The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting

sixteen trees.jpgTitle: The Sixteen Trees of the Somme

Author: Lars Mytting

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia: MacLehose Press

Published: 8th August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 405

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A 20th-century family saga of epic scale, by the author of NORWEGIAN WOOD.

By Norway’s bestselling novelist and the author of NORWEGIAN WOOD, a family story of epic scale.

Edvard grows up on a remote mountain farmstead in Norway with his taciturn grandfather, Sverre. The death of his parents, when he was three years old, has always been shrouded in mystery – he has never been told how or where it took place and has only a distant memory of his mother.

But he knows that the fate of his grandfather’s brother, Einar, is somehow bound up with this mystery. One day a coffin is delivered for his grandfather long before his death – a meticulous, beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Perhaps Einar is not dead after all.

Edvard’s desperate quest to unlock the family’s tragic secrets takes him on a long journey – from Norway to the Shetlands, and to the battlefields of France – to the discovery of a very unusual inheritance. THE SIXTEEN TREES OF THE SOMME is about the love of wood and finding your own self, a beautifully intricate and moving tale that spans an entire century.

Translated from the Norwegian by Paul Russell Garrett

~*~

The story that Norwegian author, Lars Mytting weaves is unusual, yet lyrical. In 1991, a young man, Edvard Hirjifell, begins an odyssey of discovery about his past, and the family he never knew, following the death of his grandfather, Bestefor. The mystery of his parents death begins the trip, and leads him to search for his grandfather’s brother, Einar, whom he hopes has not died, and will help him link the pieces of his past together. Edvard’s journey spans Norway, France and the Shetlands, discovering an unusual inheritance on the blood-drenched soils of the Somme from 1916, and a family legacy tainted by two world wars, and the horrors some of his ancestors were forced to go through. At times he finds himself questioning his identity, and as he finds people linked to his family, the puzzle pieces of his early life in 1971 begin to fall into place.

Translated into English from Norwegian by Paul Russell Garrett, The Sixteen Trees of the Somme was more character than plot driven, lending itself to literary fiction, and the subtlety within the writing that hinted at what was to come, what had happened and who someone was. As a result, the story was slowly revealed, each detail placed specifically to ensure maximum impact on the reader.

Initially I chose this book based on its title, hinting towards a story about the Somme and those who were there – however, both world wars were only mentioned implicitly in the early sections, and it was about half way into the story before the Battle of the Somme and the events of World War Two started to link up to Edvard’s family history, and what his French and Jewish ancestors had experienced, and how a soldier who had been at the Somme had come to impact his early life, and his link to that family. It became less about the wars themselves and more about the individuals in Edvard’s life who had been marked by war and tragedy. Through the eyes of Edvard, it reveals not only the tragedy and futility of war and sending young men off to fight, or punishing people for resisting a heinous regime, but the futility of being human, and the flaws we all have that an impact on the decisions we make and the way we act.

Translated books allow people who don’t speak the primary language of the author to read stories they may otherwise not get to engage with, and this is a bonus of having these books available. Some translations are exceptionally done, and capture the essence of the book, and as a reader, you can get a sense of the movement of the story. The Sixteen Trees of the Somme achieves this, and through a serious and sombre tone, Mytting communicated the desolation felt by Edvard and those whose stories and lives had shaped his.

Lars Mytting has created a story that crosses a century, and through the eyes of the main character, reveals how different people reacted to the history and to those they knew had been involved. The image at the beginning of a swastika on Bestefor’s car is indicative of wounds that have not healed, but that could also hint at remnants of other attitudes that were around during this time, and is just one example of the slow reveal techniques used in the novel, which did give it a slow pace, but it suited the story and style of the novel, and as such, I found it to be well written and engaging.

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The Lost Pages by Marija Peričić

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Title: The Lost Pages

Author: Marija Peričić

Genre: Literary fiction, historical fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: May 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 276

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: WINNER of the 2017 The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award

A stunning novel of friendship, fraud and betrayal within a compelling literary rivalry.

