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Review: A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah

a long way goneUntil he was 12, Ishmael Beah lived with his mother and brothers in Mattru Jong, Sierra Leone.  Then the war came to his hometown with the arrival of the rebels and he was forced to flee for his life, losing his entire family in the process.  Because he then proceeds to hang around with a group of boys, his friends, he is kicked out of towns, starved, and forced to run again and again until he is finally drafted into the army.  Force fed drugs and given an AK-47, Ishmael is turned into a mini killing machine, hardly aware of what he’s doing, until he is chosen for a rehabilitation program and begins the slow process of re-acclimatizing into civilian life.  Eventually, he becomes a spokesman against putting children in war, and has written his memoirs in a bid to stop this horrible practice.

This is a difficult book to read, not only because Beah’s childhood and teenage years are so horrific but because this drafting of children into warfare is something that still happens around the globe.  Beah never wanted to be a soldier; he spends most of the book actually running away from them, while at the same time regularly condemned simply for his age.  He and his friends nearly starve and are nearly killed a number of times by the very same forces they end up fighting for.  Once they’re caught, there is simply no choice.

In terms of prose style, Beah’s book is plainly written but descriptive enough to get his point across; more and I think some of the things he describes would have been almost too graphic, even if they did happen.  His time as a child soldier was easily the hardest to take.  He describes how he was turned from a regular boy into a violence machine.  The army used drugs and persuasion to make the children kill with a vengeance; these same acts make Beah’s rehabilitation all the more difficult when it does happen.  One of the most heartbreaking parts of the book occurs when Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, is retaken by soldiers, and many of the rehabilitated children wind up back in the army.  Beah is saved this fate and indeed turns out incredibly fortunate as he finds a new life in the United States, but he doesn’t fail to remind us that his case is unusual and is the very reason he can write his book.

Personally, I knew very little about child soldiers before reading this book, and I’ve been reminded once again how fortunate I am to have grown up in a peaceful society.  I never had to worry that a gang of rebel soldiers was going to invade my town, evict me from my home, and kill everyone I’d ever known.  Beah did, and these things are still happening around the world.  This is one of those books that I believe everyone should read; it’s important to know what’s going on in the world and to find out ways we can help.  I can’t recommend A Long Way Gone enough.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Review: A Voice from Old New York, Louis Auchincloss

Louis Auchincloss’s family wasn’t among the very richest in New York City at the start of the twentieth century, but they certainly did well enough for themselves.  As a result, his family was astonishingly well connected and rubbed shoulders with many of the most privileged figures of the twentieth century world; he is related to quite a few people and he drops names like Vanderbilt and Kennedy on a fairly consistent basis.  Since New York society has changed drastically over the course of his life, he takes us back to the beginning and explores his life as a child of privilege and takes us through his quest to find his life’s goal, which turned out to be writing, and the way he got there.

I’d never heard of Louis Auchincloss before but I absolutely could not resist a memoir set amongst New York City’s highest levels of society.  My maternal grandparents both grew up in New York City (they are both slightly younger than Auchincloss, although also very much poorer and from immigrant stock) and I’ve spent quite a few happy times looking at their old photographs, imagining what it might have been like.  What better way than to hear it from someone who lived it?  I wasn’t disappointed; in fact, I could sort of imagine an Auchincloss character, especially when young, acquainting himself with a few of the characters from the Luxe series, especially when he describes debutante balls.  Even when he was heading to college, women from the highest classes still didn’t always choose to go, but instead had that money spent on elaborate coming out balls to catch a wealthy, handsome husband.

What really comes through brilliantly in this memoir is the character of the writer himself.  I felt like I was having a chat with him from beyond the grave, as he’s now regrettably passed on.  His voice comes through so strongly and I began to regret that I hadn’t read any of his novels – something I’d like to rectify ASAP.  He seems like he was quite a character; I at times felt that he was looking at the world from a position of too much privilege, but when he acknowledges that readily himself it’s hard to blame him for something so beyond his control.  He does say society wasn’t as exciting as everyone must have thought, but I thought that was only something an experienced socialite could say!  Many of his friends are wealthy, but for me that was all a bit of the excitement as I felt I was getting a peek into a lost world.  There isn’t much of the dissipation that exists among the current day wealthy; rather he’s surprisingly tame, and after he marries ceases going out at night or even meeting up with other famous writers.

