Tag Archives: World War II

Review: The Sound of the Sundial by Hana Andronikova

I received a review copy of this title from the publisher. The Sound of the Sundial won the Czech Republic’s prestigious Magnesia Litera Award in the category of Best New Discovery, just a few years before its author died of cancer at the age of 44. It is making its world premiere appearance in English here from Plamen Press.

My Review:
Sound of the SundialThis is the beautiful yet devastating story of a Czech family that is torn apart by the tragedies and atrocities of World War II.  Rachael and Thomas are deeply in love and are the type of couple who perfectly compliment each other:  Rachael has a fiery temper and is very passionate and impulsive while Thomas is calm, thoughtful and contemplative.  Their relationship is traced in the book from its very beginning where they meet in Zlin when Rachael’s devoutly Jewish parents forbid her to have a relationship with Thomas who is not Jewish.

Rachael, of course, defines her parents and marries Thomas despite their objections.  Thomas is a builder for a prominent shoe manufacturer in Czechoslovakia and they send him to India in order to plan a new factory that will be set up in Calcutta.  Quite a bit of the story involves flashbacks to Thomas and Rachel’s time in India where they are also raising their young son Daniel.  The language of the book perfectly captures the sensual, beautiful and almost savage landscape of Calcutta.

Rachael and Thomas return to Czechoslovakia when Rachael’s mother is dying.  Unfortunately, this corresponds with the German invasion of Eastern Europe and the persecution of Jews.  Thomas desperately tries to get his family out of the country before his wife is sent to the Ghetto but he doesn’t manage to do this before his wife is torn from their family.  The scenes of Rachael’s removal and separation from her husband and son are heartbreaking.  Eventually Rachael is sent to Auschwitz where her emotional endurance among deplorable circumstances is beyond description.  Thomas and Daniel long to hear word about her and fight their own madness as they wonder whether or not they will ever see her again.

This is truly a beautiful story about a family and their hardships that echo through the generations.  Even though Daniel is an old man with his own grandchild the stories about his mother and father still bring him to tears.  I highly recommend THE SOUND OF THE SUNDIAL for those who enjoy historical fiction set during World War II as well as an engrossing story.

About The Author:
H. AndronkinovaHana Andronikova was a widely-published Czech writer. She received the Magnesia Litera Award in 2002 for her first novel, Zvuk slunecnich hodin [The Sound of the Sundial] (2001) and went on to author the short story collection Srdce na udici [Heart on a Hook] (2002). Her fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in Europe and the U.S., including World Literature Today

 

 

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Review: Diamond Head by Cecily Wong

I received an advanced review copy of this book from Harper.

My Review:
Diamond HeadBohai is a quiet, unassuming man who, growing up in China at the beginning of the 20th century, is viewed as different even from his early childhood.  This book is a narrative of his life as seen through the eyes of the women that surround him: his mother, his wife and his daughter.  It seems that none of them truly understood or appreciated him until his early and tragic death.  Their grief forces them to look back on their own lives, their family secrets and their experiences that greatly impacted this silent, yet honorable man.

Lin Leong, Bohai’s mother, could not produce a child for her husband.  She has two stillbirths, both of which produce girls and she is so desparate to produce a boy to become his father’s heir, that she hires a concubine for her husband.  The concubine, only 14 years old at the time, gives birth to Bohai and dies shortly thereafter.  Lin and her husband dote on their only son until the age of five when they realize that he is not like other children. Instead of being active like other boys his age, he rarely speaks and he is content to sit quietly in his room and read books.  His mother doesn’t think he will ever marry and for a while she even fears Bohai is gay.  When her husband moves the family from their home in China to Hawaii, Lin is hoping that this will be a new beginning for the entire family.

Amy, Bohai’s wife comes from a very poor family of twelve.  It is evident from her narrative that she wants nothing more in life than to dig herself out of her poverty.  When she starts working for her father’s photography business, World War II has just broken out and dozens of men who are ready to be shipped out come to the studio to have their pictures taken.  This is when Amy meets a handsome engineer named Henry.  They have a whirlwind, month long romance and before Henry goes off to war in Europe, he asks Amy to wait for him.  While Henry is away, she is introduced to the Leong family and marriage is proposed between Amy and the shy Bohai.  Amy has a difficult decision, but in the end she opts for wealth and security over passion and love.

The final woman connected to Bohai is his eighteen year old daughter Theresa who is pregnant and, at such a young age, has a life fraught with hardship and difficult decisions.  When Bohai dies, Theresa is told all of the long-buried family secrets about her father and his family.  Theresa also took Bohai for granted when he was alive and now she deeply regrets that she did not build a closer relationship with her father when she had the chance.

DIAMOND HEAD is a novel that kept my attention from beginning to end. The author is adept at building the storyline of the family a bit at a time to keep the reader turning the pages. I highly recommend this interesting historical fiction novel, a triumphant first piece of writing from Cecily Wong.

