Shame and the Captives by Thomas Keneally

Read by Paul English and Heather Bolton

Description: Based on true events, this beautifully rendered novel from the author of Schindler’s List and The Daughters of Mars brilliantly explores a World War II prison camp, where Japanese prisoners resolve to take drastic action to wipe away their shame.

Alice is a young woman living on her father-in-law’s farm on the edge of an Australian country town, while her husband is held prisoner in Europe. When Giancarlo, an Italian anarchist at the prisoner-of-war camp down the road, is assigned to work on the farm, she hopes that being kind to him will somehow influence her husband’s treatment. What she doesn’t anticipate is how dramatically Giancarlo will expand her outlook and self-knowledge.

But what most challenges Alice and her fellow townspeople is the utter foreignness of the thousand-plus Japanese inmates and their culture, which the camp commanders fatally misread. Mortified by being taken alive in battle and preferring a violent death to the shame of living, they plan an outbreak, to shattering and far-reaching effects on all the citizens around them.

In a career spanning half a century, Thomas Keneally has proved a master at exploring ordinary lives caught up in extraordinary events. With this profoundly gripping and thought-provoking novel, inspired by a notorious incident in New South Wales in 1944, he once again shows why he is celebrated as a writer who “looks into the heart of the human condition with a piercing intelligence that few can match.”

Do big names phone-it-in? Sure felt as if Keneally did just that with this one. Shame and the Captives lacked both spark and enthusiasm, however I did learn a lot by engaging with this book as it sent me scurrying to the interwebz to look up the gen.

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the prisoner of war camp at Cowra, NSW, where hundreds of Japanese were killed in a mass breakout in 1944.

The Left Hand Of Darkness (Sf Masterworks) by Ursula K. Le Guin

bookshelves: spring-2015, published-1969, sci-fi, radio-4, tbr-busting-2015, play-dramatisation, adventure, snow-times, cover-love, chase-me-chase-me

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from April 11 to 20, 2015
Description: Genly Ai is an emissary from the human galaxy to Winter, a lost, stray world. His mission is to bring the planet back into the fold of an evolving galactic civilization, but to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own culture and prejudices and those that he encounters. On a planet where people are of no gender–or both–this is a broad gulf indeed.

Opening: I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

A tandem TBR busting exercise – the paperback and a radio dramatisation

BBC description: Science fiction with incredible humanity from a brilliant feminist writer. This is the first dramatisation of Ursula Le Guin’s 1969 novel which is as groundbreaking in its approach to gender as when it was first published over 45 years ago.

In a snow-changed city in the middle of an Ice Age on an alien world, one young man prepares for the biggest mission of his life. Alone and unarmed, Genly Ai has been sent from Earth to persuade the world of Gethen to join The Ekumen, a union of planets. But it’s a task fraught with danger. Genly is shocking to the natives. This is a world in which humans are ambigendered – everyone can be a mother, and everyone can be a father.

Episode 1/2: First Minister Estraven is the only person who champions Genly’s cause, but their relationship is deeply incomprehensible and troubling. Genly’s life is at risk and he must decide who to trust.

2/2: In the middle of an Ice Age on an alien world two friends flee across endless snow plains on a journey that will take them to the edge of their physical and emotional endurance. The stakes are high – to save a world from war, and save their own lives.

Enjoyed this maybe because I was reading the paperback at the same time. The writing is perfection and the subject is quite nerve-wracking at times.

A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power by Paul Fischer

Read by Stephen Park

Description: Before becoming the world’s most notorious dictator, Kim Jong-Il ran North Korea’s Ministry for Propaganda and its film studios. Conceiving every movie made, he acted as producer and screenwriter. Despite this control, he was underwhelmed by the available talent and took drastic steps, ordering the kidnapping of Choi Eun-Hee (Madam Choi)—South Korea’s most famous actress—and her ex-husband Shin Sang-Ok, the country’s most famous filmmaker.

Madam Choi vanished first. When Shin went to Hong Kong to investigate, he was attacked and woke up wrapped in plastic sheeting aboard a ship bound for North Korea. Madam Choi lived in isolated luxury, allowed only to attend the Dear Leader’s dinner parties. Shin, meanwhile, tried to escape, was sent to prison camp, and “re-educated.” After four years he cracked, pledging loyalty. Reunited with Choi at the first party he attends, it is announced that the couple will remarry and act as the Dear Leader’s film advisors. Together they made seven films, in the process gaining Kim Jong-Il’s trust. While pretending to research a film in Vienna, they flee to the U.S. embassy and are swept to safety.

A nonfiction thriller packed with tension, passion, and politics, A Kim Jong-Il Production offers a rare glimpse into a secretive world, illuminating a fascinating chapter of North Korea’s history that helps explain how it became the hermetically sealed, intensely stage-managed country it remains today.

