Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe


3.61  ·  Rating details ·  215,586 Ratings  ·  10,007 Reviews
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe download or read online for free
Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe
 THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.

The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.



Reviews


“The drums were still beating, persistent and unchanging. Their sound was no longer a separate thing from the living village. It was like the pulsation of its heart. It throbbed in the air, in the sunshine, and even in the trees, and filled the village with excitement.” - Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

This is a book of many contrasts; colonialism and traditional culture, animism and Christianity, the masculine and the feminine, and the ignorant and the aware (although who is who depends on who’s speaking).

Okonkwo is one of the most intriguing characters in African fiction. He epitomizes so much I dislike; he’s abusive, misogynist, has very little patience or tolerance for the weak, and is perhaps he’s even over-ambitious. Despite all his faults, it’s impossible not to pity him a little because, after all, the life he knows, the life of his ancestors, is being taken from him quite cruelly by the British settlers.

This book really takes the reader into the Igbo culture. Achebe shows the traditional culture very well, a culture which is rife with superstition but rich in context. I loved the inclusion of the African proverbs and folk tales, and the details of the Igbo clan system. Achebe also shows how tightknit precolonial African culture was and how, despite not having the so-called civilized institutions, things went pretty smoothly because of the community spirit and also the societal rules. The importance of ancestors in society is a part of this:

“The land of the living was not far removed from the domain of the ancestors. There was coming and going between them.”

Achebe managed to inject some humour into such bleak subject matter, although I think this feat is quite common among African writers:

”You grew your ears for decoration, not for hearing.”

What I found difficult to come to terms with, as an African Christian myself, is the horrific way Christianity was introduced to the African continent. However, despite the lack of respect the colonialists showed to the people, it’s hard to deny that there were some aspects of African tradition that were outdated and people had the option of leaving such tradition behind, especially if it was harmful. For example, in this book the outcasts and the parents of twin babies (who had to kill their babies to prevent evil from entering the village) obviously found it easier to abandon tradition.

I think this book was the first one that made me realize the terrible impact of colonialism. I’ve always been curious about how Chinese women with bound feet must have felt after that fashion was seen as barbaric and unfashionable, and in the same vein I’ve also wondered about how those in African cultures who had lots of power and were accorded lots of respect might have felt when new values undermined everything they had worked towards.

This book reminds me a lot of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “The River Between” which focuses on similar subject matter, albeit on the other side of the continent (Kenya). I would highly recommend both of them.
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I read this many years ago as a teenager, before it was as well known as it is today, and then I read it again in college. Readers often expect imperialism to be dealt with in black and white. 
Either the author desires to see native ways preserved and consequently views any imperial attempts as immoral and threatening, or he's a Kipling-style "white man's burden" devotee who believes non-European cultures ought to be improved by supervision from their European "superiors." Yet Things Fall Apart is a novel that complicates both of those simplistic views. In it, a desire to preserve the native way of life coexists with an urge to admit improvements to it. A tension inevitably arises from the juxtaposition of these two goals. In Things Fall Apart, this tension courses through every page, and it is part of what makes the book so fascinating.

Achebe seems to despise the tendency to simplify complex human life. The events that occur in Things Fall Apart signify the destruction of an entire way of life, an obliteration of the ties that bind a people together. Yet it is not that Achebe unconditionally embraces the culture of the Ibo people. He makes the reader feel for Okonkwo's father, whose failure by Ibo standards is the source of Okonkwo's severity, and for his son, Nwoye, who does not fit into the strictly ordered masculine warrior society.

I appreciated, especially, Achebe's nuanced portrayl of both the positive and negative aspects of missionary activity. When the missionaries come to Nigeria, the church provides a haven for the discontent: for the woman who can not bear to leave her twins to die, for the outcasts who are shunned by the community, and for Nwoye, who can only fit into Ibo society by denying himself. I was moved by Achebe's depiction of how Christianity provides a place for the outcast: the hymn they sing about brothers "who sat in darkness and in fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent question that haunted [Nwoye's] young soul--the question of the twins crying in the bush and the question of Ikemefuna who was killed. He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul."

Yet by providing an outlet for the discontent, the church begins to unravel the ties that bind the Ibo people together. Although the church gives dignity to the outcast and the misunderstood, the second missionary who comes fails to restrain his converts from injuring the dignity of other Ibos. Achebe makes us sympathize with Nwoye's dissatisfaction and acknowledges that Ibo culture was imperfect, but through Okonkwo he also shows us what was lost when the Ibos failed to preserve their culture from the onslaught of the Europeans. What was lost, Achebe has said elsewhere, was DIGNITY, "and it is this that they must now regain. The worst thing that can happen to any people is the loss of their dignity and self-respect. The writer's duty is to help them regain it by showing in human terms what happened to them." Achebe succeeds brilliantly. He painfully and tragically depicts the tragedy that can result when the only way of life a man has ever known begins to crumble.
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Achebe’s protagonist isn’t a very nice man. In reality he is an asshole. 
I don’t like him. I don’t think anyone really does. He is ruthless and unsympathetic to his fellow man. He grew up in a warrior’s culture; the only way to be successful was to be completely uncompromising and remorseless. His father was weak and worthless, according to him, so he approached life with an unshakable will to conquer it with his overbearing masculinity.

”When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavy in debt. Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him? Fortunately, among these people a man as judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his farther.”

I love the sarcasm in this quote. Achebe is clearly suggesting that this is not true for the white man. For all their supposed superiority, they cannot get this simple thing right. The African tribe here has a better system of promotion based on merit. The warrior Okonkwo has a chance to prove himself regardless of what occurs in the more “civilised” part of the world. And here is the crux of the novel. Achebe gives the black man a voice; he gives him culture and civilisation. These men are not represented in an unjust way. He is directly responding to the ignorant trend in Victorian literature that represented the colonised as unintelligible and voiceless: they were shown to be savage. Achebe gives us the reality.
This quote says it all:

“If you don't like my story, write your own”.

And that’s exactly what he did himself. He holds no judgement. His protagonist is completely flawed. Okonkwo is without mercy; he has earnt his fame and respect, so when an untitled youngster speaks out he is immediately roused to anger. This is his hamartia, his tragic flaw, he must overcome this and treat his fellow tribesmen with a degree of dignity. But, he is a slow learner. And who can blame him? For all his brutality and misogyny, this is till his culture. This is all he has ever known, whether it’s right or wrong doesn’t matter. Granted, not all the men are as extreme as him. He uses his position to extract violence more than most. His wives are often the focal point for his rage, much to their misfortune. He sounds like a bad man; he’s certainly not a nice man, but that’s not the point. Achebe’s meaning, and the power of this story is revealed at the end.

I found this very unusual, but it was also very effective. The point of this novel is to show how uncompromising the white man is. That’s an obvious point, though what I mean to say is that its full effect is revealed at the end. The Nigerian culture, the way of life for the tribe folk in this novel, is forced to change because if it doesn’t it will be destroyed in its entirety. The protagonist represents this; he has to deal with the crisis. He had a choice: he could either accept the white man’s way, and be changed forever, or he could stick to his own customs and, ultimately, fall.
Language is the key:

“Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”


Africa does not possess a silent culture. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was wrong. African language is formal, developed and intelligent. Here in Nigeria is the conduit for the Igbo culture. It is rich in oral tradition. Achebe recognises that to accept a new language is to shun the original culture. Achebe shows that Igbo tradition is dependent on storytelling and language, to accept English would destroy the Igbo traditions. It would alienate the Africans form their culture; thus, resistance, however futile, is the natural and just response. Okonkwo’s reactions are deeply symbolic of a culture that is about to collapse.

I think what Achebe is trying to portray here is the quietness of the African voice. It had no say. It doesn’t matter if the colonisers were kind or brutal; it doesn’t matter what the Nigerian culture was like in terms of ethics. What matters is that it was taken away or shaped into something else entirely. This was not progress but assimilation. All culture has its flaws, that’s true for any society, but the white one, for all its self-aggrandisement, was nothing but imposing. And for Achebe this is the ruination of the voice he was trying to channel.

“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
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My son and I had a long talk about this novel the other day, after he finished reading it for an English class.

Over the course of the study unit, we had been talking about Chinua Achebe's fabulous juxtaposition of different layers of society, both within Okonkwo's tribe, and within the colonialist community. We had been reflecting on aspects of the tribe that we found hard to understand, being foreign and against certain human rights we take for granted, most notably parts of the strict hierarchy and the role of women. And we had been angry together at the inhumane arrogance and violence of the Europeans, who were only in charge based on their technological development level, not on cultural superiority. We had thought about the roles of men and women, and of individuals in their relation to their families and social environment. We had touched on the hypocrisy of religious missions.

I had dwelt on the title and its beautiful context, the poem by Yeats, more relevant now than ever:

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."


