Probably the most emotive book I have ever read, The Book of Aron is a novel that vividly brings to life the appalling conditions of the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War, as narrated by Aron, a nine year old Jewish boy. The innocence of the childlike narrative makes the account easy to read on a literacy level but a difficult one emotionally.
Aron’s earlier life is recounted in the first chapter and is summed up by Aron himself as ‘years went by like one unhappy day’, confirming that life for the poor wasn’t easy in Poland even before the war years, especially poor Jews, but the hardships that were to follow are incomprehendable. Of course I was aware of the ghettos but I hadn’t realised just how awful the situation was; starvation, illness, bitter cold and lack of basic human rights, it is a harrowing account simply told. The interaction with the other characters is beleivable as survival is a brutal business with every man for himself. Violence and death become everyday occurances and property belongs to whoever is quick enough to take it. The human spirit is hard to break and there are funny moments in this book, it tends to be a black humour and I felt a certain guilt in smiling.
Eventually Aron finds himself without family, shelter or food and is taken into the orphanage run by Janusz Korczak (Pan Doctor) here fact and fiction blend as both Pan Doctor and Madame Stefa existed. The narrative could easily have shown them as heroic based on factual accounts but instead it shows them as very human characters with realistic interactions; they were as scared, malnourished and tired as the children in their care but didn’t abandon them. The slow decline of all the characters is really bought home by the language and descriptive ability of the author. As Korczak says ‘Death by famine lacks drama’. Initially the Jews expect things to improve and wait for rescue but it’s a hopeless situation and gradually they become resigned to their fate. As Aron remarks ‘The salt of the earth disolves and the shit remains’.
The ending was predictable as history has not been rewritten in this novel but the detail of the journey to this point is what makes this book a compelling read that stays in your mind for a longtime after. Not a light reading subject but well written and thought provoking, I thoroughly recommend it .
Set in the 1880s this is a historical crime novel and I must admit I was impressed with the social detail that surrounds this tale. Inspector Frey of London’s Scotland Yard finds himself surplus to requirements (loses his job) and after a falling out with his intended the engagement is called off too. Finding himself jobless and seeing little in the way of prospects for him in London, Frey decides to take a job that is offered him in Edinburgh, Scotland as part of a new unit that examines acts that are pertained to have been carried out by supernatural forces.
On his arrival in Edinburgh, Frey meets his new partner, for Inspector ‘Nine Nails’ McGray. Next to the dapper Frey with his London clothes and expectations, McGray is a brusque, no nonsense Scot who has grown up on the streets and is ready with his fist and his tongue. The unlikely pair start to investigate a copycat Jack the Ripper murder that has recently taken place of a violinist murdered in a locked room in a particularly gory way. Other murders follow in quick succession and the reader is drawn into the mystery of how it would be possible for a living person to have carried out these murders. The gothic and macabre events that follow give credence to the possibility that these are in fact supernatural events and the dark and grimy streets that were the underbelly of Edinburgh’s poorest parts of society are a perfect backdrop to the events that follow.
Personally, although I really enjoyed the depth of historical detail in this novel and was fascinated by the descriptions of clothing and food as well as the housing and society, I did find the character of Frey annoyingly staid and stuffy. I do not particularly like novels written in the first person and as the narrator; Frey’s thought processes annoyed me at times. I wasn’t that fond of McGray either although I did think his character was realistic but the problem with strong accents in novels is that they can stop the reader from getting fully engrossed in the text and McGray’s ‘ken’ and ‘muckles’ did interrupt the flow of the story for me.. However, the mystery is well crafted and reminds me of the locked room mystery beloved by Sherlock Holmes. The narrative twists and every time I thought I knew what was happening another turn put me off the scent. This would not have read as well if it had been set in modern times but the Victorian era, with its prejudices and fancies, is exactly right for this tale. It appears from the ending that this will be a series of books with Frey and McGray as the protagonists. I will be interested to read more of these as the detailed accounts of Victorian Edinburgh alone was well worth the effort.
Far, Far Away – Tom McNeal
I really enjoyed this book. It is difficult to slot it into one genre, which I think is an advantage, it’s fantasy, fairy tale, thriller and mystery all rolled into one amazing adventure.
The main characters are modern teenagers so the book claims to be young adult but as a very mature person I enjoyed it. The story revolves around Jeremy who lives in a American town that sounds straight out of a fairy tale. He has a secret friend, the ghost of Jacob Grimm. The parallel between the Grimm stories and real life are always present but the modernity of his best friend, a girl know as ‘Ginger’ keeps this story firmly in the 21st century.
As the narrator, the ghost of Jacob, gives us insights into both the world of Brothers Grimm and, for him, the confusing modern day world. It is a story of teenage love and friendship, of the human evil that has existed in the world through time immemorial and of how fairy tales still have meaning today.
I recommend this book whole-heartedly for anyone who wants to read something a bit different. Read and enjoy. I did.
Rafflecopter competition to win £200 to spend at AX Paris. Closing date: 4 Sept 2013. Low entry at the momment .https://www.facebook.com/etailPR/app_228910107186452
The competition for the book ‘Brother Kemal’ and £10 Waterstones voucher has been drawn. The names went in a box and my husband picked out the winner
well done to Charlotte and thank you everyone for entering. I have emailed the winner.
Here it is. My first competition. I’m new to blogging and really need new followers. I’m hoping to use this blog for a mixture of book reviews, competitions and news from both worlds.
The prize is: A copy of the book on the post below ‘Brother Kemal’ by Jakob Arjouni and a £10 Waterstones voucher.
To enter please do the following:
1. follow my blog Butterflytails.wordpress.com
2. Leave a comment on the book review post for Brother Kemal stating why you would like to read this book.
3. include either your facebook or twitter name as part of the comment so that I can find the winner, sorry, I told you earlier I’m new to this 🙂
The winner will be drawn at random on 30th August and will be announced on both facebook and twitter.
Happy comping and happy reading everyone.
This is the fifth, and sadly last, book in a series written by Jakob Arjouni who died earlier this year. The ‘Brother Kemal’ referred to in the title, is a Private Investigator, of Turkish descent, living and working in Germany. Kemal is asked to take on two separate cases; finding a missing 16 year old girl and acting as a bodyguard for a Muslim writer at the Frankfurt book fair. I didn’t expect to enjoy this book because I find that books translated into English from their original language often feel stilted but this was a pleasant exception. Kemal has a sarcastic sense of humour that appealed to me and made him feel very real as a character. The story touches on subjects that are topical and thought provoking; the sex trade and differing religious attitudes towards modern social issues, without labouring the points made. The characters surrounding Kemal made the story interesting and different. He lives with Deborah who has Jewish German ancestors, Kemal’s parents were Turkish Muslims yet neither of them follow any religion. Kemal is working for a French woman and an Arabic novelist simultaneously and all in all the book has a very cosmopolitan feel to it.
Written in the first person, Kemal appear to the reader, as a steady, no nonsense character with a very complex past. Seeing his world through Kemal’s eyes was refreshing and the depth of social detail made this book intriguing. Kemal’s first experience of the Frankfurt book fair, as a bodyguard to the author; Rashid, was a vivid description that was very realistic.
The storyline at first seems like two totally unconnected cases in the life of a Private Investigator, both of them having seedier elements and both drawing the reader in. The interception of details of his private life making a rounded account of a week in the life of a PI. The ending was unexpected and added an element to the story that made me want to read to the last page. This may have been my first Jakob Arjouni crime novel but it won’t be my last.