here are this week’s book reviews. Enjoy:
The Pity of War: England and Germany, Bitter Friends, Beloved Foes by Miranda Seymour
For the past 400 hundred years, England and Germany have been close friends and bitter enemies. The connection between the two countries started in 1613, when a Stuart princess married a German prince, thus uniting Europe’s two great Protestant powers. Their Hanoverian descendants ruled England for centuries, and still do, albeit, since the First World War, under a different name, Windsor. During the centuries, the two countries have greatly influenced each other’s culture, art, literature, and politics, creating profound bounds as well as bitter rivalries between their people.
It’s their stories that Miranda Seymour tells in this book. Unlike most authors, she doesn’t just limit herself to royal history. The German and British royal families surely played a big role in the intertwined history of the two countries, but the book focuses mostly on the life of private, little known individuals – ambassadors, charlatans, painters, poets, soldiers, nurses, bankers, bakers, etc – who had ties with and equally loved both countries. Most of them were completely unknown to me, but their stories are fascinating and deserved to be told. Drawing from their diaries, letters, and personal interviews, Seymour compelling does so. We all know the history between the two countries, especially the tragic events and wars of the last century, but experiencing them through the eyes of those who lived in it, and were torn by the divided loyalty they felt towards both countries, makes it all more real and poignant.
Seymour writes beautifully. Although she packs a lot of information and details in a short space, The Pity Of War flows easily. A very compelling read, once you’ve started it, you won’t be able to put it down.
Available at: Amazon
The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien
As the daughter of John of Gaunt (son of King Edward III of England) and cousin to King Richard II, Elizabeth of Lancaster is destined to make a strategic marriage that will improve her family’s fortune and standing. But she doesn’t like the choice of husband her family made for her. Elizabeth rebels and marries the man she loves, the charming and ambitious Sir John Holland, half-brother to King Richard II. Elizabeth’s happy and, at first, this marriage seems as advantageous as the one she rejected. That’s until her brother, Henry of Bolingbroke deposes King Richard and seizes the crown for himself. Her husband, loyal to his brother, plans to put him back on the throne. Elizabeth is thus put in an impossible position, forced to choose between her husband and her brother. Should she reveals what she knows to the new king and send her husband to his death? Or should she side with her husband against her own brother, knowing that if the plot succeeds Henry will be killed?
It’s impossible not to feel sympathy for Elizabeth. Spoiled and selfish at times she may be, but her love for both her husband and her brother is genuine, and having to make a choice tears her apart. John’s decision to betray the new king isn’t less agonizing either. He’s no hero. He’s ruthless and ambitious and there’s not much he wouldn’t do to further his career at court, but he genuinely loves Elizabeth and like her, he has to choose between his brother and his spouse.
O’Brien poignantly explores the themes of forbidden love, loyalty and betrayal, pulling at her readers’ heartstrings and forcing them to wonder what they would have done in the same situation. It provides a great insight into a very turbulent time into English history and the difficult decisions people had to take at the time. And it’s beautifully written, bringing the character and the world they lived in vividly and accurately to life. I highly recommend it to all fans of historical fiction and, in particular, to those who want to know more about Elizabeth of Lancaster and her family.
Available at: Amazon
Ever Yours: The Essential Letters by Vincent van Gogh, Leo Jansen (Editor), Hans Luijten (Editor), Nienke Bakker (Editor)
Did you know that Vincent Van Gogh was a prolific and tireless letter writer? More than 800 letters have survived to our days, and they make for some fascinating reading. Complete, and annotated, editions of his letters exist, but for those who only want to read the essential ones, Ever Yours is the collection they need.
What makes the 265 letters in Ever Yours essential? Well, they give us an insightful glimpse into Van Gogh’s life. The first letters focus on his search for his true passion and job. Van Gogh did several jobs before dedicating his life to painting and, at some point, he even went through a religious phase during which he harboured ambitions to become a clergyman like his father. When he finally found his calling, he struggled for recognition. His paintings didn’t sell and he lived a life of poverty, depending for money on his brother. He was often misunderstood by people, even close loved ones, including his father, with whom he had a difficult relationship. But his bond to his brother Theo was very tight and reading their letters is so touching. Van Gogh also loved literature and in his letters he often talked about the books he read. He also beautifully described the places and things he saw and the paintings he made, and decorated his sketches with beautiful drawings, which are reproduced in the book.
Ever Yours gives the readers the opportunity to get to know this great artist better and realise what a difficult life he led. The last letters, written after he became mentally ill, are particularly touching, expressing his frustrations at his illness and the inability to work, and the loss of hope in a full recovery and better life in the future. But Van Gogh’s letters don’t just give you an insight into the painter’s mind. They also help you better understand the world he lived in and the art movements of his time.
The letters, most of which are addressed to his brother Theo, are accompanied by a short biography of Van Gogh, that will help the reader better understand the contents of some letters, and photos of his family.
Although Ever Yours only features the essential letters, it is a very long book, totalling more than 700 pages! That’s because Van Gogh wrote a lot. Most of his letters are several pages long. Because of it, this is not something you’d want to read all in one go, or even one week. It’s better savoured a little at a time. Unless you are a hard-die fan who can’t wait to read all the letters as soon as possible. In any case, I hope the length won’t put you off this fascinating collection. Every Van Gogh fan should have it in his/her library.
Available at: Amazon
Reclaiming Canadian Bodies: Visual Media and Representation by Lynda Mannik (Editor), Karen McGarry (Editor)
Why is it that some body types are promoted as ideal and others are marginalized and excluded from media representation? The author of Reclaiming Canadian Bodies asked themselves this question and, with the help of detailed empirical and ethnographic research, have tried to find an answer. As the title suggests, the authors specifically addresses this issue in a Canadian context. But that doesn’t mean that people from all over the world won’t find it interesting. You may not be familiar with all the Canadian personalities mentioned in the book, but the way the media works in Canada is not so different from the way it works in the rest of the world, making this a fascinating and insightful read for all those interested in media literacy and the impact the representation of human bodies in the media has on the population.
The book is divided into three sections. The first is called Embodied Ideals and examines what characteristics a body needs to have to be upheld as an ideal of Canadianess, and to what lengths Canadians go to comply with them. The second section, The Embodiment of “Others” deals with body types that aren’t considered Canadian. Very interesting is the study on emigrants, and how they are either perceived as good and in need of aid or evil and dangerous according to the way the media portrays them and their situation. The last section, Embodied Activism and Advocacy, focuses on the representation in the media of particular groups of people such as First Nations people and homosexuals.
The book is written in an academic tone and yet it is highly readable, making it accessible to a broad audience. I highly recommend it.
Available at: Amazon
Will you read these books?
Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.