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review 2017-03-25 18:03
A love stronger than anything in the background of recent LGBT Swedish history
Last Winter's Snow - Hans M. Hirschi

I received an ARC copy of this book prior to its publication and I voluntarily decided to review it.

This is not the first novel written by Hans Hirschi I’ve read. I’ve read The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, The Opera House, Willem of the Tafel, Spanish Bay… and, different as they are, have enjoyed them all. Mr Hirschi has the ability to create believable and engaging characters the readers care for, and he places them in backgrounds and situations that put them to the test. Sometimes the situation and the background might be familiar to a lot of readers, whilst on other occasions, we might know little about the place or the world they live in. And, Mr Hirschi’s books always draw attention to discrimination and oppression, making us question our beliefs and attitudes. This book is dedicated ‘to the oppressed minorities of the world’ and all the books I’ve read by this author could bear the same dedication.

I must confess to knowing little about the Sami community and their land, Sápmi, other than the images most of us might have of snow, reindeer and colourful clothing. The book opens with Nilas waking up to find his husband, Casper, dead in bed next to him. (I don’t consider this a spoiler, as it’s how the novel starts, after a brief introduction into Sami’s culture and history, and anybody who checks the beginning of the book will see it). Most of the rest of the book is taking up by his memories of his relationship with Casper, in chronological order, from 1982, when Nilas, a native Sami, goes to study in Stockholm, until the present. At the beginning of the story, he knows he’s gay but within his community, he hasn’t had much chance to experience what that mean in full, although he’s told his parents about it. One of the beauties of the book is that, although initially shocked by the news, his parents, from a tiny and many would think old-fashioned and traditional community, accept it (in fact, he discovers one of his uncles is also gay). At the other end of the spectrum, Casper, a Swedish student he meets in a bar in Stockholm, although living in a bigger community and seemingly a more cosmopolitan society, has not dared to tell his parents he’s gay as they are very religious and intolerant of anything other than what they see as the natural order. Nilas and Casper are made from each other, and the novel chronicles their relationships through episodes that illustrate events they go through, on many occasions linking them to events for the LGBT community in Sweden at large. We live with Nilas and Casper through the alarm of the AIDS epidemic, the uncertainty and the fear that an illness that seemed to target a specific group of the population created at the time. We also follow them through changes in career and moves, through the recognition of registered partnership and eventually gay marriage, through family disappointments, trips, success, heartache, illness and ultimately, death.

The relationship between Niles and Casper serves as a microcosm of the gay experience and history in Sweden (and, although with some differences, in many Western world countries). Theirs is an ideal relationship, their love stronger than anything. Although they are tested by external events, society, family, and work, they are committed to each other, exclusive and faithful from the beginning. (Perhaps this is an idealised relationship where there are some differences of opinion but these are quickly resolved and they are together against the world, especially at the beginning of the relationship). They are discriminated against at work, they have to face the AIDS crisis, family hostility (Casper eventually tells his family and he was right when he thought they wouldn’t accept it), assaults, put downs, incomprehension, insults, frustrations… They also find people who accept them and love them for who they are, mostly, at least at the beginning, people who have gay friends or relatives. And it’s true that studies show that exposure and knowledge are the best ways to fight discrimination and oppression. The lack of knowledge, the fear of anything or anybody different and unknown, the us against them mentality and the labelling as ‘other’ of those who aren’t like us are a sure recipe for intolerant attitudes.

The book is written in the third person, from Nilas’s point of view, and it contains beautiful descriptions of places (Sápmi, Stockholm and Gothenburg, the Maldives, Swedish islands, the house they move into…), reflections on nature, landscape, the importance of tradition, and what makes a place home and a people, our family and our community. We sometimes have to go a long way to discover who we really are and where we belong to. Mr Hirschi manages to balance the showing and telling by combining very personal experiences with more subjective and spiritual reflections.

