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#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview DO YOU REALIZE?: A NOVEL by Kevin Kuhn (@Big_Kuhna). An inspiring read that will challenge your beliefs.

[amazon_link asins=’0399184414,B00U6SFUSS,1878424114,1481900803,0399185046,8854410624,0813343062′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’0a35eb57-a5c7-11e7-93f1-dd86c980b6ba’]Hi, all:

Today I bring you another review I’ve written for Rosie’s Book Review Team. Rosie kindly sends us updates with the new books and if the description intrigues me I go and check the book and sometimes read a sample. I was intrigued by this book but although when it got into the list I had too many reviews pending, I could not resist. It was well worth it.

Do You Realize?: A Novel by Kevin Kuhn
Do You Realize?: A Novel by Kevin Kuhn

Do You Realize?: A Novel by Kevin Kuhn

A 2017 Readers’ Favorite Bronze Medal Winner for Visionary Fiction and a 2017 National Indie Excellence Award Finalist.

George is a middle-management, middle-class, middle-aged guy who hates his job and struggles to stay connected to his wife and teenage children. Most guys might end up with a steamy affair and a flashy car for their midlife crises, but George gets a quirky philosophical physics professor named Shiloh. Trapped with this mysterious misfit on his morning commuter train, George is dragged into awkward conversations about love, fear, music, and the meaning of life. Shiloh also asks George to beta-test an app he wrote for the new Apple Watch–and with a free watch included, how could he say no?

When tragedy strikes, throwing George out of his uncomfortable comfort zone, he learns that Shiloh’s app lets him journey through alternate versions of his past. As challenges mount in his own reality, George must make a decision that will change him–and possibly the entire multiverse–forever.

https://www.amazon.com/Do-You-Realize-Kevin-Kuhn-ebook/dp/B06VX1QQHX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Do-You-Realize-Kevin-Kuhn-ebook/dp/B06VX1QQHX/

Author Kevin A. Kuhn
Author Kevin A. Kuhn

About the author:

Kevin Kuhn lives in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, with his wife Melinda, three children, and two fierce schnoodles. He is a technology executive who enjoys sipping cheap bourbon, avoiding yard work, and living vicariously through his children’s sports. While Kevin has no musical skill whatsoever, he appreciates a broad spectrum of artists from Pink Floyd to Prince and Radiohead to the Rolling Stones. His golf game is horrific with flashes of mediocrity.

https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-A.-Kuhn/e/B01N10T2O6/

My review:

I’m reviewing this novel on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie and to the author for this opportunity. If you are an author and are looking for reviews, you can check here.

It is a bit difficult to categorise this story. It is not straight science-fiction, although there are sci-fi elements (a strange app that allows people to travel between dimensions and parallel universes), elements of family drama (a man in crisis who can no longer stand his job, whose teenage children are having difficulties, whose relationship with his wife is starting to suffer, and who experiences a number of tragedies in his life), and much discussion about the philosophy of life, humanity, the future, and matters that could fit into the category of spiritual and inspirational literature.

The novel follows the story of George, who has a managerial position in an insurance company but hates his job, and whose whole life seems to have lost its zest and momentum. He meets a man in the train, Shiloh, who asks him interesting questions (all related to song titles that also serve as chapter titles) that make him think and who keeps challenging his beliefs. At some point, he gives him an Apple watch and tells him to test an App of his creation. This App allows him to travel to his own past, only it is not his real past. He can travel to a parallel dimension and relive a day in his life, but instead of his real life, it is the life of a different version of him in that dimension. So his experience in that world is not necessarily the same but it has many points of contact with the one he already lived through. Whatever happens in one version of the world does not impact another. Although to begin with, he travels with the intention of changing things in his present, he soon realises that is not possible. He becomes frustrated as he is not sure why he has been chosen or the whole purpose of the experiment and Shiloh is less than forthcoming. George needs to come to terms with what his life is really about and learn what is really important.

There is nothing peculiar or remarkable about George at first sight. He loves his wife, Elena, a stay at home mom, but their relationship has become lost in everyday tension, problems, and stress. He is not particularly insightful and his life does not appear to be important. It is not evident why Shiloh has chosen him. Perhaps the fact that there is nothing particularly remarkable or peculiar about him is intended to make the readers find it easier to put themselves in his shoes and follow the process, as he is a very familiar and recognisable character, even if we do not share his personal attributes or his life story.

I liked the interaction between George and Shiloh and the fact that he was a pretty mysterious but engaging character. I liked his T-shirts (always with funny puns on Physics-related subjects) and his enthusiasm. His interactions with George were definitely more tell than show, and they made me think at times of Philosophy treatises, like Plato’s Dialogues, even if the ideas were based more on concepts and theories of modern Physics, Ethics, music, and even sports.

