Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Review: The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

The Vegetarian by Han Kang is an unforgettable, very emotional and heart-breaking novel about identity, sense of the body and unbearable social pressures. 
Yeong-hye is a 'completely unremarkable' woman, with a husband, a lot of home chores, a freelancing job. In the novel, her voice is hardly heard, if ever, as the story of her dramatic change since her sudden decision of becoming vegetarian is told by her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister. Everything started when based on a terrific dream, she decided to give up meat, in a society where being a vegetarian seems to be an outrageous exception. But it is the only way Yeong-hye is taking back her body and her life. The more she is pressured to give up her choice, including in a violent way by her father, the symbol of how males might request in traditional societies that their desires are heard and followed accordingly, the more she is turning into a kingdom of silence and refuses food. Any kind of food in the end.
The choice of Yeong-hye might look absurde and narrow minded - after all, you can escape social pressures in more subtle, middle-of-the road ways, but it is an ultimate scream of freedom. It is the pure freedom of requesting the right to decide of your rights and wrongs. It makes you think completely differently of your personal and social limits, those accepted because no other apparent options. It is a novel that haunts you long time after you finish it, because it is so accurately describing feelings and personal torments of a woman in a world submitted to the will of men.
My only reason for not giving 5 full stars to this novel is that as someone who went through a - luckily - anorexic stage, but with close family members having to cope with it for long years, I am still not completely convinced - or refusing to believe it - that refusing food is more than a hard way to punish yourself. 

Rating: 4 stars


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Telltales - Poems by Monica Bhide


Telltales, the newest book by the very talented Monica Bhide whose writings I am often featuring on my blog opens a door to a different world of emotions, feelings and the hidden senses and promises of spiritual world. 
I am rarely reading poetry and I don't remember to write poetry since some childish failures in my eary teens therefore I am a dried muscle for poems. But Telltales convinced me, after the second reading, that I might consider my bibliography. There is a certain art of words and wordings that Monica Bhide wisely uses it to bring the reader into a different universe, which does have its own challenges and imperfections, but at the end of the complex maze, there is the promise of light and self-reliance. 
The verses reveal things the eyes cannot see, but the soul can feel and nurture. It opens unknown hidden doors in the immediate reality and makes you start a fantastic journey beyond the daily appearances. Love, loss, healing, friendship and faith are wrapped into golden powerful words and eternal stories are rewritten. 
I equally loved the beautiful cover, by the talented creator of visual poems, Simi Jois. 
If you want to offer yourself an hour or more of beautiful reading, you can download your free copy from Monica's (newly redesigned) website

Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the author in exchange for an honest review

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Review: Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe

Thomas Foley is the Cold War, UK bureaucrat version of The Man Without Qualities. Minus the usual soul unrest typical for Viennaise characters. Sent to manage the Britannia inn at the EXPO 1958 in Brussels, the first after the end of the WWII, he is faced with a completely new reality and challenges, compared to his usual life back home: with a 9 to 5 job, a wife and a small daughter, an uneventful routine-based existence typical for almost 90% of the world population. 
Expo 58 is something different, and as someone who worked herself to such a grandiose event, and keep a small track of literary representations of international exhibitions, I reckon that this is an interesting source of inspiration, well described in the book. For a limited amount of time, people from all over the world are gathering to work and know each other, more or less intimately. At the end of the show, everyone is back to the home reality, and this is how world goes round.
Against his will and without any warning, Foley is caught into a hilarious net typical for that time of the Cold War. There are two spies looking exactly as spies and talking as someone might expect spies are talking, at least if you had enough James Bond bibliography. But there are also people that might look completely different than their appearance display: like the KGB spy versus the attractive American counterpart. Foley's role, which even working at a public institution in a country involved in the Cold War diplomacy and daily invisible war, he is greatly unaware of the geopolitical challenges, is not even to report - as every space around him seems to be bugged - is of low level, to flirt with a girl. One of those 'patriotic calls' simple citizens, otherwise completely un- and a-historical, might be called to do in special situations, like many of the events branded so during the fierce Cold War years. 
What I've found really entincing intellectually in this book is the subtle second plan game between reality and appearances, text and subtext and context, about how we remember and read facts versus how the naked facts really are. Once you discover this layer of interpretation, the book is getting a completely different perspective and value.
My only annoyance with the book was the obsessive use of 'old man' by more than one character. Regardless the original meaning aimed by the author, if any, it doesn't bring in my opinion anything good or hilarious to the story.

Rating: 4 stars

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tokyo Kill: A Complex Thriller Set in Japan

Horrendous murders, mysterious histories set many decades ago, cruel fights of the Tokyo underground. Detective Jim Brodie is on a strange mission by his Japanese ex-WWII official in China to identify the authors of strange murders and eventually protect his life. The second in the series - although you can read it without a necessary background of the stories from the first installment - Tokyo Kills delves into the complex layers of Japanese life. 
The issues pertaining to WWII actions of the Japanese Army in the neighbouring Asian states, particularly China, are not an easy topic to deal with both in daily life and literature, equally from the political and diplomatic point of view. Barry Lancet has the detailed necessary knowledge and writing skills to write about it in a very diplomatic yet entincing way, although I was able to feel the choice of a very cold account of events, as told by one of the characters. The sensitive stories were confined to the pure narrative, but there is still the background which completely shocks you, especially if you are not familiar with the context and various historical and documentary accounts.
But history is only the story background, as the book involves much more, and has so many interesting twists that 50 pages before the end of it I was still not aware how it will end. The local knowledge also allows to play skillfully with various Asian underground references, such as the differences in operations between the Chinese triads and the Japanese Yakuza, and their dance for influence. The only thing in the story which I've found hilarious and inadequate was the 'Chinese spy', with whom Brodie has a dialogue which is too stiff and mostly uninspired.
Otherwise, the book is a good recommendation for Asian thriller stories, translated through the European literary sensitivities though.

