Audiobook Review: The Aftermath

17412761Rating: 4.5
The Aftermath
A Novel by Rhidian Brook
Audiobook Narrated by Leighton Pugh 2013 /9 hours and 43 minutes

Hamburg, 1946. While thousands wander the rubble, lost and homeless, Colonel Lewis Morgan, charged with overseeing the rebuilding of this devastated city and the de-Nazification of its defeated people, is stationed in a grand house on the River Elbe. But rather than force the owners of the house, a German widower and his rebellious daughter, out onto the streets, Lewis insists that the two families live together.

But The Aftermath is so much more than this, such a short title and such a short description that do not give you the full power of its meaning and scope. Upon finishing I just sat there and pondered how powerful and aptly stated this title is for this novel. The audiobook matched that power with its magnificent narration, range and emotion as spoken by Leighton Pugh.

Originally the ARC was received by Random House Canada with a lovely little note from Lindsey saying she noticed this was on my To Read pile and to enjoy! Now, does that girl not know me and my reading habits or what? But then I saw that it was available in audio and I jumped at that opportunity. I’m really glad I went with the audio version! Pugh breathed such emotion and life in to this story. His ability to speak with an American accent, or a Russian one or a French one left you smiling. But what left you breathless was the voice he gave Ozi, one the feral children fighting for survival and companionship with a gang of other feral children. Ozi’s voice is forever altered by a fire that scorched his throat. So the voice Pugh invented for Ozi was harsh and rough but brilliant. As well, and again another fantastic reason for gushing about audiobook love, is the pronunciation of the German words, places and people. Fantastic. It just lends great authenticity to the story and allows for exquisite flow and complete enjoyment.

So….The Aftermath. How poignant. I’ve read plenty of WWII historical fiction novels. Plenty. But never have I read one that so thoroughly captures “the aftermath”, and in this case, the aftermath for the destroyed and defeated Germany, but for the many, many and varied people involved. Germany and WWII are synonymous, wouldn’t you say? The events during the war are so heavily linked with Germany. But what of the aftermath? Germany has fallen, has lost the war in epic disgrace and exposed acts of the most horrific crimes against humanity as a result of the clenched fist of power by Hitler and the Nazis. As the Time Out in London so superbly captures, The Aftermath will:

“You’ll find yourself seduced by the quiet power of the…prose, the subtlety of [Brook’s] narrative technique, with its onion-skin layers of meaning, sympathy and revelation.”

Absolutely. It’s not a plot-heavy story herein. It’s Brook’s stunning creation of a myriad of characters whom profoundly and powerfully tell their story in a way just as Time Out says, with onion-skin layers of meaning, sympathy and revelation. Each of these characters are peeled back to reveal how the aftermath has affected them.

First we meet Ozi, the leader of a band of feral children. Gangs of these children roam the devastated landscape fighting for survival, begging for food, secretly staking out places to sleep each night. They are also beaten and scorned by the Occupied soldiers. Ozi, and his character in this story rest on the periphery of all those involved, yet he and his plight provide stunning insight to these hundreds of displaced children.

Then we meet the person to be considered the main character, Colonel Lewis Morgan. He is charged with overseeing the rebuilding of the city of Hamburg and the de-Nazification of its people. He is to requisition a home suitable to his role and standing and re-unite his family there. His wife, Rachael and only remaining son, Edmund arrive shortly after this requisition and Lewis’ unconventional decision pertaining to the German owners.

Rachael remains bereft at the loss of her eldest child whom was killed during a bombing back home in London. A bombing and death caused by the Germans. She fully embraces the “non-fraternization” laws and firmly drills this in to Edmund’s head. Poor Edmund is left to fade quietly in to the shadows all to aware of his mother’s crippling grief over his brother, and her considerable and continued unhappiness. Even the reunion with Lewis does little to return her to how she was before her son’s death.

