The Kite Runner- Khaled Hosseini [Review]

“For you, a thousand times over.”

The Kite Runner. What a heartbreaking story.

It tells the story of Hassan and Amir, two friends who are as close as brothers and great at flying a kite. The two young boys live in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. The book starts with Amir, a grown man, living in America and through him we go back to when he and Hassan were 12 years old in Kabul. We get to know the way of life in Afghanistan, the local kite-tournament (a popular Afghan pastime) and how everything changes when war comes to Afghanistan and the country becomes a dangerous place. the kite runner

Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant whereas Hassan is the son of their servant. Despite this, the boys are as close as brothers, both lost their mothers when babies and were nurtured by the same woman. Their fathers also grew up together and were as close as brothers. Hassan is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste, and usually gets a lot of abuse from other Afghan children especially Assef, a known bully amongst the children. Amir during this story commits an act of betrayal towards his friend Hassan, which will haunt him for the rest of his life and have to live with that guilt. During the war, Amir and his father are forced to flee Afghanistan for America. Thus The Kite Runner becomes the story of Amir’s journey for redemption and a way to ‘set things right’. He has to return to Afghanistan to make ‘things right’ as it were. On this journey Amir makes new friends, reunites with old friends but also with old enemies.

The story is fast paced and never dull. When I started reading this story I could not put it down. I needed to know what will happen and will Amir ever find peace. I feel for Amir, love Hassan’s loyalty towards Amir and the sacrifices he makes for the family. I hate Assef and his horribleness. I want to shake Amir’s father and tell him that he needs to accept his son for who he is and to show him that he loves him. You get so much invested in the characters that you can’t do anything but read, read and read. We are introduced to the world of Afghan life, strange and fascinating and devastating when war breaks out.

The Kite Runner tells the unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant. It is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country torn by violence and war. A gripping and emotional story of betrayal, forgiveness and redemption. The Times have accurately stated that ”Khaled Hosseini  is a truly gifted teller of tales. He’s not afraid to pull every string in your heart to make it sing”. It is a powerful novel that has become one of my treasured books, one-of-a-kind classic as others have described it. Definitely give it a read and see for yourself. I won’t lie, you will be heartbroken by the end and it will stay with you for a few days/weeks BUT it is so worth it. I even cried while reading it. Do put it on your ‘To Read’ list!

‘The shattering first novel by Khaled Hosseini… a rich and soul-searching narrative … a sharp, unforgettable taste of the trauma and tumult experienced by Afghanis as their country buckled’ (Observer)

‘A gripping read and a haunting story of love, loss and betrayal. Guaranteed to move even the hardest heart’ (Independent)

George Paulopoulos- The statue and the sculptor [Review]

Γιώργης Παυλόπουλος «Το άγαλμα και ο τεχνίτης»

Σαν έκλεινε το μουσείο
αργά τη νύχτα η Δηιδάμεια
κατέβαινε από το αέτωμα.
Κουρασμένη από τους τουρίστες
έκανε το ζεστό λουτρό της και μετά
ώρα πολλή μπροστά στον καθρέφτη
χτένιζε τα χρυσά μαλλιά της.
Η ομορφιά της ήταν για πάντα
σταματημένη μες στο χρόνο.

Τότε τον έβλεπε πάλι εκεί
σε κάποια σκοτεινή γωνιά να την παραμονεύει.
Ερχόταν πίσω της αθόρυβα
της άρπαζε τη μέση και το στήθος
και μαγκώνοντας τα λαγόνια της
με το ένα του πόδι
έμπηγε τη δυνατή του φτέρνα
στο πλάι του εξαίσιου μηρού της.

Καθόλου δεν την ξάφνιαζε
κάθε φορά που της ριχνόταν.
Άλλωστε το περίμενε, το είχε συνηθίσει πια.
Αντιστεκόταν τάχα σπρώχνοντας
με τον αγκώνα το φιλήδονο κεφάλι του
και καθώς χανόταν όλη
μες στην αρπάγη του κορμιού του
τον ένιωθε να μεταμορφώνεται
σιγά σιγά σε κένταυρο.

Τώρα η αλογίσια οπλή του
την πόναγε κάπου εκεί
γλυκά στο κόκαλο
και τον ονειρευότανε παραδομένη
ανάμεσα στο φόβο της και τη λαγνεία του
να τη λαξεύει ακόμη.