We had compared Okonkwo to the skilled falcon, and the ruthless Europeans to falconers killing and destroying without reason. And "The best lack all conviction..." - a sad truth in an era of a radicalised political climate.

We agreed that the novel was excellent, timeless and universally important.

And then came the last paragraph...

If a novel can make a 14-year-old genuinely upset, angry, and frustrated to the point of wanting to slap a fictional character, then the author has managed to convey a message, I'd say. He got me engaged as well, and I could feel my nausea towards the Commissioner re-emerge instantly when reading his arrogant final thoughts, after the tragic showdown:

"The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger."

The discussion between my son and myself focused on how the commissioner managed to marginalise a whole life, which we had breathlessly followed in the preceding pages, to a mere paragraph in a text of his own vain invention, with zero relation to the true circumstances. My son claimed it was one of the best endings he had ever read - for the sudden change of perspective that disrupted the story and made it stand out in sharp contrast.

Then we continued talking.

Best endings? Which ones could possibly compete?

First one up was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Its last sentence also puts individual suffering into a wider perspective, in this case a time frame:

“The end of an unclouded day. Almost a happy one. Just one of the 3,653 days of his sentence, from bell to bell. The extra three were for leap years.”

Neither my son nor I will ever get over that counting of three extra days for leap years...

Second up was All Quiet on the Western Front, in which the death of the narrator is reported in a last paragraph that indicates that the main character's life is of so little importance that newspapers wrote there was "Nothing New on the Western Front". His so-called heroic death drowned in the meaningless mass dying, his suffering was completely without purpose in the bigger machinations of politics on national level. And yet, he had been so incredibly alive and opinionated and experienced, just the day before...

Then the last one we could think of (mirroring our shared reading experience), was the horrible case of a last sentence showing the victim's complete identification with the tyrant, the falcon loving the falconer, Orwell's closing line in 1984:

"He loved Big Brother."

The brutality of the comparison made my son say:

"At least Okonkwo made his final choice on his own."

As sad as it is, we felt grateful for that. But what a brave new world, that has such people in it!

Must-read. Must-talk-about!  
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Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37781.Things_Fall_Apart?ac=1&from_search=true

American Assassin by Vince Flynn

American Assassin by Vince Flynn


4.24  ·  Rating details ·  51,351 Ratings  ·  2,540 Reviews 
Mitch Rapp is a gifted college athlete who just wants retribution for the Pan Am Lockerbie attack. He trains six months intensely with other clandestine operatives, under CIA Operations Director Thomas Stansfield and protégé Irene Kennedy, to stop terrorists before they reach America. The assassin leaves a trail of bodies from Istanbul across Europe to Beirut, where he needs every ounce of skill and cunning to survive the war-ravaged city and its deadly terrorist factions.
American Assassin by Vince Flynn download or read it online for free
American Assassin
by Vince Flynn
Before he was considered a CIA superagent, before he was thought of as a terrorist’s
worst nightmare, and before he was both loathed and admired by the politicians on
Capitol Hill, Mitch Rapp was a gifted college athlete without a care in the world . . .
and then tragedy struck.

Two decades of cutthroat, partisan politics has left the CIA and the country in an
increasingly vulnerable position. Cold War veteran and CIA Operations Director
Thomas Stansfield knows he must prepare his people for the next war. The rise of
Islamic terrorism is coming, and it needs to be met abroad before it reaches America’s
shores. Stansfield directs his protÉgÉe, Irene Kennedy, and his old Cold War colleague,
Stan Hurley, to form a new group of clandestine operatives who will work outside the
normal chain of command-men who do not exist.

What type of man is willing to kill for his country without putting on a uniform?  Kennedy finds him in the wake of the Pan Am Lockerbie terrorist attack. Two-hundred and seventy souls perished that cold December night, and thousands of family and friends were left searching for comfort. Mitch Rapp was one of them, but he was not interested in comfort. He wanted retribution.

Six months of intense training has prepared him to bring the war to the enemy’s doorstep, and he does so with brutal efficiency. Rapp starts in Istanbul, where he assassinates the Turkish arms dealer who sold the explosives used in the Pan Am attack. Rapp then moves onto Hamburg with his team and across Europe, leaving a trail of bodies. All roads lead to Beirut, though, and what Rapp doesn’t know is that the enemy is aware of his existence and has prepared a trap. The hunter is about to become the hunted, and Rapp will need every ounce of skill and cunning if he is to survive the war-ravaged city and its various terrorist factions.

As action-packed, fast-paced, and brutally realistic as it gets, Flynn’s latest page-turner shows readers how it all began. Behind the steely gaze of the nation’s ultimate hero is a young man primed to become an American Assassin.  


Reviews


Some people are addicted to drugs. I am happily addicted to Vince Flynn's books and the exploits of his truly American hero, Mitch Rapp. 
My wife and daughter share my addiction, but they have not had their fix yet because I got to read Flynn's newest book first. Which is only fair since I bought it. My only complaint is that now I will have to wait another year for the next book. Withdrawal can be tough.

Oh, about the book? C'mon, it's Vince Flynn and Mitch Rapp. This one is about how Mitch got his start in the assassin business before he became the star player in the war on terror and before there was an official war on terror. It is set before 9-11 when some in the clandestine services discerned radical Islamic terror clouds approaching and were trying to prepare for it (remember this is fiction). The result was...Mitch Rapp whose name Islamofacists use to frighten their children with into good behavior when they are not strapping suicide vests on them to kill innocent men women and children.

If they ever make a movie based on a Vince Flynn book, this is one I would vote for. That is as long as they were faithful to the book. Otherwise they might tick Vince and Mitch off.
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This was exceptional with one disclaimer... it was obviously rushed to publishing with little editing.  
While waiting for my copy to arrive I read that other fans had noticed more than the occasional typos in the text and were bothered by them. I wondered if perhaps they were being a little over the top. Unfortunately, I found myself equally bothered. It is understandable that sometimes a "i" will be replaced with an "l" (as in the word "cabbie" being written as "cabble" in the last portion of the book) but in one area an entire name was substituted with the name of a different primary character who was most certainly not present in the room - this kind of error attacked the rhythm and flow of the book and distracted me on too many occasions. It is a shame that such a great story was marred by so many glaring errors.

I saw the interview with Vince Flynn after the release of the book and remembered him saying that in this prequel even he "learned things about Mitch Rapp" that he did not previously know. I was struck, while reading, about how true that is. Rapp is a great character who has always been easy to root for. This book only furthers my affection for him and my desire to know him more.

The end of the book left a number of things teased or unanswered leaving me wondering if there are more prequels to come.

Without question I enjoyed the story, was angry and unnerved by the realistic implications of the plot and my gratitude for real American Black Ops was furthered. While reading this I cannot help but think of Winston Churchill's famous quote: "never was so much owed by so many to so few."

Between Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, The Unit and 24, I do hope that our culture will embrace the ugly reality that the face of war has changed and what we hold most dear is not nearly as safe as we would hope.
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In a world where every second person is a self-proclaimed writer, present company included, it's easy to forget why the brand-name authors are still keeping the mainstream publishing model alive. Because they are good. Let me rephrase that, they are damn good. 
And Vince Flynn was a case in point. Admittedly, Mr. Flynn's flavor of military thrillers is a genre I have opted to watch at the movies when little brain activity on my part is required. I prefer to read mysteries, intelligent espionage, and thrillers with an international twist.

This is an excellent book, and Mr. Flynn was an exceptionally gifted writer. Any preconceived notions I may have harbored about this type of book were squarely laid to rest. This is intelligent, exciting and satisfying writing. American Assassin is the prequel to the highly popular Mitch Rapp series. Mitch Rapp is an American assassin working by proxy for the CIA to do the dirty work that needs to be done. Before this installment, I believe there were at least thirteen or twelve books in the series, but American Assassin goes back to explore how Mitch Rapp became an assassin in the first place. It's explosive, and if you're new to the franchise, it's the best place to start.

This book has healthy doses of action, drama, intrigue, and even some steamy scenes. And the dialogue is a study-aide for any writer still learning the trade. But most of all, what I particularly liked about this book is that Mr. Flynn was one of the few writers of this genre who has a clear intellectual perspective. And in this case, he is has very strong views on the dangers of radical Islamic Jihad on the global level. I am yet to read more of his books, and I plan to. But I get the feeling that as with this one, his other books will not be steeped in gratuitous bang-bang, or the literary equivalent of a bad Bruce Willis flick, but will tie-in to a more profound intellectual paradigm that does double duty of entertaining and also prodding you to think.
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Ok, how in the world have I missed this author, these characters, these books?! 
You know that feeling you get when you realize you found a new (to you) outstanding author and he/she has piles of books you have not yet read? I think I may have teared up a little, but if not an actual tear, I at least danced. At the risk of oversimplifying... this book rocked! It reminded me a bit of a Lee Child book where the main character is still affiliated with the military. Great characters, deep courage and non-stop action.

