Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

11062402This is the second novel I have read by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and it is equally as good as Americanawhich I read almost a year ago. Half of a Yellow Sun is named after a detail in the flag of the short-lived Biafran nation; the novel is based in a period of political uncertainty during which Nigeria and the secessionist Republic of Biafra engaged in a war, and millions of people died due to starvation. (This is yet another novel that proves my ignorance of certain periods of history).

The novel follows three main characters; Ugwu, a young village boy who works for a university Professor names Odenigbo, Olanna, the girlfriend (and later wife) of Odenigbo, and Richard, an English writer who later becomes Kainene’s lover (Olanna’s twin sister). These three characters lives all become intertwined, yet each show a different view of the war. Ugwu develops intellectually throughout the novel, in my eyes being symbolic of Nigeria as a youthful nation, in a way he finds his feet and matures in a similar way to the Nigeria that Adichie portrays. Olanna seems to represent the idea of intellect over practicality, she is shown to be very intelligent but not very practical in comparison to her twin sister. Lastly Richard represents the lingering colonialism, he hopes to immerse himself in Nigerian/Biafran culture but never truly can and is only effective in his writing when he writes for the Western press about the war.

Although the war is the key theme of this novel, there are numerous other themes, including family relationships, politics and female empowerment. We see strained relationships between Olanna and her parents, Odenigbo and his mother, and Ugwu rarely seeing his family due to his work for the two of them. Throughout the novel we see Odenigbo and Olanna hosting social gatherings, at which the politics of both Nigeria and Africa in general are discussed. The reader also sees the development of female empowerment, both Olanna and Kainene live with men when unmarried. Kainene seems to be more powerful than Richard, having more influence on society. Olanna is told by her mother at one point, ‘You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man’, one of the more feminist comments in the novel.

This novel is amazing, it is powerful and it is informative. Adichie writes in such a way you can feel the heat of the country, the tension of the pre-war years, and the desperation when the Biafra nation is starving. I would thoroughly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys good writing.

The Spanish Civil War: A Very Short Introduction – Helen Graham

I have yet again read one of the ‘A Very Short Introduction’ series, but they are always well written and informative. Due to my life plan to move to Spain in the near future I wanted to educate myself a little about Spanish history, having only really known small bits and pieces. This book has helped me tremendously by succinctly outlining the causes, politics and effects of the Spanish Civil War. The book also outlines the effects of the civil war on Spanish society, including the manner in which later generations are commemorating the dead.PicassoGuernica

Helen Graham is an expert on this period of Spanish history and it shows through with her explanations. I’m still not one hundred percent sure I understand the whole situation, but I feel a lot more confident in my knowledge. One of the things that has been most interesting is the idea that this war was almost a test run for the Second World War, with Hitler and Mussolini helping Franco; the bombing of Republican cities was described as being very similar to the Blitzkrieg. On the other hand, the Republicans were supported by the Soviet Union, and as such one of the most westerly countries in Europe was a microcosm of the later Eastern Front. The manner in which Graham explains these points, as well as the inaction of other European nations is eyeopening yet effective. I really felt I learned a lot, even if not totally understanding.

Undermajordomo Minor – Patrick deWitt

This is the second of the two deWitt novels I found in my brothers room. He is one of my best friends favourite authors, hence I had to explore his writing. This is a comedic novel embracing European gothic tradition, whilst exploring modern humour, sexuality and morality. To compare this to the previous deWitt novel I have read, Ablutions, would be unfair, as they are so different. The reader is given no true indication of the setting, deWitt has invented a generic European country. This adds to the general intrigue of the novel; what is actually going on? The over26215466riding feeling I got was of bewilderment, how could deWitt have written such a drastically different novel to Ablutions?

I can only describe this book as weird; it took a while for me to even realise the main character was a male named Lucy. I can see the obvious influence of traditional fairy tales; the castle, the village beauty, the servant boy, however each are presented in a modern way, twisted into modern characters relatable despite their existence in a seemingly medieval setting. Lucy moves from his home village to a castle, from which he observes a series of battles, the local village and the oddities of castle life.

Despite not being one of the best novels I have read recently I was certainly enthralled by it. It is hard to put down, it has twists, it is amusing and it is very readable.

Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World – Raphael Honigstein

Raphael Honigstein is one of my favourite football pundits, providing extensive knowledge of German football with a humorous twist in articles for The Guardian and on BTSport’s European Football Show. This is his latest book, an analysis of the progress of German football from the mid-90s to the German national team, known as Die Mannscahft, winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It is an expert and in-depth look at the inner workings of the German football system, something, that as an avid football fan, I found extremely interesting. Obviously this is quite a niche book but one that I think most fans of modern football would enjoy.

Honigstein combines his excellent writing style with interviews with key figures in the history of modern football. The chapter entitled Mineiraço is a prime example. Each German goal from their 7-1 World Cup Semi-Final thrashing of Brazil  is described in detail, but interspersed are the thoughts of people who were involved in that match. In covering tactics, youth systems and coaching in general he manages to outline the key aspects of the rise of the German national team, and how they were influenced by outside sources. I feel this book should be read by a lot of people in English football to help gain some ideas on how we can achieve international success, instead of just success in club competitions.

