A Thousand Splendid Suns-Khaled Hosseini

  

One of the things that I love most about books, is their ability to transport you to a time and place that you would never be able to experience otherwise.

This is precisely what Hosseini’s exquisitely crafted novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, does for the reader. While I haven’t read Hosseini’s debut novel, The Kite Runner, this second story is a triumph. 

It follows the lives of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, fighting to survive under Soviet rule, civil war and the Taliban. The themes that Hosseini explores include the role of women in Islam, masculinity and the power of truth. Hosseini is subtle in his exploration of these topics, showing husbands and fathers to be cruel to these two women, yet also showing the nuances of their roles through the redemptive characters of Tariq and Babi.

All in all this is an excellently weaved narrative which is both moving and insightful. I did pair this book with several wines, but in respect of Islamic tradition I’ll let you discover your own pairing for this story.

Happy reading

Advertisements

Divergent- Veronica Roth

download (2)

 

I’m tempted in my anguish to tell you not to read the Divergent trilogy. But then my book-loving self who would never deny another human being the addictive pleasure that comes from reading books like these, pushes me to write this post.

So for the past month my nose has been pasted to the pages of Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant, the three part series released by Veronica Roth (now a major motion picture featuring Ashley Judd and Kate Winslet).

What can be said about Divergent? Its teen fiction, so the writing is simplistic and the relationship between characters is sometimes dissatisfyingly shallow, but the storyline, set in post-apocalyptic USA, is imaginative and enthralling.

We meet the protagonist, Beatrice Prior, on the day she has to take the test which will determine which faction (or societal group) she will choose to join for the rest of her life. While this system was set-up to restore order after the war that destroyed the USA (as we know it) something else is afoot, and that’s when we are invited in to the story.

It was heart-racing and gripping to read, but I must warn you that when I finally finished the last page of Allegiant (the final book) I cried for two days straight. No really, two days. So if you are brave enough for the emotional rollercoaster that is Divergent, and sci-fi is your thing, then I highly recommend this read.

I paired this series with a number of wines, but the one that stood out most to me, and surprisingly so, because I seldom drink or enjoy Shiraz, was the Ross Gowan 2007. Spicey with a soft finish, this is a great accompaniment to the trilogy.

In a world of Ana Steeles we need more Katniss Everdeens

In the lead-up to the premier of the film-adaptation-of-the-novel-based-on-online-fan-fiction that is 50 Shades of Grey, I’ve been reading a lot of opinion about what this book and its huge following mean for society.

Ana Steele

Ana Steele submits to an abusive sexual relationship in 50 Shades of Grey

As a disclaimer, I have never read the trilogy myself, I believe too strongly in good literature and BDSM just isn’t my thing, in light of which I can’t really comment on the merit of the prose or the structure of the story. What I can comment on is the fact that the story involves a young impressionable woman becoming involved in a relationship with a destructive young man who takes sexual pleasure in inflicting pain because of abuse in his childhood. That’s not a judgement call, that’s the story’s plot.

The thought that a book about a woman who submits to physical abuse out of fear she’ll lose her lover can be so record-breakingly popular causes a visceral reaction in me. It got me thinking about my female literary heroines, especially because I am busy reading the Divergent series which, though teen fiction and simply written, has a strong female lead who allows herself to be fearless and selfless for those she loves.

Tris Prior in the Divergent series (also now a motion picture) cuts a small but intimidating female figure

Tris Prior in the Divergent series (also now a motion picture) cuts a small but intimidating female figure

Comparatively, the first literary heroine that comes to my mind (besides Scarlett O’Hara, whom I adore as a pillar of feminine strength and idiocy) is Jane Eyre, who rejects the pursuit of the man she loves and turns instead to a possible life of poverty because she doesn’t want to live a compromised moral existence. Of course, she returns to him on her own terms, a wealthy woman who can love Rochester freely without compromising on what she believes to be right. Unlike Anastasia Steele

Bella Swan is another sulky weak female character

Bella Swan is another sulky weak female character, but she’s still a better role model than Ana

But of course 50 Shades of Grey is a modern “love story” based on fan-fiction that developed online as a response to the wildly popular Twilight series. While it gets a lot of flak, and the movies were poorly cast and cheesy, I still enjoyed reading those stories and I wasn’t overly offended by the somewhat conservative view of femininity portrayed in them (I mean, Bella is a pretty sad excuse for a female lead). Then I look to teen fantasy that has emerged since the Twilight phenomenon began, and I am met with Katniss Everdeen.

