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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog MICHEL: FALLEN ANGEL OF PARIS by Hans M Hirschi (@Hans_Hirschi) A coming of age story, a love story, and a story of another pandemic that changed everything #LGTBI

Hi all:

Today I review a novel by an author who never fails to impress me (and to make me cry as well), one linked to the first of his novels I ever read.

Michel: Fallen Angel of Paris by Hans M Hirschi

Michel: Fallen Angel of Paris by Hans M Hirschi

Preparing to evacuate from an approaching hurricane, Haakon Chitragar stumbles upon the diary of his first love, Michel, who died from AIDS in his arms in November of 1986. Diary in hands, Haakon embarks on a journey back in time, to learn about Michel’s life, his difficult and painful path to accepting his true self, despite pressure from family, church, and society.

Michel – Fallen Angel of Paris is the story of one young man, one of countless victims of a pandemic still claiming lives every day, almost forty years after his death on a park bench in Paris. It’s also a story about the most unlikely of friendships, connections across time and space, acceptance, redemption, and learning to love and to be loved for who you are.

Michel – Fallen Angel of Paris is based on a character from The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. While both stories are intertwined, Michel can be read as a stand-alone novel.


Michel – Fallen Angel of Paris is a masterpiece. Brilliantly written, it tells a riveting, heartfelt story that shows that, in spite of all the crises (present and pre-existing) there is still reason for hope. Michel is an awe-inspiring and memorable read, impossible to put down.”

– Alina Oswald, Arts Editor, A&U Magazine

https://www.amazon.com/Michel-Fallen-Angel-Hans-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B09VCJ1GLY/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Michel-Fallen-Angel-of-Paris/dp/B09VCJ1GLY/

https://www.amazon.es/Michel-Fallen-Angel-Paris-English-ebook/dp/B09VCJ1GLY/

Author Hans M Hirschi

About the author:

Hans M Hirschi has been writing stories ever since he was a child. Adulthood and the demands of corporate life put an end to his fictional writing for over twenty years. A global executive in training and channel development, Hans has traveled the world extensively and published a couple of non-fictional titles on learning and management.

The birth of his son and the subsequent parental leave provided him with the opportunity to once again unleash his creative writing, writing feel-good stories you’ll remember.

Having little influence over his brain’s creative workings, he simply indulges it and goes with the flow. However, the deep passion for a better world, for love and tolerance are a read thread throughout both his creative and non-fictional work.

Hans lives with his husband, son, and pets on a small island off the west coast of Sweden. English isn’t his first or even second language. It’s his seventh!

Contact Hans through his website at http://www.hirschi.se.

https://www.amazon.com/Hans-M-Hirschi/e/B00E0DP0EE/

My review:

I was provided with an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I have been following Hans M Hirschi’s career for a few years now, and he is one of a group of authors whose books I immediately add to my list (and as close to the top as I can), as soon as I know they’ve published something new. I don’t hesitate. I know I’m going to get a book that will touch my heart, make me think, and will often deal with uncomfortable and/or controversial subjects (his adult books are never “light and easy” reads, but they are well worth the emotional challenge), whose characters I’ll get to know and love (or hate, sometimes), and a story that I will not forget. And, although the author explains that he had a pretty tough time of writing this book, and the whole process took him longer than usual, the results are up to his usual standards, if not better.

This book held another hook for me, as the main character had appeared in one of the author’s previous novels, The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, the first I had read by him, and one where I had been left hoping to know more about the background and the previous story of some of the characters. I agree with the author, though, that this book could be read and enjoyed without having read the previous novel, as the story told here is complete and fairly independent, and there is sufficient information provided to understand the few references to that book. And those who have read it, even if it was a long time ago, will enjoy catching up with some of the characters and getting a fuller understanding of the build-up to the events of that book.

