Thursday, 27 March 2014


Spring Flowers, Spring Frost


Ismail Kadare

ISBN: 9781446419588

The story is set away from the main cities, in a town that is portrayed as a little behind in its attitude, as many country regions around the world are. In this small town, we meet Mark, an artist, who is trying to get to grips with many things in his life. He has a girlfriend who keeps disappearing to the capital for days on end. She seems to be embracing the westernised way of life a little ahead of Mark. Then there is the bank robbery in the town, another legacy of the change from the old style of rule?  
There is a rumour that the old style of law, ancient in its origin, is being reintroduced – blood for blood – with extended family members living in the fear of reprisals for harm you caused; kill a man and your whole family is in jeopardy.  Is there any truth in these rumours? They certainly carry more weight when the boss at the office where Mark works is mysteriously and brutally murdered. Mark finds a way to integrate into the areas where he might find out if this national state secret law is about to explode throughout the country.
And then we move to the ‘counter chapters’. Interwoven with this story is a fable of a woman who is married off by her family, to a snake. The initial introduction is a little off putting, but I found that the fable held as much interest as the modern story. It is quite difficult here to tell any more of the fable without giving away the full story of the whole book, but perhaps suffice to say that there is a point to it.

So what we really have is a book that is exploring the political history, the current ideology and the future fears for Albania. Should the country embrace the future Western attitudes? After all, there are now bank robberies, something that certainly wouldn’t have happened under the old rule.  Should the country have stayed with the old rule, it protected the citizens from the ancient rule of an eye for an eye?  It is written in crisp, tight fashion, and is a story that you can’t really fall asleep with, half way down the page. Certainly save this one for when the concentration levels are good. That is not to say it’s a difficult book to read, far from it. I found it enjoyable to read, thought provoking and left me wanting to know more; about the country, their politics and the author of this relatively short novel.

Sunday, 23 March 2014


In The Shadow of the Banyan Tree
Vaddy Ratner

There are books in this world that seem to demand to be read. They are the books that are easy to turn the page on, the one's you can't go to bed for and yet, sometimes, they make for terrible images that will leave a lasting impression, long after the last page is turned.

This stop on my tour of the world have taken me to Cambodia, in the mid '70's, and plunged me into a world, and part of history that I was only vaguely aware of. There is a little bit of me that has been left ashamed that it has taken this long to discover a piece of history of such magnitude, while all the time I was enjoying a glorious hot and sunny teenage life; where the biggest crisis was where the next pimple might appear on my face.

Written as a work of fiction - it clearly is not! As the author explains in her notes, literary licence has been exercised, but, fundamentally, an autobiographical account of the revolution in her country by the Khmer Rouge and her family's suffering at the hands of the new regime. The tale takes us away from their home, with all its comforts, into the rural farm life and enforced slave labour. We are swept along and become part of her family, bearing her losses with as much hurt and anger as she; no grief is allowed to be displayed, (it is an unnecessary emotion.) We share her hunger, despair, fear and loss, all borne with remarkable stoicism, what little surprise that she loses the will to voice her pains in the end.

But, it is also a story that speaks of people who cared for them, who tried to make their ordeal a little more bearable, and when they are added to the lovely descriptive views of the scenery that is Cambodia, then the works begins to become a little more uplifting, both in emotion and tone of the story. Her father, along with his oral stories, give us some wonderful philosophical views on humanity, life, death and remembrance.

It is hard to imagine that all of these events, spanning more than three years, didn’t scar the author for life, perhaps it did; perhaps writing the story serve to purge the nightmares. But perhaps the story was written as in homage to her father, and all he believed in. Whichever the reason, this book must serve as a reminder to us all what perverted power can do to a country, whatever the motives. This really is a ‘must read’.