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review 2018-04-23 21:11
The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić
The Bridge on the Drina - Ivo Andrić,Lovett F. Edwards,William Hardy McNeill

This is a sort of fictionalized history, which the author referred to as a “chronicle” rather than a novel. It spans about 350 years in the history of Višegrad, Bosnia, telling the story of the town and its Ottoman-era bridge from the 16th century to World War I. The book dips into the lives of individual characters, usually for vignettes of a chapter or less, but focuses more on the general feeling or changes in the town and the reaction of townspeople in general to key events than on particular characters. There are some astute character sketches; Andrić seems to have a good understanding of human nature. But overall it is a sweeping history told much more in narrative summary than specific scenes, and the town and bridge themselves, rather than particular families or plot threads, provide continuity between chapters.

It is a well-written (or well-translated) book, though a dense and slow read that felt much longer than its 300 pages. There’s a melancholy atmosphere throughout, with time passing and empires marching on indifferent to the fates of individuals. Readers should know that in the first 60 pages there is a horrifically graphic impalement scene that I did not need in my head and that a few years from now may be all I remember about the book. I persevered only after learning that there are no other graphic torture scenes, though death is a frequent occurrence throughout.

It’s also worth pointing out that, although to English-speakers this may seem like timeless storytelling, Andrić – a Bosnian Serb who ultimately made his home in Belgrade – is a controversial figure in Bosnia, and some see the book as advancing an anti-Bosniak political agenda. To me, as an outside reader, he seems to treat the Muslim and Serb populations of Višegrad both with humanity and fairly evenhandedly, with the important caveat that the Muslim population is referred to as “Turks” and “Turkish” throughout. Based on a bit of online research, this is inaccurate: the Bosnians were Slavs who had their own Bosnian Kingdom prior to their conquest by the Ottoman Empire in 1463, after which most of the population converted to Islam. But a reader ignorant of the region’s history might take Andrić’s terminology to indicate that Bosnia’s Muslims were Turkish colonists or transplants and that the Serbs were the original population. It occurs to me now that the impalement might be another subtly political decision: no such detailed brutality is described from any rulers other than the Ottomans, and Andrić imbues this scene with the maximum body horror, at a time when graphic violence in media was likely much less common than it is now (the book was published in 1945). Surely he knew how much this would stick out in readers’ minds.

Overall, the book did teach me something of the history of the Balkans, and presents a plausible chronicle of how history was experienced by everyday people over the course of hundreds of years. While I struggled a bit to get through it, I wouldn’t discourage readers who enjoy this sort of thing.

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review 2018-04-23 14:39
A Piece of the World
A Piece of the World: A Novel - Christina Baker Kline
I waited till I finished reading this novel to view the portrait, Christina’s World, which surrounded this novel. I had my own version of what this painting entailed as I read the novel but as I viewed the actual image, the landscape felt more void and lonely than I had anticipated. Christina’s image was ideal as she laid out on the harsh grass and the homestead’s deteriorating condition completed the print.
 
I felt for Christina throughout the novel as she stumbled to keep up. She kept her struggles inside as her determined and steadfast attitude pushed her through each day. Christina felt unattractive and when you added on her leg condition that brought on her clumsiness and her constant stumbling, Christina had a negative view of herself. She was smart, her teacher had told her so, but living on the homestead she didn’t feel it. Her legs cause her constant pain yet when her parents try to get her medical help, she refused it. It’s rough out on the homestead without any modern conveniences yet Christina doesn’t complain, she does what is expected of her. When all her friends start dating, getting married and having children, Christina imagines such a time but somehow, she knows her life is on her family’s estate. I was sad to see Christina, day-in and day-out laboring away for her family and only taking time for herself if there was any, at the end of the day.
 
Andy Wyeth comes to Christina’s homestead as he wants to use the surrounding area in his paintings. Andy becomes a constant figure in the household, using the upstairs bedroom for his studio. I enjoyed the relationship that Andy and Christina develop through the years. They discover how the two of them are alike and their conversations become personal and relaxed. Andy gets married and Christina finds a man who fills her heart. She wonders how Walton will fit into her world as their worlds are so different. Is this her opportunity to leave the estate and start her own life?
 
