So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Bernieres 275 pages

Each chapter in de Berniere’s latest novel is spoken by a significant character. Each character adds to the plot, but the main character is clearly Daniel Pitt,  WWI hero, husband, father, brother and friend.  Throughout this fine, wonderfully written novel which starts after WWI and ends in the middle of WWII, Daniel always tries to do the right thing.  However, with a frigid wife who uses her religion to get what she wants, a son who can barely tolerate him, a crazy mother-in-law and an alcoholic brother, it is often difficult for morality to win out.

Many of the characters in So Much Life Left Over were in de Berniere’s novel, The Dust that Falls from Dreams.  For me, it was great getting reacquainted with them and discovering what happened to them after The Great War.

Like many family sagas, So Much Life Left Over has a number of characters, and it takes some time to sort them out, but I think it’s well worth it.

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So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Bernieres 275 pages

Heartland by Sarah Smarsh 304 pages

Sarah Smarsh was born in rural Kansas and raised by family members who were poor, white, uneducated and violent with multiple marriages, teen pregnancies and all kinds of addictions.  Going back five generations, she describes her ancestors’ struggle to avoid poverty.  Due to their lifestyles, beliefs and lack of role models, they were never able to break the cycle of poverty.  While acknowledging their plights and misfortunes, Smarsh also describes the will power and hard work it took for her to get out of  that cycle.

Heartland writes about a population that has been overlooked in most sociological studies.   Her descriptions of family members and their life experiences are very good.  However, throughout the book she speaks to an unconceived child of hers, and this literary gimmick didn’t work for me.

Heartland by Sarah Smarsh 304 pages

Transcription by Kate Atkinson 352 pages

Transcription bounces from 1940 to 1950 and focuses on Juliet Armstrong’s role in both decades.  Juliet is a smart, sassy, resourceful young woman who in 1940 works for M15 in London.  Her job is to secretly transcribe conversations occurring in the next room-conversations between and M15 spy and a handful of Nazi sympathizers.  Ten years later, Juliet is the producer of a children’s program on the BBC.  Her life seems dreary and dull until she meets someone she worked closely with in the 1940’s who refuses to recognize her now.

Transcription has many supporting characters, and at times it is confusing.  However, as I came toward the conclusion of the novel, I felt Atkinson wanted me to feel perplexed.  Transcription is humorous, frightening and irritating.  Juliet Armstrong is a fine character who deserves a better story.

 

Transcription by Kate Atkinson 352 pages

The Fourteenth of September by Rita Dragonette 359 pages

The setting is a college campus in Illinois, the time is 1969-1970, and the title refers to the first date chosen in the draft lottery while The United States was fighting a war in Viet Nam.  The main character, Judy Talton, attends Central Illinois University , supported by a ROTC scholarship.  At the beginning of the school year, she attends an anti-war meeting which will ultimately change the way she feels about herself, her family and her future.  Should Judy give up the scholarship because it represents everything she no longer believes in, knowing that she cannot afford to attend college any other way?  This is one of several dilemmas Dragonette poses in her debut novel.

This was a very chaotic, dramatic time,  especially for college age individuals.  I realized while reading The Fourteenth of September that there are few books written about that era and the life and death decisions young people had to make.  Rita Dragonette writes a good story describing the turmoil, fears, anger and sadness of that time.

The Fourteenth of September by Rita Dragonette 359 pages

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker 291 pages

The Silence of the Girls is the story of Achilles and Briseis; a tale first told in The Iliad.  For the most part, Briseis is the narrator describing how after her Trojan family was murdered by the Greeks, she was given to Achilles as his slave/concubine.  Although she was from a royal family, Briseis, like all the Trojan women and girls who are captured, must carry out any tasks their captors ask them to do.  The focus of the novel is  Briseis’ relationship with Achilles and Patroclus and the plight of these Trojan women.

Pat Barker, winner of The Man Booker Award, is a fine writer.  She vividly describes the last years of  The Trojan War, portrays the main characters, especially Achilles, as complex, realistic individuals, and makes her readers empathize with how the women of Troy were treated.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker 291 pages

Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg 502 pages

Peter Hoeg is the most popular novelist in Denmark, and his most famous work is Smilla’s Sense of Snow.   If you’re looking for an “intelligent” mystery with a strong, smart, somewhat bizarre female protagonist a la Lisbeth Salander in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo etc., Smilla Moritz is your girl.  Single and 37 years old, she befriends a six year old boy, Isaiah, who dies one snowy night when he falls off the roof of the apartment building they both live in.  The Danish police call his death an accident, but Smilla sees clues which lead her to believe he has been murdered.  As she tries to figure out why anyone would want to kill Isaiah, she encounters an interesting cast of characters as she travels from Copenhagen to Greenland in an attempt to learn the truth.

Hoeg tells a good story.  There are twists and turns throughout the novel, and Smilla’s life is in jeopardy often.  There are a lot of characters to keep straight, and because Smilla is an expert in the formation and effects of snow and ice, there are parts of the book where there is more scientific description than I thought necessary.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg 502 pages

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari 321pages

Harari, the brilliant author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, has written a third work of nonfiction that is just as interesting and mind expanding as his first two.  The twenty-one lessons cover a wide range of relevant subjects today such as, equality, religion, terrorism and justice.  For each of these topics, Harari describes how they are important, how they are truthful and how helpful or harmful they are as we move towards 2055 and beyond.  Harari’s range of knowledge is almost unbelievable, and his explanations are clear, concise and perfectly explained.  I am a fan of Yuval Noah Harari even though his view of mankind and our future is sometimes pessimistic.

Warning:  If you are devoutly religious and a fan of Donald Trump, the Israeli government today and Brexit, you may find parts of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century offensive.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari 321pages