Thoughts: Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

lifeKate Atkinson’s Life after Life tells the stories of Ursula Todd’s lives, from each birth to each of her deaths, in their many variations. Thus, Ursula is stillborn on a cold winter night in Englang in 1910. Or, she is born and just saved from being strangled by the umbilical cord.

The premise of being reborn is not a new one, but Atkinson’s execution is so well-done that each re-living of a moment of Ursula’s lives showed not just a what-if moment, but presented a broader picture of family life and life in Edwardian England and the Blitz. Focusing on a few of these important moments and examining how one difference affects so many lives, the lives of Ursula are never repetitive and despite knowing that Ursula would simply be reborn, I was always invested in each version of the events.

This is due to the wonderful characters around Ursula, especially her mother Sylvie who outshines Ursula as one of the strongest characters and, as always, Atkinson’s writing style. Even if I actually prefer her crime series, the dark humor and sharply-drawn characters are a delight in all her works. Perhaps it’s because she is not afraid of making fun of her characters and I always look forward to the sometimes biting comments and insights that can be found in the narrative and opinion characters have of each other. Surprisingly, I found myself less invested in the main character Ursula. Some longer moments helped round her out more, and shows how especially women’s lives can be heavily impacted and changed by gender-specific violence. But for the most part, what made me turn the page were all the other characters. This is likely due to the sometimes choppy nature of the premise, but Ursula seemed to be a conduit more than anything else to me.

The thing with this sort of premise is that of course the really is no definitive version, no ‘real’ life, despite Ursula becoming more aware of this and attempting to change events and get ‘it’ right. Even though the book is over 600 pages long, it did not feel too long. The latter part explores the idea of changing history by killing Hitler and giving Ursula one life in Germany during the 1930s, thereby connecting it to the novel’s opening. I do appreciate Atkinson not making this the focus of Life after Life, but these parts fell somewhat tacked on to the rest of the story and I finished the novel more dissatisfied than I would have without the last 100-200 pages.

And so I really did enjoy reading this novel, especially the writing and the imagery of summer days in Ursula’s home and the vividness of the horror of the Blitz. But perhaps, I appreciate the premise and set-up just a bit more than the actual story. Still, even if this one does not have me raving, I definitely recommend it. Also, I just found out that a companion novel called A God in Ruins, focusing on her brother Teddy’s story, will be published in May. So now would be a good time to pick up Life after Life, if you haven’t read it yet.

Have you read Life after Life? What did you think?

Thoughts on Audiobooks and The Girl on the Train

wpid-img-20150411-wa00002.jpg.jpegI never thought I’d say (or write) this, but here I am blogging about audiobooks. Except for a couple of years during childhood, when I was kept entertained on long car rides or during bath time with the children’s story hour on radio and endless cassette tapes of Pippi Longstocking, Bibbi Blocksberg and others, I have never quite gotten the hang of audiobooks. It’s always been fine for other people, good for them and how do they do it…but me and audioooks? Nope. The problem in my case was mostly that I didn’t like strange voices narrating, and I never really had situations where I couldn’t simply open the book, so why press play and stare at the wall or whatever you’re supposed to do while listening.

Turns out, and everyone figured this out at the dawn of time, there’s people who are trained to narrate well and some of them are blessed with truly amazing voices. Also, I was off to a friend’s wedding party using the bus (so much cheaper) rather than the train (my preferred way of travel) and since I get awful motion sickness from reading in cars or on the bus and had 5 hours to kill I downloaded The Girl on the Train. Well, let me tell you I couldn’t wait for the 5 hour journey home.

Also, as of this month I have a half hour commute on the bus to get to the uni library each work day. So, I decided to stick with the audiobook thing, and while I would prefer to read, it’s been working out quite well. Since my work day consists of some heavy reading and academic writing, I have chosen to continue thrillers, mysteries and other escapist audiobooks to listen to, my most recent one Before I go to Sleep. My only problem is that audiobooks are so expensive and the small library doesn’t have that many audiobooks, hardly any English ones and most are still actual CDs I have to convert. So I’m using at the moment. I know there’s free audiobooks, via librivox and ones in the public domain, but I’ve read most of the classics and apparently I’m picky about the narrator. For now, I try to get by with the one audiobook credit per month and usually find a second book via daily sale etc. You’re probably all blessed with amazing libraries and I guess preferring the national language also helps. Is anyone using audible?