I cannot wait to read the next in this series!
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Although I don't think many people actually follow what I say, I have to retract the criticism I made of Flynn's last few books. Actually, I'm not going to retract them, because they were true--Flynn was letting his ideology get in the way of the storytelling. 
Rather, I will say that he's returned to the stuff that made his earlier work great--compelling characters, amazing story lines, and a breathtaking adventure that leaves you sorry when the book ends.

Flynn takes his hero, Mitch Rapp, back to the beginning, when he is a 23 year old who's just lost the love of his life to tragedy. Mitch's reasons for becoming who we know him to be--the American Assassin--are compelling and believable. There's also some interesting moral analysis between the idea of revenge and retribution. We also get to see other characters from the series younger, and, in the case of Thomas Stansfield, still alive.

If you like the Mitch Rapp series, you'll adore this book. If you've never read a Mitch Rapp novel, this is a terrific place to start.

Well done, Mr. Flynn.
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In a word, superb.

This is why I love reading thrillers - every now and again, you discover a new series, read the first one and make a decision halfway through that you're going to devour the rest of the author's work as fast as possible.

I'd been hearing things about this series for a couple of years but other commitments kept me away. I'm kicking myself - hard.

Flynn's writing is fluid, he keeps the words simple while providing enough information that lets the reader's imagination to fly. I'd compare the international tone of these to Robert Ludlum's novels, but that would be doing Flynn an injustice as he stands tall in his own right as an author in this particular sub-genre.

The 'do not disturb' sign will be well and truly on display in our household for the foreseeable future as I read the rest of the Mitch Rapp series!
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I am putting it out there in the first sentence; I think this is the best novel I have read this year. Yes, I am a big Mitch Rapp fan; I think anyone that has followed this blog knows I love the character as much as I enjoy some of the big names out there today. Vince Flynn just hits a grand slam as he uses American Assassin, a prequel, to explain for us in tremendous detail, what makes Mitch Rapp so Mitch Rapp. I loved every word of it!
Here is a piece from the inside jacket: ”Before he was considered a CIA superagent, before he was thought of as a terrorist’s worst nightmare, and before he was both loathed and admired by the politicians on Capitol Hill, Mitch Rapp was a gifted college athlete without a care in the world… and then tragedy struck.”
I, like many of you, have read the entire series and am a big fan. I have always been of the mind that a novel like this, a prequel explaining his mindset, would be awesome and I was right. Why does he do what he does, how did he come to make the decisions he has, what kind of training did he initially receive and where, how was he recruited, and what were his first assignments? The answers are all in this novel and the thoughts of the core group of people that surround the man himself: Irene Kennedy, Thomas Stanfield, Stan Hurley, and Lewis the psychologist. Incredible narrative by Vince Flynn, and I am going to go out on a limb here and say that this is probably his best work to date. I feel that this is the BEST novel in this genre this year. There are a few more novels in this category coming out before Christmas but they better be point on to knock this incredible prequel off its perch in my mind.
American Assassin has an intensity that sets this novel apart from the rest. The conciseness of Flynn’s writing, the detail of the thoughts and the totality and depth of Rapp’s feelings, opinions, attitudes and inner most thoughts are all on display in this novel. I really don’t think that there is much left about Mitch Rapp and his young life to be discussed and have conjecture made. Vince Flynn delivers a total package for anyone that is a longtime fan or someone that is just catching on to the force of nature that is Mitch Rapp. Do I recommend this novel? No hesitation, yes go for it. This novel has a heartbeat and a rhythm that is rarely found in fiction today. Laid bare for all to read: the pain, the fractured life, the incredible mindset of a world class athlete turned into a raging killing machine, an American Assassin.
Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7959473-american-assassin

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah


4.47  ·  Rating details ·  61,529 Ratings  ·  8,571 Reviews
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah download or read it online for free
Born a Crime
by Trevor Noah
The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man's coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

Trevor Noah's unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents' indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa's tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man's relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother: his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The eighteen personal essays collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother's unconventional, unconditional love.


Reviews


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I'd rate this 4.5 stars.

I was really surprised when Trevor Noah was named Jon Stewart's successor on The Daily Show . I inherently knew that they wouldn't pick someone with a sense of humor and style identical to Stewart's, but I felt that Noah was so different that his selection meant the show would have a really different feel, which might not appeal to long-time fans of the show. But I always root for the underdog, so as he was getting savaged by critics and fans in his first few days on the job, I kept hoping he'd be able to tough it out and show the stuff—comedic and otherwise—of which he was made.

After reading Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood , I realize that I needn't have worried about Trevor Noah. For a child growing up in South Africa in the last days of, and the tumult following apartheid, he faced crises far greater than dissatisfied fans. And if he could be raised during such a crazily illogical time in a country where more violence, racism, and mistreatment went unreported than caught the media's eye, he'd have no problem skewering the insanity of our political system, especially leading into the election of 2016!!

"On February 20, 1984, my mother checked into Hillbrow Hospital for a scheduled C-section delivery. Estranged from her family, pregnant by a man she could not be seen with in public, she was alone. The doctors took her up to the delivery room, cut open her belly, and reached in and pulled out a half-white, half-black child who violated any number of laws, statutes, and regulations—I was born a crime."

Born to a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father, Noah literally spent his earliest days hiding indoors. His parents, who never married, couldn't be seen together, and because his mother looked so different than he did, she couldn't walk through the streets with him, because at any moment someone might accuse her of kidnapping another person's child. Yet while their lives dealt with crushing poverty, violence, and racism from all sides, his deeply religious mother never let anything bother her, or stop her from raising her son to know he was loved, and to know that he truly could accomplish anything he wanted, despite all of the obstacles in his way.

"She taught me to challenge authority and question the system. The only way it backfired on her was that I constantly challenged and questioned her."

Born a Crime provides a first-hand account of the last days of apartheid and its aftermath, and what it was like to grow up as a mixed-race child, where he wasn't white enough to be considered white, nor was he black enough to be considered black. While at times this had its advantages, for the most part, it left him on the outside looking in, having to handle everything on his own, fight his own battles, struggle to find people who genuinely liked him for who he was and not the novelty of his skin color, and rebel against a mother who only wanted him to behave.

If you go into this book expecting to laugh hysterically because of Noah's day job, think again. While the book does include some of the wry humor that has begun endearing him to fans, this is an emotional, brutal, and educational story of a life which flourished despite the odds stacked against it. This is a book about growing up in a culture of poverty and crime, and how easy it was to get caught up in that, especially when it was one of the only ways to make money and be able to feed, clothe, and enjoy yourself. It's also a book about fear, how it motivates you, how it paralyzes you, and how it threatens to take away the one thing you cherish more than any other.

More than anything, though, this is a book about the unwavering love of a mother for a child she chose to have. She knew it would be difficult raising her son in the age of apartheid, and in fact, she had no idea when he was born that it would end anytime soon. But Noah was a remarkable child, and while he exasperated, frightened, and upset his mother from time to time, she knew he would accomplish great things one day (as soon as he stopped putting cornrows in his hair and hanging out with those awful hoodlums he called friends).

I enjoyed this book and learned a lot about apartheid, which I really didn't know much about. Noah is a good writer, and delivered his narrative much as I've heard him deliver his lines on The Daily Show . This is a funny, thought-provoking, and emotional book, although I felt that some of his anecdotes went on a little too long, while others didn't go on long enough. I also would have liked to have learned how he went from his upbringing in South Africa to one day hosting an acclaimed television show—other than passing mentions of things he did, I have no idea how he made the leap.

I've heard some people say that the audio version of this book is brilliant because Noah reads it himself, but if you read the print/digital version, you can still hear his voice through his words. Noah's story is a lesson of the inequities of the past, and a warning for what is still possible to happen again in our world. But this isn't heavy-handed; it's fun, insightful, and very compelling.
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Funny guy- The very charming Trevor Noah
    "People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing."

Trevor Noah
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By the time Trevor Noah was born in 1984, Apartheid, the system that institutionalized segregation and racial discrimination in his native South Africa, was already in its last throes. But young Trevor still got to experience plenty of the negative effects of that horrific system.

The relationship between his black African mother and his white Swiss father, was legally prohibited by the 1927 "Immorality Act", a crime that could carry up to 5 years in prison. These laws were not a mere abstraction, they were actively enforced by the authorities.

Noah did a good job at giving us a condensed version of the history of Apartheid. He explains how it was used to create fissures among the black population, and give us an insider's perspective of the real life consequences it had in the lives of millions of people.

My sense is that this book was written with a Western audience in mind, so he takes the time to compare Apartheid to similar repressive movements in other parts of the world, such as the removal of Native Americans, European Colonialism and Slavery and the Jim Crow era in America.
On this topic he remarks:

    "In America you had the forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid."


