My Grandmother sends her regards and apologies

FREDRIK BACKMAN

A deeply funny and moving story

2015

I wasn’t too sure I’d enjoy this story after reading the first few pages. It didn’t seem the same as the author’s extraordinary first book A Man called Ove. However, it didn’t take long before I became immersed in the rather special life of “nearly eight year old” Elsa.

Elsa is different. The kind of person who goes around with a red pen correcting the grammar and spelling in shop signs. She is rather intelligent and is bullied at school. Her granny is her one friend and, it turns out, is very different herself. The seven year old has thoughts and perceptive observations of the adults (and sometimes the children) she encounters as she tries to make sense of the world.

Dad likes to know what he’s getting. One time last year they rearranged the shelves in the supermarket near to where Dad and Lisette live, and Else had to run those tests she had seen advertised on television, to make sure he hadn’t had a stroke.

Elsa’s disfunctional granny and Elsa have a strong influence on each other. Her granny behaves irresponsibly, but wonderfully, most of the time.

Granny let off fireworks inside a hamburger restaurant and accidentally set fire to a seventeen-year-old girl who was dressed up as a clown and apparently supposed to be providing ‘entertainment for the children’. She really was entertaining, Elsa should say in her defence. That day, Elsa learned some of her very best swear words.

The book is beautifully inventive, humorous, emotional, witty, sarcastic, dark, scary and occasionally downright funny. As Elsa discovers more about her granny and how the people around her are all linked together, she manages to point out the absurdities in people’s thoughts and behaviours as well as each person’s “superhero” super power.

Her granny helps her by telling fairy tale stories, each having a meaning. The stories are interwoven with Elsa’s real life and, at times, the two seem to merge. Then some of the characters in the stories start to appear in real life.

The War-Without-End ended that day. The shadows were driven across the sea. And Wolfheart disappeared back into the forests. But the wurses remained, and to this day they are still serving as the princess’s personal guard in Miploris. On guard outside her castle.

Such imagination. Such a wealth of thoughts. All delivered in a masterful and entertaining way. Another extraordinary book from Fredrik Backman. Highly recommended.

Author’s web site https://www.fredrikbackmanbooks.com/

Ξ English Language

Ever wondered why the word “wonder” is pronounced “wunder”?

In Old English the word for “son” was written as sunu and the u was pronounced as a short u (like the u in Modern English “sun”).

In Middle English, a short u (as in the modern English pronunciation of sun) was commonly written as o.

Middle English spelling changed to sone but the vowel sound of the o still retained the short u sound of the Old English word sunu.

Modern English “son” is still pronounced as it was in Middle English, as though the o was a short u, and Old English.

This practice of o being used for u survives in a number of Modern English words e.g. come, wonder, honey, monk, love.

Lost in Shangri-La

MITCHELL ZUCKOFF

The real-life WW2 story of a man and a woman who survive an air crash in Dutch New Guinea, the home to tribes cut off from the modern world.

2011

The most surprising aspect of this story, which reads like a 1940’s Hollywood film, is that it is true! The author researched and interviewed people, including survivors to piece together this wholly remarkable story.

Towards the end of the Second World War a group of nurses hitch a joy ride (officially described a a “navigational training” mission) on a US Army transport aircraft. The pilot flies them over a hidden and uncharted valley in Dutch New Guinea (now Papua province of Indonesia). Pilots had found the valley by accident and, surrounded by high mountains and cut off from the modern world, it had been nicknamed Shangri-La.

Spread out before them was a place their maps said did not exist. Much of the valley was carpeted by tall, sharp kunai grass, waist-high in spots, interrupted by occasional stands of trees. Surrounding it were sheer mountain walls with jagged ridges rising to the clouds.
Even more remarkable than the valley’s physical splendor were its inhabitants: tens of thousands of people who lived as their ancestors had since the stone age.

I found the anthropological information in the book equally as fascinating as the story.

When a Yali or Dani man is wounded in battle, the physical damage is almost a secondary concern, More worrisome is the possibility that the injury might dislodge the essence of his being, his atai-eken, or “seeds of singing”. A better translation: his soul.

Do the survivors of the crash find a way to live among the warring tribes? Are they rescued from their valley, with no airstrip and surrounded by impenetrable mountains and bush?

McCollom would not reveal it to Margaret or Decker, but he was fighting back fear. Later, he explained: “We were in what we thought to be headhunter territory, we had no medical supplies, no shelter. We were in the middle of nowhere. I knew my win brother was dead in the wreckage. I had to take care of the others.”

A recommended read for anyone interested in travel, New Guinea’s people and culture and for anyone who wants to read a truly remarkable story set in WW2. What an adventure!

Author’s web site https://www.mitchellzuckoff.com/

DOORS

Mistakes I made?
Deceit my trade
My bed I laid

Lost love again?
Believe not when
Drips bloody pen

People I knew?
Dark danger grew
Away I flew

Spoken out loud?
Quiet knave cowed
I flee the crowd

Try as I may?
Failure to stay
Darken my way

Choose today’s task?
Hidden to last
Well chosen mask

Door my escape?
Locked in my fate
Spirits to wait

Where is this key?
Listen to me
Seek and set free


These words found me after reading a long lost letter written, from what now seems, a long time ago. Kind words from a counsellor gave me a new course. These words belong in the past but they will always be part of me. I will always be indebted to Sally Collier for letting me live.