The home Lewis is to requisition is owned by Stefan Lubert. “Herr Lubert” or “Lubert” as he is so often referred to in the book, (never by his first name), has lost his wife Claudia to the war, and lives with his stubborn, yet traumatized daughter, Freda. Lubert was an architect before the war, but until he receives his clearance papers that state he is not a Nazi, he must work in a factory. I found the character of Freda to be very interesting and liked how Brook chose to portray her. We know that every child was indoctrinated and forced to train to be members of the Nazi Youth. But what happened to these children once the Germans were defeated? For Freda, she has not let go of her training and each day performs the rigorous physical exercises that were once required. Even after her father’s admonishment, she continues and also joins in a gang of others that are resentful to the occupation of their country. I thought her character was brilliantly portrayed to show this part of the aftermath.

Lewis is quite different in his opinion and emotion about his role in the de-Nazification of Germany. He shows incredible compassion and understanding for their plight, and because of this encourages Lubert and Freda to remain in the upper level of his home while he, Rachael and Edmund occupy the main part of the house. Lewis is also against this thinking or law against fraternization with the Germans and encourages regular interaction with them. He is disgusted by the attitude that these broken and destroyed people remain “the enemy”.

Now, The Aftermath may take the predictable turn with Lewis leaving for many months to another part of Germany that requires his supervision and Lubert and Rachael left together in Lubert’s home. However, again, Brook provides a wholly sympathetic viewpoint to their affair. It is almost a necessary thing for Rachael. While Lubert feels it has the potential to be a step towards the future and letting go of his wife, for Rachael she experiences it as an awakening and deeper understanding of the love she has for Lewis. It changes her, but for the better for the future of her family. While it ends fairly neatly and without any serious repercussion, the reader is not left annoyed by this but rather is sympathetic to the healing so needed by all.

The Aftermath closes with Ozi in a touching and heart-wrenching moment. Which I think serves as a reminder for what truly is lost for so many in the aftermath.

Brook’s acknowledgement at the end, reveals that his grandfather, Walter Brook, actually requisitioned a home in Hamburg and did allow the German owners to remain in their property. They shared this home for five years following the war, and this is what provided the inspiration for this novel.

The writing is beautiful, the narration is stunning so I truly have to say that whichever format you choose to read The Aftermath in, either will certainly be most rewarding.  4.5 stars.

Thank you again to Lindsey and Random House Canada for the pleasure of reading The Aftermath.

Audiobook Review & 2013 Man Booker Shortlisted: A Tale for the Time Being

15811545Rating: 5
A Tale for the Time Being
A Novel by Ruth Ozeki
Audiobook Narrated by Ruth Ozeki 2013 /14 hours and 45 minutes

My first ever 5-star Man Booker nominated book!  A Tale for the Time Being (audiobook) was absolutely fantastic. Stunning. Remarkable. Most assuredly one of the best audiobooks and stories I’ve read this year. I was completely and utterly invested in this story, in the characters and in the tremendous creativity and ingenuity of this multi-layered tale.

The audio narration of this ingenious story is something that I cannot simply explain to you how amazing it was. To hear Ozeki breath the life and soul in to each and every one of her characters as she intended the reader to understand them, was an incredible listening pleasure. Each voice was distinct and I found myself arriving at work late every day so I wouldn’t have to stop the audio, I found myself driving an extra 20 minutes on the commute home, I even took to leaving for lunch to just drive around and hold on here…. at one point I even strapped on the running shoes to go for a run (!!) all just so I did not have to end my time spent with Nao and Ruth, and Old Jico, Oliver and Haruki #1, the inhabitants of the island where Ruth & Oliver lived, etc. That my friends is sound and genuine proof that A Tale for the Time Being is a stellar 5-star read.

While I was initially shocked to see this not make the Giller Prize Longlist this year, I believe I now understand the judges point of view, or supposed point of view – it has already been Longlisted and Shortlisted (and fingers crossed the winner) of the Man Booker Prize and perhaps hoping to not see a repeat of a “Hilary Mantel” occurrence where everyone is shut out as she takes home every single literary prize, such as what occurred last year. Although, the judging panel for the Gillers’ this year described their Longlist choices:

“These are essential stories. Each of these novels and story collections offer a glimpse of who we are, who we might be. Whether set in postwar  Vienna, or 1970s Montreal, contemporary Afghanistan or Newfoundland, each of  these books took us out of ourselves to places that were at times  uncomfortable, at times exhilarating.”

