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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Revolution or Farce?: Child of the Revolution: Growing up in Castro's Cuba by Luis A. Garcia

A child in Castro's Cuba, Luis Garciawas rapidly learning to be a good revolutionary. Taught about the horrors of Cuba before Castro's revolution when poor Cubans were exploited by wealthy Americans and about the improvements of Castro, young Luis grew up wanting to join the Communists. He had doubts, however, because,as in all Communist countries, there were shortages of goods and long queues even to buy basic necessities. Luis noticed that some of his relatives, high up in the Party, were wealthy and certainly didn't suffer any shortages. He also liked the Catholic church, which wasn't looked on kindly the 'Great Leader'.

Probably the major turning point for young Luis, however, even though he still didn't want to leave was Castro's idea of improving the economy by having a huge sugar-cane crop. At one stage Castro ordered everyone on the island to work on the sugar-cane. Of course, instead of improving the economy this caused it to collapse because nobody knew how to do it except the farmers, and nobody worked in their own occupations!

Castro seems rather mad and 'Walter Mitty-ish' in this enlightening and timely book about growing up in Cuba. He had these strange ideas every now and then and made four-to-five hour speeches quite often! But growing up in Cuba was really no joke. Food shortages, spies, fear of retribution for not toeing the Party line - all this was endured reasonably patiently by Luis's parents who had owned a successful shop until the Revolution which took away much of their livelihood. They hardly had anything to sell and, eventually, the Communists who were not sympathetic with the 'petite bourgeoisie', ordered them to close the store.

When the family applied to leave Cuba Luis's father had to cut sugar-cane for years and eat hardly anything. This was apparently the usual punishment for going against the Revolution.

In spite of the serious nature of this book it isn't harrowing or dull. The accounts of the warm-hearted Cuban's traditions and the many amusing anecdotes makes it a fun book to read, although there is a deep underlying sadness about the state of the country.

For some reason, Castro seems to be regarded by many as a hero. Maybe they should read this book and learn the real story.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


(Courtesy of Profgrrrl - and The Little Professor)

1. Yourself: romantic
2. Your boyfriend/girlfriend: intelligent
3. Your hair: dark
4. Your mother: practical
5. Your father: accountant
6. Your favorite item: books
7. Your dream last night: none
8. Your favorite drink: tea
9. Your dream car: Porsche
10.. The room you are in: messy
11. Your ex: married
12. Your fear: heights
13. What you want to be in 10 years: wiser
14. Who you hung out with last night: myself
15. What you're not: organised
16. Muffins: blueberry
17: One of your wish list items: bookshelves
18: Time: fast
19. The last thing you did: listen
20. What you are wearing: casual
21. Your favorite weather: cold
22. Your favorite book: history
23. The last thing you ate: steak
24. Your life: travelling
25. Your mood: OK
26. Your best friend (s): elsewhere
27. What are you thinking about right now: breakfast
28. Your car: none
29. What are you doing at the moment: writing
30. Your summer: relaxing
31. Your relationship status: engaged
32. What is on your tv: nada
33. What is the weather like: warm
34. When is the last time you laughed: afternoon.

November Challenge

I am going to join Kate's November Challenge: November Challenge which really won't be difficult for me because I am forever reading books set during the World Wars. The first one I've read is: Choose Your Dilemma: An Australian Pacifist in Hitler's Europe, which was about a young schoolteacher with Communist leanings caught in the war in Europe. He taught in Switzerland at an international school when war broke out. This book contains letters that he wrote home to his mother which are a very interesting account of the atmosphere in Europe just before the war and his decision to join the Quaker faith. I don't agree with his politics and I did find some of the book a bit dry but it's well worth reading.

Now I'm reading How Sleep the Brave by Catherine Gavin again, which is the third novel of her great trilogy set in the French Resistance. This one features Mike Marchand, a young former RAF pilot and his South American girlfriend, Dina, as well as the brave Resistance lawyer, Jacques Brunel, and his wife, Polly, who also works for the French Resistance. These books are very well-written and full of history. Catherine Gavin was a war correspondent and her knowledge of the facts shines. She does have quite a bee in her bonnet about Charles de Gaulle, however.

The third one that I'll read is The Idle Hill of Summer by Julia Hamilton. This is set in the First World War and is a very sad, but moving and sensitive story. (I'm reading this again.)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Innocent American: Innocence by Kathleen Tessaro

A moving and haunting novel, Innocence by Kathleen Tessaro, is based on the Henry James-ish theme of an innocent American in England. Eighteen year old Evie, an acting student, arrives in London anxious to experience all that England can offer her. Young and ambitious, she shares a house with fellow acting student, Robbie, who introduces her to seedy nightclubs and the wild nightlife of 1980's London. Robbie has problems and wants Evie to fulfill her own ambition - to go to Juliard, the prestigious New York acting school.

When the novel begins, Evie is in her thirties. She is now a single mother and teaches at night school. Her ambitions are unrealized and she feels very alone although she feels an attraction to the European Pietr. Disillusioned and unhappy, she finds herself visited by the ghost of her old friend, Robbie, who wants to know why she hasn't achieved her ambitions. Robbie's nagging questions make Evie ask herself some hard questions.

