Tag Archives: history

#25 A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

4 Dec
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

Goodreads rating: 3.73/5 (438K+ ratings)

My rating: 5/10

First published: April – November 1859

Genre: Historical Fiction, Classics

The end was good!

I could almost leave the review at that. It took me FOREVER (as in 4 months) to read. Which for me is a very long time. I don’t think it’s taken me that long to read a book ever in my life. This was a) my first of the Classics that i’ve ever read, and b) my first Dickens novel.

Set in London and Paris, before and during the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities revolves mainly around a Doctor, Dr Manette, his daughter Lucie, her husband Charles Darnay, and barrister Sydney Carton. It literally is a tale of two cities involving these protagonists. The opening line is a very famous one, i’m sure you’ve heard it (even I had!)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

I found it really difficult to read for the first 3 quarters. I found out later that this is probably because the 45 chapters of A Tale of Two Cities were originally published in 31 weekly instalments. Which makes sense as the whole story – up until the last third – feels really disjointed. I couldn’t remember who was who, and it wasn’t until quite a way into the book that you found out how people are connected. I think I’ll need to re-read it one day now that I know the ending, which will probably make the rest of the book more enjoyable.

From what I’ve heard as I’ve been moaning to various friends, family members, and colleagues about how long it was taking me to read this book, this was not the best Dickens to start with. Many people have told me that Great Expectations is a better Dickens story – and I currently have that sitting on my shelf to read in about 10 books time!

Even though I gave this a 5/10 I would still recommend the story. The ending is absolutely perfect, and I’d recommend you read it solely for that reason.

Notable quotes

She was the golden thread that united him to a Past beyond his misery, and to a Present beyond his misery: and the sound of her voice, the light of her face, the touch of her hand, had a strong beneficial influence with him almost always. – Doctor Manette

The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there.

I am desperate. I don’t care an English Twopence for myself. I know that the longer I keep you here, the greater hope there is for my Ladybird.  – Miss Pross

Far and wide lay a ruined country, yielding nothing but desolation. Every green leaf, every blade of grass and blade of grain, was as shrivelled and poor as the miserable people.

Death is Nature’s remedy for all things, and why not Legislation’s? Accordingly, the forger was put to Death; the utterer of a bad note was put to Death; the unlawful opener of a letter was put to Death; the purloiner of forty shillings and sixpence was put to Death; the holder of a horse at Tellson’s door, who made off with it, was put to Death.

-H-

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#17 Stasiland – Anna Funder

21 Feb
Stasiland - Anna Funder

Stasiland – Anna Funder

Goodreads rating: 4.14/5 (2,000+ ratings)

My rating: 7.5/10

First Published: December 5th, 2003 by Text Publishing

Genre: Non-Fiction, History

Stasiland is about people who resisted the surveillance state of East Germany, and about others who worked for the Stasi – the secret police of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

Stasiland is written by Australian woman Anna Funder, who lived in Berlin in the late 90s and interviewed a variety of people from both sides of the GDR regime. She used classified ads to get in touch with former members of the Stasi, who she interviewed extensively. People such as those who helped to build and plan the erection of The Berlin Wall, a television presenter and host who was famous during the GDR regime, and a resistor who could have started WWIII!

I didn’t realise when I started this that it was not a fictional novel. I went into it thinking it was a novel about someone living in that time, but then shortly realised that it wasn’t!

I really enjoyed this book. It was really easy to digest and understand, even though I didn’t fully understand to begin with what the situation was after WWII in Germany. there was a map at the beginning of the book of both West & East Germany, and a smaller one of Berlin and the wall – this really helped me in reading and understanding this book.

I found that the theme of Stasiland reflected George Orwell’s 1984 which is scary! I can’t imagine living in a place that is so highly regulated. I know these places exist, but it sounds terrible!

I highly recommend this book. It’s short, interesting, captures attention quickly, and best of all, is TRUE!

Bits & pieces

  • Winner of the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize
  • Stasiland is being developed for the stage by The National Theatre in London.

