Friday, February 27, 2015

"The Boat" by Nam Le


I picked this book up second hand from Adelaide's PopUp Bookshop, and am reading it as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. The book has a striking black and white cover design that caught my eye, then from the reviews on the back I thought it sounded like a really well written and powerful collection of short stories that I couldn't walk away from, even though I don't generally like short stories. 

Started reading: 28th February 2015
Finished: 22nd March 2015

My score: 8/10

I'd say the writing in this book is very powerful. The author can really bring to life environments, characters and emotions in a great variety of stories. Most of them were pretty sad/tragic spotlights on the struggles of desperate people, whether they were refugees on boats in horrific conditions, barely hanging on to hope, or teenage Colombians trying to protect their family and friends while being caught in a downward spiral of drugs and murder. The first, second and last stories had the most impact on me, and will be hard to forget. Makes you feel lucky to be born in a country and environment where you aren't faced with the desperate choices these people are faced with, and reinforces how wrong our current policy against asylum seekers is. However, I still don't really like short stories, as just as you start to get into them and feel a connection with a character, that story ends. If I liked short stories I probably would have rated this book even higher, but as I don't like short stories I would rather have had those 3 chapters I most connected with expanded on, rather than reading the other 4 stories.

Aussie Author Challenge stats: Male author, New to me, Genre: short stories

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"Eucalyptus" by Murray Bail

I picked up this book secondhand at Adelaide's Pop Up Bookshop and decided to read it as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015.It is a really unusual story. In an outback town a widowed man who lives on a large property with his beautiful daughter Ellen is obsessed with Eucalyptus trees. He has collected and planted hundreds of different varieties on his property, from common ones to extremely rare ones. He makes the decision that in order to win the hand of his daughter, the potential suitor must correctly name every single Eucalyptus tree on his property. Until that point his daughter will remain with him, unwed, sort of like an Australian Rapunzel story. Lots of different characters test their luck, but the task is pretty much impossible.

Each 'chapter' is named after a type of Eucalyptus, and sometimes the stories in particular chapters don't seem to be particularly connected, or may be connected to some characteristic of the tree the chapter is named after in an abstract kind of way. The writing style is full of imagery, sometimes beautiful and sometimes strange and harsh ("he saw the woman he hardly knew had haemorrhaged gentleness"), and yet other times quite dry and descriptive of something that doesn't seen particularly consequential.

While a particularly persistent suitor slowly progresses across the property naming trees with her father, a different love story and series of vignettes unfold from the daughter's viewpoint. While parts of this book seemed deadly slow and hard to figure out the connections, other parts were quite poignant and beautiful, and the ending of the book is one of the most touching, and worth reading the book to reveal and appreciate the ending. I won't say more in case it spoils the book for anyone, but it was definitely a worthwhile book to read for anyone wanting to read Australian literature.

Started reading: 4th February 2015
Finished: 24th February 2015.
My score: 7/10

Aussie author challenge stats: Male author, New to me, genre: romance/literary 

"What I Know For Sure" by Oprah Winfrey

Quite a few people told me that they were reading this book lately, and several of them recommended it. I don't actually know much about Oprah and her life, and have never watched her TV show. This book was quite short, easy to read, and was enjoyable. It is basically a collection of positive thoughts and stories from Oprah's life, her suggestions or tips on how to live life mindfully and positively, to get the most out of your life and to be inspired to be the best version of yourself you can be.

Started reading: 31st January 2015
Finished: 4th February 2015
My score: 7/10