SONG OF ACHILLES

MADELINE MILLERsong-of-achilles

A wonderful reworking of the familiar tale from the Illiad of the son of a goddess but still a mortal, Achilles. The story is narrated by Patroclus, Achilles’ best friend, companion and eventually lover. Patroclus, a prince, was exiled from his home for killing another prince, to be raised by King Peleus, Achilles’ father. Achilles is everything Patroclus is not: out going, beautiful, well loved by all and perfect. Their friendship and love affair rankles Achilles’ mother, Thethis, a miserable sea goddess, who tries to come between the two boys but fails. Achilles realises that he must go to war in Troy in order to fulfill his destiny and become a hero, the greatest warrior of all time. Patroclus, through fear and love for his companion, follows Achilles to fight in the war. The gods become involved in the war and it drags on for a decade.

An excellent read.

THE BAY OF FOXES

bay foxesSHEILA KOHLER

Kohler shows us France and the French, the world and life through the eyes of a terrified, yet educated Ethiopian refugee Dawit. Dawit meets the famous author, known only as M., who completely transforms his life through a chance meeting in a café. His striking good looks and past education are endearing to the aging author and she invites Dawit to arrive at her home in a few days and she will remove him from the slum and help him. Not only does M. remove Dawit from poverty, fear and the charity of his only friend, she transforms his life. Dawit acts as M.’s secretary, editor and companion and as he is draped in expensive clothes and well fed, she hopes for more from the young man. M. shows Dawit off, but it becomes clear to her that he has no sexual interest in her, not only because of her age and the circumstance, but also because he is gay.

Dawit is bright, fluent in multiple languages and has a terrible past as a refugee. All of this reflects his aristocratic upbringing and his terrible time after an uprising in his homeland.A quiet character at first, Dawit grows to be a figure of passion, strength and intrigue. M. is of course presented as a formidable character, but as her sexual advances are continually rebuffed, her jealousy grows and her dark side emerges more so than her surface personality. When the two travel to her villa, known as The Bay of Foxes, more layers of the story unfold as M. begins to fade away and Dawit falls in love with another man.

Great Ending! Great read!

 

ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

esczpe

BLAINE HARDEN

The story of how Shin Dong-Hyuk, after crawling through a lethal electrified fence over the insulating dead body of a companion, made it out of a North Korean prison camp and eventually into the U.S., is a remarkable. But so is Shin’s early life.  He was born in the concentration camp to parents who were rewarded with a type of marriage. They didn’t live together but could have sporadic conjugal visits. He started working as a slave at 3 years old. His body carries the scares of the deprivation and torture that he survived in the camp. When his mother and older brother tried to escaped he was taken and tortured for a month even though he had turned them in the the authorities. Later he watched their executions. His growth was stunted by malnutrition. His right middle finger is missing, cut off with a kitchen knife as punishment for dropping a sewing machine. Still worse was the damage to his psyche. The incessant, driving need for food dominated Shin’s life. He stole his mother’s rations, and was brutally beaten by her for it; he scooped spilt soup off filthy floors and picked undigested corn out of cow excrement.

Escape is not a well written book but it is most interesting.

torture

UNTIL THE NIGHT

Until-the-Night-Giles-BluntGILES BLUNT

Women are turning up frozen to death, in and around Algonquin Bay,  in clothes they were never seen wearing before, seemingly cared for then cruelly abandoned by their murderer. The killer slowly froze his victims to death. The victims variously have ties to a senator in Ottawa, a former rock star strongly suspected of killing a woman years before, a sex club, and a science outpost deep in the Arctic where, decades earlier, something terrible happened. A handful of people know about this catastrophe, and have a vested interest in keeping it quiet.

A good mystery.

AWAY

away-urquhart-jane-hardcover-cover-artJANE URQUHART

Away tells the story of four generations of family history from Ireland just before the famine of the mid-19th century, through desperate emigration to Canada and final settlement and prosperity on the shores of Lake Ontario. Away is set set in 1842 on a small island at the northernmost tip of Ireland. After a terrifying storm Mary O’Malley, a peasant’s daughter who is young, flame-haired and beautiful, finds a dying sailor amoung the flotsam of a shipwreck.  She falls asleep in his arms, only to be woken by a fearful crowd of neighbours who are convinced that her soul has been taken over by otherworldly forces and that she is now, as they see it, ‘away’. The handsome sailor had died in her arms. The local schoolteacher, Brian O’Malley, marries her and takes her to the mainland just in time for the great potato famine. Although the English landowners are disparaged in the book, their landlord finances their emigration to Canada. Of course the first years of homesteading in Northern Ontario are extremely trying. Eventually, after her second child is born, Mary wanders away into the wilderness. The story shifts to the second generation, Liam and Eileen.

This is my second reading of Away. It is awash with good writing. A jewel of a book. Definitely a must read.

THE TESTAMENT OF MARY

testament-of-mary-book-jacket

COM TOIBIN

Mary is struggling with the crucifixion and subsequent death of her son Jesus. She believes the weird group of people who surrounded her son are partly to blame for his demise. Mary is in most pain over the times Jesus rejected her, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?”

She reluctantly tells her story to two unnamed men who are demanding it of her, one of whom “was there with us to the end, ready to hold me and comfort me,” although he is now impatient with her taciturnity and interest in unimportant details. Plainly, he is the beloved disciple, the Apostle John, preparing his Gospel and disoriented by memories so different from his own. The other man has none of John’s gentleness, or even any respect for the mother of Jesus: “My very voice fills him with something close to disgust.” In the end, they appall her with their calm acceptance of Jesus’s death. Once she learns what they truly believe about her son, all her raw maternal pain emerges: “When you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it.”

Interesting read.