Rating: 4 stars

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review: The Women in the Castle, by Jessica Shattuck

In a Germany brought to ruins by its abuses and paranoid dreams of grandeur, three women - Marianne, Benita and Anja - and their children are getting together their broken fragments of their lives in a Bavarian castle. Their husbands were part of the von Stauffenberg plot and therefore killed and the good deeds and honour of their husbands is their ticket entry into a world free of Nazis. 
Once the story develops, there are secrets revealed not all of them convenient, in a country where not few of the people are hidding even more terrible stories of abandon of the basic human values and behavior. It is a world of lost souls and orphans, of people that will need decades to realize the historical pain and trauma created during those terrible dictatorship times. To describe those years, Jessica Shattuck found the right pace and wordings, and more than once I've found myself able to imagine that I am in the middle of the devastated Berlin or in the then Bavarian wasteland. The three women in the castle are a match that probably in real life would be hardly working, but the 'resistance' their husbands were in - at least two of them - and the post-war hardship creates different human solidarities. Their children, although experienced at different extent the same reality, are able to build a completely new world, interacting with that of adults, but without affecting them significantly. Children, they do have the rare art of coming along with the most unusual situations and deep loss. 
An interesting direction of the book is how the characters do deal with the current historical events, not necessarily in terms of the deep moral meanings, but for starting anew their life. Marianne, for instance, refuses to give credit to the blind actors of the history, while Benita 'held no reverence for anything old or historic. History was horrible, sloppy tail of grief. It swished destructively behind the present, toppling everyone's own personal understanding of the past'. For Fritz, the former German prisoner, 'shame was the only right way to live'. However, there is the assumption that under the impact of history, the individual might have little choices, therefore the difficulty of assigning guilt. 
I personally found the late post-war years experiences of the characters a bit too simplistic, with most of the characters going to America to start a new life in the country of the liberators. There is a certain unbalance in the narrative, not necessarily entincing, with the moral issues softened for some details about American comfort. I've also found a little temporal glitch, with a contemporary reference to the suits of Angela Merkel in 1991, when she was for sure a less known personality.
The Women in the Castle is a book which raises questions and creates moral dilemma with some realistic insights into the issue of historical guilt and responsibility.

Rating: 3.5 stars

#MeToo

The recent Weinstein scandal is a revelation not only about the sexual harassment regularly practised in the film industry, at Hollywood and abroad, but almost in every creative industry. And beyond. Some might say that bohemians and creative people in general do need muses and inspiration and loose morals in order to create. 
I remember my disgust when as a young reporter I was often invited to late parties in the office, with a lot of booze and people with loose morals for whom it was normal to go to bed before the next press conference early in the morning with whoever was of the opposite sex. The new employees and interns were expected at least to answer the flirts if not to accept sexual favors, not necessarily compulsory for getting a long term contract or a salary raise. I was told that this is part of the hardship of a job where you have to be always alert, on the road and ready to spend hours waiting for a scoop. Longterm relationships were rare, and marriages even seldom. I am sure many of those people were not evil or predators or even sick people, but just individuals self-righteous in their own way, unable to realize that what they were doing was humiliating and wrong and it was the fault of their weakness for not being different
The collection of essays edited by Lori Perkins - available for free download on Amazon.com - reveals personal experience of both and women that at certain moments of their careers or human development faced different degrees of sexual harassment and abuse. The testimonies are liberating but also aimed at giving strenth and support to those not yet able to talk about their trauma. It helps - although at a limited extent - to deal with the everyday weight of the soul drama, but also to realize that sharing is a way to empower others in similar situations, the silent voices of the victims. Such a collection has also the role of educating both potential victims and aggressors, offering examples of how much suffering sexual abuse can bring and how avoid ending up as a victim. Each and every one of us has a voice that we need to use it to fight and counter inequalities, injustice and abuse. And perpetrators, regardless how close to kin they are and what personal trauma they went through either, they need to be revealed. 
A very useful collection to read for everyone interested in understanding the subtle ways of sexual abuse and how important is to reject such public behaviors, regardless of the professional background and social status of the perpetrators. Abuse is just not acceptable. 

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review: The Copenhagen Affair by Amulya Mulladi

Relationships aren't healing if you move countries. Instead, you are only faced with a new, often magnified reality, which shows 10 times or more bigger the big hole you are in. 
Sanya and her successful charming and fashionable husband move for one year to Copenhagen hoping that the 'implosion' she suffered recently will go away, while he is busy to supervise the purchase of a local company. The new expat family is received with open hand by the high-end local society, for a very serious reason: there are so many secrets to hide among the people supposedly selling the company that they better behave nicely and even try to flirt or have an affair for the price of it. 
Nouveau riches and old money, desperate dedicated housewives, illicit affairs and a lot of showing off, this is the expat world where the good Sanya is introduced too. But she is also going through a dramatic transformation, with a clear line between the 'old' and 'new' women who is trying to change into.
The writing is very captivating, although the story is not so original and the expat life in happy places around the world, with its illicit and legal aspects was often used as a background in recent books - for instance, The Expats by Chris Pavone. The intricacies of the mental breakdown Sanya went through are very well described and together with the other elements of the story, mid-way between irony and thriller, with unexpected twists and some unanswered questions - what really happened between Sanya and Ravn during her 'kidnapping'? - which make the book a pleasant and hard to put down read.

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review


Monday, November 6, 2017

Writers' Secrets: Interview with Nic Joseph, author of The Last Day of Emily Lindsey

Nic Joseph, foto: personal archive
After reading the page-turning novel The Last Day of Emily Lindsey, I wanted to find out more about the author, Nic Joseph, and her creative habits. In my latest installment of the Writers' Secret series, she is sharing some of her tips and inspiration for creating beautiful books.

How do you find inspiration for your books?
Inspiration for my novels can come at any time! Sometimes, I'll be driving to work and see someone or something that catches my eye; or, I'll read a news report that I can't get out of my head. My inspiration for The Last Day of Emily Lindsey came to me after I'd had a particularly hard day at work. I arrived home, sat down on my couch and didn't move for a while. Granted, I wasn't covered in blood or holding a hunting knife, and I did get up after about five minutes! But that's where the story started. 

What's important for me is that I capture ideas, even if they are not fully formed, so that I can return to them later. I keep a running list of story ideas on my phone so I can come back to them later and figure out which ones I want to pursue.

Do you have books or writers that inspire you?

I am a huge Ken Follett fan and am constantly inspired by his world-building. Two books that have influenced my writing in very different ways include Involuntary Witness by Gianrico Carofiglio and Eddie Krumble is the Clapper by Dito Montiel.