The flashbacks to Evie's young life, her friendship with Robbie, and her love affair with 'bad boy' Jake, together with the story of her life now, introduce much tension into this well-written novel.

The love story cuts to the heart of what it feels like to have that first 'grand passion' . The friendship with Robbie shows the importance of true friendship. Most of all, however, this novel is about the importance of attempting to achieve one's ambitions and self[realization.

I also enjoyed Tessaro's first novel, Elegance, but I found this novel more poignant. You can listen to Kathleen Tessaro talk about this novel here: Meet Kathleen Tessaro Bravo, Ms Tessaro!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mrs.Whitlam Blasts Off

Margaret Whitlam, the wife of former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, apparently called Jeanette Howard 'useless' and complained about her hand-holding with her husband, who is, of course, the present Prime Minister. Instead of apologising, she continued to complain on the Sunday programme on Channel Nine and really 'put her foot in it'. The original comments (I will be adding a link!) were made in a new biography. They may be good publicity for this...or not.

I will probably get a lot of flak for this, but I think that these comments show her to be a catty and nasty old woman, who is perhaps jealous? Mrs. Howard has been praised for her work for breast cancer - even by Roz Kelly, a former Labor MP. Holding hands just shows that the Howard's are happily married, as far as I'm concerned - it is neither 'silly' nor 'girly'.

My comments would be the same if Mrs.Howard had made these remarks about Mrs.Whitlam, and politics doesn't come into it, but I can't imagine it. She is too lady-like.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Delightful Days in Tuscany: Too Much Tuscan Sun

Too Much Tuscan Sun an amusing and very interesting book by Dario Castagno with Robert Rodi is full of delightful tales about leading tours in Tuscany. These tales about people on the tours certainly makes a good change from the 'renovation and food' books written by Americans and English people who go to live in Italy.

Dario leads tours of mostly American people through Tuscany and his descriptions of them are not always favourable! Amusing clients included the middle-aged couple who looked fit and wore track suits, but drank lots of Coke and refused to climb the hills of Sienna until they saw an old lady with groceries walk up three steep slopes without puffing; the couple on honeymoon who did nothing but kiss until Dario got a bit fed up and left them alone in a beautiful and deserted spot; and the Dutch group who wanted to drink and eat all day! There were also many rude clients who were completely uninterested in the culture and asked stupid questions.

The stories that I liked the best in this book were those about Dario's idyllic youth when he and his friends used to go and have wild parties in old, deserted houses until they finally had occasion to feel somewhat guilty!

He also gives a good, interesting guide to the history and culture of Tuscany, especially Sienna, and to olive growing. I liked the descriptions of the famous horse race - the Palio - but found it all fairly complicated!

Dario's web site with its photos of the Palio is well-worth seeing. I also notice that he's written a new book which I can't wait to read!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Which Way Paradise?

Russia: Which Way Paradise? by Monica Attard

When Monica Attard, a former ABC Foreign Correspondent in Australia, was young, her father used to tell her that 'of the political systems which had led to genocide this century...communism was the one which at least held out some hope of a better future for the working class.' He thought that the Soviet's would fix up communism in time, as Stalin had gone. He also used to say that: "Capitalism is no better than the dictatorships of Hitler or Stalin."

Idealistic and young, Monica set off for Russia in 1983. Here she found a very different country from the one that her father dreamed about. She found a country beset by corruption and ruled by fear; a country where the Communist bureacrats and leaders had become the upper class (and there'll always be an upper class!) had many of the privileges of wealthy Westerners. It was a country in which ordinary people had to wait in long queues to buy even staple foods, and where they couldn't even trust their neighbours.

As a reporter, she saw the half-hearted reforms of Gorbachov, who couldn't bring himself to abandon Communism entirely, the people's revolt, and the rise of Boris Yeltsin. Capitalism, probably because it was introduced too quickly and in a laissez-faire way, didn't bring much joy either. Now we have a situation in Russia where many people favour the memory of Stalin!

I found this book interesting, but unfortunately it was extremely long, detailed and rather dry, so I didn't finish it. The part that probably interested me most, apart from Monica's rather low opinion of the famous Russian poet Yevteshenko, was her description of the British traitor, George Blake.

Blake, a spy who gave the KGB a copy of nearly every important document which passed through his hands, escaped from prison in England to Russia. "Instead of the new society Lenin promised, Blake found queues, food shortages and a chronic housing problem which left divorced couples living together in one room with their in-laws for twenty years. Instead of paradise he found a society riddled with inequality, envy and corrcuption."

Blake felt no remorse. "I didn't act in my own personal interest," he told Monica. "I never accepted money from the activities weren't directed against those I worked with. They were directed against the capitalist system."

He was wrong. "The court which sentenced him to life imprisonment for treason was told he'd caused the deaths of forty-two western and Soviet agents."

