Category Archives: Book Club
One by one the boys begin to fall…
In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (AMAZON)
Erich Maria Remarque was a German author and veteran of the First World War. He was born 1898 in Osnabrück, Germany. At the age of 18 he was conscripted into the German army. During his service he was wounded by shrapnel in the left leg, right arm and neck. Following the war he worked as a primary school teacher, and later as a librarian, a journalist and a technical writer.
Among Remarque’s published novels were All Quiet on the Western Front, The Road Back, Three Comrades and Arch of Triumph. His works were publicly burned by the Nazi German government, and in 1947 he and his first wife became naturalised citizens of the United States. Four years earlier, his sister had been executed at the behest of Hitler’s ‘People’s Court’.
Remarque adapted the book Ten Days to Die, about Hitler’s final days, as a screenplay, and he also wrote for the stage. His last novel was The Night in Lisbon, published in 1962. During his lifetime Remarque married twice and had love affairs with the actresses Hedy Lamarr, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
Thanks very much to the wonderful Karoline for hosting and writing up this book club – find her here @KarolineAKemp!
It was good to welcome two new faces to our discussion, Jane and Katy who also come to White Swan.
We had a discussion about the translation, some of the group had a more recent translation from the mid 1990’s and it was generally felt to be much more accessible than the earlier one. We also discussed the translation of the title, the note on the new translation states that a direct translation from the German is ‘Nothing New on the Western Front’
The book was fairly easy to read in the modern translation and it was noted that that the tense changed from the singular to the plural during the scenes at the front. It was noted that nowadays we expect to have strong characterisation and narrative drive from contemporary fiction but that there is no narrative drive in War. As the book went on it became more and more detached as Paul became more detached from his own life.
AQOTWF is written from the point of view of a German private Paul. It was felt that the language used was chosen to emphasise the commonality and gruelling of experience of trench warfare regardless of side. Emphasised particularly in the scene in the shell hole with the solider that he killed. It is also something that has been brought out recently by historians of the First World War (see the History Hit podcast with @gerarmyresearch).
It was felt that the language used effectively conveyed vivid imagery of the experiences of being in the front line as well as the banality of being behind the lines when comic interludes such as Kat getting the food were used to good effect. The emphasis on the food (or lack) of it conveyed its importance to the troops, most effectively that when they suddenly get good food they realise that it means they are heading to the front line.
We felt that the characterisation was kept deliberately vague, the concentration was on passages dealing with Paul’s interior life such as when he was on leave and felt totally alienated from his previous life, We felt that Paul represented the everyman, he grew but never lost his humanity.
We felt that the strong bond between the school friends was shown well. We all felt the horror of the scenes with the rats and felt that the scenes in the mists where very lyrical which intensified the horror.
The book also pointed out how much harder it was going to be for the younger men who had become soldiers straight from school to readjust and/or keep going as they didn’t have families/jobs to go back to. It was also very scathing about the generation who were too old to fight themselves but where very vocal at making the younger generations go.
We decided that we would have preferred the end to have been left more open than it was and felt that it packed a lot into quite a slim book.
Trailer for the 1979 film[youtube https://youtu.be/DX1PW2n8POg]
We have our next few months choices in!
LBC 3 Reads (#LBC3Reads)
- NOTE – moved to August – venue TBA
- High Rising – Angela Thirkell
LBC Horsforth (#LBCHorsforth)
- 9 August – The Good Immigrant – Nikesh Shukla
- 13 September – The Lemon Table – Julian Barnes
LBC White Swan (#LBCWSwan)
- 13 August – The last condo board of the Apocalypse – Nina Post
- 10 September – Pirate Cinema – Cory Doctorow
A quick update on what our next few reads shall be! As always, if you spot any corrections, don’t hesitate to let me know!
- 8th – Horsforth – God help the child – Toni Morrison
- 12th – White Swan – The Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu
- 12th – Horsforth – TBA
- 9th – White Swan – Hagseed by Margaret Atwood (if available) or The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula L Guin
- 22nd – LBC3 Reads – Whit by Iain Banks
Just wanted to let anyone heading down south know that the superb production of The Kite Runner is currently running in the West End!
Visit the Wyndham’s Theatre website HERE to get all the details on how to catch this very impressive production.
‘For you…a thousand times over…’
Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.
This should be an impossible book to adapt. Afghanistan is a changing place in 1975. Religion and politics are evolving the landscape further. It is in this background that two boys attempt to navigate their path, which happens to be an emerging family tragedy. The book covers a span of 30 years. That Matthew Spangler succeeds and succeeds beautifully in distilling the essence of this tale into a mere two acts – well it ought to be an impossible feat.
