The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting

bell in the lakeTitle: The Bell in the Lake
Author: Lars Mytting
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 10th March 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 392
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: The first in a rich historical trilogy that draws on legend, by the author of NORWEGIAN WOOD and THE SIXTEEN TREES OF THE SOMME.
Norway, 1880. In the secluded village of Butangen at the end of the valley, headstrong Astrid dreams of a life beyond marriage, hard work and children. And then Pastor Kai Schweigaard comes into her life, taking over the 700-year-old stave church with its carvings of pagan deities. The two church bells were forged by her forefather in the sixteenth century, in memory of conjoined sisters Halfrid and Gunhild Hekne, and are said to have supernatural powers. But now the pastor wants to tear it down, to replace it with a modern, larger church. Though Astrid is drawn to him, this may be a provocation too far.
Talented architecture student Gerhard Schonauer arrives from Dresden to oversee the removal of the church and its reconstruction in the German city. Everything about elegant Schonauer is so different, so cosmopolitan. Astrid must make a choice: for her homeland and the pastor, or for a daunting and uncertain future in Germany.
Then the bells begin to toll…
Translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin

~*~

In Norway in 1880, society is changing. Astrid Hekne, the main character, dreams of a life beyond what society has in mind for her. That is, until she meets the new pastor, Kai Schweigaard to take care of an old church with pagan carvings. Here, the intersection of the old Norse ways from hundreds of years ago, and Christian traditions meet beneath the Sister Bells that Astrid’s ancestor made. They memorialise two conjoined Henke sisters. Astrid wants to try and stop their destruction.

Yet when a German architect arrives the plans to reconstruct it in Dresden are revealed. As their lives collide, and Astrid is forced into making a decision, the bells begin to tell and a fate that has been hanging over Astrid’s head begins to shape what is to come.

Told in three parts, each made up of multiple short sections or chapters, The Bell in the Lake was translated from the original Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin, and is a complex and lyrical story, exploring the lives of Astrid, Kai and Gerhard as they navigate the complexities of moving a church and how faith shapes a small community and the driving force of society to determine how people act and what is to come. Interspersed with Astrid’s story – a woman determined to be her own person and move ahead of her time, is the rich history of stave churches and what they meant to their societies. It is dense with history and plot, and many complexities that lead to an ending that was a bit surprising and needed a couple of reads to understand it, but it packed a powerful punch about the realities of the setting and how belief can be a powerful factor in what ends up happening to us.

The intersection of ancient and new religions – of a pantheon of gods versus a singular god, and how these two religions somehow came together – or how one more likely took over and appropriated another in order to convert those who were faithful to the older ways to a new, and what was seen at the time, more acceptable way of thinking. This mainly came through Kai and Gerhard but bubbled below the surface of the other characters and how their beliefs in older ways and legends informed how they wanted to live their lives.

The nineteenth century setting feels authentic – and the cold of Norway expressed throughout is biting and can be felt through the words, and there is a sense of isolation within the novel that Astrid longs to break away from. It is a unique novel and very dense with detail, character and setting – which work in this instance as it allows setting and character to be as important as the plot.

The Sisters of Auschwitz by Roxane van Iperen

sisters of auschwitzTitle: The Sisters of Auschwitz

Author: Roxane van Iperen

Genre: History, Biography

Publisher: Hachette/Seven Dials

Published: 12th November 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 305

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: The life-affirming story of female bravery, Jewish Nazi resistance and surviving the horrors of Auschwitz

WINNER of the Opzij Literature Prize 2019!

During the Second World War two Jewish sisters – Janny and Lien Brilleslijper – run one of the largest hideaways in The Netherlands: The High Nest, a villa in The Gooi area. While the last remaining Jews are being hunted in The Netherlands, the lives of dozens of hideaways kept going for better or for worse, right under the noses of their National Socialist neighbours. Eventually, the nest is exposed and the Brilleslijper family put on one of the last transports to Auschwitz, along with the (Anne) Frank family.

Roxane’s novelistic eye combined with her rigorous research result in a hugely compelling portrayal of courage, treason and human resilience. THE HIGH NEST is a truly unforgettable book.

After Roxane and her family moved into The High Nest in 2012 she spent six years writing and piecing together its story. Fundamental elements of Roxane’s research into The High Nest are the personal, unpublished memoirs Janny Brilleslijper wrote for their close friends and family members. Roxane gained access to historic interviews with Janny, Lien, Eberhard and others, as well as many personal conversations with Janny and Lien’s children. The book will contain many photographs from the Brilleslijper family archive.