This is a coming-of-age story. Perhaps because the future looks uncertain and dangerous and he is facing a crisis; when Haakon comes across his first love’s diary, he decides to read it. He had only read the bits related to their relationship, but they hadn’t known each other long, and there was much he didn’t know. We hear about Michel, a young boy of 12 when he gets his diary, living in Rennes. We learn about his family, his very religious (Roman Catholic) mother, and his father, very concerned about appearances. They used to live in St. Malo but when his father couldn’t carry on being a fisherman, they had to move somewhere with more opportunities. The family is never well off, and they struggle to make ends meet, although they don’t have any serious problems. As an only child, his mother in particular is always concerned about him and insists that he help at mass and that he meet the Monseigneur, for spiritual guidance. If you suspect the worst… Well, you’d be right. Michel doesn’t realise until many years later what had really happened, but he discovers he is gay, at a time when that was not easily accepted, thanks to some unlikely friends. He is lucky and finds support in an ersatz family (his real parents are not so understanding), although he is also a victim of hate crimes, and abuse, and has to live through pretty traumatic experiences. When things seem to be looking up, an illness that changed everything and took the lives of so many, strikes him down, allowing him only the briefest of glimpses at happiness. Haakon realises that there are many unanswered questions and important people in Michel’s life who deserve closure as much as he does. And he decides to put things to rights.

The novel explores issues like sexual identity, growing up in a small town and being “different”, religious faith and religious intolerance, traditional families and intergenerational conflict, LGTBI culture in the 1970s and 80s, AIDS, guilt, grief, acceptance, second chances, happiness, charity, sex abuse, intolerance and hate crimes, and friendship and love…

We get some of the story directly from Michel’s pen, but most of it is mediated through Haakon, and that adds a layer of interpretation and also his emotional reaction to what he reads. He learns many things he didn’t know about Michel, and there is also his own life and the present time to be taken care of. Michel’s story covers from 1976 (well, from 1964 when he was born) until 1986; there are also some small sections of present-day narration at the beginning and in the middle of the book, and once Haakon has finished reading the diary, the final section follows him and his husband in their trip to France, in the present.

I’ve particularly liked the way the story is told, as it allows us to see what it must have been like for Michel at the time, and also provides us with the perspective of somebody who is familiar with some of the issues and with bits of the story, but not all. There are heart-wrenching moments, moments that will horrify and upset many readers (be warned), but Haakon is exactly as Michel describes him: non-judgmental, kind, and understanding. Michel is harsher on himself and his behaviour than Haakon could ever be, and despite the hard and painful moments, the love story between the two is very moving. This novel also reflects a recent historical period, one that perhaps the younger readers will not be familiar with, but many of us remember what happened when the AIDS epidemic first appeared, and the panic, paranoia, and terrible consequences it had. There was a before and an after AIDS, and it is important to remember that it hasn’t gone away.

The author’s writing reflects perfectly the events, with the right amount of description to make the places, the people, and the era come alive before our eyes, and despite how difficult some parts of the story are, there are also extremely beautiful passages and scenes that will make a strong impression in all readers.

There is nothing I didn’t like about the story. The ending is not surprising, but that is not what the book is about. Hirschi has been called “the queen of unconventional happy endings” and he lives up to that title here as well. Yes, the story’s ending is not “happy, happy” but it is a good ending, everything considered. And it is a hopeful ending as well.

As usual, I recommend readers to check a sample of the book to make sure that the writing style will suit their taste, and, I have already warned of the type of content people can find here. As you will imagine, there is also sex in the novel. Although this is neither erotica nor pornography, and there are very few explicit scenes, readers take that into account when choosing to read this story.

If you enjoy good writing, are interested in the historical period, are partial to first-love stories, and are unlikely to be disturbed by an open and honest look at the coming of age story of a young gay man growing up in a small French town in the 1980s, you should read this book. If you’ve never read one of Hans M Hirschi’s novels, you’ll discover a new author to add to your favourites, and if you’ve read The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, you are in for a special treat.