How do you fight writer's block?

I remember reading advice that said if you're not having fun writing something, chances are no one will have fun reading it. I took that to heart. Often, when I'm having writer's block, it's because I'm trying to work through a scene that doesn't really deserve to be there. Maybe I've already put a lot of effort into it and don't want to give up on it (and hence lose the word count!) To break through, I have to force myself to take a step back and be honest about what's wrong with the scene. Once I'm on the right track, it's usually pretty easy to break through writer's block - emphasis on usually!

What is the most difficult part of your of being a writer?

Resisting the urge to daydream about my characters all the time. I find myself plotting while I drive, while I'm in the shower, over dinner and while I lay in bed at night. I have to remind myself to turn it off sometime!

What is your next project?

I am currently working on a novel called The Night in Question. It's an idea that's been brewing for a long time, and I am extremely excited about it. The story centers around two women: an Uber driver who makes a very bad decision in order to help someone she loves; and the detective who is investigating a crime that is linked to that very bad decision.

What do you recommend to a beginner writer?

Find the space to enjoy it. Writing can be stressful for so many reasons - lack of time, writer's block, characters that don't seem to want to do what they're supposed to! But find the parts of writing that make you happy, whether that's daydreaming about plot twists, outlining, drafting the perfect sentence, revising, or all of the above, and give yourself dedicated time to enjoy it. Not only will it make the experience more enjoyable, your writing will be all the better for it. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Book about Indian Millennials

I hear or read every single day stories about people who left behind sucessful business careers to pursue for long or medium term their dreams of traveling the world, making jewellery or becoming artists. The three girls characters of The Writers' Retreat are the Indian Millennials following an un-traditional path, lookin first for 'a life of creative enrichment' before fishing a husband and a stable business oriented career. 
Amby, Bobby and Mini are each of them successful in their world, Mini including as a brilliant writer of children stories. But they want more from themselves and writing seems to be their world of choice. Therefore, they register for a 2-week writing retreat in Greece, where they meet each other and become the best friends. Meanwhile, they are finding their own creative path and creative voice. The three girls are not alone in their pursuit, as Amby's former boss, KayKay, a successful handsome Indian actor is also joining the Millenial path, by giving up his filming caree, for living his dream of being trained as a chef, at the famous French school Le Cordon Bleu. There is also some gentle romance taking place too, which leads to a happy ending deem of a Bollywood movie.
The story is slowly paced, but with some nice twists that keep you awake, even the lecture is easy and non-problematic, the kind of book you would love to read while on a Greek beach. It is told alternatively by Amby, with some insertions of the author's voice, which is an interesting idea, but somehow outlines too much the idea of a pre-set, predictable story. 
Overall, it is an enjoyable story, with loveable characters and a bit of both adventure and romance and some Greek islands scent.

Rating: 3 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Friday, November 3, 2017

A Different Kind of Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Faced with the choice of deciding between a non-fiction science book and a novel, most probably would rather choose the science because besides exploring imagination I am always keen to discover facts about the immediate reality. One might say that imagination is also part of the reality, but as science plays an important part of my background, I love to have on my reading list a considerable amount of non-fiction books, including about mathematics, physics or medicine.
What matters, after all, is to read a good book, and many forget that the rules of good writing are applying for all genres. Whatever the rules of the narrative, you still have to tell a story, either you are writing about a big unhappy love or an episode from the history of science. This week, I was finally able to read two beautiful science books that I had on my TBR for years: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot and The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. 
Both do have in common a serious writing based on years of scientific research and investigation, and both succeded to present very complicated medical-related issues in a very readable fascinated format. Especially when you are approaching such a humanly difficult topic as cancer, but Mukherjee offers emotional human stories wrapped in the wise knowledgeable words of the practising doctor and the scientist.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a complex story about science, race, medical ethics and destiny in 20th century America. An anonymous actor of the world medicine, Henrietta Lacks was given her name to cancerous cells removed without her consent when in her final stage of cancer. Those cells were further used for various medical aims, among others for creating the polio vaccine. Rebecca Skloot investigates stubborny this complicated story, giving voice and face for the first time to Lacks and her family an experience that challenged and changed her too: 'The Lackses challenged everything I thoughts about faith, science, journalism and race'. The story is well structured and told so beautifully that I was hardly able to go to sleep before finishing it. After all, maybe there are hopes that investigative journalism is still alive. And that good books are belonging to any genre.

Rating: 5 stars

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Germany Loves Books

Advertisment in the Freiburg Central Station, summer 2017
I rarely see so much governmental interest to encourage people to read and support the book industry. From translations published the day the original is out on the market, to subsidized prices for books and generous libraries with all the possible books in the worlds, and programs encouraging children to read and love books from as early as 1 year old, German authorities are doing their best for supporting this elite industry.
You might ask, what exactly is the advantage for the society to invest so much in books which are encouraging imagination and the fantasy, features not necessarily well welcomed in a society aimed to create material value? As someone growing up surrounding by books - sometimes I had the feeling that the separation walls between the rooms of the house were made of books instead of concrete - I cannot see my life without books. I am an avid reader and since the blogs are out, I am blogging and sharing my love for stories. I personally find it normal to bring my 2 year old son to the library to find together the books he might find interesting, using his special library card. We even went to some special classes for baby - 1 to 3 year old (more about that in a next post). Therefore, a country where libraries are so rich and even the most remote place has at least one library, it most likely to beconsidered my home. 
For people for whom bookstores are as important as gas stations or supermarkets, there is a website you can use to find the neareast bookstore, an useful recommendation especially if you are away of home and curious to check the local literature available: www.buchhandlung-finden.de. I am doing it very often during my travels, as I can easily discover local German authors and even special events with writers. This website offers access to over 22,000 bookstores all over Germany, including those selling best sellers and offering specialty books. Just in case you forgot to bring your favorite books for your trip.
Bonus: if you are planning a trip to Condor Airlines, a sticker indicating that you have books in your luggage may substract a number of kilos from your bags from the general counting for your carry ons.
Only in Bookland Germany!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Salman, the Storyteller

