3 stars · Autobiography · Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Politics · thoughts

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming is the hottest book on the market right now.  It’s listed as Amazon’s number one best selling book, as well as the number one selling book in the Law, Lawyers & Judges and African-American and Black literature categories.  With over 7,800 reviews, this book is a hot topic!  I was/am a little bit apprehensive about reviewing this book because it is such a political hot button.  Many of the reviews reflect the reviewer’s political views rather than the book itself, which can be frustrating for reader’s wanting to know about the book itself.  My review is strictly on the reader’s experience and not my politics, beliefs or opinion of the Obamas.

Becoming is written in three parts.  The first section, Becoming Me, describes Michelle’s life from birth to meeting Barack.  The second section, Becoming Us, takes the reader through the Obama’s life and relationship as a couple, right up to the time Barack decides to run for presidency.  The final section, Becoming More, details the presidential campaign and the Obama’s eight years as the first couple.

For me, Becoming Me, was hard to get through.  There were so many details, so many names, so many memories.  This portion was incredibly long and very boring.  The writing felt haphazard and choppy, like Michelle had recorded her thoughts and later typed them out without planning or editing for a bigger picture or a cohesive story.  There were many memories that really resonated with me, as a minority female, that just didn’t get the stage time they deserved.  These big important memories that could have served as a connecting point for many young women across the U.S. were drowned in the memories of how orderly she kept her Barbies.

This section was also notable for its constant references to race, particularly in relation to white people.  I understand that she was trying to emphasize how large of a role race played in Chicago during her childhood and how difficult it was/is to be black or brown in America, even today, but the constant references diluted the message when those references were truly relevant and important.

This section was by far, a huge disappointment and I almost gave up reading the book.

Things switched gears rather quickly when Michelle met Barack.  As far the book goes, the writing for Becoming Us got much tighter, better edited and significantly more interesting.  This portion of the book feels like it was written by an entirely different person and I wonder if Michelle was more comfortable sharing these memories and the distance she could maintain in this section or if this portion of the book was edited by someone else.

There is no doubt, after reading this section, that Michelle loves her husband.  This part felt heavily filtered with positive PR and it did get a little old to hear about how amazing Barack was (over and over and over again).  The worst thing we learned about him was he smoked and couldn’t manage to put his dirty clothes in the hamper.

While Becoming Me felt like Michelle was struggling with how to connect to her audience, in Becoming Us, Michelle hits the right chord, sharing just the right amount of memory, emotion, and spirit to connect with anyone who has ever been married, hated their job, desired soulful work, balanced kids and reigned in or chased after ambition.  It was incredibly interesting to read about the Obamas as a new couple, their infertility, how they balanced work and family life and the struggle to keep their own identities and values amidst the political machine.

I appreciated how open Michelle was about her core fear of “not good enough” and how that tiny negative little message influenced many of her actions and decisions.  It was also very interesting to read about how an extremely ambitious and well educated woman grappled with her husband’s dreams and ambition.  Surprisingly, Michelle did not want her husband to enter the political arena and spent almost twenty years waiting for him to return to the private sector.

Becoming More was by far the most interesting portion of the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed  going behind the scenes and learning about the campaign process, the transition from president to president, living in the White House, the Secret Service and all of her First Lady initiatives.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the stories of their children growing up in the White House and appreciated how all of Michelle’s decisions revolved around her children and maintaining their family unit.

There are several major reoccurring themes throughout Becoming which I think other readers will find inspiring and valuable.  Chief among them is the importance of family and good meaningful friendships.  Michelle is deeply rooted in her family and cultivated friendships to last a lifetime.  Over and over again, we see friends and family as her source of strength.  Second, the value of an education.  Throughout the book, Michelle emphasized her belief in using education as a means to free oneself from your circumstances.  And finally, the power in accepting who you are and where your heart lies.  After a long battle with herself, Michelle gave up a prestigious high paying job as a lawyer to find work that was meaningful to her.  We can all appreciate what it means to do work that speaks to our soul and leaves us satisfied at the end of the day.

All in all, Becoming was just way too long.  Becoming Me gets a solid two stars.  This first section could have done with some heavy editing and extreme tightening.  Becoming Us and Becoming More could have and should have been the majority of the book, with a small section cherry picked from Becoming Me.  The latter sections were well written and incredibly interesting.  I learned a lot in these sections about political campaigns and how the first family operates within their roles and how they maintain a residence at the White House.  Four stars for these two sections.  Overall, 3 stars for Becoming.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R

 

 

Books Read · New Year · thoughts

Wrapping up 2018

Hey y’all!

