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sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk)
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Miguel Street
Miguel Street
by V. S. Naipaul
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'A galaxy of characters', 8 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Miguel Street (Paperback)
The narrator looks back at his youth on a street in 1940s Port of Spain, Trinidad.
"A stranger could drive through Miguel Street and just say 'Slum!' because he could see no more. But we, who lived there, saw our street as a world, where everybody was quite different from everybody else."
Some of the characters have a strong presence throughout (some are even carried over from another of Naipaul's works, 'The Mystic Masseur'), whereas others only feature in 'their' chapter - thus this feels rather like a set of short stories.
The characters are quite memorable: Bhakcu, 'the mechanical genius', who wrecks every car he tries to fix; a beaten wife; a poet; a woman who has eight children by seven fathers - while the narrator and his friends observe and discuss the world around them in Trinidadian English. Thus discussing schoolwork:
" 'Is the English and litritcher that does beat me'.
In Elias's mouth litritcher was the most beautiful word I heard. it sounded like something to eat, something rich like chocolate.
Hat said, 'You mean you have to read a lot of poultry and thing?' "

I didn't enjoy this book as much as Naipaul's superb 'A House for Mr Biswas', and found some of the stories less compelling than others, but overall quite a good read


The Mystic Masseur
The Mystic Masseur
by V. S. Naipaul
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'He was to be famous and honoured throughout the South Caribbean', 5 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Mystic Masseur (Paperback)
Didn't enjoy this as much as Naipaul's superb 'A House for Mr Biswas' but it's an entertaining read, following the rise of Ganesh Ramsumair. Set in the Trinidad of the 30s and 40s, Ganesh is a mediocre student and teacher. When he comes home to his father's funeral, he lapses into a life of inactivity...and accumulating books:
"Nine hundred and thirty book. Every book about one inch thick, I suppose."
"Makes about seventy-seven feet."

Life moves on to initial and unsuccessful attempts at writing and massage, before re-inventing himself as a mystic. But his new success causes trouble with his father-in-law, and with a politician via the local press...

There are some very humorous moments:
flatulent aunt, ''The great Belcher" - 'she was so overcome she could only belch and ask for water. She got Coca-Cola. It made her burp between belches and she remained uncommunicative for some time.'

Or Ganesh's later literary efforts: 'Only two months after the publication of 'What God Told Me' Ganesh scored a stupendous success of scandal. His inspiration was the musical toilet-roll rack. Because 'Profitable Evacuation' was published during the war its title was misunderstood; fortunately for it might not have been allowed if the authorities knew that it was concerned more or less with constipation.'

And yet as the book reaches its end, there is a serious side...


The Stones Cry out: A Cambodian Childhood 1975-1980: Cambodian Childhood, 1975-81
The Stones Cry out: A Cambodian Childhood 1975-1980: Cambodian Childhood, 1975-81
by Molyda Szymusiak
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "The weeks went by and still no food was distributed", 1 Dec. 2014
Published in 1984 by a young girl who lived through the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, this starts when the family are uprooted from their middle class life by gangs of black-uniformed 'Mekongs' to traipse across the countryside and participate in forced labour on starvation rations - planting rice in shoulder-deep water and clearing mud for roads.
As those around her die of cholera and malnutrition, and the casual executions of Pol Pot's regime become commonplace, the author somehow manages to survive - just - until she ends up at a refugee camp and is adopted by a French couple (hence her European name.)
The terrible experiences the author underwent makes one want to automatically give this *5. However although a clear and concise account of events, it felt just a little too detached, almost as if she's relating something that happened to someone else, and loses a little of its power on that score.
But most certainly a valuable work, recording a horrific story that we should never forget.


Scenes from Early Life
Scenes from Early Life
by Philip Hensher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "This is not going to last forever. Perhaps only a few years.", 30 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Scenes from Early Life (Paperback)
Crafted from stories told him by his Bangladeshi partner, Mr Hensher has written an absolutely beautiful work that takes the reader into 1970s 'East Pakistan', on the verge of proclaiming independence. After partition, 'these two new countries - India and Pakistan, East and West - they looked on the map like a broad-shouldered ape with two coconuts, one on its right shoulder, one under its left armpit.' But despite their both being Moslem areas, Bangladesh retained a strong affinity with Hindu literature, its native Bengali tongue, a more moderate take on religion. And as troops were sent in from Pakistan to enforce a more fundamentalist lifestyle, terrible violence and terror ensues...

I loved the way that the author would repeat some events - it's an unusual style of writing but it adds to the impact of the narrative. I definitely want to read more of Mr Hensher's work.


Louis: The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson
Louis: The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson
by Philip Callow
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I should like to rise and go Where the golden apples grow; Where below another sky Parrot islands anchored lie", 26 Nov. 2014
Extremely well-written biography of the famous writer whose family wealth came from lighthouse building in Scotland. RLS however was of a more artistic temperament, soon abandoning his studies for writing, and - at first - shocking his Presbyterian parents by taking up with a married American woman, ten years his senior and with two children.
Callow writes vividly, unsparing in his descriptions of Louis' constant illness, sometimes bringing him close to death with haemorhages necessitating spells in sanatoria. His honeymoon is described thus:
"After six days Fanny and Lloyd (Louis' stepson) went down with mild diphtheria...Louis reported .."The first night I had a cramp and was quite worn out after it; the second day Fanny mashed her thumb while carpentering and had a nervous chill."
It is all the more to be wondered at that Stevenson undertook some rigorous travel despite his weakness: trekking across the Cevennes on a donkey, wintering in the Adirondacks where "the ink froze", undertaking a hellish train journey alone across America to claim the woman he loved - and of course the years in the South Seas.
Callow also brings out RLS' difficult relationship with his father: the guilt of being obliged to accept handouts while knowing his lifestyle was at odds with his father's hopes for him.
8 sides of b/w photos add to the text.
Informative and interesting, bringing RLS to life for the reader.


