BOOK REVIEW: The Return – by Victoria Hislop

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Title: The Return
Author: Victoria Hislop
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
First published: 2008
Finished reading: June 29th 2013
Pages: 578

Rating 4

“Each word held its magic. They were like brushstrokes painting the landscape of the city, each one helping to build up a picture of the whole.”

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Personally I`m quite interested in recent history and especially the Spanish Civil War. (My thesis on philology was about poems after this same civil war). I like the balance between present and past in The Return. The way Victoria Hislop uses the characters to describe the feelings of different parts of the society in those days of chaos is inspiring. Besides being a historical fiction novel, it’s also the story about a lost woman in search of herself and her past… The scenes set in the present didn’t impress me as much as those set in the past, but I would still recommend reading this story with its diverse storylines. If you enjoy reading historical fiction and don’t mind a few cliche romance scenes, you surely will be moved.

shortsummary1reviewThe Return explains the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War experienced all over Spain through the Ramirez family, who live in Granada. The Ramirez couple has four children: Antonio, a young teacher with a passion for left-wing politics; Ignacio, an arrogant matador with right-wing views and no problems betraying his own family; Emilio, a shy young man and skilled musician; and last their sister, Mercedes, whose sole passion is flamenco dancing. The story is told mainly by the old owner of the Ramirez bar, Miguel. An unknowing English tourist enters the bar to drink some coffee on vacation and that’s where it all starts. Sonia, whose mother has Spanish roots, becomes fascinated by the old flamenco photos, and Miguel starts telling the Ramirez story. A history full of tragedy, hope, love and loss… And a story that will end up changing Sonia’s life.

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Victoria Hislop is able to show different aspects of the Civil War terror through the lifes of the four Ramirez children. Especially the scenes set in the past were really strong and truly showed the despair felt by many families during the Spanish Civil War. Some of the scenes set in the present were a bit cliche and had too much romance for my taste, but then again I’m not a big fan of the romance genre… Still, The Return is without doubt an interesting read for historical fiction fans and those who want to read more about the Spanish Civil War.

Life Of Pi – by Yann Martel

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Title: Life Of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
First published: September 11th 2001
Finished reading: June 18th 2013
Pages: 319

The book is divided into two parts: before and after the sinking of the Japonese cargo ship. We follow Piscine, or Pi, through his childhood where his dad’s zoo and the exploring of three important religions play a key part. This first part is a bit slow, but essential in understanding the spirituality of Pi. After the cargo ship sinks, only one lifeboat remains with the only survivors being Pi, a spotted hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan and a bengal tiger called Richard Parker. Soon enough only Richard Parker and Pi remain, and the boy survives against all odds his many days on the lifeboat. He survives many challenges and manages to train Richard Parker, all with the help of his own spirituality. A story you want to be true, but deep inside you know it isn’t. The end shows it all; suddenly you can see the symbolism used by Yann Martel throughout the book. And it’s up to you what to believe… Imagine a tiger on a lifeboat, or see the ugly truth? I think I prefer to keep on dreaming.

BOOK REVIEW: The White Tiger – by Aravind Adiga

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Title: The White Tiger
Author: Aravind Adiga
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
First published: 2008
Finished reading: June 11th 2013
Pages: 321

Rating 2,5

“See, the poor dream all their lives of getting enough to eat and looking like the rich. And what do the rich dream of?? Losing weight and looking like the poor.”

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In general I enjoy reading books set in a different culture. I see it as a different way of travelling, exploring the unknown. Unfortunately the catch is that I won’t be knowing if the author is describing the unknown world correctly, and that was also my doubt with The White Tiger. I just couldn’t keep wondering if the life in India really is as Aravind Adiga describes it in his novel. I know The White Tiger is ment as a fiction novel, but still… I felt that the author mostly used Balram Halwai, the main character, to express his own social criticism. I just couldn’t get a feel for the character and I had to struggle to actually finish The White Tiger. A shame, because the story could have been that much more interesting… If only the author would have downsized on the social criticism and invested more words into character building.

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Balram Halwai is a man of many faces and he has a dark side: he murdered his former employer Mr. Ashok. The story is told through a letter Balram is writing to the Chinese president who is about to visit India. He wants to show him the ‘real’ India, en tells his own life story and journey out of poverty without looking for forgiveness. Balram was born in a small village in the middle of rural India. Life was hard, but he gets to escape the village when he is hired as a driver for the wealthiest man of the village (Mr. Ashok). He gets to know the city, and sees the not-so-legal things his employer is up to. Slowly he comes to the understanding how the city works and he starts to do some little side jobs (like refilling and reselling expensive whiskey bottles). He is the rare white tiger trying to survive in the caste jungle… And he has some very non-orthodox ways of reaching that goal.

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I was really excited when I was gifted this book, but unfortunately that enthusiasm faded away once I started reading The White Tiger. The main character Balram is bland, boring and doesn’t make you connect with the story at all. The social criticism is just too much and even though part of the book is ment as a satire, I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I would have thought before reading it. I like books set in foreign cultures, but The White Tiger just didn’t do it for me. There are definitely way better books about the Indian culture out there and therefore I wouldn’t recommend reading this novel by Aravind Adiga.

BOOK REVIEW: Paragon Walk – by Anne Perry

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Title: Paragon Walk
(Charlotte & Thomas Pitt Series #3)
Author: Anne Perry
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction, Crime
First published: 1981
Finished reading: June 3rd 2013
Pages: 248

Rating 1,5

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Paragon Walk is apparently the third book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series set in Victorian London. I couldn’t say I enjoyed this novel by Anne Perry, and I don’t think it’s because I haven’t read the first two books in the series. For me the plot and the murder mystery itself lacked attention. It seemed like there were too many characters involved, and too much focus on the norms of high class society. I understand Perry wanted to show how life was in this part of Victorian London. But still, the whole murder investigation is being pushed back into a corner. And poor inspector Pitt is pushed back with it. The end was even worse: a totally unexpected murderer and then suddenly no more pages left. No explication, just blank pages… I’m sorry to say this one was definitely not satisfying.

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It all starts when a young woman is raped and murdered in one of the posh streets of London called Paragon Walk. Inspector Thomas Pitt is send to solve the murder, but he soon finds out that finding out who did it will be complicated. The people of the Paragon Walk are high society and therefore prefer to ‘ignore’ the crime rather than to admit it happened. They actually prefer to say the young girl probably provoked the rape with her unclassy behavior… Thomas Pitt is he main inspector trying to solve the mystery. He stands in the shadow of his wife Charlotte, who once formed part of the high society and still has her sister Emily living in the Paragon Walk. Charlotte enters the high class environment again in search of the murderer… And is able to get access to places her husband cannot go.

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Paragon Walk was definitely not a satisfying read… I’m only happy that I didn’t waste any money on buying a copy of it. The whole high society scene takes away from the original murder investigation and the characters itself are highly annoying. Them saying the young girl probably provoked the rape with her unclassy behavior alone already made the hairs in my neck rise and shake my head. Seriously? Not a series I would recommend.