_________

Translated by K.J.Koukas:

George Paulopoulos- The statue and the sculptor

As the museum was closing
late in the night Deidamia
came down from the pediment.
Tired from the tourists
she had her hot bath and then
hours in front of the mirror
she brushed her golden hair.
Her beauty was forever
‘trapped’ in time.

Then she saw him there again
in some dark corner lurking.
He came behind her silently
and grabbed her waist and breast
and ‘trapping’ her loins
with his one leg
he tamped his strong heel
and the side of her splendid thigh.

This did not surprise her at all
He threw himself at her all the time.
Besides she expected it, she was used to it by now.
She resisted as though she pushed
with her elbow his sensual head
and as her whole self got lost
in the gripping of his body
she felt him transforming
slowly slowly into a centaur.

Now his horse-like back
hurt her somewhat there
sweetly on the bone
and she dreamt of him  surrendered (to him)
between her fear and his lust
as he lusted after her still.

 

COMMENTS/MY VIEWS:

I recently decided to go back in time and revisit some poems I looked at during my school years. I grew up in Greece and studied a lot of Greek poets. We would always focus on Greek authors, Greek poets, Greek history… etc. By the time I got to university I wanted something different so I disregarded anything to do with Greece. I had already discovered authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and poets such as Robert Browning but wanted to find more. Despite my ‘stand against’ anything Greek related it was inevitable for me to revisit a bit of my schooling. I will admit that I did like some of the poetry we studied and had to learn. Some have stuck with me and for the past few months I have been going through them. I have rediscovered poets such as; K.P. Kavafi, Odysseas Elitis, Giannis Ritsos and many more. While I was at home (over Christmas) I found my old text books from school, I was looking through them and found more poems, some that I had completely forgotten about.

This particular poem ‘The statue and the sculptor’ by George Paulopoulos is one of those that have just stuck with me. I could not remember who the poet was, but I did remember that the poem was about a statue coming alive after the museum closed for the day. (something like Night at the museum I guess!) When I was looking through my text book I found the title and I knew instantly that this was it. I have no clue why this particular one stuck with me. Is it because of my interest in Ancient history? Due to my degree? Who knows.

I have tried my best to translate this poem and I hope it works for the non-speaking-

Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs. Temple of Zeus

West Pediment- Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs. Temple of Zeus. (found online)

Greek-poetry-fanatics out there.  Before I start rambling about the poem let me give you some background to who the statue is meant to be and the mythology behind her. The statue is the nymph Deidamia and the whole story is the one depicted on the west pediment of Zeus’ temple in Olympia. It tells the story of the battle between the centaurs and the Lapiths. According to mythology the Lapiths were a people in Thessaly who lived near Pelion. The centaurs were creatures with the upper body of humans and the lower body of horses. The king of the Lapiths was getting married to the nymph Deidamia and amongst the guests were the centaurs. It is said that at the wedding celebration the king of the centaurs, Euripion, had a bit too much to drink and sexually attacked Deidamia. As you can imagine that did not go down well and a battle between the Lapiths and the centaurs commenced. This particular poem depicts the centaur Euripion violently embracing Deidamia.

As far as I remember from my school years and what I gather from reading it again after so many years is that the depiction of the battle depicts the battle between ‘spirit and animalistic passion’ towards something or someone who is god-like beautiful.

Life, the beauty of youth and the precious emotion of love remain for eternity, protected by the harsh passing of time.  Deidamia waking up and becoming alive after the museum closes shows that her beauty has been ‘shielded’ and ‘preserved’ in the manner of being a statue. The sculptor, who is anonymous, made sure to preserve her beauty  and offers her the possibility of immortality.  He gives her the possibility to harness this youth for eternity, giving her a life away from the discreet eyes of the public.

Deidamia every night, after the closure of the museum,  is able to release herself from the centaur’s tight embrace and is free to enjoy moments of peace, freedom and quietness. She is able to relax by having a bath and brush her golden hair… or does she? It can be argued that even though the night bathing and brushing of her hair might seem as means of relaxation, they are in fact a  means of preparation for his reception. It is believed by some (according to my notes) that the centaur’s lust for our beloved nymph plays a key role to her immortal beauty and preservation. The sculptor, the man who carved the beauty of this young woman, is the one that is lurking in the dark corner, waiting for the opportune moment to grab her and lay his hands on his beautiful creation. He is the one who slowly turns into a centaur. He imitates the centaur from the myth and the scene on the pediment. He wants nothing more than to hold this beauty close to him. The sculptor’s passion for his creation is thus shown.