Every encounter with the literary world of Salman Rushdie is a storytelling feast. Told in the slow-paced Oriental tone, his stories, often turned into novels are journey into the deep layers of imagination, freely playing with universal symbols and philosophical meanings.
Two Years, Eight Months&Twenty-Eight Nights - mathematically 1001 nights - is an equisite magic adventure into the world of djinnis and their interactions with humans, a panoramic story of human grandeur and decadence. 
I've recently read a novel writing advice according to which it is preferable that you are roughly limiting the number of characters populating your story. Rushdie proves that he is able to have an infinite number of them, and to infuse them with life, will and adventures of their own. The number of stories included into this story is like a mosaique of fractals, a charming chain of stories that are taking the reader in without acknowledging. 
When you are reading some of Salman Rushdie books you are reminded about that high end society of hommes de lettres of the old centuries, when putting words on paper meant more than creating spontaneously stories, but creating meaning and giving a violent, debate-oriented life to the ideas. Although the setting was an Oriental big table where characters are coming and going, the content of the writing reminded me of both Saramago and Russian literature - Bulgakov, among others. 
If at the end of the novel you keep asking yourself: 'What the author meant in fact?' without finding a clear answer is also because we almost forgot how to approach perfect literary worlds. Writers do have extra powers to read the world and re-write the story of reality for us, and Rushdie is one of them. The rest is a hard work of imagination.

Rating: 4 stars
PS: Can't wait to read a review in the next weeks his latest book The Golden House, received from Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Blog Tour: The Last Day of Emily Lindsey by Nic Joseph

With a story built alternatively between 'then' and 'now' and page turning twists of psychological revelations, The Last Day of Emily Lindsey is a unique adventure which keeps you curious until the very last page.
Everything starts when a woman, apparently Emily Lindsey, the author of a popular inquisitive blog is found in her apartment, covered in blood which is not hers with a knife which does not belong to her either. Detective Steven Paul which was going through a rather difficult career moment is assigned to the case. Once the inquiry advances and more and more strange and outerwordly moments occurs, he is about to lose his fragile balance too, as his visions and nightmares he was coping with his entire life are coming back more and more often. 
The second lane of the story - which is relatively slower and more focused on psychological details and descriptions - takes place in a bizarre orphanage where every June 2nd there is a terrible event happens.
At the beginning, it is quite difficult to make the connection between the two stories, but once the end is revealed, all the pieces of the puzzle are nicely put together. It is one of those books whose value is dramatically increased by the final ending, as the art of the writer is to create suspense and keep the reader into a state of permanent inquiry. Ironically, even if you are trying to make suppositions about a possible course of action, you are proven always wrong. 
A book recommended to anyone strong enough to read without pause - because you can hardly go to sleep before you know what really happened to Emily Lindsey - a haunting story which will stay with you longer, much longer

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Terrific Psychological Thriller: When You Disappeared, by John Marrs

When Simon, the happy half of a wonderful British family , a man in his early 30s with a promising architect career suddenly disappeared his devoted wife, Catherine, cannot believe that only death set them apart. But the truth is cruel and will stay hidden for the next 25 years. 
Written as an alternating diary of Simon and Catherine, a step-by-step mention of going out of grief, the weight of the past or the family responsibilities, When You Disappeared by John Marrs is a page turned, although predictable at a certain extent. Although some revelations are not surprising - for instance, who killed the younger son, Billy - the psychological weight of the stories is dramatic and displays a great storytelling craftmanship for this genre. 
From a scene installment to the other, the perfectly evil nature of the ambitious architect is revealed, a display of how delusional are the appearances. Simon himself became a serial criminal from a delusion, an apparent affair of his wife with his best friend who had actually a crush on him many years ago. A quarter of century later, he is confessing to the brave Catherine, a fantastic character with strength and an outstanding desire to live her life, whatever the circumstances. The dedicated wife from the first months after the mysterious disappearing - 'The strength and support he'd shown me during the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent, had proved he was a fantastic husband and dad, and I desperately needed to believe that he was alive' - is turned into a hard working bread winner and the strong woman who won against a terrible malady and was powerful enough to start a new life and even face the truth of the lies and crimes of her ex-husband. 
It is a dark novel, going deep into the murkiest corners of the human mind, telling as often as possible in different wordings that the humans can be sometimes slaves of their strong self-destroying criminal emotions, especially if there is a genetical predisposition to it. I am not sure about this, but meeting the literary character of Simon might be just enough for a while. 

Rating: 3.5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Friday, October 27, 2017

How To Take Your Novel to the Next Level

Fiction writing requires a lot of craftmanship and polished writing skills and it is never too late or too early to learn how to improve your writing. Take Your Novel to the Next Level by Marjorie Reynolds offers a systematic variety of knowledge about improving your manuscript while considering various aspects such as defined characters, creating an 'unique and intriguing' plot, emotion suspense, tension and realistic dialogues. It inspires the beginner or intermediate writer 'how to breathe life into characters and color a scene with sight, sound, smell, touch and taste'.
It is the kind of book to read with a notebook on your side, as it has interesting and noteworthy details for every stage of the novel development, with detailed examples from classical successful books. Equally, if you are a professional book reviewer, this book provides also directions about how to evaluate the quality of the writing and the eventual flaws of the story. 
It not only covers all the development levels to be considered for the first draft, but also has suggestions about how to create and evaluate the second one, as well as a glossary of terms to understand the language of a literary agent or the observations sent by a publishing house.
As there are only a couple of days until the NaNoWriMo - which I might consider to join this year, after 7 years of absence - you still have time over the weekend to read this book and figure out what you want to write and especially how.

Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Murder in the NYC Hasidic Community

Haunted by the memory of the mother that left her when she was only 6 months old, Rebekah Roberts is moving to NYC to work as a journalist. As a beginner reporter for the New York Tribune, she is dealing with her first serious case investigating the mysterious murder of a woman belonging to the Hasidic community to which her mother belonged before running away for a short time with a non-Jewish man, Rebekah's father.
In just a couple of days, the young reporter is going through a serious identity crisis, while she is looking to reconstruct the life of her mother through the snipets of life of the Hasidic people she meets. It is a world full of secrets and interdictions, secluded within high walls of prohibitions and very limited interactions with the outside world. Guided by chance, Rebekah is making her way through an overwhelming world she was not aware of before, looking to reconstruct the life of the victim while trying to understand what brought her end.
As I am familiar with this world, I easily got into the mystery, but I think that in general the information regarding the background context is greatly accessible, without overload of Yiddish slang or a simplified, cartoon-like reality. You are offered enough information to understand the story.
But what matters the most in a thriller story is how do you find the truth and in this respect Invisible City is a page turner, with an end more complicated than expected. My mind wandered from a potential suspect to another and then another, without being 100% sure about the real criminal. What disappointed me though were the dialogues, not so well crafted and interesting.
Invisible City was only the first installment of the series having Rebekah Roberts as the main character, and would love to read the other two from the series too. 

