#8 Sherry Jones: Four Sisters, All Queens. (2012) 5/5
Historical fiction about the four sisters from Savoy, all of whom have become queens: Marguerite – wife of the French King Louis IX; Eleonore – wife of the English King Henry III; Beatrice – wife of Charles, a brother to the French king, who later became king of Sicily, and Sanchia – wife to Richard, a brother to the English king, who later became king of Germany.
I have really enjoyed this book. I thought the atmosphere of the Medieval Europe and of Outremer – the Holy Land was very believable. Also, the characters of the four very different sisters are well written. And I can only sympathize with each woman’s attempt of making her way in the world. Being a queen is not as easy as one might think. Going into a foreign country and forever being called foreigner, no matter what you did for the good of your new country.
Difficult to believe though, that Louis was that crazy – I am now on the lookout for his biography.
#9 Stephen Baxter & Terry Pratchett: The Long Earth (2012) 5/5
I am a fan of Terry Pratchett, and have never read anything by Stephen Baxter. So it is difficult for me to judge ‘who did what’. But then, perhaps, it is a mark of successful collaboration.
On a ‘stepping day’ the humanity suddenly finds out that people can step into parallel Earths. And there are millions of those. At least. And those parallel Earths are basically our Earth, which at some point happened to choose a different path of evolution. No people – just multiple paradises. And so people move out and go exploring and build new frontier towns and do what people usually do.
But Joshua and a former Tibetan Lobsang reincarnated as a super-computer go in search of the end of this new Long Earth. In the process they meet trolls and elves, but not as we know them, and discover a huge and horrible thing which causes those trolls and elves to flee across the worlds.
Not the laugh-out-loud funny of the Discworld novels. But I have enjoyed it tremendously. Wonderful characters, wonderful story… The idea of those multiple parallel worlds itself gives so much food for thought!
And the ending definitely implies a sequel. Can’t wait!
This is clearly going to be a week of graphic novels.
While sitting at the emergency vet clinic, I read Usagi Yojimbo #26: Traitors of the Earth. That's not the issue number of the comic book, that's the 26th volume of graphic novels. It amazes me to realize that Sakai has been writing and illustrating this comic for 28 years now. I still enjoy it for its artistry as well as the quality of the scripts. If you've never tried them, go back to the start; I'm pretty sure they're still in print.
The World that was ours, originally published in 1967, and was written at a time when Hilda Bernstein had to disguise certain names and incidents to protect some of the people she had left behind her in South Africa. Amendments were then made later to the original text when it was safe to do so. This is an extremely well written political memoir by the wife of Rusty Bernstein, one of the men in the Rivonia trial, tried alongside Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu – he was later acquitted – but only after having suffered months of mistreatment and isolation in prison.
Hilda Bernstein details the everyday lives of people like her, who had a home and family, had work to do, children to raise, but who lived everyday with the fear of the Special Branch and possible arrest.
“11 July 1963
There was a sense of unease all afternoon. It was true there had been many such days and nights and the premonition is only recalled in its full oppressiveness after disaster has been realised; many, many such times; the precise cause, the months and even the years of them have silently blurred, lost consequence.”
Yet the thought of leaving South Africa for people so committed to their cause was extraordinarily hard – do they leave their friends and colleagues? – Or stay and risk being separated from their children? Imprisoned within a system that becomes harder and harder to fight. The Bernsteins risk everything; they are under enormous pressure and frequently know a very real and almost paralysing fear – which Hilda Bernstein describes brilliantly. The tension and claustrophobia of the South African regime is absolutely palpable. Yet through it all Hilda’s love for her husband sees her through these unimaginably difficult times.
“I held on to Rusty, touched him, kissed. We sat clasping each other, alone together. There was nothing in the cell except the narrow bench against the wall. At first we could barely talk, then we began softly, intimately. It was sheer, unbelievable happiness. I thought if I could sit for an hour a day close to you like this, Rusty, just holding on to your hands and talking, life would be completely bearable. That’s all I want – just an hour a day in close, quiet contact, alone. At that moment it seemed like the fulfilment of all ambition.”
I found the first part of this book where Hilda describes the lives she and her family are leading, both fascinating and poignant. It is almost inconceivable that these things were happening within living memory. I wonder if I would be able to hold quite so fast to my principles in the face of such fear and intimidation. For me however the details surrounding the actual Rivonia trial were rather less exciting than I had expected them to be – but were interesting, thorough and complex. I did find myself frequently horrified and incensed by the prosecutor Yutar, an often nasty tempered, irrational man.
After Rusty’s eventual release – Hilda is the one who now must fear for her freedom. It becomes clear that the Bernsteins must leave. However that is rather easier said than done. To leave involves great secrecy. It is not possible to just go, Hilda needs to judge it just right, she will be leaving her children behind, at least in the short term. However while keeping one eye on the road outside and the garden path, ready to flee; she gets on with her washing. Such is the life of a woman living with the threat of arrest in 1960’s South Africa. The details surrounding Hilda and Rusty’s flight steps the action up considerably. I found it unimaginable – to be driven through the dark at great risk to an unknown destination – into an unknown fate, no guarantees when or even if, they will see those they love again.
The World that was ours is an enormously readable memoir which highlights brilliantly the evil injustices that were practised in South Africa – and the extraordinary men and women who stood up for what was right.