August 2019 Wrap-Up: From Half a Lifelong Romance to Milk of Paradise

Half a Lifelong Romance [1950] by Eileen Chang  ★★★★★

This novel, which was first serialised in a Shanghai newspaper in the 1950s under the title Eighteen Springs, tells the story of Gu Manzhen and Shen Shijun, their respective families, and how their love is being forcibly subdued by various circumstances arising in their lives. This story is quietly powerful and touching.

The Nickel Boys [2019] by Colson Whitehead – ★★★★★

Colson Whitehead’s seventh fiction book is based on a true story of the Dozier School for Boys (in Florida), and the extent of the systematic abuse that was uncovered there (the school closed in 2011). The Nickel Boys is a short, but powerful book with a compelling story and memorable character studies.

Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution [1941] by R. R. Palmer – ★★★★1/2

If the mainspring of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the mainspring of popular government in revolution is both virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is disastrous; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue“, so once said one of the most distinguishable figures in the period of the French Revolution – Maximilien Robespierre. Twelve Who Ruled is a book that concerns itself precisely with that chaotic period in the French Revolution – The Year of the Terror, and trying to rationalise that period in French history is like climbing Mount Everest without special equipment or training. 

The Interestings [2013] by Meg Wolitzer – ★★★★1/2

I enjoyed this story of six friends, and how their lives turned out after their first meeting at a summer camp. All of them strived to fulfil themselves in their chosen career paths and personal relationships, and found ambition, hidden jealousy, money, and other factors, standing in the way of them remaining close friends. The point is that life is full of ups and downs – there are both happiness and sadness in it, and accepting who you are and others around you is the first step to a life of no-regrets and contentment.

The Blue Room [1960] by Georges Simenon – ★★★★1/2

In the blue room, nothing was real. Or rather, its reality was of a different nature, incomprehensible anywhere else” [Simenon/Ellenbogen, 1960/2012: 64]. Do not let the shortness of this book fool you – there is a lot packed into this book of lust, intrigue and hidden motives. It is a suspenseful crime story with a punch, involving boundless obsession, one passionate affair, obscure motivations, and an unhealthy dosage of jealousy. It is a quick, but memorable read.

Rome: A History in Seven Sackings [2017] by Matthew Kneale ★★★★1/2

Many books have been written on the history of Rome, but Matthew Kneale does something structurally different in his ninth book: he looks at Rome through its seven historical sackings, each time taking us back to that time when Rome was in relative peace and describing, first, the city and then its enemies, before telling us how a sacking progressed and what its outcome was. The sackings of Gauls, Goths, Normans, Spaniards, and Nazis are all considered.

The Underground Railroad [2016] by Colson Whitehead ★★★★

This winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is a powerful account of slavery (its horrors) and the fight for freedom, but I regret to say that I did not like it as much as I thought I would. The plot centres around the Underground Railroad, a secret path/network that existed in the 19th century US, enabling slaves to escape and seek their freedom in free states or Canada. In this story, Cora is a strong-willed slave-girl that manages to escape her cruel masters, and travels from Georgia to South Carolina and beyond (following the path of the Underground Railroad) to seek her freedom. This is an immersive novel (told through multiple perspectives) that depict important historical events and sacrifices made, and I enjoyed Whitehead’s “matter-of-fact” language and presentation. This style of writing may not be the one the reader can “warm” themselves to, but, nevertheless, it gives the story its needed authenticity and rawness.

One of the issues I had with this novel, though, is that I thought the characters in the story (especially Cora and a slave-catcher Ridgeway) were too stereotypically-presented and appeared one-dimensional; and I also found that events/actions in this book were presented in a cursory, hurried way, as though the author wanted to race through many themes and situations to tell his story. That certainly gave this story a needed sense of urgency – after all, the characters are on the run, – but it also left me wanting to skip some pages too – to finally get to the heart of the matter.

A Maze of Death [1970] by Philip K. Dick – ★★★★

Another Philip K. Dick book and another read that was mind-blowing. In this book, there are fourteen strangers who gather on a mysterious planet Delmark-O, awaiting their job assignments. Meanwhile, they also experience strange visions and visitations…and start to die one by one. I hope to read Philip K. Dick’s Martian Time-Slip [1964] soon, too.

Miracle Creek [2019] by Angie Kim – ★★★★

For my Year of the Asian Reading Challenge, I continued with this book by an author who came to the USA from South Korea when she was young. A curious premise (the use of a pressured oxygen chamber to treat conditions), one interesting legal conundrum emerging, and various immigration issues, all make this book a true page-turner.

Milk of Paradise: A History of Opium [2018] by Lucy Inglis – ★★1/2

I am interested in the history of science, medicine and drugs. I am also fascinated by topics that concern addiction, pain management and drug trafficking. Thus, Milk of Paradise, that purports to deal with the history of opium on the world stage, should have been a perfect read for me. It was not, unfortunately. I found that the book attempted too much (describe the origin of opium, opium trade in the world, the use of opium in medicine etc.), and ended up not amounting to anything – much.

This month I also talked about my trip to Mallorca.

How was your blogging/reading month of August? Are there any particular books you loved/glad you discovered? 


12 thoughts on “August 2019 Wrap-Up: From Half a Lifelong Romance to Milk of Paradise

  1. I loved Underground Railroad. I have tried The Interestings twice and I just can’t connect with it, which totally bugs me. I started Miracle Creek, but it was a library book and had to be returned before I could really get in to it. What I want to read is the Eileen Chang book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you like Chang’s book. My point is also that it is pretty much (more or less) the product of the country and time where/when it was written – though it was revised by Chang herself at a much later date. That means it prioritises circumstances over individual and his or her will.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad to see you liked The Nickel Boys, I really enjoyed their previous novel and I was hoping this one was just as good! Looks like overall you had a really wonderful reading experience I hope September is just as good, if not better!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great reading month! I also enjoyed The Underground Railroad and Miracle Creek when I read them. I hope you have another fantastic month of books ahead!


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