About The Author:
Cecily WongCecily Wong is Chinese-Hawaiian. She was born on Oahu and raised in Oregon. Diamond Head grew from family stories told to her by her parents and grandparents. Wong graduated from Barnard College, where the first pages of this novel won the Peter S. Prescott Prize for Prose Writing. She lives in New York City.

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Review: When The Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen

I received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher.  This book was originally written and published in Finnish and has been translated for this publication into English.

My Review:
Doves DisappearedThe setting of this story involves the sad history of Estonia, a country that is caught between two fascist superpowers and never allowed to be free.  The narrative moves back and forth between the period of World War II when Estonia is occupied by German forces, and the 1960’s when Estonia is under Soviet Control.

There is a patriotic group of Estonians who are trying to cast off the oppressive yoke of the Bolsheviks that has a grip on the county in the early 1940’s.   This group of revolutionaries are represented by the character of Roland.  Roland is a farm boy who has led a simple life, but he trains in Finland with a group of rebel Estonians who want to oust the Red Army and declare Estonian independence.  When the Germans cast the Red Army out of the country, Roland recognizes that one oppressive tyrant has been tragically replaced by another.  He continues his underground resistance and his goal is to cast off the Germans who are just as cruel and harsh as the Red Army.  Roland is a figure who possesses loyalty, honor and patriotism; he is true to his cause, the freedom of Estonia, no matter what happens in the story.

Edgar, Roland’s cousin, serves as a sharp contrast to the loyalty of his closest family member.  Edgar’s two driving goals in life are self-preservation and self-advancement.  When the Germans take over, he assumes a new name and attempts to make a career among the German government in Estonia by managing some of their labor camps.  When the Germans are run out of Estonia, Edgar takes on yet another new name and tries to ingratiate himself with the Soviet government by writing a book about all of the German atrocities that were committed while Hitler’s armies occupied Estonia.  Edgar does not particularly care who is in charge of the government, as long as he is seen as someone who is worthy of praise and attention.  His greatest desire in life is to be given special privileges and recognition as a result of his work for the government.

The most tragic character in the book is Juudit, Edgar’s wife.  Juddit is truly in love with Edgar when they first marry and she has such high hopes about spending a wonderful life together in wedded bliss.  However, Juddit is sorely disappointed when Edgar refuses to have any sexual relations with his wife.  It becomes apparent in the book that Edgar is homosexual and has no intentions of carrying on a physical relationship with a woman.  When Juddit meets a German officer stationed in Estonia, she has a mad, passionate love affair with him that lasts for the duration of the German occupation.  Juddit finally feels loved, wanted and fulfilled when a German officer gives her all of the attention and affection that she so desperately desired from Edgar.  Unfortunately for Juddit, when the Germans are driven out of Estonia, she is forced to go back and live with Edgar, at which point she carries on a sad and wretched life fueled by lots of alcohol and pills.

Sometimes the dual narrative that jumps between the two time periods becomes very confusing and convoluted.  It is hard to keep the names straight of which person is on which side, who is working for the Germans and who is still loyal to the Russians.  There are also certain storylines that I would like to have seen further developed.  For example, the details of Edgar and Juudit’s reunion after the Germans withdrawal from Estonia is never described.  How could these two people who despise each other end up living under the same roof again?  Also, Roland’s fiancée, Rosalie, suddenly dies in the beginning of the book and the suspicious circumstances of her death are not mentioned again until the very end.  Rosalie’s story could have been just as interesting as Juudit’s and I would like to have seen her character elaborated upon.

Overall, this is an intriguing historical fiction novel about World War II that revolves around a scarely spoken of country that was the victim of two oppressive regimes.  If you are a connoisseur of World War II historical fiction, then WHEN THE DOVES DISAPPEARED should definitely be on your “to read” list.

About The Author:
Sofi OksanenSofi Oksanen was born in Finland to a Finnish father and an Estonian mother. In 2010 she won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for her third novel (originally a play), Puhdistus (Purge).

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Review and Giveaway: From The Fifteenth District by Mavis Gallant

Today I welcome France Book Tours back to my blog with an interesting collection of short stories.  I invite you to read my review, enter to win your own copy of the book, and visit the other stops on the tour.

My Review:
15th DistrictThis is a unique, and at times bizarre, collection of stories that are set in Western Europe before, during and after World War II.  The characters in the stories are not soldiers or directly fighting in the war, but their lives are in many ways deeply affected by the war.  All of the stories are melancholy in tone and have a stream of consciousness feel with meandering narratives.

I enjoyed the story “Four Seasons” because it showed how this war affected citizens all over Europe.  A British family is living on the coast of Italy and barely making ends meet as they are running a small printing business out of their home.  This story is typical of the collection in that it has a melancholy tone and none of the characters seem happy with their lives.

