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review 2018-03-15 17:52
Victoria & Abdul / Shrabani Basu
Victoria And Abdul: The True Story Of The Queens' Closest Confidant - Shrabani Basu

The tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly found himself a personal attendant to the Empress of India herself. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queen's teacher, or Munshi, and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. Devastated by the death of John Brown, her Scottish gillie, the queen had at last found his replacement. But her intense and controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near-revolt in the royal household. Victoria & Abdul examines how a young Indian Muslim came to play a central role at the heart of the Empire, and his influence over the queen at a time when independence movements in the sub-continent were growing in force. Yet, at its heart, it is a tender love story between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen, a relationship that survived the best attempts to destroy it.


I saw the film based on this book last year and really enjoyed it, but I had to wonder how much the screenwriters had fiddled with the facts to make a more engaging film. When I saw that this year’s PopSugar challenge included a category called “Book made into a movie that you’ve already seen,” I immediately knew which book I would be reading.

I was grateful for the author’s footnotes and references—she certainly did her research. I think we all feel we “know” about Queen Victoria, but I found I really only had a general impression of the woman. I had no idea until seeing the film that she had Indian people serving in her household or that she had become close friends with one of them.

In many ways, this is a story of a lonely woman who finds a friend and a new interest in life. I would agree with the author, that Her Maj was a romantic at heart and the exoticness of India (in comparison to Britain) was what drew her to Abdul Karim and his culture. I was impressed by her devotion to the study of Urdu and her proficiency in that language at the end of her life—she got a late start, but made excellent headway on a language that was far different than others she was used to.

As Abdul became one of her favourites, it was inevitable that he would become the target of people who were jealous. The Queen believed much of the rivalry to be a result of racism, and I would have to agree with her assessment. If Abdul had been a white man (like John Brown), there would still have been resentment, but not the volcanic rage that seemed to permeate the Royal Household regarding this Indian man. It must have been a very lonely life for Abdul, as well, with the other Indians begrudging him his relationship with the Queen, not to mention the hatred of the Caucasian members of staff.

Regarding the film versus the book, I think the film stayed pretty true to the facts. There were a few events that were left out (you can’t include everything) and a few things where the order of events may have been slightly changed, but it remained very true to the feel of the book. Overall, I would say that I enjoyed the film more.

An interesting window into the life of an intriguing woman.

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review 2018-03-12 14:27
The Librarian of Auschwitz / Antonio Iturbe
The Librarian of Auschwitz - Antonio G. Iturbe,Lilit Zekulin Thwaites

Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust.
Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.


I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but I must admit that I was hoping for more. The story itself is fascinating and that’s what kept me reading. The writing was pedestrian, which was a disappointment. Still, I would recommend the book to those looking for an inspirational story concerning Auschwitz.

The narrative closely follows Dita Kraus, a 14 year old girl in the Auschwitz family camp and her experiences as the keeper and protector of eight forbidden books. I was interested that one of them was a history text by H.G. Wells, as I have been cataloguing a large collection of Wells’ writing during my work hours. I was also glad to see that they had several people that they designated as “living books” because they could tell certain stories (one woman could recount The Count of Monte Cristo). The concept of living books has recently been used at our city’s public library, so I was thrilled to see an example of the history of the practice.

If this time period and setting are interests of yours, I would recommend this book.

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review 2018-02-26 22:31
The Story of my Life / Helen Keller
The Story of My Life - Helen Keller

This is my “Celebrity Memoir” book to fill the Book Riot Read Harder challenge for 2018.  Helen Keller was rather famous in her day, being the first deaf-blind person to earn a BA degree.  I believe she is still admired by many in the deaf community.


I don’t suppose it is surprising that she was an avid reader, once her teacher Miss Sullivan managed to make the breakthrough that allowed Helen’s education to begin.  It was an activity that she could pursue on her own at her own speed and, like all of us, gain information on subjects that intrigued her.


I was surprised by how much she loved poetry, however.  For me poetry is very much about hearing it—I often read it aloud in order to properly appreciate it.  Since Helen was unable to hear it, she must have had a very sophisticated sense of the rhythm of the words, probably seeing many more nuances in it than I do.  I was also amazed at the number of languages that she managed to master—German, French, Latin, Greek—and I wish I had the same facility with languages.  I struggle to maintain my little bit of French and Spanish!