Rating: 3.5 stars   

Monday, October 23, 2017

Book Review: Live from Cairo, by Ian Bassingthwaighte

The protests in Tahrir Square are unfolding, Mubarak is out of power, at least physically, and refugees from all over the Middle East and Africa are stuck in Cairo waiting for a green light to leave for better worlds. There are international organisations at work to help them, but not all of them are qualified to get the official support. Escaping the chaos from Iraq with her husband, Dalia failed to convince the UN representatives that she deserves to join her husband in the States. But attorney Charlie who handled her case cannot give up, also because he is deeply in a kind of love with her; he tries, against the law, to get her the proper (fake) documentation, and he even get into the plot a fresh employee of the UNCHR.
I personally have a couple of mixed feelings about the book. I enjoyed the writing and the author has a certain power to keep you turning the pages, although the plot development is not always satisfactory. I've found more than once that the different little stories making the book do not necessarily connect smoothly, one of them being Charlie's platonic love. One of the parts that really made sense was about the process of analysing and accepting/rejecting the various files, but I suppose that for that you don't need to read a novel, as a scientific/feature article might be just enough.
I've pushed myself until the end - which was less than satisfactory - trying to read it, but my overall impression is that it could have been (much) better.

Rating: 2.5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Everything you Want to Know about Ghostwriting

Long long time ago, I used to believe that politicians were writing their own discourses and celebrities their own books. As soon as I made a step behind my journalist work, I discovered that on the other side of the screen it was a big army of speech writers and ghost writers ready to translate into beautiful words raw and sometimes incoherent ideas of VIPs from various domains. Eventually, I ended up being one of them for a short amount of time.
For those considering a career of ghosts (writing), The Complete Guide....by Teena Lyons is offering the right inspiration and guidance from the very beginning of the career. It explains the process, the pitching, how to use various opportunities ans the main techniques to follow at the beginning or mid-level career. 'It is difficult to write a book, which is why there are ghosts in the first place'. More importantly, it uses quotes from experts to illustrate the different stages of the process, which gives authenticity and the proper inspiration to move forward.
Although I personally found a bit redundant the first chapters, where the ghostwriting is described in the smallest details, till the end of the book I discovered many useful ideas, especially when it comes to setting up and developing a collaboration with 'the author', the planning and various techniques of approaching hectic and/or difficult personalities.
A book recommended to anyone considering ghostwriting as part of their writing career.

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

About Dinner at the Center of the Earth

Can you write about Israel avoiding the everyday political implications? Hardly if not impossible, unless you are writing a very special dystopia. Despite the political buzz though, can you create good stories to be remember after the political actors are long ousted from the stage? Definitely yes!
The latest book by Nathan Englander, whose What We Talk When We Talk about Anne Frank is a beautiful collection of short stories, is a literary contribution to the never-ending and not always literary productive discussion using Israel, peace, Palestinians as main key-words. What it results from the random mixture of those three words is not necessarily a good combo, from the literary point of view at least. You have a given readership that probably expects you to have a point of view, but you still can write beautiful stories if you focus more on writing beautiful stories not engaged or entincing or attractive stories. 
Dinner at the Center of the Earth is made up of different small stories which are interwinning but chopped so drastically, bullet-speed-like, that you can hardly put together the fragments to have a narrative of any kind: you have the story of spy Z - inspired by the Australian-born Mossad agent prisoner X - Z's guard, the guard's mother, the General in coma - Ariel Sharon -, Farid's the Palestinian businessman in Berlin. 
You have a bit of a spy story, a kind of historical thread, with Sharon's memories about the founding of the country, even a love story. Maybe with so many variants of truth it is difficult to create a common story, aka co-existence, but isn't it a higher stake for a story?Somehow, I felt that the author is about to embark on a world mission to find the answers of most political secrets - for instance, how was it possible for Sharon to change so much his point of view and accept the Gush Katif - I personally think that it is less a secret but more a matter of adaptability, because politicians follow strategies and the cure for traumatic historical events. 
Intentionally or not, some scenes and episodes are ridiculoulsy grotesque, while others are just filling the space of the pages - like in the case of most of Farid story. 
Some topics are too big for one single story, and maybe if you want to avoid the cliche you better find more humanity and less politics and ideology to tell it. I was personally partially disappointed about the book which means that there is always a chance of a much better next book by Englander. 

Rating: 3 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Although it was a bestseller for more than one year, I was never curious enough to check any review about The Girl on the Train or look for the book immediately the news of the success reached me. Actually, I was so detached from the media mainstream that when I took the book from the shelf of the library, all I knew about it was that it is a bestseller which happens in the case of over 50% of the books I read. This apparent information gap created quite an almost non-existent wall of expectations. I've just started reading the book without any knowledge about what it will happen and how the thriller may further  I may confess that once in a while I am doing it. 
During the couple of hours of reading, I went through the ups and downs of the story, made doubts and expressed concerns without being sure of my feelings and assumptions. Therefore, I enjoyed the full pleasure of the lecture. 
The lecture was pleasant overall, although sometimes it reminded me of some episodes of the Hausfrau, meaning there is a lot of daily nothingness with as much appeal as a very bored housewife. However, there is an insidous part of the story which warns about the everyday evil. How, in fact, a very innocent looking playboy with a penchant for lying can be as dangerous as a first page criminal. And there is Rachel, which is the genius character of this story, the key of solving the murder, although the least trustworthy witness. 'Drunk Rachel' which 'sees no consequences, she is either excessively expansive and optimistic or wrapped up in hate. She has no past, no future. She exists purely in the moment'. 
Although the story in itself is not the most brilliant in the world, Hawkins creates a fine work of writing, seismographically outlining the most common tensions, insecurities and doubts, in a killing cadence of morning/evening, following the dairy entries of the main women characters of the story: Rachel, Megan and Anna.
Overall, it is a book worth reading, if not for the story, for some fragments of good writing. Once I started the reading it was hard to leave it and sometimes it is just enough to want to recommend the book further.