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These stories, beautifully written, are set in a world quite like our own but at the same time utterly different. Maybe "through a glass darkly". 
Who goes to church three times on Sunday to Black, White and Coloured ones? Who goes to jail for (not) stealing a car rather than face the wrath of his mother? Who gets a prom date with the most beautiful girl around, but one who doesn't speak the language and is extremely unsociable to boot? None of these things are extraordinary in this world,

Who could perform rap at a Jewish school to a wildly-enthusiastic audience and create deadening silence in one second asking respect for Hitler? Repeatedly. I'm not going to spoil this one. It's a brilliant story, very funny, and sadly critical too. Two worlds collide, black and white, and neither understand why the other is so offended.

In what world can a man standing in front of a policeman not be identified on the video they are both watching of his best friend shoplifting and he with him? But he isn't. Because of the exposure of the video the black figure appeared black but the coloured one, Trevor, appeared white. The police were unable to link in their heads the features of the man on the screen with the one in front of them who was a suspect, because he was white. These South African policemen were blinded by their prejudice. Which was rather lucky for Trevor, and he is our hero.

He's mine anyway.

This is a fascinating book that will take you deep into the world of the non-white life of South Africa mostly since apartheid ended. It's funny and tragic, heart-warming and wtf did you do that for. It's tribal and urban and mostly very third world. It's quite something to incorporate all those elements and boast only in ways that are more to do with accomplishment than with ego. But if you don't like politics this isn't for you. Every single incident no matter how funny, how light, and they aren't all, drives home that race decides everything in South Africa.

I listened to it in the car. The audio is brilliant. narrated by the author (which is why I got it on audio, that's one of the great advantages of the media listening to an author tell his own tale.) It's a 10-star biography.
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In Born a Crime, Trevor Noah takes us on a journey from his childhood being born a crime in apartheid South Africa. 
Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. This memoir is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man's relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother: his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

Side note: Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah - his mother - was a powerhouse, a strong woman in every sense. She's a warrior and I only wish I could be a half of the person she is. Also, I love the advice she gave her son—I even wrote a few pieces down to remember:

“Abel wanted a traditional marriage with a traditional wife. For a long time I wondered why he ever married a woman like my mom in the first place, as she was the opposite of that in every way. If he wanted a woman to bow to him, there were plenty of girls back in Tzaneen being raised solely for that purpose. The way my mother always explained it, the traditional man wants a woman to be subservient, but he never falls in love with subservient women. He’s attracted to independent women. “He’s like an exotic bird collector,” she said. “He only wants a woman who is free because his dream is to put her in a cage.”

This passage had pretty much changed the way I think, the way I precept the world.

“She’d tell me not to worry. She always came back to the phrase she lived by: “If God is with me, who can be against me?” She was never scared. Even when she should have been.”

The piece stuck with me.

Truly though, this memoir was enlighten, brimming with emotion, and I love it when children pay tribute to their hard-working mothers.

“There was no stepfather in the picture yet, no baby brother crying in the night. It was me and her, alone. There was this sense of the two of us embarking on a grand adventure. She’d say things to me like, “It’s you and me against the world.” I understood even from an early age that we weren’t just mother and son. We were a team.”

My mind and heart were fully transported while reading everything Trevor went through to get to where he is today and everyone that took part of that journey.

And even though some of the stories kind of broke my heart, Trevor Noah always managed to bring in his gold humor to ease the tension. There are a couple of chapters that have taken a hold of my soul and won’t let go because either they were extremely hilarious (TREVOR, PRAY & LOOPHOLES) or entirely heart-shattering (MY MOTHER’S LIFE)... or both.

Slowly and surely, I came to admire Trevor Noah's character and honesty even more than I did before. And I'm pretty sure that I'll end up watching and rewatching his stand-up shows so that I can stop tearing up at the mention of his name.
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A book *treasure*!

Trevor is a likable! A charming- guy!!! Listening to him speak is almost magnetic.
Being thrown out of a car? By his own mother? OUCH! Trevor had my attention in the palm of his hands.

The ongoing - ongoing - and ONGOING ....dramatic stories Trevor shares about his childhood --were life lesson building blocks. Trevor did the building!! He used every life experience to his advantage-- and that's extraordinary!
Poverty, abuse, Religious upbringing, crazy chaotic living conditions, a powerhouse one-of-kind mother....Trevor is a thriving survivor!!!!

We also get an excellent intimate understanding: .....of the rigid former policy of segregating and economically and politically oppressing the non-white population....
from the direct experience of Noah being born in South Africa during the laws of apartheid.

A child who was often guided to play indoors, ( hiding), a 'positive' lifetime result 'today' is that Trevor says he can sit and enjoy his own company for days on out. He is never bored!
.... sadness of course - tragic times -horrific injustice.....
but Trevor Noah is warm - charming -filled with love and light!!!! Funny too!!!
Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29780253-born-a-crime

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

News of the World by Paulette Jiles


News of the World by Paulette Jiles download or read it online for free
News of the World
by Paulette Jiles
4.13  ·  Rating details ·  22,701 Ratings  ·  3,966 Reviews 
In the aftermath of the American Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this morally complex, multi-layered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.


Reviews


★★★★★ 5 Stars!
I don't know why I didn't give this 5 stars to begin with but I have now. 
Every once in a while a character comes along that leaves that indelible mark on my heart that will make me think about them for a long time and think that if this were a real person, I'd want them in my life. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Kep-den) is one of those characters as is Johanna (Chohenna). It's 1870 in Texas and after his service in the wars, he's a News a Reader going from town to town reading the news of the day to anyone who will pay a dime to hear it. A widower with two grown daughters, this is his life until he takes on the challenge of escorting ten year old Johanna to her surviving relatives 600 miles away. Johanna has lived with the Kiowa Indians for four years after they kidnapped her and murdered her family . So this becomes an arduous journey with this little girl who speaks no English and is defiant in keeping her identity as a Kiowa.

It becomes more than just a journey of the miles but one of emotions from Johann's fear and the Captain's doubts until a bond forms and they become friends, then like a grandfather and granddaughter, and partners against the loathsome men they meet along the way. I held my breath at times , cried and laughed as it becomes a journey of the heart. I really don't want to say much more because I urge you to read this beautiful story yourself. The writing and the story held me from the beginning to the end. This will most certainly be one of my favorites for the year and once you read this book it will become clear why it has been nominated for The National Book Award. Kudos to Paulette Jiles.

It is 1870. Reconstruction era Texas is governed by a combination of outlaws and bandits and bordered on by Native Americans. Enter Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. A veteran of three wars, he uses both his position as a war hero and Texas' isolation from the rest of the country to travel around the state giving readings of the News of the World. Such commences Paulette Jiles short yet poignant novel.

While giving one of his readings in Witchita Falls, Kidd encounters Britt Johnson, a freed slave. Johnson has with him ten-year-old Johanna Leonberger who had been held captive by the Kiowa tribe for the past four years. The puppet government issued a fifty silver piece for whoever returns her to her family near San Antonio. Johnson suggests Kidd because he is familiar with terrain and because he raised daughters. Although content as a widower, Kidd could use the money and after little deliberation agrees to transport Johanna home.

Johanna, however, believes she is a Kiowa. Having lived with them for the past four years, she has adopted their way of life and forgotten the English and German she was raised with. On their journey, Kidd is entrusted with teaching Johanna how to live like a proper white girl all over again. It is through these interactions and traveling in close quarters in a covered wagon that their relationship grows. Johanna little by little learns to trust Kidd, earning him the title of Kontah (grandfather). Over the course of their trip, she even attempts to speak a rudimentary English.

Jiles is a new author for me, but in this novel she has reminded me why I love historical fiction. She has taken a little talked about time period- post reconstruction Texas- and created memorable characters within that framework who I will think about for awhile. Additionally, through Kidd's readings and their encounters on the road, we are given the important news stories of the time, allowing this story to contain a larger historical framework.

Although Jiles may be a new author for me, she has written other novels and a memoir, mainly about post Civil War Texas. News of the World has been short listed for the National Book Award and is deserving of the honor. I have read many powerful novels which came out this year, and News of the World is in the upper echelon. A powerful story with memorable characters, I highly recommend this novel to those looking for a good story.

Magnificent. I was rendered speechless upon finishing. Needed time to dry my tears and gather my thoughts.

What an adventure this was to read.
Captain Kidd is a seasoned man who reads the world news to towns and village folk in 1870. An ambitious illusion he has created in the hopes of bringing peace - at least for a few minutes - to the civil war torn Texans.
Now at the ripe age of 72, he has been given the daunting challenge of returning a 10 year old girl to her family after having been kidnapped for 7 years by the Indians. What transpires is a journey through Texas and an endearing relationship that develops between Kidd and Jo-Hanna.

Thank you GoodReads for this terrific win in GR Giveaways. It's a beautiful hard copy with deckled edges. 5*****

Try not to mourn the demise of Penelope and Amelia. "Iss the song and the sigh of the willy" and laff-ter is so good for the soul.