I found A Voice from Old New York to be an endlessly fascinating memoir.  I loved Auchincloss’s descriptions of society, colleagues, and contemporary schools.  His experience is so outside mine that I just couldn’t get enough of it and I ended up only wishing the memoir were longer.  It’s humorous, interesting, and above all very distinctive.  Highly recommended.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from Netgalley for review.

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Review: Neither Here Nor There, Bill Bryson

Having taken a rather memorable few trips through Europe in his youth and early adulthood, Bill Bryson decides to repeat the experience solo as an adult.  After all, at the time of writing he lived in England but had hardly ever traveled across to the continent.  In an effort to remedy that, he first sets off for Norway to watch the Northern Lights, then slowly makes his way south to city after city of hotel rooms and amusing cultural insights, ending up in Istanbul.

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Bill Bryson, and now that I’m off on my first ever trip to the Continent myself, I thought it was the perfect time to be reading this book.  I’m only going to Paris right now, but I have big plans for the future, and I couldn’t wait to read Bryson’s perspective on Europe. (I did plan to read a book more specifically on Paris, but the library lost it before it got to me, so I chose this instead.)  Bryson didn’t disappoint me at all, and I found myself laughing along at all of his jokes and thoroughly enjoying this book.  I also discovered that it was perfect for late night Read-a-thon as everything he says just becomes hilarious when you’re that tired.  I may possibly have preferred more depth – a bit more detail on the history of each place perhaps – but I was still quite pleased with what I got.

What I like most about his books is that while he encounters stereotypes and in many respects has a “typical” experience in certain countries, I never feel like he’s stereotyped the country without a good bit of humor.  He pokes fun at them, but he also regularly pokes fun at himself in the world, so it’s impossible to be offended by anything – something which I admired when reading his books about my own country.  I like that Bryson’s books feel like a friend has sat chatting with me about his trip; they’re not high literature or particularly sophisticated, they’re just about a really funny writer who has had quite a few memorable trips and life experiences.

Contrasting his trip now with his trip years ago really brought to life how much the world has changed in a short span of time and simultaneously how much remains the same.  Our world is indeed evolving, but in ways perhaps different from what we might expect.  The most poignant section of the book for me was his trip back to Sofia, Bulgaria, formerly in his mind a wonderful place with a particularly notable huge shopping mall.  When he arrived this time, there were queues for bread and the shopping mall was virtually empty.  The landmarks were the same, but the entire feel of the city had changed and was set to change again just a short time later.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading more by Bill Bryson – his later writing is definitely better, if The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is any indication, so I’ll be rounding out my collection of his books sometime in the very near future.  In the meantime, Neither Here, Nor There was an amusing, sarcastic little read and I would definitely recommend reading it before or during a trip to Europe.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Review: The Lost City of Z, David Grann

Explorers throughout the ages have been convinced that a huge city lies within the Amazon rainforest.  Descriptions written by the first conquistadors only backed them up, and many men set out to find it only to lose their lives in the process.  One such determined explorer was Percy Fawcett, who took his son and his son’s best friend into the jungle.  Convinced he knew where the city was, he eagerly set off with the boys and only two guides, only to vanish forever.  Mysterious legends sprouted up around his disappearance as well.  Dozens of years later, author David Grann decides to head into the forest after them, seeking to find out what really happened to the trio and to uncover some truths about the mystical city itself.

What a fascinating book.  You may notice I’ve been into travelogues lately, and there is nothing I enjoy more than an author combining history with his or her own personal journey.  This is precisely what Grann does with his search for a city in the Amazon.  I adored the chapters on Fawcett, on the Amazon, and was as wrapped up in the legend as all the explorers were – although not quite enough to set off on foot through the Amazon.  I particularly appreciated the fact that Grann travels in a vehicle and notes that such a journey would have taken Fawcett weeks of hacking through undergrowth.  When Grann thought his trip was hard, it really brought into focus how incredibly difficult exploration of the rainforest was for men of Fawcett’s time and before.

Grann also notes that explorers of the Amazon are often ignored in favor of those who explored the North Pole.  For one thing, those explorers eventually succeeded, whereas no one managed to find the city of Z.  The exact same thing was happening while Fawcett was alive.  He struggled to get funding whereas northern explorers received both money and glory.  He became famous in the end, only to vanish at the apex of his popularity.  One particularly notable chapter included a famed northern explorer heading into the Amazon with Fawcett, only to turn back because he couldn’t take it.  It seems that either you’re suited to risking your life in intense heat and with many creatures out to kill you, or you’re more suited to dying of the cold – you can’t be awesome at both apparently.

