This was a most disappointing dramatization of one of the major Russian novels of the 20th century. Vasily Grossman's book was based on his experiences as a Jewish war correspondent on the Eastern Front, notably at Stalingrad, and also the first to report to the press on a Nazi death camp, Treblinka. It is a kind of War and Peace for the Soviet era. The main problem with the dramatization is that it is done in very British voices, which rather clashes with the Russian setting of the story. In many cases, the translator used British slang terms ("Give over!" for example) that may have been more or less correct but sounded horribly out of place. In addition, some local British dialects were used to represent the ordinary Russian soldiers (as opposed to the educated elite family who were the protagonists), and it was very difficult at times to understand what exactly they were saying. Another problem was simply that there were so many characters, and the situation so complex that it was hard to follow the story line altogether. Now I don't know if I want to try to get the book from the library or just forget it. That would be a pity, for the book--banned by the Soviet government and smuggled out of Russia to be published in the West--gives a terrifying portrait not only of what the Soviets suffered during the German occupation and the war, but also of the political terror of the Stalin regime. It's a book that needs to be widely known, but this dramatization is not the vehicle for it.
This was a book highly recommended at the time of Tom Clancy's death. In some ways, it seems a bit dated, and I am unfamiliar with other novels about the main character (after he became a CIA operative). What makes this a valuable piece of literature is its examination of the moral issue of revenge, and the healing power of love. It was hard to shut off the audio when I needed to get to sleep, and the pace was good and the story line believable for the most part. I am guessing that anyone who has read other books by this author would greatly appreciate this one.
I was at first very excited to begin listening to this course. I thought that Prof. Albala was a good speaker, and his selection of quotes from ancient writers was interesting and amusing. As the lectures reached the early Christian era, however, I began to have some doubts. His knowledge of Christianity and what it actually teaches seemed a bit limited. As we approached the modern era, I began to get truly annoyed, as he seemed to assume that everyone would be anti-colonial, anti-industrial, anti-American (fast foods! agribusiness! banana republics!). I did think that he presented a more balanced view of the genetic modification controversy than I expected. On that issue, he provided some necessary factual information and reviewed the problematic areas. Overall, it was an interesting set of lectures, but listeners should be a bit skeptical of the information presented and the progressive political take.
I came late to an appreciation of opera, and found this course to be a fantastic adjunct to my growing knowledge. Sometimes I think the professor was a bit snarky and tried too hard to be funny, but that is merely a quibble. He provided an amazing amount of detail about Verdi's life, and much valuable information about the major operas. I did think he dwelt too long on Verdi's last opera, Falstaff, but that is quite understandable, since it was a radical departure for Verdi (whose operas tended toward the tragic). Now I want to go visit Buzetto and see Verdi's home, and I can hardly wait until June, when La Traviata will be performed at Masada.
The history of the English language is always a fun topic for me, and the author provides a new take on it, noting the less-well-known Swedish and the Irish contributions to English. In a lot of ways, it was a fun listen, and the reader was excellent, but it should be understood that the author is promoting his particular theories about English development, and you can't help wondering what the academic critics of the book might have had to say in response. Unless you are very interested in linguistics, you are not likely to try to find out how the academic arguments went after its publication.
I only recently heard of this author, alas, when he passed away. One thing that impresses me about him is that his writing career developed late in life, which can be an advantage, as an author then brings a lot of experience and wisdom to his work. Clearly he loves Australia, and has a deep understanding of how its people and environment "work" together.
Four Fires tells the story of the poor but extremely hardworking Malony's. It is told in the voice of Mole, the young son of Tommy, a war-damaged former POW of the Japanese, and Nancy, the plain-spoken and determined mother. The story is quite complex and follows the careers of all the Maloney children as a great Family Saga kind of story. What makes it of special interest to me was seeing how subtly the author showed how Mole grew to maturity, eventually coming to a greater understanding of his father's life and genuine good points, even though as a child he mostly thought of him as the village drunk and petty criminal. This is a story about love -- the kind that lasts through very hard times and bitter disappointment, not just for individuals but for communities. It's about people helping each other in surprising ways. It is, perhaps, about an era that is passing away as communities change so rapidly, but I am very, very glad that Bryce Courtenay caught that particular post-World War II moment.
A word about the reader: his Australian accent was not overwhelming and contributed to the story. If he had problems pronouncing the spattering of Yiddish words (one of the important characters is a Jewish refugee doctor) it is easily forgiven, for we are seeing life through the eyes of Mole, and he may well not have quite heard the words right, either.
This was a work that was hard to leave off until its end. It definitely encourages me to read other books by Courtenay.
