chapter about its making changed my mind. I have just bought the DVD because the film sounds fascinating and ground-breaking - (maybe not his acting though!). I am also considering getting some more of his films to view as well. (I have seen very few of them.) What a turn-around! This man is a salesman par excellance!

I think what I found so appealing about this book is that to my mind Arnie presents a very honest (al beit sanitized) view of himself. Ok it is, as one reviewer here says, short on salacious detail but I kind of think that is because Arnie as a personality does not dwell on things. He is very clear that he is a very optimistic, positive thinker. He makes mistakes and he moves on. Because of this trait, in his acknowledgements, he also is very clear that he had forgotten lots and needed the help of many people to remember again. I believed him. I also think that he avoided salacious detail because he did not want to hurt other people and wanted to respect their right to privacy too and I can respect that.

Arnie is quite clear about being machine-like in pursuing his goals. He will also do whatever it takes to win. And yet while he is clearly ruthless, he also comes across as a man of high intelligence, a man of principles, and of clear vision. He is very clear about how he became successful: what attributes he had and what mechanisms he put in place to achieve what he achieved. The overriding message was, set a goal, learn everything you need to learn to achieve what you want to do and then work hard to do it ('reps reps reps'). No magic formulae, or luck. This man worked for what he got and he does not pretend otherwise.

The other thing that surprised me about this book was just how important family was to Arnie. For someone so grounded in himself, and without dwelling on it, one got the sense of a man who really loves his family. For me, I would also call this book a love story. He clearly loves Maria, and I finished the book feeling very, very sad and let down that they broke up. I am with Arnie in very much hoping they get back together again, because the way Arnie writes about their relationship, they were a wonderful team and for me, it felt like a tragic end to a very special relationship. Of course that is his view, maybe Maria would say her years with him were terrible, and she was often alone, and resented the affairs. But I looked at the family photos and they all seemed so very happy together. I could not understand how she could walk away from such an extraordinary man with so much vision and so many worthwhile principles that he was willing to work for.

Another reviewer on this site said this book was overlong and needed editing particularly the political bits. I cannot disagree more. I found Arnie's period as governor to be fascinating. I had no idea about the problems of the political system in the US. It was fascinating to read about his courage in fighting for the things he believed in and his determination against all odds to bring change to California in every sphere of public need. Gosh! His energy was infectious, his ability to choose great people to work with him said much for his perceptiveness and wisdom about people, his lack of respect for partisan politics was inspiring and the only responsible way to be. If I were an American I would beg him to run for presidency and I would vote for him!

Fabulous, fabulous read. I will be telling anyone I know that they need to read this book. I wish some of our polis would also pick it up. I wonder now what is left for Arnie. I can imagine fixing on the next goal after achieving so much must be a huge question in his mind.

Disraeli - Complete [1978] [DVD]
Disraeli - Complete [1978] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ian McShane
Price: £7.80

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great, 11 Aug 2013
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I had not heard of this serial and bought out of curiosity. I generally prefer the 1970-1980s serials because of the quality of the scripts, costumes and acting. Disraeli is not up there with the greats of this era, though it interesting and stays in your mind long after watching it.

Ian McShane is excellent as Disraeli. He has all the fascination and complexity of someone who achieved what he did. In fact all the acting and the costumes were excellent. My biggest complaint was that the story was squeezed into four episodes and time and again Disraeli would be off to make some great speech which you would not see. There were other improtant occasions too which were not seen and instead outcomes of the events were briefly summarized at some point. I got a bit irritated with this after a while, and felt that either the script writer was not up to the job or the budget was too tight for the story to be told.

Disraeli's story is somewhat mirrored by that of Phineas Phinn in the Pallisers and I kept thinking that story was better done in the Pallisers. All in all, my view is that this is worth buying for the opportunity to learn a little about Disraeli easily. But don't expect a classic of TV.

To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain
To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain
by Adam Hochschild
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars moving and thought provoking, 11 Aug 2013
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There is an excellent review in Amazon titled 'not what it says on the the tin' I read it and initially chuntered because at start the book seemed to be very much about the dissenters. However, by the end of reading the book I very much agreed with the author of that review. In someways it is a bit hard to classify what the book is about. It is more a broad history of the first world war and its consequences with emphasis on some unusual protagonists. It is not a massively detailed history and it is largely told from the perspective of the Brits.

Adam Hochschild is a brilliant writer. This is the second book of his that I have read. The first being King Leopold's Ghost. In my opinion King Leopold's ghost is perfect, while to End of All Wars is very good but has small flaws.

As noted in other reviews, the book starts more or less with the Boer war. This was a perfect place to start because it introduces the rapid repeat machine gun and how it changed modern warfare (something the wwI generals did not ever seem to get to grips with). It also introduces and establishes the main protagonists for the book.

Adam Hochschild clearly did a lot of research in writing the book, but with his journalist's eye he knows what to tell and what to leave out and he always finds the interesting details to tell which make you sit up. I never really thought about the legacy of metal and bombs left in the fields of Flanders. I had only ever known of Emmaline Pankhurst as a heroine of women's equality. The picture AH paints is much more complex. Douglas Hird came across to me as one of the greatest mass murders in the 20th century, though AH does make the case that his sheer pigheadedness probably contributed to the Allies winning the war at a point when Germany looked like they could win the field.

The Germans struck me as vastly more intelligent and creative in trying to solve the deadlock of trench warfare. I never realized how close they came to winning the war. All in all by the end of the book, I felt I needed to learn more and have just bought 'The Great War' DVDs as the next easy step in my education.