‘To frame The Lost Pages as being about Brod is clever and interesting. The Kafka we meet here is almost the opposite of the one we have come to expect.’ Stephen Romei, Literary Editor, The Australian

It is 1908, and Max Brod is the rising star of Prague’s literary world. Everything he desires-fame, respect, love – is finally within his reach. But when a rival appears on the scene, Max discovers how quickly he can lose everything he has worked so hard to attain. He knows that the newcomer, Franz Kafka, has the power to eclipse him for good, and he must decide to what lengths he will go to hold onto his success. But there is more to Franz than meets the eye, and Max, too, has secrets that are darker than even he knows, secrets that may in the end destroy both of them.

The Lost Pages is a richly reimagined story of Max Brod’s life filtered through his relationship with Franz Kafka. In this inspired novel of friendship, fraud, madness and betrayal, Marija Peričić writes vividly and compellingly of an extraordinary literary rivalry.

~*~

aww2017-badgeThe Lost Pages explores the fractured relationship between Franz Kafka, author of novels such as The Metamorphosis and The Trial, and his literary executor, Max Brod. In early twentieth century Prague, Brod is charged with taking care of Kafka, and securing his literary talent and manuscripts within the literary world of Prague and Germany, and it also explores the fractured, and unusual friendship of the two figures, and Brod’s sense of self in relation to Kafka.

Throughout the novel, told from Brod’s point of view, there are footnotes that indicate where something has come from, or been hinted to in the lost pages that inspired the novel. It explores a literary world now lost to us in the twenty-first century, but one that is still fascinating.

Marija Peričić’s inspiration for the novel came from an article in the New York Times outlining a court squabble between two elderly women over Kafka’s papers and manuscripts they had inherited. As Kafka’s executor, Brod published the manuscripts following Kafka’s death in 1924, and against his wishes. In The Lost Pages, Max struggles with the conflict of his role as literary executor, his sense of self and who Kafka is, and the threat that Kafka as the new rising literary star in Prague.

Kafka’s success and life is seen through the lens of Brod’s jealousy and feelings of isolation form people he cares about, and the impact this has in fracturing his mind, where Peričić explores where Kafka and Brod seem to meld together, interrogating Brod’s role in completing and publishing Kafka’s best known works. It is an interesting novel, one that uses history, literary circles and personalities to shed new light on the world of Kafka and his writing, showing a different side to the Kafka readers may know from his published works.

2017 vogel 1The Lost Pages is the 2017 winner of the The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award, which is one of Australia’s richest and the most prestigious award for an unpublished manuscript by a writer under the age of thirty-five. Offering publication by Allen & Unwin, with an advance against royalties plus prize money totalling $20,000, The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award has launched the careers of some of Australia’s most successful writers, including Tim Winton, Kate Grenville, Gillian Mears, Brian Castro, Mandy Sayer and Andrew McGahan.2018-VOGELS-PROMO

The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award-winning authors have gone on to win or be shortlisted for other major awards, such as the Miles Franklin Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Booker Prize.

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Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman

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Title: Stars Across the Ocean

Author: Kimberley Freeman

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 450

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The powerful new novel from Kimberley Freeman.

A rich and satisfying story of two women with indomitable spirits and the high costs they have to pay for being strong-minded, from the author of the bestselling LIGHTHOUSE BAY and EMBER ISLAND.

1874: Only days before she is to leave the foundling home where she grew up, Agnes Resolute discovers that, as a baby, she had been abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button.

Agnes always believed her mother had been too poor to keep her, but after working as a laundress in the home she recognises the button as belonging to Genevieve Breckby, the beautiful and headstrong daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had seen Genevieve once, in the local village, and had never forgotten her.

Despite having no money, Agnes will risk everything in a quest that will take her from the bleak moors of northern England to the harsh streets of London, then on to Paris and Ceylon. As Agnes follows her mother’s trail, she makes choices that could cost her dearly. Finally, in Australia, she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

~*~

aww2017-badgeStars Across the Ocean opens in the present, in first person. Victoria, or Tori as she prefers, has travelled from Australia to England to assist her ailing mother, who following an accident at work, is recovering in a rehabilitation centre. Tori is sent by her mother to her office to recover some work she has, and in the process, Tori finds a letter from about 1855: To My Child, Whom I Could Not Keep. And so begins Tori’s adventure into the past, via this letter, which abruptly ends and transitions from the first person perspective of Tori in the present and the letter, to 1874, third person, and Agnes.