I believe A Tale for the Time Being wonderfully and undeniably achieves this as well, but do seem to understand the decision to allow other and deserving authors their chance to shine.

A Tale for the Time Being encompasses an extraordinary myriad of topics, and initially you are left to wonder if it would be an enjoyable read, or if it would be overly ambitious and leave the reader confused and lost . But no, Ozeki has brilliantly inter-weaved quantum physics, time, longing, bullying, suicide, prostitution, depression, environmental art and environmental destruction, connection, globalization (among others) with astonishingly original stories. In one book all of this incorporated in to two diaries, letters, emails, unfinished memoirs and recounts the lives of a multitude of characters struggling with, at times, very connected and similar feelings. It’s amazing. It’s breathtaking. And I honestly shed a tear when my time with Ruth & Oliver and Nao & Jico & Haruki #1 came to an end.

Many times throughout the story, the “Jungle Crow”, which is native to Japan, is featured throughout each of Ruth’s chapters. I could not shake the feeling that this particular jungle crow inhabiting Ruth’s island, as she was reading and piecing together the story of this 16-year-old Japanese girl, was actually Nao visiting/protecting/watching Ruth. After finishing, I took the time to look up the jungle crow and came across this fascinating blog about the crow and its meaning in Japanese culture. According to this blog, the crow has a cultural significance of being a protector.

The crow also makes up a part of one of the mythological creatures found in Japanese Shintoism and Buddhism, the Crow Tengu…Tengu protect the Dharma, or Buddhist law against transgressors of the Dharma…Tengu have a variety of supernatural powers that they use to play these tricks on people including:  shape-shifting to human or animal forms, speaking without moving their mouths, moving instantly from place to place and being able to invade people’s dreams.

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With my every wish, I want A Tale for the Time Being to win the 2013 Man Booker Prize. After completing and posting my initial (gushing love) thoughts about it (and tweeting my love to Ms. Ozeki) I’ve discovered, based on feedback received, that I am so not alone in this wish.

Audiobook Review: A Hundred Summers

16158535Loved it! It’s the perfect summer read! I can see this one being enjoyed on those hot steamy beaches this summer.  Is it “women’s contemporary” (seems to be the nouveau word for chick-lit) – with a heavy hit of romance? Well, yes, but I think what enhanced this one was the narration by Kathleen McInerney. It made it all so good and one where you wanted to keep driving around to continue listening to Lily’s story!  Thank you so very much to Audiobook Jukebox and Penguin Audio for granting us the advanced copy of this audiobook.

And while I may have been encouraged to drink Whiskey Sours when reading Tigers in Red Weather last summer, A Hundred Summers is tempting me to mail off a Surgeon General’s warning about cigarette smoking to the cast and characters! WOW, is there ever a lot of smoking going on in here! (I’m a little surprised to not see the packs next to the two on the cover to your left, or that these two women don’t have them resting easily between their fingers. 🙂 )

The storyline flips back and forth between 1931 (New York) and 1938 (Seaview, Rhode Island). 1931 is the time period when Lily Dane is at college with her glamorous, refined and sophisticated socialite friend Budgie. Lily and Budgie have been friends since childhood and have spent every summer together at their family’s vacation homes at Seaview on Rhode Island. Lily is definitely the practical, less refined friend, with her flyaway curls and unsophisticated or naive mannerisms. Lily is the “good girl”, the “strong and steady girl” and definitely not “that kind of girl.”

A Hundred Summers opens in the 1931 timeframe and Budgie is quickly racing her and Lily to Dartmouth to watch her latest boyfriend Graham Pendleton, the golden haired, blue-eyed Adonis, play football. But Lily quickly only has eyes for the tall, dark, broad and extremely handsome quarterback. Budgie is quick to wrinkle her nose at this outcome, as Nick Greenwald is Jewish. Budgie laughingly tells Lily to get her kicks, sure, but do not ever bring this boy home to your parents!

