Review: Sarah Cohen-Scali – Max

Max
Sarah Cohen-Scali

Max isn’t born yet. But once he is, he will be the first of his kind – the first of a bred blonde haired, blue eyed Nazi. Self-aware and self-proclaimed as brilliant, this novel follows Max’s growing up in Nazi Germany where he doesn’t know that the Nazi’s are ‘evil’ and knows nothing but his relatively privileged life.

28231016Max’s unique mature mindset makes it possible for the author to expose monstrosities in a matter-of-fact manner that nonetheless touch the reader and leaves them thinking about humans in general. Sometimes it felt like there was too much to absorb.

Something that irritated me about the cover was that there were ‘Two boys, two destinies.’ I spent the first half or so of the novel wondering when the perspective would change to the other boy, but in fact that never happened. The perspective remained with Max, even as his views and understandings changed.

This novel remains readable while also providing insight into an area of Nazi Germany that many people may not know about. It is based around the true story of a facility and breeding project that had been set up in order to breed perfect little Germans who follow the will of Hitler. The beginning of genetics! My favourite!

This novel has been translated from French, and there are no objections here from me. The dialogue and descriptions still flowed seamlessly, and I didn’t even know it was translated until I looked on GoodReads for the cover!

I think I enjoyed Dog Boy (also by Text Publishing), more than I enjoyed this one. While Max was more absorbing (I read it straight through, keeping me up past my bedtime), Dog Boy left me with more to think about. Either way, they are both worth 5 stars.

4star

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Review: Eva Hornung – Dog Boy

Dog Boy
Eva Hornung

After being abandoned by his mother and uncle, Romochka is adopted by a yellow dog, her two other adult dogs and four puppies. What follows next is confusing yet satisfying at the same time. Romochka becomes a weak dog, but a potentially powerful animal.

16566340For a novel which could have been quite dry as a translation, it spoke powerfully to me and I was thinking about it while I wasn’t reading it. It seemed like more of the straight forward questions I had were answered, yet at the same time, more questions were raised. Is this really possible? Can you be raised by dogs, or wolves as in The Jungle Book?

Something that both irritated and pleased me was the doctors, and how their perspectives were portrayed. I couldn’t believe how much they used him. Until just now, thinking about where the book is set (Moscow), and the medical ideas of the time, I had thought it was barbaric.

I couldn’t believe the events leading up to the end, and the end itself! I mean, I guess I should have seen it coming, but it was a shock and horror moment all the same. I am still struggling to come to terms with it, several days later.

Now, this book, this book should be on literature lists everywhere. If it isn’t, it’s a chastity. It’s got so many interesting themes and a good meaty (haha) storyline to keep readers enthralled. I know it worked on me! Better than Levi’s ‘If This is a Man’ any day. Less depressing but just as rich for thinking about past political times and complicated discussions of animals (including men).

I’m giving it 5 stars – I wish I had the time to reread it because I feel like it has so much more to offer me.

5star

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Review: Sarah Vincent – The Testament of Vida Tremayne

The Testament of Vida Tremayne
Sarah Vincent

Vida has become trapped in her own mind, while Dory is trapped in the suburbia of her job. When Dory comes to clear out her mother’s house, in preparation of Vida never recovering, she finds a house-guest who witnessed Vida’s demise – but the truth is to be found in a series of journals.

23583770The novel starts out with Dory’s perspective, and you feel yourself thrust into her busy mindset. Dory is a woman who knows her own mind, and is determined to succeed in all of the ways her mother failed. The other chapters are excerpts from Vida’s journals, exposing both Dory’s childhood and Vida’s decline.

Honestly, it took me a while to write this review. This was a novel I needed to think deeply about and prod myself to dig into it. Initially I struggled to get into this novel. The prose put me a little bit off balance, and then, about 20 pages in, I suddenly got hooked. By about half-way through the novel, I couldn’t put it down, and spent time thinking about it while I wasn’t touching that gorgeous cover.

Vida. Dory. Vida. Dory. Rhiannon. They were all brilliantly characterised and had very separate voices. I never felt confused as to who was speaking. I was unfamiliar with the countryside, and the external world-building was good, but oh my, the characters were just so good.

