Monday, January 9, 2012

My Vacation Reads

Here's what I read while we were vacationing in the Bahamas last week.

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston

This is a great fictional account of the life of Joe Smallwood who became Newfoundland's first Premier upon its joining Canada.  The story of his poverty stricken childhood and youth, his early forays into politics (including a bitter betrayal by a Liberal leader he worked hard to support) as well as his relationship with a newspaper reporter and childhood friend, Sheilagh Fielding, is fascinating.  The secret regarding her childhood that Sheilagh reveals toward the end of the book was as much a surprise to me as it was to Joe Smallwood which I enjoyed since often I find endings rather predictable.  I'm not sure how accurate the account of Newfoundland's history is intended to be but it was also interesting to learn what this province was like before joining Confederation and the mixed feelings its citizens had about doing so.  Sometimes the book drags a bit and therefore could be a bit shorter but all in all I enjoyed it.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

I always try to read the Giller prize winner and it can be disappointing (as was the case with last year's selection), but this year's winner was very deserving.  This is the tale of black jazz musicians in Nazi occupied Germany and France.  It's told from the perspective of one of the American musicians in his old age as he looks back on that time when returning to Europe for the first time since the War.  It took a while to get into the language as it is very colloquial and the author uses a lot of period slang but once I got used to it I found it really flowed nicely (it was almost musical in its tone).  Hitler's treatment of blacks (and jazz musicians in general) is something I was not that familiar with and I found this telling of the story really interesting.

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

Lady Duff Gordon is the toast of Victorian London society when she leaves her husband and children to relocate to Egypt in an effort to find relief from tuberculosis.  The only person she brings with her is her lady's maid, Sally, a 30 year old spinster who has been in her employ since her own childhood.  When they settle in Egypt Sally develops a relationship with the Egyptian manservant hired to manage the household which angers Lady Duff Gordon.  Based on the above historical facts, the author provides a fictional account of their time in Egypt from Sally's perspective, including the repercussions of her relationship which she never would have imagined given her loyalty and devotion to her employer.  A really easy read about the cruelty embodied in Victorian England's strict class system.

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