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Friday, 30 August 2013

A Guiri* and more in SPAIN

A truly charming novel that transports the reader to the Almeria/Andalusia region of Spain.

This post is now on the new TripFiction site here

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Sharaf "Honour" in SAUDI ARABIA

Sharaf by Raj Kumar set in Saudi Arabia

Sharaf  - ‘Honour’ -  is about a topic we have become familiar with over years. A father has promised his unborn daughter in marriage to his friend’s son. Farhan, the Father and Maryam, the daughter, have a very close relationship. Maryam is intelligent, inquisitive and independent, but respects her father’s promise and accepts what will happen. She is prepared to be a good daughter and give up hope of extending her education or travelling to different places to marry a man she does not know.

But Maryam meets someone, she falls in love, it is forbidden love. The religious police, Mutawa, become interested in the situation and the rest is as you would expect.

But there is more to this book. The story is explicit about how men treat women, in particular non Islamic women, for their own pleasure; the lack of respect for marriage if a male child is not produced, a younger wife is installed. There is terrorism, drug trafficking, torture and illegal holding of prisoners. There is also the surprising behaviour of two young Saudi Arabian women.

I read this book quickly, it is an easy read.  I was irritated by having to keep turning to the Glossary at the front of the book for the translation of words in Arabic used in the text; it disrupted the flow. However, a different way of looking at it was that authenticity is introduced and some of the words did become familiar after a while.

I was surprised by my reaction to this book.  The terrorism, torture and treatment of other people left me feeling a little angry. There is a lack of respect for others and no value put on the lives of others, be it about their views, their nationality or their beliefs. Why should I be surprised? We know about this, but this book really emphasised it to me.

However, it does not end there.  Another secret eventually emerges which explains the background to a relationship between the Mothers of the betrothed. Is there a happy ending? Well I’m not going to give anything away.

Thank you to our Guest Blogger, Ann Reddy for reviewing this novel. For more novels to delve into the Saudi world, click here (and yes, many of the books set in Saudi Arabia have a cover with a pair of womens' eyes, peaking out from behind the niqab... )

Sunday, 18 August 2013

All that Jazz set around the world

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan set in Germany and France

This book tells the story of three black jazz musicians who find themselves in Berlin at the beginning of the Second World War. They manage to escape to Paris where they make contact with Louis Armstrong, but their relief is short lived as France declares itself at war too. Our narrator Sid and his childhood friend Chip are American and manage to get visas to return, but the young genius among them ‘the kid’ Hieronymous Falk is a black half German and the friends can’t leave him.

The books jumps back and forward in time between the 40’s and the 90’s, tantalisingly giving you bits of the story, but never everything until the end. It has to be one of the most powerful descriptions of the Paris Occupation I have ever read, as well as being a story of the ups and downs of friendship, the good natured banter over the years but also the darker side of jealousy and betrayal. It was very different to my usual uplifting and lighthearted books set in France, but certainly something that made me think. With lots of themes running through the book, jazz music, war, race and friendship it is quite full and complex too.

I will admit that it took me a while to become comfortable with the way this novel is written. Told through the voice of Sid it is written in a black slang dialect that didn’t flow in my head the way English does, but did make for a far more realistic read.

This book is published by Serpent’s Tail and available in both paperback and ebook. The link to Amazon can be found by clicking on the book cover. 

A terrific thank you from all of us at TripFiction to our Guest Blogger Jacqui Brown who writes on her own blog about her life in France and also reviews novels set in the country.

And following on from the jazz theme we have brought together a few of our favourite novels  - so many to choose from - that bring this wonderful musical world and era to life. Just click on the covers to find out more:

Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje set in New Orleans
Based on the life of cornet player Buddy Bolden, one of the legendary jazz pioneers of turn-of-the-twentieth-century New Orleans, Coming Through Slaughter is an extraordinary recreation of a remarkable musical life and a tragic conclusion. Through a collage of memoirs, interviews, imaginary conversations and monologues, Ondaatje builds a picture of a man who would work by day at a barber shop and by night unleash his talent to wild audiences who had never experienced such playing. But Buddy was also playing the field with two women, and inside his head was a ticking time-bomb which he was unable to stop.

But Beautiful by Geoff Dyer set in USA
Having been absolutely transported to Venice and Varanasi in Geoff Dyer's book Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi we were pleased to find this wonderfully acclaimed novel that really brings the jazz era to life.Lester Young fading away in a hotel room; Charles Mingus storming down the streets of New York on a too-small bicycle; Thelonius Monk creating his own private language on the piano...In eight poetically charged vignettes, Geoff Dyer skilfully evokes the embattled lives of the players who shaped modern jazz. He draws on photos and anecdotes, but music is the driving force of But Beautiful and Dyer brings it to life in luminescent and wildly metaphoric prose that mirrors the quirks, eccentricity, and brilliance of each musician's style.

