Books #5, #6, #7

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Elisabeth: The Princess Bride, Austria-Hungary, 1853 (The Royal Diaries) by Barry Denenberg
151 pages

*** out of five stars.

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This faux diary is based on the real life of Elisabeth, princess of Austria.  It only encompasses the time during which she met and wed her husband.  However, the most interesting part of this book is the appendix.  It tells you what happened to the princess and her family members after she was married (which is far more gripping than the material presented in the diary). Photos of Elisabeth and her relatives, a detailed family tree, and additional sources to further read about her are also included.

This book is geared towards children or preteens, so it’s a very quick read.  I read it in the span of an hour or so, and it was fairly interesting.  It wasn’t the epitome of fine literature as the prose is quite simple, but it kept my interest.  I needed something light and fun after reading my last book, and this was just what I needed.

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Suite Francaise

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
448 pages

** out of five stars

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This unfinished work by Nemirovsky is set in France during the Nazi occupation.  She had originally planned to include five sections in the novel, but was only able to complete the first two before she was sent to a concentration camp.

The first section is titled “Storm in June,” and is a sampling of different residents of Paris, and how they fled for their safety.  Many critics have said that the reader gets a feel for exactly how those people felt, but I found that this was not true.  Each character or family had a chapter, and as soon as you became somewhat involved in their story, you were sprung to another point of view.  I wasn’t able to grasp fully the scale of the event and the emotions that the characters experienced; because of this, I found most of this section to move along slowly.  I didn’t care about the people involved, and found myself anticipating the next section.  It needed to be reworked and edited, and maybe she should have focused on two characters instead of the five or so she included.  This part really bogged down my mind, and I had trouble keeping my eyes open for more than three pages.

Part two, “Dolce,” focuses on the German occupation of a small village.  I connected more with this section because the character development and descriptions were able to flourish.  She includes a story of a young French woman who has a love affair with a German (even though her husband is fighting in the war), and must hide it from everyone in her home and town.  Nemirovsky did a great job at describing the conflicting emotions between hatred and sympathy for the occupying soldiers.  There was a lot of tension between the villagers because of this conflict, and that leads to some interesting events.  However, because it took me such a long time to complete “Storm in June,” I had sort of mentally checked out of this book and just wanted it to be done.  In retrospect, I probably should have taken my time and enjoyed the story more.

The appendix of this novella was the most interesting.  It included Nemirovsky’s notes and what she planned to do with the rest of the book, a short section on her life and what eventually happened to her, and (the best part) letters that she and her husband wrote concerning this work and her eventual deportation to Auschwitz.

Overall, I don’t know if I would recommend Suite Francaise.  Maybe pick up a biography of Irene instead, and read one of her completed works.  Even though I enjoyed “Dolce,” I think there are other books out there (such as Sarah’s Key) that detail the German occupation of France in a more interesting manner.

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Pocketfull of Rye by Agatha Christie
224 Pages

***1/2 out of five stars.

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When a wealthy businessman is found dead in his office with rye in his shirt pocket, investigators are unsure of what to think.  There was no logical reason for the rye to be there – until Miss Marple, and elderly amateur detective, comes along and presents a plausible explanation that involves a popular nursery rhyme.  The deeper the investigation went, more clues were revealed and suspicious individuals came out.

I thought this was classic Agatha Christie, with the usual red herring here and there, but I found the end to be not that plausible.  I was waiting to be blown away with the end, as I usually am with her work, but this time I was left unsatisfied.  However, the story was a fun, quick read, but I would not recommend this as someones first Christie book.  If you want to read her books, start with And Then There Were None or Evil Under the Sun.

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Books #3 and #4 – Amrita and Sarah’s Key

Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
384 pages

**1/3 out of five stars.

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I wanted to like this novel – Yoshimoto is one of my favorite authors.  When I read her book Kitchen, I instantly fell in love with her style.  It was very magical and dream like.  I’ve read five other novels by her, and and each one did not disappoint.  However, this one bored me and left me feeling cold.  The protagonist, a young woman named Sakumi, is struggling with home life after the suicide of her sister.  Her young brother possesses powers that let him read minds and see dead people, and Sakumi often has powers of her own.  She has visions of her sister, her friends, people from her past, and loved ones in distant lands.  The premise seemed interesting, but I found that about half of this book repetitious.  Sometimes I would have to go back a few pages to make sure I had the right page and I just wasn’t reading something from a past chapter.  The descriptions were often too mystical and far-fetched; I felt like I was reading a book written by a doe-eyed highschooler.  The middle of this book was extremely slow, and the characters introduced were so ridiculous.  The end was not fulfilling.  This book was 200 pages too long.  Maybe I’ve just gotten over the whole mystic dream-like writing, but that aspect really grated on my nerves this time – I really believe Yoshimoto overdid it.  Skip this one, and pick up N.P. or Kitchen instead.

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Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
304 pages

*** 1/2 out of five stars.

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Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve read books about the holocaust.  For some reason, the topic has always intrigued me.  I’m ashamed to say that I did not know the extent of the French government’s involvement in the deportation, containment, and extermination of Jewish families.  It’s not something that’s widely discussed or written about – this novel tackles that subject.  It is based on true events.

There are two stories in Sarah’s Key.  One takes place in the past, during the summer of 1942 in Paris.  It follows a young Jewish girl named Sarah, who is captured in her home, along with her mother and father, by the French police.  Before they are taken away, Sarah hides her young brother in a cupboard and locks him inside, believing they will soon return to set him free.  She takes the key and keeps it in her pocket, hoping that her little sibling would be safe.  Along with thousands of other Jewish families, her and her parents are taken to the Velodrome d’Hiver, a local sports arena, where they are left for days without much food or water.  They are all then transported to local concentration camps, and eventually to Auschwitz.

The other story that takes place in this novel follows Julia Jarmond, a 45-year-old woman living in Paris in 2002.  She is a writer for a local magazine, and is assigned to write about the anniversary of the Velodrome roundup.  Julia learns about Sarah during her research, and discovers that the young girl and her family used to live in Julia’s new apartment.  The more she learns about Sarah, the more she feels the need to locate and meet Sarah.  Julia’s search for information is quite interesting.

I really found the majority of this book to be engaging.  The descriptions of the roundup and concentration camps were graphic, but necessary.  Even though I’ve seen countless books and movies about the holocaust, the descriptions never fail to shock and disgust me.  There were scenes in this novel that turned my stomach, but readers should know what went on and how these individuals suffered.  It is necessary in order to never forget.

Unfortunately, the story takes a sharp decline when Sarah’s story ends mid-novel.  We find out the fate of Sarah’s brother way too soon, and we are left with the story of Julia’s marital problems and a contrived ending that does not satisfy.  I wish the author would have kept Sarah’s narrative throughout the novel, as that was the most powerful part of the book.  It lacked power after that, and I had to force myself to finish.  Despite this, I still think it’s an interesting and important read.