Monday, February 2, 2009

Another Slight Deviation - 3 Novels Worth Reading



Another quick deviation to note three novels – none new I’m afraid – that have historical themes that I’ve read recently that I think worthy of note. As I'm snowed in at my house in England for a few days due to this ridiculous weather I've been sorting out some old books and found a few worthy of note. None of these books are China-related but I enjoyed them all for various reasons. If you like novels that use history as their basis these might be good reads.


Wrack – James Bradley – I strolled into a bookstore in London and saw Bradley’s Wrack on the shelves. I was surprised as I read the book a few years ago after he appeared at the Shanghai International Literary Festival. He was good, Wrack was good and as James was staying in Shanghai a while we had dinner a few times – he was fine company. The new edition of Wrack is out as James has been very successful in England with his novel The Resurrectionist which was a pick of the Richard and Judy Book Club (yeah, I know, they’re ghastly, but their endorsement shifts loads and makes you a few quid and James is a nice guy so he might as well have the money).


Anyway Wrack. An archaeologist is searching for a 400-year-old Portuguese shipwreck off the coast of New South Wales. Such a find would rewrite the history of Australia. But instead he unearths the body of a man murdered fifty years earlier, and begins to unravel a more personal kind of history. An elderly recluse, dying in a nearby shack, seems to know something of the corpse's identity - and also its

connection to the shipwreck. A good story based on the real issue that the Portuguese sailed along the Australian coast first which would make Britain’s claim on Oz a little harder to justify historically.


Small Island - Angela Levy – it took me years to get around to reading this much acclaimed novel and it is excellent. Levy’s novel covers multiple historical themes – the men of the West Indies who fought for Britain in WW2; the Home Front and the Blitz; the British army in India; women left to fend for themselves in war-torn London; the post-war Jamaican immigration to London etc. Levy handles all well and with good historical detail and background. The Independent on Sunday’s review summed it up best I think: “What makes Levy's writing so appealing is her even-handedness. All her characters can be weak, hopeless, brave, good, bad - whatever their colour. The writing is rigorous and the bittersweet ending, with its unexpected twist, touching... People can retain great dignity, however small their island.”


Blood of VictoryAlan Furst – I’ve plugged Alan Furst before in a Deviation Posting but if you want historical novels he is the best around. All are equally good but I just read Blood of Victory which is very good and has a White Russian theme. It’s November, 1940 and I.A. Serebin, a writer from Odessa and former decorated Hero of the Soviet Union, is on his way to Istanbul following a cryptic letter from a former lover. Ostensibly there on official business for the International Russian Union, an emigre organisation based in Paris, he is drawn into a clandestine world of international spies and political players. With war in Europe drawing nearer, Serebin is recruited by the British secret services - his mission to stop the export of Roumanian oil to Germany. In a race against time, Serebin's journey will take him from the glittering salons of Paris to the back alleys of Bucharest and the Black Sea ports, in a covert operation to staunch the flow of oil, the precious 'blood of victory'.


Anyway, three I thought worth reading if you haven't already.


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