Tag Archives: war

#BookReview ‘The Return’ by Victoria Hislop @VicHislop #Spain #historical

Victoria HislopI like books that stay with me after I’ve finished reading them. The re-telling of the Spanish Civil War by Victoria Hislop in The Return made me want to read more history books about the period. Before we lived in Spain I knew little about the Civil War. If pressed, I would quote only Picasso’s Guernica, the death of Lorca, and George Orwell fighting with the International Brigades. That, and Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in the film of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

So, The Return added a new layer to my understanding of Andalucía’s experience in the war and particularly of Granada. The legacy is there, if you look for it. Even in modern-day Malaga, evidence of the savage bombing of the port can be seen in the ugly apartment blocks built on derelict land. Thankfully the Old Town, catedrál and Alcazaba survived reasonably unscathed. It was impossible to visit Ronda for the weekly supermarket shop without seeing the Puente Nuevo and shuddering at the memory of the 512 suspected Nationalists who were marched off the bridge into the Tajo, the gorge, in the first month of the war. The atrocity is said to be the inspiration for a similar scene in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Both sides committed unaccounted-for atrocities. Even after Franco’s death in 1975 many people did not discuss the war in what was an unofficial pacto de olvido, a pact of forgetting.

There are tales today of Andalucían villages still split by Republican/Nationalist sympathies and modern-day incomers innocently putting their foot in it. Thankfully that didn’t happen to us. But the frequent small memorials at the roadside are 21st century reminders of men marched out of villages, executed and their bodies dumped. Spain is still coming to terms with its past. In 2007 the Socialist Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero passed the Law of Historical Memory condemning General Franco’s uprising and dictatorship, banning symbols and references to the regime on public buildings, and ordering the removal of monuments to Franco. Many roadside remains of the executed have been located and reburied. Victoria Hislop’s The Return makes the subject more alive than many history books.


Read my reviews of The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop; and The Story, a collection of short stories edited by Hislop.

If you like this, try:-
‘A Mother’s Secret’ by Renita D’Silva
‘The Girls’ by Lisa Jewell
‘Good Me Bad Me’ by Ali Land

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Book review: The Bone Church

Victoria DoughertyThis was a difficult story to get into for me, which surprised me. The premise by Victoria Dougherty seems so good – Czechoslovakia, wartime, fugitive lovers, a faked religious icon, and a plot to assassinate Josef Goebbels – the promise of which kept me reading. But I found the time shifts, the point of view shifts, and the way the action changed from paragraph to paragraph quite confusing. Assuming this was a formatting issue with my Kindle copy, I kept reading.

The story starts in Rome in 1956 in the Vatican City with a Cardinal and a man called Felix. Then we see Magdalena and her son Ales in Czechoslovakia, a man arrives and takes away her son. Then the action switched to 1943, as Felix and Magdalena are on the run in Prague. He is a famous hockey player, a celebrity, she is a Jew. By this point, the story should have gripped me but I’m afraid it didn’t, I hadn’t read enough about the two characters to care. I think my basic problem is the way the story was told, not the actual story itself; the writing is rich with description and the author certainly knows her history. Halfway through, things started to make a little more sense though at times the plot seemed unnecessarily complicated.

The best bit? The assassination scene, involving a birthday cake, a gun, and Josef Goebbels.

For more about Victoria Dougherty, click here for her blog.

If you like this, try:-
‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson
‘The Little Red Chairs’ by Edna O’Brien
‘Dominion’ by CJ Sansom

‘The Bone Church’ by Victoria Dougherty [UK: Pier’s Court Press] Buy now

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#BookReview ‘The Aftermath’ by @Rhidianbrook #WW2

1946. Post-war Germany, Hamburg. The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook is a gentle novel with an emotionally difficult core: the adjustment of two families, one German one English, to the landscape of rubble a year after the end of the Second World War. Broken country, broken families, broken minds. The title refers to the aftermath of the war and also to the aftermath of events in the lives of both families. Both are grieving and are in new territory, geographically and emotionally. They are proud and unsure. Together, will they heal? Rhidian BrookThe English family: Colonel Lewis Morgan is occupied with the Occupied while his newly-arrived wife Rachael prevaricates, “I don’t know. It was suffix and prefix to her every other thought. This indecision was becoming her signature.” Their son Edmund has no such doubts, facing a challenging encounter with the teenage girl upstairs involving a glimpse of knickers and a steaming pisspot, he then ventures beyond the house’s garden into forbidden territory and meets the local feral youth.
The German family: Herr Lubert, a widower, and his daughter move upstairs when the Morgans arrive in the requisitioned house. Ironically Stefan Lubert is an architect, surrounded by broken buildings, but works instead in a factory while waiting for his papers to arrive which will allow him to practise again. School is closed so Frieda is on the ‘rubble runs’, clearing bricks and rubbish, where she mixes with the feral youth.
They all make their own adjustments to the new situation and for a while it is a quiet, polite tussle for power. Rachael makes changes in the house; she moves plants and drapes a modest cloth over a nude sculpture. She sets herself rules about not fraternising with the Germans, who she believes need punishing. She disagrees with Herr Lubert about a Mies van der Rohe chair which he explains is a Bauhaus design, functionality stripped to simplicity. She says it is uncomfortable.
It is as if each family is trying the other on for size, it is a fascinating observation of ordinary people in extraordinary times. Lewis reflects on the logic of the tasks he must perform: “They blow up a soap factory which employed two thousand Germans, made something everyone needed and had no military value whatsoever and, in return, the Russians send the Germans bread. It was like balancing Hell’s ledger.”
The cover of the book is an attractive, calm monotone and the story is also told in a calm tone; but underneath the emotions are building. As the initial discomfort eases, passion rises.