Weather you measure time with a gold watch or the click, click, click sound of a broken wheel...
Spend as much time as possible with someone that you love, someone that you trust, someone that you can trust with your love.
And that's what Captain Kidd and Johanna the savage have done. If we are lucky, it all comes quickly between those people so deserving of it.

May it be that way with you.

The year is 1870. The Civil War has ended.
"News of the World" is a heartfelt story.
A young 10 year girl, Johanna, gets introduced to Captain Kidd, in Wichita Falls.
Their relationship together - and their journey together is genuinely beautiful!
The author, Paulette Jiles wrote this story with so much depth, and passion, it takes your breath away.
This story will restore your faith in historical fiction - should you ever have had any doubt about this genre.

Captain Kidd, an aging war veteran - of several wars, sold his printing business in San Antonio, Texas, after his wife died, bought a horse to use as his transportation....then travels around the state of in Texas. He reads the the newspapers from city to city -- for a dime. The towns are small...news travels slow.
He is offered $50 to bring Johanna to her only remaining family near San Antonio. ( an aunt an uncle).

Johanna has already seen extreme malice in her young life. The Kiowa tribe killed her parents, and sister, when she was 6 years old, then captured her. Johanna's pulled away to live with the Kiowa tribe - knows no English and only speaks Kiowa.
In her own way..this lost child, and somewhat a wild rebellious child, needs to find a way to survive - rebuild a life and find her own place in the world. Captain Kidd is wants to keep her safe. Their travels are rough...even dangerous..traveling 400 miles south. I worried for both Johanna and Captain Kidd, and not only because of the difficulty they faced, but emotionally. They were both brave and humble, and impossible not to love them both!

A vibrant beautiful story -real characters of the old west...exquisitely written.

This book dang near broke my heart...... but in a good way and solely due to the authors expertise in creating two wonderful characters with a unique relationship.
Captain Kidd, travels Northern Texas as a news reader, in post Civil War, Texas. He is offered a tidy sum to deliver a young girl who was captured by the Kiowa Indians when she was six, the rest of her immediate family killed in the raid.. Now ten she is traded back and needs to be returned to her aunt and uncle, her only surviving relatives. Johanna, wants only to be returned to her Indian tribe, her adopted Indian parents and remembers little about her early life.

So they travel together, four hundred miles, and a relationship unlike any other is formed. Endearing, adventurous, descriptive writing, amazing dialogue, much humor, all the things that make a novel so good. The Captain doubts the wisdom of returning Johanna, but he is an honorable man and this is his charged duty. But is that the wisest decision? So this is what we keep reading to find out and along the way we meet many scoundrels, heroes and people who judge without understanding. Just one of those fantastic stories that the reader can't help but take to heart and have a great time along the way.

"He had the appearance of wisdom and age and authority, which was why his readings were popular and the reason the dimes rang into his coffee can. When they read his handbills men abandoned the saloon, they slipped out of various unnamed establishments, they ran through the rain from their firelit homes, they left the cattle circled and bedded beside the flooding Red to come and hear the news of the distant world."

Seasoned war veteran Captain Jefferson Kidd traverses post-Civil War north Texas reading the news to a people eager for communication with a world from which they seem so far removed. 1870s Texas is a land of outlaws, tribal warfare and governmental instability. Once a spirited husband, father and contented owner of a printing press, Captain Kidd is lately feeling a bit dissatisfied with life perhaps. "A slow dullness had seeped into him like coal gas and he did not know what to do about it except seek out quiet and solitude." All that changes when he is given a $50 gold piece in exchange for returning a Kiowa captive to her San Antonio relatives.

Life becomes anything but peaceful and solitary as Captain Kidd begins a 400-mile journey through Texas with Johanna, his ten-year-old charge. This will be no easy task as Johanna, who was orphaned and kidnapped by the Kiowa at the age of six, remembers nothing of her former family, her language or her culture. She is now wholly Kiowa. My heart ached for this little girl who had been torn from those she considered family not just once, but now twice in her short lifetime. She yearns to return to her people, the Kiowa. She cares not at all for the white man’s world. "She was shouting for her mother, for her father and her sisters and brothers, for the life on the Plains, traveling wherever the buffalo took them, she was calling for her people who followed water, lived with every contingency, were brave in the face of enemies, who could go without food or water or money or shoes or hats and did not care that they had neither mattresses nor chairs nor oil lamps."

Not one to shirk responsibility, despite any misgivings he may have, Captain Kidd meets the challenge head-on and what follows is a journey that will make you laugh and cry, and will set you on the edge of your seat with apprehension for the dangers these two may encounter along the way. We learn so much about the Captain as he muses on his life as a soldier, as a husband, and as a father to his now-grown daughters. I admired this man as he tried to overcome the language barrier and develop his own special communication with Johanna. Their interactions with one another are so very touching. Johanna will need to place her trust in this man who is now all that she has in this world as she travels through this treacherous landscape without the protection of her tribe. Much is revealed about the truly honorable character of the Captain as we read about his interactions with the various people he meets along the way and as he continues to deliver the news in order to earn a dime-a-head.

News of the World is historical fiction at its finest. Learning about the condition of Texas after the Civil War and getting a glimpse of the world at large through the Captain’s readings are just two reasons why I enjoyed this so much. I loved this book for the excellent storytelling ability of Paulette Jiles, for the sense of adventure, for the feisty spirit of Johanna, and most of all for the truly memorable and endearing Captain Kidd. I highly recommend this one!

"Maybe we just have one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed."

★★★★★ 5 Stars!

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Once in a while readers of fiction can hope to experience this series of fortunate events:

    A friend recommends a great book ➜ Your mindset happens to be ideal for said book ➜ You love the story = Literary bliss ensues!!

It is a little hard to admit that I almost allowed my preconceived expectations get in the way of discovering this remarkable novel. Let's just say that News Of The Word, a novel marketed as a "western", was definitely not at the top of my TR pile this year. So first of all, allow me to humbly acknowledge how very mistaken I was!
(On that note, I big shout-out to GR friend Karen for persuading me to read this, thanks Karen!)

It is undeniable that we are currently living in deeply divided political times in America, but Reconstruction Texas, the historical setting of this novel, certainly helps to put that notion in context. Texas in the 1870's is a place of anarchy, the state is once again out of the Union as the old quarrels between former Confederates and Yankee Republicans rage on.

The place is not only divided but pretty much lawless. If you are traveling in one of the state's treacherous roads is difficult to know who's friend or who's foe. Danger lurks from anyone and any place.

At 72, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a widow and a veteran of several wars, is living a relatively quiet life. He has found a creative way to make a living, one that combines his love for the printing press and his interest in keeping abreast with the news of the world.

These days when we hear the term "news aggregator" we probably think of websites like BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post or The Daily Beast. But who knew this was not an internet creation? Captain Kidd is a professional reader, a sort of aggregator of news, or at least the 19th-century version of it. He travels through Texas and finds people willing to pay a dime to hear him read from newspapers describing current events from around the country and the world.

But the quiet, solitary life the Captain has been living takes an unexpected turn when Britt Johnson, a free black man, asks him to deliver a 10-year-old white girl to her relatives in San Antonio. Johanna Leonberger has been rescued from the Kiowa Indians who four years earlier, kidnapped her and killed her immediate family. Having been so young when this event took place, she has completely forgotten the English language and assimilated the dialect and customs of the tribe.

The trip to San Antonio is a dangerous undertaking, as there are raids happening all over the country and plenty of travelers have lost their lives. Captain Kidd is hesitant at first, but he ultimately accepts the mission to bring the girl to her family. Besides, he had spent years in San Antonio after marrying into one of the city's oldest families. He speaks Spanish fluently and understands the culture. He knows these people well.

The Captain uses part of the fifty-dollar gold piece he received to finance the trip to buy a spring wagon. The idea is to make the long journey from Wichita Falls to San Antonio as comfortable and as safe as possible.

The trip and adventures that follow are gripping and dramatic, but for me the most memorable passages are those that describe how Captain Kidd and Johanna find ways to communicate with each other, an impulse initially born out of their need to survive, but later a reflection of the authentic bond that comes to tie the unlikely pair.

The brilliance of this novel is, I think, the contrasting effect of encountering such an honorable, kind hearted and humble protagonist as Captain Kidd is, against the backdrop of the very harsh world he inhabits. He is a hero, but he is an unassuming one.

As a reader of fiction, I am all for exploring stories with morally ambiguous characters but once in a while, it feels good to know, unequivocally, who the good guy of the story is. At around 210 pages News Of The Word is a pretty short novel, but its characters are indeed larger than life.

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Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue


3.94  ·  Rating details ·  16,183 Ratings  ·  2,253 Reviews
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue download or read it online for free
Behold the Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue
A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy

Named one of BuzzFeed’s “Incredible New Books You Need to Read This Summer”


Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.






