(Review) Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War by Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong
Publisher and Publication Date: Vintage. Published March 21st 2012. First published September 27, 1993.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 496.
Source: Library ebook copy.
Audience: Romance readers who can also digest a war story, or readers of military stories who can digest a love story.  Historical fiction readers of World War I.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link for the book

Birdsong is book two in the French Trilogy by Sebastian Faulks. The first book is The Girl at the Lion d’Or. The third book is Charlotte Gray. I’ve read Charlotte Gray. This last book I rated good or 3 stars. From what I remember, Charlotte Gray was a bland character.

Summary:
The year is 1910. Stephen Wraysford is a young Englishman who stays with the Azaire family in France. He is observing and learning about Mr. Azaire’s factory business. Mrs. Isabelle Azaire is the second wife and step-mother to the two children. She is a proper, respected, and lovely woman. The constraints of her economic class and the era in which she lives creates an insecurity about being perfect. However, perfect is a façade, an illusion. From the first moment, there is an instant attraction between Stephen and Isabelle. There are several scenes of lingering eye contact and touching, which builds to the moment they seek a safe place to act on their attraction. Their relationship is powerful and they are swept up in the energy it brings. It peaks when reality sets. The story then shifts to the early years of World War I. Stephen is in the British army. He is an officer in command of other soldiers. A secondary story is the late 1970s, England. A middle age woman is in search of information about her grandfather. The book is primarily about Stephen Wraysford. The lens is on him.

My Thoughts:
I have so many thoughts about this story.
•I’d heard about this book years ago when the movie was on PBS. I watched pieces of this movie at that time. I’m hoping to watch it in full.
•Recently, I read an account (from someone else) this book gave a solid look at World War I. I agree. It is descriptive about so many aspects of the war I’d not considered. For example, the lice and flea problem. Lice and fleas permeated the soldier during World War I. Even when they were on leave and cleaned up, the eggs were in the clothing. They’d hatch eventually and the soldier began itching. The itching was done without realizing, because they’d become accustomed to the problem. Another aspect is the shaking or tremor in the hands of soldiers. Their hands shook because of PTSD. Other aspects of the war in this book: the sound that a shell makes before it hits the target; what happened to a human body depending on where the shell hit; the miners who tunneled; an explanation of what gangrene does to a human body; what a poisonous gas attack does to a human body; medical treatments from doctors and nurses; the feeling of detachment for a soldier; retrieving dead bodies for burial; and the infestation of rats.
Birdsong is a book about relationships. Relationships between husbands and wives, parent and children, lovers, friends, and soldiers who are in war. As I’ve become older, I have learned there are different types of love and different levels of love. And, people who romantically love one another, and it is a deep love, don’t always end up in a permanent relationship. Sometimes things don’t work out for people who love one another. This book explores a lingering love. A love that doesn’t go away, but only finds a safe place to settle in a person’s heart.
•Faulks is a descriptive writer. I found myself lingering and rereading certain parts, especially with people. I felt that if I reread those portions about the person I might understand them better. I might see them in my mind clearer.
•The themes in the story pull at the heart. For example, war and the impact it makes on generations.
Birdsong is a haunting story. It’s a memorable story.
Birdsong is a mature story. I’m not saying that if you are 18 you are not old enough to read the story. Birdsong requires a maturity about life that is made profound by older eyes.
•I understand the reason for including the modern story. However, I didn’t care for it. It felt pasted. It felt insignificant in comparison to Stephen’s story.

 

(Review) The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang

 

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Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Books. 1998.
Genre: Nonfiction. History. World War II.
Pages: 290.
Source: Library. E-book copy.
Rating: Recommend, but not for a minor or a person who is sensitive.
Audience: For readers interested in the history of Imperial Japan’s invasion of China.

Amazon

I borrowed this book twice via OverDrive-an app to borrow books from the library. I recommend this app!