Rating: 3.5 stars  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Review: Nine Women by Frances M. Thompson

My motivation to keep reading in the given order and all the short stories of a volume of short stories is the chance of a journey through different characters and encounters, while discovering a bit about the author' style in each and every one of them. Nine Women by Frances M. Thompson is such an unique adventure.
You can read each and every one of the stories at your own pace, start in your desired order, read it again and again, or just keep the author's choice. Any of those choices are a guarantee of the pleasure of reading. 
The pleasure of reading does not have to do with swimming within your comfort zone. The women and men of those short stories do have doubts, emotional breakdowns or deeply hidden truths, are looking for emotional identity and are fighting hard with confusion and despair. The writing often takes a poetic turn, inviting the reader to float together with the charaters through ambiguity and incertainty. It is where the pleasure of reading can lead you without acknowledging it, but once there, a true reader will confirm that it is the best place to be. The writing of Frances M. Thompson makes you float between worlds in a realm shaped by words. I praised the intellectual adventure and the emotional topsy-turvy. There is so much to guess about ourselves only at the borderline. 

Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the author in exchange for an honest review 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The 12-Step Plan to Take Charge of Your Career

A healthy inspiration for both women looking to open their business or just to upgrade and adjust their career plans, Boss Bitch offers mind opening and straight forward professional advice. When you are embarking on a new career, you need honesty and reliable support.
Of course it is amazing to have your own business and be your own boss, but failures and bankrupcy can be as real as your dream of becoming a billionaire. 'There's no one-size-fits-all-path for your career', says Nicole Lapin and she is perfectly right. Taking the right decision is what you need, based on your skills and professional background, but do it fast because 'as they say, the road of life is paved with flattened squirrels who couldn't make a decision'.
Being a boss (bitch) means more than giving orders and having a top career enjoying the pleasure of an office and many (frightened) employees, it means an attitude and a way of life, while you 'run your life like a business'. 'A boss mentality is all about how you feel and carry yourself', and this idea is one of the best I got in the last months. It means being in charge of yourself in a majestic way, having the right screening capacity to make choices and decide, while eliminating the background noise of  naysayers and unproductive thoughts. 'No, you shouldn't change yourself or your personality drastically for any job (or relationships). But you should accentuate those parts of yourself that align with the company's brand and culture'. 
I am usually a very speed reader, but I wanted to take my time for carefully going through all the advice in the book, as I am right now in a very important career turning point. Put the swearing beside - but it is in fact a good example of being yourself and showing your way without complexes, regardless what people say - you will find a lot of extraordinary advice about tailoring the best outfit for your career and life. It starts with the very beginning of creating the plans and identifying what you are good at, and continues with shaping the right career path of being more than a manager, but a leader with a strong voice at the business table, inspiring other people and writing your own business story. It is more or less a question of defining success and happiness and moving forward accordingly, while staying with the feet deep into the ground.
I will definitely read this book more than once, as it really helps channeling the real you and creating both complex life and career opportunities. It is the kind of useful book that you wish you had in your hands before starting your business.

Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Welcome to the House of Spies

After the Black Widow, I curiously waited the new adventures of the Israeli spy Gabriel Allon, now chief of the intelligence service. There is something addictive in the way in which Daniel Silva is telling stories about terrible events and complicated geopolitical structures, with the historical, intelligence and political background gently introduced into the narrative. 
House of Spies is following Allon's efforts to annihilate Saladin, his no. 1 enemy, the creator and orchestrator of a 'new generation of suicide warriors'. Based on the main trademark of Saladin: 'He believed that in terror, as in life, timing was everything', he creates an international team which is trying to decipher his traces going from Marseilles until the hidden corners of Morocco. 'His target was a man. A man who had built a network of death that had laid siege to the great cities of the civilized world'. As his main profits for investing in the terror plans are the narcotics, the intelligence agents are going back to the origins of the narcotics trade in Europe. As in all the previous book from the series I've read, it mentions current events and world stage evolutions, which are inserted into the story, such as, for instance, the fears of the cybercaliphate: 'Martyrs-in-waiting would be radicalized in hidden corners of the dark web and then guided toward the masterminds they had never met. Such was the brave new world that the Internet, social media, and encrypted messaging had brought about'. 
Until the very end of the book, there are interesting spectacular turn of events taking place, with unexpected changes and challenges and breathtaking surprises. What I liked less what the insertion of some new age elements, with some jinni hungers praying near a toilet seat in Morocco and some future reading lady in Corsica.
Right now, I set the countdown until the next book by Daniel Silva. Maybe I can fill the waiting time with some of his 17 books I haven't read yet.

Rating: 4.5 stars

A Summer at Rose Island that Changed it All

There is certainly a recipe for developing 'feel good' books: you have a new comer looking to start completely fresh and a mysterious, sometimes grumpy foreigner with a kind of dark history. Until the end of the story, you have a romance going on, frequently finished by a proposal.
What makes the difference though is how do you feel this matrix, the art of creating the story. Darcy arrives at White Cliff Bay after a high record of personal and professional failures, with a fresh new job at the local council and the promise of a new start far away from her overcritical parents. The lonely resident of the historical lighthouse, Riley, put his eyes on her and will become her boyfriend soon. 
What I love about this romance story, which goes on very nicely, is the context created: the fight for preserving the historical lighthouse, whose destruction is imminent for making place for a lavish hotel. Darcy's social involvement for preserving the lighthouse creates an interesting human background story which balances the relationship history.
Overall, it is a pleasant reading, with its English charm and an optimistic vibe, a good reading companion for the summer or the holiday season in general. 

