Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

The Boy Who Went To War

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

I’ve read many books about Hitler’s Germany but none as remarkable as Wolfram, The Boy Who Went To War, by Giles Milton (Hodder, 2011). It overturns clichés about the War and helps answer the old question ‘Why didn’t more Germans resist Hitler?’

Wolfram was the child of freethinking, artistic parents who resisted by not joining the Nazi Party and refusing to display a swastika flag – their Gestapo file described them as ‘dangerous eccentics’. Wolfram was 9 years old when Hitler came to power in 1933 and spent his childhood trying to avoid the Hitler Youth so he could draw and sculpt. Through his peace-loving family we see how the Nazis tightened their grip through brutality, laws, and a system of local informants.

One can’t help ask, ‘Would I have had the courage to resist?’ Wolfram was conscripted and became part of the War nightmare in Russia and Normandy. The story of his survival is completely gripping. (Note: not a children’s book, but would interest teens.) Wolfram is still alive and you can see his stunning paintings here.

This is a study in enforced conformity as Milton shows how the Nazis became increasingly intrusive in the lives of ordinary Germans Guardian review

Hugo Review: Movie and Book

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Scorsese’s Hugo is a beautiful movie complement to Brian Selznick’s brilliant novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The book is in the style of a film, using pictures interspersed with tightly-wound prose –and the movie takes the style of a novel, with a leisurely pace and richly detailed scenes. Both movie and book successfully use a children’s character to pay tribute to Georges Melies, pioneer of cinema. And much of the story is true: about his magical movies, his rise and fall, even the automaton and the train crash. (Watch a video about how the special effects were done). This film, The Four Troublesome Heads, made in 1898, shows Melies having fun:


Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Emma Neale’s new novel Fosterling, is about a yeti living in Dunedin. No, it’s not a children’s book or a fantasy but a realistic, compassionate treatment of what it’s like to be an outsider. The writing is elegant. Original similes abound: one confused young man looks like ‘a 16 year old whose name has been called in class when he’d been happily thinking about the pie he’d ordered for lunch; and subtle feelings are described with precision. I  wanted a more upbeat ending, but that’s my bent (and one reason I like writing for children). The yeti, Bu, is a sensitive soul – a reminder of that other misunderstood Boo in To Kill a Mockingbird. And I thought of my favourite yeti tale, Tintin in Tibet , in which the creature also shows his ‘humanity’, but is treated as a beast. Fosterling reminded me that there are Bu’s in every city, often hidden in ‘half-way’ houses.  I can see this multi-character story being made into an Altman-style movie.

Their Faces Were Shining

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Tim Wilson takes risks with his first novel, Their Faces Were Shining, and that’s the way it should be. The story: a sizable chunk of the human race floats up to Heaven on page 60 but a believer named Hope is left behind. The wider implications of the Rapture are barely explored; it’s really a device to expose the main character; this is a Rupture novel. It’s gripping, but be warned that it’s also grim in places (though not as apocalyptic as The Road). I appreciated Wilson’s precise observation of human relationships even if he avoids the afterlife.

Few writers go to Heaven (in their novels). M. Scott Peck’s In Heaven As On Earth has a rather clinical psychotherapist’s afterlife, and The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis has a nice take on the physicality of Heaven. My favourite Heavenly stories are the wonderful  A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes which describes the consequences of being perfected; and Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin, a thoughtful teenage novel about a Heaven where people age in reverse. The best movie about Heaven is A Matter of Life and Death, a gorgeous 1946 romance that ends with words by Walter Scott,

for love is heaven and heaven is love.’