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Our third book club discussion spotlighted historical fiction, and we explored three novels. To be able to participate in the book club, you only needed to read one.
For our discussion on 1 July, we were joined by two authors, Ioana Pârvulescu and Osvalds Zebris. They shared their thoughts about their books, and explored with us the historical periods their books were set in. Listen to our discussion here.
During our third meeting, we discussed three historical fiction novels:
Viaţa Începe Vineri (Life Begins On Friday) by Ioana Pârvulescu (Romania, 2013)
Life Begins on Friday is a unique and charming journey into the amazing world of times gone by – a world more than 100 years distant, but very similar to our own in its core features. A young man is found lying unconscious on the outskirts of Bucharest. No one knows who he is and everyone has a different theory about how he got there. The stories of the various characters unfold, each closely interwoven with the next, and outlining the features of what ultimately turns out to be the most important and most powerful character of all: the city of Bucharest itself. The novel covers the last 13 days of 1897 and culminates in a beautiful tableau of the future as imagined by the different characters. We might, in fact, say that it is we who inhabit their future. And so too does Dan Creţu, alias Dan Kretzu, the present-day journalist hurled back in time by some mysterious process for just long enough to allow us a wonderful glimpse into a remote, almost forgotten world, but one still very much alive in our hearts.
Le Dernier Gardien d’Ellis Island (The Last Guardian of Ellis Island) by Gaëlle Josse (France, 2015)
New York, 3 November 1954. In five days, the immigration station on Ellis Island, which all immigrants from Europe since 1892 have had to pass through, will close its doors. Alone in this huge deserted space, John Mitchell, an officer of the Bureau of Immigration, is both a watchman and a prisoner of this tiny island in the Hudson River facing Manhattan. A few days before he has to leave, Mitchell feels the need to free himself from the memory of several events in his life at Ellis, so he starts a diary. Until... Two women, two boats, two stories that have left their mark on his life: Liz, his beloved wife, and Nella, the Sardinian immigrant with a strange past. Other ghosts emerge from that time of memory and soul-searching: Lazzarini, the Italian anarchist; Kovacs, the Hungarian writer, a communist dissident fleeing the regime in Budapest with his wife; Brian, the friend from his Brooklyn childhood, and many others. Remorse, transgression, duty, loss, loneliness, exile… as well as emotion, love and sincerity: John Mitchell looks back over the course of his life and an era of North American history.
Gaiļu Kalna Ēnā (In the Shadow of Rooster Hill) by Osvalds Zebris (Latvia, 2017)
It is 1905 in Riga – the Russian Tsar is slowly losing power over his vast empire, and the city is being rocked by worker riots, violence and pogroms. Revolution is in the air. Pitting brother against brother, the chaos forces people to choose a side. Among this upheaval, a former schoolteacher becomes involved in the revolution, but soon realizes that war will take much more than he is willing to give. The following year, a dramatic kidnapping of three children has Riga’s police on edge. Who did it? What was their motive? The answer will shatter the lives of two families, as they struggle to understand who is guilty in a revolution where all sides are victims. Osvalds Zebris weaves a powerful tale of a country’s desire to become free against the backdrop of the 1905 Revolution in Tsarist Russia, an event that gave birth to some of the most dramatic events in the 20th century.
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