la_ca_1023_hunger_games

I would make the argument that Katniss, while she may be emotionally unhinged at times in the story, is a far better role model for young women than Ana Steele could ever be. (Sure, totally biased opinion here, I stayed up all night to finish each book in the Hunger Games series). Katniss takes on the burden of providing for her family after her father’s death, and when sister Prim is impossibly selected as a tribute for the Hunger Games, Katniss doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice herself instead. She nurtures younger people around her, like companion Rue, and becomes a symbol for nationwide rebellion and ultimate freedom through her selfless actions. As Lorde’s song for the Mockingjay soundtrack croons “I’m a princess cut from marble, smoother than a storm. And the scars that mark my body, they’re silver and gold.” I would rather aspire to be this kind of woman, one who’s altruistic and generous actions speak volumes that changes lives over being chained up in the Red Room of Pain for the pleasure of a broken man.

The Night Circus- Erin Morgenstern

download (5)

 

This tale set at the turn of the 20th century has magic and romance at its core. It tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers, thrown into a competition of skill and endurance and bound to one another until a winner is declared. The arena for the competition, the Night Circus, is a place of dreams that captures the imagination of the general public, and is only open between sunset and sunrise.

As a debut novel, this 2011 release is an impressive feat of the imagination for  author Erin Morgenstern. It took me a long time to get into it, because I kept expecting a Hunger Games-like arena and competition, but once you come to terms with the fact that its slow-building romance novel, it’s quite enjoyable. What I found most difficult about the novel was bonding with the (many) characters that form the heart of the circus, and the fact that the story jumps between dates and years. But if you’re looking for something charming then this is the novel for you.

I paired this story with the Footprint Chardonnay, a somewhat missable white wine made for export (I was in Zanzibar, so I had limited wine options). Put if you’re smarter than I, you’ll pair this with a well-wooded and vanilla-ry chardonnay, like the Bon Courage Prestige Cuvee which comes with hints of butterscotch as well.

The Great Divorce- C.S. Lewis

the great divorce

The Great Divorce is one of Lewis’ lesser-known works of fiction that attempts to describe the divorce of heaven and hell. It is a daunting task, and I must say, I was somewhat disappointed that Lewis painted somewhat of a “limbo” picture.

It is never easy to describe what we don’t know, and Lewis does this weighty topic justice in that he capably brings the afterlife into the present through reflections on peoples characters and choices made on earth. The story follows a spirits excursion from hell to heaven, and the dialogues he encounters there between other damned souls and those who have been saved and welcomed into God’s Heavenly kingdom. All in all it was a very thought-provoking read, making one think twice about the way one treats people on earth, as well as the motives for treating them in this way.

The Luminaries- Eleanor Canton

73.Eleanor Catton-The Luminaries

 

This intriguing “Whodunnit” is structured like a celestial game of Cluedo. Its easy to see why Canton won the Booker prize for this award, at the very young age of 28. It is a book that is rich in texture, carefully plotted out and infused with different layers of telling.

The story is based in Hokitika, New Zealand, during the 19th century gold rush. We enter the story through Walter Moody’s eyes, a young Scotsman who has recently landed on Hokitika’s shores, and is swiftly drawn into a murder-mystery involving a deceased hermit, a suicidal whore, a missing mmillionaireand a pile of stolen gold.

The book’s characters are so carefully developed, and the story waxes and wanes like the planetary systems that Canton used as a model. While it may be thick, don’t be intimidated, once I was drawn into the intrigue, I couldn’t put it down.

I paired this one with the Springfontein Chenin Blanc, as well as the Rupert & Rothschild Classique, rich and flavoursome with complex notes of raspberry, plum and fig, this wine will delight your palate as much as this book will delight your mind.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

0e51d5f8c6357ae25afb78ed1464adb1

I have a rule about books: if it involves death in the first chapter, I generally don’t read it, because I feel it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the story.

I made an exception for this novel by Rachel Joyce, because it comes highly recommended and I have yet to decide if I made the right choice or not. Its a very emotional read, as you walk with Harold Fry, who leaves home one day to post a letter to an old colleague dying of cancer and never goes home. Instead he decides to walk from his town at the bottom of England, to hers at the top of the country, where she is in a hospice, in a move of faith and in the hope of saving her from terminal illness.

