Tag Archives For: europe

29 Sep, 2017

Victoria and Abdul

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Victoria and Abdul Victoria And Abdul: The True Story Of The Queens' Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu
on April 1st 2010
Pages: 223
Narrator: Elizabeth Jasicki
Length: 11:09
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Published by History Press (SC)
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Setting: England

The tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly found himself a personal attendant to the Empress of India herself. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queen's teacher, or Munshi, and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. Devastated by the death of John Brown, her Scottish gillie, the queen had at last found his replacement. But her intense and controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near-revolt in the royal household. Victoria & Abdul examines how a young Indian Muslim came to play a central role at the heart of the Empire, and his influence over the queen at a time when independence movements in the sub-continent were growing in force. Yet, at its heart, it is a tender love story between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen, a relationship that survived the best attempts to destroy it.

Goodreads

The central mystery in this story is Who Was Abdul Karim?  Was he a selfless aide and friend to Queen Victoria or was he an enterprising, self-promoting, dangerous con man like the people around her believed?  I think the answer is somewhere in the middle.

There is no question that he was a devoted servant of the Queen.  He gave her Urdu lessons every day for years.  He helped her answer her correspondence.  He did influence her to be very concerned about Muslims in India.  He also liked the trappings that came along with high status in the Royal Household.  He insisted on not being treated as just one of the nameless servants.  He would storm out of public events if he felt he was being slighted.  He would get newspapers to write articles about him.  He did suggest to the Queen that she give him and his family more and more honors.

This book did a wonderful job of getting into the mind of Queen Victoria through her writings.  You understand where she was coming from.  She loved Karim and his family.  She was hurt by her family’s and staff’s hatred of him.

I don’t think the book did as good of a job figuring out what was going on in Karim’s mind.  There are letters from him but he still felt like an enigma at the end of the book.  He was in a hard position.  There were several Indian servants but he was the only one in the closest inner circle to the Queen.  The Royal Family and the household were both incredibly racist and classist.  They hated him not only for being Indian but for not being an upper-class Indian.  How dare he assume he was their equal?

Put in that situation I can’t fault him for looking out for himself and his family.  The Queen was elderly and he knew that he would be dealt with harshly after her death.  He had to provide for his family while he could.  Did he push too hard?  Maybe.  It doesn’t excuse how he was treated though.

This is an infuriating read.  The racism is so overt.  Many letters from high British officials are included that just drip with disdain.

My only complaint about this book is that it is perhaps too detailed.  There are so many letters cited that they started to all run together.  But, I’d rather get too much information than not enough.

The narrator did a great job with all the voices required in this book – male, female, English, Indian, and Scottish.

There is a movie version of this book out now.  I’m interested to see what angle they take on this story.  Is it going to be a feel-good “Queen Victoria had a friend!” or is going to dive into the hatred from the people around her?  I’ll do a compare and contrast post after I get to see the movie.

 

About Shrabani Basu

Shrabani Basu graduated in History from St Stephen’s College, Delhi and completed her Masters from Delhi University. In 1983, she began her career as a trainee journalist in the bustling offices of The Times of India in Bombay.

Since 1987, Basu has been the London correspondent of Ananda Bazar Patrika group –writing for “Sunday, Ananda Bazar Patrika, “and “The Telegraph.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
10 Aug, 2017

Unbroken Line of the Moon – Women in Translation Month

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Unbroken Line of the Moon – Women in Translation Month The Unbroken Line of the Moon by Johanne Hildebrandt, Tara F. Chace
on October 1, 2016
Pages: 464
Series: Sagan om Valhalla #4
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Sweden

In this grand saga of love, war, and magic set in the tenth century, young Sigrid is destined to be the mother of the king of the Nordic lands that would become Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England.
A devout believer in the old Nordic gods, Sigrid is visited regularly in her dreams by the goddess Freya, who whispers to her of the future. Though Sigrid is beautiful, rich, arrogant, and matchlessly clever, her uncanny ability to foresee the future and manipulate the present guides her through dangerous politics as a bloody war between Vikings and Christians rages on.
Sigrid’s father wants her to marry Erik, a local king, to secure the peace between the Goths and the Swedes. Thinking she is doing Freya’s will, she accepts the marriage offer, only to find that her destiny lies not with Erik but with Sweyn, a warrior who dreams of dethroning Harald Bluetooth, the legendary ruler of Denmark. Will Sigrid sacrifice her will for the greatest Viking kingdom of all time, or will she follow her heart at the risk of losing everything?

Goodreads

I got this book for free through the Kindle First program for Amazon Prime members.  That’s a great way to try out some translated books since usually at least one of the selections are translated.

This book 4 of a series published in Sweden but it is the first book available in English.  The next book the series is going to be translated later in 2017.  I’m not sure what the first few books cover but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by starting the story at this point.