I enjoyed the setting, the discovery of a place and a people I knew very little about (and judging by the author’s note at the end, I’d love to get to know more) and the way the characters and the story merge seamlessly to provide a personal, political (indeed, the personal is the political) and social chronicle of the recent events in LGBT history in Sweden. I particularly enjoyed the way Casper is adopted by the Sami community and how there is a parallel made between different types of oppression. This is an excellent book that could help younger generations understand recent LGBT history and will also raise consciousness about oppression and intolerance in general. And, we sure need it more than ever.

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review 2016-09-12 11:42
Witches, Westerners, and HIV: AIDS and Cultures of Blame in Africa - Alexander Rödlach I read this for my dissertation on HIV, but it actually turned out to be an enjoyable read. There were a few places that were quite heavy with theory, but these were well written so as to still make it accessible.
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text 2016-05-30 18:59
May 2016 Reading Wrap Up
The Duchess War - Courtney Milan
A Kiss for Midwinter - Courtney Milan
AIDS in America - Susan Hunter,Alan Cumming
Mission to Murder - Lynn Cahoon
A Dream Defiant - Susanna Fraser
An Unexpected Encounter - Deb Marlowe

Happy Memorial Day to all the US folks out there. Happy 2nd Bank Holiday of May to the Brits out there. I wish it was warmer at the unofficial start to the summer, but the wind and rain has decided summer temps can wait (England and her weather, I tell you!).

 

Courtney Milan Challenge (3 out of 7 books in series read; 60% challenge completed)

1. The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister #1) 5 stars

2. A Kiss for Midwinter (Brothers Sinister #1.5) 4 stars

 

Regency Box Set (6 of 9 books read; 67% challenge completed)

3. Bargaining with a Rake (Whisper of Scandal #1) by Julie Johnstone 1 star

4. A Reluctant Rake (Tenacious Trents #5) by Jane Charles 3.5 stars

 

Classics challenge

5. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck 2 stars

 

The Great and Powerful TBR Pile

6. Magic in His Kiss by Shari Anton DNF

7. Mission to Murder (Tourist Trap Mystery #2) by Lynn Calhoun 3.5 stars

8. A Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser 3.5 stars

9. My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin 3 stars

10. An Unexpected Encounter (Half Moon House Novella #0.5) by Deb Marlowe 3.5 stars

11. Dying to Read by Lorena McCourtney .5 star

12. Be Not Afraid by Alyssa B. Cole 4 stars

 

Non-Fiction Challenge (18/50; 36% completed) 

13. Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez - DNF

14. AIDS in America by Susan Hunter 4 stars

15. High Stakes by Sam Skolnik 1 star

 

 

2016 Reading Challenge: 71 out of 150 books read (47% completed)

 

Stats:

# of non-fiction books: 2

# of fiction books: 13

total average star rating: 3.2

average non-fiction star rating: 2.5 stars

average fiction star rating: 3.0

 

Events:

Bout of Books 16

Buddy Read with Obsidian Blue

 

Final Notes:

Two DNFs this month. I don't like seeing those three ugly letters, but I feel I must start using them more so that I don't waste time reading books that don't interest me.

 

Bout of Books was a lot of fun, but I ended up with a reading hang over and didn't read much the week following. Definitely learned my lesson - no non-fiction for read-a-thons.

 

Feeling really good at the progress I have made on some of my challenges. I neared or went over the 50% mark on a few of them. Now I need to focus on reading down my TBR pile and restraining myself from buying new books. I won't be borrowing from the library over the summer to help me focus more on the books I own, but I will be joining the summer reading program which begins June 1st.

 

Best book of the month goes to The Duchess War. It will end up on my top 10 for the year without a doubt.

 

Worst book of the month goes to Dying to Read. Glad it was a freebie.

 

Surprising book of the month goes to AIDS in America. I hope policy makers, politicians, educators, and other community leaders take the lessons of the book to heart and make the necessary changes for all our sakes. I learned how blinded I was in regards to HIV/AIDS crisis.