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What I Didn't Like about The Lubetkin Legacy, by Marina Lewycka

After completely disliking The Short History of Tractors - I love good humour, but stereotypical, slightly racist humour is not my cup of tea - and unable to finish other two books by Marina Lewycka, 50 pages into The Lubetkin Legacy I was a little bit thriller and decided to continue.
Mostly based on a compound designed by the architect Berthold Lubetkin which supported affordable housing projects in London, it takes an ironic twist to the bed-tax, which limits the number of rooms assigned to socially assisted families. 
After the death of his mother, Berthold Sidebottom a 50+ unemployed actor, named after the architect with whom she apparently had an affair, is dealing with the perspective of being removed from his flat. In order to save his legacy, he requests a bizarre woman, Inna, met at the hospital, to move with him and impersonate his mother. 
In parallel with his story, told in the first person, there is the story of Violet, the Kenyan-born young lady next door, which is always said at the third person, which is running at the same time. Although their lives cross for short, and always ridiculous amounts of time, there is not too sense of this second story which involve corrupt Kenyan politicians and dishonest London city companies. Each of the stories flow, but their presence in the same book do not make too much sense. 
The social message of the book with discourses about equality and social justice is understandable, but the characters are so ridiculous, greedy and created to prove that, it seems that human nature is not designed to reach this aim. Therefore, you have unidimensional, mostly greedy and superficial, characters, unfinished and soul-less. Actually, there are way too many stereotypes for one single book.
Note to self: the next time be clear about the authors you definitely don't like, which is not a frequent occurence in my case

Rating: 2 stars

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Review: Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Nussbaum

A modern times version of both Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina, Anna is an expat version of an American 'Hausfrau' living in Switzerland, married with a local man working in the banking sector and mother of three. She is filling her uneventful life with sexual adventures with men met on different random occasions. Anna collects lovers, each a 'version of love'.
The action is taking place during three months, from September to November, and the period of time is filled with episodes from the past, fragments from therapy sessions, encounters with new and old friends and meditations on language. The story has an extraordinary construction, made of paragraphs reflecting each other like mirrors, creating a certain density of the story.  
From the very beginning, there is inequal intensity of the different fragments of the story, with reflections and projections being interwoven with intense sexual encounters and wanderings through the night. 
At 38, Anna is searching: for herself, meaning of friendship, understanding home, finding a sense of her memories, her loneliness...Her everyday lies, her treasons, the incapacity to resist the temptation of doing over and over again the same mistake(s) are hunting her day and night, with the strength of a deadly psychosis. The first half of the novel promises a lot, a promise not delivered in the end. I personally got caught and charmed from the beginning - I've read the book in just a couple of hours - but as the story was reaching it end, my disappointment grew. I was not expecting a spectacular end, but even the predictable can be shaped in a proper literary form. Instead, I felt like that the last quarter of the story, despite with some dramatic shifts, was just hurried up to the reader. 
The daily geographical and cultural background of the novel, especially the insights into the Swiss mentality, are authentic, probably based on the author's own experiences as expat in Switzerland.
Although the novel promises a lot but delivers only half, the author has a great writing potential and would be curious to read other works signed by her. 

Rating: 3 stars

The Magic of Poetry: The Age of Magic by Ben Okri

On their way from Paris to Basel to film a documentary about Arcadia, an imaginary land considered the classical epithome of the perfect co-existence between humans and nature, the 8 members of the film crew are going through dreamlike spiritual experiences. Their inspiration for searching and finding new depths into the concept of Arcadia is stimulated by their stay for 3 days and two nights at a hotel near the Swiss Regi mountain, whose mysterious reflection into the lake is a source of tremendous inspiration.
But inspiration is supposed to be a gift and a poison, and the search for Arcadia means also pushing the limits of creation, which is always a dramatic challenge for the being. Wrapped in an ambiance of dream, some of the conversations remind of some mild variants of the Platonic dialogues. Most of the discussions are though fragments of dreams: '(...) there are some conversations so strange that they are only remembered much later, but not noticed at the time'. 
As a reader, you often feel in the middle of a cocoon, where you go back and forth, looking for your own sense of life and humanity, or just being left out of a dream. At the end of the prose poem, each of the characters is taking the chance of a change and the opportunity of a metamorphosis; 'Standing on the shore, they sensed a syllabe streaming through all things. They heard the sustaining hum which seemed to originate in the depths of their hearts and in the farthes reaches of space. The hum washed through them and sweetened the taste of life'.
The text flows smoothly, like the background music of the meditation soundtrack. For me, reading this book was like a journey through the deep meanings and dream textures. A recommended read when you long for a creative touch for switching life paths.

Rating: 4 stars

Children Book Review: The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson

Abandoned as a child and found by accident in a church by two maids to a family of Austrian professors in Vienna, Annika was always dreaming about finding - or being found miraculously by -  her real mother. Far for being ungrateful for the life she was offered, but she was curious and hoped that the mystery of her birth will be revealed. She was ready to forget everything about being abandoned only to have the chance to meet her.
But take care what do you wish for. One day, exactly as in her dreams, an elegant lady is arriving at the professors' door, loaded with a noble title, a lot of documents proving the family connections and the promise of a glamorous future in Germany. With a broken heart, she is leaving those who were her closest family from birth while optimistically looking forward to her bright future. But things are not what are not supposed to happen as planned this time, and the more time Annika is spending in her new environment, the more suspicions arise. A curious and good nature, she is easily finding friends in any circumstances, as her new social status and condition doesn't change her dramatically.
The last episodes are deem of a fast-forward mystery, with some hilarious, but also some sad episodes and incredible adventures.
Probably I haven't read a classical children book with a touch of history for a long time, but although I am trying to come along with the new mindsets and styles, there is the old adventures' books which will always have my heart. Fast paced, with characters which you either love or hate, faced to make choices in face of adversity, The Star of Kazan is the perfect read for children passionate about history, adventures and a drop of mystery, looking for characters to fall in love with. It is the kind of book whose stories and heroes are staying with you longer after the book is finished, regardless the age. 
As it was my first encounter with Eva Ibbotson, I would probably continue reading her books.

