TalkMissWatson's 2019 timely reads

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MissWatson's 2019 timely reads

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Jan 27, 2019, 12:07pm

Hi, I am late setting up a thread, but work is very busy at the moment and I have nowhere near time enough for all the reading I want to do. But I will try to keep with the monthly challenges!

Edited: Jan 27, 2019, 12:10pm

January: I Will Survive

Of course, this could be me surviving the working week...But I did find a book for this, David Benioff's City of thieves which is set in January 1942 and the Siege of Leningrad. He must have read up quite a bit of the history before he wrote down his grandfather's story and I couldn't help thinking that his grandmother's would have been even more interesting.

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Feb 6, 2019, 6:38am

February: Be My Valentine

I finished Le bal de Sceaux and couldn't really feel sorry for Émilie, a spoiled young aristocrat who wants to marry a peer and gets her come-uppance.

Feb 7, 2019, 4:24am

February: Be My Valentine

Goth Girl and the fete worse than death is enjoyable on so many levels. The love interest here is Ada's maid who is reunited with her lover, now a general in South America, and her governess has to part from her lover whose job as a spy takes precendence. And Regency England is gorgeously depicted in the illustrations.

Feb 17, 2019, 1:23pm

February: Be My Valentine

A tale of two cities is one of the best love stories I've ever read, and it is historical fiction, too.

Feb 25, 2019, 4:16pm

February: Be My Valentine

One more for this theme is Marie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig, because he gives much room to Axel Fersen and his efforts to save his beloved queen.

Mar 5, 2019, 3:50am

March: Downtown

Das Halsband der Königin was a follow-up to Zweig's biography. Antal Szerb relies much on Zweig for his facts about the Necklace Affair, has nothing new to add and some dated ideas about national stereotypes. He is also inconsistent about them. I found the translation clunky which may have affected the argumentation.

Mar 9, 2019, 12:22pm

March: Downtown

1793 is set in Stockholm and is a mystery at core, as two men from different social stations investigate a very gruesome killing. The most remarkable thing for me was how closely it relates to our times, the social tensions between the super-rich and the disadvantaged are oddly similar.

Mar 10, 2019, 6:12am

March: Downtown

March is shaping up to be another good month for historical reading: Der goldene Handschuh is about a murderer who killed several women in Hamburg's red-light district in the early 1970s. The murders take place off-stage, it's more a social study about the effects of alcoholism. Quite depressing, to be honest.

Mar 31, 2019, 6:08am

March: Downtown

Joseph Balsamo is set in Paris and Versailles, mostly, and a very meandering yarn about Balsamo, alias Cagliostro, setting up a conspiracy to bring down the monarchies of Europe, starting with France. The conspiracy is ludicrous, at best.

Apr 30, 2019, 3:17am

April: The wonderful emptiness

When I skimmed the list of books tagged "Great Plains", the name Mari Sandoz jumped out at me because it is Swiss. So I looked her up and found an interesting life. I only managed to read the short These were the Sioux, which is very instructive and full of sympathy for the lost life of the Plains Indians.

Apr 30, 2019, 3:52pm

>6 MissWatson: You are doing an admirable job of keeping up with the monthly themes. :) Going back to February, I had never thought of A Tale of Two Cities as a love story. I probably should reread it or watch a movie version at some point. That is great the monthly themes allows readers to consider different perspectives within a story.

Edited: May 21, 2019, 5:36am

>12 This-n-That: Thanks! This year, I'm finding it easier to pick a book for the monthly themes than follow a theme for a quarter.
I had no idea that Sidney Carton's unrequited love would play such a prominent part in this tale, but then Dickens always have a romance in his books, so I shouldn't have been so surprised.


May 21, 2019, 5:39am

May: mythology across cultures

I had no idea that Tales from the Alhambra would fit this theme, but the book contains quite a few local legends about the Moorish inhabitants of the famous palace, and the one about Boabdil and his army waiting in a cave under the mountain reminded me of a similar story about the emperor Friedrich Barbarossa sleeping under the Kyffhäuser.

Jun 20, 2019, 4:16am

April-June: Between the Wars

Das hündische Herz by Michail Bulgakov was written in 1925 and is set in the same time.
Like so many works from Soviet times, it had a difficult life: it could not be published during Bulgakov's lifetime, and the first editions published in the West were all based on smuggled and mutilated Samizdat copies or on the version Bulgakov's widow edited and later retracted. This translation is recent, based on the third and final typoscript from Bulgakov's hand, and the translator provided notes and explanations for some of his choices.