It is shown that she is used to his attacks, does this mean that she knows she belongs in his violent embrace? Her return to the Centaur is inevitable. She knows that she was created in his embrace and according to the story of the battle between Lapiths and Centaurs she eventually ends aggressively attacked by the Centaur. Her place is with the Centaur and in the end she will be in his tight embrace. Thus her freedom is brief, enough for her to have a bath and brush her hair. Her return to the Centaur’s embrace is immortal and repetitive as this happens every night. Both the Centaur and the sculptor want to be by her side.

Now according to my notes and from what I remember from my readings and research of this poem, the element of love and passion can be witnessed in this poem. The love and passion between the sculptor and his creation and between Deidamia and the Centaur.  Some say that without passion and love there would be no meaning in life. As already mentioned it could be said that the sculptor and the Centaur are linked and both want to have Deidamia’s love. In addition,  if the Centaur owns her body for eternity (by claiming it through his lust), then the sculptor owns her soul which he claimed with his creation of her and shielding her beauty forever.

I have no clue whether any of my rambling makes any sense to you. But I thought I should share this poem and my thoughts and ‘old school notes’. It is a good poem and it has stuck with me for a long time. I hope you enjoy it as much I do.

Battle-Between-the-Lapiths-and-Centaurs- Luca Giordano

Battle between the Lapiths and Centaurs. Painting created by Luca Giordano

 

[any information about background and comments for the poem I consulted with my old school reports/notes from my-then-teacher and some little facts online]

Trade Wind- M.M Kaye [Review]

”An enthralling blend of history, adventure and romance”

Not so long ago, I wrote a review about M.M. Kaye’s Shadow of the Moon. I did love that book, still do. After reading that my mum suggested Trade Wind. She guaranteed that I would love it also. By god she was right. Now I don’t know which one is better, Shadow of the Moon or Trade Wind? I cannot decide, they are both equally as good.

Whereas Shadow of the Moon was based in India during the Indian Revolution in 1856-7, Trade Wind is based in Zanzibar in 1859. Zanzibar was the last and largest centre of the slave trade. Hero Hollis, our main protagonist, is the niece of the American consul in Zanzibar and a passionate opponent of slavery. Her main mission is to travel from America to Zanzibar and try and stop the slave trade. Soon she involves herself in a revolt that sweeps the island, and then cholera breaks out.Trade Wind

A story full of action and drama. A book that I could not put down. Hero Athena Hollis is a handsome, courageous, wealthy American who travels to Zanzibar after her father’s death. Her journey to Zanzibar was anything but smooth. She finds herself caught in a storm and soon is thrown overboard, thought to be  dead by her fellow companions. She is then fished out from the harsh sea by a Captain Emory Frost. Rory Frost is scandalous, gun-runner and slave trader; everything Hero stands against. You want to hate him but you can’t. Rory delivers Hero to Zanzibar without realising what a beauty he has had on his ship, as Hero was battered, bruised and sick from her fall in the ocean. Probably for the best really! Once in Zanzibar, Hero finds herself joining a plot against the Sultan (with the best intentions as far as she is concerned)in order to throw him off the throne and his younger brother, Yabid Bargash, to take over.

M.M. Kaye’s story is rich in historical detail and background, the storylines have depth and scope. Kaye’s description of Zanzibar is just magical and so colourful. Images of an exotic paradise  of shimmering sand beaches, crystal waters, and perfumed with the scents of blooms and trees. But, there is also the horrible side of Zanzibar, that of squalor, filth and disease. When Hero arrives to Zanzibar she comes across with the sight of slaves being thrown overboard , being sold or just transported. She is horrified, and cannot believe a place as beautiful as this can be at the same time horrible and barbaric. The contrast between the eastern and western cultures is interesting and thought provoking. Hero soon comes to the conclusion that her noble mission to stop slavery might not be as simple as she hoped.