Rating: 4 stars

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Bloody Secret of the Three Envelopes

A gripping debut thriller written by a professionist in the field of intelligence, Three Envelopes explores the darkest labyrinth of the mind of the psychopat master killer. Agent 10483 was recruited by the Organisation a structure within the Israeli secret services, succeeding to simulate sanity and on the other side, despite the fact that at least one person was aware of his serious mental instability. 
The problem appears when the puppet assumes he is the master and takes his role seriously. A dairy written in the present tense sent to the people responsible for him ten year after his presumed death shade light into some of his operations he was part of, but also warns that he might be ready to kick back again against those with a minimal involvement in his case. In fact, for a long time, Agent 10483 has embarked on an ssassination campaign on its own. The reasons are not security-related, but dictated by his sick mind. 
The novel takes back and forth from the dairy to fragments from the past and episodes taking place in the present, when his deep psychosis and the dangers of him being alive are finally acknowledged. The back-and-forth alternation of time sequences creates an interesting profile of the Agent, with its obsessions and psychosis. Maybe in 'real world' his issues could have been fixed through therapy and psychological support, but his drama is that not all gifts are equal and he was easily took for something that he was not. Intelligence has its own limits and this is clearly one of the lessons learned of this book.
As for the ending...the reader might realise that he or she is also part of a mind game, not sure if clearly understood where everything is leading. 
A very interesting thriller, written in a very alert style, hard to put down and with a haunting charm. 

Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Jerusalem Ablaze: 13 Short stories with a taste of darkness

A collection of 13 short stories of different lengths, the debut of Orlando Ortega-Medina, Jerusalem Ablaze is an exploration into the darkest labyrinths of the mind and the soul. Introduced as 'stories of love and other obsessions', each story is an emotional roller coaster, which brings you Tokyo's Ginza to the Israel's Masada,  alongside with people on a journey to their inner self and dark sides. 
Although a debut, the book is written in a style mature enough to reveal admirably hidden feelings, secret desires and a cultivated ambiguity of the being. You will encounter people searching for their own self or who already found it and are scared enough to show it to the world. People with strange and maybe too many identities and confused feelings, lonely in their unicity and difference. A big role in the emotional investigation pursued in each of the 13 novels is played by the sharp dialogues which compliment the equally well-crafted descriptions.  
Very often, I felt I am part of an adventure set in the art of the Japanese masters of writings and it is no wonder as the author himself recognize his admiration for the mysterious Mishima Yukio. But the discussion on influenes is not so relevant, as long as the writer's style reveals to be unique despite all the literary references that can be identified in the stories. This is the case of Orlando Ortega-Medina, which promises even greater writing achievements in his next endeavours that I am curious to know and especially read about.

Rating: 4 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Saturday, September 9, 2017

My Thoughts about The Patriots, by Sana Krasikov

It is something about reading this book that didn't expect to happen: to make me feel at home intelectually, after so many years when I avoided to have anything to do with a world that I know so well. Better than any other worlds that I was blessed to know in the last years, because after all, the concepts and stories you grew up with are so much part of yourself, that even invisible crumbs of a Madeleine will bring you with the speed of life back in the past. 
I couldn't read The Patriots by Sana Krasikov as fast as I wanted to. I was so caught up by the dense writing, so powerful that you can even imagine the dialogues in English with a strong Russian accent. Every 30 pages or so I wanted to take a breath and think about stories I've read or or heard as a small child growing up in a communist paradise - not Russia - while eavesdropping the complex political dissident discussions of the adults. Revealing only a quarter of them to anyone outside the four walls would have bring long years of prison to the participants, and I was warned regularly that if I dare to share some of the things I've heard accidentally - including fact that they were listening to forbidden radio stations - the orphanage will be my next home, as my parents will for sure end in prison. Actually, it was more than a case when such episodes actually happened, as the classrooms were often the place where teachers working for the secret - intelligence was something rarely associated with those institutions - services were requested to check the ideological conformity of the families, through repeated interogations of children as young as 6. 
I had my own intellectual time when I was reading about prisons and communist delusions and comrades' betrayal and the state-supported anti-Semitism. In the last years though, I rather wanted the company of a 'chick lit' than to read the drama from the Gulag(s). I deeply disapproved communism, and hated the naive involvement of my own parents and family and their weaknesses and the fact that they gave up fighting accepting instead the daily compromises, even after the 'gods' were longed revealed as naked. Most of the people I know from those times are long gone and gone are my parents and the young people I used to know are out of my current sight. Actually, I gave up for a long time to go in the 'old country' and my contacts with that world are almost inexistent nowadays. 
As a fact, as a child, I've read once some Soviet literature about Americans who joined the Russian Revolution and ended up building socialism as far as Magnitogorsk. The characters in the short stories were happily sharing their achievements in a society where classes and races were not counting, but the full dedication to the ideals of the Party. The main character of The Patriots, Florence Fein, is one of them. She wanted to be part of a great future who was built now and then. She bought a ticket dreaming about a Soviet man she met while working in New York, and ends up being accused of being a spy and condemned to forced labor. Florence is not one of the top communist leadership of the Internationale - she is not even a party member - later kept prisoners in Hotel de Luxe in Moscow. She is just a young lady enamored with the Revolution who will be wiped out by the destructive forces of the history. 
Florence, as many middle level people in those times, will survive, whatever the circumstances. She has the right intuition to do it and to live to tell the story. Her husband, Leon, who can see clearly the failures of the system and it's becoming an ardent Zionist after the visit of Golda Meir to Moscow - proclaimed to his wife a well proved truth: 'Don't fool yourself. Everybody's tied together with the same rope' - will disappear without trace. In a personal way, I wanted to not like Florence, for her narcissism and her failures and her many compromises, but I ended up by admiring her. What should someone want to be a hero, until you are Nadejda Krupskaia? Following my personal and society post-communist interrogations I dare to say that the 'Party' suceeded to achieve a perfect confusion between victimes and perpetrators. Sadly, those who actually orchestrated the system often survived with their position unaltered, some of them even becoming successful characters of the new era. 
The episodes of the story are alternatively placed in various time periods, which creates a welcomed balance of the story. I waited for the 2008 episodes, relating the adventures of Florence's son and grandson into the new Russia, as bringing a certain relaxation into the narrative, after the heavy episodes about interrogations and the darkest time of the communism times.
I am glad someone wrote this book as no one before. With humour - I couldn't stop laughing when Florence was accused of being part of the spy cell 'mish-pok', a mispelling of 'mishpucha', the Yiddish word for family she mentioned in a letter to her brother from Brooklyn - , smartly, without drama and passion, using the historical background to create stories. A very good book which resonates with the life of many simple people who although lost the fight with their beautiful ideals, survived to tell the story.

Rating: 5 stars