 

Disappointing book of the month goes to The Red Pony. I just expected more and better from Steinbeck.

 

 

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review 2016-05-09 09:20
Review: AIDS in America by Susan Hunter
AIDS in America - Susan Hunter,Alan Cumming

This book was published in 2006, which made me want an updated or new book to see the HIV/AIDS crisis through President Obama's administration. As it was written, the book details how the end of the Clinton administration and most of the Bush II administration failed this country. There is no sugar coating that we are in the midst of a crisis that rivals what the epidemic looked like in the early and mid 1980s.

 

Before reading this book, I thought the HIV/AIDS epidemic was largely contained and was in the neutral category of chronic but livable. I was in elementary school when Ryan White school scandal happened and remembered the talk in pop culture and in schools about condom use and knowing your status. I thought everyone was taught this and knew how to protect themselves.

 

I graduated high school in 1998, the year that abstinence-only education came to schools. The book starts with a look at a Montana family struggling with a family member's new diagnosis - at the time, Paige was just 18 and already a mother when she tried to join the Navy and found out through a physical examination she was positive. Paige was a student during the abstinence-only sex education, was an experienced drug user (crystal meth) and came from a dysfunctional family. Her new diagnosis made her and the family wake up to the destructive paths each were on, with varying degrees of success. But the factors that led to Paige's infection are the cornerstones of the various chapters, along with the US prison systems, sex work industry, big Pharma, and race/poverty/gender factors. Tom was a 21 year old gay man who was infected by an partner in a random hook-up and was also the by-product of the abstinence-only education and the Internet dating scene.

 

The only problem I had was Ms. Hunter bringing up the fact that the two fastest growing populations being infected is teens and seniors, but focuses all attention on teens and doesn't devote a chapter to why seniors are being diagnosed in such big numbers. I also felt that the chapter on drug use was a little too long and didn't make enough connections to the epidemic. I took away one star from the rating.

 

The US is going backwards while other highly developed countries are progressing on the HIV/AIDS epidemic; there were examples of still developing nations that were ahead of the US (Brazil and Botswana). We are in a sad shape and must return to the processes and methods used in the late 80s and early 90s to stem the tide; we also need to look at certain industries - the private prisons, Big Pharma, and the sex industry - and regulate the shit of them. Finally, we need to treat drug addiction as a medical public health issue and not a law enforcement issue. 4 out of 5 stars.

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text 2016-05-06 21:01
Holiday Weekend Reading
Bad Money by Phillips, Kevin (2009) Paperback - Kevin Phillips
AIDS in America - Susan Hunter,Alan Cumming

Looks like BL is running S-L-O-W this evening.

 

My weekend reading is aimed at getting two non-fiction books done before Bout of Books 15 kicks off Monday morning. BoB will focus on the fiction books off my TBR pile.

 

Bad Money by Kevin Phillips is a great read with easy to understand language describing the inner workings of the financial world prior to, during, and after the 2008 Global Recession. However, even with the easy language the book is still dense. I can't read this book non-stop, so I took a break to read Badass by Shannen Doherty. I will get back to Phillips' book tomorrow night.

 

AIDS in America by Susan Hunter I started tonight while my hubby watched The Revenant. (I still can't believe DiCaprio won his beloved Oscar for this movie.) So far, the book is great (probably around four stars as of right now) but the forward by Donald Trump made me roll my eyes so hard.

 

For my US friends - Happy Mother's Day to those with moms, those that are close to children (Godmoms, favorite aunties), and those who are moms. I'm taking my beautiful brats to Paradise Wildlife Park to celebrate and making my hubby take all the pictures so I can actually be in the pictures with my kids for once. We have had beautiful weather here for the past week and it is supposed to hold through the weekend, so we won't have to deal with wellies or umbrellas in our pictures.

 

Happy Reading.

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