It’s already February and I’m just wrapping up 2018.  It feels like the new year should start in the spring, not in the dead of winter!  It’s hard to gather momentum for a new year when it feels like we should still be huddled in a warm blanket, reading and drinking hot chocolate while eating popcorn and thick creamy soups.

Unfortunately the calendar doesn’t agree and the new year is well under way.  2018 wrapped up with a total of 54 books.  This isn’t including all of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries read nightly to the munchkin!  Looking back on this list, it’s obvious that MAGIC was the 2018 reading theme.   I’m amazed by the overwhelming number of Jeff Wheeler books on this list and a little blown away by how much of my reading life was spent in Fairy Tales.

2018 felt hard in all dimensions.  It was simultaneously emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting professionally, personally and everywhere else too.  It makes sense that in a year geared towards destruction my outlet would be in magic and wonder.  If my 2019 book choices are any different, 2019 may be focused more on growth and hopefully a little less on destruction!

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R

Book Review · India · tear jerker · thoughts

The Storyteller’s Secret: A Novel by Sejal Badani

Set in India during the reign of the British Raj, The Storyteller’s Secret weaves the lives of a long lost Indian grandmother and her American granddaughter together in an intricate pattern of love, duty, honor, tradition, and heartbreak.

Jaya, an Indian-American journalist, escapes the overwhelming grief of three miscarriages and an impeding divorce by following her Grandfather’s death bed summons, against her Mother’s wishes, to India.  Expecting to reunite with her estranged Indian family, Jaya instead finds herself in an empty house full of secrets and cared for by her Grandmother’s best friend, Ravi.  To ease her grief, Ravi gifts Jaya with the secret of her Grandmother Amisha’s story and the true history of her family.

The Storyteller’s Secret rotates through Amisha, Jaya and Ravi as narrators.  Badani does an excellent job of fleshing out each character and developing their story lines equally, which allows the story to flow and mesh seamlessly.  Badani does not gloss over India’s history of caste systems, the treatment of women or the living conditions in India.   Nor does she use these things for shock value.  These topics are presented very carefully and respectfully to the Indian culture while also very clearly showing how those practices and conditions affected the population.  This took a very fine balance and I appreciated the way Badani’s writing allowed the reader to empathize with the characters on a deeper level while also respecting Indian customs, history and culture.

I loved the smells, sights, tastes and physical aspects of Badani’s writing, as well as the emotional depth she gave each character.  While the majority of the story felt so very real and human, the ending took on a bit of a fairy-tale style wrap up.  The ending also felt rushed compared to the rest of the book, almost like Badani was limited in pages.  I would have loved a little bit more closure and a bit more of a messy ending.

All in all, the writing and the story were both beautifully done and with the last page, I was tempted to rush over to Amazon to buy a copy for one of my best friends.  Amazon readers seem to agree.  Despite being published a little less than five months ago, The Storyteller’s Secret already has over 5000 reviews.  It is also the number 1 Kindle Romance book and hits the top 10 in the Amazon charts for Cultural Heritage, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Contemporary Fiction.

If you’re looking for a historical fiction to take you out of your normal reading comfort zone, give The Storyteller’s Secret a read.

Until next time, Cheers!

-R

 

 

 

 

 

Biography · Book Review

The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines

Despite being published in 2016, The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines is hitting the Amazon charts at number 12 this week.  There has been a ton of momentum around this couple and their product partnership with Target has really taken them from the sphere of HGTV aficionados to main stream America.  Even my husband, who watches no TV and doesn’t participate in American pop culture, noticed he was seeing Joanna Gaines everywhere and wanted to know why.

While I love me some good HGTV, the Gaines weren’t really on my radar until a friend gifted me a subscription to The Magnolia Journal this fall.  It was such a cozy experience  curling up on the couch with a blanket and a cup of tea and flipping through the beautiful magazine pages.  I was hooked and needed to know more.  Enter The Magnolia Story.

The book reads like an extended interview  with the majority of the content coming from Joanna.  Chip chimes in every now and then to add extra details or his take on the story Joanna just told.  This adds a lot of fun and color to the story and makes it feel like you’re talking to the couple instead of just reading about them.  Different fonts are used to distinguish who is talking, which is helpful, but also confusing when Chip takes over for a few chapters and the fonts are flipped.