There is a passion throughout this book that shows the reader that this is a fan writing, he’s just in a privileged position to associate with some of the most famous names in football. By interviewing these names, and scientists, psychologists and other journalists, Honigstein has produced an excellent portrayal of German football in the 21st century.

The Long Green Shore – John Hepworth

This is another of the books my dad brought back from Australia, published by Text. The Long Green Shore tells the tale of Australian forces in New Guinea during World War Two. It is based on Hepworth’s own experience fighting against the Japanese, in the jungles and on the beaches of New Guinea, and due to that is a very moving, and often graphic, portrayal of war. Although it was written in 1947 the novel was not published until 1995, not long after Hepworth’s death. Despite being named by many as a classic war novel, it is not one that I know; but now I would class it with For Whom The Bell Tolls, Homage to Catalonia and The Good Soldier Švejk as amongst the best I have read. There is an honesty about war throughout that makes this novel extremely interesting, I wondered whether Hepworth saw the war, or the campaign described, as slightly pointless.1d153b101e3811e48b86312c8da705a6_author

Hepworth’s novel is a concerned with the Australian campaign in New Guinea, during which numerous men were killed on both sides, despite not being a campaign that would affect the outcome of the war. The novel portrays a number of ordinary men, not heroes, who are thrust into a situation that they must survive. We see through Hepworth’s writing the ability of humanity to adapt however horrible conditions are; the characters build friendships, play games, and make the most of the social opportunities despite the situation they are in.  With excellent use of language Hepworth manages to show the reality of war, and the attitudes of those actually fighting it. Most of these soldiers are against the war, but are fighting because they feel they have to. There is a sense of futility, fighting for hills and beaches that seem to have no worth. The novel is respectful of soldiers and the efforts made by them, but is critical of the hierarchy and lack of care for the men who are actually fighting.

I found this novel extremely interesting, due to having never heard of it, but also as I had to do a bit of research about its context to truly understand it. Due to the colloquialisms I did have to think a bit about the language, there were a number of phrases that were definitely Australian, and I had to work out their meaning to understand the passage. To get the most out of this novel it is worth knowing context, so as to understand what is an elegantly written piece of Australian literature.

My Turn: The Autobiography – Johan Cruyff

I don’t often read autobiographies, but this Cruyff is one of my sporting heroes. Also, my brother has a copy so its easy to borrow… The book itself is brilliant; bright orange cover and each page has an orange edge to it, making the book appear orange throughout. Cruyff famously wore number 14 and he writes 14 chapters, each about a separate chapter in his life. The last chapter is clearly written as he was dying, but is mostly concerned with the future of organisations that he’s been involved with. He covers all aspects of his life, from his upbringing and father’s early death, his marriage and children, and his work with charities after playing and managing in football. ap,550x550,12x16,1,transparent,t.u2

If you are a fan of football, this is a fascinating insight into the mind of one of the greats. Cruyff writes about the beginnings of Total Football with Ajax and the Dutch national team; explaining why it was so revolutionary and why it works. Later he discusses where the Dutch team and philosophy has gone wrong, and his belief that they should return to the style of training that he received as a young player. After his career took him to Barcelona he explains the affinity he felt to that city and Catalonia itself. By giving his point of view on current football in comparison with when he was playing Cruyff is able to show the ways football has changed and may change in the future. Having also played in America he is able to explain to readers the many differences between, and advantages and disadvantages of, European and North American sports business models. It is such an interesting read for these aspects that are not often discussed in European sports writing.

In the final couple of chapters Cruyff discusses his charitable work, the Cruyff Foundation especially. I was aware of this aspect of his life, but not really the extent nor the number of Cruyff Courts that had been built; there over 200 of these small football pitches all across the world. By writing about his charity work in such a passionate manner, he’s equally excited about this as he is about football, he invites the reader into every aspect of his life. As I said previously, this is worth reading for any football fan, but also anyone with an interest in how sport can help people in other aspects of their life.

Mossflower – Brian Jacques

Mossflower is one of the Redwall series of children’s novels about anthropomorphic woodland creatures. This was a series I read when I was much younger, and seeing it on the shelf at my brother and his fiancé’s house I had to re-read it. There is always a colourful cast of mice, badgers, hedgehogs, squirrels, otters, weasels, stoats 220px-MossflowerUKCoverand many more species. Each species is normally a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ species with a couple of rare examples when a member of a ‘bad’ species performs good acts. The series can be rather simplistic in their plot, however I remember always being excited to read them and often borrowed them from the library when new ones came out.

This particular novel is one I do remember from the story; Martin the Warrior (a mouse) leads the inhabitants of Mossflower Woods against the tyranny of Queen Tsarmina (a wildcat). Martin is first captured and held prisoner in Tsarmina’s castle, before being assisted in his escape by another young mouse Gonff. These two become friends and Gonff takes Martin to join the resistance against Tsarmina, known as Corim. Having joined Corim the two mice and a mole friend, Young Dinny, embark on a journey to bring a warrior badger back to Mossflower Woods. On the journey they encounter a number of obstacles and become friends with various other characters. Meanwhile the animals left in Mossflower Woods come up with various plans to disrupt life at the castle.  Can the two groups finally overcome Tsarmina and free the woods from tyranny?

