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Category Archive for '0-2017 Reviews'

Hendrik Groen, age 83 ¼, a resident of an assisted living facility in the Netherlands, decides on New Year’s Day, 2013, that he still doesn’t like old people. “Their walker shuffle, their unreasonable impatience, their endless complaints, their tea and cookies, their bellyaching.” He regards himself, however, as “civil, ingratiating, courteous, polite and helpful. Not because I really am all those things, but because I don’t have the balls to act differently.” In order to keep himself from spiraling into depression in the home, he has decided to give the world “an uncensored expose: a year in the life of the inmates of a care home in North Amsterdam.” An international bestseller when it was published in Europe last year, Groen’s diary is written by an anonymous author (newly revealed, see Note at end), and it concerns itself with some of the same issues as were raised in the best-selling December 2012 book, Mother, When Will You Finally Die?” by Martina Rosenberg, a memoir published in Germany. Despite the real information and the statistics which make this book both a fascinating and important study of old age in a different country, the book’s primary purpose is to depict real life in this one care home, and the choice of recording it in a daily diary provides the reader with a plethora of insights and its many humorous episodes.

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NOTE: Each year I enjoy checking to see which reviews are getting the most attention on this website, and each year I am always surprised by the number of older books (and reviews) which remain in the Top Ten. For this new list I wanted to see which books published and reviewed in the past five years would be in the Top Ten if I removed the recurrent “old favorites.” Gone from this new, more restricted list are books that have almost become classics (at least on my website’s pages) – seven of them. Seven newer books take their places, and three from the past remain on the list from last year.

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Nikki, the twenty-two-year-old daughter of a Sikh immigrant to England, is feeling independent, having left university after deciding that the law courses she had been taking to please her father do not interest her. She has also found her own apartment and moved away from her mother and sister at the family flat. She applies for a part-time teaching job with the Sikh Community Association, connected with the enormous Gurdwara Temple, which is the center of activity in the Southall section of London. When she gets the job, she quickly learns that most of the women who have signed up for her writing course are illiterate, and Nikki is not very fluent in Punjabi. Yes, the widows do tell erotic stories, which become their form of rebellion against all the strictures, prohibitions, and required behaviors which have so governed their lives. Soon their behavior and their excitement comes to the attention of the female director of the community association, who is already keeping an eye on Nikki for her failure to act subservient and obey her directives. This very “full,” well-developed novel does much more than highlight erotic fantasies as it explores cultural traditions, issues of immigration, some immigrants’ wishes to retain their old traditions while living in a new country, and the difficulties of those who wish to participate in the life of the new country while still honoring the traditions of the old. Honor is a big part of this novel, and respect is a continuing goal.

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The author of eight previous novels, many of which have been nominated for international prizes, Abdulrazak Gurnah, from Zanzibar, specializes in novels which reflect a sense of alienation and loss as a person living, first, under the British colonial rule of his country, then later living under Zanzibar’s revolutionary rule after a coup following independence, and finally living in Britain itself. His characters often reflect similar dislocations, growing up and living without the pride one expects for the place where they grew up or much sense of belonging elsewhere within the world order. Sometimes at a loss and uncertain what will happen next politically, they may be unsure of how to go about traversing the multitude of competing influences on their lives and on the people they love. In this novel Gurnah examines these feelings through the life of Salim, a young man whose early childhood is upended when his father inexplicably leaves his mother and the home Salim thought was happy, and moves elsewhere, while his mother begins to spend time with another man. Salim’s alienation becomes more complicated as time passes. Gradually, the contrast between the life Salim thought he was living and life as it has become emerges more clearly. His father, who used to be a clerk for the Water Authority finds work in a market stall or just sits in his room after the separation. When real life at home becomes far more complicated for Salim, he readily accepts his uncle Amir’s offer of a chance to attend school in London, the place he lives for the next seven years, one which is not home, though Zanzibar no longer is home, either. Straightforward, honest, and filled with observations about alienation and the need for belonging.

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Having announced that this book will not be a “costume drama,” author Fay Weldon sets her story between 1922 and 1939, the period between the two world wars. While this is not a pure drawing room comedy, neither is it a story of postwar darkness – a story of families dealing with the deaths of their fathers and sons and the difficulties in supporting their families. Here Weldon’s characters are the elite and educated survivors from that Edwardian period, which shaped their thinking, behavior, and pocketbooks and which has left them out of touch with the real world as they now live in the war’s aftermath. Both satiric and ironic, the plot proves also to be very funny and cleverly revealing of social values. Sir Jeremy Ripple now runs a publishing house but likes to think of himself as a communist. Angela, his wife, the granddaughter of a Princess and niece of an Earl, is the money behind his company, and she still adheres to all the habits and behaviors of the upper class. Only Vivvie, their daughter, “large, ungainly five foot eleven inches tall, and twenty years old,” seems to have much realization of how the world works – and her conclusion is that small, pretty girls are the ones lucky in love. When Vivvie decides to propose marriage to a Douglas Fairbanks look-alike, the action begins, and it never quits. One of Fay Weldon’s best books to date.

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