Agnes Resolute is a foundling child of Perdita Hall in Hatby, Yorkshire. She has lived there for nineteen years, since her abandonment as a baby, with only a unicorn button the only clue to her past. Putting together her memories of a young woman named Genevieve from Breckby Hall, and a connection to the button, Agnes sets off on a journey to London, where she becomes the companion to Marianna Breckby, Genevieve’s sister and someone whom Agnes hopes, can help her find Genevieve.

Her time in London is cut short as she travels to Paris, where Genevieve’s son, Marianna’s nephew, Julius, finds her and listens to her story, and decides to help her find out about her family, telling her a few secrets of his own that make her question their relationship and what they might mean to each other. From Paris, Agnes travels alone to Ceylon to find Genevieve, and instead, finds a former lover, whose stories about Genevieve lead Agnes to Melbourne, Australia and the theatres. It is here that Agnes hopes to find Genevieve and have her questions answered,

Throughout the novel, it flicks back to the present as Tori struggles to put the letter together, with several sections missing, and whilst she is trying to solve the mystery of the letter, she is also struggling with her own demons back home in Australia, the lack of contact with her husband, and her ailing mother, who seems to need constant care.

It is a story about a young woman finding her place in the world, and reuniting with a mother who wanted her despite her family, and finding an unexpected love in the process. The romance was done exceptionally well, because the characters were given a chance to be their own people first and foremost; Agnes was allowed to be her own woman for a time, and find answers to questions she had had for years. It was a small part of the novel, but at the same time, a nice addition to a story that became about knowing who you are and not accepting what other people expected of you. There are two endings to this – the ending to Agnes’ story and the ending to Tori’s story. One was satisfying in many ways, and the other was a little abrupt, though realistic in relation to the plot. However, this second ending still left me wanting to know more, and wanting to know what else Tori and her mother would find out.

A delightful historical fiction story set in Victorian London, with a heroine who in some ways, fits into the gender expectations of the time but is still her own person and refuses to be tied down – the kind of character who can spread her wings when she wants to, and come home when she needs to. It is a lovely tale, and I hope to read it again soon.

A great read for lovers of historical fiction, and anyone who has read and enjoyed authors such as Kate Forsyth.

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2017 Sydney Writer’s Festival

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The Sydney Writer’s Festival is held annually across various precincts of Sydney, with many ticketed and free events across the five days of the festival. This year, the dates are the 22nd to the 28th of May.

Each year, the Sydney Writer’s Festival presents over 300 events, with audiences of over 100,000 people over the week travelling to the harbourside events and many other precincts that host the festival. Whilst the hear of the festival is at heritage wharves in Walsh Bay, there are also events at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Town Hall, the suburbs of Sydney and the Blue Mountains. The spread of these events means many can participate, but planning a day or days will need to be done carefully, to ensure getting to and from venues that aren’t that close.

One such event this year is the Keeping Company: Characters Across A Series, where Lynette Noni (Medoran Chronciles, Pantera Press) will be appearing and talking about writing characters in a series, as the title suggests. Other YA authors including Garth Nix will be in attendance. This could be a very interesting panel, but all of them sound good, and it is very hard to choose which ones to attend and which locations to focus on when booking and choosing.

The list of authors is diverse, from well-known authors to ones that might not be well-known but are just as good.

The Sydney Writer’s Festival unites writers from various forms of writing and backgrounds, including the best contemporary novelists, screenwriters, musicians and writers of non-fiction – some of the world’s leading public intellectuals, scientists and journalists. The finest writing and story telling are at the core of the Sydney Writer’s Festival; the programming is diverse and is driven by ideas and issues that animate a broad spectrum of literature.

The program is live, and you are able to purchase tickets and book events, as well as exploring the program to see what events will be the best options for you to attend.

There are many wonderful authors appearing at the festival this year, including S.D. Gentill, author of the Hero Trilogy, published by Pantera Press, who is hosting a Mining Mythology event on the Tuesday. Her trilogy delves into Greek Mythology and the idea of heroes and betrayal. Other events and authors will cover specific books, or genres of writing, and even hot button topics that can have an impact on what and sometimes how we write.

This is a festival that I hope to be able to go to, if I can decide on the events I would like to attend, as there are a few that interest me.