Thanks to the author for his novel, thanks to all of you for reading, liking, sharing, commenting, and don’t forget to keep safe and keep smiling. 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog MATT: MORE THAN WORDS by Hans M Hirschi (@Hans_Hirschi) A challenging and beautifully diverse reading experience #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you the review of a book by an author I’m a big fan of:

Matt: More Than Words by Hans M Hirschi

Matt: More Than Words by Hans M Hirschi

Imagine…

…being locked inside your own body, unable to move at will, unable to speak your mind.

Born prematurely and with complications at birth, twenty-three-year-old Matthew Walker is neurologically injured and diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy. Unable to speak or voluntarily move his limbs, Matt depends on around-the-clock care and has never said a word—most people, including his mother, assume he never will. Then one day, Timmy, a new assistant to Matt’s care team, is sitting at the breakfast table with Matt when he notices a couple of regular taps from Matt’s right big toe. Has Matt finally found a way to break out of his involuntary prison?

Matt–More Than Words is the story of a life without that which most of us take for granted: the ability to communicate. It is a story of suffering, abuse, loneliness, family, friendship, love, hope, and—finally—a green light, a future.

“It is certainly daunting to walk in Matt’s shoes. You might not know anyone or ever have met anyone who has difficulty communicating to the extent that Matt has. But…these people exist.

“I am very pleased to see that a book like this one has been written, highlighting the situation of someone who has been unlucky to suffer such great difficulties with his body.”

—Eva Holmqvist, MSc, reg Occupational Therapist, Council Certified Specialist in Occupational Therapy, Sahlgrenska University Hospital

https://www.amazon.com/Matt-More-Words-Hans-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B085YCBMZC/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Matt-More-Words-Hans-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B085YCBMZC/

https://www.amazon.es/Matt-More-Words-Hans-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B085YCBMZC/

Author Hans M. Hirschi

About the author:

Hans M Hirschi has been writing stories ever since he was a child. Adulthood and the demands of corporate life put an end to his fictional writing for over twenty years. A global executive in training and channel development, Hans has traveled the world extensively and published a couple of non-fictional titles on learning and management.

The birth of his son and the subsequent parental leave provided him with the opportunity to once again unleash his creative writing, writing feel-good stories you’ll remember.

Having little influence over his brain’s creative workings, he simply indulges it and goes with the flow. However, the deep passion for a better world, for love and tolerance are a red thread throughout both his creative and non-fictional work.

Hans lives with his husband, son, and pets on a small island off the west coast of Sweden.

Contact Hans through his website at www.hirschi.se

https://www.amazon.com/Hans-M.-Hirschi/e/B00E0DP0EE/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.  We have just recently celebrated the sixth anniversary of the team, and it’s going from strength to strength. Don’t hesitate to visit if you’re a reviewer or a book lover either!

I have read quite a few of Hirschi’s novels and have enjoyed them all, and some are among my favourites in recent years. He combines some of the characteristics that I most admire in authors: he writes strong and diverse characters, no matter what particular challenges they might be faced with; he carefully researches the topics he touches on (even when some of them might seem only incidental to the novel, he makes sure nothing is left to chance) and uses his research wisely (never banging readers on the head with it); and he does not shy away from the ugliest and harshest realities of life, while at the same time always dealing sensitively and constructively with those. His stories are not fairy tales, and they force us to look at aspects of society and of ourselves that perhaps we’re not proud of, but if we rise to the challenge we’ll be rewarded with an enlightening experience. And a great read.

