Monthly Archives: April 2014

Review: Last Train to Istanbul

lasttrainto If you like reading historical fiction regarding Turkey, then Last Train to Istanbul, by Ayse Kulin, is a book I highly recommend. I, personally, could not put it down once I started reading it.

The story revolves around Selva and Sabiha, two sisters, and how their lives take dramatic turns in Ankara, Turkey. Their father is a retired government official, and a man who is greatly respected. The family is Muslim. This presents a problem within the ideals of the family unit.

Selva falls in love with a Jewish man named Rafael Alfandari. His family is also highly regarded and have been physicians of the court for many centuries.
Selva’s father disowns her, casts her out from the family for Selva and Rafael leave Istanbul for France, where they feel they will have a better life. Within that mode, events cause their lives to take unforeseen actions, actions that are dangerous and life-threatening.

Sabiha marries within the circle of aristocracy, to a man named Macit who works for the Turkish Foreign Ministry. This fact would prove fruitful in the coming years.

As the story line unfolds, the reader is privy to historical facts and events leading up to Turkey’s involvement in the evacuations of Jews from Paris to Istanbul in 1943.

This reader was captivated by the actions presented to me throughout the pages. I knew little about Turkey during World War II and was enlightened as to the efforts that were put forth by the “neutral” country to rescue Jews. Jews were welcomed into the arms of the country, and not just Jews of Turkish descent, but also non-Turkish Jews.

From the underground and resistance groups, to the Turkish offices of Paris and Marseilles, to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, everyone bands together in order to get Rafael and his family out of France. Selva has opportunities to leave without him, but is determined to stay with him through all costs.

We are given perspectives from both of the sisters, within the framework of a double narrative. The political situation in Turkey is demonstrated with forthrightness. Society, as a whole is well-depicted. Life in France is presented with all of its nuances and social qualities. The war and how it affects both Selva and Sabiha is realistically and believably shown.

The Last Train to Istanbul
was a page-turner for me, and a novel filled with extreme historical details, which were obviously highly researched by Kulin, a well-esteemed Turkish writer. Her efforts did not go unnoticed, by me. I am a World War II history fan, and was given new insight into the dynamics that Turkey played (although “neutral”) in the assistance of rescuing Jews.

The editing could have been done a bit better, but due to the fact the original story was written in Turkish, I understand some of the minor flaws. It didn’t deter me from reading the story.

I liked the aspect of family, and how the two sisters struggle within their own environments to not only survive, but to keep in touch under adverse conditions. Selva’s concern for her family in Ankara is strongly written, as well as her thoughts regarding her father and his disowning her. Sabiha’s concern for her sister is also deeply depicted, and her struggles to bring Selva and her family back home seem quite plausable due to her husband’s influential connections.

Family dynamics are explored in depth, along with social stigmas and politics. Jewish Turkey is illuminated, and that fact gave this reader much insight into the country prewar and events leading up to, and during, the horrific time of war.

The author’s use of the strength of love and survival under the duress and adversity of war is a definite foundation of the story line. I totally became involved within the pages of Last Train to Istanbul. Brava to Ayse Kulin, and to the translator, John W. Baker.
I finished this book in November of 2013. I began writing a review, and life and holidays intervened. I finally finished my review, yesterday.


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Sunday News: April 27, 2014

Bridging the World a Book at a Time

Bridging the World a Book at a Time

World Book Night U.S.: April 23, 2014, went extremely well. I passed out 20 copies of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford, at a local senior center. The recipients were quite grateful to receive their copies. Most of them do not have transportation to a library during the week, and their only trip out of the house is to the senior center.

Their expressions upon receiving the book were priceless. They could not believe they were actually a recipient of a free book, no strings attached. Most of them told me that when they were finished reading the book, they would pass it on to another senior citizen. That was a pleasant surprise to hear. Paying it forward in books, they will feel so rewarded!

Here is the 2014 Orwell Prize Shortlists.

Check out today’s New York Times Books section. There is a lot to consider in the realm of reading. The genres are varied, and the books all seem to be fascinating reads.

On April 17, 2014, Hector Tobar wrote a beautiful tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the L.A. Times. According to this article, his ashes may go to two countries: Mexico and Columbia.

NPR Books has several books to consider, this week.

If you like adult picture books, then this link is for you.

Poet and Playwright Tadeusz Różewicz has died at the age of 92.

Here is an interesting interview with author Patricia Florio

Read about Keith Yatsuhashi’s first novel, “Kojiki

Here is a link to Simon & Schuster’s New Releases.

I am sorry for the update
…I had to make a necessary correction.

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Review: The Dinner

The Dinner, by Herman Koch is a story line that is literally served between courses at a restaurant. I found that a unique way of presenting the issues within the pages, regarding the four individuals who were having dinner together.

I liked The Dinner, but did not enjoy it (there is a difference). I thought the message was well-stated within the behavior of the characters. I did not like the characters, but that is okay…I don’t think the reader is meant to like them. Koch wants the reader to feel the dislike, because it plays into the foundation of the underlying story. They are not nice individuals, and their personalities play out within the pages. Their quirks or flaws are well defined. Koch did an excellent job of character description and with vivid word-imagery.

