The Spy by Paulo Coelho

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Mata Hari arrived in Paris penniless and leaving behind a baby daughter. Before long she was famous for her shocking dance recitals, reputation as a courtesan and her fashions.  But with the war came fear. Approached to become a spy she tries to use her position and fame to become a double agent. Then, in 1917 she is arrested.

From her cell she writes a letter to her daughter, telling her the true story of her life. A life lived as fully and sometimes as foolishly as possible.

Mata Hari has long been a person that others find deeply fascinating, who can resist the mix of sex and spying? Combine that with a well known author like Paulo Coelho and that’s best-seller material right there.

But is it worth the money?

Well, I found this a quick and fairly enjoyable read. Coelho has a knack of simplifying even the most complex topics so that this book could be read by someone who had never heard of Mata Hari and who knew nothing about World War One.

The book paints a vivid and colourful picture, it is full of warmth and all the flaws and follies of humanity.

However when I finished it I felt just a little dissatisfied. Maybe it was a little over simplified, maybe it was just the length, it just felt like a dimension was missing.

Worth it for paperback prices, but I couldn’t in all honesty suggest you pay hardback price for it.

3.5 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

imageWhen the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 it killed Amaterasu Takahashi’s daughter  Yuko and grandson Hideo. If she’d been on time to meet Yuko that day it would have killed her too.

For years she has blamed herself, but all that time she has also blamed someone else. A friend of her husband, a doctor who caused a horrible rift between her and Yuko.

Now she is a widow living in America, but then a  horribly burnt man claiming to be Hideo turns up on her doorstep and she is forced to revisit the past to discover if he really is who he says he is. If he is how is she to live with herself now and what is she to tell him about his mother?

This stunning book made was on the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction long list, I have to say I have no idea why it didn’t make the shortlist! Although I haven’t read every book on that list two that I did read that made the shortlist that were nowhere near as good as this!

I admit I’m a sucker for for poignant stories of parenthood, but this is so much more than that. It side-eyes Japan’s actions before and during the war without ever apologising or justifying the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It faces the horror of the bombing and the aftermath with eyes wide open and unblinking. I’ve honestly never read anything that approaches it quite so honestly, it doesn’t glorify it yet it doesn’t gloss over it either.

It also examines the myriad of relations between men and women and looks at what is forgiveable and who is redeemable. And of course there is the ghost of hope from the past and how to reopen old wounds in the hope that doing so will bring better healing. The writing is beautiful but functional, which suits the main character down to the ground. Definitely worth reading.

5 Bites

 

 

 

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

narrow-roadWinner of The Man Booker Prize 2014, this extraordinary novel on the surface is about Dorrigo Evans, an army surgeon who finds himself in command of several hundred fellow POWs forced into hard labour to build the notorious Burma Railway between Bangkok and Rangoon in WWII. Flanagan’s approach to telling the Story of Dorrigo turns the novel into much much more than just a run of the mill WWII saga. We see vignettes not only from Dorrigo’s life before, after, and during the Second World War but also snippets from those around him- Amy, the great love he leaves to go to war, his fellow POWs, the Japanese Army officers who oversee Dorrigo’s section of ‘The Line’. It is, as the marketing hype suggests, “a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.”

One of the best things about this book is that although it is fiction, it is based within a history that is vehemently real. Knowing that, although these specific events didn’t take place, the bravery, strength, cowardice and evil depicted really happened adds an extra dimension to the tale.
Getting inside the heads of the Japanese and Korean soldiers blurred the lines between what I believed to be the established truths behind this history and ripped apart my black and white approach to this era. Shades of grey fill the page with humanity and the unfairness of history.

This is Richard Flanagan’s tribute to his father who was an Australian POW on the notorious Burma Railway. Richard’s father was on the railway with the famous Weary Dunlop who, in the words of one of his men, became “a lighthouse of sanity in a universe of madness and suffering”. When asked if Dorrigo is inspired by Weary, Flanagan emphatically responds that “Dunlop is too extraordinary a character for fiction.” For such an extraordinary book with such extraordinary characters, that says so much.