This book is set during the time of the Vikings and everyone knows that they were awful.  That aspect of Viking life is not sugar coated here.  There is a lot of violence.  There are graphic descriptions of multiple gang rapes.

Despite that, I did enjoy this story.  I haven’t read much set during this time in Scandinavia when there was conflict between traditional Nordic beliefs and Christianity.    True believers on both sides are coming across people who will switch religions for personal or political gain.

If you like Game of Thrones style fantasy or historical fiction you will probably enjoy this book.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
19 Jul, 2017

The Essex Serpent – My Total Book Tour Fail

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Essex Serpent – My Total Book Tour Fail The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
on June 6th 2017
Pages: 422
Genres: Fiction
Published by Custom House
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890's, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.
They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Goodreads

I am a supremely organized book blogger.  When I do book tours as soon as I find out the date I am scheduled to post, I put a draft post on my WordPress calendar.  That way I don’t get messed up.  I’ve known for months that my review of The Essex Serpent was due on July 19.  When I went to write this up I looked at the list of other bloggers participating and wanted to see what they thought of the book.  I was surprised to find no posts for the people posting before me.  I looked at my email.  Still didn’t see the issue.  Then I saw it.  JUNE 19.  Oh.

 

So here is my way-belated book tour review of The Essex Serpent.

 


I first heard of this book through the enthusiastic promotion of the British release last year by Simon Savidge.  When the book became available in the U.S. I decided to read it to see why he was so enthusiastic.  We obviously read very different types of books because he considers this to be a very plot driven novel and I think of it as more of a character driven one.

Cora is not a typical Victorian widow.  It is implied that her husband was abusive and she certainly is not grieving him.  She decides to go with her companion Martha and her young son Francis to Essex because she wants to follow in the footsteps of female amateur naturalists.  Hearing rumors of a monster in the estuary thrills her to no end. Her friends urge her to contact the local vicar.  She has no interest in that.  She doesn’t want to be stuck in company with a stuffy vicar.  The vicar and his wife don’t have any interest in her either.  They assume she is an elderly lady with a wastrel son but they invite her to dinner to be nice.

This book covers a lot of issues in England at this time.  Martha is a socialist who is campaigning for safe housing for the poor in London.  At this time to get into good housing you had to prove that you were of good morals.  This offends her because the landlords could go out drinking and being irresponsible but the tenets would be evicted if they acted like that.  She convinces a young doctor with family money to spare to join in her the cause.

Francis would now be recognized as autistic but in this book he is just seen as a bit odd.  He’s mostly left to his own devices because Cora doesn’t know how to interact with him.

Cora has an admirer in Luke Garret, the doctor who treated her husband.  He wants to do more and more daring operations and is fighting the medical establishment.

The Ransomes, the family of the vicar, get involved with Cora and her entourage.  Will Ransome is the vicar who is interested in science.  He knows that rumors of a serpent killing people and livestock are just superstition but he can’t get his parishioners to listen to reason.  This talk is tearing his small village apart and then Cora appears and runs roughshod over the town. It is hard to tell what is more damaging – the rumors or the visitor.

The writing is lyrical and mystical.  It evokes foggy mornings and salt water breezes.  Of course because this is historical fiction and not urban fantasy, there is no magical creature in the river.  Seeing how the author resolves all these plot lines and logically explains the serpent is part of the drama.

This is a relatively slow read.  It takes time for the writing to sink in.  The plot jumps around often so it can be a bit tricky to keep track of who is where at what time. You don’t always know why you should be interested in characters until they start to tie into the larger narrative.

This book is good for people looking to lose themselves in the writing of a slow paced glimpse of life in rural Victorian England with a hint of mystery mixed in.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
05 Dec, 2016

Fatima’s Good Fortune

/ posted in: Reading Fatima’s Good Fortune Fatima's Good Fortune: A Novel by Joanne Dryansky, Gerry Dryansky
on June 22nd 2005
Pages: 336
Genres: Europe, Fiction
Published by Miramax Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: France
Goodreads

“Freshly arrived from a beautiful Tunisian island to work for the exacting Countess Poulais du Roc, Fatima finds herself in a city where even the most mundane tasks like walking the dog and buying the groceries prove baffling. But her natural compassion ensures her survival, and-unexpectedly-brings good fortune to those around her.”


Fatima’s younger sister, Rachida, moved from the Tunisian island of Djerba to Paris to make a better life for herself.  She was working as a maid for the Countess when she was killed in an accident.  The Countess remembers that Rachida had a sister and imperiously sends for her to take her sister’s place.  She considers this a mission of charity but doesn’t think about the impact on Fatima’s life.  That is the major character flaw of the Countess.  She is so self-centered that she doesn’t think about the needs of anyone other than herself and her dog, Emma.  She moves through other people’s lives like a battering ram oblivious to the damage that she is causing.  She takes credit for good deeds that others have done and never gets called out on her casual racism.

