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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-11-29 16:36
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
The Testaments - Margaret Atwood

The long sought-for sequel, set about 15 years later, to the brilliant "Handmaid's Tale"...


... and I'm not sure we actually needed it.


Gilead has fallen - and how that came to be is told from 3 points of view: Aunt Lydia, Agnes/Hannah who grows up in Gilead and Daisy/Nicole who learns of her origins after her adoptive parents are killed and is sent to Gilead on a mission for mayday.


And while the story that is told is certainly interesting and gripping, there are certain parts that are either repetitive or simply unbelievable (and/or unbelievably naive).


The first question is how much of the TV-series "The Handmaid's Tale" is canon. Atwood is part of the series' consulting team, but there are inconsistencies: Lydia's background for example (in season 3 she's a discontent teacher who's sort of disgusted by her own female nature and sexual urges - here, she's a judge till Gilead takes over and she's faced with the choice to either submit or be killed), how Nic(h)ole's name's written, the way Hannah doesn't remember her mother at all (she wasn't so young as to not remember meeting her in season 2)...


Anyway, the book taken for itself, Lydia keeps meticulous records of everything that goes on in Gilead and is sort of the person who sets everything in motion once Daisy is finally found. It's she who built the whole aunt-sphere in the first place, she who has dirt on everyone, she who arranges marriages, she who admits girls as aunt-supplicants. Of course, the details almost mentionned in passing are as gruesome as ever: commanders killing their wives, pedophilia, arranged child-marriages, murders, perjury... all just to have all the pieces in their places to finally be able to overthrow this corrupt system.


To be honest, once I decided to keep books and TV-series apart, Lydia's story became more relatable. I can distantly see that she doesn't buy completely into the idea of Gilead but sort of positioned herself to be able to act later on when opportunity would present itself. This doesn't make her acts any more palatable or excusable, not at all. But I can see her path as one option out of the pitiful collection she had when Gilead took over.


That Hannah and Nicole would serve as the messengers to the final destruction... seems more convenient name-dropping than true plot-driven necessity. Especially the fact that mayday chooses Nicole who just learned of her true origins, learned about Gilead at school or through the refugee work of her adoptive parents... in short, is absolutely not trained to fit in at all in a misogynistic system, making the whole mission sort of a hail-Mary adventure... and then both sisters meeting... it feels contrived and scratches the edge of credibility or cliché. Why would Lydia's meticulous plans rely on such an untested girl? Moreover, using her and simultaneously implying that June eventually escaped and has worked for Mayday raises the question of why she never approached her daughter. Hannah, on the other hand, could have been substituted by any other Gilead-educated girl. And she remains bland to the end.


Overall... it was a good book, yes... but it leaves more questions than it answers... questions that didn't need to be raised, not even in the hype over the TV-series.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-08-15 11:24
Der Fall Kallmann von Hakan Nesser
Der Fall Kallmann: Roman - Håkan Nesser,Paul Berf

Kurz nach dem Tod seiner Frau und Tochter zieht Leon Berger in die Kleinstadt K und tritt seine Anstellung als Schwedischlehrer an der örtlichen Mittelschule an. Beim Räumen der Dinge seines Vorgängers Eugen Kallmann, der Ende des letzten Schuljahres unter mysteriösen Umständen starb, findet er 4 Tagebücher, die die letzten 15 Jahre Kallmanns umreißen... und mehr Fragen aufwerfen als Antworten geben.


Der Roman ist (mit wenigen Ausnahmen) abwechselnd aus 4 Perspektiven erzählt: Leons, der Schülerin Andrea, und Leons Kollegen Igor und Ludmilla. Die 4 Erzählstränge verweben sich zunehmend zu einem Sittenbild an einer schwedischen Kleinstadtschule (samt Migrantenkindern und rechtsextremen Wandlungen) und beleuchten Patchworkfamilien, alte und neue Verbrechen und natürlich auch Kallmanns Vergangenheit. Und je enger die Maschen dieses Bildes werden, desto schwerer ist es, das Buch wegzulegen.


Nesser-typisch wird nicht alles aufgeklärt, was als Rätsel auftaucht (zB die Ähnlichkeit zwischen Andrea und Leons verstorbener Tochter oder auch die Betonung der Augen der Kommissarin, die den Fall Kallmann schließlich übernimmt), trotzdem aber lässt mich die Lektüre befriedigt zurück.


Vor allem in der 2. Hälfte ein Pageturner... braucht aber ein bisserl, um Fahrt aufzunehmen. Insgesamt aber eine definitive Empfehlung!

