Blog Tour Review – The Man Who Saw Everything – Deborah Levy

Deborah Levy is a writer unlike no other.

This strikes me, even as I write it, as a sentence that feels over used and some what stale. But that doesn’t stop it from being true.

There are so many authors out there that I admire but Levy’s work is always immediately identifiable as hers. Her work is consistently insightful, always complex and raw, and always magnificent.

I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for her third Man Booker long listed novel, The Man Who Saw Everything.

The novel centres on Saul Alder, a young historian and opens in 1988. Saul is knocked over on the famous Abbey Road crossing, and despite a rather confusing encounter with the driver who hits him, seems physically unharmed. Immediately after the accident he visits his girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau, a talented American art student and fiesty independent women, who has imposed clear rules on their relationship.

This evening is a crossroads in their relationship. Saul is about to embark on a research trip to the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Jennifer is finishing her studies and moving on. Saul proposes marriage, Jennifer ends the relationship. The theme of misremembering, misinterpretation and conflict begins, and we get our first glimpse of the nature of Saul Alder.

For Levy has created a character that is intelligent, beautiful and articulate. Having lost his mother at an early age Saul seems emotionally tied to the past. At odds with his working class father and bully of a brother, refusing to remove his mothers pearls, Saul Alder is self absorbed, often selfish, but certainly not self aware. A man with an incredible eye for detail in the world around him, he is woefully lacking in his understanding of his own character and behaviour.

As his relationship with Jennifer ends Saul travels to the GDP. He is assigned a translator, Walter Muller, with whom he begins a relationship, one which comes to dominate his life despite it’s breivity. He also becomes involved with Walter’s sister Luna, a young woman looking for her key to the west.

The second half of the book takes place in 2016. Saul has again been struck by a car, again on the infamous Abbey Road crossing. This time he is seriously injured and the second half of the book is an account of his time in hospital. A time where the threads of his life come together and Saul begins to face the man he is.

Throughout the novel there runs an overwhelming sense of history; personal history and world history, particulary that of Europe. It is not a linear presentation, rather it is fragmented, appearing in snapshots, interpreted and misrembered by individual characters each adding their own version of events.

Levy continually plays with the concept of time. There is a fractured and fragmented feel to the novel as elements from each part of Saul’s life appear in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Personalities from the past appear in the future and vice versa, creating a running commentary on the complexity of what makes a person and what defines our experiences and choices. There is an inflated sense of deja vu as the echoes of the past affect the future and back again.

Saul feels like a conduit within the novel, a way of drawing together the past, the present and the future. A feeling embodied by Luna, when she says…

But you must.” she said, firmly. “You are history”

Pg 89

Continually the lines of time are blurred. Whilst in the GDP Saul is able to give Luna an accurate prediction about the fall of the Berlin Wall, bringing the future to the present. Equally we feel that the grief he holds, literally around his neck, for the loss of his mother, is what drives Saul to his study of German policital history. Again Levy is playing with and breaking through the barriers of time to create the sense of a novel seeped in history but unconstrained by it.

Throughout the novel there is a sense of haunting. The image of spectres appear again and again, particularly as Saul is hospitalised after his second accident. Levy points out that events in our lives continue to contribute to and define us as we move forwards. Similarly the motif of wolves, dogs and predators stalk the narrative, in the way that his grief for his mother and his guilt surrounding his relationship with Walter stalk Saul’s own life.

Yet Saul is the ultimate unreliable narrator. Taking into account the moving and fractured time frames, his own lack of self awareness and his two accidents, there is a continual sense of story and an author shaping and rediscovering themselves. At times this feels very insular and persoanl to Saul’s story, at other times this feels very much like a wider metaphor for the historial and polictical times we currently find ourselves in.

For this is a novel steeped in the history of Europe. There are continual references to various European countries and influences, woven skillfully into the narrative. The history of Europe and it’ s division and subsequent reunification through the fall of the GDR is central to the novel. It doesn’t feel coindicidental that Saul’s second accident is firmly in the time frame of the EU referendum result. There is a feeling that whatever our future relationship with Europe, we are still bound to it through the past and the present. Nothing is as linear as we would like to believe.