The novel is divided into a number of sections. First, we have the conversations between George and Shiloh that I found illuminating and fascinating, although at times they could be frustrating and somewhat repetitive; especially when George seemed a bit slow in understanding some of the ideas and the concepts.

Second, we have George’s everyday life, where we get to know his wife, and his daughter, and son, although I felt I knew more about the children than about the parents, particularly George. That is likely due to the fact that the story, although told in the third person, is told mostly from George’s point of view (until the very end of the novel, where we see Shiloh’s perspective), and although he shares some memories, he reflects and thinks more about his family than he does about himself. They are all nice at heart and, in many ways, their problems are very much those of a fairly privileged society, until tragedy strikes.

Third, we have the chapters where George travels in time and he starts to realise what his life is really about.

And last, but not least, there are the dreams. One of the side effects of those trips are very vivid and weird dreams and these seem to be consist of visions of what most of us would think time travel would be like, as these dreams take him from prehistoric times to a faraway future.

Although I was not sure how connected I felt to George’s character, towards the end I felt engaged with him and his family (perhaps because I could personally relate to some of the things they go through as a family). Although it was more of an intellectual experience than an emotional one for most of the book, I did become attached to the family by the end. And the book gave me much to think about.

The book reminded me a novel I read not long ago, The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello (you can check my review here), and although the stories and the writing styles are quite different, both of them went beyond the plot to question much bigger things.

The novel flows and ebbs. It is not a fast read, but it is an engaging one and I wanted to keep reading, intrigued, like the protagonist by what Shiloh would come up with next. I did not find his explanations of physics, ethics, and other concepts complex to understand and, apart from some moment of irritation when George seems to find it difficult to accept and understand what is happening, I found the style of writing easy to follow, with heavy moments and some lighter ones, and I thought the balance between the theoretical discussions and the life drama was well-achieved for most of the book.

I’d recommend this book to people looking for inspiring books and books providing bite-size information about recent theories in Physics, Ethics, and views of the world we live in that will make them think about the future and reconsider their priorities. I think lovers of music (Rock and Roll in particular) and sports will enjoy it in particular.This is not a book full of action for those who love adventures, or a standard sci-fi book, so I’d recommend readers to check a sample of the book and see how they feel.

Thanks to Rosie for her efforts and for offering us such great books, thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and of course, REVIEW!

 

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#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview THE PLANCK FACTOR by Debbi Mack (@debbimack) For readers with a good attention span who enjoy Hitchcockian suspense set within the world of science and books about writers

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book that I think will be of interest to a lot of you, especially the writers and those who like suspense thrillers. Another one of the discoveries through Rosie Amber’s Books Review Team (if you’re an author seeking reviews, check here).

The Planck Factor by Debbi Mack
The Planck Factor by Debbi Mack

The Planck Factor by Debbi Mack

“sharp, current and witty” — Terry Tyler (GoodReads Review)

On a dare, grad student Jessica Evans writes a thriller, creating a nightmare scenario based upon the theory that the speed of light is not a constant—one that has a dark application. Her protagonist (the fiancé of a scientist killed in a car crash) is pursued by those who want to use the theory to create the world’s most powerful weapon.
However, Jessica is soon running for her life when events mimic that of her protagonist. She’s threatened by terrorist conspirators who intend to use the knowledge to create an event that causes mass destruction. As the clock ticks down, Jessica must put the pieces together and avert a global catastrophe.

Inspired by a true story about a scientific challenge to Einstein’s theory of relativity.

“Thoroughly intriguing! A real page-turner.”
— Zoë Sharp, author of the best-selling Charlie Fox series

“Does art hold a mirror to life? Or does life mirror art? New York Times best-selling author Debbi Mack builds this surprising thriller layer upon layer with an ending that will make you want to read it all over again.”
— Donna Fletcher Crow, author of An All-Consuming Fire, The Monastery Murders

“Mack takes her reader on a roller-coaster ride with science, imagination, and a terrible possibility.”
— Peg Brantley, author of the Aspen Falls Thriller series

“[A] sleek tour-de-force exercise in Hitchcockian suspense about domestic terrorism, in which the McGuffin is a novel-within-the-novel and the novelist and her work intersect in unpredictable ways. Reality and fiction clash and spar for supremacy until the final paragraph.”
— W.D. Gagliani, author of Wolf’s Blind (The Nick Lupo Series) and Savage Nights 

Links: 

https://www.amazon.com/Planck-Factor-Debbi-Mack-ebook/dp/B01M19IP9Q/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Planck-Factor-Debbi-Mack-ebook/dp/B01M19IP9Q/

Author Debbi Mack
Author Debbi Mack

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Debbi Mack is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sam McRae Mystery Series. She’s also published one young novel. In addition, she’s a Derringer-nominated short story writer, whose work has been published in various anthologies.