Selected Short Stories (Penguin Classics)
Selected Short Stories (Penguin Classics)
by Rabindranath Tagore
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Small lives, humble distress, Tales of humdrum grief and pain", 23 Nov. 2014
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Containing thirty very short stories, often only about six pages long, yet for all their brevity the author completely wraps you up in the world and the events.
Set in and around the River Padma (near Calcutta) in the late 19th century, Tagore writes of the ordinary people: deaths and marriages, children, poverty, the rich, the mean, the avaricious... Plus a couple with a ghostly touch. It's an era where women are definitely second-class-citizens; especially if they fall ill, when their husbands may well seek another wife; where the Hindus live alongside a Moslem population and the English governors....and where the river is a constant backdrop with its luxury houseboats and its monsoon flooding.
The collection includes a poem, 'Passing Time in the Rain' (from which I have taken title of this review) and a selection of letters written by Tagore. Also a comprehensive glossary of Hindu terms encountered, a family-tree of family and map of Padma River area.
Masterly storytelling, enhanced by a superb translation.


The Recently Deflowered Girl
The Recently Deflowered Girl
by Edward Gorey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "The Right Thing to Say on Every Dubious Occasion",, 20 Nov. 2014
Although much of Edward Gorey's work is hilarious, this work by Mel Juffe (illustrated by Gorey) was not particularly outstanding in my book. Featuring a sequence of scenarios in which a young girl might be deflowered (babysitting, in a Moroccan Palace, by a Marimba player...), the author offers an apposite remark that the 'victim' should make, concluding with a wise comment of her own.

Thus when you meet up with the caddish marimba player at a tea dance after the event and inform him your parents won't allow you to marry him, only to be greeted by "That's all right, baby. I've been happily married for years", the deflowered girl is advised to ask how the wife got HER parents' consent. For as Miss Hyacinthe Phypps notes, "it is wise to learn how other girls got theirs".
Moderately amusing but for me not a must-buy.


Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
by Alexandra Fuller
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Because we're all Rhodesians and we'll fight through thickanthin...",,,, 19 Nov. 2014
Wonderful memoir of the author's childhood in Africa, where her parents had settled as farmers. The larger part of the book concerns their time in Rhodesia - war-torn and on the brink of independence, with neighbouring Mozambique also presenting a threat: "Vanessa and I, like all the kids over the age of five in our valley, have to learn how to load an FN rifle magazine...and ultimately shoot-to-kill."
The happy side of life - the animals, the freedom - are tempered by the harshness, as death, mental illness and alcohol add to the difficulties of climate and political instability.
The author vividly conjures up her childhood, assisted by b/w photos throughout. Wonderful read.


I'm the King of the Castle
I'm the King of the Castle
by Susan Hill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'he could not have imagined the charm it afforded him, having Kingshaw here, thinking of things to do to him', 16 Nov. 2014
An absolutely riveting, heart-rending read, that I got through in one afternoon. Totally gets into the mind of young children - the pleasure for the bully and the inescapable torment for the victim - mocked if he is seen to cry, disbelieved by his elders...

When 11 year old Charles Kingshaw and his widowed mother go to live and keep house for wealthy Mr Hooper and his similarly aged son, it seems (to the adults) an ideal arrangement. But young Edmund Hooper's relentless mental bullying of this boy he sees as an intruder is brilliantly depicted.
I started this thinking it was well written but couldn't quite see how it justified being a GCSE text - but as I got further into it, this became very evident. Fantastic read.


Creole
Creole
by Jose Eduardo Agualusa
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The hot, humid Angolan air... fruit and sugarcane, and...another smell, something subtler, more melancholy...death and decay",, 16 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Creole (Paperback)
Epistolary novel, written mainly by one Fradique Mendes, an 'aristocrat and adventurer' who has sailed out from his native Lisbon to Angola in 1868. In letters for his godmother and for his friend Eca de Queiroz (a famous Portugese author), he describes life in Africa - the privileged whites, the slaves and the (mixed-race) 'children -of -the -country'. And here he falls in love with the beautiful, but married, Creole woman, Ana Olimpia.
Enslavement of the one he loves, an alligator hunt, re-location to Brazil and the political fallout from his opposition to slavery.... Agualusa tells a very readable story, that vividly describes a part of the world which rarely features in fiction. But there is also the deeper side of his thoughts on the Portugese colonies of the era:
"Once dropped into Africa the unfortunate Portugese try in the first place to keep themselves in the saddle - that is, alive and thieving - little caring in which direction the continent is headed. And Portugal, having once dropped them there, has forgotten all about them."
Leaves a strong impression in a short novel.


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