I was probably least interested in Grann’s personal story.  It’s fairly obvious that he hasn’t died, which takes away all of the suspense, and he doesn’t really risk his life that much either.  I’m not saying that he imposes himself too much on the story; he doesn’t, it’s simply that I find historical details far more exciting.  He does make a few interesting discoveries, mainly at the end, and it’s worth it to get an up close and personal look at the natives that are likely very similar to those that Fawcett and various other teams encountered while on their hunt for the city.

The Lost City of Z was a fascinating look into exploring the Amazon rainforest and all of its perils.  I would definitely recommend it.

I am an Amazon associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Review: Chinese Whispers, Jan Wong

During Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Jan Wong traveled to China to attend university.  As a third generation Canadian Chinese, she was one of the first two non-native Chinese admitted since Mao took power, and much of that was undoubtedly due to her belief in Mao’s principles.  In actuality, she believed in the watered-down version she’d been taught, and had no idea of the real depth and consequences for people who disagreed with Mao.  As such, when she told a teacher that a girl she’d just met had asked her how to leave China, she had no idea that she was irrevocably changing that girl’s life.  As an adult, she deeply regrets her actions, and decides to head to China and find the woman she betrayed to ask forgiveness.  In the meantime, she discovers how much Beijing has changed and continues to change to meet the 21st century.

I found this book utterly fascinating.  I’ve read a few books now on the experiences of Chinese people during the Cultural Revolution, but never one from the perspective of an outsider like this one was.  Mainly, I was amazed that despite growing up as a Westerner, Wong became obsessed with China and her Chinese past.  I was also quite surprised to discover that much of Mao’s regime had been whitewashed, so even when she was in China she had no idea what was really going on.  I think that got across more of the deception than a few of the other books had; growing up in China, you would quickly realize that life was very uncertain and a heartbeat separated you from ruin.  Growing up in Canada, Mao’s China simply seemed like a place where everyone worked for the betterment of society.

Standing in vivid contrast to Wong’s memories is the Beijing of 2008 (when she returned) with its glitzy buildings, intense consumerism, and ever-expanding apartments.  She’s amazed that apartments formerly admired, reserved for only the highest of professionals, now look worn and tiny in comparison to the immense ones her old contacts have achieved.  There are shopping malls everywhere, even if no one shops in them, the smog is so thick you can’t see the sky, and there are so many cars in Beijing that you’re risking your life by stepping onto the road.  They’re also steadily pulling down the remnants of China’s past in favor of skyscraper after skyscraper.  This is Beijing, which means I hope that the rest of the country still has a few historic palaces, but the rampant destruction of perfectly good historical architecture made me very sad.

It makes Jan Wong quite sad, too; even the China she knew no longer exists, but some of it is still around.  China is still a police state, so the government can do mostly whatever it wants.  That means large, endless building projects that no democratic country would ever approve.  Wong spends time reminding us of those contrasts as well.  In terms of her search for the woman she’s betrayed, she finds it extraordinarily difficult to find her because the country has in effect wiped away the Cultural Revolution.  Records mysteriously vanish from that period and no one wants to tell her what has happened to Lu Yi.

I really enjoyed Chinese Whispers.  I thought it perfectly combined the history of the Cultural Revolution, with which I’ve been so fascinated recently, to modern day Beijing.  Since Wong is Canadian, I felt like I received a whole new perspective on the period, and as a result I’m very happy I read this book and would recommend it to anyone else interested in modern China.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Review: Red Azalea, Anchee Min

Anchee Min grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution.  She was virtually responsible for her younger siblings since the age of six, as her parents both had to work all day and thus had no time to actually provide for the family.  Min grew up an ardent supporter and worshipper of Chairman Mao, even going off to become a peasant in relatively good spirits.  It was only love that made her realize there was something wrong with the way her society worked, and which would eventually propel her to leave China and make her home in the West instead.

Since I’ve enjoyed a few fiction books by Anchee Min, I thought I’d read her memoir and see what really happened to her in the midst of Mao’s China.  It was certainly a rewarding read, but since I’ve been quite obsessed with the period lately not much about it was actually new – it was just a new perspective on a similar story.  It’s always vastly interesting to realize how completely people bought into the Communist mindset, if hard to believe – Min freely admits that she fell a victim to the craziness of the culture as much as anyone else did.  It took her a long, long time to realize that life might be better elsewhere – so long that it’s not even in the scope of this book.