However, Nick and Lily fall crazy and madly in love. Throughout this time, Nick is always ever crticial of Budgie and warns Lily often that she is nothing like her, and please don’t ever become a person like Budgie. Lily’s introduction to Nick to the Dane household unfortunately is also met with extreme heartbreak. Her father orders Lily to never speak to this Greenwald boy ever again. Yet, they disobey and attempt to run off to elope….

Williams alternates the chapters between 1931 New York and 1938 Seaview. The chapters that occur at Seaview are current day when it’s 1938. Here, Lily is again the narrator of her story and we find her summering again like she has every summer at the family cottage on Seaview. She has with her a 6 year old girl affectionately called Kiki. Kiki refers to Lily as her sister and everyone treats that with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge with the common thought being what Kiki’s true parentage is. The truth regarding Kiki’s paternity is slowly unveiled and is not the common story people think it is.

The shocking and gossipy feature of this year’s Seaview community is that Budgie is returning to her family’s summer retreat, after many, many neglect filled summers. The kicker is that she is returning as Mrs. Nickleson (Budgie) Greenwald. Budgie and Lily have not spoken in many years and Lily has only read of the marriage to Nick Greenwald in the society pages. She is filled with grief and the community of Seaview is disgusted only with the news that Budgie is bringing a Jew to the resort. Or is that the true and real reason as it is the one that Lily believes it to be.

So, the reader does not know exactly how these events have transpired in the years between 1931 and 1938, instead we are treated (yes, definitely treated, as the way the story unfolds keeps you glued in place) to alternating chapters that take us back to 1931 to the passionate and love-struck couple Lily and Nick. Their romance unfolds and is filled with great and undying love for one another. The reader has NO idea or is given any indication during this time as to what happens between Nick and Lily, or why Budgie has now married him and Lily remains alone. It all slowly reveals itself in the end.

There are a few storylines to follow here. The other is that all does not seem to be well with Budgie. She is very adept at trying to hide what is going on behind closed doors. She’s putting on a grand affair of things. Why has she returned to Seaview after all these years of being away? Is it true that she has married a Greenwald because her family has been left penniless? WHY is she married to Nick Greenwald? How the heck did that happen? We are seriously treated to a slow and steady reveal.

Was it going to end in a somewhat predictable manner? Or will you be able to surmise the outcome? Perhaps, but no matter – it’s an excellent story all along the way. You may guess, but seriously, the joy of this story is definitely in the way Ms. Williams has taken her time to slowly and chronologically reveal it all. Just loved every moment of it! It all comes to a great end with gales of wind, rain and hurricane force of shattering truths.

The narration of this audio is done by Kathleen McInerney. WONDERFUL narration!  Now, this is a female narrator that knows how to speak male voices! Splendid! What a treat for the ears! What a treat as well when she would do the snobby, old money voice of Mrs. Hubert of Seaview and of dear old Aunt Julie.  She perfectly rendered the elitist and super-perfect girl voice of Budgie, the sweet and innocent voice of Lily and listening to Nick’s voice as well as any other male voice was just wonderful. Absolutely not one irritating or forced male sound in range. Awesome.

For all of that, I could forgive a few of the things that nibbled at my patience a touch:

  1. the squeaky child voice of Kiki;
  2. the excessive amount of smoking going on!;
  3. all the descriptive details of sex;
  4. the excessive fascination with breasts. Honestly. We hear often of Budgie’s breasts, how small, how plump they become and how brown or pink the nipples are (Budgie’s breasts are described often as apricot-like). But more than anything it is the exposing, kissing, licking and suckling of Lily’s breasts. Girl! She didn’t keep those under wraps for anyone! 🙂

However, it was definitely a winner of an audiobook and one where I wanted to just keep driving around in circles to continue listening. It comes to a very satisfying finish and again, I can totally see this one being devoured by readers on the beach this summer. 4 stars for a wonderful narration of a great story.

Audiobook Review: Little Wolves

13536606Thank you to AudioGo and Audiobook Jukebox for advancing a copy of Little Wolves in audio. This book was (and again I fear I’m sounding like a broken record here) also advanced to us via Net Galley, however (here we go again) it came in PDF format. Therefore, it was great to see it come available in audio. Although the audio version wasn’t the very greatest, overall,  Little Wolves was a satisfying read. It’s a story of redemption, mystery, mythology, small town and old family resentment and myth.