Though slightly predictable and simplistic these stories are extremely entertaining. Jacques was an excellent writer of dialogue, the moles and hares have accents that can be likened to regional British accents. There are regular poems and songs that add to a rustic feel as well as lovely description by Jacques. For me this is comfort reading at its best. You can relax, read and get lost without too much effort. I would also recommend this for anyone who has young children as a way to encourage reading due to its adventurous yet fun content.

The Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle

220px-Aristotle_Altemps_Inv8575The Nicomachean Ethics are a collection of 10 books, based on Aristotle’s lectures, each outlining a different area of ethics. Aristotle was one of the first philosophers to write on the subject of ethics, and how this was practically applicable. This is considered to be one of the most important philosophical texts, being read by Medieval philosophers and as such becoming a basis for much European law and modern philosophy.

Throughout this work Aristotle discusses various aspects of human ethics, including who should study ethics, and how ethics are able to be used in everyday life. We learn what Aristotle believed to be an ethical lifestyle, and how these virtuous aspects of life can be used to make oneself a virtuous person. In the text Aristotle uses the idea of building a virtuous character through righteous actions, by being virtuous humans can achieve happiness.

This book did take me a while to read; the subject matter isn’t the most enthralling, but it is a very interesting read. I did enjoy the lay out, each book has smaller sections made up of a small number of paragraphs which allows the reader to digest each point before moving onto the next one. It is worth reading the appendices and footnotes properly to get a full understanding of the text, especially useful in my edition was the translation of Greek terminology, some of which do not have a direct English translation.

Ablutions – Patrick deWitt

If you like books about alcohol, this is the book for you. DeWitt’s debut novel is an amazingly enthralling tale of demise. We follow the downward spiral of a young barmen in Hollywood; as the novel goes on we see the unnamed barman protagonist descend into a life of booze, with increasingly negative consequences. His relationship with Jameson whiskey builds whilst his other relationships crumble. The protagonist is clearly unhappy, for what reason, we never learn. promo_384x384

The novel is subtitled, ‘Notes for a Novel’, and each small sketch outlines a new idea to be used in a novel. Ablutions is a risky novel due to this but deWitt makes it work. DeWitt’s  subtitle allows for a disassociated narrative style; second person narration, potentially the protagonists conscience? Yet deWitt’s narration is excellent, vivid and real; th
is is a bar I can imagine, dark, seedy and full of characters. We are certainly seeing this through the eyes of the protagonist, most memorably when he is said to be viewing, ‘hundreds of pairs of cowboy boots, no two alike, walking along together in a pack‘. I can imagine this scene, not from experience, but from the manner in which deWitt writes. This second person narration adds some urgency to the narrative, but most powerfully it allows the reader to be there, in the moment.

This is a novel all about addiction. It is not sympathetic to the barmen, does not glorify alcoholism and is often brutally honest. Dewitt has managed to describe human characteristics in a brilliant manner; I’m sure every adult has had a moment where they have tried to hide their drunken state. I would thoroughly recommend this novel, it is entertaining and poetic, whilst be both funny and sad.

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers – Max Porter

I haven’t been reading as much recently, I have been studying for a TEFL course, so this is my first post for about a month.

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers is a novella that includes elements of poetry, prose and dialogue. Porter pulls from various literary techniques and traditions; using different styles and drawing from such differing ideas as nursery rhymes and exam questioning. The author has crafted a moving story about a widower and his sons coping with the loss of a wife and mother, we 9780571327232don’t know the details of her death until the last few pages, yet we are told of her deaths impact upon her family. The title echoes a Emily Dickinson poem, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’, but the content draws more from Ted Hughes than Dickinson herself.

The widower, Dad, is writing a book about Hughes, and uses this to cope with his grief. Through this he develops a coping mechanism, Crow, an allusion to Hughes’ collection entitled, ‘Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow’. Crow becomes a part of the family, in ways replacing his wife, protecting the family and helping him recover from his loss. Even his sons become aware of Crow, ‘Crow is in the bathroom…’ and begin to understand their fathers need for Crow.

There are three clear narratives; Dad, Crow, Boys. Each has a distinct voice but the three come together to tell a moving story of a grieving family. This trio is reflected in the three parts of the novella, ‘A Lick of Night’, which shows the arrival of Crow, ‘Defence of the Nest’, in which Crow shows his contribution to the family, and the final section, ‘Permission to Leave’, where we learn how the death happened and the family finally come to terms with it, and the Crow leaves.

This novella is a moving reflection on the nature of death and grief. There is a magical nature to some sections, and dark passages, yet overall its a fairly accessible work.  It may be a short book but copes with the large issues of death and loss in an interesting and thought provoking manner, and is definitely worth a read.