Hero can be seen as naive and spoilt. She thinks that she can change the world despite Rory Frost telling her it is not that easy. She soon realises that everything is not black and white as she originally thought and you get to see Hero mature throughout the book and gain a perspective that is more realistic. She becomes more open and warm. We also get to know Rory Frost’s background and the reasons that led him to be who he is and do what he does. Hero and Rory’s relationship is intriguing, and despite the fact that when you began reading the book, you could see their differences, slowly but steady you understand their attraction for each other and can see it developing into something more.

There is a particular scene in the book that a lot of readers were appalled by and in a way ruined the book for them. I am not going to say what the scene was in case I spoil it for anyone who wants to read this book but I will say this. I will acknowledge that this particular incident is very controversial, but for myself, I can see why M.M. Kaye put it in the story. If you think the context of the plotline, the time period  and maybe the motivation of the lead male character, I believe the action was well justified. I will be honest and say that when I first read this particular scene I was angry, frustrated and shocked. I did not know whether it would make me change my appreciation for the main male character. After thinking about it and when I read his reasons for doing so I could see the importance of ‘building of character’ and the necessity of it later in the story. However, I do understand if other readers will not agree with me.

The characters in Trade Wind are well drawn and some you hate and some you love. From the beginning of the book you know there is something strange with Hero’s fiancé, her uncle’s stepson, Clayton Mayo. He turns out to be exactly what you think and in some certain circumstances he will surprise you. Like in Shadow of the Moon there is always another female character who you dislike at the beginning but in the end turns out to be a respectable woman and a great friend to the main female character. After Rory Frost and Hero I think my favourite character would be Batty, a sailor on Captain Rory’s ship, who was a rogue through and through, but also has a heart. He is the loving uncle who would protect Rory as best as he could and tell him when he is being a scoundrel and wrong. The Sultan is also an interesting character. Rory Frost is his confidant and great friend and can manage to get away with a lot because of his connection with the Sultan.

M.M. Kaye has a beautiful way with words. Her knowledge of the far East shines throughout the book. She stays as historically accurate as she can and she does not hold back when it comes to the customs of Zanzibar, the slave trade and the cholera epidemic. Once again, just as she did in Shadow of the Moon, M.M. Kaye shows us how different the west and east are. How they both have completely different cultures and traditions and will probably never see things the same way. Trade Wind is a beautiful tale that will get you hooked from the first page. I would recommend to any historical fiction lovers, any M.M. Kaye lovers or to anyone who wants to try something new.

A Tale of Two Cities- Charles Dickens [Review]

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

a tale of two cities2A classic, a very challenging one, but still a classic nonetheless. Charles Dickens sends us to France during the early days leading up to the French Revolution. I know some have tried to read and cannot get past the first 30 pages, but trust me it is worth it. Just power through and you will not regret it.

Charles Dickens once said that ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was his best story. I agree. It is artfully written and introduces a cast of characters, extended across two nations and spanning varied social classes and political associations. He then manages to weave their stories and secrets together beautifully in a masterful way –many readers seem to agree with this.  The ending of this novel wraps everything up magnificently with no  loose ends and all the mysteries are solved. It is a beautiful story and read.

The novel is broken into three books. The first book was short and covers the time when Lucie’s long lost father is released from Bastille prison after 18 years and does not know who he is but manages to reunite himself with his long lost daughter. The second book is the longest of the three and covers a good few years leading up to the French Revolution. The third book and final book is just fantastic. You get to read and feel the poverty that has risen , as well as the danger for the aristocracy. The dreadful Madame La Guilotine is introduced which is just an image of horror for everyone. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is a brutal and insightful look at the French Revolution with all its heroes and villains and a clever twist at the end which will draw all the main characters together. It can be argued that it is one of the best novels on the French Revolution. It is a large work of imagination, giving a fictional account of the events and causes leading up to that dreadful summer of 1789.

You feel for many of the characters in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and each one is unique and different. Lucie Manette, the female protagonist, seems to connect every character together and inspire love from every direction. She is a likeable character and cannot help but sympathise with her. In a way, she is a heroine herself, at least she would be viewed as one back in 1859. I found Lucie engaging despite some people views about her. She was a strong character for the time and became the sole support for her poor father. Lucie Manette attracted two suitors who coincidentally looked quite alike; Charles Darnay , a French aristocratic who abandons his family name, and Sydney Carton, an English lawyer.  Charles Darnay is a likeable character. I have to admit I was set against him because he was Sydney’s competition when it came to Lucie’s heart but in the end I did sympathise with him. Disgusted with his family’s dealings and the way they treated the poor in France, he leaves for England and takes his mother’s maiden name and changing it a bit. He is well- meaning towards the end, trying to do the right thing and go back to France at a time when it was better to stay away and save a fellow family servant/friend. He is thus arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille. He does not have a hoped-for heroic moment, but a moment of quiet dignity that is most moving for his humility.

