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Reading: The Lullaby of Polish Girls

The Lullaby of Polish Girls
The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lullaby of Polish Girls offers three different views of growing up Polish. Anna’s family fled Poland when she was young and started a new life in America, so she only experiences her hometown of Kielce in brief summer visits during the 1990s, where she forms lasting friendships with Kamila and Justyna, but spends most of her time in the U.S. pursuing her acting dream. Kamila is insecure, envious of the other two for their confidence or their beauty, but remains ever-optimistic that she’ll eventually get all the things she deserves (particularly the affections of her crush, Emil). Justyna is the cynic of the trio, ever ready to be brutally honest about how she perceives things or even to sabotage things for her friends if it ultimately serves her own interests.

The book presents their teen lives in flashbacks, the other half looking at their lives in the present of 2002. Anna’s career is reaching crisis point just as her relationship with the American Ben is falling apart, Kamila is still reeling from the revelation that Emil (who she has since married) is actually gay, and Justyna has just suffered a fresh tragedy in a life she already barely had control of.

To an extent then it’s almost six short stories that all form the parts of one larger one, three main characters each with their own present-day and flashback chapters, no character or story getting more attention than the others. Dagmara Dominczyk sprinkles Polish phrases liberally through the story, either simply using them when their meaning is obvious without a translation, or immediately translating it quite naturally within the text itself.

‘I can’t wait for next summer. You’ll be my girlfriend.’ Anna gasps quietly into his neck. She will not forget his words: Będziesz moją dziewczyną.

‘And you’re rubbing yourself while you think about her? What, are you a lezbijka, you little perv?’

Ultimately it’s a story about the comfort of friendship, how three women reach the lowest points of their lives but are able to find strength in people they’ve not spoken to in years, because that sort of friendship transcends time. They can argue and even fall out, but when things get really bad they’ll always be there for one another. It adds an air of optimism to what is otherwise three sad stories of people suddenly finding their lives slipping out of their control in ways they never could have foreseen, and which they would have been unable to cope with if they had to try and go through it alone.

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Quote of the Moment – On returning to loneliness

January 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

“Loneliness is worse when you return to it after a reprieve – like the soul’s version of putting on a wet bathing suit, clammy and miserable.”

Karou (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, 2011)

Reading: Life of Pi

January 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Life of Pi, Illustrated
Life of Pi, Illustrated by Yann Martel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape. For example—I wonder—could you tell my jumbled story in exactly one hundred chapters, not one more, not one less?

Pi’s story does indeed play out in a hundred chapters, but only through some small element of cheating. Several chapters are just a couple of paragraphs long. One is just two words. Chapter breaks come almost arbitrarily, the next chapter continuing on the same subject. Across thirteen chapters Pi embraces Hinduism, Catholicism and Islam, reflects upon the nature of the divine, how atheists and agnostics view the world, the reaction when it was discovered he was following three separate religions, his request to continue with multiple religions, his parents’ verdict, and the result of that verdict. It’s not really thirteen chapters’ worth of story.

It sounds like a small complaint and in many ways it is, but I like my chapters to be meaty chunks of narrative that advance the story, so for me the book had a very stop-start feel to it, chapters not providing that break or advancement that I expected. It was only upon reading the above quote, which comes right near the end of the book, that the reason for that structure was explained, though I didn’t feel it was justified for that.

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Review: The Cold Commands

September 4, 2013 Leave a comment

The Cold Commands
The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ringil Eskiath is one of my favourite characters in all fiction.

In the previous book, The Steel Remains, he was a jaded war hero without a cause, trying to content himself by trading on past glories and bedding any man he could convince to let him do so, until he was recruited into a quest that required his particular skills. The events of that quest left him hollowed out and broken in spite of his victory, and with a hatred of slavery being just about the only thing he is still passionate about.

By the time The Cold Commands begins he has made an enemy of just about every slaver in the Empire and is running out of places to hide, while also having attracted the attention of dark powers he doesn’t understand and doesn’t much care about either. He ends up back in Yhelteth, home of the other two main characters of each book, fellow war heroes Archeth Indamaninarmal and Egar Dragonbane.

However, they both have problems of their own. Egar is sexually and spiritually frustrated, unable to be with the woman he loves and with no purpose in life beyond harassing the local religious zealots. Archeth has received a dire warning of an imminent threat that could bring down the whole Empire, and has to convince the Emperor to launch a major expedition to a place that may not even exist, while also trying to manage Egar’s frustrations and Ringil’s lack of tact or respect for the machinations of empire.

At first it seems like it’s Archeth’s expedition that would be the core of the story, but her plans are overshadowed completely by Ringil and Egar, who manage to upset the tentative balance that is just about keeping the city and the nation from erupting into civil war. In the process they uncover a grave threat much closer to home, and that again needs somebody like Ringil to try and put a stop to it.

More so even than Takeshi Kovacs, main character of Richard Morgan’s brilliant sci-fi trilogy, Ringil is a broken, disillusioned man who knows that his actions won’t much matter in the long run. Like Kovacs though he still tries and he still fights, because what else is there? As long as he’s still alive he’s going to do his damnedest to be an obstacle to anybody who deserves to have their plans thwarted, who seeks to take advantage of people or start a war, because that’s what heroes do. It’s cost him every part of himself, he no longer cares about much of anything at all, but he’s still a hero and he’s a fantastic character for it.

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Reading: The Books of 2012

As with the film list I’ll keep this post updated with each book I read in 2012, including links to the opinion posts and their ratings. I think it will work better than 2010′s efforts (assembling a list at the end of the year without any real opinions) or 2011′s (monthly recaps).

Reading: January 2011’s Books

March 9, 2011 3 comments

There are only two different authors for this month, but more than two books.

(Image sources: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman)

As with the previous two posts I’ll use this space to explain when it is I read. On my four days off I read the way I always have throughout my life, in bed before I go to sleep. Currently I’ll read for about an hour from about 7am to 8am (I keep to work hours even on my days off as switching back and forth every four days is awkward).

On work days I don’t get home until about 8am and only have about three hours of free time each day so a dedicated reading session isn’t workable. However, on the way home I often take the train (I live just about within walking distance but I don’t always feel like walking for an hour after already working for the previous twelve) and have to wait for about twenty minutes at the station. Having a book with me also means I can read at break times if I’m there at an irregular time and aren’t with anybody else (which happens often). Sometimes there are work days when I read more than I do on off days.

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Reading: Unseen Academicals

September 11, 2010 1 comment

Unseen Academicals cover

The UK cover above looks much nicer than the US one.

(Click the image for a link to the source)

I’m back from my holiday, and during that first weekend away I was able to sit down and read a book in large chunks, something I frequently put off in favour of other things that feel more demanding of long sessions (games in particular, but also TV, films and the internet). Most of the time I just chip away at a book a chapter or two a day.

The book was Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett, the thirty-seventh book in the main Discworld series (which doesn’t include the several Discworld books aimed at younger audiences and the non-Discworld ones Pratchett sometimes writes in between). The series has run pretty much as long as I’ve been alive and has undergone changes along the way, starting as straight-up parody of fantasy tropes and clichés before moving into satire, all the while maintaining a fair amount of consistency in the world. Like a lot of the later books, Unseen Acamedicals focuses almost entirely on the sprawling city of Ankh-Morpork, which itself has evolved from a typical medieval fantasy city into something more Victorian, the presence of magic and the quirks of the Discworld itself putting a unique spin on the various industries and services that steadily come together during the books.

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