Hypnotising, you couldn’t make this up. I liked that Fischer gives us western films that were popular as it helps to keep the time periods in context. Fully recommended if you don’t mind sitting with eyes and mouth in perfect ‘O’s for the time it takes to go from cover to cover.

This cult of personality thing should have been weeded out of human affairs millenia ago, it really isn’t healthy, and yet is persists in figures such as Putin, David Miscavige, Kim Jong un etc

There is a dearth of Kim Jong-Il film-making pictures in Google, so every review will be playing with this handful available and the images will become stale pretty quick.

Guardian 2013: The producer from hell


The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith

Narrated by Colin Mace. 13 hrs and 52 mins

Description: Soviet Union, 1956: Stalin is dead. With his passing, a violent regime is beginning to fracture – leaving behind a society where the police are the criminals, and the criminals are innocent.

The catalyst comes when a secret manifesto composed by Stalin’s successor, Khrushchev, is distributed to the entire nation. Its message: Stalin was a tyrant and a murderer. Its promise: The Soviet Union will transform. But there are forces at work that are unable to forgive or forget Stalin’s tyranny so easily and demand revenge of the most appalling nature.

Meanwhile, former MGB officer Leo Demidov is facing his own turmoil. The two young girls he and his wife Raisa adopted have yet to forgive him for his involvement in the murder of their parents. They are not alone. Now that the truth is out, Leo, Raisa and their family are in grave danger from someone with a grudge against Leo. Someone transformed beyond recognition into the perfect model of vengeance.

RasPutin took against book one, so there is no better reason to keep on with this trilogy and even though this is not a great book it does cover some important history:

Khrushchev’s secret speech, (February 25, 1956), in Russian history, denunciation of the deceased Soviet leader Joseph Stalin made by Nikita S. Khrushchev to a closed session of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The speech was the nucleus of a far-reaching de-Stalinization campaign intended to destroy the image of the late dictator as an infallible leader and to revert official policy to an idealized Leninist model.

Encyclopædia Britannica

Flatline 3*

3.5* Child 44 (Leo Demidov, #1)
3* The Secret Speech (Leo Demidov, #2)
TR Agent 6 (Leo Demidov, #3)

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

Description: A clear-sighted revelation, a deep penetration into the world of Scientology by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the now-classic study of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack, the Looming Tower. Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with both current and former Scientologists–both famous and less well known–and years of archival research, Lawrence Wright uses his extraordinary investigative skills to uncover for us the inner workings of the Church of Scientology: its origins in the imagination of science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard; its struggles to find acceptance as a legitimate (and legally acknowledged) religion; its vast, secret campaign to infiltrate the U.S. government; and its dramatic efforts to grow and prevail after the death of Hubbard.

At the book’s center, two men whom Wright brings vividly to life, showing how they have made Scientology what it is today: The darkly brilliant L. Ron Hubbard–whose restless, expansive mind invented a new religion tailor-made to prosper in the spiritually troubled post-World War II era. And his successor, David Miscavige–tough and driven, with the unenviable task of preserving the church in the face of ongoing scandals and continual legal assaults.

We learn about Scientology’s esoteric cosmology; about the auditing process that determines an inductee’s state of being; about the Bridge to Total Freedom, through which members gain eternal life. We see the ways in which the church pursues celebrities, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and how young idealists who joined the Sea Org, the church’s clergy, whose members often enter as children, signing up with a billion-year contract and working with little pay in poor conditions. We meet men and women “disconnected” from friends and family by the church’s policy of shunning critical voices. And we discover, through many firsthand stories, the violence that has long permeated the inner sanctum of the church.

In Going Clear, Wright examines what fundamentally makes a religion a religion, and whether Scientology is, in fact, deserving of the constitutional protections achieved in its victory over the IRS. Employing all his exceptional journalistic skills of observations, understanding, and synthesis, and his ability to shape a story into a compelling narrative, Lawrence Wright has given us an evenhanded yet keenly incisive book that goes far beyond an immediate exposé and uncovers the very essence of what makes Scientology the institution it is.…

Watching this youtube interview whilst the sauna heats up, and we shall watch the two hour HBO documentary later.

John Travolta said Monday he hasn’t viewed the HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, currently shining an accusatory light on his church.

London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins

bookshelves: film-only, spring-2015, published-1945, under-500-ratings, britain-england, london, wwii, mystery-thriller, chase-me-chase-me, divination, newtome-author

Recommended for: Laura, Wanda et al
Read from March 31 to April 19, 2015

Description: It is 1938 and the prospect of war hangs over London. At the lodging-house at 10 Dulcimer Street, Mr Josser returns home with the clock he has received as a retirement gift. The other residents include flashy young mechanic Percy Boon, whose foray into stolen cars descends into something much, much worse.…

SE11 equates to today’s Vauxhall/Kennington/Oval. Alistair Sims was fab, what with his comb over ending in a kiss-curl.