I did like the intense look at the psychological mindset of the character named Paul. I did like how that mindset played out over the dinner courses at the restaurant. With each course or serving, we are given more facts from his perspective, facts relevant to his state of being, and facts related to his family. It is apparent to me, from the beginning, that he has mental and emotional issues due to his constant rambling, but it was not immediately known exactly to what extent.

His seemingly supportive wife, Claire, acted level-headed, initially, but as the pages wore on, the reader is exposed to her real state of being. Supportive, yes, but for a definite purpose. She was a manipulative person, having the upper hand. Her external appearances to others was superficial, and any substance she had was buried inside of her.

Paul’s brother, Serge, initially seemed to be an arrogant person, one all knowing in the sense that wherever he went people recognized him. He appeared to dismiss that fact, but in truth he probably enjoyed the attention given to him. Paul had definite opinions regarding Serge, and didn’t hesitate to state them (in his own mind) during the dinner. He pounced on every issue he could think of, and his negativity was blunt and overt.

Serge’s wife, Babette, was condescending, and emotionally unstrung throughout some of the dinner. Her interactions were like those of a victim, one who has been hurt. She went along with Serge’s decisions, even if she didn’t agree with them.

Serge did end up looking as if he was the one person with a moral backbone, and a person who felt that the actions of his son should be met with the repercussions from them. Paul and Claire definitely did not have a moral backbone. Their reactions to the situation at hand were out of the box, so to speak.

The dinner was at an extremely upscale and expensive restaurant. Each course was deliberately displayed as almost an act in a play, with extreme body language from the server. The portions were minute, but depicted with much ado and flair. The person who served them gave descriptions that were literally geographic and explained with a snobbish attitude.

Why this particular restaurant was chosen is beyond me, but so be it. The restaurant became the setting for a much deeper issue, the issue of the children of the four diners. Once I got past the first 100 or so pages, the real foundation of the meeting was exposed. The children were discussed in random manners, as each course presented new information regarding their recent activity. It was almost as if some of those present were in denial of the facts.

Those facts lead up to horrific events that the teen-aged children were involved in, which almost left me wanting to not finish the book. I did finish it, although at times it was a struggle due to the graphic depictions and intensity. It is a story that is significant to today’s parent/child relationships, sibling relationships and marital relationships, as far as ethics, morals and responsibility is concerned.

Disregard for humanity is at the core of the story. What happened is nothing new, but the way Koch depicted it was so graphically vivid, that it was almost as if I was there to witness the horrendous events.

I will not go into the story any further, as it will spoil it for those reading this review.

The Dinner is a novel with a disturbing story line. It made this reader question many issues, such as hereditary traits and nature versus nurture. What about mental illness? Should it be a defining factor in a person’s actions, actions that cause harm to others? And, what about the spouse in that type of situation, should they enable the distorted behavior? The ethical issues of parenthood are foremost within the pages, and how parents react to their child having done something so horrible to another person. Should parents enforce responsibility for their child’s actions versus not taking responsibility? Should the crime be covered up or revealed to the authorities? Would you concur with an ethical and moral outcome?

Human life is invaluable, no matter the monetary and living standards of that person. Just because they are down and out does not mean they can then become prey to another person’s whims. We see all too often the results of bullying and discriminatory behavior. The Dinner, by Herman Koch, is a prime example of how mental illness plays out in the scheme of life. It also is an example of parental protection within the realm of morals and dilemmas.

Like I said, I liked the story line, but did not enjoy it. It was a dark book, an intense narrative, and it has deep-rooted messages for the reader, if they stick with the story until the end (which for some might be difficult to do).


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Book Diva Review: The Wanting

thewanting From the 1970s Moscow to Israel in the 1990s, The Wanting, by Michael Lavigne, is an intense and complex story line.

There are three main characters in the book: Roman Guttman, Anna, his daughter, and a Palestinian man. Each one tells their own sad story, alternately. Each one has a yearning, a desire for a semblance of peace and understanding.

Roman’s Moscow is filled with the terrors of the time. His relationships and struggles within a time capsule of war, rivalry and hatred lingers throughout the novel. His daughter’s naivete turns into judgements that go against the grain of existence. The Palestinian, Amir Hamid, has a bitter perception regarding the Israelis, and his desire is to inflict damage and pain, at all costs, is a strong dynamic within the pages. Lavigne is brilliant in his masterful telling of the events that take place. Historically speaking, the facts are forthright and told with extremely vivid imagery.

The conflicts in Israel and Palestine are also masterfully depicted. The characters bring their own history and baggage to the complex situations. Daily life and the struggles to endure the social quandarys and conflicts are told with a sense of knowing, and a sense of sadness for the peace that seemingly can not be.

Events that define those who become involved in suicide bombing are explored in depth through those who foster the desire to participate. We are given glimpses of issues that lead up to the suicidal moments. We are privy to the after effects and affects of the horrendous action upon others. Emotions run rampant, on both sides of the conflict. For some, emotional aspects are not necessarily shown from the beginning of the story line. They are slowly gained through crises after crises, and eye-opening moments.

Each side is victim to the whims of conflict. Not victim in the sense of one harmed through volatile actions, but victim in the desire to murder without forethought for the welfare of humanity. Victim of ingrained information that ends up producing extremism and hostility. Each side is guilty of repression and harm.

The human struggle with each other’s culture and traditions are depicted vividly, and often times extremely harshly. The warring factions and their modes of engulfing others within their grasp are well told and defined. Lavigne is a master story teller, and at the core of The Wanting is a desire for peace, for the ceasing of the continuing issues of war, for a blending of two cultures in harmony.

The story encompasses not only the desire for peace, but also a desire for spiritual understanding and acceptance, acceptance respect for each other in the realm of religion. If we can be accepting, then the issue of a peaceful society is possible.

This is not to say that Lavigne is not cognizant of the issues at the forefront between Israel and Palestine. On the contrary, he is most definitely aware, and the novel displays that in every aspect, with sensitivity. He also brings a huge sense of sadness to the unfolding events and occurrences within the pages. The Wanting is a story of sadness. The longing, yearning, WANTING, is a continual aspect within the pages, displayed without prejudice, through Michael Lavigne’s incredible writing.

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Excited About World Book Night!


I am participating in World Book Night U.S.: April 23, 2014. It is a wonderful organization. Here is how it works, in their words…straight from their website:

Each year, 30- 35 books are chosen by an independent panel of librarians and booksellers. The authors of the books waive their royalties and the publishers agree to pay the costs of producing the specially-printed World Book Night U.S. editions. Bookstores and libraries sign up to be community host locations for the volunteer book givers.

After the book titles are announced, members of the public apply to personally hand out 20 copies of a particular title in their community. World Book Night U.S. vets the applications, and the givers are chosen based on their ability to reach light and non-readers. The selected givers choose a local participating bookstore or library from which to pick up the 20 copies of their book, and World Book Night U.S. delivers the books to these host locations.

Givers pick up their books in the week before World Book Night. On April 23rd, they give their books to those who don’t regularly read and/or people who don’t normally have access to printed books, for reasons of means or geography.

I am thrilled to be able to participate on April 23, 2014, and hand out 20 books to 20 individuals, who don’t normally read or have access to books to read. I hope this will encourage them to read more, in the future. In a few hours I will start, and I am excited to begin!

The book I am handing out is “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet”, by Jamie Ford. I read the book, myself, a couple of years ago, and enjoyed it. I hope that those who receive it will enjoy it…as much as I did.



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Earth Day, Children’s Books

Once again, it is Earth Day! What do you do to help your environment?


Obviously the photograph above shows an act of carelessness…an orange cone thrown into a section of river, at a public county park, no less. I was disgusted, when I saw it. My grandchildren were with me, and when we peeked at the river offshoot, they asked me why it was there.

I am a firm believer in recycling. I recycle everything possible. I conserve electricity and water, gas and anything that can be conserved.

I teach my grandchildren to do the same, in fact I read them books on all of the above subjects, and some of those books are listed below. I live with my daughter and her family, and therefore, I read to my grandchildren every day.

Children’s books I have at home, and read to my four-year old and six-year old grandchildren, regarding nature and energy:

It’s Earth Day!

Why Should I Protect Nature?

Why Should I Save Energy?

Why Should I Save Water?

Why Should I Recycle?

The Three R’s: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle

The Adventure’s of an Aluminum Can

It is never too soon to teach our children and grandchildren why we need to protect the earth and protect our resources.
Plant a tree, plant flowers, make a compost heap, join a community garden, take part in activities with the Sierra Club, or at your local park.

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Italian Author Discovery

The 2014 Best Translated Book Awards: Fiction Finalists are:

Horses of God” by Mahi Binebine, translated from the French by Lulu Norman (Morocco; Tin House)
Blinding” by Mircea Cartarescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter (Romania; Archipelago Books)
The Story of a New Name” by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy; Europa Editions)
Tirza” by Arnon Grunberg, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Netherlands; Open Letter Books)
My Struggle: Book Two” by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway; Archipelago Books)
Seiobo There Below” by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary; New Directions) 
A True Novel” by Minae Mizumura, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters (Japan; Other Press)
The African Shore” by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray (Guatemala; Yale University Press)
Leg Over Leg Vol. 1” by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies (Lebanon; New York University Press)
The Forbidden Kingdom” by Jan Jacob Slauerhoff, translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent (Netherlands; Pushkin Press)

From this list of finalists, I discovered the Italian author, Elena Ferrante. I had not heard of her before reading the list. I immediately ordered “My Brilliant Friend“, the first book in a trilogy of “Neopolitan Novels”. I have placed a hold, at my local library, on “The Story of a New Name“.

I am sure I will enjoy reading the novel, as it takes place in Naples, Italy, a city that my maternal Great Grandparents and Grandparents emigrated from. I love reading about Naples and the people that live there, or people who are/were Italian immigrants.

Another book on the list, Tirza, is also one I want to read.

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