Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Dictator's Last Night by Yasmina Khadra / The Girl With The Blue Umbrella by Heather Awad / Myths And Legends Of The Sioux by Marie McLaughlin

The Dictator's Last Night by Yasmina Khadra
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of The Dictator's Last Night by Yasmina Khadra from its publishers, Gallic Books, via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This is my fifth review for Sophie and Suze's NetGalley Challenge and I am hoping that I might just get a sixth title read by the Challenge's end date of October 12th. The Dictator's Last Night is already available in paperback and is due to be released as a Kindle ebook on the 19th October 2015.

I forgot, when I chose the book, that I have already read a work by Yasmina Khadra: The Sirens of Baghdad back in July 2013 which was before I started reviewing everything! In both books, Khadra delves deep into the minds of his protagonists. In Sirens we followed a suicide bomber; In The Dictator's Last Night we spend a dozen hours in the imagined mind of Muammar Gaddafi during the night of his final capture and murder. This isn't exactly a spoiler as Khadra's novel keeps to the known timeline of Gaddafi's last movements.

It took about half the book for me to really get into the story. Gaddafi is, unsurprisingly, not at all likeable although his remembrances of his youth did allow me to understand him more. Once he is forced to flee, the novel's pace leaps for a breathtaking final ride that makes for an exciting read. The Dictator's Last Night is written entirely in the first person and, as a feat of imagining one man's mind, it is certainly an interesting achievement. However, due to this device, it is also necessarily restricted to a narrow point of view and I would have liked a wider perspective. I am wondering if anyone has suggestions for other works to fill out the picture?

The Girl With the Blue UmbrellaThe Girl With the Blue Umbrella by Heather Awad
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The Girl With The Blue Umbrella by Heather Awad is a sixty-two poem strong collection of contemporary American poetry. The book was my introduction to NoiseTrade, a new website to me which offers a mix of independently published music and writing directly to consumers. I like poetry, but don't often think to include it in my reading so Random Acts Of Poetry Day (October 7th) seemed like the ideal time to give Awad's collection a try.

With so many poems from which to choose I did find the whole collection a bit hit and miss, but with far more hits than misses! I love Awad's insightful descriptions and I could identify with a several of her protagonists. 'Cleaning Out Closets' is definitely something I do to too great an extent, and 'Too Much Noise' could have been written for me. Awad's imagery is frequently perfect and I was impressed with lots of her word pictures. My favourite is this from 'Beyond': "Warmth abandoning me, escaping like air, from a pin pricked balloon". Superb!

Myths and Legends of the SiouxMyths and Legends of the Sioux by Marie L. McLaughlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of Myths And Legends of The Sioux by Marie McLaughlin when it was the ForgottenBooks daily free download. As the book was originally published in 1916 I am including it as my 1910s read for the Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge.

Marie McLaughlin had a Sioux grandmother and spent much of her life living amongst the remaining Indians after they were forced into reservations. She spoke the Sioux language and recorded the tales in this collection directly from the tribal elders, understanding that their community, culture and oral tradition would soon be lost to the world. I did find the tone of her introductory essay rather patronising as she describes the Sioux as primitive and childlike, dismissing their achievements and history. Ironically such a lifestyle, in tune with nature instead of wilfully destroying it, is now seen as perhaps they only way for us all to survive!

There are thirty-eight stories in the collection, some of which I enjoyed very much, others that were interesting as representations of Sioux culture and beliefs. Humanised animals feature frequently as do magical spirits and witches and I was frequently reminded of African tales such as Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord. Some of the moral fables are similar in message to Aesop's fables and I liked several of the creation myths explaining why bears travel in twos or why frogs are even lower in the world hierarchy than rabbits. However, without any existing knowledge of Sioux culture, many of the twists and turns seemed bafflingly arbitrary and I didn't understand why events happened as they did.

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1 comment:

  1. Promo news! Heather Awad's new poetry collection, The Lovely Brush, is just 99p on Amazon until the 11th September.
    Buy it here!