It is 1940 and the Final Solution is about to begin. The Nazis have occupied the Netherlands, but resistance is growing and two Jewish sisters – Janny and Lien Brilleslijper – are risking their lives to save those being hunted, through their clandestine safe house ‘The High Nest’. It becomes one of the most important safehouses in the country, but when The High Nest and its occupants are betrayed, the most terrifying time of the sisters’ lives begins. This is the beginning of the end.

With German defeat in sight, Janny and Lien are put on the last train to Auschwitz, along with Anne Frank and her family. What comes next challenges the sisters beyond human imagination as they are stripped of everything but their courage, resilience and love for each other.

~*~

There are many stories around about the Holocaust that explore as many facets as possible, but usually through the stories that have been allowed to be told in non-fiction, such as this one, or in historical fiction. As the description says, Roxane had permission and access to the archives of the Brillespijer family to tell the story. In the back of the book, she provides a list of the sources she accessed. This book has been translated from Dutch, so most of the sources are presumably, in Dutch. It is important that Roxane received permission to write this story and did it so carefully, as it is such a horrific part of history and needs to be dealt with sensitively.

In this powerful story of Janny and Lien starts just as the Nazi’s are encroaching on The Netherlands, and grabbing land for their use, so Janny and Lien find a way to get their families to safety and help as many Jews as possible. Yet there is still uncertainty prowling around, and though they spend four years helping as many Jews as possible escape the transports to concentration camps, a betrayal brings it to an end, and they find themselves on the way to Westeros and Auschwitz, and finally, Bergen-Belsen with the Frank family – at first, all of them. At the end, they are alone at Bergen-Belsen when they find out Anne and Margot are there. Janny and Lien are amongst the last to see Anne and Margot alive.

Roxane’s biography is filled with horror and uncertainty – as it should. Reading and learning about things like the Holocaust shouldn’t be sugarcoated or comfortable – it was awful. The story of Lien and Janny doesn’t shy away from the fear and the horror felt over the years of Nazism and war. It shows the steps taken as Hitler and the Nazis marched across Europe, taking land and segregating sections of society to ensure land for what Hitler hoped would be an Aryan world. As Janny and Lien do what they can to protect their family from harm, and keep each other going, their story is one of the powerful stories of the Holocaust, and shows what people went through without shying away from the gritty reality that people faced during the war.

 

March Round Up 2019

I read twelve books in March, and like previous months, some reviews are yet to go up, whilst others were just work books or books I did not review. Below is my progress for each challenge:

Overall/Dymocks 52 Challenge

#Dymocks52Challenge

27. The Incredible Hulk by Alex Irvine

  1. Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
  2. The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag
  3. The Deep: Selkie Warrior by Finn Black
  4. Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide
  5. Captain Marvel: Higher, Faster, Further by Kelly Sue DeConnick
  6. Free Rein: The Steeplechase Secret by Jeanette Lane
  7. Esther by Jessica North
  8. Mermaid Holidays: The Talent Show by Delphine Davis and Adele K. Thomas
  9. Cuddles by Ellen Miles
  10. The True Story of Maddie Bright by Mary-Rose MacColl
  11. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Jane Austen Challenge

Jane Austen Reading Challenge 2019

First book read for this challenge – Northanger Abbey

20181124_140447

Book Bingo

Book set in an exotic location: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – #AWW2019

Literary: Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – AWW2019

Romance: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

2019 Badge

Australian Women Writers

  1. Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte – Reviewed
  2. Zebra and Other Stories by Debra Adelaide – Reviewed
  3. Esther by Jessica North – Reviewed
  4. Mermaid Holidays: The Talent Show by Delphine Davis and Adele K. Thomas – Reviewed
  5. The True Story of Maddie Bright by Mary-Rose MacColl – Reviewed

 

 

March Round-Up

 

Book Author Challenges
The Incredible Hulk Alex Irvine #Dymocks52Challenge, General
Four Dead Queens Astrid Scholte general, #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar, Book Bingo
The Wolf and the Watchman Niklas Natt och Dag general,

#Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar

 

The Deep: Selkie Warrior Finn Black general,

#Dymocks52Challenge

Zebra and Other Stories Debra Adelaide general,

#Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019, Book Bingo

Captain Marvel: Higher, Faster, Further

 