If you like this, try:-
The Translation of Love’ by Lynne Kutsukake
Homeland’ by Clare Francis
The Ways of the World’ by Robert Goddard

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Book review: Wake

wake by anna hope 4-1-14Amongst the profusion of novels about the Great War, Wake stood out for me from the rest because it is about the aftermath rather than the fighting. The spine of the narrative is the journey of the body to be entombed in Westminster Abbey as the ‘Unknown Soldier’. I have visited the tomb but had not considered its selection, the post-war politics and social consequences of choosing one soldier’s remains rather than another. Anna Hope handles a delicate topic – isn’t everything to do with war emotionally-delicate? – with confidence. Wake is a powerful novel by a debut author.

There is something unsettling about the first scenes where un-named soldiers drive out into what was no-man’s-land, not knowing where they are going or why. They are directed to dig up the remains of a soldier: unidentified soldiers dig up the remains of an unidentified victim. Four bodies are laid out, not so much bodies as heaps of remains. A Brigadier-General closes his eyes and rests his hand on one of the stretchers, this body is put into a thin wooden coffin. The three not chosen are put into a shell hole at the side of the road, a chaplain says a short prayer, and then re-buried. The chosen one is taken to London.

Three storylines run parallel to this central spine. Hettie and Di are dancers at the Hammersmith Palais. Charging 6d for a dance, Hettie is skilled at spotting the injured soldiers who are disguising the lack of a limb, she is skilled at matching the rhythm of her dancing to theirs. Dancing is the bright spot in her life; her home is under the shadow of her father’s death and her brother’s shell shock.

Evelyn works in a Government department, her job is grey, her surroundings are grey. She is no longer close to her brother who returned from the war seemingly uninjured but is emotionally removed from life. Every day she deals with former soldiers, struggling to make a new life, and each soldier she sees reminds her of her lover who died in the war. She wants to move on from the war but feels that she, like everyone else, is trapped in a cycle of grief, disability, guilt and memory.

Ada is still grieving for her son, a grief which puts distance between her and her husband. Her solace is her neighbour Ivy, also grieving. Then one day an ex-soldier knocks on the door, wanting to sell her dishcloths, and something happens which sends her to a medium.

All are drawn to the streets of London on November 11th, 1920, looking for catharsis.
‘Wake’ by Anna Hope [published in the UK on January 16, 2014 by Doubleday]

Book review: Life after Life

It’s a while since I read a book I didn’t want to put down, a book that made me continue reading in bed gone midnight. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is that book.Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson

On Saturday…

Kate Atkinson manages the macro settings and the micro details with ease, from the petty sibling squabbles at Fox Corner to the camaraderie of the ARP wardens in the Blitz. Before I started reading ‘Life after Life’ I read the phrase ‘Groundhog Day’ a few times in reviews, which belittles the intricate weaving of Ursula Todd’s lives. Kate AtkinsonIn the way that Logan Mountstuart’s life runs parallel to the great historical moments of the last century, Ursula’s life stories are book-ended by the approach and aftermath of the First and Second World Wars. Ursula, little bear, is an engaging character we see born and die, again and again through her own personal déjà vu.  I wasn’t sure how this was going to work but once I stopped worrying about it and surrendered myself to Ursula, I was transfixed.

Kate Atkinson

… on Sunday

This is another work of art, as mesmerising as her first Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It is such an ambitious novel, that I can only guess at the intricacy of the writing process and admire her for it. Kate Atkinson
If you like ‘Life After Life’, try:-
‘A God in Ruins’ by Kate Atkinson
‘The Aftermath’ by Rhidian Brook
‘The Translation of Love’ by Lynne Kutsukake

Kate Atkinson


‘Life after Life’ by Kate Atkinson [UK: Black Swan]

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