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Some of my Favourite Australian Authors

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Today is Australia Day, and I usually spend it quietly with books, often by an Australian author such as Kate Forsyth, Sulari Gentill, Anita Heiss,  or Jackie French. Many of the Australian authors I enjoy are women authors, and their books genre blend and tell the stories of characters who may be forgotten or silenced, a-waltz-for-matildathe invisible stories that history may have forgotten, such as Jackie French’s Matilda Saga, which begins in 1894 in book one, and by book seven, is in the 1970s. It deals with the silenced voices I mentioned before – the women and children left out of the record, or simply associated with a husband’s name, or the fictional daughter of the swaggie of Waltzing Matilda, whose imagined existence and therefore imagined erasure from the song by Banjo Paterson brings Matilda O’Halloran of the Matilda Saga to life.

the-girl-from-snowy-riverOver the course of seventy years, the Matilda Saga tells the story of women’s rights, of wars – The Boer War, World War One, World War Two and Vietnam by book five The Ghost by the Billabong, which I am currently reading, those left behind on the home front, and the road-to-gundagaiinnocents whose lives are turned upside down. It tells of the inter-war period between World War One and The Great Depression, and how orphaned teenagers like Flinty McAlpine raised families, after injuring her back, and how Blue escaped a prison-like home to find her family, and how Nancy went to Malaya to get her sister-in-law home, and found herself trapped in a prisoner of war camp by the Japanese on a small island off Malaya. The most recent books focus on Jed Kelly, and as I’ve just started book five, I’m still getting to know her and her story, but she comes to Drinkwater – Matilda’s property – and the characters that link all the books together – to find out who her great-grandfather is. Jackie French weaves history and imagination together to create this world and those who worked behind the scenes and brings the forgotten stories to light – the women, the orphans, the Indigenous Australians whose voices are clear in these books. Each book can be read alone, however, reading them in order has helped me see all the connections and links.rowly-7

the beasts gardenAnother Australian author I enjoy is Kate Forsyth. Her historical fiction stories also place the female character in the centre. My favourite is The Beast’s Garden, set in World War Two Germany, where Ava works to subvert Nazi power, whilst married to a Nazi, one whom she loves but at the same time fears, unsure of what he will do should he find out about her Jewish friends and their resistance, or her work against the Nazis. The power of a subversive voice not often heard in literature is what gave The Beast’s Garden it’s heart and power: we saw the impact of the Nazi regime through Ava’s eyes. What it did to her family, her friends, and what having a Spanish mother did to her, how it affected her as she lived with typically Aryan sisters. Even though this doesn’t tell the story of an Australian character, it is definitely one of my favourites.

I have only read one Anita Heiss book so far, and that was Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms, set in World War Two and told by an Indigenous narrator, Mary, who comes to care for the Japanese Prisoner of War hebarbed-wire-and-cherry-blossoms-9781925184846_lg.jpgr family is hiding. The book delves introwly-1o various prejudices in the community at the time of war, and how they felt towards each other. As I read this, I had the question in the back of my mind: Did societal expectations drive the behaviour of some? The book dealt with the history nicely, and again, used voices not often heard in the history books to tell those experiences – perhaps something the history books need more of to have a rounded understanding of the war as a whole, even on the home front. Using silenced voices like Heiss, Forsyth and French have done makes the story more powerful, gives it more impact.
For a final Australian author I enjoy, I turn to Sulari Gentill, author of the Rowland Sinclair series. Rowland isn’t a silenced voice, but his adventures in crime solving, and his journeys to England, Nazi Germany , and his time between Sydney and Yass, artist Rowland Sinclair and his friends, fellow painter, Clyde, the sculptress, Edna, and Milt, the communist, Jewish poet, whose lines are all plagiarised from the well known poets, comprise a crime solving team that come to assist the police rowly-4throughout the series. Poor Rowly has been shot, stabbed, beaten, and in a car accident, and has come through it all. He is an Australian gentleman. It is another fabulous series by a great Australian author.

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey

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Title: The Stolen Child

Author: Lisa Carey

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 10 January 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 325

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: On an island where dreams can come true, be careful what you wish for

St Brigid’s is a remote island off the west coast of Ireland. It is a barren place and its small community is dwindling. But according to rumour it is a magical place, home to a healing well.

