The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

themountainssingThe Mountains Sing is a bittersweet family saga of the Tran family in north Vietnam. Alternating between Huong and her grandmother, Dieu Lan’s, perspectives, we follow some notable moments in Vietnam’s history as well as the outcome and effect to the people living there at that time. Dieu Lan and her family were victims of the Land reform in the north. They lost everything when the communist government came to power and were forced to flee. They soon settled and started a new life in Hanoi. Fifty years later, Vietnam is at war again. Huong grieves for the loss of her parents.

I liked the characters in this book, the different journeys, trials and hardships they each had to face and the emphasis on how important family is. Dieu Lan is my new favorite character. I loved her. I loved how resilient and resolute she was despite the horrible choices she had to make in order for her and her children to survive. Oh, the love of a mother!

I loved Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s writing. It felt very personal while reading. It felt like Dieu Lan and Huong were speaking to me directly. It made me feel the pain, how unbearable the situation was during the war, how injustice affected a lot of people, but they tried their best to live, to keep on going.

This is a family saga filled with heartbreak and tragedy. But it is also full of hope and love. It’s the kind of book that can make you feel.

Highly recommended.

Quotable Quotes:

“I realized that war was monstrous. If it didn’t kill those it touched, it took away a piece of their souls, so they could never be whole again.”

“Whenever humans failed us, it was nature who could help save us.”

“The more I read, the more I became afraid of wars. Wars have the power to turn graceful and cultured people into monsters.”

“Human lives were short and fragile. Time and illnesses consumed us, like flames burning away these pieces of wood. But it didn’t matter how long or short we lived. It mattered more how much light we were able to shed on those we loved and how many people we touched with our compassion.”

“The challenges faced by Vietnamese people are as tall as the tallest mountains. If you stand too close, you won’t be able to see their peaks. Once you step away from the currents of life, you will have the full view.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

thebookoflostnamesThe Book of Lost Names is the story of Eva Traube, a young woman born in France whose parents are Polish Jews, working her way to become a librarian. The Nazis soon began mass arrests and one day, her father was captured while she and her mother were babysitting for the neighbor. She soon found her self forging documents for her and her mother in order to flee to the free zone of France. Upon arriving in a small town of Aurignon in the free zone, she learned of the underground resistance movement and later found herself forging documents for Jewish children, in order to escape to Switzerland.

Eva soon became increasingly important for the underground resistance movement and her relationships to the people around her became complex and tricky. Her views of the world changed and there came difficult decisions along the way. Eva and Remy had decided to keep a record of the children’s real names for them to remember later on who they really are, a secret between them, The Book of Lost Names. Then the resistance movement was betrayed and Remy also disappeared.

Many years later, Eva saw the very same book where she and Remy kept a record of the names of the children they helped to escape. She was then faced with a choice to just continue with her new life or to revisit her past.

The Book of Lost Names is a very interesting and captivating read full of historically accurate details. I love that I am continually learning more, the round-ups in Paris, the quaint little town in a considered free zone in France, the forgery and the children’s escape to Switzerland to name a few.

This is a story of courage, bravery, survival, endurance, the significance of forgery at that time, patience, loss, trust. It is wonderfully written and a page-turner. Well-researched. Great twists. Well-rounded characters. I have read a lot of books set in WWII and as with all war-set stories, I fear for most of the characters’ lives. With each book, a simple knock on the door makes your adrenaline rise. This is no different. I feared for Eva, for Remy, for Pere Clement and for nearly all the characters.

I loved this book and plan to read more from Kristin Harmel. Highly recommended.

Quotable Quotes:

“Reuniting a book with its rightful owner can be magical.”

“My point is that every parent wants what is best for his or her child. But we are all guilty of seeing things through our own lens.”

“Once you’ve fallen in love with books, their presence can make you feel at home anywhere, even in places where you shouldn’t belong.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Forgotten Highlander by Alistair Uruqhart

theforgottenhighlanderThis is a remarkable story of survival of a young man from Scotland from the hands of the Japanese during the second world war.

Knowing that this is a true story makes it more sad reading. The brutality Alistair Uruqhart experienced as a POW is horrendous. It’s amazing how he and others survived but it’s heartbreaking that many did not.

The book was simply written thus easy to follow. The part towards the end when he came back home and trying to adjust to life again was kind of heartbreaking.

It’s a good read and will make you feel blessed for not having to experience the horrors of war.

Quotable Quotes:
“Life is worth living and no matter what it throws at you it is important to keep your eyes on the prize of the happiness that will come. Even when the Death Railway reduced us to little more than animals, humanity in the shape of our saintly medical officers triumphed over barbarism… Remember, while it always seems darkest before the dawn, perseverance pays off and the good times will return.”
“We all worked so hard that, just trying to survive, each person became more and more insular as it became more difficult. It required a superhuman effort to make it to the end of each day.”

