Monday, July 30, 2012

Even Silence Has An End by Ingrid Bentancourt

Book:  Even Silence Has An End/An aside on libraries.

Author:  Ingrid Bentancourt 

Grade:  B- 

Recommended To:  People who want to learn how not to escape guerrilla captivity. 

Even Silence Has An End is the story of Ingrid Bentancourt, the presidential candidate in Columbia who was captured and held hostage for 6 years in the jungle.  I first saw her interview with Oprah about the book and it has been on my to-read list ever since. I finally picked it up at the library this month.

An aside on libraries -  I'm a Kindle fanatic (I buy the daily deal almost every day), or I buy my books used at the Brown Elephant Resale Shop.  But, these places called libraries just give you books for free and all you need is a handy card that says you are allowed to check out books there.  Who knew!?  

I'm kidding, of course.  I got a library card at the age of five and would intentionally pick out the longest books I could find in hopes of them lasting longer than two days.  I blazed through the entire babysitter's club series, Anne of Green Gables, and Little House on the Prairie and then I read them again - over and over.

But, I've recently re-discovered the library and I've fallen in love again.  The only sort of stressful thing is that it really bumps around the books in your to-read queue.  These books have a due date so I couldn't just add them to my pile and pick them up again on a boring day.  I had to relive my days as a kid and read these books fast!   It has been great fun - I'd forgotten how lovely it is to hold a plastic bound book, turning real pages and seeing other people's fingerprints.  It really makes you think about where a book has been and where it will end up.

Phew. Silence was a solid read.  I took a class on the Columbian paramilitary, guerrilla and military forces in college and this book is probably now on that professor's reading list.  Bentancourt describes her time chained to a tree, her long marches through the jungle and her attempts at escape.  This woman sucks at escaping.  She writes very long passages about the preparation she put into the escape plans and she ultimately fails five times.  It is painful to see her go through these preparations over and over, only to know what is going to happen.

The most interesting parts are the bits about her relationships with her "companions." Many of them distrust her, but she does have a few close friends in captivity.  After finishing this book, I looked up some of the controversy surrounding Bentancourt's version of the events.  Many of the other captives have strong words of criticism for Bentancourt including her vice presidential running mate who was also captured with her.

Overall, this is a well written book with some very interesting passages and thoughts on the human experience in captivity.  I would recommend this as an honest, upfront nonfiction read.

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Book:  Bring up the Bodies 

Author:  Hilary Mantel 

Grade B 

Recommended To: People who just wished and wished Hilary would fix the second-person speech in her follow up. 

Bring up the Bodies is the second book in a trilogy written by Hilary Mantel.  Her first book Wolf Hall followed Thomas Cromwell on his rise to power as an adviser to King Henry VIII and his tireless efforts to put Anne Boleyn on the throne of England.

Book two is a bit different.  Cromwell must reverse his efforts and remove Anne from the throne in order to keep his ever demanding boss, the king, from blowing a royal gasket.

I really enjoyed this book from Cromwell's perspective.  One of my biggest complaints about Wolf Hall was that Mantel writes in second person.   Everything is: He this and He that.  She still writes in second person in Bring up the Bodies, but at least this time, she makes it more clear who she is talking about.  Now, the sentences read something like:  He, Cromwell, went to the market.    This got very repetitive, but at least the reader is aware that the person she's talking about is the main character and not some other male character in the book.

There are many books about Tudor England and the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, but of all the historical fiction I've read from this time period, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies are two of the most accurate and most compelling.  Mantel creates an urgency around the conviction and trial of Anne Boleyn that I haven't found in other books.  Her viewpoint on the speed of Anne's downfall is very interesting and I've never seen a Tudor author break down the investigation in the way that Mantel does.  Mantel describes King Henry's orders to Cromwell, the investigation into Anne's behavior, and her imprisonment and trial in a span of around 6 days. It is wildly fascinating to read about how Cromwell interrogated a mere singer in Queen Anne's retinue and from there indicted several of the King's closest friends and the Queen, particularly in such a short period of time.

I do recommend reading some lighter historical fiction (even wikipedia) about the time period before delving into these two books.  The writing is sometimes very tough and it helps to have a perspective on the way the history turns out before reading the books.  Not that we don't all know what happens to Anne Boleyn, but there is a host of other characters, who are just as important, and some quick background on those individuals is hugely helpful when reading this book.

I give this book a very solid B and I recommend it as an improvement on Wolf Hall.  I am very excited for the third book in the series, which I can only imagine takes Cromwell to new highs and lows.

Happy Reading!!