On a sparse stage, populated only by a musicians mat; a flowing backdrop and a carpet with a thousand interpretations; an intensely emotional story unfolds. The lack of clutter, heck, the near disdain of props merely served to emphasis the interpersonal focus of this play.
The hero of this production has to be Ben Turner. Aside from being the only constant presence on the stage; he manages to pull off a difficult task with aplomb. At no point is he ever in denial that he is portraying Amir as a deeply flawed person – indeed for much of the play the character appears to be cowardly, unlikeable with few redeeming features. He flies a kite, embodying enthusiastically a 12 year old and brings equal weight to his reflection as an older narrator. However, as time passes, Ben makes the audience aware of something that Amir never quite realises. He is as much a victim (albeit to a far lesser degree) of Assef’s violence as Hassan and certainly of his father’s coldness and – as becomes apparent – lies.
In a stellar cast of consummate professionals – it is impossible to understate the menace that Nicholas Karimi brings to the bully Assef. From the second he appears, spitting out insults and swaggering a la John Wayne; he dominates and intimidates. His interactions with Andrei Costin (in the dual role of Hassan and Sohrah) in particular are just harrowing.
One of the most lovely and touching aspects of a play that confirms, defies and compounds expectations (frequently in the same passage of dialogue!) is a character that emerges intact from the pages of the book. The sole (significant) speaking female role is that of Soraya, portrayed by Lisa Zahra. Though she only appears in the later sections of the play; she is the most honest and brave character – following her heart and owning her mistakes. On a male dominated stage; her every interaction with Amir is refreshing and cleansing – not necessarily what one is led to expect from a story set mostly in Taliban ruled Afghanistan.
The music throughout the play plays a powerful role and is primarily provided by Hanif Khan; an internationally renowned classically trained Indian musician and performer, who – like Ben Turner – remains on stage for the bulk of the performance. The melodies he provides both inform the story and provide emotional context. The music and sounds created by the cast provide an atmospheric backdrop; at once unobtrusive yet pervasive. A constant and haunting refrain throughout that serves as a reminder that while the story may be set in lands far away; the ultimate search for redemption is a universal one. That the sheer act of being human makes us strive to better ourselves, to make up for those things that we have done wrong, to seek to make amends…even when it is too late.
Adapted by Matthew Spangler from the novel by Khaled Hosseini
Music: Jonathan Girling
Director: Giles Croft
The Kite Runner at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
Buy tickets HERE
Visit the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre website HERE
Visit the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse website HERE
Visit the Wyndham’s Theatre website HERE
As I’ve been a bit out of things, I’m only just getting around to finding out what books are when. Please do let me know if I get the books in the wrong order, the dates muddled and so on!
Shall be aiming to catch up with emails and admin over the next fortnight – apologies if you’ve been waiting ages!!
- 8th – Horsforth – The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons – Sam Kean
- 12th – White Swan – The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers
- 8th – Horsforth – God help the child – Toni Morrison
- 12th – White Swan – TBA
- 12th – Horsforth – TBA
- 9th – White Swan – TBA
- 22nd – LBC3 Reads – Whit by Iain Banks
As many of you know, Leeds Book Club just wouldn’t work without the effervescent Helen – she runs LBC Puffins, co-hosts LBC White Swan and is up for each and every reading challenge (that orientates around books for younger people). Frankly I don’t know how she does it – she’s a tireless wonder and source of inspiration and joy.
So it comes as no surprise to find that she has taken on a new challenge and will be completing a 10km run next month to raise money for a great cause.
If you can, have a read below and send any and all support to Helen (from virtual hugs to actual pennies).
There is still 4 weeks to go before the big run! All encouragement is greatly appreciated.
LBC White Swan
Venue: White Swan Leeds
Date: Sunday 10th of April 2016
Address: Swan Street, Leeds
A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun.
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
About the author:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope. She is the author of the novelsPurple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year; and the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. Her latest novel Americanah, was published around the world in 2013, and has received numerous accolades, including winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction; and being named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year.
A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, she divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.
As a group, most of us had really enjoyed this book – some of us more than we’d expected to, as from the blurb the plot looked very slight.
The real strength of this book is in the characters. All were very relatable, well-drawn and sympathetic. There was particular affection for Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju. For a book with such a large cast of characters, it would have been easy for some to have felt like stereotypes, but this never felt the case. Even characters that only appeared briefly were well-rounded and believable. There weren’t really any dislikeable characters, with the possible exception of Blaine’s sister Shan, but we felt this was because the characters didn’t like her either!