Their story is pretty basic (modern) American Dream.  Boy meets girl, girl isn’t sure, boy wins girls heart with totally unconventional means, they live happily paycheck to paycheck as blissful newlyweds, Chip’s insanely risky business ventures keep them one step ahead in the real estate game, they have a bunch of babies, make a name for themselves in small town Waco, Texas, land a super successful TV show, make millions of dollars, write a book, write a few more books, launch products at Target.

While the story had potential for high drama with all the risky business ventures and the tv show, things got a bit boring around the 75% mark.  At this point, there weren’t very many new stories to tell and they did not discuss their TV very much beyond how they got the show and the parameters set around the show to keep their home life as stable as possible.   Joanna’s slightly-complaining-but-really-in-love-with-Chip stories got a little old at this point and started to feel a little inauthentic, like she wanted us all to love Chip as much as she did.

All in all, The Magnolia Story was a super quick read and an enjoyable tale of a married couple supporting each other through their business ventures.  A little boring towards the end.  I prefer the magazine.  🙂

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R

 

 

 

Book Review · Hot Tea Reads · Self Help · thoughts

The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker

Happy New Year Everyone!

Just in time for all of our New Year Resolutions, I just finished the latest offering by Joshua Becker, the Minimalist guru from the blog Becoming Minimalist.  The Minimalist Home is Becker’s 4th book and continues his life’s work to inspire minimalism in the face of today’s rabid over-consumption.  This is by far Becker’s best writing. In the same way his blog posts have developed from personal musings to beautiful inspirations, The Minimalist Home is cleaner, stronger and more genuine than his previous works.  

Utilizing the floor plan of his flagship course, Uncluttered, Becker takes readers room-by-room in a whole house decluttering process.  Unlike other decluttering or minimalist books, Becker focuses on the WHY. Inspirational stories line each chapter, citing minimalism for positive changes in finances, mental well being, relationships and decreasing stress.  Becker also stresses against the idea that minimalists own absolutely nothing or live in snooty modern art-deco apartments full of white square furniture. His brand of minimalism feels authentic and attainable, a returning to our roots of sorts, rather than a total life overhaul.  

Readers who’ve taken Becker’s Uncluttered course may find the material rehashed in The Minimalist Home, albeit in a cleaner, stronger format.  Regardless, the material is a great refresher and this minimalist wannabe (and former Uncluttered participant) found great inspiration in The Minimalist Home.  My particular favorite and most needed chapters were those focused on the garage/yard and arts/crafts, categories not covered thoroughly in the Uncluttered Course.

One of the surprising take-aways in The Minimalist Home was the gentleness in which Becker approaches saying goodbye and letting go of our idealized selves.  Many of us purchase, keep or collect things because of who we want(ed) to be, rather than who we are. By letting go of these idealized self purchases, we can make room for our true selves to grow, bring light or happiness into other people’s lives or just make room to breathe without the imposed expectations (or perceived failures) looming over us in every nook and cranny.  

Becker also gently approaches the various stages in life that require different decluttering processes; new babies, multiple kids, empty nesting.  It’s this gentle approach of moderation and understanding as well as his standard “less doesn’t mean none” that I believe makes Becker’s message palatable to the masses.  He’s not asking you to give up everything and live uncomfortable and unhappily out of a backpack for the sake of minimalism. He’s asking you to take a look at your current self and who you’d like to be and then removing any physical barriers, literally, that impede you from being your best self.

All in all, this book is a quick and enjoyable read.  Ironically, the only part of The Minimalist Home that I did not enjoy was the “tweetable” boxed sections.  For an author and a book that focuses on developing an Iconic Style rather than falling prey to Fast Fashion, the tweet boxes feel a little out of place and will, in my opinion, date the book.  

I highly recommend The Minimalist Home, particularly for folks looking to create a calm peaceful home environment for themselves, their spouses, their children, their guests or even their pets.  I’ve followed the author’s blog for years now and have dutifully read each of his books and taken his course. His message resounds strongly in my soul and I have made many many big changes to my own consumption habits (including a mindful reduction in plastic consumption and mindful gift giving) because of his writing.

Happy New Year, Happy Reading and Cheers!

-R

 

Uncategorized

Author Review: Brittany Fichter

Y’all!  It has been so long since we’ve had a chance to discuss books and authors and all things reading.  I’ve missed the blog but have been busy surviving the whirlwind that composed September-December.  In the last few months, I’ve picked up a few new obsessions.  The first is Litographs!  This company prints entire books on tshirts, scarves, posters, and bags.  It is awesome!  My 2nd latest obsession is Brittany Fichter.

