Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Beyond the Sky and the Earth | Jamie Zeppa

More than anything , this book made me want to visit Bhutan. It sounds like an amazing country, the landscape dominant and breathtaking. Zeppa (Canada) was there in the 1980's teaching as part of a Government scheme. She was part of a group who taught in very remote mountain villages to establish a modern education system in Bhutan.

Zeppa writes well and her descriptions of the place and it's people are mesmerising. She takes a few months to fully acclimatise to the culture and the requirements of her teaching contract. Her observations of the Buddhist way of life are eye opening and her conversion to Buddhism follows from her time living there.

Zeppa engages with the locals on many levels, at the school, the clinic she has to run, the villagers and the expat community. Eventually she forms a romantic liaison and has a child.

I felt that the ending was very rushed. She describes in one paragraph, seven years of her life as a married woman and mother and mentions that 'due to cultural differences' she separates from her husband and returns to Canada. Given the whole book is about cultural observations, this leaves the reader a bit cold, wanting to know what kind of differences, what kind of experiences she had as a Western woman married to a Bhutanese man.

It is worth reading just to discover a bit more of this magical closed kingdom, and it will make you want to pack your bags and go!

The Antipodean | Greg McGee

This is a good read although the style is a bit patchy in the beginning. I noted that the narrative pertaining to the past was better than the modern day story of the young woman.

In this story a New Zealander and his daughter return to Venice where he spent a lot of time during the war. The story swaps time frames as we learn of the time he spent in the Italian Resistance, the people he is looking for in the present and the years after the war spent in New Zealand.

The stories are good, the writing frustrating at times, it lacks lyricism, nuances of language. At times it is a series of factual statements one after the other, as if it is recounting an occurrence, not taking us along a story.

Worth reading nonetheless.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Stalin's Daughter | Rosemary Sullivan

"The extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva" is the whole title of this book. It is a superb read, and although it looks daunting at nearly 700 pages, it is so well written that it is a very quick read.
This is the life of Svetlana Stalin. She grew up in the Kremlin and was part of very significant events in World history. She had  contact with all the main players in Russian political life and in this book we read of how that influenced who she became.

Some parts are so extraordinary, it seems part of a novel or a movie script. Svetlana managed to defect to America in the 60's and even then, was unable to establish firm roots. She moved all the time, searching for something, someone and never quite reaching the fulfillment she desired.
Svetlana died in 2011, so most of the material which is very well researched is based on interviews with friends and family, especially Olga, her American daughter.

Incredibly well worthwhile reading this book. Very well researched and written. Insightful.