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This profoundly poignant book is the story of the 1953 Tangiwai disaster when a torrent of water gushed from Mount Ruapehu and fatally weakened a railway bridge just before the Wellington-Auckland express was due to cross.  For me it held echoes of Erebus and the Christchurch earthquakes.  A modern love story is wound around authentic tales from Tangiwai, sometimes making it hard to know what is truth and what is fiction.  In many ways it reads like a documentary.  There’s exploration of the conflict between commercial interests and environmentalists, overlaid with varying respect for Maori tikanga.  I found the book an interesting glimpse of a tragic episode in New Zealand history.

“So many passengers were killed.
Was this an old belief fulfilled?”

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I gave up on this book after 25 pages.  It is a “found novel” which means the author has recorded language from every aspect of her life over the course of a year.  She’s then edited it into a book which is promoted as being “bravely experimental and immersive”.   Each chapter is a month, divided into days.  It’s definitely too experimental for me.  I found it messy and prefer a more straightforward narrative.  This book requires more effort than I’m prepared to put in.  I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has tried to read it.

“Time is a pendulum with beat
and this a book I won’t complete.”

 

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I found this book profoundly moving.  Diana’s story of her long search for her lost father is enthralling and at times heart-breaking.  Her Jewish father survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Holocaust, and more.  The loving care with which she researches and writes his story makes a book which anyone would find gripping, especially those who’ve done some family history research.

I lost my father at an earlier age than Diana, and can relate to the need to find out more details about his background and life.  My family story is a common one.  Diana’s is incredibly complex.

Many passages moved me to tears.  Reading of the memorial plaques Diana saw in Berlin reminded me of poignant plaques I saw on Paris schools commemorating the number of children who were deported and killed by Nazis because they were Jewish.

Paris, 2007

This memoir is beautifully written, and highly recommended.

“Historic horrors haunt this tale
as she unearths her father’s trail.”

 

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I haven’t actually read this book.  The prizewinning author is often recommended, and this is the holiday reading for our Book Discussion Group.  I didn’t like Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible”, but was attracted to this novel because it features Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.  By page 80 I’d decided that if Frida didn’t turn up soon I’d stop reading.  On page 85 she finally appeared, but I gave up on page 120.  Life’s too short to spend time reading books I don’t enjoy.  Is there anyone else out there who finds this particular author unappealing?

“She’s simply not my cup of tea.
Group may discuss it without me.”

 

 

 

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I’ve enjoyed presentations by Mary Beard on TV and radio, and was pleased to discover this slim volume which comprises two lectures she gave for the London Review of Books in 2014 and 2017.  Mary, who is a Cambridge Professor of Classics, shows how Western culture has had thousands of years of practice in silencing women.  She cites Homer’s Odyssey as being an example of women’s voices being excluded from the public sphere, and points out how public speech has been a defining attribute of maleness.  Mary asserts that it is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice they have not learned how to hear authority in it, mentioning that Margaret Thatcher took voice training specifically to lower her tone to that of authority.

Weakness comes with a female gender, and we need to look more carefully at our cultural assumptions about women’s relationship with power.  If women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, Mary suggests it is power we need to redefine rather than women.  She reminds us that Rwanda has the highest proportion (over 60%) of women in the national legislature, and wonders if, in some places, the presence of large numbers of women in parliament means that parliament is where the power is not.  You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure, and decouple power from public prestige.

Mary’s writing is always clear and interesting, and this book is available from Christchurch City Libraries.  This week I heard the news that Iceland has become the first country in the world to make it illegal to pay men more than women, so maybe something is changing.

“Oppression that can seem Jurassic
is shown by Mary to be classic.”

 

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This book was a Christmas present, and not one I’d have chosen to read otherwise.  It’s historical, set in England in the time of Charles I, the Puritans, and the Civil War, but it’s also fantastical.  The main character shares her mind with a bear, an ex-dancing bear.  Along the way she and others are inhabited by the spirits of  dead people.  Once I’d become accustomed to all that the story became compelling.  It deals with aristocracy and power at the time of witchhunts.  This is a very different book, and one which lingers.

“It must be very strange to find
you have a bear inside your mind.”

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This beautifully crafted story is poignant, and at times so personal that reading it feels like an intrusion.  I was particularly interested because I spent a night in Juliet’s bach some thirty years ago, and I was part of her One Hundred Women Project at Te Henga in 1986.  In this book the changing seasons of nature and of Juliet’s life are skilfully woven together.  No reader could fail to be moved by the way Juliet has overcome challenges and developed new ways of being.  This book is a blessing.

“Her life and bach are both transformed
and by this book our hearts are warmed.”

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