Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Back Reviews Reel: August 2013

On my literary summer tour of three years ago (»»» see the summary of My Mediterranean Reading Summer 2013), my August reads – three classics and two contemporary novels – took me not just to five different countries at the Mediterranean Sea but also back in time.

Amazingly altogether three of the books were set in the decades around 1900, namely firstly, the novel Jenny by Sigrid Undset (the winner of the 1928 Nobel Prize in literature) that traces the life of a young free-spirited woman during a stay in Rome, Italy, for studies and later back home in Christiania (today: Oslo), Norway, secondly, the novel Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher dealing with the effects that isolation and danger in a small community in the Egyptian desert have on an (unwanted) Egyptian police officer and his Irish wife, and finally, the Austrian novella Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman by Stefan Zweig in which a distinguished Englishwoman tells the author her unusual adventure with a gambler in Monte Carlo, Monaco. The coming-of-age novel Nada by Carmen Laforet, on the other hand, is set in Barcelona, Spain, in 1939 and its protagonist is a young woman from the province arriving in the city to study at university. And last but not least, Small Wars by Sadie Jones evokes the fight for independence from the British Empire on Cyprus in the 1950s.

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6222.Jenny
Being an early work of the Nobel Prize laureate in literature of 1928, Jenny by Sigrid Undset has little in common with her later historical novels. Set in the early 1900s, it begins in Rome where Jenny Winge and her friend live as painters, when Helge Gram appears on the scene and begins to court her. They agree to get married after their return home, but Norway is a different world from Rome and Helge realises that Jenny will never be able to give him what he wants of a wife: that he means literally everything to her. They break up and before long Jenny stumbles into an affair with Helge’s father to which she soon puts an end, though, not knowing that she is pregnant. Determined to stand on her own feet even with child she moves to Denmark to give birth. The baby dies and grieving Jenny returns to Rome to find relief in the city where she once was happy…

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14794671-sunset-oasisThe scene of the historical novel Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher is the Saharan desert in the 1890s, more precisely the Siwa Oasis in North-Western Egypt about 50 km from the Libyan border. Following a promotion, police officer Mahmoud Abd El Zahir has just been transferred to the oasis where he takes up his post as new commissioner accompanied by his Irish wife Catherine. Although people clearly don’t want them there and their lives are constantly in danger, the couple manages to settle down to a quiet life of routine in their isolated house outside the village. Limited to themselves, however, the ghosts of the past invade and estrange them day after day. Then ambitious as well as opportunistic junior officer Captain Wafsi and Catherine's fatally ill sister Fiona arrive. Their mere presence makes the façade crumble.

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2817206-nadaThe narrating protagonist of Nada by Carmen Laforet is 18-year-old Andrea who arrives from a small village in Barcelona in autumn 1939 to stay with the relatives of her late mother. She looks forward to the independence which being a student of literature in a big city promises, but in her new home she is received by a bizarre assembly of people in a decayed flat crammed with the relics of a prosperous past. Her family draws Andrea into a nightmarish world filled with all the big and small tragedies of a life reigned by penury and hunger. As often as possible the young woman flees the oppressive and depressing atmosphere of home to roam the city and spend time with her well-to-do friends from university, above all with Ena. Left without her friend, Andrea sinks ever deeper into loneliness and sadness, but soon life takes a new turn for her.

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6916726-small-warsSmall Wars by Sadie Jones is the story of Major Henry ‘Hal’ Treherne who is newly stationed at the British garrison of Episkopi on Cyprus. In January 1956 his wife Clara arrives with their twin baby daughters Lotti and Meg in Limassol to live with him although guerrilla rebels are already fighting with all means, including bomb attacks and assassination, against the unwanted colonial troupes. A serious incident during a raid in the surrounding villages makes Hal question not only his orders, but also his own role as an honourable soldier on the spot and British presence on Cyprus altogether. Meanwhile Clara fights back her growing fears and hides them from Hal. Relations between them cool and they hardly talk anymore. Then Clara is shot down in Nikosia and accompanying his wife and the twins back to England, Hal takes a bold decision.

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http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28186177-twenty-four-hours-in-the-life-of-a-woman
In the novella Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman by Stefan Zweig a distinguished Englishwoman of sixty-seven tells the young narrator an embarrassing episode from her life that took place in Monte Carlo some twenty-five years earlier, i.e. around 1880. In the casino she passed her time observing the hands of the gamblers at the roulette table as her late husband had taught her to. One night the eloquent hands of a young man scarcely older than her own two sons attracted her attention and she couldn’t let go of them anymore. For twenty-four hours the encounter turned her well-settled life upside-down and even made her jeopardize her good reputation in order to save the young Polish-Austrian aristrocrat from himself. She just couldn’t help it, but she had to learn that it wasn’t as easy to reform a gambler as she had believed.

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2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. They are all wonderful books that you won't regret reading, I'm sure.

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