I found myself absorbed into Christina's life. I wanted so much for her. When her teacher extended an opportunity to her, I was hoping that this would be where she would succeed and she would be off. I would only hope. I loved Christina’s relationships in this novel. They weren’t tight but she had a nice variety where I learned a bit more about her from different individuals. I really enjoyed the author’s writing, there was this, “this is how it is” feeling about it and I brought my own emotions to the table as I read. I really enjoyed how the painting was used in this novel and I am glad I didn’t look at it until I finished reading the novel. I think my parents had a copy of this painting when I was growing up, hanging in the hallway. You can read the interpretation of this painting, invent your own, or read this novel and apply it to this painting, it’s up to you. Super novel to read.
 
I won a copy of this novel from a Goodreads Giveaway. Thank you, William Morrow, - Harper Collins Publishers for this novel!

 

 

 

 

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text 2018-04-23 07:10
World Book Day 2018

 

 

Happy World Book Day 2018

 

 

To read more about this, see World Book Day!!

 

or

 

 

 

Please share a piece of your favorite book for 10 minutes with a friend, or someone you love.  Share the joy of books and reading.  Literacy is life.  Nothing you can't do if you know how to read. 

 

Celebrate!!  

 

Today, is World Book and Copyright Day 2018!!  Enjoy!

 

https://giraffesocialmedia.co.uk/world-book-day-2018-our-top-picks/

 

http://savingtowardabetterlife.com/2018/04/world-book-day-deals/

 

 

 

 

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2018-04-22 22:38
Reading progress update: I've read 318 out of 518 pages.
Sophie's World - Paulette Møller,Jostein Gaarder

 

I'm over 50% done with this book and I'm surprised with the twist. Sophie and the others are characters in a story read by Hilde. It reminds of the twist with The Lego Movie.

(spoiler show)
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review 2018-04-20 16:02
Forbidden Bread by Erica Johnson Debeljak
Forbidden Bread - Erica Johnson Debeljak

This is an interesting memoir by a former New York financial analyst who moved to the newly-formed Slovenia in 1993 for love. I read it because it’s set primarily in Slovenia, and in that respect was rewarded: it provides not just a vibrant snapshot of a particular place and time, but information about culture and language and history. I learned more about the most recent war in the Balkans from this book than from any other that I’ve read. As a memoir and especially as a love story, though, I found this a bit lacking.

This book is mostly about Erica Johnson Debeljak’s first year in Slovenia, but it begins by tracing her relationship with her future husband, Aleš, in New York, and the final chapter, set in 2008, puts her experiences in context and reflects on how dramatically the country has changed. An outsider’s perspective gives her a sharp eye for detail, but being married to a local and living in a country that was not a destination for westerners at the time means the author isn’t a typical expat: her in-laws, who grew up in a small village and lived most of their lives under communism, are involved in her life, and she lives in a working-class area and spends time with Aleš’s rural extended family. She even gives birth at a local hospital, where the judgment of whether a childbirth is successful seems to depend mostly on the mother’s making no noise (epidurals aren’t even mentioned, though surely they must have been common in New York by 1993?).

But the book is rather lacking in emotion for the first 2/3 or so, up until the author’s decision to have a child. Perhaps she really did take moving to a newly-formed country bordered by war in stride, but this doesn’t let readers get to know her very well. The emotion snaps into focus toward the end, as pregnancy and childbirth put her in conflict with traditional Slovenian beliefs and practices (this is apparently a country where people wouldn’t open car windows in the hot summer because All Drafts Are Deadly), and as having a child brings home the fact that her decision is permanent.

There was something oddly unsatisfying about the author’s personal story, though, because her depiction of her relationship with her husband is so charmless. He’s a renowned womanizer, and their early relationship seems to revolve entirely around sex. While she’s clearly pleased with the sex and seems to find him excitingly exotic, that doesn’t explain why she would keep pursuing – ultimately across an ocean – a man who routinely pushes her away, insisting the relationship won’t work out. A few months into their marriage, she’s pleasantly surprised that he’s been a good husband, because it turns out her greatest fear in moving to Slovenia was that he’d cheat on her within a few months. I’ve seen memoirists depict relationships with exes with more charm and sweetness than this author brings to the marriage for which she gave up a career and moved across the world. In the end I wasn’t sure whether to attribute the lack of romance to secret unhappiness on the author’s part, or simply to her storytelling: perhaps she was afraid of seeming sentimental or felt the romance was self-evident. But she didn’t provide enough to make me root for them as a couple or understand what drew either of them so strongly to the other and to this relationship.

At any rate, I did enjoy book for the author’s depiction of her life in Slovenia, and even looked forward to reading it. It’s accessible and interesting and I learned from it. It is a good choice for anyone interested in Slovenia, though perhaps not ideal for those seeking a love story.

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