 Debbi is also a screenwriter and aspiring indie filmmaker. Her first screenplay, The Enemy Within, made the Second Round in the 2014 Austin Film Festival screenplay contest and semifinals in the 2016 Scriptapalooza contest. 

A former attorney, Debbi has also worked as a journalist, librarian, and freelance writer/researcher. She enjoys walking, cats, travel, movies and espresso.

https://www.amazon.com/Debbi-Mack/e/B001K8UGIC/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely decided to review.

This thriller (technothriller according to Amazon) tells a complex story, or rather, tells several not so complex stories in a format that can make readers’ minds spin. A thriller about a student who decides, on a dare, to write a genre book (a thriller) and whose life becomes itself another thriller, one that seems to mix spies, conspiracies, terrorism, the possibility of the end of the world, and it all relates to quantum physics. (Or, as she describes it in the book: “…a suspense story with a hint of science fiction and a touch of espionage at its heart.”) The parallelisms between the story of Jessica Evans (the protagonist) and that of her fictional character, Alexis, become more convoluted and puzzling as the book progresses and the astounding coincidences will ring some alarm bells until we get to the end and… It is a bit difficult to talk about the book in depth without giving away any spoilers, but I’ll try my hardest.

This book will be particularly interesting for writers, not only because of its storytelling technique (talk about metafiction) but also because of the way the main protagonist (a concept difficult to define but Jessica is the one who occupies the most pages in the book and her story is told in the first person) keeps talking (and typing) about books and writing. No matter how difficult and tough things get, she has to keep writing, as it helps her think and it also seems to have a therapeutic effect on her. It is full of insider jokes and comments familiar to all of us who write and read about writing, as it mentions and pokes fun at rules (“Show, don’t tell. Weave in backstory. Truisms, guides, rules, pointers—call them what you will… And adverbs. Never use an adverb.”) and also follows and at the same time subverts genre rules (we have a reluctant heroine, well, two, varied MacGuffins and red herrings, mysteries, secrets, traitors and unexpected villains… and, oh yes, that final twist).

Each one of the chapters starts with the name of the person whose point of view that chapter is told about —apart from Alexis’s story, told in the third person, written in different typography, and usually clearly introduced, there are chapters from the point of view of two men who follow Jessica, so we know more than her, another rule to maintain suspense, and also from the point of view of somebody called Kevin, who sounds pretty suspicious— and apart from Jessica’s, all the rest are in the third person, so although the structure is somewhat complex and the stories have similarities and a certain degree of crossover, there is signposting, although one needs to pay attention. Overall, the book’s structure brought to my mind Heart of Darkness (where several frames envelop the main story) or the Cabinet of Dr Caligary (although it is less dark than either of those).

As you read the story, you’ll probably wonder about things that might not fit in, plot holes, or events that will make you wonder (the usual trope of the amateur who finds information much easier than several highly specialised government agencies is taken to its extremes, and some of the characteristics of the writing can be amusing or annoying at times, although, whose story are we reading?) but the ending will make you reconsider the whole thing. (I noticed how the characters never walked, they: “slid out”, “shimmied out”, “pounded”, “bounded down the steps”, “clamored down”…) As for the final twist, I suspected it, but I had read several reviews by other members of the team and kept a watchful eye on the proceedings. I don’t think it will be evident to anybody reading the story totally afresh.

The novel is too short for us to get more than a passing understanding and connection with the main character, especially as a big part of it is devoted to her fictional novel, (although the first person helps) and there are so many twists, secrets and agents and double-agents that we do not truly know any of the secondary characters well enough to care. Action takes precedence over psychological depth and although we might wonder about alliances, betrayals and truths and lies, there are no complex motivations or traumas at play.

Due to the nature of the mystery, the novel will also be of interest to those who enjoy stories with a scientific background, particularly Physics (although I don’t know enough about quantum physics to comment on its accuracy). A detailed knowledge of the subject is not necessary to follow the book but I suspect it will be particularly amusing to those who have a better understanding of the theory behind it. (The author does not claim expertise and thanks those who helped her with the research in her acknowledgements). The book also touches on serious subjects, including moral and ethical issues behind scientific research and the responsibility of individuals versus that of the state regarding public safety. But do not let that put you off. The book is a short, fast and action-driven story that requires a good attention span and will be particularly enjoyed by writers and readers who enjoy complex, puzzle-like mysteries, or more accurately, those who like stories that are like Russian dolls or Chinese boxes.

