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review 2019-10-03 21:52
A God in Ruins
A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson

I would have given this book 3.5 stars, but Atkinson's writing could make even the most banal storyline compelling. Honestly, I felt like this novel could have used more editing, but hey, I picked it because I liked Life After Life, and I also love a big fat paperback. Some characters, (looking at you Viola) were just unlikable; which is ok, but at some point I need to care about them, and Atkinson did not always make this easy. I loved Teddy, but I also found him at times very wishy-washy (does anyone use that expression anymore? Am I being wishy-washy using it?) — it was hard to reconcile the rogue fighter pilot with the wildlife columnist, prone to long, meandering passages. I know very little about birds and English gardens, so I tended to lose interest there. But of course, these are minor arguments. Atkinson's characters drive this story, and, though her jumps in and out of timelines can be distracting, I found the little peeks into the future along the way compelling. I also liked the idea that this was a companion piece to the other book; you did not need to read that one first, but if you did, you felt a little bit like you were in on something.

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text 2019-04-16 02:00
Beautiful Ruins: A Novel - Jess Walter

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying. And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

 

A friend recommended this one to me ages ago, and as much as I enjoy urban fantasy, it will be a pleasant change to read something that doesn't have assorted supernatural beings trying to kill each other.

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review 2018-10-31 17:25
Historic fiction about Politics in Columbia
La forma de las ruinas / The Shape of Ru... La forma de las ruinas / The Shape of Ruins - Juan Gabriel Vásquez

The Shape of Ruins: A Novel, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, author; Sheldon Romero, narrator

After listening to almost half of the book, I finally gave up. It just never grabbed or held my attention. It never called me back to its pages, although I made several attempts to reengage with the story.

From what I read, it is about the history and unrest in Columbia. Its politics and corruption are explored. The research is thorough, but the story travels in too many different directions that I found hard to reconnect as the novel continued. Characters appeared and reappeared, and I would have to struggle to remember what their place was  in the narrative.

It is historic fiction, peppered with a great deal of information. The author is playing the role of the main character who is telling the story. When it begins, the reader learns of a man who was arrested for trying to steal the bullet-ridden suit of candidate Jorge Gaitan who was murdered in 1948. Through the memories of Juan Vasquez, the story is told. The reader learns of the reason that brought Vasquez to Columbia. He and his wife were visiting relatives. His wife, pregnant with twins, had to be hospitalized there for a lengthy period because of complications from her high risk pregnancy. While there, Vasquez reunites with people like, Dr. Francisco Benavides, the son of the medical examiner who handled Gaitan’s body. He also learns more about, and meets, Carlos Carballo, the man was being accused of trying to steal the damaged suit belonging to Guitan.

In the course of conversations about possible conspiracies surrounding Guitans murder, Vasquez learns about the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Twin Towers attack on 9/11. The similarities are explored. Was the murdered Roa Sierra the real murderer of Guitan? Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? Who really engineered the terror attack on the Twin Towers?

Carballo, who tried to steal Guitan’s suit, wants Vasquez to write the true story of Gaitan’s death, as he sees it. He has all the information prepared. Presumably, he had wanted another author to write it, the renowned R.H., but he died before he was able to fulfill the task. It was at that author’s funeral that Vasquez was approached by Carballo. Vasquez refuses and when the twins are born, they all return to Spain. Years later, he is again in Columbia and tries to contact Dr. Benavides to apologize for his behavior. He had been really disrespectful to him when they last saw each other, with Vasquez misinterpreting the doctor’s  effort to help as interference and tainted in some way, Often the character Vasquez is rude and arrogant, making him a bit unlikable.

To enhance the narrative, ordinary occasions and events, that we all may experience, like funerals, births, are introduced. The reader feels drawn to consider their own reactions, along with the characters’ reactions, at those times. Unfortunately, it sometimes felt drawn out and tedious. There was an overarching philosophy introduced in the narrative. “The future of the babies being born was in their hands. The dead were no longer involved, nor were they capable of feeling or showing love”. The history was influencing the future.

Mixing fact and fiction, the author weaves a story that I found confusing, but fact-filled, which was its most redeeming feature.

 

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review 2018-10-24 00:00
A God in Ruins
A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson Their names written on water. Or scorched into the earth. Or atomized into the air. Legion.

