The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp – Book Review

The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp
Published by Picador, an imprint of Macmillan

Little K was a prima ballerina, the lover of the last Russian tsar. A woman whose determination brought her into the beds of many members of the imperial family, but whose brilliant future was derailed when Russia as she knew it began to disappear, along with her beloved Tsar Nicholas II, and something where the concubine of the Romanovs was a dangerous thing to be. But perhaps it would be best to let Little K introduce herself in her own words, as this is a story she has been endlessly remembering for the past 50 years:

My name is Mathilde Kschessinska, and I was the greatest Russian ballerina on the imperial stages. But the world I was born to, the world I was bred for, is gone, and all the players in it are also gone – dead, murdered, exiled, walking ghosts. -p. 3

Mathilde Kscessinska is a fascinating subject through whose eyes the reader can explore the fall of tsarist Russia. As a member of the Imperial Ballet and daughter of well-respected Catholic Poles as well as the mistress of Tsar Nicholas II and at least two other members of the imperial family, she had a unique point of view for the fall of the empire, particularly as she also had the benefit of hindsight from her Parisian exile. Sharp excelled in creating Little K’s voice. There was a sort of learned regal quality to her thoughts, a self-aware verbosity that spoke of a women reaching to achieve a higher station. Occasionally this resulted in mild distraction, such as when commas extended sentences far too long, or when Little K would digress into future events while telling her story. Still, overall it was done to good effect.

Although some of the more minor characters are easily confused, Little K’s story is a dramatic and interesting one that is told well. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham – Book Review

By Nightfallby Michael Cunningham
Published by Picador, an imprint of Macmillan

Peter Harris’s life looks great on the surface. He has a smart, lovely wife, a grown daughter, and a relatively successful art gallery. Of course, his gallery is stuck around relatively successful, unable to break free. Plus, his relationship with his wife Rebecca has grown strained of late, and his daughter will barely speak to him. Into this barely held together veneer comes Mizzie. Mizzie, whose nickname is appropriately short for “mistake,” is Rebecca’s much younger brother, a brilliant but wild young man whose presence disrupts the fragile balance of Peter and Rebecca’s lives.

By Nightfall is a very complex book, one well-suited to discuss with a book club. I’m not sure I really understood Peter and his motivations, and I’m not sure I can without taking it through with other people. The reader is very much inside Peter’s head, which male in such a way that it became almost entirely foreign to me. Because Peter had lost any real connection with Rebecca – or any of the women in the book – there was no female viewpoint, no matter how miniscule, until the absolute end. This made for a novel that I had a difficult time accessing. It was quite readable, technically well-written, but I failed to truly engage, because I failed to truly empathize with Peter.

I suspect I will have more complete thoughts after discussing this with BOOK CLUB today, but for now I leave you with these somewhat unformed thoughts.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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BOOK CLUB – Galore by Michael Crummey


Welcome to BOOK CLUB, which I run with co-conspirator Nicole from Linus’s Blanket. Today we will be chatting about Galore by Michael Crummey, which was released at the end of March from Other Press (websitetwitterfacebook). For those of you reading this post, please remember that this discussion is likely to contain spoilers.

Here is the synopsis of the book I wrote for my review:

Paradise Deep and Gut are insular, isolated Newfoundland communities. Theirs is a hardscrabble life where nothing much changes, in many of the families one generation seems largely interchangeable with another, a constant cycle of birth and death, and birth again. But then, a whale washes ashore. A beached whale represents a bounty for a community that does not have the resources to catch more than cod, but when they slice open the whale’s stomach, a strangely pale man tumbles out. Named Judah due to a disagreement about whether it was Judas or Jonah who was swallowed by the whale in the Bible, the mute man is s subject of fear and wonder for the community by turns.

It is a bit difficult to say what Galore is about, because, at its heart, it is simply about the people of Gut and Paradise Deep. Even Jonah’s odd appearance – both in how he comes to the community and in how he looks – is not truly at the heart of this novel. Instead it is the people, the community as a whole, even.

Before we get started, here are some of the reviews of readers who will be participating today:

Caribou’s Mom
Devourer of Books

House of the Seven Tails
Indie Reader Houston
Linus’s Blanket
Picky Girl

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page (please use the TOP subscription option, the second option will subscribe you only to replies of your own comments).  I will be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.