I enjoyed this book that is clever and knowing, and I’d recommend in particular to readers who are also writers or enjoy books about writers, to those who like conspiracies, spies and mysteries, especially those with a backstory of science and physics, and to people who prefer plot-driven books and who love Hitchcock, Highsmith and Murder She Wrote.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK, and of course, do leave a review if you read any books!

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#Bookreview The Words In My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd (@guingb). Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016. A footnote to Descartes’s biography finds her voice

Hi all:

Today we have a pretty special book. I’d recommend it in particular to lovers of historical fiction but I hope everybody would give it a chance because…

The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd
The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd

The Words In My Hand: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016. A footnote to Descartes’s biography finds her voiceby Guinevere Glasfurd

  • ‘EXCELLENT… AN ENTIRELY UNSENTIMENTAL LOVE STORY WITH A MEMORABLE AND ENGAGING HEROINE. CLEVER AND TOUCHING.’The Times (Book of the Month)
    ‘AN ACCOMPLISHED FIRST NOVEL… GLASFURD BRILLIANTLY DISSECTS THE COMPLEX FRUSTRATIONS OF A WOMAN IN LOVE WITH A MAN CONSUMED BY INTELLECTUAL OBSESSIONS. THERE IS MUCH TO MOVE US HERE’ Guardian
  • The Words in My Handis the reimagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th-century Amsterdam, who works for Mr Sergeant the English bookseller. When a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives – the Monsieur – Mr Sergeant insists everything must be just so. It transpires that the Monsieur is René Descartes.
    But this is Helena’s story: the woman in front of Descartes, a young woman who yearns for knowledge, who wants to write so badly she makes ink from beetroot and writes in secret on her skin – only to be held back by her position in society.
    Weaving together the story of Descartes’ quest for reason with Helena’s struggle for literacy, their worlds overlap as their feelings deepen; yet remain sharply divided. For all Descartes’ learning, it is Helena he seeks out as she reveals the surprise in the everyday world that surrounds him.
    When reputation is everything and with so much to lose, some truths must remain hidden. Helena and Descartes face a terrible tragedy and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Words-My-Hand-Shortlisted-Costa-ebook/dp/B016IOF6OG/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Words-My-Hand-Shortlisted-Costa-ebook/dp/B016IOF6OG/

Author Guinevere Glasfurd
Author Guinevere Glasfurd

About the author:

My short fiction has appeared in Mslexia, The Scotsman and in a collection from The National Galleries of Scotland. I live on the edge of the Fens, near Cambridge. My first novel, The Words in my Hand, was written with the support of a grant from Arts Council England. It has recently been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award, 2016.

I work with artists in the UK and South Africa and my work has been funded under the Artists’ International Development Fund, (Arts Council England and the British Council).

Details of that project, which saw me work with fine artist Richard Penn at Nirox, Johannesburg, can be found here: http://mailout.co/cambridge-based-artists-secure-arts-council-funding-to-develop-international-projects/

I’ve since been commissioned to produce work in support of  Penn’s most recent exhibition, Surface Detail, at the Origins’ Centre.

https://guinevereglasfurd.com/

 

My review:

Thanks to Net Galley and to John Murray Press Two Roads for offering me a free ARC of this novel that I voluntarily review.

This novel, that could be classed as historical fiction, tells the (at least in part imagined) story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid who was serving at a house where René Descartes stayed in Amsterdam, and who bore him a daughter. In the author’s note, at the end of the book, Glasfurd explains in detail the true facts known about Helena (she existed and indeed bore Descartes a girl, Francine, and she got married later and had a boy), shares her sources and her intention when writing the book.

The story, narrated in the first person from Helena’s point of view, is beautifully written. We get a clear sense of the historical period, of Holland at the time, especially what it would be like for a young girl of a poor family, who is sent to the capital as she needs to make a living for herself. She is presented as a curious girl, who’s taken an interest in reading and writing, practically teaching herself to do it, and how she ends up as a maid at a bookseller’s home. She’s fascinated by paper (a very expensive and luxurious commodity at the time), ink, by books and maps. She’s only ever traced the outline of the letters on her own hand (therefore the title: The Words in My Hand) but eventually, after experimenting on making her own ink using beetroot, she does learn to write using a quill and proper ink. She also teaches another servant girl how to write, broadening her horizons and giving her a better chance in life.