I wanted to talk about this book having finished reading it, almost to anyone who would listen. I doubted my own reading of it. I wondered if I had missed something. Somewhere, the lines of fiction and fantasy get blurred, and I couldn’t tell where that point happened. Arg! How could that happen! The action drove me to keep reading, and perhaps I missed some of the nuances. Or maybe, just maybe, the author tricked me into thinking I should know more, but leaving me wanting more instead. Either way, really compulsive reading.

The ending was haunting. Especially as it wasn’t clear what was actually wrong with ‘the monster’ or what had happened to ‘the animal’.

It’s a definite re-read for me. And I have a family member in mind who would absolutely LOVE to get her hands on this kind of novel, so I might offer it to her for a read.

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Review: John Lauricella – 2094

2094
John Lauricella
It is 2094, and life has changed for humans all over the planet. The majority of humans are pretty much comatose, and the few on the run are dying out. Others are trapped in cages – and the overload lives on Mars. The question asked by this novel is whether life is worth it, and what people can be happy living with.
If you’re sensitive to mentions of sex, please do be aware that that’s the currency of the majority of the world. There are few scenes that are explicit in a way (I mean, two SexBots having sex), but I’m sure you could skip those parts if you wanted to. For once though, sex is woven into the text, and it’s gratuitous. Rather it’s moving the novel forward, always keeping in mind that sometimes sex doesn’t solve everything.
My initial reaction was ‘Wow. This novel was really something awesome.’ I would strongly recommend it for both personal reading, and as a school text. It’s about time the high school curriculum got a shakeup, and this novel is just the thing to do it. The sex will bother some people, but at the same time, teenagers are growing up a lot faster these days.
For once the genre listings on the back were completely spot-on. It’s ‘fiction, literature and dystopian’. It doesn’t read as a fiction, it reads as if the author has seen into the future, and brought back the true of it. Some others categorise it under sci-fi, which is reasonable enough, but there’s nothing that we couldn’t expect to see in the next couple of years.
The back asks me to ‘suspend my disbelief’ – I barely needed to do that. Given the news in the media at the moment and the way that some human seem to act, it’s likely this is a step towards the future. I guess everyone needs a minion?
What I couldn’t understand was why any humans were kept alive at all. The only ones seeming to reproduce are the Initiates, and even then, it’s a product of genetic manipulation. Why keep trying to survive? That’s a clear question that each person needs to answer for themselves.
Some people have faith, and that enables them to keep strong in the face of ‘Discipline & Punish’. Others have their families, and a strong resistance to being broken up. But the world is a harsh place, and sometimes death is the only way out without losing yourself.
It’s obvious that this book has been created with 1984 in mind, even if you didn’t pick it up from the title. It mirrors some things, such as the failures of human decency, and yet gives the next thought of what Big Brother could be doing.
Get out there, buy a copy, and read this novel.
While getting the novel’s cover from Goodreads, I found this comment from the author:
“Mainly the risk is that the narrative’s interconnectedness goes unperceived. For that reader, the novel is going to seem scattered and random. It should not be possible to misread 2094 in that way, as a haphazard, sprawling farce, but an inattentive reading could cause it. Especially dangerous — to the book, to the reader — is the cursory sort of skim-job practiced by review-writers. Rifling through the book quickly, reading just five or ten pages here and there then skipping, skipping, and moving on, would allow such a reader, particularly one not much interested in the novel’s premise or subject-matter, to form a very wrong impression of how the book works and what it’s trying to do. Add any strong bias to this scenario and the result is probably a disaster. “
I’ve been reading about author/blogger relationships this week, and this is really summing it up for me. I feel slightly put out that it intimates that all review-writers don’t read the book throughly. After I read about the top reviewer on Amazon who reads 30+ novels A DAY I’m not surprised with having that opinion.
Don’t worry John and other authors! I’m not a reviewer like that, and that’s why I tend to have extended wait times for reviews. Peace.

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Review: Peter Carey – The True History of the Kelly Gang

The True History of the Kelly Gang
Peter Carey

This novel is metafictional – Carey has taken the facts and then changed them to suit the story if it had really happened. Instead of Ned Kelly being an unforgivable highway robber, he is a painted more as a lovable modern day Robin Hood in a way. He is set on the pathway to criminality by his mother, trying to support a huge family of Irish children with no support from Ned’s father.
110090The language of this book is hard to get into, as Carey attempts to capture the language of Ned Kelly back in the early days of Australian history. The novel is sectioned according to where Ned’s correspondence comes from. As always, Carey’s writing challenges conventions.