As far as Doctor Manette, Lucie’s long lost father, goes he is first introduced in the first 0bd1d2129b06ecd9199dbccdf5d8e4c0book of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. He was a prisoner in the Bastille prison for 18 years and throughout the book he battles his way from madness under the gentle protection of Lucie.  Doctor Manette is a character that you cannot help but sympathise with. His character is written wonderfully as a man whose understandable anger whilst in the Bastille prison comes back horrifically to haunt him and his new found peace. When the reader discovers the reason why Doctor Manette  was imprisoned in the first place, you instantly empathize with him and want to seek revenge for him.

The villain of the story — Madame Defarge. A very surprising character. At the start of the book you just think she is the wife of Monsieur Defarge, the owner of a French wine shop. You always see her knitting quietly in the corner and you soon come to suspect that she knows more than it seems and that she will become a big part of the story. How right your assumption turns out to be. We soon find out that she is part of the revolution against the aristocracy and a very vengeful woman. The big revelation of who she really is, is revealed in the third book of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and all of a sudden everything clicks into place. Madame Defarge is seen as the antithesis of Lucie Manette. She is the villain of the story as already stated, consumed with revenge and in a way not even human towards the end of the book as she is consumed by her hatred. She is one of the characters that sticks to you after reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.

Before I begin to talk about Sydney Carton let me make a small mention of another character, that of the name Jarvis Lorry. Jarvis Lorry is a banker and a dear friend to the Manette family. Throughout the book, his love and concern for Doctor Manette is touching and his protectiveness over Lucie is just wonderful. He can be seen as a somewhat of a hero when Dickens puts him in charge of the carriage that will help an entire family escape from the guillotine.

'A Tale of Two Cities' book cover poster

‘A Tale of Two Cities’ book cover poster

Now as regards to Sydney Carton. Oh Sydney Carton! Safe to say that I fell in love with Sydney Carton immediately, and this book is so cruel for anyone who loves him as much as I do. Brilliant, bohemian and indifferent.  He is the ultimate hero of the book with his selflessness at the end. Half way through the book he confesses his love to Lucie even though he knows it will not be returned. He tells her to forget their conversation for now and never to speak of it and that he will ever be in her service if he is ever needed. When Sydney tells Lucie that ‘there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you” you know that you will break down in tears at the end of the book. Dickens is preparing you of what is about to happen in the next chapters. You have a feeling of what is coming.  His genius, his agony, his selflessness  and his ultimate noble sacrifice make his stand out from the rest of the characters.  The ending is so heartbreaking and I don’t think I am recovered yet after reading this. If you have not read the book or do not know how it ends stop here as a major SPOILER will be discussed. Sydney’s final thoughts and vision of Paris is fantastic; ‘fair to be look upon, with not a trace of this day’s disfigurement‘. His vision of Lucie with Charles now safe and would live happily and safe is heartbreaking and emotional. He knows that Lucie would remember that promise he made her back when he first confessed his love to her and thank him for what he is about to do. His sacrifice to save Lucie Manette’s love is just perfect. I believe that the ending is what makes the book. As sad as the ending is- trust me, it is devastating- it is a perfect ending to a book with the infamous words from Sydney Carton as well as one of the most well know phrases today. By the time I finished the book, I was in tears and did not recover for a good few hours.