Coming into contact with Descartes, the Monsieur (as she calls him all through the book, because there is always a certain distance between them), revolutionises her world, not only because of the relationship with him (she’s very young at the time, and he’s many years her senior, so one wonders what that would be considered nowadays) but because of the way he examines and sees the world. The author uses their conversations and Helena’s curiosity, as ways to expose some of Descartes ideas, exemplifying them in lyrical and at the same time understandable ways. Swallows, eels’ hearts, the refraction of light, a flame, snowflakes, anything and everything catches Descartes attention and he feels the need to study it and explain it.

Helena is a complex character. She’s presented as a young woman living through difficult circumstances who tries to live her own life and make her way, rather than just depend on the generosity of a man she doesn’t fully understand (and who perhaps didn’t understand himself that well, either). But she’s not a modern heroine, doing things that would have been impossible during that historical period. Whilst she is shown as curious, skilled, and determined, she is hindered by gender and class (publishing books, even something as simple as an illustrated alphabet for children is not possible for a woman), and also by her personal feelings. She suffers for her mistakes and she lives a limited existence at times, being subject to insult and abuse (as she would have likely been given her circumstances). Despite all that, Glasfurd presents Helen as an artist, a woman who can describe, draw and appreciate things around her, who wants to ensure her daughter gets an education, and who loves Descartes (however difficult that might be at times).

I’ve read a few books recently that try to recover female figures that might have been the great women behind great men but have been ignored or obscured by official history. In some cases, the authors seem to be at pains to paint a negative picture of the man in question. This is not the case here. We only see Descartes through Helena’s eyes (also through some overheard comments and conversations he has with others and through some of his letters) and at times his actions are difficult to understand, but within his constraints he is portrayed as a man of contradictions but with a good heart, who cared for those around him but was, perhaps, more interested in his studies and science than in everyday matters and the life of those closest to him. He is weary of the consequences and risks of publicly exposing his relationship with Helena and his daughter but does not abandon them either. He is a man who struggles and cannot easily fit in the society of his time.

A beautifully observed and written book, about the love of science, writing, nature, and the human side of a historical figure that remains fascinating to this day. This fictionalisation provides a good introduction to some of Descartes ideas and is a great way of remembering another woman whose place in history has only been a footnote until now. A great read especially recommended to those who love historical fiction and who are intrigued by Descartes and XVII century Holland.

(Just as a side note, Francis Spufford won the Costa First Novel Award with Golden Hill that’s on my list. Perhaps I should push it up…)

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

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#Bookreview and #Blogtour THE OTHER EINSTEIN by Marie Benedict @sourcebooks Re-evaluations and fictionalised history.

Hi all:

As you know I read a lot and I share reviews. On this occasion, when I saw this book on offer on NetGalley I thought it looked very intriguing, and when a member of the publicity team for the novel got in touch and asked if I’d like to take part in the tour I agreed. At that point I hadn’t read the novel yet, and I worried it might take me some time to get to it, so I booked it for later in November. That has meant that the author was busy with her own live tour and could not provide an original feature for it, but I include the press release, my own review for you and also, if you’re quick, a promotion that will allow you to get it at a special price.

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict
The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

October 18, 2016; Hardcover, ISBN 9781492637257 

Book Info:

Title: The Other Einstein

Author: Marie Benedict

Release Date: October 18, 2016

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Praise for The Other Einstein

October 2016 Indie Next and LibraryReads Pick!

PopSugar’s “25 Books You’re Going to Curl Up with this Fall”

“The Other Einstein takes you into Mileva’s heart, mind, and study as she tries to forge a place for herself in a scientific world dominated by men.”– Bustle

“…an ENGAGING and THOUGHT PROVOKING fictional telling of the poignant story of an overshadowed woman scientist.”– Booklist

“…INTIMATE and IMMERSIVE historical novel….

Prepare to be moved by this provocative history of a woman whose experiences will resonate with today’s readers.”– Library Journal, Editors’ Fall Picks

“Many will enjoy Benedict’s feminist views and be fascinated by the life of an almost unknown woman.”– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

“Benedict’s debut novel carefully traces Mileva’s life—from studious schoolgirl to bereaved mother—with attention paid to the conflicts between personal goals and social conventions. An intriguing… reimagining of one of the strongest intellectual partnerships of the 19th century.” Kirkus

“In her compelling novel… Benedict makes a strong case that the brilliant woman behind [Albert Einstein] was integral to his success, and creates a rich historical portrait in the process.” Publishers Weekly

Summary:

A vivid and mesmerizing novel about the extraordinary woman who married and worked with one of the greatest scientists in history. 

What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Maric_, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.

But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever. A literary historical in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. PoeThe Other Einstein reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.