Flanagan’s style of writing, particularly some of his grammatical choices, and his approach to chronology take some getting used to but you are quickly swept up into the rich fabric that Flanagan weaves with his descriptive writing.

I must have written and rewritten this review two dozen times over the past month or so. To try and get my thoughts and feelings about this book down on ‘paper’ feels at the moment like my own personal Everest. I simply do not have sufficient words to describe the impact this book had on me.

In despair, and with my deadline looming, I looked back on the conversation I had with my fellow Book Eaters ten minutes after finishing and decided to share with you my initial thoughts.

“I’ve just finished The Narrow Road To The Deep North.
It’s taken 8 months. I’ve had to put it down and leave it alone so many times and stop myself from picking it back up until I’m able to deal with the emotions it brings. I’ve read the last 75 pages with tears streaming down my face. It’s a book that has punched me in the gut over and over. I don’t know if I’ll ever be strong enough to read it again and yet I don’t know how I can bear the thought of never again opening the pages of a book that has truly changed the way I think in a fundamental way.

I truly don’t know if I recommend it. In almost every way I do, but it is a book which is fiction and yet not fiction. The truths in the story have shred my heart into tiny pieces.

 

5 bites. If only there were more bites to give…

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

A Country of Refuge Edited by Lucy Popescu

images“But history teaches us that our greatest wrongs, crimes against humanity and genocide, arise from cultures where hatred has become part of the air citizens breathe,” writes 2016 Man Booker Prize long listed A.L. Kennedy, as part of this anthology of writing on asylum seekers. Over the past 18 months, we have been bombarded with anti-immigration rhetoric by politicians and the media and, post-Brexit, the number of hate crimes against immigrants is increasing.

Lucy Popescu is a writer and human rights activist and came up with the idea of this anthology back in 2014. Funded via a new website called Unbound, this book came about through crowdfunding. It brings together a multitude of writers; combining fiction, non-fiction and poetry to add a positive voice to the topics of immigration and asylum seekers. Writing is not just confined to the current refugee crisis, but also reaches back into living history and beyond. Sebastian Barry starts the collection with the story of a family leaving Ireland for Quebec. The journey takes place in 1847, but the terror and desperation could easily describe the horrors facing refugees today. “In this way we were described as a plague on our country and nothing more than vermin and rats.”

We are encouraged as readers to think more about the ordinary people who find themselves in such terrible circumstances. Roma Tearne’s heartbreaking The Colour of Pomegranates tells the story of Khalid who is forced to flee Baghdad after an allied bombing raid kills his wife and children. While the protagonist in Stephen Kelman’s Selfie, finds themselves thinking about the man who tried to sell him a selfie stick in Rome, and how he came to be there.

In one of my favourite pieces of writing, To Avoid Worse, Joan Smith compares the lives of Otto Frank, father of Anne and Abdullah Shenu, a Syrian Kurdish barber. Both men saw the dangers of the regimes that they lived under, 70 years apart. Both men understood that to have any chance of saving their families they must make desperate decisions. Both men were sole survivors. Otto Frank survived the holocaust which saw the murder of his wife and children. Abdullah Shenu survived the dangerous crossing from Bodrum to Kos. The photograph of the body of his son, Aylan, face down on the beach reminded us all, even the media, of the human cost of the crisis.

There is positivity too. Hassan Abdulrazzak, Nick Barley and Katherine Quarmby all tell stories of their individual or family flights, from Iraq, Hungary and Yugoslavia respectively. They all talk of the welcome they received from the UK, their adopted country and the safety that it afforded. We have a long history of welcoming those in need that we should be proud of, and that we mustn’t forget.