Crown of Midnight

SARAH J MAAS

The exhilarating fantasy continues with the unstoppable heroine drawn into dark secrets and magical worlds

2013

After reading the first novel in the series, Throne of Glass, I had to go back and read another. The first half of Crown at Midnight was very readable but just didn’t have the exhilarating pace of the previous book. Perhaps I’d expected too much. But the second half picked up the pace and by the end I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

The story follows Celaena Sardothien, a young girl brought up and trained as an assassin. After being imprisoned in the salt mines of Endovier, an almost certain death sentence, she is forced into working for the king of Ardarlan as his Champion; his personal assassin. But she starts to suspect the murderous and cruel king has a source of his great power and, reluctantly, she begins to search for it.

My plans, the king had said. And if Elena was warning her to uncover them, to find the source of his power… then they had to be bad. Worse than the slave in Calaculla and Endovier, worse than putting down more rebels.

Loyalty, action, love, fights, witches, dungeons, heart break, magical powers and mysterious wyrds. The story gathers speed as Celaena discovers passages under the castle. It is quite violent in places. She may have a good heart but she is an assassin.

“You’re not a murderer,” he whispered.
“Oh, I am,” she purred, torchlight dancing on the dagger as she considered what to do with him.

There are some rather neat twists at the end. Celaena is not all she appears to be. But I won’t spoil by telling you.

This is categorised as a “Young Adults” book but please ignore all those silly labels and pigeon holes and don’t let the marketing people set those expectations and deepen those prejudices.

Read the first book in the series , Throne of Glass, if you can. But at some stage also read this second book!

Author’s web site https://sarahjmaas.com/

LIFE BOAT

Carefully confined in the bottom of a hold
Awash with memories of a half dreamt life
Hoping beyond hope these memories are not dreams
Waiting listlessly for an escape
Waiting for the permission to change
A feint breath on the cheek
A gust, a storm
Awaiting a howling gale to take me back
To a life I can almost feel
To land once again on solid ground
To rekindle conversation
With the horrors, and the beauty, of people
When isolation ends

One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich

ALEXANDER SOLZHENITSYN

A captivating story told by one prisoner intimately describing a single day in a repressive remote Siberian labour camp.

1962

This review is from having read the 1970 translation from Russion to English by Gillon Aitken.

This is a wholly amazing novel in which the author draws you in to a harsh world of a Soviet gulag labour camp in remote Siberia during the 1950s. Alexander Solzhenitsyn draws on his own experience of surviving the Gulags. The story is told by by the central character Ivan Denisovich Shukhov and spans a single day from waking at 5am through to falling asleep exhausted at the end of long gruelling day. The day is taken up with trying to stay healthy and so stay alive. Scheming at every moment for a morsel of bread here, a favour there, some way to survive the cruel guards and the freezing Siberian winter in one of Stalin’s hard labour camps. By making sure their gang of labourers bribes the best, doesn’t receive the harshest of jobs, works the hardest and, by whatever means necessary, survives another day.

Shukhov never overslept reveille, but always got up at once, which gave him, until parade, about 90 minutes to himself, unsupervised, and anyone who knew camp life could always earn himself something – by sewing a cover for someone’s mittens out of a piece of dry lining; by fetching some well-off gang leader’s dry felt boots – right up to his bunk so the fellow would no have to stumble barefoot about the pile looking for his own – or by going around to the store-rooms where someone might want to make use of him.

The words intricately and sensitively paint a detailed picture of the prisoners’ existence in a place where it is almost impossible to survive to live through another day.

Shukhov’s fingers were numb with cold in his worn mittens; he’d completely lost all sensation in them. His left boot was holding out; that was the main thing – your felt boots. His hands would warm up when he began to work.

The short book is a real page turner and, from the first sentence, I couldn’t put it down. This is one you really should make time to read.

Author’s web site http://www.solzhenitsyn.ru/

HIDDEN

We walk in the shadows
Rarely saying what we mean
Disguised and alone
Wondering what the other thinks
Wondering what the other would say
If they were able to speak
Openly and honestly
Baring their souls to the light
Only the brave would dare
To say what they think
To risk the wrong answer
But the rare lightning strike
From the dark clouds
May open more than one heart
To the warmth of knowing
To infinite possibilities

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

B TRAVEN

A story of 3 tough gold prospectors whose paths cross in 1920s Mexico and the gnawing effect gold has on greed, mistrust and finally disaster

1935

The enigmatic B Traven writes so convincingly about the poor underdogs of society. And yet we know little about his life as he shunned publicity and actively hid his past. All his books are worth a read but this one is probably a good introduction to the mysterious B Traven.

The central character Dobbs is unemployed, broke and reduced to begging on the streets and bars of Tampico in 1920s Mexico. He meets an old gold prospector Howard who invites him into a gold prospecting expedition but warns him of the way gold and greed effects men. Dobbs angrily assures him he is different and would would be immune to its effects. Howard recounts a story of a failed gold mining expedition and the effects it had on all involved. Dobbs retells this story to Curtin. The three characters have brought together and they leave together to search for gold.

“It’s not at all so easy as you fellers think it might be,” Howard went on. “You’d be satisfied with five grand. But I tell you, if you find something then, you couldn’t be dragged away; not even the threat of a miserable death could stop you getting just ten thousand more. And if you reach fifty, you want to make it a hundred, to be safe for the rest of your life. When you finally have one hundred and fifty, you want two hundred, to make sure, absolutely sure, that you’ll really be on the safe side, come what may.”

Fighting outlaws and their own growing mistrust of each other, they experience the full effects gold has on them and anyone who believes they can take it from the. These experiences have different effects on each character which is the point of the story. I will not tell you how the story ends but Howard is philosophical about the journey having already known what would happen to the others.

“Anyway I think it’s a very good joke – a good one played on us and on the bandits by the Lord or by fate or by nature, whichever you prefer. And whoever or whatever played it certainly had a good sense of humour. The gold has gone back where we got it?”

A great story about human character and life in those turbulent years in Mexico. A recommended read.

anything connected to words and writing

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