Goodreads Link:  http://ow.ly/y83l305MKdq

Buy Links:

Amazon: http://ow.ly/MvWy305MKr5

Barnes & Noble: http://ow.ly/Ya8l305MKC6

IndieBound: http://ow.ly/57fK305MKSh

 

Author Marie Benedict
Author Marie Benedict

About the Author:

Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms and for Fortune 500 companies. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a focus in history and art history and a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

Social Media Links:

Author Website: http://www.authormariebenedict.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authormariebenedict/#

Here, my review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Sourcebooks Landmark for offering me an ARC copy of the book. I voluntarily decided to review it.

We’ve all heard the saying: ‘Behind every great man there’s a great woman’ in its many different versions. It’s true that for centuries men (or many men of the wealthy classes with access to education) could dedicate themselves to artistic, scientific or business pursuits because the everyday things were taken care of by their wives or other women in their lives (mothers, relatives, partners…) As Virginia Wolf wrote in ‘A Room of One’s Own’ women had a harder time of it, as they were expected to take care of the house, family, and ensure that their husbands came back to a place where they would be looked after and tended too. Unless women were independently wealthy and could count on the support (financial, emotional and practical) of the men in their lives, it was very hard, if not impossible, to pursue a career in the arts or the sciences.

Mary Benedict’s book explores the life of Mitza Maric, who would later become Einstein’s first wife, from the time of her arrival in Zurich (as one of only a few female students at the university) to the time when she separates from her husband. Maric is an intriguing figure (and I must admit I hadn’t read anything about her before) and an inspiring one, as she had to go against the odds (being a woman at a time were very few women could study at university, suffering from hip dysplasia, that left her with a limp and difficulty in undertaking certain physical tasks) and managed to study and be respected for her knowledge of Physics and Maths.

The book is written in the first person, and we get a close look at Maric´s thoughts, emotions and doubts. The early part of the book is a very good read, with descriptions of the social mores of the era, Mitza’s family, the development of her friendship with the other female students at the lodgings, the intellectual atmosphere and café society of that historical period, and of course, Mr Einstein, whom he meets at University. Mitza believed (like her parents) that due to her physical disability she would never marry, and lived resigned to the idea, having decided to dedicate her life to her research, studies and the academic life she craved. And then… Einstein arrives.

The Einstein depicted by the book is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character. He’s friendly, humorous and charming, and also, of course, a brilliant scientist, but can be selfish, egotistical and cares nothing for anybody who is not himself. We see more of the first Einstein at the beginning of the relationship, through their interaction, walks, scientific discussions… Einstein opens the world for Mitza, and if she had been enjoying the company of the other girls, she later neglects them for the world of scientific discussion among men, where she gains entry thanks to Einstein.

When, after much hesitation, Mitza decides to visit Einstein and spend a few days with him in Lake Como, the two of them alone, the book becomes more melodramatic and things start going very wrong. Mitza gets pregnant, Einstein keeps making excuses not to get married yet, and resentment sets in. If I mentioned that Einstein is a Jekyll and Hyde character, Mitza, who was always shy but determined and stubborn, also changes; she becomes sad, hesitant, and she seems unable to follow her own path. In the book, there is much internal discussion and debate, as on the one hand she does not like Einstein’s behaviour, but on the other, she tries to see things from her mother’s point of view and do what’s right for the child.

As some reviewers have noted (and the writer acknowledges in her notes at the back of the book), it’s a fact that they had a daughter out of wedlock, but it’s not clear what happened to her, and that makes the later part of the book, at least for me, stand on shakier grounds. That is always a difficulty with historical fiction, whereby to flesh out the story authors must make decisions, interpreting events and sometimes filling in gaps. In some cases, this is more successful than others, and it might also depend on the reader and their ability to suspend disbelief.

The author comes up with an explanation for the possible origin of the theory of relativity, closely linked to Mitza’s faith (and I know there have been debates as to how much Einstein’s wife contributed to it, and she definitely did contribute, although most likely not as much as is suggested in the book) that hinges around a dramatic event affecting their daughter, the problem being (from a historical point of view) that there’s no evidence it ever took place. That event, as depicted in the text, has a major impact in later parts of the novel and seems to underline all of the later difficulties the couple has, although Einstein’s behaviour, his reluctance to include his wife’s name in any of the articles or patents, the time he spends away, and his infidelities don’t help.

I found it difficult to reconcile the woman of the beginning of the book with the beaten down character of the later part of the book, although there are some brief flashes of her former self, like when she converses with Marie Curie. Although there is much self-justification for her continuing to live with Einstein given the circumstances (she is doing it for the children, she still hopes he will seek her ideas and collaboration and they’ll end up working together), one wonders how the strong and determined woman of the beginning can end up tolerating such a frustrating life (especially once Albert becomes well known and their financial difficulties end). There is also no evidence that she sought to rekindle her career once she was no longer with Einstein, and one can’t help but wonder if perhaps their relationship, at least early on, was also a source of inspiration for her too.