In terms of construction, Joyce is a master. The story flows well, the characters are rounded, and the fact that the themes of redemption, forgiveness and healing from the past are fluidly woven together makes an excellent read. However, it is just a really sad story.

It ends on a high and beautiful note, and I think I’m glad I read it. I paired this one with the 2007 Spookfontein Phantom, a bordeaux-style blend that is well constructed and fruity, with berry flavours. If we’re talking about dealing with ghosts from the past, then this wine goes perfectly with this book.

Not all that glitters is gold

books (1)

There is a little old bookshop close to where I work. Its the size of a small cupboard, with shelves up to the roof piled with books of all shapes and sizes. It is here I stumbled across Tobias Hills book, The Love of Stones. Deciding not to be deceived by attractive covers again, I bought it and took it home with me.

This is not the kind of book I normally read, it is classified as “historical thriller”. In some parts it was tedious because of Hill’s meticulous descriptions. At times I felt lost because he transitions between characters so quickly, I wasn’t always sure who’s point of view I was reading at the time. However, Hill uses his meticulous descriptions to bring to life a very different world: the world of lapidaries

The story traces the events of Katherine Sterne, a 25 year old woman in the 21st century who has dedicated her life to recovering the lost jewel forged in the 1500’s known as the Three Brethren (if you’re interested, it is a real jewel, or at least it has existed in history). It also traces the story of two Iraqi Jews trying to make their fortunes in 19th century England as lapidaries, Daniel and Salmon Levy. To see where their paths cross through the centuries is what makes this story intriguing, and where they eventually meet is where the Brethren will be found.

Its definitely worth a read if you’re a history buff. Sometimes Hill fails to explain some of the terminology or historical implications of certain characters, but if you can work around that, you’ll enjoy this story.

I paired it with the absolutely delicious Anura Cabernet Sauvignon from the hills of Simondium. This jewel of a wine has rich raspberry and fruit flavours which are complex and memorable, and the makers describe this wine as “the fulfillment of a dream and the pursuit of perfection” much like Katherine’s search for the Three Brethren.

photo (7)

 

A story of faith, hope and love

 

photo

People always ask me how I can read (and enjoy) a book after watching the movie. The fact is (and I think many will agree) is that the book is almost always better, and a lot of the time, I only find out that the movie is based on a book after watching it.

I didn’t particularly enjoy the movie Salmon fishing in the Yemen, but the book was an absolute delight. Carefully constructed as a series of journal entries, letters and interviews, it came across as far more realistic than the movie.

The story of boring Dr Alfred Jones and his sudden immersion into what many call a hair-brain scheme to introduce salmon fishing into an arid country is a powerful tale of what it means to believe. For a first time author, Paul Torday does an excellent job of exploring the themes of faith and belief in Western society. His travels and his insight into fishing clearly provided the inspiration for this story.

I found that the end (which is different to the movie) petered out a bit, and I was slightly disappointed but it was much more probable than the movie ending. This is definitely a must-read.

I paired this book with two wines. Although I’m not a fan of pink drinks, the Buitenverwachting Blanc de Noir was exactly as the name says: outside of my expectations for a pink wine. If you’re not into pink you can try the Klawer Chenin blanc with notes of honey and gooseberries.

I can’t live without…

This post is day 4 of the very fun and exciting #writersbootcamp

I can’t live without…

What a sad indictment on our society that there are certain material possessions we can’t live without. Not that I’m judging anyone, believe me I know that I can’t live without my IPhone or my coffee machine, I just need them to be a fully functioning human being.

So long as we don’t measure ourselves by how much we have, it’s fine. Here are a few things I can’t live without, what makes your list?

My books- whenever I move, my bookshelf is the first thing I populate, my books always make me feel at home

My perfume- Marc Jacobs Oh Lola for a fancy dinner, but if I’m going to the theatre, its Taylor Swifts Enchanted

My IPod- or music in general, especially if it’s the new Jason Lancaster, Passion Pit or Foo Fighters

My Car- or Optimus Prime, as I like to call her. Cars represent independence and freedom and mine just happens to be an adorable Kia Picanto

My family- Because life just wouldn’t be worthwhile without friends, family and love in our lives