ningerbil (ningerbil) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books 14-17

14. The Romanov Sisters, by Helen Rappaport. This was a really interesting read on the last tsar and his family. This one concentrates on the four sisters (obviously, given the title): Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. Rappaport fleshes out the four girls, outlining their different personalities, through their letters, their diaries and through the recordings of others. The portrayal of the family is sympathetic (some may say even too sympathetic). I come to the conclusion that one would be hard-pressed to find an unluckier royal family. From mother Alexandra being German and having her own considerable health issues, to having four daughters in a country salivating for a son (and a side note- all five of her children were huge babies- the smallest was 8 pounds, the largest, Alexei, was 11-something; this makes me wonder if undiagnosed gestational diabetes, followed by full-blown undiagnosed diabetes, contributed to her ailments), then the constant criticism about the hands-on way Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra raised their children, and of course there's Alexei having hemophilia. The four daughters were described by those who knew them as very kind, unaffected and more like ordinary, middle class children than those of royals. I come away with the impression that the Romanov family would have been happier as lesser nobles or even middle class rather than being made in charge of a country in desperate need of a strong and forceful leader. I was especially surprised by Alexandra's portrayal. In what I've read and the movies I've seen, she was always painted as cold and indifferent to the suffering of the poor. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, Alexandra, Olga and Tatiana were all active as nurses during World War I. Tatiana especially shone in this capacity. Her distance was a result of cultural differences, her health issues, and trying to cope with Alexei's health issues. The conclusion of the book goes into what happened to the family's loyal servants and the children's tutors. All in all, a great read for history buffs.

15. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan. This has been on my "want to read" list for some time. It's a quick read, and thoroughly enjoyable. Tan's book weaves the stories of four mothers who came to the United States from China, and four of their daughters who were brought up in the United States. The story centers somewhat on Jing-Mei Woo, whose mother recently passed away. Jing-Mei has been invited by her mother's longtime friends to be the fourth player in their regular mahjong group, which they call the Joy Luck Club. During the first meeting, Jing-Mei finds out more about her mother, whom she felt she never understood well, as well as the other women in the group. The stories run the gamut of emotions, from funny and sweet to heartbreakingly sad.

16. The Black Book and Schwambrania, by Lev Kassil. This was...OK. The story centers on the protagonist, Lev, as a young boy. He and his younger brother Oska create an imaginary world to escape their humdrum world and indulge in adventures and their idealism. They call their world Schwambrania. They draw maps, make their own codes of conduct and a fictional cast of characters. Their imaginary world changes somewhat as they grow up and as the conflicts of World War I and the Revolution encroach on their quiet life. This story has some interesting ideas and wonderful moments. I especially love the younger brother Oska, whose precocious and inquisitive nature leads to the funniest moments (I had to stop reading for a few moments after reading the scene between Oska and the priest I was laughing so hard). However, I feel this book was trying to be something like Doll Bones or Bridge to Terabithia, but it falls horribly short. A big problem is the book is *very* choppy. The Schwambrania scenes felt like an afterthought half the time. The translation is a bit rough in spots, but I've read worse. I would love for someone to take this and redo it. Also, it needs trimmed; yes, several of the 483 pages are illustrations but it still dragged in places.

17. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Another book that's been on my "want to read" list for some time. This is a fun adventure tale, one I think I would have enjoyed as a kid. It's also nice to finally see some of the pirate references. The story's main protagonist, young Jim Hawkins, helps his parents (later just his mother) run an inn and tavern. Their lives change with the appearance of an eccentric sailor. When he dies, Hawkins finds a map to pirate treasure, which sends him and other notable citizens on the Hispaniola. Hawkins finds out by chance that several of the crew on the Hispaniola are planning to mutiny, so they can commandeer all of the treasure. The mutinous group is lead by Long John Silver, one of the more intriguing and ambiguous villains in literature. Hawkins is a borderline Gary Stu and you have to ignore some of the plot points where your credulity gets a bit of a workout. But treat it as what it is meant to be- an adventure yarn- and it's enjoyable.

Currently reading: The Laramie Project, by Moises Kaufman, and The Diary of Anne Frank
Tags: classic, fiction, history, non-fiction

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