I enjoyed getting to know a bit more about Mitza Maric, and in particular about the era and the difficulties women had to face then, although I would have preferred to be more aware of where the facts ended and author creativity started whilst reading the book, as I was never sure if some of the inconsistencies within the characters were due to their own experiences and circumstances, or to the reimagining of some parts of the story, that perhaps ends up transforming it into a more typical narrative of the woman whose ambitions and future die due to marriage, children and a less than enlightened husband. (It reminded me at times of Revolution Road, although in this instance both of the characters are talented, whilst there…) The author provides sources for further reading and research at the end that will prove invaluable to those interested in digging further.

In sum this book highlights the figure of a woman worth knowing better; it can work as the starting point for further research and fascinating discussions, and it is eminently readable. People looking for specific scientific information or accurate personal facts might need to consult other books as this is definitely a fictionalisation.

Here, the book is on special promotion until the 26th in Goodreads, so you’re in time if you’re quick!

the-othereinsteingoodreadspromo

Here is the link.

Thanks so much to NetGalley, Sourcebooks Landmark and to the author for her novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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Book reviews New books

#Bookreviews THE ART OF EXILE. A VAGABOND LIFE by John Freely (@ibtauris) An Extraordinary Life Dedicated to Knowledge, Travel and Writing

Hi all:

As you know on Fridays I share new books and writers (today more than usual, but it’s a busy month). John Freely is not a new writer, far from it, but this is the first book I read by him and I expect now that I’ve discovered him, it won’t be the last one. In case you want to check a bit about him, you can check in Wikipedia or all his books (so far) in Amazon.

The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life by Dr John Freely
The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life by Dr John Freely

The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life. By John Freely

As you set out for Ithaka Hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery… ‘ Constantine P. Cavafy. By the time he was six, John Freely had crossed the Atlantic four times. His childhood was spent on the mean streets of 1930s Brooklyn, where he scavenged for junk to sell and borrowed money for books; his first love being Homer’s Odyssey. He was 15 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and 17 when he enlisted in the US Navy and embarked on the first great adventure of his life: joining a clandestine unit that helped the Kuomintang fight the Japanese. He served for two years, 96 days in combat and a total of 344 days overseas, which sparked a lifelong passion for travel. Returning home after the war, Freely fell in love with a beautiful girl who sang the blues. His own Penelope. Together they signed a blood pact to spend their life travelling the world. This unforgettable memoir takes the reader from the streets of New York to the corridors of provincial campus life; from World War II in the Pacific to the shores of the Bosphorus and from Ancient Troy to the isles of Dionysus and Ariadne. It is the story of a remarkable odyssey that has spanned nine decades, several continents and one great love. And still the odyssey continues, “as I ponder the meaning of an Ithaka and of exile as an art that takes a lifetime to master.”

Description

John Freely is a renowned travel writer and, as the first to popularise the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire for a general audience, he is one of our last great globe-trotting storytellers. After returning home from WW2 aged just 19, he fell in love with a beautiful girl who sang the blues. His own Penelope. Together they signed a blood pact to spend their life travelling the world.

This unforgettable memoir takes the reader from the streets of New York to the corridors of provincial campus life; from World War II in the Pacific to the shores of the Bosphorus and from Ancient Troy to the isles of Dionysus and Ariadne. It is the story of a remarkable odyssey that has spanned nine decades, several continents and one great love.

Advance Praise

“Imagine Zorba the Greek as a wandering Irishman from Brooklyn and you have the beginnings of John Freely. His odyssey has been a wild ride across continents, a microcosm of modern history. Freely is a born storyteller and an expert on everything from mysticism to physics to the back streets of Athens, Istanbul and Venice. The only danger of reading this book is envy for such a dazzling life.” – Stephen Kinzer

“John Freely provides a wonderful portrait of Istanbul and Athens in their bohemian heyday” – Philip Mansel
My review

Thanks to Net Galley and to I.B.Tauris for offering me a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I wish (like many of us) I was more of a traveller, but when I received an e-mail about this book, a memoir of sorts of John Freely, I was interested for many reasons. Although I hadn’t read his books, I’m always interested in books about writers (professional deformation, I guess). He’s written extensively about travelling, and as I said before I have a long list of places I’d love to visit, among them many Dr Freely has written about (and I’m always happy to be inspired and encouraged to take up more travel). And the title of the book, ‘the art of exile’ appealed to me because I’ve lived away from my own country for many years and I always feel an affinity for those in similar circumstances, even when their lives and mine couldn’t be more different.