The husband and wife barely interact with each other or their twin girls who are toddlers.  When they hire a nanny who is an Italian girl that barely speaks English, they do not bother to get to know her very much either.  As the outbreak of the war threatens, the family is forced to travel back to Britain and we are left wondering what might have happened to the family and their children’s caretaker.

In the “Moslem Wife,” we at first learn about the history of a husband and wife who are first cousins.  They run a hotel on the French Riviera which they inherited from Netta’s parents.  The narrative style of this story is typical of the whole collection in that wanders haplessly from one character to the next and sometimes feels rather random.

The author takes us through the stories of different characters who visit the hotel, including Jake’s mother, and the eccentric friends of Jake’s mother.  When Jack ends up in America and cannot get back to Europe because of the war, their marriage undergoes an obvious strain.  Will the couple end up together again after a long separation of five years?  Will the war, like many things in Europe, destroy their relationship?

If you enjoy historical fiction set during World War II, then these stories are definitely worth giving a try.  They are certainly unique among the vast array of short stories I have read and reviewed.

About The Author:

From the 15th district Mavis GallantIn 1952 Mavis Gallant (1922–2014) left a successful career as a journalist in Montreal to live independently as a writer of fiction in Europe. She had gained international recognition in 1951 when she was published in the New Yorker, which in subsequent years released over one hundred of her short stories, most of which are set in European cities or Montreal. Random House published twelve volumes of her work. Gallant was awarded the 1981 Governor General’s Award for Home Truths, the 2002 Rea Award for the Short Story, and the 2004 PEN/Nabokov Award for lifetime achievement.  She was a companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honor.  After traveling widely in Europe, in 1960 Gallant settled in Paris, where she died in 2014. The Journals of Mavis Gallant: 1952–1969 is tentatively scheduled for publication by Alfred A. Knopf in 2015.

See more books by Mavis Gallant.

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Giveaway:
Open to US residents only. You may choose either a kindle or epub of this book. Click on Entry-Form below to enter the giveaway and follow the instructions:
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Review and Giveaway: I Looked For the One My Heart Loved by Dominique Marny

Book Synopsis:
I Looked For The One - coverAnne and Alexis are separated by war as children and reunited later by destiny. A powerful and dramatic love story that spans decades in spite of its seeming impossibility.

Anne, 9, and Alexis, 11, grow up together in the Montmartre area of Paris. While she has a major crush on him, he merely sees her as his friend’s little sister. After WWII begins, the two are separated as their families flee Paris to avoid the German occupation. When they say goodbye, Alexis promises to always protect Anne.

Anne holds on to this promise for years as she constantly thinks of Alexis, wondering where he may be. Anne grows up, finds works in an art gallery, and marries a kind, devoted man with whom she has two children. But her heart still belongs to Alexis and she never stops looking for him. Their paths cross fatefully one day in Brussels many years after they were separated.

Alexis, living in Canada and soon to be moving to San Francisco, has a family of his own; a wife in constant depression and a son. Despite their responsibilities to family and the geographical distance that keeps them apart, Anne and Alexis find a way to love one another, secretly yet passionately.

But after all this time, will they ever manage to be truly together, completely? [provided by the publisher]

My Review:

This was a lovely book that spans forty years of life in Paris beginning in 1939.  When World War II begins, neighborhoods of families and friends are scattered throughout France.  The main character in the book, Anne, and her family flee to the countryside to live with her grandparents until the turmoil of German occupation settles down.  Anne who, at the time is 9 years old, is very upset to leave her brother’s friend Alexis on whom she has a childhood crush.

At first I thought that Anne’s fondness for Alexis, which she thinks back on throughout her adult life, was unrealistic.  How many of us carry a torch for someone whom they met as a child?  However,  the circumstances surrounding the chaos and destruction of World War II leave an impression on Anne.  Her thoughts of Alexis appear to be more than just a childhood crush; she looks back on the time she spent with him as one of peace and happiness before the war ushered in a period sadness, destruction and change.

Anne seems to be fond of her husband Francois, but he never is the great love of her life.  He is comfortable and takes care her and they have two wonderful children.  They never have anything in common beyond their family.  So when Anne meets Alexis again later in life, she is easily tempted to have an affair with him because of their immediate connection.  They share a past and memories of their old neighborhood of Montmartre and they both have a deep love and appreciation for art.

The author keeps us wondering until the end of the story if Anne and Alexis will ever be able to break free of their unhappy marriages and be together.  I LOOKED FOR THE ONE MY HEART LOVED is a great read for those who appreciate historical fiction set in Paris.

About the Author:
I Looked For The One - MarnyDominique Marny was raised in a family that loves art, literature, adventure and travels. In addition to being a novelist, she is a playwright, screenwriter, and writes for various magazines.  Watch the video below in which Dominique talks about her book and how Paris inspired its setting. 

 

Giveaway:

The publisher is giving away one paperback copy to someone in the U.S. and one e-book to all other International entries. The giveaway is open until 9/14. Click on the link below to enter:

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