34. The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak

I have a private Amazon wish list for books that have been recommended to me or that I have read about somewhere. It is a kind of list of books I ought to read. And so The Bastard of Istanbul found its way into that list a couple of years ago, and I cannot remember why.

Recently I bought this title as an audiobook. I am so glad I did.

The story is set in Istanbul. It starts in about 1985, when Zeliha, aged 19, goes to an abortion clinic. Except the termination does not take place. At the same time, in Arizona, Rose, who is divorced from an Armenian American husband by whom she has a daughter Armanoush (who Rose calls Amy), meets a young Turkish student.

Move forward to 2005. Zeliha has a daughter, Asya. Armanoush visits Istanbul and stays with her stepfather’s family – yes you guessed it. And so the story becomes about the intertwined stories of these families, going back to the time of the Ottoman genocide against the Armenians. And all the history comes to a climax in the present.

This novel is very well written. I have just checked, and it seems Shafak wrote this novel in English (I had been going to compliment the translator!). The narration by Alix Dunmore is excellent.

I recommend The Bastard of Istanbul very highly. 10 out of 10.

26. Day, by A. L. Kennedy

I do like A.L. Kennedy’s writing.  Her stories build slowly, as the details of the main protagonist’s past are revealed. We get to understand the events that have shaped the central character, in this case Alfie Day, a wartime tail gunner in a Lancaster bomber. Alfie remembers his wartime life: the comrades who did not survive; the horror of seeing cities below burning as a result of the bombs just dropped; his father’s abuse of his mother; and the love he had found and lost.

Having listened to The Blue Book, I was prepared for a bitter ending, and so the optimism of the unexpected final turn was a welcome surprise.

Kennedy writes elegantly.  I used to listen to her Radio 4 opinion pieces, and although this audiobook was read by Dan Stephens, her writing style was recognisable; I could hear much of this as if she were the narrator.

I strongly recommend this short novel.  I have added it to my list of favourite books. 10 out of 10.

22. Milkman, by Anna Burns.

It’s a long time since I’ve read a Booker winner – and I can certainly see why Milkman won the prize in 2018.

Although never clearly stated, Milkman is set in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, in what is clearly a Republican community in the midst of the ‘Troubles’. The narrator is an 18 year old girl, middle daughter in a large family, with a ‘maybe boyfriend’. ‘Milkman’, who is clearly an important local IRA man, sets his sights on her, and that is the cause of the difficulties our heroine experiences.

None of the characters has a name – they are ‘maybe boyfriend’, ‘third brother-in-law’, etc. ‘Wee sisters’ provide some amusing scenes.

I can recommend listening to this as an audiobook, narrated by Brid Brennan, in a catholic Northern Irish accent .  Reading some of the Amazon reviews, it seems that some readers have found that the book is difficult reading due to a lot of long unstructured sentences. The narration overcame that as an issue for me.

I enjoyed this book. 10 out of 10.

17. Scattered Ghosts, by Nick Barlay

Nick Barlay is the son of Hungarian Jewish refugees.  His parents left Hungary for the UK in 1956, in the aftermath of the uprising against the oppressive Soviet rule.  That is when my parents left Hungary.

In this book, Nick Barlay tells the stories of his family members going back several generations.  Those who made something of themselves in the times of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Those who fought in the Great War. And those who were sent to Auschwitz.

The detail becomes greater as he tells the stories of those in living memory, as is only to be expected.  But clearly the book has been very carefully researched.

As the son of Hungarian emigres, I found a lot in this book that I could relate to, and I will be passing it on to my daughter and my mother.  Not being Jewish, however, no one in our family died at Auschwitz.  I visited that place a few weeks ago. Just horrible. I would have found it hard to cope had I lost family there.

A very interesting book, bringing all the characters in Nick’s family to life.  No doubt about it – 10 out of 10.


13. Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes

I’m guessing we all know at least something about the story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. I sort of did, but I had never read the book.  And I’m glad I listened to this audiobook.

I would have struggled reading Don Quixote. One of the great things about audiobooks is that I can listen to long descriptive passages, paying attention and often appreciating the writing, whereas with a book in my hand I would have raced through to the next bit of ‘action’. Thus I came to enjoy the numerous long conversations between Don Quixote and Sancha Panza, Quixote earnest and serious, the foolish wise man, and Panza the wise fool with his endless proverbs and sayings.

Don Quixote’s ‘adventures’ become increasingly ridiculous – the famous tilting at windmills is one of the first. The proper word is picaresque, but the one that came to my mind as I was listening is pythonesque.

36 hours in all, this is a long listen. I was listening for almost 2 months on my daily drive to and from work and some longer drives. At times I felt it almost lost its way, but Cervantes always pulled the narrative back on course.

You know something about the story. If you have not already done so, read or listen to Don Quixote. You won’t regret it.

Definitely 10 out of 10.

7. When All Is Said, by Anne Griffin

What a fabulous book!

I heard the author on Graham Norton’s radio show, and that sold this book to me.

Maurice Hannigan is 84. A widower, he is alone, his son living in the USA. He is in the bar of his local hotel, where he drinks 5 last toasts, to 5 people who have been special to him: his older brother who died when a young man, very many years ago, his stillborn daughter, his sister-in-law, his son and his recently departed wife.

Through the stories of his relationships with these 5 people we hear about Maurice’s life, told with real compassion.  He has had a good life, but hasn’t always known how to show his feelings. I don’t want to give much away, but we also hear about the major events in Maurice’s life, and about Maurice’s part in shaping events that affected the lives of members of another family in this small town in Meath, Ireland.

I really enjoyed it. I listened to the audiobook. The narration was excellent, holding me for every minute.

A well-deserved 10 out of 10.