An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
“J’accuse!” says Emile Zola, on the front page of a Paris newspaper in 1898, and the headline throws France into disarray over the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus for treason. Or for being a Jew.
This novel was a great hit with the book club boys. It’s a fascinating period of history and Robert Harris digs around in the ugly end-of-century society, with the rise of anti-semitism in Europe, witch-hunts, the manipulation of documents, false reporting, corruption, whistle-blowing, the power of state intelligence. It all sets the scene for 20th Century history and has a uncomfortable resonance even now, when we should know better.
In An Officer & a Spy, Robert Harris creates a gripping story around real events. Continue reading “An Officer and a Spy – book review”
A caveat before I put this on the book club list. It may be just too weird for many people, and there is no shame in that. It won the Booker in 2017 and follows my usual rule: read everything on the Booker short-list and avoid the winner, which will be be too edgy for its own good (it is sandwiched between Milkman & Sellout, two obvious cases in point).
However, if you’re willing to try something a bit different, and your book club has been a bit samey for a while and needs a re-boot: here you go.
Lincoln in the Bardo is the kind of book best read drunk. Continue reading “Lincoln in the Bardo – book review”
Today is Jerningham Wakefield’s 199th birthday. Happy Birthday, you old thing.
Jerningham came to Wellington with the New Zealand Company in 1839, the thin edge of the colonial wedge. For that we can throw many brickbats. And hey, it’s his birthday! So here is my favourite Jerningham brickbat: a letter to the editor from a missionary, in reaction to Jerningham’s recently published Adventure in New Zealand.
It’s a hell of a book review. Jerningham and the missionaries never did see eye to eye Continue reading “Brickbat for Jerningham”
The Cyprus Tree, by Kamin Mohammad
Let’s add a bit of fire to your book club reading with this book about Iran by Kamin Mohammadi.
It begins, rather dauntingly, with dense chapters of Iranian history and Kamin’s family history, both of which are complicated matters. I admit I stopped trying to make sense of it and lost track of all the uncles’ names (the book shows a family tree though the kindle version doesn’t), but I did enjoy the way these chapters give a rhythm to the story which was unlike western fiction. I got a real sense of how details are so important to this culture and understood why Kamin was introducing us so diligently. In the same way Māori will tell you an iwi history to give you a real sense of who they are and where they came from, Kamin carefully lays out the past for us. Continue reading “The Cyprus Tree – book review”
Was it Russell, Kororareka, Waitangi, Okiato?
I followed Governor William Hobson and ran around in a circle to discover New Zealand’s first capital. If you’re thinking it’s Russell, you’re wrong. Kororareka? Think again. Waitangi? Nope.
My final run during my month in the Bay of Islands was the grand loop: it’s 13.5 km, involves two ferry rides, coastal track, beaches, lush bush, some road and long stretches of board walk. And LOTS of history, including the answer to the question: where was New Zealand’s first capital? Continue reading “New Zealand’s first capital”
Vibrations of the Boyd Massacre
A man on a boat told me to run the Wairakau Stream to the Duke’s Nose, which sounded my type of thing. I took my friend M with me, a Spanish lady who was staying at the YHA, who is so intimidatingly spiritual she talks of her body as a separate person. She listens to her body, and does what it tells her. It told her to come with me into the forest, so off we went.
Continue reading “Whangaroa: running with ghosts”
Birds without wings by Louis de Bernières
God, this is horrific. If you’re looking for a sweet but deep sequel to Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which is what the bloke in our book club thought he was giving us, this is way out of your depth.
This is Turkey before, during and after WWI, the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. I don’t voluntarily read war stories, but this was for book club and having been brought up on the glorious allies, I was interested to read the perspective of the other side’s glorious allies. But I was sickened by the brutality and inhumanity in this story. De Bernières writes with such clarity and perception there are images painted in my head I will never wipe clean. Continue reading “Birds without wings – book review”
Evie’s War, by Anna Mackenzie
A fictionalised diary is a difficult way to tell a story because although you hear the intimacies of one person’s mind, you get no one else’s point of view and none of the direct action. The story is delayed—you are told about events afterwards, once the immediacy has gone. It’s a hard format to pull off. Could Evie hook me? Continue reading “Evie’s War – book review”
Gone to Pegasus, by Tess Redgrave
I was recommended Gone to Pegasus because of my interest in colonial women. The setting is Dunedin, New Zealand and we are in 1892, on the cusp of the historic victory that gave votes to women in 1893. Continue reading “Gone to Pegasus – book review”
Kitty, Amber & Band of Gold, by Deborah Challinor
These books are a lot of fun. I defy anybody to read just the one. And I’ve just seen there is a fourth, published after a six year (and at least 5 book) gap. Hooray! I’m going back in. Continue reading “The Smuggler’s Wife – book review”