This book is relevant to anyone who has an interest in Ned Kelly. Sure, you aren’t going to get historical facts out of it, but if you have someone who hates Australian literature (and for good reason!) or don’t know very much about our ‘national icon’, then this is a great book to introduce them to it.

This isn’t a novel I would read of my own volition, this was yet another literature text. It was one of the more enjoyable ones to read, surprisingly since it was Australian literature! However, the language usage, although ‘authentic’, was very offputting for me.

If you had to pick a Peter Carey to read out of this and Collected Stories, I’d pick this one over it. Collected Stories gives you a nice variety, but it’s all very deep and meaningful. The Kelly Gang is slightly more lighthearted, and infinitely easier reading.

It is very sensitively written, and doesn’t contain any swearing, though of course Ned comes up with his own adjectival curses! It’s likely suitable for teens, and certainly for adults.

As with many books for my literature classes, I didn’t purchase this book, rather I borrowed it from my local library. I don’t think I would reread for pleasure, although others may feel differently.

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Review: HonorĂ© de Balzac – Pere Goriot

Pere Goriot
Honoré de Balzac

‘Pere Goriot’, or Old Father Goriot, is a realist text which is difficult initially to understand and read. There are a number of characters, including Goriot himself and the irredeemable Rastignac, who focalize the novel. This novel is translated from French. If you want an in-depth experience of ‘real’ Paris, this will be good for you. Hit the jump for more details…

59145
The first 100 or so pages of the novel are impossible to get into. It is all just setting the scene for the ‘action’. If you persevere, you will find some more satisfying plot developments, but nothing that really shouts at you to read on. In the end, I found myself reading just to see what would happen to poor old Goriot, who got the death I expected.

If you do suddenly find yourself attached to any of the characters, this novel is part of a set ‘The Human Comedy’. Balzac made it his mission to catalog the entirety of Parisian society, and most of this is contained within his published works. Balzac died before he completed it, but this is a project that I feel he probably never would have been satisfied with .

This novel is a great example of realism! There is a heavy focus on detailed settings, as if you are really walking the streets of Paris. A number of the characters seem like placeholders, while others are fully fleshed out. I don’t think anyone feels real emotion for the characters, for everything is already set out for them. They seem to not try escape their sorry lot, and Rastignac in particular is quite a repugnant person.

This is not something I would enjoy reading for pleasure. As a text in a literature degree, it was a good one to study though, as it was filled with details that I could use for analysis. My version has a set of essays in the second half of the book, which was interesting and useful reading. It is good to know some historical background before setting out into the book.

Keep in mind that this is translated from French, so each translator may potentially put a different spin on things. Also, if you’re going to buy it online, make sure to get the English version!

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Review: Christopher Lee – Turning the Century – Writing of the 1890s

Turning the Century – Writing of the 1890s
Christopher Lee (editor)

‘Turning the Century’ is a relatively comprehensive collection of Australian authors and poets that were writing, surprisingly enough, in the 1890s. This period of time was rich in Australian literature, and played a huge part in the development of Australia. Hit the jump for more details…

4658255This is another book in keeping with my literature major, and it’s not something I would normally read. I haven’t read all the stories and poems in the collection, and I probably never will. That being said, some of the things I have read are great examples of their type. If you want to read a really good compendium of works from this timeperiod, concerning the imminent Federation of Australia, go for it!

Christopher Lee has left out some great short stories according to my study guide, as these were included in a reader associated with the unit. However, if you suddenly discover you love one of the authors of this collection in particular, you will find that many of the works are free online. I found this somewhat irritating once I had bought the book (it was a little expensive compared to my usual mass market paperback purchases).

Poetry is not normally my type of thing, and the works contained in this book are no exception to that. I have written an essay on ‘The Man from Snowy River’ and ‘The Women of the West’, and analysing those two works was quite easy, compared to some of the more obtuse poetry in the book.

This probably fits a niche market – those who love Australian literature, and those that have to study it for a major! Also, some of the poems have great rhythm, so if you’re looking to become a poet, I’d suggest perhaps looking at some of these, particularly ‘The Man from Snowy River’, if you haven’t before for some inspiration and a great example of style.