She is shocked to find out that Fatima is nothing like her sister.  Fatima went to work in a resort as a cleaner as a child.  This income allowed Rachida to go to school.  Fatima is illiterate.  She is not as worldly as Rachida.  Life in France is overwhelming to her.

Fatima enlists the help of others in her building to help her learn the skills that she needs to survive in France.  She has a warmth that draws others to her and makes them want to help her.  The reader sees this slice of Paris through the eyes of a North African immigrant who isn’t always welcomed.

The ending is mostly an immigrant fairy tale.  Everything works out wonderfully and not that realistically.  This book tries to make a light and fun tale out of some serious subjects – immigration, class inequality, the death of a family member – so even as you root for the characters it feels jarring like no one is taking this as seriously as is merited.

I have really mixed feelings about this one.  While reading it, I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story but wasn’t sure about the tone.  Was the racist and classist representation of the Countess meant to point out the bad behavior of French people?  With everyone around her not commenting on it I wasn’t sure if it was that or if the book was somehow trying to condone it – “Oh, that’s just how rich old ladies are.”  All the Africans are wonderful, amazing people who improve the lives of everyone they interact with.  There is no nuance.  It made me thing of the magical negro trope.

travel the world in books
22 Oct, 2015

What have I read in Oceania and Europe?

/ posted in: Reading

I’m answering this question again with a few caveats:

  • This is ADULT fiction only
  • These are only books I’ve read since the last readathon.
  • I’m leaving out all the books set in England since for some reason I usually don’t consider them foreign.  Maybe because I read so many of them that they seem normal to me.

Finland

The Rabbit Back Literature SocietyThe Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Only nine people have ever been chosen by renowned children’s author Laura White to join the Rabbit Back Literature Society, an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back. Now a tenth member has been selected: a young literature teacher named Ella.

Greece

The Lost SisterhoodThe Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oxford lecturer Diana Morgan is an expert on Greek mythology. Her obsession with the Amazons started in childhood when her eccentric grandmother claimed to be one herself—before vanishing without a trace. Diana’s colleagues shake their heads at her Amazon fixation. But then a mysterious, well-financed foundation makes Diana an offer she cannot refuse.

Ireland and all over Europe

The English Spy (Gabriel Allon, #15)The English Spy by Daniel Silva
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Master novelist Daniel Silva has thrilled readers with seventeen thoughtful and gripping spy novels featuring a diverse cast of compelling characters and ingenious plots that have taken them around the globe and back—from the United States to Europe, Russia to the Middle East. His brilliant hero, Gabriel Allon—art restorer, assassin, spy—has joined the pantheon of great fictional secret agents, including George Smiley, Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, and Simon Templar.

 

Italy

Deadly Election (Flavia Albia Mystery, #3)Deadly Election by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is part of Lindsey Davis’ series about a female private investigator in ancient Rome. I love her books. In this one Flavia is helping her friend and potential love interest dig up dirt on political candidates. At the same time she is dealing with a problem at her family’s auction business. A large chest that was consigned turned out to contain a body.

Poland

Necessary LiesNecessary Lies by Eva Stachniak
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

 

Set during one of the 20th century’s most tumultuous decades, it tells the story of Anna, a lecturer in English from the University of Wroclaw, who arrives in Montreal in the fall of 1981. When martial law is declared in Poland, she chooses to remain in Canada, although emigration means abandoning her husband, an activist in the political opposition, and deserting her homeland as it reels from the shock of being betrayed by its own people.

Spain

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1)The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written.

Sweden

The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the RulesThe Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

79-year-old Martha Anderson dreams of escaping her care home and robbing a bank. She has no intention of spending the rest of her days in an armchair and is determined to fund her way to a much more exciting life-style. Along with her four oldest friends – otherwise known as the League of Pensioners – Martha decides to rebel against all of the rules imposed upon them.

Sweden and Diego Garcia

The SwedeThe Swede by Robert Karjel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

At a remote military base in the Indian Ocean, the CIA is trying to get a prisoner to confess. But the detainee, a suspect in an Islamist-inspired terror attack in the United States, refuses to talk.

Ernst Grip, a Swedish security officer, gets dispatched to New York, without knowing why. FBI agent Shauna Friedman, who meets him there, seems to know a little too much about him. Though when he arrives at his real destination, the American authorities have just one question for him: Is their terror suspect a Swedish citizen?

 

Australia

Lost & FoundLost & Found by Brooke Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

Millie Bird is a seven-year-old girl who always wears red wellington boots to match her red, curly hair. But one day, Millie’s mum leaves her alone beneath the Ginormous Women’s underwear rack in a department store, and doesn’t come back.


Where to Start

Like magical realism or want to try some translated literature?  Try The Rabbit Back Literature Society

Like thrillers? Definitely read The Swede. This is also translated. The English Spy is great but you need to read the rest of the series.

Other Recommendations

Europe is More Than the Big Four

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