At the center of the book is a love story between Min and one of her Communist leaders.  While the details are never totally explicit, the eroticism of this bit startled me and a love affair wasn’t quite what I was expecting in the midst of all the strict farming and regulations.  She very eloquently demonstrates the fact that only this intense love can inspire minds – at least her mind – to break free of all the conditioning that had been forced into them throughout the years.  Anchee Min seized not only on this relationship but on others, feeling them all the more intensely for their forbidden nature.

What was most incredible to me is the fact that Min is precisely the same age as my parents, and that really brought home to me how recent this was.  Her life is so vastly different from my parents’ that it’s almost impossible to believe they lived in the same century.  Shortly after this I read Chinese Whispers by Jan Wong, which also gave wonderful perspective on this in the light of modern China and how everything has become vastly different again.  Min’s own story is set just in the right period to be an absolutely fascinating portrait of all that China was, no matter how brief that period was in their history.

This may not be my favorite account of life in China during the Cultural Revolution, but it was certainly an interesting one.  I’d recommend Red Azalea to anyone interested in the period or looking for more on Anchee Min’s life in comparison to her fiction.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Review: Geisha of Gion, Mineko Iwasaki

Mineko Iwasaki was the foremost geisha of her time, to the extent where she became a legend and was invited to entertain the highest levels of world society.  When Arthur Golden wrote his novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, he consulted with Mineko but was apparently sworn to silence.  Unfortunately, he then went on to tell people that it was Mineko who had spoken with him about the life of geisha in Japan; Mineko herself was upset that he had twisted what she said and as a result chose to write this book, her own memoirs, to explain to the world what geisha really are, what they do, and her own life story (much of which Golden borrowed for his own book).

I read Memoirs of a Geisha a long time ago, but I remember enjoying it thoroughly when I did.  I was later dismayed to learn that Golden’s story wasn’t nearly so close to the truth as I’d imagined and that in fact he got a number of things wrong.  (Yes, I have always been picky about historical fiction).  I’d heard about Mineko Iwasaki writing her own book, and wanted to read it, but for some reason never actively sought it out.  Then I saw it on the shelf in a charity shop and I was reminded that I really did want to read it and learn something a little closer to the truth than was portrayed in Golden’s book.

This isn’t the best written memoir I’ve ever read; Mineko Iwasaki has a ghost writer, Rande Brown, helping and presumably transforming her story into better English, but she definitely maintains a distance throughout and the book is very simple in tone.  The story she has to tell, however, is far from simple and is completely engrossing.  I did have the sense that Mineko purposely picked and chose which episodes to relate in order to emphasize certain facts about geisha (she splits them into two groups, maiko and geiko) which she knew that Golden got wrong or deliberately changed, but that didn’t lessen my interest in the memoir as a whole.

Sometimes, however, I had trouble believing what she’d said.  For example, she first says that men rarely got very far into the okiya, the house in which a family of geisha lived.  There were prescribed hours men were allowed in, and she uses this to argue that geisha are most certainly not prostitutes.  But shortly afterwards she relates the fact that her older sister did bring men into the house and allowed them to sleep over, that she ran into them in the bathroom, and then was nearly raped by her own nephew in that same house.  If men could not enter the house, why were these men permitted in?

She also begins the book when she is three years old and ascribes to herself adult thoughts and sayings.  I couldn’t believe that a five year old child made the decision on her own to become a geiko, which led me to believe that in fact her parents were willing to sell her like they’d sold her sisters – all of whom became very bitter.  Mineko seems like a much more driven and responsible girl, and since she did end up happy with her life, I wonder if she’s forgiven her parents and thus portrayed them in a much kinder light than she might otherwise have done.  It is possible that at five she decided she wanted to be a geisha, but I would think her parents had a greater role in such a choice than either she knew or wanted to disclose.

Saying those things, I did thoroughly enjoy this memoir even if I took a few of her memories with a grain of salt.  I knew little about the life of geisha and I was happy to be educated.  Mineko is something of a rock star; she was the foremost geisha until she abruptly retired in the middle of her career, sick of the rules and restrictions that she couldn’t manage to change.  She was so popular that no less than seventy other geisha retired within a few months of her, to pay her respect; she wanted to make changes, not endanger the profession, which is what may have ended up happening after her retirement.

