Monthly Archives: February 2012

‘The Tiger, A True Story of Vengeance and Survival’ by John Vaillant

Guest Post by Dirk Booy
(It is my honour to introduce my husband who was happy to oblige when I asked him to write a guest post about the book he was reading. Here is his contribution. Thanks Dirk!)

What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted?   This is the story of The Tiger which takes place in Russia’s far eastern corner – one of the few remaining places on earth where Siberian tigers are still found in the wild.  Its the story of how a wounded tiger purposefully turns on the hunter and with great skill and cunning makes him the prey.  The tiger is then tracked down and destroyed by the main protagonist, but not before we learn the truth of how vengeful the tiger has been.

The book is more than just a story of a man eating tiger.  It is a rich tale of man vs nature that takes place in a truly remarkable wilderness.  It’s a history lesson on predator vs prey, a conservation challenge to an ever demanding world, and finally a social look at how humans have learned to adapt to one of the harshest environments on the globe.

At the end, the reader is left with a sense of awe and respect for the tiger but more so for the people who choose to share their environment with these magnificent creatures.  The book is well written and the author has managed to weave a suspenseful story around a number of thought provoking themes.  Well worth the read!

‘Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship’ by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumba

 What a great story and what a beautiful book! When life gets tough, we make unusual alliances and find unexpected friendships.  And we don’t have to be the same in order to get along! A line from the book sums it up, “Our most important friends are sometimes those we least expected.”

Tragedy struck both human and animal life with the devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004. An orphaned baby hippo was rescued  and sought solace in a friendship with an old tortoise in his new home in Kenya. They became inseparable. The photographs are amazing and this  true story is well told. “Mzee” means ‘elder’ in Swahili.

Owen & Mzee

Update: “As of March 2007, Mzee has been removed from the enclosure. A female hippopotamus named Cleo has been added to provide companionship for Owen. Owen seems to be adapting to his new companion and it is possible that Owen and Cleo will have offspring when he reaches maturity.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owen_and_Mzee]

‘Bruno, Chief of Police’ by Martin Walker

What a lovely escape into rural France. And for crime fiction, even the brutal murder and subsequent investigation seems muted and gentled by the rolling hills, the mellow wine, and the rich and tasty food. But make no mistake. This is an intelligent novel, well written and full of political and historical reality and unafraid to deal with difficult issues.

Bruno is a village policeman, well versed with the ways of his sleepy but robust little town, from the markets to the vineyards. He has a basset hound, makes his own wine, grows his own vegetables, and teaches five year olds tennis. That way he not only participates in community service, but knows the characters of the boys when they become troublesome teenagers.  Here’s a quote about Bruno from Walker’s website. “Bruno handles cases with great discretion, circulating so quietly and tactfully among his neighbours that his interviews are more like friendly visits; it’s a wonderful detection method and even cannier literary strategy, allowing Walker to pursue the plot of his mystery while beguiling the reader with extended scenes of village market days, old-fashioned wine harvests, etc.”

Martin Walker comes to his novel writing with an impressive list of credentials. He is an Oxford scholar, accomplished in journalism, European history, politics, international relations, and economics. He owns a basset hound,  just like his character Bruno, and a house in the Dordogne region of France. This is the first in his Bruno series and he has written other books as well. His website is worth looking at.  I’m sure I’ll be making an armchair visit to France and this Bruno series again!
Martin Walker Website

‘The History of Love’ by Nicole Krauss

Fourteen year old Alma is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Her mother is translating a book called “The History of Love” and Alma goes on a  quest to find the author.

Leo Gursky is an old man just trying to survive. His life has been a series of losses. Although he doesn’t know it yet, the book he wrote so long ago has survived, crossing oceans and changing lives…

Nicole Krauss often has writers as characters in her books. I’ve also read her most recent book ‘Great House‘ which was nominated for the Orange Prize (see Archive May 2011). She uses many of her own family details in her stories. ‘History of Love’ is dedicated to her grandparents. She is married to author Jonathan Safran Foer who wrote ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ (see Archive January 2012). There are some striking similarities between their books which were both published in the same year (2005). Both stories feature a young precocious child on a quest, both have old men mourning  the loss of sons, both have painful reverberations from the war in Europe, and both authors use some of the same unusual typography.

Krauss writes beautifully. Her descriptions are evocative and her characters are well portrayed right through to the soul. She captures the complexity of relationships and crafts a good story, although at times I find the thread in her books confusing and hard to follow. (When this happens a quick consultation on wikipedia is enough to keep me going; I’d rather put up with a spoiler and know what’s happening). She uses a common technique of alternating sections authored by different characters and what was helpful and enjoyable were the little icons at the start of the chapter indicating which narrator was coming up. In the end the pieces do come together.  The final words of the novel are haunting, “He was a great writer. He fell in love. It was his life.” The book begins with the same thought in the dedication, “For my grandparents, who taught me the opposite of disappearing and for Jonathan, my life.” This book is a celebration of life and love, which to quote Leo Gursky are “words for everything”.