The collection ends on another positive note. A.L. Kennedy writes “ ..love is stronger and more sustainable than hate, that self expression can mean more than self indulgence. We have values. This dark time can teach us about light.” Together we can make a difference, and this anthology reminds why it is so important.

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Star Sand by Roger Pulvers

imageIn the last months of World War 2, sixteen year old Hiromi sees a man on the beach at night about to shoot himself. He is rescued by another man and dragged into a cave.  When she follows to help she finds they are both army deserters—one American, one Japanese.

Though they should be enemies they bond instantly and  Hiromi, alone in the world herself, resolves to care for them. But when another joins them the dynamics are upset. Fatally.

Years later, three skeletons and a diary are found in the cave but it’s another 50 odd years before a young female university student notices something odd about the diary and finally solves the mystery of who died in that cave and who lived.

I was intrigued by the premise and more so because I’ve read very little fiction on Japan in the war. The beginning of the book, which is basically Hiromi’s diary is terrific. It’s well crafted, maybe a little too well-crafted to ring true as the diary of a 16 year old, but as it turns out that’s not a bad thing. The characters are immediate and vibrant and it’s easy to get caught up in their story.

But about thirds of the way through it switches voice to the modern day university student and her voice did not ring true to my ear. She sounded more like a sixteen year old than someone who must have been around 22 – and she most definetly did not sound like a university student.

It’s quite a short book, almost a novella, and I think more time spent with the characters in the cave, and a better university student (or a different device to show the plot twist altogether) would have served this much better.  In the end it all felt a bit rushed and slapdash, which is a shame as it starts as a lovely attempt to honour both the Japanese and the Americans that were dragged into World War 2.

3 Bites.

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

 

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

imageLudo has never liked to be outside, she stays inside and cooks and cleans for her sister and her husband. So the build up to Angolan Independence largely passes her by. When neither returns home on the eve of Angolan independence, she bricks herself into her apartment. She stays there for the next thirty years, living off vegetables and pigeons and  writing her story on the walls of her home.

Meanwhile life in Angola moves on.  A variety of characters take the spotlight and their stories touch Ludo’s. There is a communist private detective, a reporter investigating the mysterious disappearances of airplanes and people, a Portuguese mercenary who survives a firing squad, and a nine-year-old boy who eventually climbs some scaffolding and moves in with Ludo.

It is an unusual book when you consider that it is really about the impact of great passions and yet it’s tone is quite muffled and distant. It’s quite clever, it is reminiscent of the sense of shock and disbelief after such events that leaves people feeling disconnected and drained. Many people put their heads down and focus on small areas after huge events, as I write this I’m still reeling from the aftershocks of the vote on the EU referendum and in the light of that I can see the authenticity of this book.

Life goes on, we find a way, we may have to go inwards and focus on the minutiae of daily life. But we keep breathing.

5 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Deluge by Arthur Marwick

Published in 1965, Arthur Marwick’s famous (amongst History students at least!) thesis on the changes wrought by the First World War on British society is a prime candidate for Throwback Thursday. It has continually been in print for over 50 years and remains one of the most influential works on the First World War.

DelugeHis central conclusion, provocative at the time but now much more widely accepted, was that society was irrevocably and positively changed by the First World War. He did not seek to minimise the tragedy or the loss of life but, in this book, he steadily and methodically laid out the evidence that Britain after the deluge of total war was a better place to live than before. The Deluge was one of the first books to focus on the lives of ordinary people and the different impacts of different social classes. He rejects many of  the patriotic and often jingoistic histories that came before and forges a new approach to the impact that Total War has on societies.

It’s a fascinating book, and one I first read whilst studying for my A Levels. I continued to read it yearly throughout my History degree studies and on through my teaching career. Marwick’s decision to move away from the idea of war as a purely military experience was pretty eye-opening to a young History student who had studied the Nazis every year (and would continue to either study or teach the Nazis on a yearly basis!) and who was taught by two History teachers who had a clear focus on military and political history.
The Deluge was my gateway drug into other social histories, and other works by Marwick, who rapidly became something of a historian crush!