Subtly Worded and Other Stories

bookshelves: spring-2015, radio-4, shortstory-shortstories-novellas, slavic, translation, under-50-ratings

Recommended to ☯Bettie☯ by: Laura
Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from April 11 to 18, 2015

Description: Teffi’s genius with the short form made her a literary star in pre-revolutionary Russia, beloved by Tsar Nicholas II and Vladimir Lenin alike. These stories, taken from the whole of her career, show the full range of her gifts. Extremely funny-a wry, scathing observer of society-she is also capable, as capable even as Chekhov, of miraculous subtlety and depth of character.

There are stories here from her own life (as a child, going to meet Tolstoy to plead for the life of War and Peace’s Prince Bolkonsky, or, much later, her strange, charged meetings with the already-legendary Rasputin). There are stories of émigré society, its members held together by mutual repulsion. There are stories of people misunderstanding each other or misrepresenting themselves. And throughout there is a sly, sardonic wit and a deep, compelling intelligence.

1. In Marquita, translated by Robert Chandler, the shy chanteuse and single mother puts more passion into her date with a wealthy Tartar. Does her new approach succeed? Reader Hattie Morahan

2. The Hat…

3. …and My First Tolstoy. Two tales, translated by Anne Marie Jackson, that deal crisply with the vanities of fashion and literary homage. Cautionary tales both!

4. In Heart of a Valkyrie, translated by Anne Marie Jackson, the husband does little as his wife works all hours. The neighbours laugh at him, until a remarkable ‘change’ takes place..

Suffer the Children by John Saul

bookshelves: published-1977, spring-2015, boo-scary, tbr-busting-2015, new-england, north-americas

Read from April 15 to 18, 2015

Description: One hundred years ago in Port Arbello a pretty little girl began to scream. And struggle. And die. No one heard. No one saw. Just one man whose guilty heart burst in pain as he dashed himself to death in the sea. Now something peculiar is happening in Port Arbello. The children are disappearing, one by one. An evil history is repeating itself. And one strange, terrified child has ended her silence with a scream that began a hundred years ago.

This is the one that starts with a little girl chasing a bunny in New England in the late 1800s.

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What is it about New England and horror stories? Must be the same way that gothic big house stories work best in a Cornish setting.

The Regulators by Stephen King

bookshelves: fraudio, tbr-busting-2015, published-1996, north-americas, boo-scary, winter-20142015, ohio, spring-2015

Read from February 01 to April 18, 2015
Description: There’s a place in Wentworth, Ohio, where summer is in full swing. It’s called Poplar Street. Up until now it’s been a nice place to live. The idling red van around the corner is about to change all that. Let the battle against evil begin.

Read by Frank Muller

Muller gives this so much energy.

I remember when we all used to go camping, torches under the chin, we would take a turn at telling a story under chiaroscuro canvas – it didn’t matter if the subject was weak, if it was told right, even the weakest story held water in these conditions. Such is the way with ‘The Regulators’, if you meet this all rational and with scathing scepticism you get nothing back.

As Gabby says in her review, this is a compliment/companion to Desperation so that must mean we have to revisit the music I chose for that read.

4* The Shining (The Shining #1)
3* The Stand
4* It
5* Misery
3* Carrie
5* The Ginslinger
3* Pet Sematary
4* 11/22/63
3* ‘Salem’s Lot
3* The Green Mile
3* Needful Things
3* Cujo
4* Different Seasons
3* Christine
5* The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower, #2)
TR The Dead Zone
3* Firestarter
5* The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower, #3)
3* Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower, #4)
2* Dreamcatcher
4* Insomnia
TR Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower, #5)
4* Doctor Sleep (The Shining #2)
3* Desperation
TR The Talisman (The Talisman, #1)
4* Four Past Midnight
2* The Tommyknockers
2* The Mist
3* Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges Trilogy, #1)
4* Hearts in Atlantis
3* Rose Madder
3* Joyland
4* Full Dark, No Stars
4* Nightmares And Dreamscapes
2* Lisey’s Story
TR Black House (The Talisman, #2)
3* From a Buick 8
3* Revival
3* Just After Sunset
3* Storm of the Century: An Original Screenplay
1* UR
3* Blood and Smoke
3* Children of the Corn
3* A Death

Texas Bluff by Robert J Randisi

Description: Cardshark Ty Butler continues his migration to California, while stopping at every gambling hall along the way. This time his chips might be cashed in early, however, as he gets caught up in a deadly fight between two notorious criminals.

3* Butler’s Wager
2* Texas Bluff