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review 2017-05-12 10:26
The Day of the Owl
The Day of the Owl - Anthony Oliver,George Scialabba,Archibald Colquhoun,Leonardo Sciascia

Mainlanders are decent enough but just don’t understand things.

I came across Sciascia when browsing through the Sicily travel guide last week, which recommended The Day of the Owl (alongside Lampedusa's The Leopard) as quintessential Sicilian reads. 

 

The Day of the Owl begins with a murder that takes places in broad daylight in a town square. There is an abundance of witnesses but nobody claims to have seen anything or know anything significant that could lead the police to the killer.

 

And so the investigation, led by a "Northerner", begins to unravel the complicated net of obligation, honor, and lies that surrounds the killing and tries to describe the organisation of the mafia, at a time when its existence was still being denied and kept out of public view. 

 

Sciascia wrote this in 1961 (8 years before Puzo would publish The Godfather), and although the novella is only 100+ pages in length, it has the depth of a full length novel, and leaves behind an unsettling notion of how big an influence the organisation must have had (or still has?) on the lives of people who are surrounded by the web of silence and obligations. 

 

This was a fascinating read.

 

 

Corleone (picture found on the www), the original HQ of the mafia.

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review 2016-03-02 18:00
Vagabundin des Meeres / Vagabond of the Sea
Vagabundin des Meeres - Ella Maillart

This is not Ella Maillart's first book but details the early part of her life. Before she set out to explore the globe on land, Maillart worked as a language teacher in an English girls' school but longed to follow her passion of sailing. When she unexpectedly was offered a position as a cook and general help on a private yacht, she jumped at the opportunity. Of course, she didn't stay a cook and general assistant for long. She was an experienced sailor already and quickly became a vital member of the deck crew.

 

I enjoyed reading about Maillart's life before her travels to Asia, but a lot of the descriptions meant nothing to me as I have little knowledge about sailing.

It was great to read tho that for all her gumption and adventurous spirit, Maillart also describes her doubts about working in an environment in the 1920s that was almost exclusively staffed by men.

When reading about her later travels, it is quite easy to forget that what she set out to do really was extraordinary and it is just as easy to presume that she was so full of self-confidence that she did not even consider herself breaking any social norms. 

 

This was not the case. Maillart was quite self-conscious in her youth, but her passion for living life to her own liking was stronger than any parental advice or social restrictions.

It was also refreshing to read about the acceptance she found among fellow sailors and fishermen during those early adventures.

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review 2014-04-04 20:07
Live and Let Die
Live And Let Die - Ian Fleming

When a few years ago I was told that my work was sending me to New Orleans, my immediate need was to find a copy of Live and Let Die, because, well, a part of the film is set there and the surrounding swamps of Louisiana - and I like a Bond story.

 

So, I got comfortable in my seat on the cross-Atlantic flight and opened my book. A few chapters into the story it suddenly dawned on me... 

The book is totally different from the film and there was not going to be a connection with New Orleans. Instead, we follow Bond on an adventure that leads from New York, to Florida, to Jamaica.

 

Live and Let Die is a weird story. By weird I do mean that on one hand the plot of the story - if you are familiar with the films - cuts short many of the plots reused by Cubby Broccoli in the screen adventures. 

I won't go into details and add spoilers, but having read this one and loved it - plotwise - I now fully understand why I loved Licence to Kill as a film. It is dark.

 

The other weird - and somewhat expected yet still disappointing - aspect of this installment on the series is that this is the most chauvinist one of the Bond novels that I have read so far. Casino Royale, the predecessor to Live and Let Die was not half as offensive and the novels that followed after it (as far as I have read them) also are less extreme. But this one? Hmmmm. I seriously cannot recommend it to anyone who is easily offended.

 

I read one review, which proclaimed that Live and Let Die was themed on the emancipation of African Americans. Oh, really? I'm not sure that the reviewer gets sarcasm, but it sure is not what you'd think of as emancipation if the aspiration of Bond's nemesis is to be "absolutely pre-eminent" in his chosen profession as a criminal. 

 

Besides the cringe-worthy quantities of racial slur, this is the book where Bond expresses his views of the female lead character - Solitaire - as his "prize" and that this is the only way that he is able to see her. Hmmm.

 

Ok, so why did I still love the book? Because the chauvinist parts are written so badly that it is just ridiculous. It made me laugh.

Also, there are quite few parts of the book that are absolutely beautiful and those are the descriptions of marine life. There are quite a few scenes that take part under water and I would not have missed reading these sections for anything. Fleming had just as much of a gift for writing about nature as he did for making his hero look a preposterous twit: 

 

'Undertaker's Wind' though Bond and smiled wryly. So it would have to be tonight. The only chance, and the conditions were nearly perfect. Except that the shark repellent stuff would not arrive in time. And that was only a refinement. There was no excuse. This was what he had travelled two thousand miles and five deaths to do. And yet he shivered at the prospect of the dark adventure under the sea that he had already put off in his mind until tomorrow. Suddenly he loathed and feared the sea and everything in it. The millions of tiny antennae that would stir and point as he went by that night, the eyes that would wake and watch him, the pulses that would miss for the hundredth of a second and the go beating quietly on, the jelly tendrils that would grope and reach for him, as blind in the light as in the dark." 

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