The Jazz Flower by Vee Williams Garcia set in Washington DC, Paris, NYC
Rosa Johnson Stills grows and blooms into a beautiful mocha-hued jazz singer in 1930s and '40s Washington, D.C. During those years, Rosa challenges her light-skinned grandmother, Lilly, who low rates her dark skin color and her jazz dream. Rosa also fights her rival, socialite Iris Haywood, in an endless effort to possess her first love, Attorney Alan Covington. Because of a long-ago pact their families made, Alan is pledged to Iris. And Iris will never let him go. Eventually, Rosa relocates to New York City to take a singing job at The Blue Phoenix nightclub and to try to forget Alan. In New York, Rosa dates Jackson Parker, a racketeer. But Alan is in her arms whenever he's in New York on business ─ even after he and Iris are married. Parker threatens to kill Rosa if he catches her with another man. Set in the Swing and Bebop eras of jazz music, The Jazz Flower unfolds prejudice, obsession, and murder, as it transports readers from D.C. to New York, to Paris, France, on its way to a riveting conclusion.

Blood Count by Reggie Nadelson set in New York
In New York's Harlem, every street is steeped in history, and the music of jazz legends plays in the memories of its residents. Artie Cohen could feel at home here - if he wasn't on the trail of a killer intent on erasing the past...An elderly Russian woman is found dead in her apartment, and Cohen finds himself in the centre of a violent debate between city developers and an older generation of Harlem tenants. Not to mention the tensions between himself, his old girlfriend, and her new, younger lover. Meanwhile someone in these once-violent streets is intent on hauling Harlem into the twenty-first century, no matter what it takes...

Jazz by Toni Morrison set in Harlem, NYC
Joe Trace - in his fifties, door-to-door salesman of beauty products, erstwhile devoted husband - shoots to death his lover of three months, impetuous, eighteen-year-old Dorcas. At the funeral, his determined, hard-working wife, Violet - who is given to stumbling into dark mental cracks - tries with a knife to disfigure the corpse. Jazz is the story of a triangle of passion, jealousy, murder and redemption, of sex and spirituality, of slavery and liberation, country and city, of being male and female, African American, and above all being human.

Oh, Play That Thing by Roddy Doyle set in NYC and Chicago
It's 1924, and New York is the centre of the universe. Henry Smart, on the run from Dublin, falls on his feet. He is a handsome man with a sandwich board, behind which he stashes hooch for the speakeasies of the Lower East Side. He catches the attention of the mobsters who run the district and soon there are eyes on his back and men in the shadows. It is time to leave, for another America...Chicago is wild and new, and newest of all is the music. Furious, wild, happy music played by a man with a trumpet and bleeding lips called Louis Armstrong. His music is everywhere, coming from every open door, every phonograph. But Armstrong is a prisoner of his colour; there are places a black man cannot go, things he cannot do. Armstrong needs a man, a white man, and the man he chooses is Henry Smart.

Twelve Bar Blues by Patrick Neate set in NYC,  Africa,  New Orleans & Chicago
Spanning three continents and two centuries, Twelve Bar Blues is an epic tale of fate, family, friendship and jazz. At its heart is Lick Holden, a young jazz musician, who sets New Orleans on fire with his cornet at the beginning of the last century. But Lick's passion is to find his lost step-sister and that's a journey that leads him to a place he can call 'home'. Meanwhile, at the other end of the century, we find Sylvia, an English prostitute, and Jim, a young drifter. They're in search of Sylvia's past, lost somewhere in the mists of the Louisiana bayou. Patrick Neate has written a story that straddles time and space, love and friendship, roots and pilgrimage and everything between. Poignant and hilarious, it will hook you - like a favourite tune - till the end.

Czechmate: The Spy who Played Jazz by Bill Moody set in Prague
The year is 1968. The liberal reforms of Czechoslovakia's new leader, Alexander Dubcek, have outraged the Kremlin and now, 250,000 Warsaw Pact forces are amassed on the borders. For American intelligence, the situation is worsened when their prime source, Josef Blaha, threatens to cut them off unless one demand is met: a totally safe contact. For CIA veteran, Alan Curtis, jazz musician Gene Williams seems the ideal choice. His invitation to the Prague Jazz festival gives him perfect cover and access to Prague. But Williams is a musician, not a spy and has other ideas that force Curtis to resort to blackmail to get the young musician to accept what Curtis calls a simple pickup and delivery. It starts to go wrong when Williams finds Blaha murdered by the KGB and he's left to unravel the puzzle on his own. What he finds is even more than Curtis bargained for. With the help of Blaha's beautiful granddaughter Lena, Williams races against time to warn Dubcek of the impending invasion and uncover a traitor in the US Embassy.