I should have persevered with this book, probably. It's well worth looking at if you are interested in Russia.


This is a Blog Boost for my LinkedInBlogs group at (I'll include the links later!)

Daniel R. Sweet's Free Resume and Career Toolbox Blog is chock-full of interesting articles, posts, and links, all designed to help the aspiring job hunter. It's well worth looking at. Here you can find interview tips, suggestions for improving resumes, and all types of posts related to job-hunting and careers. All this is available free, and it certainly beats buying a book or an expensive course in job skills!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Must-read for Ballet Lovers: Irina by Irina Baronova

Irina is a charming rags-to-riches story and a must-read for ballet lovers. In this very interesting book Irina Baronova tells the tale of her family's difficult escape from Russia; her rise to fame as one of the Baby Ballerinas with the Ballet Russe; her sometimes traumatic personal life and struggles with a dominating mother; and her departure from the ballet to be a wife and mother.

Every ballet lover will enjoy reading about Irina's time in the Ballet Russe where she worked with talented choreographers, including Massine and Nijinska, and ballerinas, such as the great Danilova. She also writes a lot about the Ballet Russes' tours of America and Australia.

Even those who are not very interested in the ballet will enjoy this autobiography which covers so much history and so many changes in the world.

I have just seen the wonderful documentary about the Ballets Russes so I am interested in reading sections of this book again. My only problem with Irina's book is that it is very long, detailed, and a little bit technical. (It's a long time since I learnt any ballet!)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Love Defies Communism: Snowleg by Nicholas Shakespeare

I fell in love with this book! It is a wondeful, moving and haunting story about the yearning for a lost love and the consequences of betrayal set aqainst the horrors of repressive East German Communism.

When the young English schoolboy, Peter Hithersay, discovers that his biological father was East German, it shocks him to the core. A very English schoolboy, he struggles to understand his German background and decides to find out more about it. Against the wishes of his family he decides to study medicine in Germany and immerse himself in the culture. He wants to discover who his father was but this seems to be impossible, however when he gets the chance to visit East Germany he leaps at it. Here he falls in love with a beautiful, mysterious girl whose name sounds like 'Snowleg'.

Snowleg tells Peter that she is being persecuted by the oppressive regime and Peter doesn't know whether to believe her, or whether he can trust her. Even though he loves her circumstances and his own actions force them to part.

Many years later, after being haunted by his love for Snowleg and a long period of self-destruction, he tries to see her again...

With the last name of Shakespeare it is just as well that this author can write, and I think that even his namesake would be impressed with him!

NB: Part of this review also appears on my bookshelf at

Tuesday, March 14, 2006



My book has been published! It is available here: Eczema and Atopic Dermatitis I chose the websites that helped me the most, and included sections focusing on children's eczema, celiac disease, and specific allergies, such as nickel and milk. It also includes associations and mailing lists.

If you suffer from eczema it is worth buying because the information at these websites is very useful! (I only have a slight amount of it but it's certainly irritating)!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hester's Story by Adele Geras

Luminious writing and a page-turning story separates this from the usual run of romantic sagas.
The story of a ballerina's life, this is very much a 'woman's novel' but the writing prevents it from being too melodramatic or sentimental and even the coincidences at the end become believable.

This is rather a tragic and memorable story about a ballerina who struggled against poverty, adversity and the rigid attitudes of her nasty relatives who wanted to prevent her realising her dream to become a famous dancer. It also tells how Hester's love for a married man almost ruins her life and her success.

Adele Geras also combines the stories of other memorable characters in this book which also describes the life of a ballet company. These include the nasty prima donna, Claudia, beautiful and sweet Silver, determined Hugo, and Claudia's teenage daughter, Alison, struggling to find her own identity.

I liked the way that this book flitted between Hester's past and her life now and the way that Adele Geras 'ties up' the ends as well as her memorable story.

Tokien: A Biography by Michael White

An excellent biography, this is well worth reading by any Tolkien fan. Interesting and absorbing, this book tells the rather tragic background to Tolkien's great novels.

Tolkien's early life was dominated by the death of his parents when he was very young. He tended to blame his mother's family partly for her death because of their rejection of her when she converted to Catholicism. This made him cling to his beloved religion even more which annoyed his childhood sweetheart and later wife, Edith, who was Protestant until she married. Edith also lost her parents young and helped him through his tragic early life.

Michael White also analyses the tragic influence of the Great War in which Tolkien fought on his novels. The most interesting part of the book, however, concerns the influence of the Inklings and his friend, C.S. Lewis. The Inklings, the famous literary group at the University of Oxford, helped each other with their writing and discussed mythological works. White discusses how The Lord of the Rings was really a new mythology created by Tolkien for England and rejects the notion of its being a Christian allegory. Tolkien hated allegories which is one reason for the ending for the ending of his long friendship with C.S. Lewis.

White doesn't shy away from the worst, but understandable, traits of Tokien's character - his provincialism, rigid Catholicism, and jealousy of C.S. Lewis's success.

I enjoyed this biography very much and would highly recommend it.