This novel is no exception. We follow the life of Matt, a young man diagnosed with cerebral palsy due to birth complications, for a few rather momentous months. The book, narrated in the third person, is told from three of the main characters’ perspectives. The novel is mostly Matt’s, or at least as good an approximation at what Matt’s experience might be as the author can achieve. It is a difficult task, and he expresses it better than I can in his acknowledgements at the end (‘How does one write about someone in whose situation you’ve never been? How do you give voice to someone who has none? And maybe, most importantly, how, without being insensitive, without objectifying, generalizing, stereotyping, in short without being a “dick”, do you tell a story that needs telling, about someone who could actually be out there, right now?’).  He also explains that he shared his early drafts with experts (people with cerebral palsy and their carers), and, in my non-expert opinion, he manages to depict what the daily life of the protagonist would be like. The other two main characters, Timmy, a professional carer who is Matt’s personal assistant at the beginning of the story but gets removed from his team due to a misunderstanding, and Martha, Matt’s mother, are also given a saying and some of the chapters are told from their perspective. Timmy is a lovely young man, a carer in the true sense of the word, and he has a real calling for the type of job he is doing. Martha is a devoted mother who found herself in a tough situation when she was very young and who has poured her heart and soul into looking after her son. Neither one of them are perfect (nor is Matt for that matter), and they make mistakes, lose heart and faith at times, and can feel overwhelmed or despondent, but they never give up and always have Matt’s best interests in mind.

Of course, I’ve already said that this is not a fairy tale. Far from it. We all know and have heard about some of the terrible things that happen: abuse, neglect, lack of resources, and although in this case there is no political and/or social oversight (Matt has access to a package of care and the family is reasonably well supported, something that unfortunately is not the case everywhere), somehow things still go wrong, and we get to see what it must be like to be the victim of such abuse when you are totally unable not only of physically defending yourself but also of even talking about it. Terrifying. Not everybody is suited for this kind of work, and it is sad to think that those in the most vulnerable circumstances can be exposed to such abuse. And yes, because of the level of need and the limited resources, sometimes the vetting procedures are not as stringent as they should be. (The current health crisis has highlighted how much we expect of some workers and how little a compensation they receive for their efforts).

Communication and how important it is to try and make sure everybody can communicate and become as independent as possible is one of the main themes of the book. The experience of living locked up inside your own body, with other people not even aware that you know what is going on around you and always making decisions for you comes through very strongly in the book. Matt knows and worries about how he is perceived by others, has internalised many of the attitudes he’s seen, and the comments he’s overheard, and many aspects of life we take for granted are like an impossible dream to him. Speaking, going for a walk, even deciding what to watch on television, are tasks beyond his scope. The research into ways to facilitate communication and to increase independence is highlighted in the novel, and the role new technologies (including AI) can play is explored. With the appropriate investment, there’s little doubt that this could make a big difference in the lives of many people.

Martha’s difficult situation (she wishes her son to fulfil his potential and be able to do what any other 23 years old normally does, but she’s also fiercely protective of him and does not want to get her hopes up for them to only be crushed again), the personal price she has to pay, the way she has to sacrifice any semblance of a normal life to keep looking after Matt, her worry about the future… are also convincingly depicted. And Timmy’s own feelings and his acknowledgment of his own limitations ring true as well. Family relationships feature strongly not only in the case of Matt, but also of Timmy, originally from Africa and adopted by Caucasian parents, a loving couple who accept him as he is, and Chen, Timmy’s friend and ex-boyfriend, whose parents are more understanding than he thought they’d be.

The writing style is compelling and descriptive, although the descriptions are focused on the emotions and feelings rather than on the outward appearance of people and things. I found the story moving, and although it is not a page-turner in the common sense of the word, I was totally engulfed in it and couldn’t put it down, even when some of the events were horrifying at times and made me want to look away.

The novel ends in a positive note, and I hope that in real life everybody in Matt’s situation will have access to a fulfilling life, if not now, in the very near future. As a society, we can do much to help, and we should.

This novel reminded me of Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (yes, the famous screenwriter who ended up in the blacklist, one of Hollywood’s Ten), whose movie version I saw as a teenager (also directed by Trumbo), and I’ve never forgotten. The main character there is a WWI soldier who is so severely injured during the war that he ends up unable to move and to communicate, or so those around him think. Although the circumstances are very different (the main character there had led a normal life before and has many memories, although if that makes his life better is a matter of opinion), and I’m sure this novel will appeal to people looking for a book focusing on diverse characters and exploring the world beyond our everyday experiences. As I’ve explained, it is not a comfortable and easy read, but one that will challenge us and make us look at life with new eyes. If you are up for the challenge, the rewards are immense.