Some of us felt the plot was almost incidental – that this was more a novel of ideas than plot – but that this wasn’t a negative thing. Someone had quoted the author as saying she was more interested in substance than structure, and this felt very true of this book. Having said that, we also thought that it was structurally very clever, and well-crafted. The word “unputdownable” was used! Apparently the author spent 5 years writing this book, and the craft and care taken are apparent.
The narrative is interspersed throughout with excerpts from Ifem’s blog, these are thematic rather than chronological. Although this can sometimes be a slightly irritating device in books, here we all thought it worked really well. We all really enjoyed the style of Ifem’s blog – if it were a real blog, we would have followed it!
Our only small criticism of the book’s structure was that it would have been nice to see more of Obinze – although some in the group would have preferred to do without his sections at all and just focus on Ifemelu! We all agreed though that the divide between the two characters was rather uneven. For example, Obinze’s journey from being deported from the UK and returning, broke, to Nigeria, to becoming a wealthy but corrupt businessman, was glossed over. Some of us would have liked to see more of how he had made this journey, but we thought it was probably glossed over as it reflects Ifem’s view of him, as she would also have perceived this change as jarring.
There was lots in this book that made for slightly uncomfortable reading, in particular the portrayal of Ifem’s white, liberal friends in the US, and their varying discomfort and cluelessness around race. It also raised a lot of issues that some of us hadn’t been familiar with (although some had come across them before), for example the politicisation of black women’s hair. We thought it was notable that Ifem’s starts wearing her hair naturally around the same time she stops faking an American accent – we saw this as her realisation that being accepted as American isn’t what she needs or wants.
Most of the story is fairly timeless, with limited details that fix it to a particular time period. The exception to this is of course the sections detailing Barack Obama’s election as US President, which we had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it was felt that this took us out of the story somewhat, grounding it in a specific time and place, which was a little jarring. On the other hand, in a book about an African woman living in the US and blogging about race, such a significant event in US racial history could hardly have been ignored! We also wondered if, without the context of Obama’s election placing the narrative in a specific time period, it would have been easier for readers to have dismissed the racism Ifem experiences as a thing of the past.
We had mixed feelings about the ending. Some of us felt it was unrealistic for Ifem and Obinze to have ended up together, with them having grown apart so much. We wondered if perhaps Ifem was clinging on to her memories of the Obinze she had known and been in love with in the past. The ending was the only real let down for some of us, the romantic “happy ending” felt a bit shoehorned in.
Other than that minor note, we all rated this book very highly, and would definitely read more of this author’s work.
LBC White Swan
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. -Goodreads
About the Author
He is the recipient of the Abraham Polonsky Screenwriting Award for his screenplay Everything Divided as well as a participant in the Sundance Institute’s filmmakers’ lab for his current project, Fingernails and Smooth Skin. Chbosky lives in New York. -Goodreads
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In this case it is Charlie, who tells his story through a series of letters to a stranger. We learn all about his family and his school years. The book is a one person narrative and we never hear from any other characters point of view, just Charlie’s.
The book however does go into some interesting areas and looks at teenage relationships, drugs, sexuality, sexual abuse and mental health. The book did get banned in America in some schools due to the subjects it covered.
The gay prejudices portrayed in the book were really well done and use of characters, creating trigger points into the story, leading to revelations such as Patrick and his relationship with Brad, and then onto Charlie and his relationship with his Aunt Helen. The group felt that Charlie and his constant crying was a bit irritating yet Patrick and his troubles, was very well depicted and Sam, the lead female seemed to be a ‘pretty’ character who showed up when needed.
Going back to the story, throughout the book its all about how Charlie sees the world, and how it lead to him discovering or rediscovering that he was abused by his Aunt Helen when he was much younger like she was by a family friend and how this leads him to be found in a catatonic state and taken to a mental hospital.
The book touches on the subject of repressed memories and feelings and trigger points, on family members and secrets, on how we want to be perceived in the world and how we treat each other. Some of the group felt the book was actually read as a mental illness and if you re-read it you could see the cracks appearing throughout the story.
“Even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there”
Overall the group agreed teenagers are exhausting, complicated and lack emotion and although the book appeared not to be well written, it did have a lot of purpose in its story, the way it was laid out in letter form, represented human thought, and lead onto an interesting way to introduce the subjects it covered, saying that a few believed if the had read it as a teenager they may have got into it more.
Thank you for reading.
*Tangents: Big debate on drugs and drug use Music: Niamh made Fleetwood Mac get together. Don’t argue with Niamh. Niamh is Irish, had a fight and lost a tooth???. Niamh can quote Shakespeare.