Two sisters, Rose and Emer, have resisted the call of the mainland. Rose is beautiful, blessed with love and many children. Emer is unlovely and, worse still, she is cursed – by the strange currents that run through her fingers.

When a dazzling stranger alights on St Brigid’s, she is shunned. She has come in search of a miracle, and the islanders keep their secrets close. But gradually she insinuates her way into the sisters’ lives, and even Emer opens her heart.

Little do they realise that her quest will endanger the lives of all who remain on the island. Passion will endanger everything they hold dear.

~*~

The Stolen Child opens almost where it ends, though this finale is still shrouded in a fog of mystery that slowly unravels as the novel proceeds. Twin sisters Rose and Emer have spent their lives on the island, Rose quite happy with her brood of twin girls and husband, Emer longing to get off, and holding her only son, Niall, close to her. The arrival of a stranger brings a series of events and tragedies to the island. Gradually, these events lead to something devastating, and slowly drive wedges between friends and family who were once all close, connected by the island, blood and friendship, and the bonds they share become frayed, by whom though, nobody can agree.

The stranger, Brigid, is at first shunned and gossiped about by the women, her connection to the island and her presence questioned. As time goes on, barriers break down, Brigid’s story is revealed through flashbacks, and she comes close with Emer, and her son Niall, slowly chipping away at the walls Emer has built around her due to fear. Emer though, still holds onto old traditions and superstitions about fairies, “the good people”, and curses, and magic, despite the weekly visits to Mass made by the island. When she is trapped on the island with her brother in law during a dark storm that traverses three days, one event sets the wheels in motion for tragedy. The dangers that they will have to face, and the realities of Brigid and her presence, soon impact the lives of everyone who lives there.

A captivating yet eerie story, with a touch of gothic literary characteristics mixed in with old Irish traditions and a struggle against what is known and the unknown of the modern world, The Stolen Child evokes the fear of loss – loss of love, of family, of friendship and of self. It evokes the creation and breaking down of relationships and has characters that question the conventions and expectations that surround them. The relationships in this novel are mainly between women: there are male characters, though other than Niall, they are secondary to the women, and what they feel for each other. The various relationships between Rose, Emer, Brigid and Rose and Emer’s mother, are the ones that dominate the novel, the ones that give it the power and emotion for the reader. Brigid and Emer’s relationship builds out of distrust into a sort of respect, where Brigid slowly coaxes Emer from her shell, and into friendship, with the possibility of something more.

What I liked most about this novel was that I didn’t know what was coming with each chapter. It allows for the characters to grow and be complex, whilst still allowing the essence of who they all are to shine through. It has a mystery within that requires being read to the final page to be solved, and yet still has an air of wonder once the final page has been turned.

A moving and tender read, where the sea and the island are as much characters as the human characters, the givers and takers of life that these island women live by, It evokes emotion, and weaves a tale that illustrates the realities of prejudice, isolation and fear, and how these can change at the drop of a hat at times.

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017

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Six years ago, in an attempt to read and review more books by Australian Women Writers, the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge came about to encourage readers to read and review more books, and it runs from the first of January to the 31st of December each year.

Within the challenge, there are four challenge levels. The first three are named after prominent Australian Women Writers who have had an impact on Australian writing. They are:

  • Stella: read 4 – if reviewing, review at least 3
  • Miles: read 6 – if reviewing, review at least 4
  • Franklin: read 10 – if reviewing, review at least 6
  • Create your own challenge: nominate your own goal e.g. “Classics Challenge”.

As this is my first year, I have decided to go with the Miles level, and read six, and review at least four of those – with any luck, I will have some nice options in the coming months from review books and purchases by some favourite authors such as Lynette Noni, Kate Forsyth and Sulari Gentill. Most of my books are likely to be fiction, and I may do a few re-reads if I need to.

In general, I read and review books by women writers not just in Australia, but from other countries too. As the books I intend to read are not out yet, I do not have covers for them yet, and these will be included in my reviews when I post them. I am aiming for mainly new releases but just in case, here are the other options I will go to if I necessary.

The Good People by Hannah Kent

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The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman

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The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

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There may be others but these are the ones that I am the most keen to read, alongside any new releases that come my way from publishers for reviewing purposes.

Best of luck to everyone participating in the challenge.