I couldn’t help but notice how much the natural world and companion animals were part of her life.  The smells of the garden or the seaside were ways of opening up her world and her pet cats, dogs and horses provided unjudgemental companionship.


I had hoped that this was the story of Ms. Keller that I read during my childhood, but it was a different work.  I think the book that I was familiar with was based on the life of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, and I hope to track it down some day for a reminiscent read—I remember reading it many times as a child and loving it.

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review 2018-02-03 05:59
Bill Lambert: World War I Flying Ace - Samuel J. Wilson

Samuel J. Wilson through this book has brought back to life Bill Lambert (1894-1982), an American fighter pilot who had flown with the British during the First World War. Lambert, who emerged from the war, as America's second ranking ace, had fallen into obscurity in the early postwar years (for a host of reasons, mostly owing to his desire to put the war firmly behind him) and wouldn't be "discovered" by the general public til the publication of his wartime memoir "Combat Report" in the early 1970s. ("Combat Report" - which I read several months ago - offers a fine, gripping account of Lambert's experiences with No. 24 Squadron on the Western Front between March and August 1918.)

The book traces Lambert's life from his wartime experiences (which led to a nervous breakdown which profoundly affected the rest of his life), to his brief stint as a barnstormer and airmail pilot in 1919 and 1920 (which show a Lambert that may surprise most readers), a salesman, a small businessman and inventor in his hometown (Ironton, Ohio), his service as an officer in the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) during the Second World War, and his later life as a First World War aviation artist, author, and sought-after luminary. 

My own fault with the book is its glaring typos, which somewhat detract from the quality of the text. 

In all likelihood, "BILL LAMBERT: WORLD WAR I FLYING ACE" is a book that will have greater appeal to aviation enthusiasts and history buffs than the casual reader. Nevertheless, it is a book worth reading to get a sense of a world that no longer exists.

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review 2018-01-16 19:49
In the Land of Invented Languages / Arika Okrent
In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language - Arika Okrent

Here is the captivating story of humankind’s enduring quest to build a better language—and overcome the curse of Babel. Just about everyone has heard of Esperanto, which was nothing less than one man’s attempt to bring about world peace by means of linguistic solidarity. And every Star Trek fan knows about Klingon. But few people have heard of Babm, Blissymbolics, Loglan (not to be confused with Lojban), and the nearly nine hundred other invented languages that represent the hard work, high hopes, and full-blown delusions of so many misguided souls over the centuries. With intelligence and humor, Arika Okrent has written a truly original and enlightening book for all word freaks, grammar geeks, and plain old language lovers.


  I think I would really enjoy sitting down for a cup of coffee and a discussion with this author! She is a linguist and linguistics is a favourite subject of mine. She knows a thing or two about the Library of Congress classification schedules too (or at least the P section of them, linguistics & languages), which appeals to my inner cataloguing nerd. Plus, she is just interested in words and their history and in the psychology of people who strive to build better languages.

I was absolutely gobsmacked at how many artificial languages are lurking out there and how often that particular bee seems to get into someone’s bonnet! Mostly, the creators seems to be altruists—Esperanto was going to be the language that allowed us all to understand one another and prevent future wars. Many of these language developers were hoping to express “pure” concepts and keep prejudice and politics out of things. Unfortunately for them, language just doesn’t work that way! One of the best uses of language is politicking! Also unfortunate is the tendency of these men (and I think we can say that it’s mostly men who attempt this) to be unable to let go and let their languages run free, to change during regular use. Their rigid attempts to control the people using their languages seemed to negate any positive uses for their creations.

I was amused as the author’s type-A, gung-ho attempt to learn Klingon. If I had been at that particular conference, I would have been right at her side competing to my heart’s content! I loved that in her author note at the end of the volume, she listed both PhDs and her Klingon 1st level pin as her accomplishments.

What I found a bit freaky: I returned to work on Monday (having read the book on the weekend) and the very first volume that I picked up to catalogue was written in Esperanto! (I’ve been working on a big collection of materials by and about H.G. Wells and am busy with translations right now.) That little piece of synchronicity was amusing.


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