It is beautifully described, lyrically written, and slow building and Little Wolves does come to a fairly satisfying finish. It wasn’t at all what I anticipated the story to be about, and there were times when I was slightly confused – confused either by the purpose or by the seemingly lack of connection between all the characters and their stories. Perhaps it was how the ties were sewn up or the tenous threads that bound their stories together that didn’t quite sit right with me?  The story builds, slowly, with small pieces revealed over time. And then in those few final chapters you do edge forward in your seat and hang on to find out how it all comes together and end. However, again, I was still left thinking there seemed to be a lack of connection or just that something that would tie everyone and everything together.

From The Reading Room: Set on the Minnesota prairies in 1987, during a drought season that is not helping the demise of the family farms, the story features two intertwining narrators, a father searching for answers after his son commits a heinous murder, and a pastor’s wife who has returned to the town for mysterious reasons of her own. A penetrating look at small-town America, reminiscent of Russell Banks’ “Sweet Hereafter” or “Affliction,” driven by a powerful murder mystery, “Little Wolves” is a page-turning literary triumph.

The description and cover of this book are great right? Still, it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, and the “powerful murder mystery” falls a touch flat.

Clara is a motherless child, who grew up listening to her father’s mythical, fantastical tales about wolf children, about a baby being rescued in the valley fields and protected by the wolves and another about a child born with wolf-like features (body covered in dark hair). All these tales were told to Clara by her father as a way to cover up the truth about her mother and what happened that evening so many years ago, leaving her father without a wife, and Clara without a mother. Clara is somewhat obsessed with the stories and dreams of wolves and coyotes and is determined to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance.

Clara marries a pastor and has a hand in guiding him to work in this town in Minnesota where she thinks she’ll find the truth concerning her mother. Here, Clara becomes a teacher and continues the teaching of these mythical tales. She teaches her students Beowulf stories, legends and myths. One student that is keen to Clara is Seth Fallon, also a motherless child.

In the opening of the novel, Seth comes to Clara’s home dressed in an long oil-cloth cloak and armed with a sawed-off shotgun. Something inside tells Clara to stay hidden from sight and she does not answer the door. Seth eventually walks away, but then kills the town’s sheriff and then turns the gun on himself. The town is left in turmoil and despair and the long tempered resentment amongst the townfolk bubbles to the surface following these two events.

It’s all this in-between of Seth’s opening actions and Clara’s wolf stories, where things remained in a constant convoluted state for me. Even at the end, the reasons given, the long-simmering hatred between two families, and the mystery surrounding Clara’s mother and her part in this town’s history weren’t fully realized, in my opinion. I was still left with some confusion or understanding when all was revealed.  I got it, I mean, I got the role Clara’s mother played in the town’s history, the probable reason for Seth coming to Clara in the opening, I think, but it was really cryptically explained and the ties that bound Seth and Clara (outside of their love for wolves and coyotes and being motherless) and the reasons for Seth becoming involved and doing what he did on that fateful day, are quite tenuously explained, at best.

By the end and after putting aside my frustration with the narrator’s voice, I just lost myself in the beautiful descriptive writing of Maltman. This is where I became most entranced and willing to continue with the story. Everything really is beautifully described, I’m thinking I may have enjoyed this more had I just read the book, instead of listening to the audio.

In regards to the audiobook: This is one of those rare times when I say, just read the book instead. I know right? I never say that! I’m always singing about how you just must listen to this one instead of just reading it. In the beginning I was a little confused to find they chose a female narrator for the story, as there is only one female voice – Clara’s. The whole rest of the cast are almost entirely men, or, it’s told in the male voice. Therefore, when a female narrator attempts to speak in a grovelly, deep, raspy manly voice – it fails. Oh it’s awful. And that was so very distracting for me and very frustrating. Other than that, she did narrate the non-speaking parts fine and I found that it was a much better experience when I put my frustration about her voice aside and just tuned in to the lovely descriptions and details that Maltman uses when he writes.

So, overall,  a 3.5 for the story, as it was a satisfying read, but 3 for the narration. Read it, don’t listen to it.

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