Reviews


America was passing her by. New York City was passing her by. Bridges and billboards bearing smiling people were passing her by. Skyscrapers and brownstones were rushing by. Fast. Too fast. Forever.


4 stars. Ah, this book was a pleasant surprise. I picked Behold the Dreamers for my September Book of the Month read, mostly because none of the others appealed to me. I hadn't any previous plans to read it but, as it happens, it turned out to be an enjoyable read. Full of sadness, hope and - of course - dreamers.

It's quite an understated book for the most part. Quiet and character-driven. Set just after the economic crisis of 2007/2008, we see the American Dream from two different perspectives - that of Jende Jonga and his family, Cameroonian immigrants desperately trying to obtain a green card and stay in America, and that of the Edwards family, wealthy upper-class New Yorkers who show the cracks in this idea of paradise held by immigrants.

The theme is an old one - the fragility of the American Dream - and yet this Cameroonian family breathe new life into it. The author herself is a Cameroonian immigrant living in the United States, and so is able to weave the Jonga family with firsthand insight and honesty; the result being characters that come to life on the page and make you remember them.

There's an undercurrent of sadness to the whole book. Jende is such a wide-eyed, hopeful dreamer who longs to bring his wife and son to a place he considers a land of opportunity. At a time when animosity towards immigrants has been fostered by the likes of Donald Trump, this book really strikes a chord. The Jonga family are distinctly West-African in their ideals and cultural practices, and yet their desire to give their son the best life possible is a heartbreakingly universal one.

All of the characters are treated with such love and care by the author. Members of both the Jonga and Edwards families are multi-layered and sensitively portrayed. Cultural differences and issues of privilege are explored - for example, the Edwards' oldest son is anti-establishment and longs to abandon law school and head to India, whereas Jende believes the opportunity to become a lawyer is one of the greatest things he could give his son.

It's a painfully realistic book, as all good books about the "American Dream" tend to be. Sometimes I wanted a bit more from it - a lot of the story and themes of race/culture are revealed through conversations and the plot itself is very... simple. Though perhaps that is a strength too.

This novel resonates with contemporary social and political issues dominating in the US, Europe and Australia, where there is a growing and visceral tide of hatred and rage against immigrants. 
Imbolo Mbue has written an illuminating book on the immigrant experience amidst the hollowness of the American dream set in New York. The story is told from the perspectives of Jende Jongo, and his wife, Nemi, who are from Cameroon dreaming of a better future in their new home. They have a son, Liomi, for whom they have high hopes. The stage is set for an exploration of their precarious lives buffeted by economic and social forces beyond their control as the 2008 financial collapse is described in terms of its human cost.

Jende is working as a cabbie when he lands the dream job of chauffeur to Lehman's executive, Clark Edward, who demands Jende keeps his secrets and give him his absolute loyalty. The two men become close and Clark's wife, Cindy, gives his wife, Nemi, a job as a housekeeper. Cindy confides her thoughts and secrets to Nemi who is hard working and hoping to become a pharmacist. We are given an in depth insight into the laborious and costly process of trying to acquire a green card. The spectacular collapse of Lehman has enormous repercussions on the Edward family. Clark loses his job and the strain on his marriage results in its collapse. Jende and Nemi find themselves with divided loyalties and caught up in the slipstream of these events, and there is a simultaneous similarity as their future comes under threat. We observe the contrasts between a family of privilege and a family with little and the power dynamic in the relationship between the two. We see the yearnings for home, Cameroon, whilst trying to fit into a new home, the eternal immigrant heart caught between two worlds.

The novel perhaps underscores the naivete of the dreams of the immigrant given the harsh reality of the world. Mbue touches on the issues of race, culture, violence, pain, and the impact of male decisionmaking on women. The writing is beautiful at times although the characters and plot feel a little uneven on occasion. However, this takes nothing away from a novel that is a timely and pertinent story that carries an authentic picture of an immigrant experience. The characters of Jende and Nemi are complex and captured my interest easily. I loved the portrayal of their home country and their connections with it. A wonderful and insightful book that I recommend highly.

Sometimes, a novel arrives at just the right moment.

Here we are in a crater of xenophobia. One of our presidential candidates is foaming at the mouth about “extreme vetting” for immigrants. But then along comes “Behold the Dreamers,” a debut novel by a young woman from Cameroon that illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse. While another author might have played that imperative title sarcastically, for Imbolo Mbue, “Behold the Dreamers” is a kind of angelic annunciation of hope, which ultimately makes her story even more poignant.

After a childhood of extreme poverty, Mbue came to this country in 1998 — recent enough to retain the optimism of an immigrant but long enough to understand our national schizophrenia about foreigners. Her novel is about a family from Cameroon living in Harlem on the eve of striking disruption. The United States is about to elect its first black president and descend into the Great Recession. But Jende Jonga, the hero of this tale, has his mind set on only one thing: becoming a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a hotshot Lehman Brothers executive. Jende and his wife, Neni, have been preparing for the interview for days. They’ve spent hours googling “the one question they ask at every job interview.” With the help of a volunteer at the library, they’ve written up a résumé that describes Jende as “a man of grand accomplishments”: farmer, street cleaner. . . .

3.5 I went back and forth, trying to decide whether or not I liked any of these characters, except form the young children of course who were victims of circumstances they could not control. 
Was pretty sure I liked Jende for most of the book until he did something I abhorred. Nein too does something, out of desperation, but I did not much like her for it. The Edwards, Cindy and Clark were pretty much representative of the privileged culture, or at least how they are usually portrayed. I did eventually sympathize with them all for various reasons and in the end that didn't matter to me so much as the story.

If it shows nothing else it definitely showed the disconnect between immigrants, the privileged and even those who were born here. So a worthy and timely read, especially here in the USA where one of our presidential nominees is running on a platform of fear, hatred and bigotry. This book shows how tenuous the hold on their lives are for some. Lawyer fees, trying to get papers to stay in this country, work toward a better for themselves and their families. The author set this just before the collapse of our economy in 2008 and in fact Clark Edward works for Lehman Brothers as an executive, as he loses his job, his marriage disintegrates as does the future of Jende's family. Jobs are now scarce, college educated people willing to take the jobs the immigrants once occupied. So many lost their houses and their livelihoods.

I enjoyed reading about the difference in their lives between New York, living in Harlem and Cameroon, where they are from. The ending surprised me somewhat, well I didn't expect the direction it took. But, for this family it made sense. This novel is not perfect and like most probably doesn't reflect all but it does give the reader an inside view of one such immigrant family. A well told and thought out story, this the author's first.

4.5 Stars

Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel, “Behold the Dreamers” takes a look at the immigrant dream of life in the United States, with promises of bigger, better than wherever you came from. Undoubtedly, there can be truth to that, but what happens to that dream when it seems elusive, out of reach or comes undone?

I was hooked right from the start by the story of Jende Jongo, formerly of Limbe, Cameroon, finding a dream job as a chauffeur for an executive at Lehman Brothers, in the year 2007. He’s been driving a cab in NYC, but better pay and a better car to drive are not the only thing that makes this job such a break, by driving a Lehman Brothers executive Jende feels he has achieved a point of pride in his work.

There’s humor in Mbue’s writing about the everyday life in America, the thought process of the shopping experience in America, coming from an environment where negotiating prices is the norm. There are also the astonishments of the new immigrants experience with the availability of so much in one place, and the availability of the “finer” places to shop for clothing. There’s also a heavy dose of the reality how many difficulties may be encountered by those who come looking for a better life in America.

As Dorothy comes to realize, “there’s no place like home” when she’s in Oz, but then back at Auntie Em’s she dreams of life in Oz … A heart divided. Jende’ heart is at odds between the things he has come to love about this new life, the things he misses about life in Limbe, his family there. Neni can’t bear to think of leaving everything they’ve worked for.

Charming, truly compelling story, “Behold the Dreamers” is a wonderful debut novel about where we sometimes choose to call home.

It genuinely surprises me that so many of my friends here seem to have been rather lukewarm on this book, because Behold the Dreamers was a thoroughly engrossing, powerful, emotional experience for me.

This is the story of a family who has emigrated from Cameroon. Jende and Neni Jonga, along with their young son, come to New York in 2007 in search of the American Dream. She enrolls in college, with the expectation that she can eventually become a pharmacist; he secures a job as the chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. This position gives him a unique view of the Edwards family, themselves a very fractured take on the American Dream. Lehman brothers is teetering on the brink, and the stress is weighing heavily not just on Clark but also on his wife Cindy and their two sons: would-be hippie twentysomething Vince and wide-eyed nine-year-old Mighty. Jende is privy to much of that stress and he has to try to keep it from reaching into his own family, whose status in this country is far from certain.