The Deluge is perhaps not the most accessible of books for the casual historian, but I do think it is the most rewarding. Well-written, full of colourful theories and keen observations about people and how they continued on and adapted to the inevitable societal  changes, it is not only a useful history about the First World War but also about attitudes in the 1960s.

Recommended for those with more than a passing interest in the subject!

5 bites from the History teacher side of me. 3 from the ordinary reader side!

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

imageAnnie McDee is trying to get over her ex-husband, she met someone nice at an art gallery and against her better judgement she is cooking him dinner so he doesn’t have to spend his birthday alone. Whilst looking for a present for him she see’s an old painting in a dingy antique shop – she’s buys it on a whim not realising it is a missing masterpiece.

Before she knows what’s happening she is being swirled into the greedy, deceptive world of high art. But will Art seduce her or imprison her?

Newspaper reviews have called this ‘clever, funny, beguiling’ ‘a masterpiece’ and ‘totally delicious’. It’s also been shortlisted for The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. With all that you’d expect this book to be a cracker wouldn’t you? I did, hence me parting with my hard earned cash to get me a copy (okay so I used a book token in Waterstones and technically I only paid £6 for 4 books but that’s just nitpicking!)

So is it the worth my £1.50 and all those accolades? Honestly? No.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, definitely worth £1.50 … But all those accolades? Shortlisted for the Bailey’s prize? Absolutely not. But what’s worse is that it could have been far better. It just needs a really good edit. For a start the prologue needs to be cut – that was so bad I almost didn’t bother reading on, if you get this book then do yourself a favour and skip those 19 pages. It could also do with losing around another hundred pages. This story is told by far too many perspectives, although Hannah Rothschild is a talented character writer. Personally I would cull the ‘voice’ of the painting for a start. It adds no information of value and is quite frankly annoying.

There are some very appealing characters in here though, and the story is entertaining even if it’s a little farcical. There’s a little bit of everything in it, love, pathos, greed, poverty, riches beyond your wildest imaginings and the power of art. It’s been compared to Wodehouse which is maybe a little over-generous but it is amusing.

Overall I’d have to award it 3 Bites, it’s good, just not brilliant.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Beyond the Call by Lee Trimble and Jeremy Dronfield

51paidKFfJL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_“What did you do in the war Dad?” Lee Trimble knew his 86 year old father had flown daylight bombing missions from Debach airfield near Woodbridge, and felt that a record should be made of his wartime experiences and achievements.

After many hours of sitting with his father Captain Robert M Trimble recording the details of his 35 mission tour Lee felt he had reached the end of his father’s story, just as he was about to leave his father said “When I got back from Russia I was a mess”. That statement stopped Lee in his tracks. “Russia? What the hell were you doing in Russia?” What follows is one of the most amazing and incredible stories I’ve ever read.
The winter of 1945 saw the Red Army rampaging through Eastern Europe in an unstoppable march on Berlin, leaving in their wake the detritus of war. Not just in shattered equipment and devastated towns, but also hundreds of thousands of displaced people and ex-prisoners of war.
The Red Army had neither the will, nor the facilities, to feed or care for these freezing, starving and desperate people. The Red Army’s simple solution was to shoot German POWs. Red Army POWs, were also shot on the basis that, as they had surrendered to the Germans they were traitors and deserved to die. Among the thousands of liberated POWS were hundreds of Americans, British, Canadian and other allied troops. The Red Army’s policy towards these starving men was simply to set them free, without food or transport in the most bitterly cold winter that Europe had ever known, leaving them to find their own way home.
On completion of his 35 mission tour Robert Trimble was due to be sent home on leave, but was tricked into volunteering for a safe job that would mean no further bombing missions. The safe job was to oversee the recovery of downed American aircraft and aircrew that had crash landed behind Red Army lines after bombing missions to eastern Germany. Arriving in Russia he found that he had been conned, not once but twice, for his real mission was to rescue American ex-prisoners of War.
This was the ultimate “Mission Impossible”. (A mission on this scale might have been achievable with a team of 40 or 50 trained men and the resources to back them up). Nevertheless, Robert Trimble alone, unaided, and untrained in covert operations managed to save the lives of over a thousand people.
The barbarity and casual savagery of the Red Army in general and the NKVD in particular, combined with the betrayal of their own people by the United States Government, in their futile attempts to appease Stalin, left Robert Trimble a damaged man.
This is a must read book for the generations that have never known war. I give it five bites.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Water Diviner By Andrew Anastasios and Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios

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Click here to get the audiobook version or pop to your local Indy book shop to buy a copy
Joshua Connor has three sons, all bubbling over with life and keen to risk it all in the Great War. All three go missing on the same day in Gallipoli. When the war ends and Joshua and his wife receive their belongings and his wife loses all hope. She insists he goes to find them and bring them home, then ends her life. Connor sets out to fulfil his wife’s dying wish – to travel to Gallipoli to recover the bodies of his sons to bury them next to each other in consecrated ground.

His sturdy personality sees him bypass every obstacle much to the surprise of the British who are busy identifying and burying the dead in between trying to carve up the remains of the Ottoman Empire. When he discovers that his eldest son, Art, may still be alive, he applies his same tenacity to searching for him. But if Art is alive, why didn’t he come home?

This story was inspired by one line in a letter written by one of the British officers detailed to burying the dead. He mentioned an Australian turning up out of the blue to claim his son’s body. A feat almost beyond imagining. Our authors read that sentence and it stayed with them, slowly growing into this work of fiction.

Though the plot stems from the Great War, this is not really a war novel. If anything it is an anti-war novel. It deals with the losing beloveds due to war whatever side you are on. It also looks at how people keep going and learn to love again after such horror.

I enjoyed this, I listened to an audiobook version rather than reading it and the narrators voice was perfect. Joshua Connor isn’t a showy man, but he is a man you want to watch. It’s easy to get drawn into his quest. The only thing that niggled me about this is that it has too much of the Hollywood film about it. It has been adapted as a feature film starring Russell Crowe, but in the end notes it is mentioned that it was written as a screenplay first then rewritten as a novel so this is probably why.

4 bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Click to buy from amazon or head to your local independent book shop for a copy.
Click to buy from amazon or head to your local independent book shop for a copy.
This book was published in 2008 and quickly became an international bestseller. Sadly Mary Ann Shaffer developed a terminal illness shortly before the final rewrite and so   it fell to her niece, Annie Barrows to undertake the changes requested by the publishers.

It is a love story, a character study and a history lesson told through letters written between a spirited author, her publisher and a group of slightly eccentric Guernsey islanders. Having  become a popular columnist during wartime Juliet is despatched by Sidney, her long-time friend and publisher, on a promotional tour  around England to publicise the now printed collection . While on tour she finds that each hotel room booked for her is overflowing with beautiful flowers from an anonymous admirer, catching the delivery boy as he is leaving the next bouquet she wrings the name of her suitor – one Markham Reynolds, a handsome wealthy American – from the hapless lad. Juliet and Mark become romantically involved but she refuses to be distracted from a story she is following up.

Touched and intrigued by a letter she had received from Dawsey Adams that made mention of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society she enters into correspondence with him and becomes fascinated by his description of events on the island during the war. Letters with other members of the society gradually follow and before long Juliet’s interest becomes such that she can see the beginnings of her next novel may lie in their stories. Travelling to Guernsey to research further she is enchanted by the island and by the warmth and kindness of the members of the literary society who befriend her. Poignant vignettes of life on the islands under German occupancy gradually meld together and a picture of Elizabeth, the founder member of the society emerges. Elizabeth is missing having being arrested by the Germans and sent to a concentration camp leaving her little girl, Kit, in the care of her friends, Dawsey, Isola and Amelia.