As always, it was the little details that thoroughly captivated me.  The clothes Mineko wore – backed up by the amazing photographs in which she looks astonishingly like a painting – the life she lived, the few skills she had as a normal human being.  No one ever taught her any conception of money, for example, until she was in her twenties, so she worked constantly knowing she had to support the okiya but without any real conception of how much she was earning or how much money could buy certain things.

Despite my reservations, this was a truly fascinating book.  I wish more geisha would write memoirs so I could compare and get a little closer to the truth, but for now, I would definitely recommend Geisha of Gion.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Mini Reviews

Because otherwise these books are never going to get reviewed!

Ten Things I Love About You, Julia Quinn

Annabel Winslow is looking for a rich husband to rescue her family from the poorhouse.  And she’s found a potential suitor, an aged, lecherous earl, of whom she isn’t at all fond, but she figures she has to resign herself to her fate – even if he does nearly assault her.  Then she meets the earl’s nephew, Sebastian, and everything changes.  They may be falling in love, but will Sebastian have the funds to save her siblings?

Much the same as the last book in this series, What Happens in London, this book is very sweet and very funny.  It’s easy to become fond of both characters and believe in their romance, even if everything is far too rosy for real life.  The series lacks the real fantastic romantic potential of the Bridgerton series, but still all of them provide a nice, quick diversion from every day life.

Lead Me On, Victoria Dahl

Jane Morgan has worked very hard to get her position as an administrative assistant to an architect.  She rescued herself from years of bad behavior as a teenager in order to turn herself into a real adult – even if that means she’s neglected her family.  But she can’t seem to kick her attraction to big, tattooed, rough men, no matter how many businessmen she dates.  When Billy Chase steps into her office, she simply can’t resist him – but can she fit him into her new life?

I think I may be the only romance reader in the world who had some issues with this book – I just found that it wasn’t really to my taste.  Dahl’s writing is funny and smooth, so no problems there, but I couldn’t connect with her characters and the book was a little too raunchy for my tastes.  Jane spends most of the novel as a complete snob, and it bothered me that she judged people so heavily on their appearances when she knew perfectly well that people could be more than that.  I should have been delighted that her prejudices got absolutely torn apart and she had to face reality, but I was already too annoyed with her to bother!

My negative reaction to this book won’t really stop me from reading more Victoria Dahl, though – the concept of the book was very good and I liked the writing a lot.  I think I’ll try another one of her books and see if the characters annoy me less!

Stealing Water, Tim Ecott

Tim’s parents give up their home in Ireland to move to South Africa, a land where Tim’s father believes he has a respectable job waiting, and where Tim’s mother believes she will finally be free of the boggy Irish weather.  But things don’t turn out as they expect and the family become virtual vagabonds, struggling to get by.

This was okay, but I think is one instance where I enjoyed the idea of the book more than the book itself.  The family’s South African life is so full of crazy, illegal antics that, even though they were often necessary to survive, it made me uncomfortable.  There were aspects I enjoyed, though; my favorite bit was when Tim worked in a Johannesburg hotel, at a total contrast to his home life, and became acquainted with guests solely based on their voices.  It was clever and funny.  I also enjoyed glimpses of period department stores and cities.

I also struggled because I couldn’t really understand the way his parents worked; I would basically never do what they all did, much less not return immediately, or as soon as I could, once I realized things were going haywire.  I felt for Tim quite often but it was hard to relate to everything that happened.

Visions of Heat, Nalini Singh

Faith is an F-Psy, meaning she can predict the future.  She’s one of the best, which also means that she is bound to go mad eventually, but she’s making her family rich in the meantime.  Outside her home lurks Vaughn, a changeling jaguar who longs to know more about the girl he senses behind the walls of the compound.  When Faith comes out, she and Vaughn collide, opening her to emotions and physical sensations she’d never dreamed of.  When the Psy world no longer begins to make sense, Faith wonders if she and Vaughn can make a life for themselves without it.

I definitely enjoyed this, and the world-building that went on, but I didn’t really find it to be anything particularly out of the ordinary.  As usual I find Nalini Singh’s love scenes a little too racy and a little too frequent for my personal taste.  I’ve read that she tones down the heat in the next volume, though, as well as lays on the plot, and I’m really interested to see what happens to Judd, so I think I’ll keep on reading.

I am an Amazon Associate. I did not receive any of these books for review.

