Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas #AtoZ

This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.

Dylan Thomas’ “play for voices” Under Milk Wood was devised as a radio programme.

It follows the inhabitants of Llareggub, a small, fictional fishing village in Wales. Using a mixture of first and second person narration, we get to experience the villagers’ dreams and everyday interactions with each other.

There is not much plot as such. But with a whole cast of varied characters, all with their own dreams, regrets, problems and lives, there is never a dull moment.

As is common in small towns and tight-knit communities, everyone has a big secret to keep hidden and old ghosts that haunt them. Behind the socially obligated pleasantries and forced smiles lies a host a contempt and murderous thoughts.

Dylan Thomas’ writing style is beautiful with its lyrical wordplay and poetic descriptions which conjure up the village and the folks living in it. Thomas’ language is almost musical, packed with metaphors, imagery and hilarity. As Under Milk Wood is intended to be read and heard, rather than read, the full effect of the play becomes apparent when you read out loud or listen to one of the many great recordings of the play.

We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under Milk Wood.


My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Title: Under Milk Wood
Author: Dylan Thomas
Publisher: Penguin Books
Release Date: February 3, 2000 (originally published in 1953)
Pages: 112
ISBN:  978-0140188882

Kim by Rudyard Kipling #AtoZ

This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.

Rudyard Kipling’s Kim is one of those childhood stories that stays with you.

Kim is the orphaned son of an Irish soldier stationed in Lahore, which back in the nineteenth century when the story takes place, was still part of British India.

He’s a street-smart beggar and a vagabond, and so accustomed to living among the poorest of the poor in Lahore, that barely anyone notices that he is white, a sahib, and not Indian.

Reflecting both the time of its creation and Kipling’s own childhood in India, Kim is full of  colonialism, imperialism and even racism, however, Kipling is a wonderful storyteller and this tale has stood the test of time.

Kim is brilliant, even though he has had no formal education and barely knows about his heritage. He meets a lama who is in search of a river to wash away his sins. They join together, and Kim becomes the lama’s chela, his student. From these humble beginnings, the story soon turns into one of espionage when Kim’s craftiness is discovered and he is sent to school to become a surveyor and help in the Great Game. Kim is torn between his role as a chela, and the espionage business he seems so proficient at. At the heart of it, it’s a beautiful and touching story about the friendship between Kim and the lama. Their relationship is unbelievably moving as the two care very much about each other, and while Kim understands the lama’s spiritual nobility, he is still hindered by his more earthly ambitions. It’s a relationship built on companionship and mutual respect.

Kipling’s descriptions of India are incredibly evocative, colourful and nuanced. They bring India to life in such rich and layered detail that all that’s missing is the smell of the spices to make it palpable. It’s a story for every reader – it’s got a quest, espionage, friendship and spirituality, but it’s also full of interesting individuals and quite possibly the richest and most colourful description of India ever put on paper.


My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Title: Kim
Author: Rudyard Kipling
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: October 25, 2012 (first published in 1901)
Pages: 336
ISBN:  978-0141199979

Into the River by Ted Dawe #AtoZ #60Books

This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge. Also part of my 60 Books Challenge: A banned book.

Into the River by Ted Dawe is a coming-of-age and loss-of-innocence story which, albeit briefly, became the first book to be banned in New Zealand.

The story is about a Māori boy called Te Arepa “Devon” Santos. Having grown up on the rural East Coast, the fourteen-year-old boy wins a scholarship to attend an exclusive boy’s boarding school in Auckland.

Like many young adult novels set in schools and featuring teenagers as the main characters, the book contains its fair share of references to drugs, sex, racism, bullying and foul language. However, none of these things warranted an interim restriction for this book. Maybe those who sought to ban this novel are out of touch with what goes on between teenagers at school.

What becomes clear to any reader is that teenagers deal with many problems, ranging from peer pressure, the complex relationships between adolescents, confusion, sexual exploration, vulnerability, to loss and survival.

Yes, some swear words are used. But not so much so that the book would require a Parental Advisory sticker. Yes, there are sex scenes. However, there is steamier fanfiction on the internet – written by actual 14-year-olds – than any of the scenes in this book written by a 60-something teacher.

It’s evident in his flowing dialogue and the way the characters interact, that at least some of the behaviour is based on observation. By making the main character Māori, Dawe not only highlights the culture and the way Te Arepa tries to follow in the footsteps of his iwi’s (tribe’s) and whanau’s (family’s) ancestors, it also highlights New Zealand’s multiculturalism and the way the two languages – English and Te Reo (Māori) – have merged. While readers unfamiliar with kiwi expressions may stumble over some of the Māori vocabulary, they also leave no doubt about the society this story is set in.

Dawe’s writing style is fast and vivid, making his readers feel like part of the story. Not many Pākeha men would make the protagonists in their stories Māori and do so believingly without belittling a whole culture. But Dawe pulls it off. The only thing making it obvious that a white man wrote the book, rather than a Māori, is that traditional cultural aspects Te Arepa would have grown up with and which would have informed the way he views the world play a smaller part than they probably should.

Into the River is a brutally honest look at adolescence. Instead of trying to ban this book, maybe parents should openly discuss the issues it addresses with their teens.

My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Title: Into the River
Author: Ted Dawe
Publisher: Mangakino University Press
Release Date: August 31, 2012
Pages: 279
ISBN:  978-0473205089

#WeekendCoffeeShare: If We Were having Coffee… On April 10

Welcome to the Weekend Coffee Share, a blog hop by the lovely Diana over at Part Time Monster. Every weekend we get together for virtual coffees and a little casual chat.