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Review: Miles Franklin – My Brilliant Career

My Brilliant Career
Miles Franklin
Sybylla is going to have a brilliant career… in doing nothing. Out in the Australian Bush, and even in town, it’s obvious that Sybylla doesn’t belong. This is a prime example of early Australian literature, and it’s worth a read if you like that type of thing, or the poetry of the 1890s isn’t for you. Hit the jump for more…

For years I didn’t know that Miles Franklin was a woman. Upon now reading it, it’s obvious that it is! She says it’s not romantic, but in a way it is. Sybylla is lovable, in an irritating sort of way. The foreword by Henry Lawson is rather masculine, and I”m not sure it’s really in keeping with the book, but it does display the attitudes of men towards women’s writing at the time.

Before I started reading, I knew the ending because I had already read some references on the topic (hello essay topic of mateship). So I knew it was doomed from the start! I still persevered though, and in the end I was reading past my bed time because I wanted to see what the stupid Sybylla would do! There is a sequel to this book (‘My Career Goes Bung’), which I don’t think I’ll bother reading (although I am somewhat curious).
Australian fiction doesn’t do anything for me. Certainly not Australian fiction from the literary period of the 1890s. I’m sure there are better examples of Australian fiction, and I do enjoy some Australian fantasy, but novels of mateship and the hardships of the Bush don’t seem to do anything for me. UnAustralian of me, I know, I know. 
I can understand why I am set to study it, because it is a relatively good example of its kind. And it is extremely well known. This is rather reminicent of the writings of Jane Austin, which I also didn’t enjoy. However, if you enjoy fiction in the style of Austin, and don’t mind a bit of Australian slang, this is a good book to get right into it. The language isn’t particularly hard, as long as you understand the Australianisms.

I feel like I’ve given you a list of reasons not to read it, and very little on the good aspects of the book. For a first novel by an early Australian writer, it’s not that bad. The settings are well described, and you can understand the relationships of Sybylla with her family nicely. There is little action, but what there is is quite good. Sybylla seems to get into trouble over everything! And there is certainly no ‘Brilliant Career’ to speak of.

My copy was from the library, and the version of it had a surprising number of typos. Not unreadable, just that the editors seemed not to take any care. Or perhaps it was left over from the original manuscript – whatever, it was just a shame. That was reflected in the boring cover you see in the above image. The book is obviously riding on its reputation as a classic, not looking to pull readers on the basis of looks or story line alone.

You can purchase My Brilliant Careerfrom Amazon (affiliate link)
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Review: Frank O’Connor – Classic Irish Short Stories

Classic Irish Short Stories
Frank O’Connor

This is a literature text for one of my Arts units, Irish Literature. For that reason, I haven’t actually read all of the short stories within the book. Frank O’Connor is only the editor, not writer of the short stories. There is a good range, particularly of women Irish writers.

142497The short stories are carefully crafted, and often filled with symbols and metaphors. They are a great expose on ‘Irish Life’. A bit of context regarding the famine, and world war II would be helpful, but not essential. You can still appreciate the stories as great Irish Literature.

While reading I wasn’t exactly concentrating on the joy of reading – these had an exam on them. I would love to go back at a later time when I’m not so stressed and reread more in the collection. If you didn’t like James Joyce, there is still a good chance you may like these, because there is simply so much variety in style.

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Review: Thomas Mann – Death in Venice and Other Stories

Death in Venice and Other Stories
Thomas Mann
‘Death in Venice’ is an assigned text for one of my literature classes. It is a collection of short stories by Thomas Mann, including his possibly most famous – the same titled Death in Venice. Mann is the perfect example of a Modernist writer, and by no means are his works comfortable to read.
323328The title story, Death in Venice, is about Aschenbach, an aging writer who falls in lust with a younger boy when taking a holiday. The work is resplendent with images and symbols, and to be fair, it is a very good text to analyse. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but it wasn’t bad either.

I couldn’t tell you whether it is a great example of Modernism – but it is according to my tutor. The story lacks a concrete feeling to the ending, which is something I personally hate. I’m also not very fond of short stories, as I feel like I never get to know the characters well before they are killed off. This story is more like a short novella though, and there is room for some ‘plot’ development.

Although not required for my class, I read a number of the other short stories in the book. I found them all to expand on the same themes of death and wanton destruction, and felt like once you had read one, you would expect the ending of the next to be the same (and indeed it is, with some subtle twists).
This book of short stories is certainly not suitable for younger readers. Adults may struggle with the uncomfortable, and often graphic, contents of the novel. This is not something I would normally read, and I probably wouldn’t seek out any of his other works.

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