The author told me that he’d also done a project where they had turned the story of Matt into poetry, together with a dancer. I share it here:

Thanks to Rosie and her group, thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and watching, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep safe and always keep smiling!

Categories
Book launch Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview and launch LAST WINTER’S SNOW by Hans M. Hirschi (@Hans_Hirschi) A love stronger than anything in the background of recent LGBT Swedish history

Hi all:

As you know, I’m on a mission to try and share the book review I had pending and get up to date, so rather than inundate you with them I’ll share as I read (although of course, I’m still trying to catch up on my reading list but we can keep hoping, can’t we?)

Today I bring you a special review. Not so much because the review itself is special (I always try my best although sometimes I’m more inspired than others) but because today is the launch day of the book. So it’s a great opportunity to get there and be the first to hear about the book.

Here it is:

Last Winter's Snow by Hans M. Hirschi
Last Winter’s Snow by Hans M. Hirschi

Last Winter’s Snow by Hans M Hirschi  

The story of native Sami, Nilas, and how he navigates life, trying to reconcile being gay as well as being Sami. Set over several decades, we follow Nilas and his Swedish partner Casper, as they build a life amid the shallows of bigotry, discrimination, and the onset of the AIDS crisis.

Last Winter’s Snow portrays recent LGBT history from a Swedish perspective, from the days when being gay was considered a ‘mental disorder’ to today’s modern anti-discrimination legislation and full equality. It’s also the story of one couple and the ups and downs of everyday life, as they navigate society’s changing rules and attitudes toward them and their relationship.

Last, not least, it’s a book that celebrates the rich history and culture of the Sami and their country Sápmi, as well as their ongoing struggle to achieve recognition and win back the right to self-determination over lands they’ve lived on for thousands of years.

Last Winter’s Snow is Hans M Hirschi’s first novel set almost entirely in Sweden, but it is the second time (after Fallen Angels of Karnataka) he takes his readers on a journey into the mountainous regions of Scandinavia in one of his acclaimed novels.

Here a video about the book:

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Last-Winters-Snow-Hans-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B06XMQJMD3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Winters-Snow-Hans-Hirschi-ebook/dp/B06XMQJMD3/

A bit about the author:

Author Hans M. Hirschi

Hans Martin Hirschi (b. 1967) has been writing stories ever since he was a child. Adulthood and the demands of corporate life efficiently put an end to his fictional writing for over twenty years. A global executive in training and channel development, Hans has traveled the world and published a couple of non-fictional titles. The birth of his son and the subsequent parental leave provided him with a much needed breathing hole and the opportunity to once again unleash his creative writing.

Having little influence over his brain’s creative workings, he simply indulges it and goes with the flow. However, the deep passion for a better world, for love and tolerance are a red thread throughout both his creative and non-fictional work.

Hans lives with his husband, son and pets on a small island off the west coast of Sweden.

Contact Hans through Twitter () or Facebook or through his website at www.hirschi.se

Personally, I can say that I often read the author’s posts and he does not mince his words nor is he afraid to talk about controversial issues.
You can also check his YouTube channel, as he regularly does video posts, the author cave that illustrate the life of an author.

Here is his Amazon author page:

https://www.amazon.com/Hans-M-Hirschi/e/B00E0DP0EE/

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this book prior to its publication and I voluntarily decided to review it.

This is not the first novel written by Hans Hirschi I’ve read. I’ve read The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, The Opera House, Willem of the Tafel, Spanish Bay… and, different as they are, have enjoyed them all. Mr Hirschi has the ability to create believable and engaging characters the readers care for, and he places them in backgrounds and situations that put them to the test. Sometimes the situation and the background might be familiar to a lot of readers, whilst on other occasions, we might know little about the place or the world they live in. And, Mr Hirschi’s books always draw attention to discrimination and oppression, making us question our beliefs and attitudes. This book is dedicated ‘to the oppressed minorities of the world’ and all the books I’ve read by this author could bear the same dedication.