John Freely has written many travel books, although as I understand from his own and others’ descriptions, they are not your standard travel book, but rather investigations and reflections about culture, architecture, literature, music, and he has researched extensively the topics of Istanbul, Greece, Physics, classical history, literature… He is a true polymath, a born lecturer and teacher, and knowledge pours out of every page.

Freely structures the book as an autobiography, and I found the story of his upbringing very touching, as it reflected that of many emigrants from Ireland (but not exclusively) who sailed away searching for a better life elsewhere. History has a way of changing settings and actors but it does indeed repeat itself, as we can see in the continued story of both emigrants and refugees that carries on to the present.

The author doesn’t dwell too much on the difficult circumstances of his childhood and family, lack of money, working as a child and living hand-to-mouth. That was how things were at the time and he was expected to live with it and did the best he could. He went to war when he was only 17 after dropping out of high school, and that was the beginning of a life of travelling. Even in those circumstances he loved books and reading (he had studied with fascination a book about the wonders of the world his grandfather had brought back to Ireland from the Crimean War as a young boy) and he educated himself by reading a catalogue of recommended lectures a military priest gave him whilst traveling to China. Mr Freely is a connector and communicator who made (and I’m sure still makes) friends everywhere he went and was lucky to get and take good advice. He decided to follow some such advice and took advantage of the GI bill; he studied Physics and he did well, as he reflects upon, with surprise, a few times throughout his life. His love for knowledge and his thirst for travelling combined into a lifelong journey and he found a more than willing partner in his wife, Toots.

Although he does not talk in detail about such things as feelings, it’s not difficult to read between the lines and sometimes he says more when he doesn’t elaborate on topics that when he does (his muted comments about his son’s difficulties are an example). His vignettes of early married life and his love for his wife come through loud and clear.

Once the couple move to Istanbul and Dr Freely starts his international teaching career the book becomes a catalogue of trips, not in detail but mostly as itineraries, interspersed with references to his career moves and to his published books. There are brief moments of lyrical descriptions that hint at wonders to be had in the full books, and he ponders upon those moments when they were the only western travellers in some of the locations and they could feel history at its fullest. He quotes the classics and is happy to share the experiences and moments he lived with his friends and collaborators, always giving credit where credit is due. He talks with warmth and affection of the institutions he’s worked in and is always grateful and happy to mention others’ achievements. I could not follow all the itineraries in detail and didn’t always know who everybody was, although it didn’t seem that important. I’m convinced the book would be a great read for those familiar with his work or interested in it that would be able to provide the background and fit all the pieces of the puzzle in, but it would also work well as an introduction to the topic of his books and his life.

There are moments that will feel familiar, easy to connect with and will touch everybody, like his visits to Ireland, back to the old family home, the autobiographical details of life in Ireland and old New York when he was a young man, and the latter part of the book, when his wife becomes ill and dies and he has to carry on the journey alone (not a spoiler as it’s not that kind of story).

I thought I’d share some of his comments towards the end of the book, which I must admit had me in tears (as by then I’d become another exile and vagabond with them). He is talking here about writing this book:

When the book on Homer was finished I began working in earnest on the story of our own odyssey, The Art of Exile, particularly after I looked at a photograph of Toots taken on her 80th birthday, when the sight of her wearing a Byzantine tiara reminded me once again that she was in fact my queen, though I’d had no kingdom to offer her, just a lifelong journey.

Now I have become my own Homer, composing the story of a life perpetually on the move, always an exile…

I’m not sure this is a book for everybody, as it’s full of brief descriptions, names, quotes, dates, and travels, although some parts of it would be enjoyed by most people. Personally, I’d love to go for a walk through Istanbul, Naxos, or anywhere with Dr Freely as a guide, telling me all he knows about the many places he’s visited, and with classical references thrown in too. As I don’t think that’s likely to happen, this book provides a good substitute, and has encouraged me to look into his other books.

And here, I share Dr Feely’s quote of the Odyssey that is perfect for the book.

As you set out for Ithaka

Hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery…

May there be many summer mornings,

when, with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbours you’re seeing for the

first time… But don’t hurry the journey,

at all,

Better if it lasts for many years.

So you’re old when you reach the island

… Ithaka gave you the marvellous

journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

Link:

The book is currently available in hardback copy here (I’m sure it will be published in other formats soon):

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Exile-Vagabond-Life/dp/1784534986/

I read an e-version of the book so I cannot comment on the possible differences between the versions, although being familiar with I. B. Tauris and their work I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

Thanks to I.B. Tauris and John Freely for sharing this journey with us, thanks to you all for reading and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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