Goddess by Kelly Gardiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Kelly Gardiner’s Goddess is an engaging version of the life of La Maupin, Julie d’Aubigny, in 17th Century France. Julie is beautiful, smart, witty and feisty. This fictional account of her last confession (and basically retelling of her life) grabs the reader’s attention right from the get-go.
“Don’t hover in the doorway like that. Come in or piss off – I don’t care either way. Who the hell are you?”
This is how Julie greets the priest confessor in the first lines of the novel – and it sets the tone for the rest of the book really well. It is clear that Julie does not suffer fools gladly and she has confidence to burn. The road Julie travelled to become the famed swashbuckling opera singer, La Maupin, is full of twists, turns, heartbreak and humour and I thought Gardiner nailed her tone throughout. Julie learns to adapt to her surroundings quickly and learns that her looks are to be her fortune and her curse very early on. Despite her strong persona, there is always the feeling that just under the surface she is very fragile and on a knife edge emotionally. It is a great depiction of an enigmatic historical figure.
It is clear that Kelly Gardiner did extensive research for this book- even down to which operatic works La Maupin performed and where she performed them. You can check out this blog to learn more about La Maupin’s life here. I started reading this book having catalogued it into our Senior Fiction collection at work, but now realise it is definitely for a young adult/adult audience! The language, whilst completely in context, is quite prolific and the relationships in the novel are most certainly for a more mature reader.
I found this a most enjoyable read – this one is definitely for the grown-ups and would suit those who like historical fiction with a bit of romance and adventure thrown in. I look forward to reading Kelly’s next project with avid interest.
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is an engaging and simply told tale of Leon’s years as a child of the Holocaust. One of the lucky 1200 Jews on Oskar Schindler’s legendary list, Leon’s life was one of hardship, loss and terrible personal suffering. To not only have survived, but gone on to emigrate to the US and build a new life, is amazing and inspiring.
It is clear right from the outset that Leon wants to share his story so the sins of the past will not be repeated. It is interesting to read his reaction when he boards a bus in the South during the 1960s. Moving to the back of the bus, as he has always done (because as Jews they were always crammed into the back of the bus), he is told not to do so because that is where the negroes belong. He recalls being confused and saddened that such discrimination could take place in a country that called itself the land of the free.
The photograph of the page of Schindler’s list that contains Leon’s name (his real name is Leib Lejzon)is poignant, as are the photos of members of his family that were lost to the Holocaust.
Whilst the subject matter is, obviously, confronting, the style is suitable for Year 5 and up and could be used as a companion to Morris Gleitzman’s Once.
The Happiest Refugee: A Memoir by Anh Do
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I loved this biography/autobiography. I really hope the rumours I have heard about Anh not actually writing this book turn out to be false.
This is a story not just of Anh, but of his whole family and their triumph over very difficult circumstances. The writing style is VERY easy to read and I whipped through this in a day. The stories from Anh’s childhood are poignant and fascinating – there is much self-deprication here, and gratitude.
Certainly, as I read of the terrifying ordeal Anh’s family went through on the boat getting out of Vietnam, I realised just how lucky I was to be born here in Australia. The troubled relationship with his father and, later, the wonderful reconciliation were lovely to read.
Anh comes across as a loving son and brother, and his devotion to Suzie, his wife, is palpable. They truly seem like soulmates and it is clear by the end of the book that Anh is very happy with his lot here in Australia.
I thoroughly recommend this as a light but very interesting holiday read.