Sherlock Holmes, eternally popular, practically invites spoofing, and this is one of the greatest spoofs ever, especially fun if you enjoy that very English game of Literary References. If you've read a few thousand English books, you'll catch the many references, including, of course, the title itself. The stories also bring to mind George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series, but this is a lot more discreet about sex (and overall, Flashman was pretty discreet in his own jaunty way, too). The stories are intricate; the evil characters are evil, and Moriarty makes a perfect foil for the "thin man," and the book ends, as one might expect, at Reichenbach Falls. A ripping good read or listen. The reader, Tom Hodgkins, was excellent throughout.
Winds of War is part one, followed by War and Remembrance, of the story of the Henry family in the period leading up to Pearl Harbor. Herman Wouk has distilled much of the history of World War II in these two volumes, seen primarily from the point of view of an American Navy family. It covers a lot of territory -- not just the United States mainland, Hawaii (not yet a state in the union), prewar Germany, Russia, and Italy, among other places. Wouk clearly draws on his experiences in the U.S. Navy in World War II, which gives great authenticity to the story, His solid background research makes this a good overview of the developing war and its complications make this suitable for anyone who might read a sweeping novel, but be reluctant to read a non-fiction account, no matter how well-written (and there are great historian writers out there whose work is quite accessible to armchair historians). One intriguing feature of the story is the inclusion of the overview of the war from the German point of view, as written by the character of Armin von Roon, a German submariner during his postwar imprisonment.
The story is in the family saga genre, which I usually don't care for. but the characters are plausible, and their dilemmas and adventures kept my attention throughout. I did find it rather strange that Bryan Henry, the wayward son who went to Italy to study art, ends up marrying a Jewish woman, but this served to open the narrative to bring in more of the European aspects of the war, and begin to address the dire consequences for the Jews of Europe. The situation in which Natalie Henry (nee Jastrow) finds herself, trapped in fascist Italy as the war in Europe progresses, seemed at first far-fetched, but in fact, many real Jews found themselves in equally strange circumstances with bizarre escapes as well as tragic ends. Having worked with some of the major Holocaust historians, I know that many events were in some cases stranger than fiction and well-documented.
The narrator is quite good, which adds immensely to the enjoyment of this long, long novel. I have only some slight quibbles about his attempts at pronouncing the few Hebrew words, and the German and Italian and Russian accented-English of the characters.
My only complaint: it was hard to make myself turn off the recording and get on with my work or go to sleep. Like any great novel, hard to put down.
Rumer Godden's book for children (around age 10, I think) is a lovely story about difference, bullying, and kindness. Kizzy Lovell, the main character, is about 6 years old, an orphan who lives with her great-grandmother in a dilapidated Gypsy wagon in the orchard of Admiral Twiss. Local authorities demand that she begin school in the nearby village, where she is teased for being half-Gypsy--a Diddakoi--whose father was a "Traveller" (as Gypsies are known in Britain and Ireland) and her mother Irish. When her grandmother dies, Kizzy was not expecting her relatives to perform the traditional rites of breaking up her grandmother's posessions and burning the wagon. Suddenly she is bereft of the only home she has known, and to make matters worse, her rather mean cousin informs her that the old horse, Joe, will surely be sent to the knackers. In the middle of the cold night, she harnesses Joe and takes him to the home of Admiral Twiss, whose servants find her sleeping the snow the next morning. Admiral Twiss agrees to provide for Joe, and when he realizes Kizzy is ill, calls a doctor and he and his men nurse her back to health. As her relatives didn't want to take her in, Kizzy becomes the ward of Miss Brooks, a retired magistrate who is familiar with Gypsy life, and accepts her as she is; Kizzy definitely has her flaws, not all of them in response to the teasing she has endured. What is surprising in this book is that when Kizzy is physically attacked by the local school girls, Miss Brooks is determined that the children have to settle the matter for themselves, and how they do this is the subject of the story until the end.
Nowadays, of course, an army of social workers, police officers, teachers, and general do-gooders would have descended to "help" the girls discuss their feelings. I don't know what time period the story is set in, but the resolution of the bullying problem in the novel makes a wonderful contrast with today's nanny state pattern of interference in such matters. A lot depends on the coolheadedness and sensible thinking on Miss Brooks' part, and her patience in allowing the children to work it out for themselves.
I liked the depictions of the characters. Kizzy is shown with her own flaws, and the interaction between the characters is not just black-and-white. Everyone changes in this story, but in a way that shows growth and the development of character. Even the unsympathetic characters have bright moments.
The reading by Lynda Bellingham is well-done. I would definitely recommend this audio book to children old enough to listen all the way through, and to adults as well. Rumer Godden was a talented writer who covered many different topics in her books with deep spiritual insight. This story is definitely one of them.
Often hilarious and some very moving stories of the encounters of one teacher with the "system" and with students both willing and unwilling to sit in class. Frank McCourt's Irish accent made listening a great experience. I will always remember the rabbi's son whose only desire was to become a farmer, and the black girl who discovered that she was good enough to go to college. If I was a teacher, I think I would add a lesson based on his class writing excuse notes for some of history's baddies. What's more: this is a book I'll want to hear all the way through more than once.
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