Rating: 3/5 stars

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

S-5 coverSlaughterhouse-Five belongs to my shelf of complex books. It was difficult reading it when I started so I had to condition my mind for it. I later find it more confusing as it jumps back and forth in time. The concept of time-travel isn’t new to me but it confused me just the same. So I tried to read it slower than my usual pace when reading and went back to a few pages now and then or re-read passages several times over until I somehow fully understand (or thought understand).

The book depicts the story of the bombing of Dresden in World War II. The idea to write this antiwar book came partly from Vonnegut’s experiences during the war. Both the first and last chapters were written from Vonnegut’s perspective.

The story’s protagonist is Billy Pilgrim. He was taken as a prisoner of war in World War II and his life back as a civilian was shaped by post-traumatic stress disorder. He experiences flashbacks of the war and suffers from hallucinations as well so he was sent to a mental institution for some time for he was certain he was abducted by aliens where talks of free will came up.

The bombing of Dresden created a firestorm that destroyed a huge part of the city and killed thousands. Historians though, found it hard to recount the horrors that happened so the author created a fictional narrative to help and understand what took place.

Vonnegut is a great writer and Slaughterhouse-Five is an interesting book. Satirical, sad, poignant, disturbing at times. It isn’t something I’d read for pleasure and I’m actually not a fan of sci-fi books but it is a story about war, a topic I like reading the most. Whether a just war is possible or not, it is heartbreaking to know its effects to human condition.

Quotable Quotes:

“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”

“How nice — to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.”

“That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones.”

“It is just an illusion here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.”

“If I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful that so many of those moments are nice.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

 

 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

downloadBook #30.

Some books leave you satisfied. Some books leave you confused. Some books leave you content. Some books leave you happy while some leave you sad. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas left me heartbroken.

This is the story of a nine-year old boy named Bruno whose father is a Nazi commander during World War 2. After a visit from a man who Bruno calls as The Fury, his family has to move to Out-With where life is much different compared to Berlin.

Bruno likes exploring so he decided to explore the new place. He reached a fence where he meets Shmuel, also a nine-year old and wearing the striped pajamas. And so an unlikely but special friendship begins.

This is a fast, easy and unforgettable read but the tragic ending broke my heart…

Quotable Quotes :

“It reminds me of how grandmother always had the right costume for me to wear. You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person you’re pretending to be.”

“Sitting around miserable all day won’t make you any happier.”

“Don’t make it worse by thinking it’s more painful than it actually is.”

Rating : 4/5 stars

World War 2: Waffen SS Soldier Stories: Eyewitness Accounts of Hitler’s Elite Troops

download

Book #28.

I was distracted by grammatical errors in this book, however, anything that has to do with the war attracts me so I continued reading and I wasn’t disappointed.

This book offers a lot of very interesting information about World War 2 and the SS soldiers. I have always been interested of the SS soldiers so reading their side of the story during the war is a delight to me. Discovering a lot of things about them and what happened during these times made me even want for more.

The title may be a bit inaccurate but I don’t mind at all since the content was okay for me.

Rating : 4/5 stars

Book #49 – 2015 Reading Challenge – A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

This book intrigued me when I first saw it in the bookstore while checking out the non-fiction shelf. I can’t remember reading anything about boy soldiers before and I’m glad I picked this up. Book #49 for my 2015 Reading Challenge…

When I was 12 years old, I was enjoying a fruitful life with my parents and brothers. I go to school, I play sports, hang out with friends, travel, etc. Life was great. But when Ishmael Beah was at that same age, he was running for his life in Sierra Leone, became a boy soldier left with only two choices: kill or be killed.

This is a quick, great and honestly-written book worth reading. My only disappointment was the ending. He mentioned in the book that he ended up living in the US with his adoptive mother but I wanted to know more how he got there from Guinea and what happened after. Other than that, I highly recommend this book to everyone, though it’s a heart-breaking story, it is an important topic/subject everyone should be aware of. It’s a great read that will make you step back, stop complaining and be thankful for what you have.

Favorite quotes : “Some nights the sky wept stars that quickly floated and disappeared into the darkness before our wishes could meet them.”

“Some people tried to hurt us to protect themselves, their family and communities…This was one of the consequences of civil war. People stopped trusting each other, and every stranger became an enemy.”

“At night it felt as if we were walking with the moon. It followed us under thick clouds and waited for us at the other end of dark forest paths. It would disappear with sunrise but return again, hovering on our path. Some nights the sky wept stars that quickly floated and disappeared into the darkness before our wishes could meet them. Under these stars I used to hear stories, but now it seemed as if it was the sky that was telling us a story as its stars fell, violently colliding with each other. The moon hid behind clouds to avoid seeing what was happening.”

“My childhood had gone by without my knowing, and it seemed as if my heart had frozen.”

Rating : 4/5 stars