Two books about the Holocaust

Fairly sure I said something about not reading much about the Holocaust in the last decade or so because I overdid it in the eighties and nineties… Anyway, seems that went out the window when I read The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman and The Toy Maker by Liam Pieper, one after the other.

The books are similar in many ways – both tell the story of an Australian man living in the present alongside the story of a Holocaust survivor; both are set in the ‘Canada’ barracks at Auschwitz–Birkenau and examine the role of the Sonderkommando; both have themes of good versus evil, penance, and the measure of crime; both show that there are lessons in history.

“History can provide comfort in difficult or even turbulent and traumatic times. It shows us what our species has been through before and that we survived. It can help to know we’ve made it through more than one dark age. And history is vitally important because perhaps as much as, if not more than biology, the past owns us and however much we think we can, we cannot escape it. If you only knew how close you are to people who seem so far from you… it would astonish you.” (Perlman)

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Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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Visiting the Pacific north coast of America is on my bucket-list. Not exactly sure why… it might have started when I had to do an in-depth investigation on the Douglas fir at uni  (I did a couple of forestry subjects as part of my hydrology studies). Anyway, it’s this bucket-list item that prompted me to read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.

Actually, to be perfectly frank, I’d avoided Wild because I thought it was going to be all look-at-me-Eat-Pray-Love-Oprah-is-raving-about-it but when it popped up on an audio list I figured I could just listen to the Oregon bits and abandon the rest if Strayed was giving me the pip.

I was wrong. Continue reading

Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford

Depending on your attitude, it’s either wildly inappropriate or absolutely hilarious that I was listening to Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green concurrently with the podcast, My Dad Wrote a Porno. If you’ve experienced both, you’ll appreciate that the frequent mentions of hedge mazes, manicured lawns, horses and duchesses are quite similar in one sense… and also very much not. Anyway, the important thing is that both made me laugh. A lot.

There’s a juicy back-story to Wigs on the Green, notably that the novel was truly about Nancy’s two Fascist sisters, Unity and Diana, and that the relationship between Nancy and her sisters imploded after its publication (I really should read The Mitford Girls, which has been languishing on my TBR stack for over a decade). Nancy never allowed the novel to be printed after WWII, on the basis that jokes about Nazis were not funny in any context. And obviously they’re not, yet the elements of the story related to class and marriage are sharp and very, very funny.

‘Marriage is a great bore. Chaps’ waistcoats lying around in one’s bedroom and so on. It gets one down in time.’ Continue reading

Antarctica on a Plate by Alexa Thomson

If you’re looking for a memoir about exploring, ice and braving the extremities of Antarctica, then Alexa Thomson’s Antarctica on a Plate is not for you. Yes, there’s ice but the focus is on the challenge of cooking large quantities of food on a small stove, and the fact that in Antarctica you never run out of freezer space. Continue reading

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

Do you look at Goodreads ratings when choosing a book? Or when starting a book? I sometimes do, particularly when it’s an author I haven’t come across before. Do I let the ratings influence me? Maybe a smidgen. Which is how I came to read (listen to) The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss – I was lured by its massive 4.17 rating on Goodreads. And no, that wasn’t because there were only six reviews, five of them done by the author’s friends. There was a respectable 443 ratings and 82 reviews. The novel had also received glowing reviews when it was released in July. I was sure I was on a winner. Continue reading

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

I think if I knew more about Greek mythology, anthropology, medusae, father-complex and cultural memory, then Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk would be even better, and more layered with meaning, than it already is.

As it is, I understand enough about hypochondria and passive-aggressiveness to know that what Levy has created in the characters of Rose and Sofia is truly excellent stuff.

“Hello Sofia. I can see that you’ve been having a nice time at the beach.”
I told her the beach was desolate and that I’d been staring for two hours at a pile of gas canisters. It was my special skill, to make my day smaller so as to make her day bigger. Continue reading

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

I think, if they were being brutally honest, most people would give Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman two stars. But you throw an extra star Watchman’s way because it’s Harper Lee. And because we all know those arseholes published this book against her long-held wish.

But I have no qualms about my three star rating because I pulled the right rein and listened to this book. Yes, the words are still the same but when they’re spoken in Reese Witherspoon’s smooth-as-molasses Southern drawl, it’s a very lovely story to hear. Continue reading

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Truly, there were probably a dozen things about Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday that could have annoyed me –

  • the cloying “Once upon a time…” opening
  • the Cinderella riff
  • the subtitle, ‘A Romance’, for it’s seemingly a story about a maid being taken advantage of…(or is it?)
  • the lengthy descriptions of stains on sheets
  • the improbability of a maid walking around a stately home, naked, and laying books across her bare breasts
  • the 400-page-price-tag on what is actually a novella*

But all is forgiven Mr Swift because, when you revealed your twist – a small but perfect tragedy – I gasped.

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