Saving Grace [2000] [DVD]
Saving Grace [2000] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Brenda Blethyn
Offered by MusicnMedia
Price: £4.65

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars mild but silly entertainment, 27 July 2013
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This review is from: Saving Grace [2000] [DVD] (DVD)
I bought this because a friend told me this was one of the funniest films ever. Well for some tastes maybe. The concept was fun - growing marijuana to save a house - but I don't think the writer quite knew where to take it and it all got very silly by the end. The script was not witty enough to justify a story that was struggling for direction and all in all, by the time I got to the end of the film I really wished I had save myself the money and the time. This one went straight to the charity shop. I did not want to see it again.

The Brontes of Haworth - The Complete Series [DVD]
The Brontes of Haworth - The Complete Series [DVD]
Dvd ~ Alfred Burke
Price: £7.90

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and with a rather authentic feeling, 27 July 2013
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I bought this with trepidation because most of the reviews are so negative. Having seen the serial, I am now really surprised at the extent of the negativity.

This serial is not up among the greats - 'I Claudius', 'Pallisers', 'Jewell in the Crown' 'Brideshead' etc. But it is very good.

As far as I can tell there is considerable accuracy in what is presented about the lives of the Brontes. However, the screen writer does not just slavishly chronicle details of the Brontes' lives. He cleverly contrasts Branwell's failure with the success of his sisters. Central to the success of this is Micheal Kitchen, who wonderfully conveys Branwell's charm and fragility and also his inability to grow up. When he goes to London to seek his fortune you feel his fear and you know he has to go home. Emily is suitably Sturm and Drang. Charlotte shows all the pent up passion of her heroine Jane Eyre and comes across as a bit prudish, with an acerbic wit and quite a bit of get up and go. Finally, Anne surprised me. She was full of gentle courage and forbearance. I came away from the serial loving her and wanting to know more and also wanting to read her books.

In terms of the production. It was a bit slow to get going, but once it did, I found myself staying up later than intended for just another episode. The children morphed beautifully into the adults. The adults bear a good resemblance to the portrait of them by Branwell. The final episode though did suffer from a couple of lengthy, rather wheezy death scenes that got a bit irritating. It is for this reason that I rated the production 4 not 5 stars. Otherwise the acting was uniformly good to the extent that I often felt I was watching the real people not actors. I think though it is important to be clear, this production definitely has a stagey feel to it. It is not in any sense glossy. Even though it has been filmed in Haworth and on the moors, it could just as easily have been done in a theatre. The scenery is largely irrelevant, compared to the relationships among the five main characters.

There have been complaints about the quality of the film and sound. It is true that the film is showing its age. It is also true that the rustling of the clothes can be a bit annoying and the volume of the music can be a bit high compared to the speech. I think though it is important to judge something within the limits of what technology permitted then and for me these are small complaints. What is important is whether a production has been well written, whether the actors do the script justice and whether the viewer comes away feeling like they got something out of the time that they spent watching. I most definitely did and I am happy to have had the opportunity to see this production rather than not see it because was too expensive to fix problems such as volume, or film.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 24, 2014 4:31 AM BST

First Russia, Then Tibet: Travels Through a Changing World
First Russia, Then Tibet: Travels Through a Changing World
by Robert Byron
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating, funny and poignant, 24 Nov 2012
It is ages since I read this book, but I still think of it as one of the more memorable travel books I have read to date. It starts in Russia and I must admit I don't remember much of this section. It did not catch my imagination in the same way as the Tibet section did. However a friend with more interest in orthodox art and architecture did enjoy this section quite a lot. 'nuff said!

For me the book really begins with the travel to and in Tibet. I was fascinated to read about how early flights were organised. The author talks of patting his top pocket stuffed with a thick book full of tickets and hotels bookings for the flight to India. Then the flight, and you sense his curiosity looking out of the windows at the waves on the sea very close below and seeing the shadow of the plane on the sand in the desert below. The trek into Tibet is tough but the author has you laughing, as well as feeling sympathetic and pleased to be home in your armchair. And finally, the end of the book where there is a huge sense of poignancy because of all you know about the future of all you have just read about which the author could not and would never know. I felt privileged to have lived this time and this journey into Tibet with the author and I felt and still feel this is a precious record of a lost world.

I could not recommend the book highly enough, though this is not a modern travel book and perhaps it is more for readers who love classy erudite writing, and are interested in learning about worlds long gone, not just Tibet but also the between war England of the author. The author is a man of his time. He did not live to see his times change.

Anna Karenina [DVD] [1977] (3-Disc Set)
Anna Karenina [DVD] [1977] (3-Disc Set)
Dvd ~ Nicola Pagett
Price: £13.30

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superb, 5 Nov 2012
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This serial captures the book and all that makes Tolstoy such a brilliant observer of humanity. The serial starts slowly but builds episode by episode to the heartbreaking climax. There is not a bum note in the whole production. Nicola Paget is unforgettable, as are Stuart Wilson and Eric Porter. Even the little boy who plays Seriozha is wonderful and captures the pain and anger of his desertion brilliantly. Nothing is glossed over or simple. The complexity of human relationships are all there to look at and mull over. Nothing is black and white. Nobody is entirely good or entirely bad. There are no easy answers to the dilemmas posed.
This is a must own serial if you like a quality script, superb acting and plenty of food for thought. It is not for those looking for lots of action. This is about people and their relationships.

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