Past reviews

‘Anna Funder explores, in the most humane and sensitive way, lives blighted by the East German Stasi. She allows ex-Stasi operatives an equal chance to reflect on their achievements, and finds—to her dismay and ours—that they have learned nothing.’
— J. M. Coetzee

‘Your book STASILAND: TRUE STORIES FROM BEHIND THE BERLIN WALL struck me like no other in the last five years. It is fascinating, entertaining, hilarious, horrifying and very important.’
– Tom Hanks

‘Informed judgements and historical background are communicated with deceptive ease. Targeted at a broad audience, Stasiland is compelling reading.’
– 
Sydney Morning Herald

-H-

#10 1984 – George Orwell

18 Jan
1984 - George Orwell

1984 – George Orwell

Goodreads rating: 4.05 (795,000+ ratings)

My rating: 8/10

First published: June 8th, 1948 by Secker and Warburg

Genre: Dystopian, Political Fiction

1984 was written in 1948, and was Orwell’s idea of what the future would be like in 1984. I’m not very knowledgable of politics or governments, so I probably won’t describe this book perfectly.

1984 is set in Oceania, where society is ruled and governed by ‘The Party’. ‘The Party’ controls everything, edits history, governs thought, and there is constant government surveillance and mind control of the people. Big Brother is the party leader, who may not even exist.

The book focuses on Winston Smith, who works for the Ministry of Truth and his job is to re-write past articles in the newspapers to reflect and support the current party stance. Winston secretly hates and wants to revolt against the party however the fact that all actions and conversations are constantly monitored, he doesn’t know if anyone else feels the same way.

Eventually, after a few interactions, he meets Julia, who feels the same way as him in regards to the party. They start meeting in secret, and fall in love. From here, they meet someone who they think is running a revolution, however, you can never be sure what’s true in Oceania.

loved this book. There were some dry parts that were a lot of text and read more like an essay, however the overall story was awesome. The thought of living in this world sounds terrible, however after I recently read Stasiland by Anna Funder, I realised that life in the German Democratic Republic from the 1960s – 1989 was a diluted form of the way of life in 1984.

I highly recommend this book, and it’s not overly long so despite some of the lengthier chapters, it’s a pretty quick read. It’s become a bit of a cult book, and a lot of the ideas and words have been often referenced since its publication.

Notable quotes

‘From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY 
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH’

‘People simply disappeared, always during the night. Your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, and your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word.’

‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.’

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. 

 Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious. 

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Chastity was as deep ingrained in them as Party loyalty. By careful early conditioning, by games and cold water, by the rubbish that was dinned into them at school and in the Spies and the Youth League, by lectures, parades, songs, slogans, and martial music, the natural feeling had been driven out of them.

“Big Brother is Watching You.” 

-H-

#4 Fall of Giants – Ken Follett

3 Dec

The Century Trilogy – Book 1 of 3

Fall of Giants - Front Cover

Fall of Giants – Front Cover

Goodreads rating: 4.14 (35,000+ ratings)

My rating: 9/10

Why it’s on the list: About  5 or so months ago I was looking for book recommendations (Around the same time I started The List), and a good friend of mine recommended it to me. When she first sent me the synopsis I said no straight away, because it sounded long, rambling and boring. But once I saw another summary I decided to read it, and I’m so glad I did.

First published: September 28th, 2010 by Pan Macmillan

Genre: Historical Fiction, Epic

Fall of Giants follows five interrelated families from America, Germany, Russia, Wales & England and is set between 1911 and 1924, and covers huge events including WWI, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women’s suffrage. It is full of love, scandalous sex, betrayal, war, loss, hatred, family ties, loyalty (both to family and country) and aristocracy.

When I first bought this book, I couldn’t believe how HUGE it seemed. But thankfully, it’s broken up into chapters that have small ‘mini-chapters’ within it, which makes it much easier to tackle. The story is so easy to get lost in, and the great thing about it is that you can totally relate to the people and their stories, even though it was set almost 100 years ago.

Cast of Characters - Fall of Giants

Cast of Characters – Fall of Giants

I found myself much more interested in the fate of the English, Welsh and Russian families than the German or the American, however they really are all interrelated and woven within each other that you can’t have one family’s story without the rest of them. Although the chapters jumped from one country to another, it was really easy to keep track of the families thanks to the handy index at the beginning, listing all the families, their acquaintances, and real historical figures from the time, as you can see in the photo to the left.

Every night when I’d read in bed, I felt like I was losing myself in a totally different world, and once I’d finished the book I felt like I was saying goodbye to old friends. I think whenever you feel like you’re going to miss a book and its characters, you’ve found a gem.

Bits & pieces

  • Fall of Giants was checked by eight historians. [Source]

-H-

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