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review 2018-02-09 02:16
My Crazy Century by Ivan Klima
My Crazy Century - Ivan Klíma

There are two kinds of memoirs. The first is literary memoirs, which you read because the story they tell is interesting or because they’re renowned as good books. You usually don’t know anything about the author beforehand, and don’t need to. The other kind is celebrity memoirs, which you read because you are already interested in the author. Because these books have a built-in audience rather than having to contend for readership with all other books on a literary footing, and because their appeal has more to do with learning facts about a celebrity than getting a great story, their quality often suffers.

This book reads like a celebrity memoir, with the added disadvantage that I’d never heard of Ivan Klima before picking it up. Klima is a Czech writer who has had some interesting life experiences: he and his family were in an internment camp during World War II due to their Jewish heritage, and he went on to become first a Communist party member and later a banned writer under the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, a country he refused to abandon despite petty harassment from the government. But the concentration camp portion only takes up 15 pages of this 534-page book, which turned out to be a dryly-written tome. Klima spends a lot of pages talking about his career: name-dropping writers he edited or was friends with, providing long plot summaries of stories and plays he wrote, and describing trips he took abroad and conferences he attended and who said what in their speeches. This is the part that felt most like a celebrity memoir, because it would be interesting mostly to dedicated fans of Klima who have a Who’s Who of 20th century Czech writers in their heads. If you don't, there's nothing in Klima's descriptions of them to distinguish his friends from one another.

Klima’s other major topic is the political climate at the time, but in a narrow sense: he was intensely interested in those regulations affecting writers and art, as well as the speeches and articles exchanged between the regime and its critics. He quotes portions of proclamations, opinion pieces, and speeches at length, including his own. But it would be hard to put together a picture of the times from this book, and given that he originally wrote it for a Czech audience, I’m not sure that was his intent. When the Velvet Revolution overthrowing Communism happens within the last few pages, he doesn’t name it and it was unclear to me exactly what was happening and why. Try Street Without a Name for a far more vivid picture of life under Communism in Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, while some of the details of life at the time are interesting, the book contains little in the way of feelings, insight into those around him, and reflections on the author’s personal life beyond the bare facts. He mentions cheating on his wife, without any reflection on what other than the other woman’s attractiveness caused him to do so, and informs the reader that he and his wife then confessed affairs to each other, at which point, “We put aside our infidelities, at least from our conversations” – and that’s all he has to say about the subject. Later there’s another affair, equally opaque to the reader, after which he again confesses and concludes with “But I do not intend to compose a chronicle of my love life and my infidelities. My wish is not to draw my loved ones into my tale; it’s enough that I drew them into real life.” It’s a bare memoir that doesn’t draw in the writer’s loved ones, like it or not. But beyond that, if he doesn’t want to write about the subject, why bring it up at all? So I’m back to the celebrity memoir explanation: he appears to feel a need to include the facts of situations in his life, even without corresponding examination of feelings or relationships. But, not being an Ivan Klima fan, I don’t care about the bare facts. I was looking for a story, and didn’t find it.

Then there are the essays. The book ends with 118 pages comprising 18 pieces on various geopolitical topics. These read like the opinion papers of an undergraduate political science student, speaking in broad generalities and without fresh insight. For instance, he writes an entire essay on the fact that youth are more susceptible to extremism because they are less invested in the existing system and more naïve, idealistic and excitable than older adults. (Genius!) He leans heavily on broad generalities about extremism, attempting to apply his experience with Nazism and Communism to modern-day terrorism at every opportunity. This creates the impression that he believes he needs to offer insight into terrorism to keep his book “relevant” for modern readers. But he’s never encountered terrorism and has no insights that any other commentator couldn’t offer.

Overall, I found this work dry, impersonal, unnecessarily long, and a slog to read, despite its promising subject matter. Somehow, although it’s roughly twice the length of the average American memoir, it is abridged from the two-volume Czech version; I can only assume that Klima’s fans are dedicated, at least in his home country, and be thankful that the English-language publisher chose to abridge it.

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url 2016-07-29 16:04
Why Libraries Are Everywhere in the Czech Republic

The library at the Strahov monastery in Prague.

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review 2014-08-11 09:05
Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1) by Laini Taylor
Daughter of Smoke & Bone - Laini Taylor

Genre: Paranormal Romance


Year Published: 2011


Number of Pages: 418 pages


Date Read: 8/10/2014


Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company




“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”


And judging by this quote, we pretty much know how the tone of this book will turn out.


Now, I have been hearing so many good things about Laini Taylor’s highly acclaimed “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” series and even though it took me forever to just check this series out because I was reading so many other books at the time it was released, I finally got around to reading the first book in the series and I was absolutely blown away!


Karou was an ordinary young teenager who attended an art school in Prague and is best friends with Zuzana who shares many secrets with her. However, there are a few things that are odd about Karou such as the fact that her hair is mysteriously blue, she constantly makes wishes that come true and she happens to live with a group of monsters known as chimeras! Karou was extremely happy with her life until one day, a terrible thing happened where a group of angels started putting black handprints on doorways that sealed the way to other worlds and caused Karou to be separated from her father figure, Brimstone. Now, not only does Karou have to find a way to get back to Brimstone, but she also ends up confronting a mysterious angel named Akiva who starts reawakening old memories that Karou has forgotten about and may be the key in revealing to Karou who she really is.