And All That Madness by Joan Merrill set in NYC
When the New York Jazz Society acquires a fifty-year old letter from Georgia Valentine, questions arise over the legendary vocalist's death. Did she give herself a fatal dose of heroin, as the original investigators ruled, or did someone kill her? And if it was murder, what was the motive? Casey moves her operation from San Francisco to New York to investigate the cold case, questioning Georgia's musician friends, her widower, a drug dealer, a Broadway actress, a mafia boss and the authorities who declared the death a suicide. This quest takes Casey to New York's most venerable jazz clubs, a Harlem nursing home, a mob-owned Italian restaurant, a lesbian bar and One Police Plaza, home of the NYPD. She joins forces with an attractive detective from the Organized Crime unit, and, as the case progresses, so does their relationship. With no shortage of suspects, Casey ultimately uncovers evidence revealing a surprising killer.

Not a definitive list by any means! Share your favourite novels with a jazz theme in our Comments Box

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Pink Hotel - LOS ANGELES

The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard set in Los Angeles and Venice Beach (LA)

"Stylish...captures an outsider's gape at sun-drenched Los Angeles" The New York Times

Our review can now be found here 

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Shots of Espresso @ 44 Scotland Street, the heart of EDINBURGH

Espresso Tales (no. 2 in the 44 Scotland Street series) by Alexander McCall Smith

"Scotland Street occupies a busy, Bohemian corner of Edinburgh's New Town, where the old haute bourgeoisie finds itself having to rub shoulders with students, poets and portraitists. And number 44 has more than its fair share of the street's eccentrics and failures..." Alexander McCall Smith

I picked this book up to read before realising it is the second in an unintentional series about the inhabitants of 44 Scotland Street, Edinburgh. In the past I have picked up serial books out of sequence and have had difficulty really getting to know the characters. But I continued and was so pleased I did! It does not matter that you are not already familiar with the characters.

This novel is set in Edinburgh and if you know it you will recognise the street names and imagine the cafe where Big Lou will make you a coffee and have a conversation on a philosophical level you would never have dreamt of.

There’s a lot going on for the inhabitants of 44 Scotland Street but the ‘shot’ size chapters make it very manageable and in fact delightful to read. There is a variety of personalities that come alive from one ‘shot’ to the next. Some of them you warm to more than others. One in particular really irritated me, particularly about his views of his home town Crieff; a town I know and enjoy visiting.

Only a month ago I was in Comrie and visited the nissen huts in Cultybraggan, which were used as a prisoner of war camp and army training until 2004. The Comrie Development Trust is now the owner, with plans to make the site available for commercial use and build a Visitors Centre. I was delighted to see reference to this in the early ‘shots’.

Other characters I really warmed to, in particular a 6 year old named Bertie, he really found a place in my heart. He is sadly having a most peculiar upbringing, or maybe not, who am I to judge?  But he is eventually rescued by his father. There’s a wonderful 'shot' or two describing an enjoyable train journey and promises made.

You can picture the retired Ramsey Dunbarton reading aloud his memoirs to his dozing wife. She initially points out some inaccuracies but then decides to maybe let it lie.

Alexander McCall Smith in the preface says he did not find writing the book a chore, on the contrary it was a real pleasure. This is evident as you turn the pages and get to know believable personalities.

I galloped though this book, it was a delight to read, it made me laugh out loud in places too.  I will now seek out the first in the series, the novel that gave the series its title: 44 Scotland Street.

The series in order: 
  1. 44 Scotland Street
  2. Espresso Tales
  3. Love Over Scotland
  4. The World According to Bertie
  5. The Unbearable Lightness of Scones
  6. The Importance of Being Seven
  7. Bertie Plays the Blues
  8. Sunshine on Scotland Street
(And as a little aside, have you noticed how some of the later titles in the series take their inspiration from notable works of fiction? For example, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones is taken from The Unbearable Lightness of Being; The World according to Bertie from The World according to Garp?)

And if you would like to read more novels set in and evocative of Edinburgh, click here

Leah Mons says about The World According to Bertie: "Reading this book is like being with old friends and having a bit of a catch-up! Knowing Edinburgh as I do it is such fun to pick out the streets and imagine the characters walking up and down them as they go about their business. It really brings the city to life for me"

Ann and the TripFiction Team