If we were having coffee, we’d sit outside in the glorious sunshine. I’ve cleaned the patio and garden furniture, and the trees are finally blooming again so it’s an explosion of green out here. The grass is a bit high, but I love a wild garden. It’s pretty and whimsical, and there are spring flowers like daffodils and crocus flowers everywhere.

If we were having coffee, we’d inevitably talk about books while sipping our brews. What have you read this week?

I’d tell you that I’ve read some NetGalley ARC’s I recently got access to. One was a travelogue called Last Tango in Buenos Aires, the other was a poetry collection called Leave This Song Behind. Being a travel writer myself, I really liked Last Tango. It’s been a while since I read a proper travelogue, and I’ve gottwo more on my To-Read/Review list: Braving It and Street of Eternal Happiness. I’m usually not one for poetry and it’s been years since I last looked at a poetry collection. And I have mixed feelings about Leave This Song Behind. While some were really good, others came across as pretentious, and more than once I was left baffled whether such a random collection of words could really be called poetry. My reviews will follow soon.

I’ve been quite busy with the A to Z Challenge. This week was the first proper week, and I’ve written reviews for Cross Bones, Down Under, Everything Is Illuminated, Fahrenheit 451, Gulliver’s Travels and Holy Cow. It’s going quite well, and I’ve now actually found a book for every letter!

Have you seen my Instagram A-Z Challenge yet? For every book I review on the Challenge, I’m trying to get a cover picture as well (as long as I still have the book).

Over the next few days and weeks, I will be posting more reviews with the #60Books hashtag. My own Reading Challenge is for 60 Books according to various topics, and I started reading and reviewing on my other blog. Whenever I have a bit of free-time, I will migrate the reviews over to Literati Girl.

Thank you for having coffee with me. Same time, next week?

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury #AtoZ

This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.

Book burning has long been a form of censorship in this world. But Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451 takes that premise further into a shocking and grim all-too-near future.

Media controls the world. There are televisions in every household,the parlor walls one consistent wall of TV screens, all with different, censored channels. Books are banned. The fire brigade these days only has one job: set fire to each and every book they find.

Meeting a young and liberal neighbour turns the world on its head for fireman Guy Montag. He begins to question his own life and happiness. When he is forced to burn the house and library of an old woman he acts on a whim and rescues one of her books. Seeing the lady setting herself alight rather than give up her books deeply touches Guy. But his wife dismisses his attempts to talk about anything that didn’t come from “the walls,” and Guy soon realises that his wife and her friends are utterly vacant of independent thoughts and ideas.

The story is a cautionary tale about state censorship and the dangers of an illiterate society. As Guy and his one confidant become outcasts of society, hunted by a book-detecting mechanical hound, and forced to destroy everything they hold dear, one thing becomes clear: you cannot kill a story, no matter how hard you try.

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the mid-twentieth century. It is deeply unnerving and thought-provoking to realise that his dystopian version of the future, ruled by state-dictated mass media and in which books are seen as obsolete at best and dangerous at worst, because they contain ideas and knowledge the state does not want anyone to see, may already be our reality. More than 60 years later, the story remains as relevant as ever, as our society inches closer and closer to his dystopian future. Mankind has burned books. Continues to burn and ban books because they hold controversial ideas. People would rather talk about reality TV shows and trivial topics rather than addressing big issues and emerging ideas.

Fahrenheit 451 should serve as a reminder, that books are necessary in a well-informed and free-thinking society, in which history books can still warn of the mistakes made in the past. It’s been 60 years since the book was published. It seems we still have not learned that lesson. And it makes readers really wonder: are we already living in Bradbury’s dystopia?


My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Title: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date:  April 1, 2004 (originally published in 1953)
Pages: 186
ISBN: 978-8445074879


P.S.: The title, Fahrenheit 451, references the average temperature at which paper auto-ignites. Fitting, therefore, for a novel in which books are burned. Nowadays, the auto-ignition range for paper is set from around 440° Fahrenheit to around 480° Fahrenheit as it depends on the type of paper used.

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer #AtoZ

This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer manages to be simultaneously hilariously funny and deep-reaching.

When it comes down to it, the story is about an American Jew travelling to Ukraine in search of the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during the Nazi liquidation of his family’s village. The American in question is called Jonathan Safran Foer, and knowing very little about Ukraine and the local language, he needs some local help to find the woman only known as Augustine.

This local help comes in the form of Alex, a young man who loves all things American and calls Jonathan “the hero.” Alex becomes Jonathan’s translator and friend – the only problem is that although he does speak English, he constantly malappropriates words as learners of English as a second language are wont to do, and his pop culture references are just this side of out-of-date.

Part of the book is told by Alex, the other by Jonathan, often in the form of letters between the two friends. Alex’ parts are written in the way he speaks. Anyone who has had to learn English as a foreign language will understand his hilarious struggles. The words are not wrong as such – just wrong in the context. So instead of spending money, Alex may “distribute currency.” It takes about 20 pages to get your head around his way of using the language, but once caught on, it becomes laugh out loud funny. Helping Alex and Jonathan, are Alex’ “blind” grandfather who serves as Heritage Touring Company’s guide and driver, and his supposed guide dog – or as Alex puts it “the deranged seeing-eye bitch”, which they call Sammy Davis Jr., Jr.

Everything is Illuminated is highly entertaining, despite the blatant self-insertion by the author. It handles a difficult subject beautifully, and shows the funny and extraordinary sides of every day things, like language, family, friends and love.

My Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Title: Everything is Illuminated
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Publisher: Penguin Group
Release Date:  June 5, 2003
Pages: 276
ISBN: 978-0141008257