As for The Girl on the Train, I’d been eyeing it for a bit, but usually all the hype puts me off books and I only go back and read them after the fuss has died done. I’m so glad I decided to take a chance, because for me it was certainly worth it. As the story follows Rachel on her commute for a big part of the book, it was really the perfect choice to read it while traveling. This one’s been compared to Gone Girl a lot (all the time, way to much!), and though I’ve only watched the movie, I have to admit to enjoying this one more. None of the characters are likeable, if you care about that thing, I really don’t, the female characters were mostly well-rounded, complex and contrary. There’s plently of suspense and interpersonal drama, but not really too melodramatic (which is what I got from Gone Girl). The comparison’s to Hitchcock’s Rear Window are much more apt, and Rachel’s imagining of the perfect couple Jess and Jason and the discrepancy between what people seem to be and what is going on behind closed doors would be suspenseful enough for any thriller, but add Rachel’s inability to let go and her own connection to the area and the narrative unreliability will keep you entertained to the last page. Since the story is told from other perspectives as well (though Rachel’s remains the biggest contribution), the different readers added weight to their characters and I found thm well-chosen. Since the book is told in a series of diary-like entires, the only thing I missed was being able to quickly turn a couple pages back and check the date. But other than that, a wonderful audioook experience.

Have you read The Girl on the Train? What did you think?

New in: Verso Books


I got new books! Completely new ones, with unbroken spines und new book smell! As a sort of post-Christmas gift, at least that’s how I like to think of it, Versobooks had an amazing sale and I couldn’t resist. Also, what better way to spend those gift vouchers, than on these amazing works:

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields)

The Fieldses, a sociologist and a historian respectively, examine the myth of American post-racial society and look at different concepts of race. I’m quite excited about their archive, which includes not just media articles about contemporary forms of segregation and Obama’s campaign, but also scholarly articles. There’s always the danger of invoking race, when discussing racism and race relations even, or perhaps especially, in academia.

Capitalism: A Ghost Story (Arundhati Roy)

Roy tackles India’s economic inquealities, militarism and neoliberal corporate backing. I know Roy is the go to voice in this matter for the West, so if anyone has recommendations for other writers on this issues, let me know. But her work seems to be one central in the debate on capitalism, not just in India. I’m hoping for lots of context and connections to global capitalism.

Beyond Black and White: Transforming African American Politics (Manning Marable)

A key work and I can’t believe I still haven’t read it. Marable looks at race relations and Black activist and intellectual history. I’m very interested in reading about the focus on third world labor and centering class issues. But I’m ambiguous about the calls to move beyond (the) black/white binary, but fortunately recent debates have done a lot to critique a notion of moving beyond. And this is a new, expanded version so I’m excited to read about more recent developments and of course Marable on the post-racial.

Have you read any of these books? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Also, happy (reading) weekend! :)

Thoughts: Lost in Translation

lost in translationIn Lost in Translation, Ella Frances Sanders illustrates over 50 untranslatable words. This lovely book was a gift by my wonderful friends Vishy, who has impeccable taste in books.

Translation divides readers, connects communities, but always sparks debate. Sanders’ book is not an essay tackling issues of translation, but instead presents you with words that do not have a counterpart in English, words that take at least one sentence in English to capture their meaning. If you love words, you’ll be sure to treasure this book, I at least found great delight in discovering that other language communities found concepts that resonate with me so essential that they have a word for it. Why do other languages lack these words, why are they not loanwords?

If English is not your first language, you’ll probably find one in your mother tongue in this book. I admit, it was quite funny to see Kabelsalat on the list, which I think is a word every person needs that ever had to untangle headphones etc. But then I also found Waldeinsamkeit and was quite surprised, because i had never heard that word before. It first appeared in German romanticism, which makes sense I guess, and it just shows that you can still be surprised by your first language. There’s actually quite a number of German words in this book, so even if English already has a lot of German loanwords, there need to be more, mostly compound words :D

The illustrations of the words are gorgeous, so I’m going to leave you with a few of my favorites. Let me know in the comments, which are your favorite untranslatable words!


Sunday snapshot


Hope everyone is enjoying a relaxing Sunday! I’m currently spending a week with my family, but still have to work on my MA thesis on week days. So I’m joining the gainfully employed and am trying to make the most of the weekend.

