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Friday, March 06, 2009

Where Will Books Take You?

Strumpet recently posed these questions: "Is there a place that you have always dreamed of visiting specifically because of a book you read? It can be any kind of book: fiction, non-fiction, travelogue, you name it. If you have been to the place, did it live up to your expectations? If you haven't been, do you think you'll ever make it there?" (It was really last month's question but I couldn't resist!)

Dreaming of Russia

At first it was ballet books with their gorgeous photos of the Bolshoi Ballet. Then I read the incredibly sad story of the last Tsar and the Imperial Russian Family so I wanted to visit the palaces and The Golden Ring Soon afterwards I read War and Peace (not properly) and admired Natasha, a rather frivolous girl whose character became forged by the hardship of war. Will I ever see the splendour of the Hermitage and Tsarskoe Selo, let alone feel the haunting presence of Tsar Nicholas, Alexai and his four daughters in the isolated Golden Ring? Fate will tell.

Anne's Beloved Island

My grandmother gave me Anne of the Island when I was 11. After reading about Anne's adventures at university I couldn't wait to buy the whole series. Unbelievably, the books were hard to find in Australia then. We travelled to Canada soon afterwards and saw the spectacular scenery of the Rockies. Lake Louise is probably the most beautiful place that I've ever visited. My parents weren't very happy with me, however, because I spent too much time in bookshops looking for the 'Anne' series.

One day I hope to see Green Gables, The Lake of Shining Waters, and all of Anne's favourite places.


I have been reading about the fascinating Empress Elizabeth of Austria/lately so I'd love to go to Vienna and imagine myself in the age of Imperial Splendour!

State rooms at the Schoenbrunn Palace

Thursday, March 05, 2009

March Reads

Anna Pavlova: Her Art and Life by Victor Dandre.

This reminded me of the saying that: "There's gold in them there hills if you're willing to look for it." This book by the great ballerina's husband was written in an excessively old-fashioned and rather dull way but he does include lots of interesting details about her tours, the people that Anna Pavlova met, and the work involved in running a ballet company. Pavlova liked Australia - even Brisbane's ghastly heat and humidity was preferable for her dancing than the cold, apparently. She took home bulbs of a purple bell-like flower to grow in her greenhouse.

This isn't a chronological biography. It is composed of chapters about different aspects of Anna Pavlova's life.

Luckily I got this through Inter-Library Loan because it is very expensive! If you are a big fan of the wonderful Anna, however, it is worth buying if only for the beautiful photos. (For a bit more on Anna see my Edwardian Promenade blog

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

This book is all the rage and it's certainly wonderfully written. I almost didn't go on with it, however, because I didn't have much time for the main characters. I didn't think that they had much to complain about and they both really annoyed me. It's a depressing tale of self-destruction and surrendering to the worst parts of life. I am not sure whether I want to read any more books by this author, but I will see the movie.

Romanoff Gold by William Clarke

Clarke describes Imperial Russia vividly and delves into the money trail meticulously.

The first part of this book is the most interesting. Certain images stayed in my mind: beautiful Meriel Buchanan 's Russian admirer visiting her in a panic after the Revolution, the Tsar's daughters enjoying their first dances and balls, and the final terrible journey and end of the Royal family. (NB)

Reading how Clarke traced the money of the Romanovs is like reading a detective story, but it becomes a little dry and complicated at times. He does dispel long-held myths about Queen Mary and money and jewels spirited away during the First World War.

This is a book well-worth reading if you enjoy reading about the Romanovs.

NB: Meriel Buchanan was the British Ambassador's daughter.

Katherine Swynford by Alison Weir

Alison Weir isn't my favourite biographer but this is a sympathetic account of this beautiful, well-educated woman who famously became mistress of the powerful John of Gaunt, had four children to him, and finally married him. Weir describes the sumptuous riches of John and medieval life well but, unfortunately, she ruins some of the book by too much speculation. She provides little evidence for her belief that John died of syphilis, for example.

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst

This beautifully written spy novel is surprisingly gentle and slow-moving. Colonel Mercier, a French agent trying to obtain details of German plans, faces conflict when he falls in love with a beautiful young lawyer. I fell for the rather sensitive and religious aristocratic hero! I'm a fan of spy novels and I liked Furst's writing so I'm going to look for more of his books.

The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham (Spoilers)

This was a very wise, precisely written book about a woman's journey towards peace of mind. Kitty marries a man she doesn't love because of the pressure of her parents. When she commits adultery her husband punishes her by taking her to a cholera epidemic in China. Kitty learns many lessons here and finally becomes a much better person.

This was set in the 1930's and Maugham evokes the mysterious, ancient civilisation of China and its effect on Kitty well.

Louis and Antoinette by Vincent Cronin

Vincent Cronin inherited his writing talent from his father, A.J.Cronin. This is an eloquent defence of Louis and Antoinette which dispels the myths that Louis was a terrible King and that Marie Antoinette was a spendthrift who didn't care about the people. I am looking forward to reading more of Cronin's histories.