Wow…just wow…I never would have thought that I would enjoy this book as much as I had when I first heard about it! Laini Taylor has brilliantly created a story about a forbidden love between two enemies and the consequences that war has on all the characters involved. Laini Taylor’s writing was so beautiful and intense that I found myself mesmerized by the exotic and strange world that the characters inhabited, which is filled with angels and chimeras that are both beautiful and frightening. I really loved the characters themselves as they were extremely well written, especially Karou and Zuzana as they were interesting and brought so much humor and drama to the story. Karou was such an awesome character as she is shown to be an independent and strong heroine who has a positive outlook on life, despite the dangerous world she lives in. I also loved the fact that Karou has strange tendencies to her personality, such as having blue hair and being able to wish for anything she wants by using her necklace beads and that makes her an interesting character since I have always loved characters who are often bizarre. Zuzana was another great character in this book as she brings so much comic relief to the story and I really enjoyed her friendship with Karou as their conversations about dating boys and how they fare in the dangerous world they live in was really interesting to listen to! Probably one of the most controversial characters that had showed up in this book (controversial as in the character who really blown my mind in their actions) was Akiva who truly changed things up in the story once he arrived on the scene. When Akiva arrived, I was always wondering to myself about whether or not Akiva would reveal Karou’s true nature to her and what kind of consequences would arise from Akiva revealing Karou’s true identity. I was also interested in Akiva’s personality as he has a charming personality and yet, he can be just as dangerous and ruthless as a demon whenever he is fighting his foes.


Karou and Akiva


For anyone who do not like scary moments in any book, this book has many moments where Karou and her friends are in real danger and there are many frightening monsters that chase after them.


Overall, “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” is an excellent book that anyone who loves paranormal romance should definitely get into! You will NOT regret this in the least!




Oh my goodness the ENDING! When I read the ending of this book, everything that I had come to know about these characters up until that point had changed everything about the story! I mean, I have never read an ending in a book that was so mind blowing since “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and because of this ending, I am definitely going to read the second book “Days of Blood and Starlight!”


Review is also on: Rabbit Ears Book Blog


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review 2013-08-28 00:00
Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer: The World's Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor
A Century of Wisdom: Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World's Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor - Caroline Stoessinger,Linda Korn,Václav Havel

Look at the complete title of this book. The book is more about Alice Herz-Sommer's life philosophy than the events that shaped that philosophy. She is the oldest living holocaust survivor. Yes, she is still living and will be 110 in November 2013. She and her son survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp. She has met many famous musicians, conductors, composers, philosophers, authors and politicians. She speaks of their accomplishments and how she came to know each of them. Kafka she met when still a child. He was a friend of her older sister's husband. Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, and Rainer Maria Rilke were friends of her mother. Golda Meir, Arthur Rubinstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Isaac Stern came to her informal concerts at home when she lived in Israel, and she offered piano lessons to teach Gold Meir. But honestly, it is more that she brushed shoulders with these people rather than that they were her very close friends.

She was a fantastic pianist. Music was the central theme of her life - always! Her love for music really shines through. Music is not just something she enjoys; it is something that is important and vital to all life. That is what this book says AND that one must face life with optimism.

Optimism. She refused to even talk about the years in Theresienstadt. Having survived she looked forward rather than backward. She never let those years be discussed at home after the war when she was raising her son. Complaining she frowned upon. Laughter and music were the medicine for all ills. The book is filled with lots of wise lines.....but although most all of us will agree on her wisdom and sage statements, it is only when you look at a particular event that one can determine the correct way of behaving. I will give only one example of what I am referring too. Some children benefit from talking about the difficult experiences they have gone through. Avoiding a topic is not always helpful. Talk is necessary for some people and in some situations. So generalizations, that we all agree on, are less interesting than figuring out what to do in a particular situation. The main emphasis of this book is her life philosophy, but there is no discussion of when and where and how to put these principles into practice. Do you see what bothered me?

I liked learning about her personal experiences in Theresienstadt. I am glad they were included in the book and not avoided. Many of her friends did not even know she was a holocaust survivor! That is the extent to which she refused to speak of those years.

I like the woman very much. I respect her. My rating is a judgment of the book, not the person. The book hops from one time to another, from one subject to another. There is a chapter on her friends, but we are told about their wonderful accomplishments more than about their relationship with Alice.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Linda Korn. It was clearly spoken, but in a sweet tone of admiration that was not to my liking. She cannot do an Irish brogue, although she tries in a few lines spoken by the concierge of Alice's apartment building. Some of the names, and there were lots mentioned, I could not decipher. That is a clear advantage of a paper book.

For me, the most interesting parts about this book were her Theresienstadt memories and the parts about Kafka and Spinoza. I am very glad I have met Alice Herz-Sommer.

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review 2009-12-11 00:00
Prague and Czech Republic 2006 (Rick Steves)
Rick Steves' Prague & the Czech Republic 2006 (Rick Steves' City and Regional Guides) - Rick Steves,Honza Vihan This was the first 'Rick Steve's' guidebook I'd used - and it will
probably be the last. It was not completely lacking useful
information, but every time I looked something up in it, I found
myself aggravated by Mr. Steve's arrogantly stated personal opinions.
I think a guidebook should portray the facts, and leave it to the
traveler to decide what they find "boring" or "worthwhile."
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