Imbolo Mbue tells her story from the perspectives of both Jende and Neni, though it’s not a strictly “alternating POV” kind of book. Mbue captures these two voices brilliantly, illustrating the hope and the fear, the idealism and the naiveté that comes with being an immigrant in America at the outset of the Great Recession. I was so completely invested in these two that my heart was in my throat for much of the book. The Edwards family sometimes feel like a bit of a clichéd portrayal of upper class white privilege, but it still seems clear that Mbue holds a lot of empathy for them

Though it’s set in the last decade, this book holds quite a bit of pertinence in 2016. Immigration remains a huge topic in the US right now, and there’s huge swathes of xenophobia all over our country. Knowing how hard it is to start a new life in America, it’s sometimes hard for me to imagine why someone might want to—especially people of color. Mbue offers a reminder that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, highlighting the sacrifices and the impossible, often desperate, decisions that immigrants are faced with. Mbue really forced me to walk around in the shoes of her characters and think about what it must be like to be in their position. It was a really intense experience for me; I got to the last fifty pages and I couldn’t stop sobbing. So maybe I’m alone here, but I absolutely adored this book.
Source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26025588-behold-the-dreamers

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  53,100 Ratings  ·  8,134 Reviews

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles download or read it online for free
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel

With his breakout debut novel, Rules of Civility , Amor Towles established himself as a master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction, bringing late 1930s Manhattan to life with splendid atmosphere and a flawless command of style.

A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.


Reviews

Vyshinsky: Why did you write the poem?

Rosov: It demanded to be written. I simply happened to be sitting at the particular desk on the particular morning when it chose to make its demands.

Vyshinksy: And where was that exactly?

Rostov: In the south parlor at Idlehour.

Vyshinksy: Idlehour?

Rosov: The Rostov estate in Nizhny Novgorod.

Vyshinksy: Ah, yes. Of course. How apt. But let us return our attention to your poem. Coming as it did-in the more subdued years after the failed revolt of 1905--many considered it a call to action. Would you agree with that assessment?

Rosov: All poetry is a call to action.

This is just a snippet from the appearance of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov before the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs on 21 June 1922. Rostov was a member of the wrong class and a "poet", as well. He was destined for a firing squad or an all expense paid trip to Siberia where he could still end up with a bullet in his head. The way the Russians were deciding who was a threat to their new nation and the proper punishment to be enforced per case was so arbitrary and inconsistent that it was impossible to anticipate what your fate was going to be once you came before the Committee.

Luckily for all of us, Rostov received a rather unusual punishment. He was put under hotel arrest for the rest of his life. He could not set foot outside the walls of the Metropol Hotel or he would be executed immediately. Given the alternatives, having to live in this grand hotel for the rest of his life was actually a gift. It was a microcosm of a city with a barbershop, clothing stores, and restaurants readily available for a man with discerning needs. He would finally have time to read, though he had left his books in Paris when he decided to come back to Russia and was now stuck with the dusty tomes of his father.

They had different tastes. He periodically made a stab at reading his father’s favorite book of Montaigne, but soon discovered it was the perfect height to level his table. Of course, the beautiful room with the balcony that had plenty of space for his family possessions was taken away from him. He was relocated to a small room in the attic.

He was constricted, but alive.

I was only a few pages in before I knew that the Count and I were not only going to be the best of friends, but that he was also going to be a model for how a man of honor should conduct himself. Here is an example of the Count telling us to reevaluate how we see the people we meet:

”After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of the hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration--and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”

We do have to make a lot of snap judgements about people. Rarely are they all that accurate, though it is amazing how difficult it is to erase and rewrite the first impression we have of someone. I’ve been surprised more than once by discovering the depth of someone whom I thought was a shallow nincompoop. We’ve all felt the sting of people judging us too harshly or seeing us for someone less than who we are. I’ve experienced people actually loathing me, leaving me baffled as to what I could have possibly done to induce this level of animosity. Of course, it has to be some misconception, but nearly impossible to fix once they’ve locked me up with the other criminals in the dark, damp cells of their mind.

The Count always erred on the side of trusting too much rather than condemning someone too hastily. He was such a contrast to the new government who judged quickly and harshly with no compassion or consideration for circumstances. After all, Count Rostov was the last gentleman in Moscow, most of the rest having fled or been shot. He never forgot his breeding or his place in the world even if his universe had shrunk to the size of a city block.

His best friend Mishka, a poet, floated in and out of his life. He brought with him the golden memories of their childhood. They could reminiscence about the days of young adulthood when life was a pear, and the juice ran down their chins, and the sticky nectar of shared experiences was a fragrance that filled the room around them. Those were the days, as fleeting as they proved to be.

The Count was not lonely. After all, this was a grand hotel with new people coming and going every day, and there were even some people who elected to stay on a more permanent basis, like say an aging, but still beautiful starlet. ”After taking a quick look around, the Count crossed the empty sitting room and entered the bedchamber, where a willowy figure stood in silhouette before one of the great windows. At the sound of his approach, she turned and let her dress slip to the floor with a delicate whoosh….”

In the year 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has been sentenced to House arrest at the famed Moscow Hotel Metropol. 
Once of the landed elite of Nizhy Novgorod, the Count must live out the rest of his days in one small hotel room. As the Bolsheviks have persevered following their revolution, no long are there ruling classes in Russia, only comrades. It is under these conditions that Count Rostov has become a former person who can no longer step outside of the Metropol. Using this premise, Amor Towles has woven prose to create an enchanting story that makes up the Count's changed course of existence.

Over time, Count Rostov grew to call himself the luckiest man in Russia. This realization, however, occurs after he has been in the hotel Metropol for over thirty and forged close friendships with her staff and inhabitants. At first, he is a once proud man who has had all of his material possessions taken away from him and has to make do with life in a room, until the day that the Count encounters nine-year-old Nina, altering the course of his life. A precocious girl with an eye for adventure, Nina takes the Count with her on all of her forays through the hotel. No longer is the Count confined to a room with his books and manuscripts, but at the whims of an enchanting palace. House arrest becomes luxurious instead of the intended punishment.

Towles creates a compelling cast of characters to complement the Count, none more vital to sustaining his existence than Sofia, Nina's daughter who she leaves in his care. Rather than resenting this turn of events, the Count raises Sofia as his own daughter, and two become inseparable. Yet, Sofia is raised by the entire staff of the Metropol: Emile, the head chef of the Boyarsky restaurant; Andrey, the maitre d' restaurant; Marina, the seamstress who becomes a mother figure; and Vasily the concierge. The group becomes like family over the course of the Count's house arrest, and with the luxurious conditions of the lobby, bar, and restaurant, it becomes evident that the Count is the luckiest man in all of Russia.

What makes A Gentleman in Moscow a true work of historical fiction are Towles' apt descriptions of life occurring outside of the Metropol's walls. Stalin has taken control of the country, and Russians can either join the party, get shipped to Siberia, or otherwise conveniently disposed of. Relations with the west are tenuous at best but Towles relays these feelings in the Count's relations with American ambassador Richard Wilshire, who becomes a key figure in the novel. As long as one has friends within the party, which the Count manages to attain, even enemies like him can remain safe on a daily basis, even if it means living within the walls of a hotel.

A Gentleman in Moscow evokes an era of the tsar when the city rivals Paris and London as a destination for elite classes throughout Europe. A member of the landed aristocracy prior the Bolshevik Revolution, Count Rostov is well versed in literature, history, and appears to be a true renaissance man. Through his relationship with Nina and Sofia, Towles shows the Count to have a genuine soft spot in his heart as well, turning him into a truly memorable character. A delight of an enchanting story to read, A Gentleman in Moscow was worth the hype of the reviews I have read about it and rates 4.5 shiny stars.

Tears were streaming down my face the last several pages. Turning each page slower - and slower - breathless - filled with gratitude- overwhelmed by what this rare book offers and then delivering a wonderful satisfying ending......to the already - rich- wonderful-absolutely marvelous novel.

Goose bumps and butterfly fluttering.....the writing is pulsing with life. Amor Towles's
leading man...."Count Rostov" ....[Alexander Ilyich Rostov]....or "Sasha", to a select few old friends, is THE MOST EXCEPTIONAL male character to come along in recent literature. I can't think of any other male character with the type of astounding dignity that 'Count Rostov' exhibits.

I was either losing sleep reading this book, tossing out all other daytime plans to continue, reading....or I was obsessively thinking about this book when I wasn't reading it.

My early thoughts were about Russia and the how the Bolsheviks came into power.....and the years that followed. Russia became symbolic of the spread of communism throughout the world.....resulting in the end of all aristocracy ----
So....
Not only was Rostov's aristocracy being stripped away, but his self expression and freedom of speech was being taken from his as well. He wrote poetry.....and a poem called "Where Is It Now".....[I thought about this interesting title for some time]. As in where does Court Rostov stand now?
Rostov "has succumbed irrevocably to the corruptions of his class", according to
The People's Commissariat For Internal Affairs in Moscow 1922.