An excerpt from her retelling of Beauty and the Beast was included in the fall edition of Deep Magic.  It was absolutely stunning!  Of course after reading the first five chapters, I headed over to Amazon for more of her work and picked up Clara’s Soldier: A retelling of the Nutcracker.  Holy shit.  This book blew me away.  Fichter keeps the names of our beloved characters and a Christmas setting but does away with everything else, setting Clara squarely in post WWII America.  Clara was so well written and such a deep character, I found myself sighing and staying up way too late to finish the story.  Fichter also hits deftly and lovingly on the reality of loving a soldier.  Fantastic read.

I followed up Clara’s Soldier with the The Green-Eyed Prince: A retelling of the Frog Prince, Girl in the Red Hood and Silent Mermaid: A Retelling of the Little Mermaid.  These retellings are just incredibly well done.  Fichter takes old childhood tales worthy of maybe a few pages in a children’s book and develops them into these beautiful full bodied master pieces of love, magic and mystery.  The worlds she creates are stunning, as are her characters.  Girl in the Red Hood is quite possibly the best book I’ve read all year.  If you’re looking for something beautiful to read over the holidays or need a gift for a fairy tale lover in your life, I’d highly recommend any of the books by Fichter.

Until next time, happy reading friends!

Cheers,

-R

 

 

Cupa Tea · Favorite Books

My 5 Favorite Books of All Time

I browse Pinterest a lot and one of my biggest pet peeves is the unrealistic expectations that site brings to the table.  Unicorn cupcakes and Death Star hand carved pumpkins aside, my biggest beef is with the “Top 75 books you MUST read this fall!”.  Seriously? 75 “must read” books to be consumed in the 3 months of fall? Who writes these impractical lists and what reality do they live in?  It’s annoying.

Anywho, rant aside, the hubs got me a writing class for my birthday!  Excitement abounds! Right out of the gates, the instructor jumped to the merits of writing…you guessed it…LISTS!  Luckily, she’s much more reasonable than Pinterest and recommended lists of 10. (You got that Pinterest? 10…not 75).  So with her suggestion, I figured this week’s post would feature a list of my favorite books of all time.

In no particular order, I bring you my 5 favorite books of all time!

 

1. The Call of the Wild by Jack London  

No joke, this book actually put the fire of Alaska in me and when we finally made it to Denali and saw sled dogs in action, it was like a part of my soul broke loose and tore through the track with those big beautiful Huskies.

2. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders is the ORIGINAL teenage angst manifesto.  I’ve been in love with Ponyboy since the 3rd grade. This is one of those rare books where after reading, I sigh and start reading all over again.  And after that 2nd reading, I’ll turn on the movie and sigh all over again for the next two hours.

3. Who Rides With Wyatt by Will Henry  

This yard sale bargain box book hooked me on Westerns for life.  There’s something endlessly romantic and all American about cowboys, the Wild West and the fine line between right and wrong.  Did I mention “Tombstone” is my favorite movie?

4. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

This book is entirely responsible for my obsession with Arthurian legends.  Zimmer Bradley took a male dominated tale and turned it entirely on its head. The Mists of Avalon is an incredibly deep and rich tale that draw its strength from the strength of the female characters.  I have read this book at least once every couple of years since high school.

5. The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman

There are good books and then there are books that curl up and wiggle like worms into your heart and take up permanent residence.  The Light Between Oceans is the latter. I’ve never cried so hard while reading a book in my entire life. The pages were literally soaked and got all crinkly water-damagey.

If you have time to sit and read for several hours, I recommend the first three books.  If you’re looking for something longer than an afternoon read, The Mists of Avalon or The Light Between Oceans are fantastic books to curl up under a warm fall blanket and snuggle with.

Until next time, happy reading!
Cheers-

-R

 

thoughts

Am I Reading Too Much? An Honest Discussion with Myself

Y’all, I should probably just admit it and turn this into a Jeff Wheeler fan blog.  I am still reading books by this man and just when I think I’ve read them all, up pops another one on my Kindle.  I have no new book reviews for you this week that aren’t based in Wheeler’s imagination, so today we’re tossing obsessive reading habits aside and talking about when our hobbies, reading included, get in the way of real life.

I read for an hour every night before bed.  This habit was established at age 5 and at this point, it’s essentially part of my personality.  For the most part, this is a good habit.  My mind gets a break from “real life” while also being stretched to incorporate and explore new ideas, it’s relaxing, it’s enjoyable and you can read pretty much anywhere.