It is also a gorgeously made book with fine paper, lavish illustrations, and set in one of my favourite fonts. I'll be keeping this, not least to have it handy for comparison once I tackle my edition of the original, which is based on the first surviving typoscript.

Ah yes, what is it about? A professor, whose field of research is hormones, picks up a stray dog, implants the pituitary gland of dead criminal and watches appalled as his creation wreaks havoc. Of course, there is lots of satire about the new Soviet conditions of life, mostly in the housing administration committee, but most of all this is about the arrogance of scientists playing God without any notion of what they are doing. A Faustian pact with the devil, which returns in The Master and Margarita.

Edited: Jun 30, 2019, 11:37am

June: Cryptography and Code Breaking

Alan Turing by Rolf Hochhuth was a disappointment.

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Jul 8, 2019, 5:49am

July: travel

I just finished L'épervier where a French captain is accused of murder and his ship confiscated. He follows the villains across the Atlantic where they are looking for a treasure in French Guyana in the 18th century. Lots of tall ships and sailing, plus treks through the jungle.

Jul 13, 2019, 4:14pm

July: travel

I also travelled the Ottoman Empire with Kara Ben Nemsi in Durch Wüste und Harem by Karl May, from Tunisia to Iraq. There's lots of fighting among Arab tribes and against the Kurds, suppression by the Turks and meddling by the European powers, and since this was written in 1881, it's sad to note that nothing much has changed.

Jul 14, 2019, 3:16pm

July-September: WWII

Die Entdeckung der Currywurst was a quick and surprisingly enjoyable read (I am wary of books praised by the critics), and much surprised to find it is set in Hamburg and mostly during the last days of the Third Reich. Lena Brücker is a very convincing character.

Edited: Sep 27, 2019, 4:47am

September: Women pioneers

Immerwahr is a novel about Clara Immerwahr, the first woman to gain a PhD in chemistry. She was also married to Fritz Haber, infamous for introducing poison gas attacks into trench warfare, and she committed suicide because of this. The book does not really do her justice.

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Oct 1, 2019, 5:07am

October: loss

I didn't pick it up with the intention of reading it for this theme, but loss is very much present in The eagle of the Ninth as young Marcus must accept that his career with the legions is over, after being seriously wounded in hist first command. Sutcliff has an amazing way with words, and this is a book I re-read from time to time with great pleasure.

Oct 10, 2019, 5:12am

October-December: 1946–

My first book for this period is Halali, where an 82-year old woman looks back on her younger days, when she was a typist in the interior ministry of the recently established Federal Republic of Germany. It's the Cold War, Soviet bloc spies roam idyllic Godesberg, and our heroine and her best friend stumble across a dead letter cache, illegal money and a corpse...
This was a very entertaining look at what it meant to be young and female in the early fifties, and it was even more interesting because the author was also 82 when she wrote this, and it is probably much like her own life at the time (except the spies): living on your own, earning your own money, having fun, being able to afford a holiday.
The author started writing late in life, and her first book made quite a splash when it was published. I really want to read those mysteries now, she has a very shrewd, nonsensical outlook on life, and I expect quite a bit of black humour.

Oct 30, 2019, 5:35am

October: loss

On reflection, Die Gleichung des Lebens fits very well here, as it deals with the draining of the Oder moors in the 1740s-1750s.
A very fascinating topic, but the execution was less than successful. The author tries too hard to draw parallels with the modern world. The draining of the moor and the building of a new riverbed for the Oder drastically changes the environment, the people who make their living from fishing lose their way of life and to some degree their identity as a group apart, ethnically different (they are Slavs) and economically. Just what we do today with burning down tropical forests to produce soybeans and palm oil.

Edited: Nov 29, 2019, 10:00am

November: marginalised people

I re-read The prospering about the founding of Stockbridge, Mass. as an Indian mission for the Mahicans. The story is told by Elizabeth Williams looking back on her family's life from the day they arrived in the town as English settlers, her sister marries the resident preacher and missionary. The Mahicans remain a shadowy presence throughout the book, although Elizabeth as a girl is friends with the chief's daughter. There is little mutual understanding, and the theological obsessions hinder rather than foster it.

ETA: I totally forgot to post Der Sommer des Kometen here, set in 18th century Hamburg which features a company of travelling players who lived very much on the margin of society at the time.