A book full of love, sacrifice, and revenge. A story well written and worth a read. As I said at the beginning of this post, I know it can be slow to start with but it is worth reading all the way through. I know that Dickens is not for everyone; however, I would say to have a go and see what you think. He might surprise you as a writer. The unjust imprisonment of Charles Darnay makes up for the ironic justice dealt out to Madame Defarge in the end. And of course, Sydney Carton is one of the most beautiful characters in all literature I find and will always have a place in my heart.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

— K.J. Koukas

Shadow of the Moon – M. M. Kaye [Review]

Once in awhile I will ask mum what should I read next as she always has a great taste in books. I remember the first time she recommended one of her books- I was looking at her bookshelf scanning the thousand titles. She comes in and asks me what I am I doing. I told her that I finished my book and don’t know what to read next. She came by me and looked at her books and produced a copy of Wish you Well by David Baldacci. She gave it to me and assured me that I would love it. She was right. From then on I went to her when I needed to read something different or really good and so far all her recommendations have been brilliant. This time she recommended M. M. Kaye books and told me to start with Shadow of the Moon. I just finished it today and I LOVED it! Mum was right once again. I got hooked from the first page and was transported back to India in 1856-7.

Shadow of the Moon is the story of Winter de Ballesteros, a beautiful half Spanish- half shadow of the moon2English heiress who was born in India, but raised in England after being orphaned at a young age. Winter has never known kindness from her English family, with the exception of her great-grandfather, and longs to return to India where she was the most happiest. When she was seventeen she was visited by an acquaintance of the family named Conway Barton. Conway was tall, blonde and handsome and was kind to Winter.He was stationed in India and reminded Winter of all the wonders of India. Soon she becomes engaged to Conway, she thinks it’s love but he is after her inheritance. Shadow of the Moon is also the story of Captain Alex Randall, her escort  back to India and protector, who works for her betrothed and knows that he is not the man she once knew and that he has become a debauched  wreck of a man. When India bursts into flaming hatred and bitter bloodshed, the reader soon gets caught into the politics of the Indian mutiny and becomes part of the horrors that come with a revolution. Alex and Winter are thrown into the brutal and vital struggle of survival.

1040250

M. M. Kaye

M. M. Kaye was born in India, where she lived most of her life. Her love for that country is evident in her writing and brilliant descriptions of India. As someone has already pointed out, her assessment of Anglo-Indian relations during the time of the British Raj is ”infused in the characters of her spellbinding novel. With exotic, mid-eighteenth century India as a backdrop for most of this engrossing story, the reader is swept away by its beautifully descriptive narrative”. Kaye is undoubtedly a gifted author who has a way of creating beautiful imagery and invoking the sounds, smells and sights that transport the reader into the world of her characters and her beloved India. Winter is not the typical English Rose and while she will never rival her cousin Sybella’s classic and fashionable beauty, a few select men prefer Winter to Sybella (more so for her fortune than anything else!). When she was a child Winter was described as a plain creature, not beautiful and it was commented that her fortune was her only positive feature. However, she grew into a lovely, slender woman with enormous dark eyes, silky black hair reaching to her knees when unbound, and a heart-shaped face with ivory skin. She knows four languages, as she kept speaking the Indian language even when she moved away to England. It is remarked that Winter does not admire her beauty which makes you like her even more. As far as Captain Alex Randall is concerned. Oh Alex! He is the perfect hero in this story. He’s brave, hardworking, sometimes brutally honest (which is needed in some cases), sensual, handsome and extremely intelligent. His ability with languages ensures that he can pass as a member of India’s Pathan minority and might save his life in certain occasions. In addition, Alex has the rare ability to see all sides of an issue, and sometimes empathizes more with the Indians than with the British, which makes you love him even more.

Shadow of the Moon is richly plotted, peopled with well-drawn and unforgettable characters, bolstered by an incredible depth of background detail and historical fact throughout, and with overriding suspense which builds to a heart-breaking last 200 pages. Be prepared for some gory, though accurate, portrayal of the violence against the British (including women and children) during the rebellion. Once the mutiny starts you literary cannot put the book down as you know that many of the characters that you’ve come to love or hate might not survive in the end. But it’s so much more than simply a book about the Indian Mutiny. The author carefully brings us toward the shocking outbreak of violence and horror that is the Mutiny by building up quiet scenes of unrest and the growing relationship between our beloved main characters, Alex and Winter.

When reading various reviews of this book after I finished it, I came across this person called Hannah on goodreads.com and absolutely loved her review/comment for this book. I loved it so much, as well as agree with it, that I am going to re-write it in this post for many more to see. Hannah, rightly comments that ”If Gone with the Wind was Margaret Mitchell’s love letter to the old South, then Shadow of the Moon is M.M. Kaye’s to historic India”. M. M. Kaye manages to show us the unfolding beauty of India while slowly she is preparing us for the horrific Sepoy Rebellion.