 

If you’ve read previous reviews of this book, you’ve read comments like, “a hard read” or “graphic.” This is an understatement. I read at night before bed. This is a tough book to read before bedtime. Many of the chapters are filled with heart-wrenching, macabre, and even fearful stories. The research, interviewing, and writing of this book is a story in itself. A must read chapter in the book is at the tail end: Iris Chang’s painful life and ending. This is one of the most memorable books I’ve read, because of the content and the author. I recommend this book, but with hesitation. Do not feel that you must read a book that will disturb you. I’ve watched many frightening films and read scary books, but have not been as disturbed as this book. Read it, but take your time. Possibly read a chapter or less at one sitting followed by another book that’s a light read.

On December 13, 1937, Nanking, China, the capital city of Nationalist China, fell to Imperial Japan. To use words like atrocities, rampage, and murder is not sufficient.
Iris Chang felt compelled (and thrust herself as on a life mission) to discover the complete history in order to write a book on the Rape of Nanking. She felt many books had been written about the Holocaust during World War II, but the history of the Rape of Nanking had left few writings. She did not want that generation of survivors (and also as a memorial to those who’d died) to die without telling their stories.

This review is not going to be as usual: sharing what I liked and disliked about the book.
To me, this book is hallowed, almost a sacred testament. I feel it would be disrespectful to do otherwise.

Notable aspects in The Rape of Nanking:
•The history and building up of Imperial Japan. Who they were pre 20th century, the political reasonings of Japan, and the movement of Japan against other nations in East Asia.
•Japan and their alliances and relationship with Italy and Germany during World War II.
•Detailed facts and figures.
•A strong point that Japan has tried to ignore or minimize this history.
•The officers in charge of the army who took Nanking. This includes their background and epilogue.
•Answers the question as to how the Japanese soldiers could have been so rabid in their actions.
•Women who were taken/abducted to be used in sexual slavery. These women were from China, but also from other Asian countries.
•Stories are shared by those Chinese who survived.
•Stories of three western civilians who tried to help the Chinese. This includes their life story and epilogue.
•The Nanking War Crimes Trial.
•Epilogue of how the survivors lived after the war.

 

(Review) The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Publisher and Publication Date: Crown Publishing Group. February 14, 2017.
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Pages: 371.
Source: Library.
Rating: Good.

Amazon

Summary:
Chilbury, England is the setting for a fictional village of people during World War II. At first, the village choir was going to end. Later, the choir continued on as a ladies’ choir only. Most of the men are away, or about to leave to fight in the war. Five females are the main characters. The story is told through journals and letters.
The female characters are Mrs. Tilling (nurse), Kitty Winthrop (age 13), Venetia Winthrop (age 18), Silvie (10 year old Czechoslovakian evacuee), and Miss Edwina Paltry (midwife). Other women are included in the book, but are secondary characters.

My Thoughts:
Mrs. Winthrop who is the mother of Venetia and Kitty, would have been a wonderful main character. I wanted more of “her” story to be told. She had a cruel husband, an arrogant son, two teenage daughters, and a baby on the way. I was curious about Mrs. Winthrop all through the novel. I wanted more input from her than some of the main characters and I was disappointed by this.
The scheming midwife and her plan is not feasible. I do not believe it is realistic. However, it is a main plot for the book.
Venetia is a tart. I did not like her as a person until later in the story. I’m glad she developed and matured in her character.
My favorite character is Mrs. Tilling. She worked tirelessly to unravel and understand a plot.
The time period is World War II. The war is talked about in regards to its affect of turmoil, fear, and sadness for the village. The loss of life is a present threat.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is a book that’s had strong media coverage. Although I liked the book, it is not a strong like. The main reason is it did not pull at my heart strings, because the story is told through letters and journals. These are written in brief, just a few pages. I didn’t have time to become apart of a character before another character began speaking. The book does not jump back and forth in time like so many fiction books seem to do. However, there are several voices in the book shown in brief chapters all vying for my attention.

 

(Review) Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

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Publisher and Publication Date: St. Martin’s Griffin. Paperback edition, 2010.
Genre: Fiction.
Pages: 436.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Good.

Amazon

Summary:
Meredith and Nina are sisters. Their mother is cold, harsh and withdrawn. They grew up hearing fairy tale stories their mother told them. These stories are a mix of nostalgia and mystery for the sisters. Their beloved father was their source of parental affection and intimacy. Their father began an apple business. Later, Meredith took charge of the family business. Nina is a traveling photographer. Her job takes her to dangerous areas in the world. Meredith chose to make a life with her childhood sweetheart. Nina chose a nomadic gypsy life. The two sisters are brought together again after a significant event in the family. The fairy tale stories told by their mother will reveal a sobering reality of their heritage.

