I have read some really interesting books recently. Lockdown has given me the opportunity to read more than usual, as golf courses are closed and my social life is severely limited. We are staying at home like most people.
This month, I have reviewed some books that reflect life during certain historical periods. The first two are set during and just after World War 2 in Poland and Russia. The third is set in 17th Century England and the final book is set in the Midlands in Ireland in the 1850s.
Have a look at my previous post on BOOKS for some other recommendations.
The weather outside was awful until a few days ago, but we have had a few day’s respite and blue skies have made me feel more optimistic.
Both of the following books tell interesting stories, but they have also caused plenty of controversy.
In fact, what the characters in these books endured make LOCKDOWN seem like a holiday.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz
This novel tells the story of how Slovakian Jew LaleSokolov fell in love with a girl he tattooed at the concentration camp. Heather Morris was told the story by Lale beginning when he was 87 following the death of his wife. The book has been criticised for many historical inaccuracies and also for misleading readers. Many people question some of the details concerning the concentration camps. But I felt that these inaccuracies did not detract from the story. One such inaccuracy relates to how the protagonist sourced penicillin. Seemingly it was not available until after the war. While it was not always an enjoyable read, it was a riveting one. It is a beautiful story of survival, optimism and love.
The protagonist in this novel was unlucky enough to be in Auschwitz, but having survived that she was then sent to a Soviet Gulag. This was because she was seen as a collaborator, having been forced to be the mistress of the head of the camp. Again, this has drawn the ire of historians and the family of Cilka Klein, who question the veracity of many of the facts.
Nevertheless, it is a fascinating read, particularly enlightening about life and survival in the Russian Gulags.
The next two books are not as harrowing and have received huge critical acclaim
Beautifully written, this novel takes you back to Elizabethan England to Shakespearean times. It is a totally fictional account of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet who died aged 11. But the novel’s central character is not Hamnet but Agnes who is based on the dramatist’s wife. She is a free spirit, a herbalist, a woman with strange powers. Incidentally, her husband is never named, but referred to as such or as ‘the Latin tutor’ or ‘the father’.
So wonderfully evocative are Maggie O’Farrell’s descriptions of the smells, sounds and sights of the town that I felt I was roaming through the streets with Agnes.
The love of a mother and her fears for her children are convincingly portrayed as are the overpowering and real feelings of grief and loss. Highly recommended.
Not sure if this qualifies as historical fiction, but I am including it anyway. The author was fascinated by the accounts of ‘fasting girls’ across the world between the 16th and 20th centuries. They drew doctors, scientists, religious fanatics and the plain curious to their sides.
In ‘The Wonder’, an eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but somehow stays well and alive. Is it a miracle, or is there a cover-up going on? An English nurse Lib Wright is sent into the Midlands in Ireland to investigate and discover the truth. She feels out of place and, of course, there is the normal distrust of the English from the native Irish. Lib finds an unlikely ally in a journalist sent from Dublin to get a story. Nobody is what he or she seems.
Slow moving initially, it took me a while to get involved. I felt every hour pass, watching the child with the nurse. Not a lot happens at first. But the atmosphere is intense and like Lib Wright I wanted to know the truth. Powerful description and dramatic dialogue combine to make this story totally captivating.
Stay safe my friends. Take hope from this beautiful rainbow I saw a while ago over the Irish Sea on one of my walks. And yes, it was this vivid.
Spring is coming!