I got the new Sarah Waters novel for my birthday, but couldn’t fit this tome in my suitcase last time. But now we’re reunited and I’m loving it so far! Naturally such a book has to be enjoyed with a big cup of tea, in my case Friesentee (typical for the island of the same name, it’s usually Assam mixed with Ceylon). I love strong black tea, especially in winter, my favorite time of the year.

What’s everyone reading this weekend?

New Loot


Finally got some new books! I’ve been trying not to get too many more books these last two years since the last move kind of gave me a book-moving trauma! But on my way home last week I saw some flyers for a used book sale at a community center and couldn’t resist. Once there I wasn’t really in any danger of buying too many books since most were Edgar Wallace, Forsyth, Pilcher and the likes and that’s not really my stuff. I was a very happy bookworm though when I found a copy of Das Alter (La Vielleisse) by Simone de Beauvoir and an English copy of Roots by Alex Hayley, score! I’ve never read de Beauvoir’s works on age and society so I’m very excited about it and since I studied American Studies I feel that it is obligatory to own a copy of Roots. Also, I’ve only ever watched the adaptation.

The funniest thing though was that on the way to the book sale I stumbled on a free books box and the only thing left was a copy of N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn in English and in great condition. This has never happened before, usually these boxes have either uninteresting books in them or they are wet from rain or smell weird. So I’m very happy about this one.

What books have you acquired recently and do you ever find free books boxes in your area?

Halloween Reads

Well, here I am again, crawling out of my blogless hidey-hole in abject shame! New books and ebooks (still somehow not real books to me) keep stacking up (well not quite sure what ebooks do…queueing?), but I find that I’m reading less and less fiction and more and more textbooks and feminist newsblogs etc. I’m still missing my commute, cause that was sacred reading time and I have yet to meet a fellow bookwork here in real life. I thought I’d start up writing a few lines about my reads again, even if it’s just for myself, to get back into things. So Im very optimistically going to set a goal of 2 books a month (3-years-ago- me would have been horribly embarrassed), I hear you all laughing! :)

Since I finally have a free weekend and am feeling particularly anti-social, I grabbed a couple of seasonal books and decided to lock myself in and enjoy a weekend reading. So here’s what’s on my Halloween reading pile:

christieNo Halloween without a reread of Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, possibly followed by the tv adaptation, because Mrs. Oliver is one of my favorite characters in the Poirot mysteries.

MissPeregrineCoverYes, I am in fact the last person on the planet to read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I thought it was suitably creepy for the occasion and hopefully I’ll enjoy it, since I can then spend the next Halloweens reading the sequels.

jacksonALso a classic, which I have somehow not yet read. I’m not sure why, since I love Shirley Jackson’s books. Perhaps I didn’t want to blow through all her works in one go? Who knows, but this one I am definitely reading this weeked :)

Any recommendations on new creepy reads I shouldn’t miss out on? What are you reading this Halloween?

Lazy Sunday Reading



A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge


In the underground city of Caverna the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare – wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to show (or fake) joy, despair or fear – at a price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a little girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell’s emotions are as obvious on her face as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, though entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed …” (amazon)

*Waves* Still alive…

ImageWhoops…so it’s been some time. How’re you all doing, what are you reading, let me know!! I’m drowning in secondary literature and miss my prose reading days :( But I took two days off for the bank holiday and finally read the newest Flavia de Luce book (so good!) and also Nightingale Wood (also quite good, but I’m still devoted to Cold Comfort Farm, sorry).

I’m posting now because I found gift voucher for 20 euros while cleaning my desk and can’t decide what book to splurge for. I kinda realized that I have no idea what’s going on in the book world and what everyone is reading. I’d really love something adventure-y/mystery-ish/comfort read, maybe that’s badly phrased, but just something not depressing, a interesting world where I can spend my weekend in. Any recommendations? Plz?

Hope everyone’s enjoying the ‘lazy’ summer days :)


Queer diasporas

My uni library is sadly lacking in literature I need, so I’m always quite surprised when my catalogue searches do come up with results. I know it’s an academic read, but it’s fun and well-written and does give you critical tools for looking at literature and film in a fresh light. Separating academic from prose works is boring and I know you all can take it!

queer diasporas

Definitely read this one if you are interested in diasporas, queer theory, nationalism and lesbian subjectivity. In that case also check out M.F. Manalansan’s works.

I’m gonna curl up with Gopinath’s book and a pot of tea, intellectual posturing be damned.

What are you currently reading? Academic works, blogs or news articles, what reads do you leave out of your book blogs?

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