I will finish this post by saying that Shadow of the Moon is both a wonderfully written work  of historical fiction and a beautifully told historical romance. Winter is a plucky heroine and Alex is a swoon worthy hero.  It’s a book that I am certain I will re-read in the years to come and a book that will stay with you for a few days after finishing it. The historical, political background is very engaging and interesting which would not disappoint any historical fiction readers. Even if you do not like historical fiction , I assure you that you will love this book.

”A closely interwoven story of love and war whose descriptive prose is so evocative that you can actually see and – much more – smell India as the country assaults you from the page”(Sunday Telegraph)

shadow-of-the-moon-_bg_069

— K.J. Koukas

The Island – Victoria Hislop [Review]

The Island by Victoria Hislop is a moving and dramatic tale of four generations, rent by

the island

war, illicit love, violence and leprosy, from the thirties, through the war, to the present day. The book is located in Elounda, a small fishing island in Crete which back then belonged to the municipality of Agios Nikolaos. Opposite Elounda is Spinalonga (or officially known in Greece as Kalydon), the island which was used as a leper colony.

Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sophia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decided to visit Crete, Sophia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend and promises that through her she will learn everything she wished to know. Upon arriving in Elounda, Alexis discovers that Spinalonga is right across and decides to visit the island before finding her mother’s friend. She soon finds a local old (mute) fisherman to take her over and come back for her in two hours.

After her visit to Spinalonga, Alexis finds Fotini (her mother’s friend) and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip. We are then taken back to 1939 and we are told what really happened.

As Barbara Love from the Library Journal stated ‘It would be hard to imagine a more cheerless setting for a novel than a leper colony on a remote Greek island, but the community of Spinalonga provides a remarkable backdrop for this affecting, multigenerational saga.’ Hislop’s deep research, imagination and potent love of Crete creates a convincing portrait of times on the island. Coming from Greece myself I can tell you that all the traditions, religious festivals and way of life is spot on and when reading the book, I was transported back to Greece and its many festivals celebrating a saint’s name and their namedays. Hislop manages ‘to milk the dramatic potential of each unexpected twist and broken engagement’ (The Times review).

Despite the fact that each person who was diagnosed with leprosy will eventually die, Hislop shows us that for them life remains the same and will go on until the inevitable. Even though they are ostracised (as it were) on the island of Spinalonga, they still go about their daily chores and shopping as they would before they were diagnosed. Depth and colour is added to the description of Cretan life and in particular, the vividly detailed account of life on Spinalonga. Hislop gives us a way into a leper’s life and stresses the agonies, fears, loses and troubles that someone diagnosed with leprosy faces. We always thought leprosy as a disease and want to stay well clear from it, but we never stop to think what the person with leprosy feels like and what he or she will go through. The Island shows us both sides of the disease and the lives that it will affect.

Fortress of Spinalonga Island -Crete

One of my favourite parts of the book is when Alexis was left alone on the island of Spinalonga and describes of what she found and how is felt

her dependency suddenly felt like a millstone and she resolved to pull herself together. She would embrace this period of solitude- her few hours of isolation were a mere pinprick of time compared with the life sentence of loneliness that past inhabitants of Spinalonga must have faced….

When reading this particular passive I felt sad and my heart went for the lepers. No-one knows how lonely these people felt and as Alexis walked through the village where the lepers would have lived, we see through her eyes that they lived a normal way. There was a café with chairs and tables where the inhabitants would gossip and talk about the latest tales of the world. There was a school where the children would go and gain an education. Later on in the book we found out that they had their own mayor and through him they contacted the ‘outside world’ and bargained for supplies that might have made their life easier. There was a hospital where they were treated when the symptoms of leprosy took affect. It was a small community in itself, fair enough it was secluded from the rest of the world (as people from all around Greece came to Spinalonga), they were still people and a community that went on with their daily lives. ‘The story of life on Spinalonga, the lepers’ island, is gripping and carries real emotional impact. Victoria Hislop…brings dignity and tenderness to her novel about lives blighted by leprosy’ (Telegraph).

The Island is a page-turning tale that reminds us that love and life continue in even the most extraordinary of circumstances. The book is full of wonderful descriptions, strong characters and an intimate portrait of island existence. A must-read on any person’s book list.

— K.J. Koukas