Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review - "A Mouthful of Glass"

"A Mouthful of Glass: The Man Who Killed the Father of Apartheid" by Henk van Woerden
My grade: B

This is quite an interesting book. As the title suggests, it's a kind of biography of the man who killed Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister of South Africa and the engineer of apartheid. This is, however, a novel that is based on the real events, although not limited to them. For me, it's really hard to say where fact ends and fiction starts because I know (or knew) close to nothing about the events concerning the aforementioned time and place. This novel did offer a look into the South Africa of the day, although it would perhaps now be wise to read a more historically-true account of what actually took place.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Review - "All Our Worldly Goods"

"All Our Worldly Goods" by Irene Nemirovsky
My grade: B+

This is a nice novel, full of ironic hope. It spans many years, from before WWI into WWII, taking place in France. The irony is that the author herself was murdered in Auschwitz in 1942, as she was a Jew. The novel has nothing to do with that, though.

I would say it is more akin to a family saga, at times reminding me of "The Forsyte Saga" and "War and Peace". It really is a tender novel, but there is still something missing. I would have preferred a bit more emotion, and I wonder if Nemirovsky would have been able to achieve that simply by adding another 500 pages or so.

The novel is very well-written, nonetheless, and the author carries a very distinct and confident tone throughout.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review - "Her Fearful Symmetry"

"Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger
My grade: B-

This book is along the same lines as "A Time Traveler's Wife", with no fewer supernatural and unbelievable bits. Although this is described as a ghost story, it's not exactly what I understood under that description. There is a ghost in the story, but the reader is familiar with it and there is no 'spookiness' involved, essentially.

The writing, in one word, is mediocre. The characters are not very well-developed. The story is at best unbelievable, if not downright absurd (and I mean that in a bad way). I will most likely forget what this book was about in one month. But, it is a fun and fast read, tear-jerking at moments and perhaps worth the time.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review - "Born on a Blue Day"

"Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant" by Daniel Tammet
My grade: B

As the title clearly states, this is a book about a savant, a condition that is extremely rare. This is a non-fiction work, written by the man himself, which is quite a feat all in itself. I was definitely surprised to what extent Daniel is aware of his condition and conscious of the problems it imposes (speaking about autism here).

I did feel, however, that many of the behaviors Daniel described are somewhat common to children in general, or perhaps not that odd. I don't think that he knows that, though, and get the feeling that he considers all of his behavior to be unusual. Also, as the general public has become more aware of autism and its symptoms, his behavior is that much less striking. What I was personally most interested in are his thought processes related to the savant syndrome, which he could have focused more on. Again, I believe that it is difficult for him to differentiate between normal and abnormal behaviors and attitudes, as he is virtually incapable of getting inside another person's head. Nonetheless, I see this as a major shortcoming to the book.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review - "White Oleander"

"White Oleander" by Janet Fitch
My grade: A-

This book, in many ways, is very beautiful, while being ugly at the same time. Mostly, this is a story about a girl and her mom; it makes many statements about mothers and daughters, and human relationships in general. The novel is written almost like a poem, where the author has not only a wonderful control of the reader's reaction, but is also incredibly well-read. This is a very good read, although epic I would not call it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Book Review - "desert flower"

"desert flower: the extraordinary journey of a desert nomad" by Waris Dirie
My grade: B-

For those of you who don't know who Waris Dirie is, she is a model from Somalia and a special ambassador to the United Nations. She was one of the first women to speak out about and against female circumcision, having gone through it herself at the ripe age of 5.

Her story, in many ways, truly is extraordinary. At least to me, a person who is not so familiar with Somalian/African cultures and practices. Her writing, needless to say, is not all that extraordinary, but writing a book is quite a feat in itself for a person who learned to read and write as an adult.

I was especially shocked to learn about the practices that surround female circumcision, and just how many small girls and women are affected.