It feels so trite and unimaginative to call this novel complex and orginal. But it truly is. Every review I have read has come up with a different perspective and focus. For it is a novel that lends it’s self to interpretation and discussion. There is so much more to this work than I could ever hope to include in these short paragraphs. It is a work to be read debated and then reread. And I guarantee that much like the narrative structure adopted by Levy your perception will shift and you will find new angles, new motifs and new meanings upon each reading. I have read this book twice in 5 days and each time I have taken something different away from it.

The Man Who Saw Everything is an incredible book. There is no doubt it is a novel for our time; it is a novel for all time. And I am predicting a third Man Booker short listed book for Deborah Levy.

Blog Tour Review : The Oshun Diaries by Diane Esguerra

Today I am taking my turn on the Blog Tour for The Oshun Diaries by Diane Esguerra. Many thanks toRachel @ Rachel’s Random Resources for the opportunity to read and review this individual and iluminating book.

The Blurb…

High priestesses are few and far between, white ones in Africa even more so. When Diane Esguerra hears of a mysterious Austrian woman worshipping the Ifa river goddess Oshun in Nigeria, her curiosity is aroused.

It is the start of an extraordinary friendship that sustains Diane through the death of her son and leads to a quest to take part in Oshun rituals. Prevented by Boko Haram from returning to Nigeria, she finds herself at Ifa shrines in Florida amid vultures, snakes, goats’ heads, machetes, a hurricane and a cigar-smoking god. Her quest steps up a gear when Beyoncé channels Oshun at the Grammysand the goddess goes global.

Mystifying, harrowing and funny, The Oshun Diaries explores the lure of Africa, the life of a remarkable woman and the appeal of the goddess as a symbol of female empowerment.

My thoughts…

As a teacher I am a big believer in the fact that your education never really ends. You spend your whole life acquring knowledge, sometimes from the most unlikely of places. This desire to learn and grow is a huge factor in my love of reading. And I enjoy nothing more than learning about completely new things.

It was this philosophy that drew me to The Oshun Diaries. I do read non fiction, but usually about subjects that I have some prior knowledge of; this book pushed me completely out of my comfort zone. And I am so pleased that it did.

The basis of the Ifa culture is one bound up in the importance of women and the empowerment of the female form. A religion with many Gods and Goddess where gender stereotypes are challenged and the roles are fluid, it is a culture that was margianlised and virtually destroyed by the Colonial Power Structure imposed by the West. Diane explores throughout the book the ways the West have cheated and robbed the African nations and left countries in chaos in their wake.

Nigeria is presented as a beautiful country but one that is filled with complexity and often danger. It is against this backdrop that an incredible Western woman is seeking to reinstate and preserve the Sacred Groves of the Ifa culture. It is a complex story of cutures coming together, one which many find hard to understand. When seeking to find a place for her documemtary about Adunni’s life and work Diane comes up against fears of cultural appropriation and questions about the validity of the culture in today’s world.

Her relationship with Adunni, protector of the sacred shrines is fascinating. Adunni was born Suzanne Wenger. An Austrian Artist who fell foul of the Nazi regime, she join the Resistence, helping marginalised groups during the war by providing safe havens. As with many things about Suzanne/ Adunni her past is unclear; did she, for example serve time in a German Concentration Camp?

This was a fascinating read for me, unlike anything I had read before. It was refreshing to read about a belief system that was so firmly rooted in the female form. It was empowering and enlightening and made me aware of just how narrow, how mainstream, how Western my view of the world’s religion’s is.

This book gave me the reminder that I sometimes need of how much there is to see out there and just reaffirmed my belief that you have to push out of your comfort zone at times, because you never, ever stop learning.

About the author…

Diane Esguerra is an English writer and psychotherapist. For a number of years she worked as aperformance artist in Britain, Europe and the United States, and she has written for theatre and television. She is the recipient of a Geneva-Europe Television Award and a Time Out Theatre Award.

She is previously the author of Junkie Buddha, the uplifting story of her journey to Peru to scatter her late son’s ashes.

She lives in Surrey with her husband David.

Diane Esguerra

Giveaway to Win 5 x PB copies of The Oshun Diaries (UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494265/?