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed 5 days at Summer Camp which pushed me in so many new directions, in big ways.  It was such an inspiring week and I came home with a heart and mind full to overflowing with ideas, questions, and inspirations.  The biggest surprise, however, was coming away from camp thinking “Am I reading too much?”.

In those five days, I had plenty of time to journal, sketch, meditate, craft and bond with my bunk mates every night before bed.  These are things I have been missing a lot lately and they are all things that seemed to get lost in the priority shuffle.  Like reading, journaling, sketching, meditating and crafting are all quiet activities, require little space and can be quickly put away when finished.  The nightly “download” where the 10 of us circled and discussed our day was reminiscent of what a married couple should be doing nightly to reconnect and build the relationship.  So why were these activities that I enjoy getting ignored?  The easy answer was the 7-10 hours a week spent curled up with a good book and another 5-6 hours a week spent on running/exercise.  In my obsessive nature, I had traded other enjoyable activities for reading.

The first step is always awareness and being aware that I had prioritized reading so heavily over other activities was a very important first step.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be working on incorporating art and craft into hanging out with my kid, at least one night of Pilates or yoga before bed, and attempting to replicate the nightly “download” with the hubs, all while still maintaining my reading habits.  (Maybe just not as obsessively.)

Until next time, happy reading friends!

-R

Book Review · Bust · Self Help · thoughts

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

518iXO-fmcL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Hey Y’all!

I’m back from the best summer vacation ever, a 5 day summer camp in Michigan!  It was uh-mazing.  Camp fires, sing-alongs, yoga, morning runs, dance parties, lake swimming, adventure races, great food and bunking with 9 total strangers who became your best friends by the end of the trip.  I literally can’t stop talking about it.

The only (and I do mean ONLY) disappointment from this trip was my book choice.  Girl, Wash Your Face was highly recommended and discussed profusely over Facebook by one of my nearest and dearest.  Her opinion paired with a 92% 5 star rating on Amazon was enough to get me to purchase this book.  I want my $12 back.

Rachel Hollis is not a life coach or a mentor, she is a life-style blog guru and event planner, so Girl, Wash Your Face is not written in your normal self-help style.  This is refreshing but also a little bit annoying.  The chapters and story telling felt insanely disjointed and often repeated across different chapters but with new or different information.  Even after reading the entire book, I had no idea who Rachel Hollis was.  I didn’t know the name of her blog or why it was so famous.  I didn’t know how many kids she actually had.  2 boys?  4 boys?  A daughter?  Where they all adopted?  Some natural, some adopted?  I had no idea where she actually lived or came from.  Based on her voice, she came across as a girl from the deep south with lots of Southern colloquialisms and uber Christian values/sayings.  Surprise!  She’s from a small town in California.  WHAT?  Didn’t see that coming.  Was she a recovering alcoholic?  Someone who realized they were about to drop off that cliff?  Still don’t know.  Granted, none of these are things I know about Jen Sincero, Liz Gilbert or Mark Manson, however none of these authors talked so profusely about themselves in their books.  Hollis’ books is essentially a memoir with a few self-help-isms tossed in.  I love a good memoir, but prefer to read them about people I am interested in and would not have picked up Hollis’ book if it had been billed as a memoir and not a self-help.

Speaking of self-help, let’s get to that.  Hollis essentially starts each chapter with a “lie” she has told herself about herself, something negative and ugly.  This has the power to be profound, but it ends up feeling forced.  Something about Hollis’ writing comes across as insincere and flippant.  The entire book, in my opinion, comes across as immature, vapid and thrown together.  I think most of this comes from her choice to write in a very casual trendy manner, using words and cultural references that will in no way stand the test of time.  I am the same age as Hollis and couldn’t stand the blippy slang she used CONSTANTLY.  (And yes, I just made up a word because I can’t find any other words to describe what would otherwise be bubble-headed basic bitch slang.)

As mentioned before, there were a lot of stories that were repeated within chapters and many of those stories weren’t well fleshed out.  The most powerful story in the book, about her brother’s suicide and how it completely changed her life, wasn’t really given any more emotion or space than any other topic.

Hollis has a lot to talk about and a lot of experiences that really resonate with her readers; her brother’s suicide and subsequent melt down of her family, an abusive relationship, struggles with adoption and foster care, flirting with alcoholism, being a successful working mom, creating her own empire, becoming an author.  But she lets her readers down with her bubble-headed approach to everything.  Yes, be positive, be light, be fun.  But Girl, be smart, be mature, be profound.