The tone of the book is gently humorous and quaintly dated, and in  stark juxtaposition to the misery inherent in some of the stories being told. The deprivations by way of hunger and cold that everyone on Guernsey endured, not just the Islanders and the slave workers but even the German occupiers  is  clearly conveyed in the letters, nevertheless the examples of ingenuity, bravery and humanity that counterbalance them shine through and the tone stays positive even when the melody is sad. Shaffer bestowed upon her characters the practices, formalities and etiquette of the time, giving the tale the period feel of a golden oldie movie. The delightful literary society members are revealed as a varied bunch, endearing, steadfast, candid and eccentric, all traits they needed to survive the occupation. Before long Juliet finds herself immersed in their world and forms a close bond with the Elizabeth’s child, Kit

Despite the light touch that the author uses the wartime relationships, dangers and sufferings are accurately portrayed. My father’s family were Guernsey farmers and they made the decision to leave immediately before the Germans took occupation. On returning post war they found their farm devastated and that many possessions had either vanished or been burned for firewood – the only item left undamaged was their grandfather clock!They were told that the German officer billeted at the farm had been very taken with it, polishing it daily and winding it weekly. It had been him who restrained others from either looting or destroying it as the German troops were evacuating. I rather think Mary Ann Shaffer would have liked that little picture.

I find this tale quite captivating and wholeheartedly give it a 5

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Girl at War by Sara Novic

Buy this book now from amazon. Or order it from your local independent book shop.
Buy this book now from amazon. Or order it from your local independent book shop.
Back in 1991, Ana Jurić is a just ten years old. All she really cares about is hanging out with her best friend Luka and hoping her baby sister Rahela gets well soon. She’s an ordinary kid, her family are far from rich but they are loving and happy.

But 1991 sees the start of a brutal civil war across Yugoslavia. Although Ana doesn’t understand what ethnic cleansing is or why it suddenly matter if you want to buy cigarettes in a blue packet or cigarettes in a red packet her day-to-day life is altered anyway. Her games of football are replaced with games on barricades, food rations and air raid drills become the norm, made harsher by her sisters worsening health.

Ana’s war ends abruptly when she escapes to America. But getting out of a war zone can be easier than getting a war zone out of you and ten years later Ana returns to Croatia, hoping to make peace with the place she once called home.

I didn’t know much about the war in Croatia before reading this, I was in my early 20’s and I was pretty self-absorbed and shallow when it happened. Of course it hadn’t passed me by completely, I’d been as horrified as everyone else when Milosevic was tried and so many atrocities came to light. But I opened this not knowing quite what to expect but looking forward to filling a gap in my knowledge at the very least.

This book doesn’t fill a gap in your knowledge.

What it does is so much more important. It rips that gap larger still. It exposes the reasons adults give for war to the logic of a child. And the adult logic loses.

There is so much I love about this book, a lot I can’t say in this review because I don’t want to spoil it for you when you read it, but I can tell you that although it deals with awful things it is still a book of love and hope. Although there are terrifying moments there is bravery and friendship. And although you may not understand this particular conflict much better you will understand that every war is a thousand different wars and all are equally futile.

I was lucky to receive a review copy of this book a few months ago, I read it days before a cease fire was brokered in the Ukraine, and wars were of course still happening in Syria and Libya. I honestly believe that this book could help stop such wars.

This is a book that should be on every school curriculum. It is that important. I believe in the power of stories to change the world, good literature like this gives us the chance to live inside another’s skin for a time, to understand others lives and recognise them as ourselves. And although there are moments in this book that are difficult to experience, it is worth it. Like To Kill A Mockingbird it gives us the opportunity to question the greater consequences through an intimate lens.

Absolutely, without question 5 bites.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.