Here we go…

  • First off, what were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • Judah was seen alternatively as a kind of curse or lucky charm for the community, did how he was seen by others change how you saw or felt towards him? How you felt towards the people around him?
  • It wasn’t until 30 odd pages into Book Two that I knew when Galore was set, when we were told that King-Me died sometime before the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The timeline became more clear towards the end of the novel, but until then seemed that it could have taken place almost any time. Do you think this was a conscious decision on the part of Crummey? Did it enhance or detract from the story for you?
  • Newman, the doctor, finds Newfoundland too fantastical to believe in when he is back in the states. Do you agree with his assessment? If so, was the land still believable to you while reading?
  • The end FASCINATED me. Thoughts? Opinions? Theories?
  • What kinds of questions did you have during your reading? Were they answered?
  • Do you have any other questions for the group?

Additional questions from Amy:

  • Has anyone read Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Do you think the comparisons between him and Crummey are valid? If so, in what ways?

12 review copies of Galore were provided by Other Press in order to facilitate this discussion.  Thank you!

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Galore by Michael Crummey – Book Review

Galore by Michael Crummey
Published by Other Press

Paradise Deep are Gut are insular, isolated Newfoundland communities. Theirs is a hardscrabble life where nothing much changes, in many of the families one generation seems largely interchangeable with another, a constant cycle of birth and death, and birth again. But then, a whale washes ashore. A beached whale represents a bounty for a community that does not have the resources to catch more than cod, but when they slice open the whale’s stomach, a strangely pale man tumbles out. Named Judah due to a disagreement about whether it was Judas or Jonah who was swallowed by the whale in the Bible, the mute man is s subject of fear and wonder for the community by turns.

It is a bit difficult to say what Galore is about, because, at its heart, it is simply about the people of Gut and Paradise Deep. Even Jonah’s odd appearance – both in how he comes to the community and in how he looks – is not truly at the heart of this novel. Instead it is the people, the community as a whole, even.

What is particularly amazing about Galore is just how meaningful and riveting it is, given the number of people and the length of time covered. Although the Devine family – who shelter Jonah to the point of marrying him to a daughter of the family – and the Sellers family are certainly the major players, Crummey has created a rich cast of characters, each with their own particular foibles. The drama of the communities spans more than a century, the majority of that time passing in the second half of the book. This seems like it should be a recipe for a shallow and confusing story, but this is not the case. Certainly, I had to flip back and forth to the family tree at the front of the book more than once to remind myself of how certain people were related, but the characters have surprising depth and are surprisingly compelling given how many of them there are.

Galore is a masterfully written book with beautiful language and fabulous character development. The mixture of day-to-day life and fantastical happenings is particularly well done. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound.*

Source, Publisher for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah – Book Review

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah, translated by Geoffrey Strachan
Published by Graywolf Press

In 1944, the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean is somewhat removed from the rest of the world, enough that a nine year-old boy would not know that the rest of the world had been embroiled in a bitter war. Of course, even without knowledge of the war, Raj has a very painful life of his own, growing up in a small, poor village with a violently alcoholic father, and losing his two brothers to a storm. His life is difficult enough that things actually seem to be looking up with Raj is hospitalized at the prison his father works for – the only hospital facility around – and meets David. Raj doesn’t understand why David and so many other light skinned men and women are imprisoned, on Mauritius the white men are the ones who are in charge, not the ones found in prison. Regardless, though, he and David are immediate friends, more like brothers, really.

The Last Brother is framed from the modern-day adult perspective of Raj, and we know almost immediately that something tragic happened during his time with David, although it is only through his recollection of the past that we discover exactly what it was. This is a rather short book – less than 200 pages – but it is so richly evocative of place and emotion that it feels just as meaty as something twice as long. Having Raj frame the story as an adult lends the more reflective and retrospective feel that is really crucial to this story, while still allowing the narration of Raj as a nine year-old to be authentic.

Besides being very well written and translated, The Last Brother gives the reader a peek at a story of World War II that most of us have never read, that of the 1500 European Jews who were turned away from Palestine and detained as illegal immigrants on Mauritius for years. More information about this historical reality can be found in Nathacha Appanah’s interview with Tablet Magazine.

Don’t let the slim volume fool you, The Last Brother is a powerful novel that packs a huge emotional punch. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound | Amazon*

Source: Publisher, for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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