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-04-24 19:37
Munich by Robert Harris
Munich: A novel - Robert Harris

September 1938, the world is on the brink of war. Hitler has his eyes set on Czechoslovakia, bringing the Sudeten-Germans into the Reich. At the eve of the invasion, Britain's prime minister Chamberlain tries everything to prevent open war. But is peace worth any cost?


That's actually the question around which this whole novel revolves. Harris adds 2 young staffers to each side to sort of add the human component to these events, the immediacy of the threat, both of impending war but also of the further unimpeded rise of Hitler. History of course tells us that war broke out nonethess, albeit a year later, after the invasion of yet another country. It also tells us that appeasement only works so far: At some point one has to draw a line, at the latest when the fundamental principles of one's own state and way of life are threatened.


So, what would have happened had the world not silently condoned the invasion of Czechoslovakia but intervened then and there? Were the allied forces truely so militarily unprepared in their (re)armaments after WW1, as is indicated here, that they wouldn't have stood a chance if the war had begun in 1938? And what would that have meant for the holocaust: fewer victims? Or even more (after the defeat of the allied forces)? Would Hitler have had the time to surround himself with sycophants and like-minded people if he had been challenged openly (which is the point that Hartmann makes why it's important that Britain doesn't give in to Hitler's demands)?


Harris already delved into these what-if scenarios with his excellent "Fatherland" set in a world where Nazi Germany had won the war... and it's still a mind-boggling thought experiment, the change of a single event causing major consequences (or, in this case, the failure of affecting said change). The only downside to this novel is the fact that it takes about 200 pages to really get going, but once you're past that, this is a page-turner.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-03-05 10:25
Das grobmaschige Netz von Hakan Nesser, Van Veeteren #1
Das grobmaschige Netz - Håkan Nesser

Nach einer durchzechten Nacht findet Janek Mitter seine Frau Eva ertränkt in der Badewanne. An die Ereignisse der Nacht kann er sich nicht erinnern, aber er weiß, dass er sie nicht umgebracht hat - aber ohne Beweise des Gegenteils wird er in eine psychiatrische Anstalt eingewiesen. Doch etwas irritiert Hauptkommissar Van Veeteren an diesem Fall - und das Gefühl wird bestärkt, als Mitter selbst umgebracht wird.


Dies ist ein ziemlich geradliniger Krimi, der ohne große Überraschungen auskommt, trotzdem aber recht spanned ist und letztlich die gewohnten familiären Untiefen aufweist. Nesser verwendet seine Zeit weniger, den Kommissar Van Veeteren direkt vorzustellen, als ihn tüfteln und Puzzlestückchen zusammensetzen zu lassen. Jedenfalls ist er mit Jagdinstinkt ausgestattet und lässt sich nicht abbringen, wenn er mal Lunte gerochen hat. Im Privatleben schaut's trister aus: Ehefrau Renate kommt immer wieder mal angekrochen, der Sohn sitzt im Gefängnis und der Tochter steht er auch nicht gerade nah (nur ihrem alten Hund, den er sitten darf).


Insgesamt ein interessanter Beginn, wenn auch nicht ganz so fesselnd wie der Anfang von Nessers späterer Barbarotti-Serie. Aber ich werde wohl zu Van Veeteren zurückkommen.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-03-03 17:16
The Fear Index by Robert Harris
The Fear Index - Robert Harris

The owner of a big hedgefund company, Alex Hoffman, physicist and inventor of an algorithm that could revolutionize trading, is attacked one evening in his home in Geneva. After getting checked at hospital which got him the recommendation to visit his neurologist with the headscans that were taken, he goes to work the next day because of a big investors' lunch. But strange things keep happening: the delivery of a book by Darwin, he finds that he apparently bought out his wife's art exhibition... and then the algorithm starts making risky trades...


This novel starts out pretty exciting, the break-in, a possible conspiracy, a computer algorithm running amok. But it all gets a bit confusing the longer the story runs: Hoffman's history of mental illness for one, his dabbling with artificial intelligence on the other side... but all this doesn't really explain what actually happened. Did Hoffman arrange for everything, including the break-in and his death, and just forget it in a psychotic break, as is suggested in the end? But what about the risk-advisor who falls into the open elevator shaft? He can't have foreseen that he would step into the lift at that moment - so, did he program the algorithm to kill any opponents? Or did he program some self-protective subroutines so that the algorithm decided for itself to kill him in self-defense in order to have no more master?


But in the end, it all gets wrapped up too easily, the company earns an enormous amount of money and all's swept under the rug, the algorithm lives on... and Hoffman disappears. Honestly, I would love to know what happens next and hate the way this novel keeps me hanging at this point of the story.


Still: a good read, albeit one that leaves me with more questions than it answers.

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