Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rules of Civility

by Amor Towles

Set in New York City during the late 1930's Rules of Civility tells the story of young socialites after the Depression. This story draws heavily on the city and its haunts, painting a picture of a rich and carefree group of friends in their mid-twenties.  While I found the book entertaining and enjoyed the reading for the most part, I am not sure how accurately it depicts real lives of the time.  I would assume that the wealthier class might not have been so affected by the Depression, but a few of the characters while not presented as upper-class, sure lived untroubled and happy-go-lucky life-styles.

You'd like this book if you love NYC, the post-depression era or people stories (like the Great Gatsby). In general it's a decent read.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Alice I Have Been

by Melanie Benjamin

My knee-jerk reaction to this book is creepy and disturbing .... it makes you look at Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in a whole new way and not necessarily one in which you'd like. However, I must say it is well written and certainly a probable take on the life and relationship of Alice Liddell (the girl on whom Alice in Wonderland was based) and C. L. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll).

In this work of historical fiction, Alice I Have Been presents the life of Alice Liddell Hargreaves as she reflects on her childhood, comes to terms with an unfortunate incident in her past and makes peace with being "Alice." Ms. Benjamin takes liberties only as history leaves gaping holes in this adventurous life, but her speculations seem plausible with what is known. I was particularly intrigued to learn of Alice's royal romance.

That which I found creepy and disturbing was information about Dodgson, his relationship with Alice and his future relationships with other young girls, all of which is conjecture based on his collection of photographs. Mr. Dodgson took up photography as a hobby and seemed particularly fascinated with posing young girls in rather suggestive manners. He kept and collected many of these photos that can be viewed in many places online.

Although the trip down the rabbit hole may be bizarre, until I read this account, I always considered it an innocent tale of a precocious little girl. If you've always loved Alice, you may want to steer clear of this novel, because even though this may be fictionalized, it'll still skew your childhood memories.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Russian Winter

by Daphne Kalotay

Russian Winter presents a glimpse of the life of artists living under the rule of Stalin. The ballerina Nina Revskaya reveals this struggle from a variety of perspectives: her own, her mother's, her poet husband's, and her friends, a musician, another ballerina and a government worker. While they were an elevated class, they did not escape the shortages, the surveillance or the threats experienced by all Soviet citizens living in a communist regime.

Kalotay offers this tale from an elderly Revskaya as she reflects on her life, trying to expel those ghosts that are haunting her in old age. At this same time she is confronted by a man claiming to have a connection to her and her past. For me, the answers to this connection were pretty obvious, but I still enjoyed the writing style and the information on post WWII Russia, the ballet, and jewels. It is apparent Kalotay did her research.