Kelly Sue DeConnick general,

#Dymocks52Challenge,

 Free Rein: The Steeplechase Secret Jeanette Lane general,

#Dymocks52Challenge

Esther Jessica North general, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019
Mermaid Holidays: The Talent Show Delphine Davis and Adele K. Thomas general, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019, PopSugar
Cuddles Ellen Miles general, #Dymocks52Challenge.
The True Story of Maddie Bright Mary-Rose MacColl general, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019, PopSugar
Northanger Abbey Jane Austen General, book bingo, #Dymocks52Challenge

Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher

babylon berlin.jpgTitle: Babylon Berlin

Author: Volker Kutscher, translated by Niall Seller

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 528

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A GEREON RATH MYSTERY

‘Political maelstrom, a populist right on the march — sound familiar? . . . It’s fabulous debauchery and naughtiness, a political maelstrom and a ticking timebomb.’ The Guardian

 

Set in pre-Nazi Germany, Babylon Berlin is the first book in the bestselling German crime series. Seasons one and two on Netflix Australia now.
Berlin, 1929: When a car is hauled out of the Landwehr Canal with a mutilated corpse inside, Detective Inspector Gereon Rath claims the case. Soon his inquiries drag him ever deeper into the morass of Weimar Berlin’s ‘Roaring Twenties’ underworld of cocaine, prostitution, gunrunning and shady politics.

A fascinating, brilliant and impeccably detailed crime series set in the Weimar Republic between the world wars with a backdrop of the rise of Nazism.

Now a major international television series

‘Unrelenting in tension until an explosive climax; as well as delivering the thrills Kutscher captures perfectly in dark tones the menacing atmosphere and lurking threats of a unique — and pivotal — time and place in history.’
Craig Russell, author of the Jan Fabel series

‘Twenties Germany in all its seedy splendour: impressive.’
Sarah Ward, author of In Bitter Chill

‘Gripping, skilfully plotted and rich in historical detail.’
Mrs Peabody Investigates

‘Evocative thriller set in Berlin’s seedy underworld during
the Roaring Twenties.’
Mail on Sunday 

~*~

In the months and years before Hitler’s eventual rise to power, and in the months before the Great Depression hits, Detective Inspector Gereon Rath investigates murders and other unsavoury crimes that plague the city of Berlin. It is May when a car is dragged from the Landwehr Canal, complete with mutilated corpse, just one in a string of murders and incidents that are connected and that form the case that Gereon Rath takes on, and digs deeper into, uncovering secrets, and villains he never thought he would. In this world, people are not as they seem, they are secretive, only showing what the world wants them to see. Gereon is like this too, hiding an addiction and a troubled mind and worries. The mystery thickens with each passing chapter and day – each day is encapsulated in a chapter, so it is a rather long book, and it does take a little while to solve the mystery. As things become more complicated, the flawed anti-hero, Rath, starts to become caught up in the very underworld he is investigating, with characters just as morally flawed as he comes across, though perhaps he gets points for trying to question the flawed morals he faces, but not always. It takes a long time for Rath to solve the mystery, which feels a little drawn out at times but then moves along at a decent pace at other times – the lulls seem to show relationships that feel like they fizzle out and disappear, with not much made of them beyond that.

Overall, the plot is intriguing, though a bit long-winded, and could have been edited down to gear up the pacing, the delays that Rath faced did allow for some character development, amidst a growing unrest in Germany, with the SA and Nazis slowly rising and causing trouble, mixed in with a fear of Russians and Communism, presenting a backdrop that doesn’t overshadow the main plot, whilst still setting the scene for Rath and the actions of those around him. Gereon’s flaws are potentially what made him the most interesting character out of a cast of many – some of which only had short roles, maybe a few chapters or a few pages, and then disappeared, and the hinted at romance seemed to fizzle out. However, I will give this the benefit of the doubt as it is the beginning of a series. and it is possible these threads will be picked up in subsequent books.

One thing that could have moved the plot along was less travelling time and time spent on travelling scenes – a few quick transitions here and there would have worked just as well as the intricate descriptions and details. When reading this book, I was much more interested in the case being investigated – I did want to know about the private lives of the characters but felt some of this came out a little too much for the first book in a series – spacing it out makes it more exciting for the reader to discover. Another was the mention of green lights and electric hair dryers – uncommon for the setting, with explanations that felt misunderstood by those questioning the lines about them – though perhaps they work in the sense that the modern world is coming into being and slowly, new developments are taking place, and that is why only a few people know about them.

Though this is a long book, if you enjoy crime fiction and historical fiction, I would still recommend this. But take your time, as there are many details to try and remember, as it does get quite busy at times.

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