Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Arms Wide Open by Tom Winter

Paperback: 330 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Corsair 2014
Source: Supplied to me by Lovereading as a member of the Reader Reviewed Books Panel.
First Sentences: It's a Thursday afternoon and Meredith is staring at a pot of yogurt. 
Favourite Quote: 'Become all touchy-feely?' To flounce through life with my arms wide open?'
Review Quote: Tom Winter delights with a deadpan turn of phrase (Daily Mail).
My Opinion: Extremely poignant read.

I had never come across Tom Winter before being offered this title to review by a readers panel that I am on. In fact I doubt I would have chosen to read this book myself so I am grateful I was given this opportunity because it is an extremely poignant read. Dementia is at the heart of this novel and it is dealt with through humour as well as sensitivity. Written in language that is clear, succinct and so expressive that even though it is a traumatic subject the author is writing about he manages to lighten the story in a humorous way. In fact this heart moving novel impacted on me so much that when shortly after finishing the novel I came across an initiative called 'Dementia Friends' I was inspired to find out more.

The protagonists of the story are forty three year old non identical twins Jack and Meredith, whose worlds are currently crumbling around them. Meredith is not coping at all well with the break up of her marriage leaving her to deal alone with teenage offspring. The children Jemima and Luke also have problems undoubtedly not helped by the fact that their father has gone off with another woman. Jemima is playing a dangerous game on-line and her brother is being bullied at school. Unfortunately Meredith is too traumatised by her failed marriage to cope with much else apart from diligently visiting her own mother in a local nursing home and her father's grave.

It is her twin Jack that shakes up life for them all somewhat when he suddenly starts to spend more time with his sister, niece and nephew when his own high flying life style starts to crumble around him. Seeking solace from each other the trauma in their lives seems to escalate as they not only discover by chance that the father they thought was dead may not be so. However with their mother sinking daily into the ever deeper depths of Dementia they do not stand much chance of finding out the truth from her. 
Narrated in the present day interspersed with flashbacks from five to forty-five years the reader gradually gets a fuller picture of the twins life as they grew up. As truths are revealed the twins discover that life is not always as simple as one thinks. 

Exactly what these revelations are you will have to read for yourself to find out. I can not think of anyone I would not recommend this to, certainly a good choice for book clubs as so much to discuss.

Author Profile

Tom Winter is a British writer living in Berlin. His début novel, Lost & Found, was published in five languages. In August 2013 it was chosen as the Book of the Month by the Mail on Sunday's You Magazine book club. That summer, the Kindle edition was also a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon UK.
Tom's second book, Arms Wide Open, will be published on 17 April 2014. He is currently working on his third novel, Days of Wonder, which will be published in August 2015.
He lives alone, with a potted plant and an assortment of noisy neighbours.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and his writing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Paperback: 325 pages
Genre: Romantic Fiction
Publisher: Polygon 2013
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences: 'The old man's eyes struck me first. They rested deep in their sockets and he seemed unable to take them off me'.
Favourite Quote: 'A daunting realization was creeping up on him. Might there be, parallel to the world of shapes and colours, an entire world of voices and sounds of noises and tones? A hidden realm of the senses, all around us but usually inaccessible to us? A world perhaps even more exhilarating and mysterious to the visible world?'
Review Quote: 'A magical tale to capture your imagination' -- My Weekly
My Opinion:  A really tender, touching story of true love.

Initially I was drawn to this book because it is set in Burma. Then when I saw the cover well there went my theory about never judging a book by its cover, a beautiful silhouette that reminds me so much of a bridge in Mandalay. My attraction to Burma or Myanmar as it is now known is another story, not for here but for my Travel Tales blog, it is the most amazing place. I probably never would have chosen to read this had it not been for my recent trip there but I am so pleased I did as this novel is a treat to read. A really tender, touching and sensual story of true love. The location is just as important as the story itself, immerse yourself in the surroundings and different beliefs to truly feel what this novel has to offer.

The love affair took place in 1950's Burma between a young blind boy Tim Win and a beautiful crippled girl called Mi Mi and is related to his daughter Julia Win by U Ba a Burmese man she met on her arrival in Kalaw. Now why is Julia Win in Burma listening to this story?  Well having lived all her life, she thought happily with her parents in New York, Julia is trying to discover why her father disappeared without trace four years ago. It is an unsolved mystery but when Julia discovers a love letter written by her father many years previously to an unknown Burmese woman, she becomes intent on finding out the truth. Travelling to Burma she meets U Ba and slowly unravels the most improbable story of adversity, determination and real passion, that will affect her deeply. 

You really do need to read this for yourself to appreciate how love between two people despite all odds being against it can be so magical. One of the most interesting aspects of the book, for me anyway, was how Tin Wins auditory senses were so highly developed, amazing!  Recommended to anyone that has experienced, or thinks they have, true love.

Do spare five minutes to watch this YouTube video of how Burma inspired this novel.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

The sequel A Well Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker was published in English in January 2014 and I have already added it to my wishlist.

Author Profile

Biography/Interview Courtesy of Amazon

Jan-Philipp Sendker, born in Hamburg in 1960, was the American correspondent for Stern from 1990 to 1995, and its Asian correspondent from 1995 to 1999. In 2000 he published 'Cracks in the Great Wall', a non-fiction book about China. 'The Art of Hearing Heartbeats' is his first novel. He lives in Berlin with his family.
*Can you describe your book in 10 words or fewer?
A story about the magical power of love.
*Where did the idea for the book come from?
Very often people ask me how I got an idea. I always say: The ideas get me. I seriously don't know where they come from. That is part of the magic and mystery of being a novelist. Writing for me is like an adventure, a journey I take myself on hoping to learn and discover new things along the way.
*The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is your first novel. Have you always wanted to be a novelist?
Yes. Even as a thirteen year old school boy it was my dream to become a novelist. I wrote poems and started at least ten different novels when I was a teenager, never got beyond page 20. Discouraged I took a break for almost twenty years and started writing The Art of Hearing Heartbeats when I was 37 years old.
*Which writers do you think influenced you?
Many. Among them are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Albert Camus, Arundhati Roy, Thomas Bernhard.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and his writing.

Amazon Author Profile    Goodreads Author Profile    YouTube - The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

Jan-Philipp Sendker - Official Author Website