I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Which is more impressive in this audiobook, the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde or the readings of them by the assembled famous British actors? At their best, Wilde's stories are exquisitely beautiful and painful and reveal deep understanding of the tragedy of the human condition (mortality, inequality, prejudice, selfishness, and hatred), as well as its transcendence through generosity, self-sacrifice, beauty, faith, and love. The readers are perfect, with wise, compassionate, and flexible voices and deep understanding of each word they say and of each scene they depict.
Special highlights are Dame Judi Dench reading "The Nightingale and the Rose" so full of wit and emotion, Jeremy Irons reading "The Devoted Friend" with a surprisingly wide range of voices for different characters, Joanna Lumley reading "The Star Child" and moving me to tears, and Robert Harris reading "The Happy Prince" and moving me to tears, too, especially whenever he says, "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow." Sir Derek Jacobi reading "The Fisherman and His Soul," Sinead Cusack reading "The Birthday of the Infanta," and Sir Donald Sinden reading "The Selfish Giant" all do fine jobs with fine tales.
The only dud (forgive the pun) is "The Remarkable Rocket," which, despite Geoffrey Palmer's excellent reading and despite the interesting concept (sentient fireworks talking about their upcoming royal display) is finally a mediocre joke that long overstays its welcome. The only disappointment is that the cover art says that there is a bonus track of "The Actress" read by Elaine Stritch, but it's absent from the audiobook.
Anyway, I highly recommend this excellent audiobook.
"Rascal Jan" is a little boy preternaturally skilled at picking pockets, "organizing" supplies, and befriending animals. Beneath the hard shell of experience that living through World War II in Poland has forced on him, he retains part of his true boyish nature. The three children of Joseph Balicki, twelve-year-old Ruth, eleven-year-old Edek, and three-year-old Bronia, also experience omnipresent danger and premature responsibility as they try to survive on their own in occupied and war-ravaged Warsaw. After the first five chapters depict the attempts of Joseph Balicki, the father of the children, to escape from a Nazi prison camp in the snowy Polish mountains so as to be able to return to Warsaw where he believes his family is waiting for him, Ian Siraillier's novel The Silver Sword (1956) recounts the story of the children's extraordinary attempts to reunite with their sundered parents.
The novel is a concise epic of a World War II era story, mostly from the point of view of children. Seraillier tells a tale full of suspense and vivid historical details, but also takes time to provide comic relief, especially through Jan. Seraillier movingly depicts the harmful and traumatic effects of war on children, how it messes with their memories and personalities and prematurely ages them through privation and danger and grief and too much responsibility. The child characters, little Bronia, wild Jan, ethical Edek, and mother-by-necessity Ruth all feel like real children forced to adapt to life in wartime. Without showing any battles, the novel reveals the insanity of war by which entire cities are reduced to rubble, parents and children lose each other, and people of different countries are fighting each other to the death one moment and working together to build a village for orphan children the next. Jan's feral hatred of all soldiers, be they German, Russian, or American, is telling. He cannot trust any of them, regardless of what side they are on, because he has learnt that being a soldier involves brutality and cold adherence to rules. Luckily for the children, kind people do exist in wartime, even, occasionally, soldiers. Several moments in the novel induced me to sob and smile at the same time.
The reader, Sean Barrett, does a great job, his rich and clear voice sensitive to the spare beauty of the text and to the powerful emotions of the children. I even got a kick out of his "American" English for the American soldiers.
People interested in historical war stories told from the points of view of children would find The Silver Sword of great interest (though many of the more gruesome and terrifying facts of war like corpses and rape are elided). Child readers would be absorbed in it without being traumatized. I only wished it had lasted longer.
This is a charming, delightful, savory, perfect dramatization of about half of The House at Pooh Corner, with the following chapters from the original book:
1. In which Rabbit Has a Busy Day
2. In which Pooh Invents a New Game
3. In Which It Is Shown that Tiggers Don't Climb Trees
4. In Which a Search is Organdised
5. In Which Piglet Does a Very Grand Thing
The British actors are excellent at reading their parts, especially the narrators (two, a male and a female one, take turns) and Piglet and Eeyore. They infuse such wit and personality and understanding into their readings that the stories really come to life, making me smile and chuckle. The only words I could detect being abridged in the dramatization are certain dialogue tags like "Pooh said???"
If only the companion book, Tigger Comes to the Forest, had the chapters that are advertised for it, together it would make with Pooh Invents a New Game a complete House at Pooh Corner??? But check my review of Tigger Comes to the Forest for details about what's wrong with it.