Feed on
Posts
Comments

Category Archive for 'P – R'

This deeply affecting and love-affirming novel by Zülfü Livaneli, filled with World War II sadness and guilt, is a powerful story based on a true, nearly unknown tragedy, the sinking of the Struma, an old cattle ship carrying almost eight hundred Jewish refugees in December, 1941. Leaving Romania and headed for Palestine, it was overcrowded, underpowered, and unsafe. Barely arriving in Istanbul after several engine failures on the way from Romania, it waited with all passengers for seventy days, hoping for the necessary visas for Palestine. The British, governing Palestine under a mandate from the League of Nations, were unwavering in their refusal to grant the permits. The Turks, too, feared that the almost eight-hundred passengers would become the responsibility of Turkey if they were released into Turkey, and returning them to Romania was out of the question. Finally, with the Turks and the British at an impasse, the disabled ship and its passengers were towed out of the harbor into the Black Sea and abandoned. The following day, a torpedo, fired by a Russian submarine, obliterated the ship, killing the entire crew and all passengers but one. Turkish author Zulfu Livanelli devotes this novel to the stories, past and present, connected with the Struma, especially the love story of Maximilian Wagner and his bride, Nadia. With its vivid historical setting, believable characters, constant action, and a narrative which moves around in time, even through the worst, even unimaginable, horrors of war, this remains a narrative in which love still, somehow, survives.

Read Full Post »

DRESSED FOR A DANCE IN THE SNOW by Monika Zgustova is a collection of nine true stories about some of Russia’s brightest and most creative women who have defied life as it exists in those old epic romances – presenting, instead, the dark, often horrific revelations they have personally survived in the Gulags and prisons which they endured during the Stalinist years. Where the title deserves its happy image is that these women not only survived their near starvation and imprisonments but also came to some kind of peace regarding their torture. “The Gulag, just because it’s so terrible,” one woman says, “is also rewarding. That extreme suffering teaches you about yourself, about the people around you, and about human beings in general.” Svetlana Alliluiyeva, daughter of Stalin, is mentioned briefly in this book, in addition to Boris Pasternak (who shows up in two chapters), composer Sergei Prokofief, poet Marina Tsevetaeva, and briefly Joan Baez.

Read Full Post »

In the sixth of the Swedish Millenium series of mysteries begun by Swedish author Stieg Larsson and continued by David Lagercrantz, all the familiar characters and secret organizations reappear. Fourteen years have passed since THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was published, and even Lisbeth Salander, a sociopathic but brilliant computer hacker, and Mikael Blomqvist, an admired journalist who cares for her, have changed with time. Lisbeth is on her own most of the time now, and she has no financial worries so she can come and go and pursue her twin sister, who has threatened her life. Her sister will never forgive her for her attacks on her father and brother who were determined to kill her – but failed. Sister Camillia is now associated with the highest eschelons of Russian intelligence, as was her father, and is out to finish her off. While this is going on, Blomqvist is asked to help with the investigation of the mysterious death of a beggar, who is eventually discovered to have been a Sherpa guide for a group of Swedish officials who wanted to climb Mount Everest. Much of the book is concerned with Mt. Everest. Deaths occurred there, and the guide knows more than participants are comfortable with. Less tightly organized and less focused on Salander and Blomqvist than in the past, this one has a multitude of characters and action scenes which don’t always connect tightly but show Salander and Blomqvist as they settle into their lives more fully.

Read Full Post »

How many novels have you seen from the Kamchatka Peninsula? Here Russian scholar Julia Phillips creates an involving and very human story about Kamchatka’s women, while highlighting the various ethnic groups on the peninsula, their past histories, and the life styles they take for granted. Four families and an assortment of local employees, including a customs officer, a major general, a police assistant, and a volcanologist, reflect everyday life in a series of episodes which sometimes overlap. In its isolation and its relatively sparse population, Kamchatka often feels more like an island than a part of greater Russia here, and any dramatic event which occurs is likely to remain within the community in which it occurs, very much in the style of a “closed room” mystery story. Two mysteries involving crimes against women lurk at the heart of this novel, but they are the inspiration for a dramatic portrait of daily life on Kamchatka, developed month by month over the course of a calendar year, and not simply as an end in themselves. Ultimately, author Phillips inspires readers to supply their own interpretations of what is happening within her carefully crafted concluding scenes, thereby creating far more realistic drama than what one finds in the typical suspense novel. Unforgettable!

Read Full Post »

Returning to Prague for the location of this novel, after setting The Glass Room there in 2009, author Simon Mawer uses his familiarity with Prague, and his obvious love for it, to create this stirring novel of political history and intrigue. Set during the almost magical Prague Spring of 1968, a time in which Russian influence had waned and a broader view of socialism and some new freedoms were being celebrated by students and political writers in Prague, Mawer focuses on “the fleeting nature of presence” as the Prague Spring is cancelled by the sudden arrival of half a million Warsaw Pact troops led by the Soviet Union, which went on to occupy the country for the next twenty-three years. A writer who focuses primarily on people and their lives, rather than on politics or cultural movements, Mawer brings the Prague Spring to life by focusing on two couples who come together in Prague, live and love, engage in adventure, and find their lives permanently changed by the arrival of the Soviet-led troops. The couples represent different backgrounds, and they experience the Prague Spring in different ways. Each has connections with people from Prague who help them during the danger which evolves, providing a broader picture of the events as they affect all the people of Prague, instead of the more limited focus which might have occurred with fewer main characters. This is a carefully developed novel, filled with fascinating history and sidelights involving literature, music, and popular culture, a fine addition to Mawer’s bibliography.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »