Mary Ann Shaffer very effectively manages to use an epistolary format (a series of letters) to tell her story of the time Germany occupied Guernsey island. The experience of Todt workers saddened me the most, these young boys were worked and starved to death - the strategy was to extract as much labour from them using minimal food resources. The Todt boys were allowed to forage for food on their own at night so that the German soldiers didn't have to waste too much of their own (again, limited) food on them. The islanders guarded their highly limited foodstocks against theft but one night as a Todt worker is stealing food he falls over and is too weak to get up again so two islanders harbour him and nurse him towards health leading to their imprisonment and worse...there was only one line I hated in the book, "Naturally curly is a curse, and don't ever let anyone tell you different." Ugly opinions like this have got a lot of women thinking they have to straighten their hair to look acceptable. I dislike all anti-curl propaganda, I love my Afro curls, they look cool, they feel great and they have far more character than boring straight hair and I'm not gonna let anyone tell me otherwise!
The writing of this book is ultra-English but written by an American. She portrays the German occupation of Guernsey through the Islanders' eyes and unlike most novels where the enemy is the enemy and you hate them, she also brings out the softer side of the Germans. In the last twelve months I have read several books on do with war or a restrictive political regime: Birdsong, The Book Thief and to some extent The Moment and I think this was the best, closely followed by The Book Thief.
The bad news is that the main author died shortly before or after the novel was published so we will not see anymore written by her; when she took ill her niece Annie Barrows, herself an author, took on the task of completing the piece. The good news? This is an excellent read both for the style and the content. Although it is fiction, it's based on real events and it comes off as being well researched and written in an easy to absorb format.
The Moment shows you life in East and West Germany at the time the Berlin wall was up. You learn most things through the eyes of an American travel writer. There are a couple of longueurs so the book took me ages to finish but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It's a love story, ultimately, but it's certainly not of the atrocious, romantic mills and boon variety, it's laced with tragedy - frankly, that's the only way I would be able to take it.
I have read every one of Douglas Kennedy's ten fiction novels! That is surprising even to me because even for an author that I love, It normally only takes four to five novels before I tire of their writing style and want to read something totally different. Not Mr Kennedy. Each one of his books is different. Some of his novels have a similar style to them e.g. his protagonist is an author or a wannabe writer in several of the novels, his protagonists are always a little obsessed with order and cleaning (a characteristic that I definitely relate to) but the similarities end there.
He can write equally well in a man or a woman's voice. In each novel, you experience something utterly new, a new place (Paris, London, Maine and New York in the US of A, Berlin, Australia), a new take on life, a new attitude, a different tragedy. His novels sometimes start a little slow but they remain absorbing nonetheless and it is always worth holding on to the end. My favourite of all his novels is The Dead Heart, his first fiction novel which I only read early this year (just before I started the blog) - it was so unexpected, so sad yet also so funny. It's also his only succinct novel. The Dead Heart is a couple hundred pages whilst all the rest are door stoppers.
This is the order in which I read his novels. I was introduced to Mr Kennedy by the Team Assistant at work in late 2008 (I think) and I have trusted her opinion on books ever since, she has extremely good taste in books:
1. The Big Picture (published in 1997) - my rating 5*
2. State of the Union (published in 2005) - my rating 5
3. The Pursuit of Happiness (published in 2001) - my rating 5
4. A Special Relationship (published in 2003) - my rating 4
5. Woman in the Fifth (published in 2007) - my rating 3
6. Temptation (published in 2006) - my rating 5
7. The Job (published in 1998) - my rating 3
8. Leaving the World (published in 2009) - my rating 4.5
9. The Dead Heart (published in 1994) - my rating 5*
10. The Moment (published in 2011) - my rating 4
Rating scale: 1 to 5 with 5 being the best
I hope the ratings help you to decide which books to read first. The starred books are must reads.
By Heather Katsonga-Woodward
Time allowing, I love to read. If I read anything interesting, I will blog about it here.