All in all, 2 stars.  0 from me, 2 because my bestie loved this book and our discussion about it was very deep and brought up a lot of great topics for us to flesh out around motherhood, career and the need for validation.

Until next time, happy reading!

-R

OOOOHHH and before I forget..Michigan is apparently “The Beer State”.  While there, I was able to try some amazing beer from Founders Brewing Company.  Dirty Bastard, a Scotch, style ale was fantastic.  It was a very strong beer and tasted a little smokey, but good.  Backwoods Bastard, a bourbon barrel-aged scotch ale, was insanely strong.  At 11% this beer went down more like whiskey and was not a great choice for breakfast at the airport!

Book Review · Bust · WWII

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

51poiQYTPrL._AC_US218_Morning Y’all!

You know I just love a good historical fiction, with WWII and ancient history at the top of the list.  Between Jeff Wheeler obsessions, I was able to mix in Last Train to Istanbul by Turkish author Ayse Kulin.

Set in Turkey at the onset of WWII, this novel provides a very interesting and rare look into life for Turkish citizens during WWII.  While most of us know WWII was a “world war”, in the US, we tend to learn about the major players in the war as they pertain to us:  Germany, the United States, Japan and England.  We also learn about a very few crucial events:  Hitler’s rise to power, the concentration camps, German occupation of France, the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and the bombing of Hiroshima.  The actual scope and breadth of WWII is rarely touched on.  I’ve been astounded to read so many books lately that touch on the impact of WWII and what it really meant on a global scale and just how many countries and peoples were actually impacted by this war.

Last Train reads almost like two different books.  The first half of the novel follows the lives of two Turkish Muslim sisters, Sabiha and Selva.  What starts as a tale of sibling rivalry between two high school girls soon morphs into a tale of forbidden love as younger sister Selva, falls in love and marries Rafo, a Turkish Jew.  The two escape their families disapproval in France, but soon find themselves caught up in the German occupation of France.  While Selva and Rafo contend with the Gestapo in France, Sabiha who has married a Turkish diplomat, maintains her traditional life in Turkey.  Despite her husband’s position and their station, Sabiha grapples with depression, explores marital unhappiness, and battles excessive guilt over her sister’s situation, as she was the one who introduced and promoted her sister’s romance with Rafo.

In the midst of the sister’s complex relationship, WWII looms.  The second half of the novel breaks from the sisters and follows Selva through France.  She becomes highly involved in protecting her neighborhood from Gestapo and eventually joins the Turkish diplomats as they attempt to rescue and remove all of Turkey’s citizens from occupied France.  To accomplish this, the Turkish diplomats work tirelessly to arrange a special train to transport their people back to Turkey.  The second half of the book discusses the stress and strain as the Turkish diplomats track down citizens who have been caught by the Gestapo.  The last third of the book deals primarily with the train ride from France to Istanbul.

Because this novel was translated, I think a lot of the flow of the story was lost.  Right around halfway, there were 2 entire chapters dedicated to David Russo, who up until that point had not existed.  I had to reread the chapter before those, trying to figure out who and how David belonged in this story.   It wasn’t until a bit later that he fit into the book, so that was a bit confusing.  Once the book starts following Selva in France, the number of characters goes through the roof and it was difficult to keep track of who they all were and why they belonged in the story.  With that many characters, it was difficult for Kulin to flesh them all out, and there were a good many characters that could have been removed and not missed.

While the story of the Turkish diplomats rescuing their citizens was incredible, it didn’t get the attention or power it deserved.  It played almost as a back story to getting these folks on the train.  Unfortunately, the train ride itself was incredibly boring and didn’t express fully the anxiety, fear, and courage required of a group traveling with Jewish Turks through Nazi occupied territories.  They get on and off the train at a few stops, share some stories over food and wine, have their papers checked a few times, deal with cranky children and stinky bathrooms.  This section was God-awful boring.  In a bid to break up the monotony, Kulin threw in a rape scene, which felt incredibly forced and in no way related to the story overall.

 

Because Last Train was written by a Turkish author, it is very authentic in it’s cultural references and language.  However, as someone totally unfamiliar with Turkey and Turkish culture, I had a very hard time with many of the cultural references and words.  A small dictionary or section that helps explain these references and words would have been awesome.

All in all, Last Train providing some amazingly interesting Turkish WWII history but was not engaging on an emotional level.  The original may have been incredible, but the translation felt too technical and almost like it was translated verbatim rather than translated with the goal of communicating the flow and heart of the story.

Until next time, happy reading my friends.

Cheers,

-R