I kept thinking - isn't it 'somewhat' an odd punishment to be given a life sentence of confinement to the walls inside a hotel? A grand hotel at that-- The Metropol Hotel. I mean "Eloise" .... in the Plaza Hotel in New York City was happy, but she was free to step outside.
The Count's sentence is clear. Should he step outside the Hotel at any time, he will be shot-killed! I lost a few hours of my mind -- thinking 'only' about this.
Why? What else were choices of punishment for an aristocrat if not killed? Did they have prisons? And - where was his money coming from? Was food included without him paying for it in the restaurants in the hotel? How on earth could he possibly earn money? Buy clothes? Essentials? - For the rest of his life? How will he spend his time - and keep sane?
I was simply curious. And most -- how might I have behaved if I were in the counts situation? I'd like to think I might have stood tall- held my dignity - be the gentle woman - as Alexander was a GRAND GENTLEMAN.
The Count was a fabulous human being....a man I would love to have shared a glass of wine with. He was classy - witty- wise - intelligent- charming and kind. There are endless likable characteristics about Alexander. He was generous with his soul.

Count Rostov's days of writing poetry were behind him. He moved into a small room on the sixth floor in the attic. He was moved out of his luxury suite that he had lived in for four years in the past. Most of his 'valuable' books were back in Paris...but he kept one book that once belonged to his father -one he never had found time to read. "The Essays of Montaigne". He will finally have time to read Michael de
Montaigne' essays now ---who was one of the most significant philosophers of the French renaissance known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre.

In the first few weeks of living in the Metropol Hotel-- Alexander holds himself high - has no interest in bitterness ---GOD I LOVED THIS MAN---and quietly stayed in his room, reading, and reflecting. He ate his meals in either of the two restaurants: the Boyarsky or the Piazza. Count Rostov being a wine and food connoisseur, is a treat for us readers - as the descriptions of the food and wine are mouthwatering-savory-and scrumptious. The way the tables were set -the waiters and chef add to delightful glory as well. I could smell and taste the fish, while visualizing the seating in the dining room.
As for the conversations......
Well....in steps nine year old Nina Kulikova. Too adorable for words -right off the bat!!!
She's quite the conversationalist!!! She's living in the hotel with her father -and seems to have spare time for wandering. Their lovely friendship begins over lunch in the Piazza. Nina - of course - invites herself to Alexander's table by simply pulling up a chair, sitting down, and staring at his food. Their friendship continues when Nina manages to coerce Court Rostov into joining her in one of her many hidden excursions. SPYING into the secret passageways and locked rooms with the stolen key she has.
So 'how' does a precocious nine-year-old coerce a grown man to sneak around a hotel with her?
Nina says:
"Oh come along"
"I'd rather not"
"Don't be such a fuddy-duddy".
"I'm not a fuddy-duddy".
"Can you be so sure?"
"A man can never be entirely sure that he is not a fuddy-duddy. That is axiomatic to the term".
"Exactly".
Off they go! One minute Nina is interested in knowing the rules of being a princess ( as when they first met in the restaurant), and the next moment she is enthralled by the assembly's energy and sense of purpose...( from when they are listening in on the Assemblies political discourse).
Nina is a wonderful companion - and because of their spy games, Alexander was able to listen to other 'fuddy-duddy's' discuss political and social changes.

Over the years - three decades at Hotel Metropol--Alexander makes many friends and acquaintances. His closest friends with the staff are: Andrey, maitre d' of the Boyarsky, Emile the Chef - Vasily the concierge and Marina the seamstress.

His old friend from Imperial University in St. Petersburg comes to visit him. Mikhail
Fyodorovich (Mishka), was in town to help plan the inaugural congress of RAPP.
Such a lovely friendship these two men shared. The Count took pleasure in his old friends romantic skirmish; yet felt a sting of envy.

Anna Urbanova a celebrity actress ....becomes a between-the-sheets friend.
Other people come and go ---
Osip Ivanovich Glebnikov is a former colonel of the Red Army- whom Alexander has many political conversations with.... and not only about Russia, but the rest of the world. They watch and discuss the movie Casablanca--- and the symbolism is achingly beautiful.
Yet.....
Out of all the people who come and go - it's Nina who has Alexander's heart the most.
A time comes when she does leave the hotel - but then she comes back years later for a brief visit - a visit that will alter Alexanders life.

Alexander Ilyich Rostov: somehow this man knew that life was never meant to be a struggle. If only I could learn from him. As The Count learned from his ancestors.....
"If a man does not master his circumstances he is bound to be mastered by them".

A Masterpiece! One of the most phenomenal book books in 'years'.

It's Nov. - almost Thanksgiving: I've read so many outstanding books this year it's ridiculously crazy-terrific. 2016 has been a year of favorite books....but "A Gentleman in Moscow" tops them all! Amor Towles delivered as a gift!

5+ The Hotel Metropol in Moscow, within sight of the Kremlin, will see much in the coming years. 
It will also become the home and prison of the former person known as the Count Alexander Rostov. Sentenced by a Bolshevk Tribunal for seditious poetry he is confined for life in this Hotel. Summarily taken from the suite he had inhabited for four years, he is brought to the attic and given one of the storage rooms as his new home.

One of the most wonderful and memorable characters one is fortunate to make the acquaintance of, the duke, no longer to be addressed as his excellency, will make the most of his imprisonment. Through his eyes we will experience the many changes in Russia, from Stalin to Khrushchev, as the hotel is the home for many meetings and dinners of the top ranking members of the politburo. A friendship with a young eight year old girl will bring color to his life that will last for over thirty years.

This book as something for everyone, humor, some laugh at loud, some more veiled, food and wine pairings, amazing friendships, much history, literature, architecture and philosophy, even American movies. Some scenes that will surely leave you with a lump in your throat. Words, and insights that had me putting the book down just to think about what I read. Tightly constructed, things in the beginning that will come into play later in the book. Such a brilliant rendering of time and place.

I usually don't gush about a novel, but I loved everything about this book. What I write can't really do it justice, but whenever I think about this story, these characters, it make me smile. I wish they could step out of the book so I could meet them in person. As much as I loved his first book, I appreciated this one more. Read it for yourself, I am sure there is something in it form you to appreciate.

This really was a special book, one which at times felt almost magical.

Count Alexander Rostov was always a man who enjoyed the finer things in life. He was always nattily dressed, participating in intelligent conversation, enjoying fine food and drink, and the company of erudite and beautiful people. Rostov lived in grand fashion in Moscow's Hotel Metropol, a hotel just across the street from the Kremlin, and he thrived on being a part of the buzz that passed through its doors and around its bustling neighborhood.

In 1922, he was sentenced to a lifetime of house arrest at the Metropol, although the Bolshevik tribunal that issued the sentence wasn't simply content with allowing him to continue living in grandeur—they reduced his living quarters to one small room in the hotel belfry. But while no longer being able to step outside the hotel doors, and having to cram most of one's cherished possessions and family heirlooms into one tiny room might bring a lesser man to his knees, Rostov is (mostly) unbowed. He doesn't allow himself to miss a step of his usual routine, and it isn't long before he realizes how a life lived within one building can be just as full of excitement as one lived all over the world.

"...if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them."

While Russia and the world are experiencing events which cause major upheaval, Rostov doesn't miss out on it all. He can take the country's temperature, of sorts, by studying the behavior of the hotel guests, its managers, and its employees. While many may have written him off as a frivolous dandy, it's not long before many realize the Count's worth is far greater despite his diminished circumstances. He quickly is woven into the fabric of all of the hotel's goings-on, sometimes openly, sometimes secretly, and forms relationships that have ripples in the outside world, even as he realizes that the world he once knew and loved has changed.

"For the times do, in fact, change. They change relentlessly. Inevitably. Inventively. And as they change, they set into bright relief not only outmoded honorifics and hunting horns, but silver summoners and mother-of-pearl opera glasses and all manner of carefully crafted things that have outlived their usefulness."

Spanning several decades, A Gentleman in Moscow is rich with emotion, social commentary, humor, even Russian history. As he did in Rules Of Civility , which also was a fantastic book (see my review), Amor Towles both reveres and satirizes the world in which this book takes place, but the love he has for his characters is a beacon above it all.

While at times the book got a little too detailed with the workings of Russian government, poetry, and Bolshevik history, it always quickly got itself back on track and brought me back into the book's heart. These characters were so special, so fascinating, and Towles' storytelling was so vivid, I almost could see the scenes playing out in front of my eyes as I read them. And honestly, Count Rostov is a character worthy of being put up on a pedestal like other unforgettable ones.

I was a little late to the party on reading this, but I'm so glad I did, and I'm glad it lived up to the praise so many others have bestowed upon it. If you like novels with social commentary, satire, history, and a huge dollop of heart, pick up A Gentleman in Moscow . You'll marvel at it, and even want more.
Reviews source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29430012-a-gentleman-in-moscow