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Review: Notes from a Big Country, Bill Bryson

After twenty years in England, Bill Bryson and his family moved back to his native United States, for reasons he can’t quite fathom.  To his surprise, his country has changed a lot since he last lived there.  Even though he isn’t particularly inclined to write a newspaper column about it, his friend asks him to, and his essays are published weekly.  This book is a collection of some of these essays, on topics ranging from the tax system to sports to garbage disposals.

I’m on a bit of a Bill Bryson spree these days, so I picked this book up without really thinking about it.  I found its quality to be more variable than the first two books of his I read, but overall it was still very enjoyable.  Bryson’s humor is excellent and he makes even the most mundane exchanges into passages that have me giggling away, to the extent that my husband asks what’s so funny and is, I suspect, now eager to get his hands on one of Bryson’s books.

The funniest passages were easily the ones that I have had experience with.  This book is now quite dated; it was published in 1998 and so all of the essays are from before that time.  As a result, things in America aren’t the same as they were, but I can remember a lot of this from my childhood.  The catalogues, for example; it did feel at times like we got a catalogue for everything under the sun without ever actually asking for them.  Plenty of trees were wasted for this purpose, but some of the products in catalogues were delightful and exciting, even if I can’t actually remember ever ordering anything out of them.

Some of the sections didn’t work quite so well; these are generally the few that don’t consist of actual anecdotes but are just him trying to demonstrate the absurdity of things like tax forms.  There are also some outdated ones which no longer strike the right note, like his comments on computers.  Overall, though, these are only a few pages long so they don’t detract too much from the overall humor of the book.

It’s also best to approach this knowing that mostly he makes fun of Americans and American things, but as he seems to do this with everything, it didn’t bother me.  It just amused me because most of it was true and his style of writing makes it clear that nothing is really an insult at all.  It’s just, for the most part, a very amusing book about American culture.

Notes from a Big Country is not quite a travelogue, but it’s an entertaining look at America through a former expat’s eyes.  Despite the few off notes, if you like Bill Bryson’s books, you’ll enjoy this one too.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Review: A Castle in Spain, Matthew Parris

One spring morning in Catalunya, Matthew Parris came across an awesome sight; a large, moldering, old house that immediately spoke to him.  Clearly medieval and once high status and in the process of remodeling, the house had been left to sit and rot for at least fifty years.  It was called L’Avenc; virtually everyone in the small nearby town knew about it and thought its slow destruction was sad, but none of them was going to save it.  So Parris, his sister Belinda and her husband, and her husband’s brother put together the money and purchased the house themselves.  The remodelling took longer and was more expensive than any of them had imagined, but their goal to save the house kept them going through catastrophe after catastrophe.

I’ve seen it bandied about that this entire book is mostly an advertisement for the holiday cottages Parris and his family built alongside the house, but I thought it was quite a lot more than that, especially considering I didn’t even realize that you could stay there until halfway through the book.  (Of course, I want to now, so if it was an advertisement, it worked.)  I loved the fact that these four people took on this medieval house.  One of them did research into its origins and found out the various stages of its actual construction; parts of it date from the 12th century.  Anyone who spends hundreds of thousands to rescue a medieval house is awesome, and this book truly gets across the author’s love for this house and its character.

He also conveys the vast difficulty, sometimes seemingly insurmountable, of actually restoring the house.  The roof was falling in, the floors were rotting away, and there were no plumbing, electricity, or telephone lines.  The construction went on for years, hampered by legal difficulties and an angry neighbor who cut off the family’s water supply and refused to reinstate it.  It’s not even finished when the book is, although I think it must be by now.

A Castle in Spain is also partly travelogue, with Parris extoling the virtues of various parts of Catalunya (also spelled Catalonia).  He expresses plenty of regret that people mostly visit Spain to go to cramped beaches and cities instead of exploring the beauty of its interior, Catalunya in particular.  I must admit that despite my recent interest in travelogues, I found these parts a bit boring.  I would love to visit Spain, but I am not sure Parris’s writing style is that suited to it, and I found his discussions of the house much more interesting.

This book is a very interesting tale of a family and a mission, with some history and culture thrown in for good measure.  It is perhaps not the most standout of its genre, but it certainly made me curious about the area.  I wish I could actually afford one of the holiday cottages, if only to see it all myself in person.  Recommended if you like travelogues, memoirs, and old, crumbling houses. It seems to be out of print, but used copies are about for fairly low prices.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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