My Thoughts:
There are things I like about the book. There are things I dislike about the book.

What I like:
•World War II history through the memories of the mother.
•The mystery element of the fairy tale. Is the tale real or crafted?
•Nina’s vagabond life. Her life is polar opposite of Meredith. Not all siblings choose to dramatically do something different from the other. Each sister’s life brings a sharp contrast to the other. The lifestyles they chose had more to do with what they had and did not have as children. Their insecurities, fears; the inability to talk about hard stuff; a since of loss (something or someone); what they felt gave them a since of belonging and grounding.
•The ending has closure.

What I disliked:
•The fairy tale stories went on and on. In a since, Winter Garden is two stories with two time periods. I’m not a fan of fairy tales and this part I speed read.
•Both sisters are selfish. Both are feeding off something or someone, but not giving anything in return. This part is not significantly reconciled in the book, sort of, but not really.

(Review) Song Of Praise for a Flower: One Woman’s Journey through China’s Tumultuous 20th Century by Fengxian Chu, contributor Charlene Chu

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Publisher and Publication Date: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. November 2017.
Genre: Nonfiction, autobiography.
Pages: 488.
Source: Complementary paperback copy from Charlene Chu and Author Marketing Expert. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Rating: Excellent.

At this time, the book is free through Amazon Kindle Unlimited: Song of Praise for a Flower. 

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Co-author Charlene Chu, Fengxian’s first cousin, grew up in the United States and wrote the English rendering of Song of Praise for a Flower. A financial analyst well-known for her work on China’s economy and financial sector, she is quoted widely in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Bloomberg, Business Insider and other media outlets. She holds an MBA and MA in International Relations from Yale University. “Song of Praise for a Flower” is her first book. Charlene splits her time between Washington, DC and Hong Kong.

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Back cover shares the summary of book.

Fengxian Chu is now 92 years old. She was born in the 1920’s and this is the start of the book. She began to write out the story of her life in 1989 and completed it in 1992. The manuscript waited for a reading audience until Charlene Chu, a cousin from America, came to visit Fengxian in hopes of finding historical information about her family. Charlene contributed to the book, making historical corrections or filling in the blank on certain events. The book is equal parts written by Fengxian and Charlene. Fengxian is the voice and topic of the story.

Several reasons led me to give Song of Praise for a Flower an excellent rating.

•A detailed life account of the narrator, in both the logistics of living in China during the 20th century, and her thoughts and feelings.

•A brief history of the Hunan Province, including the geography of the landscape. Later, Guangdong Province is less remarked on by way of a history or geography lesson; instead, it is shown in the daily life of the narrator.

•The society and culture in China is a huge overarching theme in the book. There is a lengthy list of various topics under the heading of society and culture but these are a few: foot binding with women, prejudice between the different provinces in China, communism, family saga, relationships between husbands and wives, relationships between parents and children, family history, education, poverty, gender equality versus feudal, and opium addiction.

•An intriguing aspect of the story is communism. Fengxian Chu has (I think this is the right word) “adapted” to communism. She believes in the Communist Party despite the horrors and abuse of the early years. She feels communism has been good for women. Charlene Chu addresses this issue in brief in the “Afterword” section.

•Over a period of years various reforms took impact in China. The Communist Party pushed agricultural reforms, anti-religious reforms, education reforms, and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. All of these are explored in the book.

•Another interesting aspect of the story is the beliefs of luck, good fate or bad fate, good is rewarded and evil is punished.

Song of Praise for a Flower shows the remarkable life of Fengxian Chu. She represents Chinese women during this period who survived (and also died) during the horrors of the Japanese threat of 1930s and World War IIthe war between nationalists and communistscommunism, a changing society and culture, and extreme poverty.

“Now, in the final season of my life, I see that each of us is given only one chance at life. We must take advantage of every opportunity that life presents. For when we do not truly live, life loses its meaning.” Fengxian Chu.

pearl river

Pearl River in China