Links to purchase The Oshun Diaries

Readers can order the book from the Lightning Books website at 30% off (with free UK p&p) if you enter this code at checkout :

BLOGTOUROSHUN

http://eye-books.com/books/the-high-priestess-of-oshun

or Amazon links for UK can be found here and US here

And there is more…

For other’s thoughts on The Oshun Diaries check out the blogs listed below.

Blog Tour Review: This Stolen Life by Jeevani Charika.

Today I am delighted to be participating in my first ever Blog Tour. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me along and giving me this opportunity. And a huge thank you and massive congratulations to Jeevani Charika. It has been my absolute pleasure to read and review This Stolen Life.

On to the book…

This Stolen Life is a story set across two very different cultures. Beginning in rural Sri Lanka, Jaya is running from an abusive home life. When a chance meeting and a tragic opportunity present themselves, she takes the chance to change her life forever. In the blink of an eye she is on her way to the UK , a new identity and a new life awaiting her.

So Jaya becomes Soma. However she quickly finds that despite a new country, new job and a new name escaping your past and changing your very being isn’t as easy as it seems.

Soma is working in Hull, nannying for a Sri Lankan couple, Yamuna and Bim. Only recently betrothed, within an arranged marriage, this outwardly self assured couple are coping with their own uncertainties and difficulties. A new mother, Yamuna is working through the haze of undiagnosed postnatal depression, whilst long term bachelor Bim is struggling to adjust to family life.

It is through her employers that Soma meets Sahan, nephew of Yamuna. A young, bright undergraduate, Sahan is embroiled in his own journey. Even after three years of living in the UK Sahan finds the cultural differences between his Sri Lanka and his current home difficult to assimilate and come to terms with. Both set adrift in a unfamiliar culture, Soma and Sahan experience an instant attraction which quickly grows into something more. Their’s is a deep and innocent bond, supportive and sustaining but threaten by past secrets and cultural expectations. Soma’s secret is to big to remain concealed, the clock is ticking and can their relationship survive the shock?

What I really enjoyed about this book is how Jeevani Charika explores and portrays the difficulties and complexities faced by those people trying to assimilate a culture that is alien to them. So many of the characters here are on a journey, be that living in a new country, being a new parent, studying or working and they are all trying desperately to fit in.

The balancing act of making your way in a strange world whilst remaining true to yourself and your heritage is skillfully and beautifully portrayed. It is through the innocent eyes of Soma we feel the shock of the English weather, the blandness of food and the utter terror of even stepping outside the front door. It is no accident that the first and most fulfilling bond Soma creates is with her charge, Louie, the infant son of Yamuna and Bim. Here there is no judgement, no social norms to learn and maintain. Within this relationship she can speak her own language and not worrying about maintaining her pretence. It is her sanctuary.

On first reading, the title of the book ,This Stolen Life, seems to related completely to the character and story of Soma. However the more I reflected on this book, the more it appeared that it could equally have applied to many of the novel’s other characters. To some degree many of the character’s lives are constrained by outside pressures. Yamuna is quietly grieving the change that motherhood and marriage have wrought upon her, Sahan is balancing his own desires against those of his parents and their strict cultural expectations. Do any of these characters have the courage to take control of their own destinies and successfully bridge two cultures, and create lives true to themselves in the process?

At first glance this is a simple story, but in reality it is anything but. Charika has woven many complex and relevant issues into her narrative. It is a book to make you stop and think, to reassess and question your own experiences and motivations. I feel it would make a really interesting bookclub read; there is so much to discuss and it is likely to draw a wide range of opinions.

This book is a quiet little gem just waiting to be discovered. A genuine and honest story of self discovery and all that entails. And the fact it was set in Hull, my old University stomping ground and place I meet my future husband, was the icing on a very delicious cake.

Thank you Jeevani Charika, for sharing this book with me and allowing me to review. I hope, like your characters, it gains it wings and flies. It deserves to.

About the author.

Jeevani Charika is a British Sri-Lankan, who also writes under the pen name Rhoda Baxter. She describes herself as a writer of ‘women’s fiction and contemporary romances with a hint of British cynicism.’ Her books have been shortlisted for RoNA awards, the Love Story Awards and the Joan Hessayon Awards. She is a member of the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors.

And there is more…

The Blog Tour for This Stolen Life runs until 17th May 2019. Why not check out more reviews of this delightful book?