I must confess to knowing little about the Sami community and their land, Sápmi, other than the images most of us might have of snow, reindeer and colourful clothing. The book opens with Nilas waking up to find his husband, Casper, dead in bed next to him. (I don’t consider this a spoiler, as it’s how the novel starts, after a brief introduction into Sami’s culture and history, and anybody who checks the beginning of the book will see it). Most of the rest of the book is taking up by his memories of his relationship with Casper, in chronological order, from 1982, when Nilas, a native Sami, goes to study in Stockholm, until the present. At the beginning of the story, he knows he’s gay but within his community, he hasn’t had much chance to experience what that mean in full, although he’s told his parents about it. One of the beauties of the book is that, although initially shocked by the news, his parents, from a tiny and many would think old-fashioned and traditional community, accept it (in fact, he discovers one of his uncles is also gay). At the other end of the spectrum, Casper, a Swedish student he meets in a bar in Stockholm, although living in a bigger community and seemingly a more cosmopolitan society, has not dared to tell his parents he’s gay as they are very religious and intolerant of anything other than what they see as the natural order. Nilas and Casper are made from each other, and the novel chronicles their relationships through episodes that illustrate events they go through, on many occasions linking them to events for the LGBT community in Sweden at large. We live with Nilas and Casper through the alarm of the AIDS epidemic, the uncertainty and the fear that an illness that seemed to target a specific group of the population created at the time. We also follow them through changes in career and moves, through the recognition of registered partnership and eventually gay marriage, through family disappointments, trips, success, heartache, illness and ultimately, death.

The relationship between Niles and Casper serves as a microcosm of the gay experience and history in Sweden (and, although with some differences, in many Western world countries). Theirs is an ideal relationship, their love stronger than anything. Although they are tested by external events, society, family, and work, they are committed to each other, exclusive and faithful from the beginning. (Perhaps this is an idealised relationship where there are some differences of opinion but these are quickly resolved and they are together against the world, especially at the beginning of the relationship). They are discriminated against at work, they have to face the AIDS crisis, family hostility (Casper eventually tells his family and he was right when he thought they wouldn’t accept it), assaults, put downs, incomprehension, insults, frustrations… They also find people who accept them and love them for who they are, mostly, at least at the beginning, people who have gay friends or relatives. And it’s true that studies show that exposure and knowledge are the best ways to fight discrimination and oppression. The lack of knowledge, the fear of anything or anybody different and unknown, the us against them mentality and the labelling as ‘other’ of those who aren’t like us are a sure recipe for intolerant attitudes.

The book is written in the third person, from Nilas’s point of view, and it contains beautiful descriptions of places (Sápmi, Stockholm and Gothenburg, the Maldives, Swedish islands, the house they move into…), reflections on nature, landscape, the importance of tradition, and what makes a place home and a people, our family and our community. We sometimes have to go a long way to discover who we really are and where we belong to. Mr Hirschi manages to balance the showing and telling by combining very personal experiences with more subjective and spiritual reflections.

I enjoyed the setting, the discovery of a place and a people I knew very little about (and judging by the author’s note at the end, I’d love to get to know more) and the way the characters and the story merge seamlessly to provide a personal, political (indeed, the personal is the political) and social chronicle of the recent events in LGBT history in Sweden. I particularly enjoyed the way Casper is adopted by the Sami community and how there is a parallel made between different types of oppression. This is an excellent book that could help younger generations understand recent LGBT history and will also raise consciousness about oppression and intolerance in general. And, we sure need it more than ever.

If you haven’t read any of the author’s books, you have a chance to get The Fallen Angels of Karnataka (you can check my review of the novel, here) free if you sign-up for his newsletter, here.

Thanks so much to the author for offering me the opportunity to read his book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, and CLICK!

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