Have you ever read a book that you hated to put down but also hated to keep reading because you couldn’t bear the thought of reaching the end? That’s how I felt reading Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, the companion to her brilliant Life After Life

Unlike Ursula in Life After Life, her younger brother Teddy only gets one shot at life. He still becomes a bomber pilot during World War II, still gets shot down over Germany, but this time he survives, captured and imprisoned for the last 18 months of the war. When he returns home, he marries childhood sweetheart Nancy and sets out to live a quiet, uncomplaining life as an antidote to his horrific experiences of the war, both on the ground and in the air, which take up a good portion of this book as a counterpoint to Ursula’s accounts of the Blitz of London in the first book. Nothing really turns out the way he might have hoped, but he holds his very best stiff-upper-lip to the very end even as he struggles with not knowing whether he’s done the right thing: during the war, in his marriage, with his daughter and grandchildren. 

Atkinson gives her readers a lot of little Easter eggs from the first book, and many of the characters have returned, though aside from Teddy and Nancy, they’ve been mostly pushed into the background. Thankfully, Ursula makes plenty of appearances, as do his mother Sylvia and aunt Izzie, and we even get to read some of Izzie’s The Adventures of Augustus, her book series based on young Teddy. These books-within-a-book are a running theme throughout as Teddy wonders what the eternally young Augustus would have done with his life had he been allowed to grow up.

As Teddy looks back at his life, there’s a powerful sense of melancholy rather than nostalgia for “the good ole days”. He reflects on the many friends and family members he’s lost, thinking of them fondly and often, but he never falls into the trap of wishing he could go back again. He remembers — the horrors of war, the sudden and tragic loss of life, the maddening sense of futility — and he knows too well that most others do not. While on a visit to a military cemetery with his grandson, Teddy reflects on how the younger generations have no concept of what total war was really like. “They had been brought up without shadows and seemed determined to create their own.” I’ve often had a similar thought over the last few years, with people’s willingness to forego vaccinations for their kids and to embrace openly nationalist political candidates. Is our collective memory so damaged that we’re willing to risk taking such huge steps backwards?

I have no way of knowing how A God in Ruins stands up on its own, but I’m glad I read Life After Life first, if only that it gave me the full, glorious experience. Atkinson has given us a massive gift with this pair of books, taking what could have been an overwrought gimmick and crafting it into a thoughtful, artistic masterpiece.

(This review was originally posted as part of Cannonball Read 10: Sticking It to Cancer, One Book at a Time.)
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review 2018-10-24 00:00
A God in Ruins
A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson Their names written on water. Or scorched into the earth. Or atomized into the air. Legion.

Have you ever read a book that you hated to put down but also hated to keep reading because you couldn’t bear the thought of reaching the end? That’s how I felt reading Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, the companion to her brilliant Life After Life

Unlike Ursula in Life After Life, her younger brother Teddy only gets one shot at life. He still becomes a bomber pilot during World War II, still gets shot down over Germany, but this time he survives, captured and imprisoned for the last 18 months of the war. When he returns home, he marries childhood sweetheart Nancy and sets out to live a quiet, uncomplaining life as an antidote to his horrific experiences of the war, both on the ground and in the air, which take up a good portion of this book as a counterpoint to Ursula’s accounts of the Blitz of London in the first book. Nothing really turns out the way he might have hoped, but he holds his very best stiff-upper-lip to the very end even as he struggles with not knowing whether he’s done the right thing: during the war, in his marriage, with his daughter and grandchildren. 

Atkinson gives her readers a lot of little Easter eggs from the first book, and many of the characters have returned, though aside from Teddy and Nancy, they’ve been mostly pushed into the background. Thankfully, Ursula makes plenty of appearances, as do his mother Sylvia and aunt Izzie, and we even get to read some of Izzie’s The Adventures of Augustus, her book series based on young Teddy. These books-within-a-book are a running theme throughout as Teddy wonders what the eternally young Augustus would have done with his life had he been allowed to grow up.

As Teddy looks back at his life, there’s a powerful sense of melancholy rather than nostalgia for “the good ole days”. He reflects on the many friends and family members he’s lost, thinking of them fondly and often, but he never falls into the trap of wishing he could go back again. He remembers — the horrors of war, the sudden and tragic loss of life, the maddening sense of futility — and he knows too well that most others do not. While on a visit to a military cemetery with his grandson, Teddy reflects on how the younger generations have no concept of what total war was really like. “They had been brought up without shadows and seemed determined to create their own.” I’ve often had a similar thought over the last few years, with people’s willingness to forego vaccinations for their kids and to embrace openly nationalist political candidates. Is our collective memory so damaged that we’re willing to risk taking such huge steps backwards?

I have no way of knowing how A God in Ruins stands up on its own, but I’m glad I read Life After Life first, if only that it gave me the full, glorious experience. Atkinson has given us a massive gift with this pair of books, taking what could have been an overwrought gimmick and crafting it into a thoughtful, artistic masterpiece.

(This review was originally posted as part of Cannonball Read 10: Sticking It to Cancer, One Book at a Time.)
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