4 May 2020

Review - The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

    Title: The Silence of the Girls

    Author: Pat Barker

    Synopsis:

When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis's old life is shattered. She goes from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the godlike warrior Achilles as a prize of battle. She's not alone. On the same day, and on many others in the course of a long, bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters.

As told in The Iliad, the Trojan War was a quarrel between men. But what of the women in this story, silenced by their fates? What words did the speak when alone with each other, in the laundry, at the loom, when laying out the dead?

In this magnificent novel of the Trojan War, Pat Barker summons the voices of Briseis and her fellow women to tell this mythic story anew, foregrounding their experiences against the backdrop of savage battle between men. One of the contemporary writers on war and its collateral damage, here Pat Barker reimagines the most famous of all wars in literature, charting one woman's journey throught it, as she struggles to free herself and to become the author of her own story.

My Thoughts:

This is the story of the Invisible, the story of the Oppressed. Of the ones who the songs barely mentioned despite their courage which often was greater than the fighting men's. The ladies who suffered and were forced to endure the dire consequences of the bloody war under the walls of Troy are often but a footnote in books that retell the events of the Iliad. Pat Barker decided to honour them at last. 


The Silence of the Girls starts with the sack of Lyrnessus and the capturing of its women. The first half of the events are told from Briseis' point of view who's given to Achilles as a war prize. In Lyrnessus she was a princess, now she's a slave. At home she wasn't allowed to walk the streets unveiled, now all she owns are rags and she's subject to the obtrusive leer of the Greek fighters.

One of the most shocking issue that this novel deals with is how the women were objectified. None of the men (except for Patroclus) treated them as human beings. The humiliation was sometimes hard to read and made me extremely angry. 

Achilles wasn't depicted as the great hero in this novel. The author focused on how he had been abandoned by his mother Thetis and because of this he grew up to be a miserable man-child. He was cruel and cold, but he did go through some development in the novel which was interesting to observe (some parts are told in the third person following Achilles).

There's a tension you feel throughout the book that's generated by the fact the women don't speak up for themselves. Because they can't, if they want to survive they can't. Some choose to speak with action, like Briseis' cousin who throws herself off the wall of the city right before they are captured. Some resist by not resisting, like young Polyxena who holds her head high while she's taken away to be executed. Some pray wordlessly, hard and long for vengeance and get it, like Briseis. You see all these silent battles, but never a loud confrontation, because it's impossible. It's dreadful to realize they don't have a choice.

Pat Barker included all the themes Iliad works with and more. There's Achilles' grief for Patroclus, but there is the mothers' grief for their murdered babies, sisters' anguish over the loss of their brothers. There are musings about whether a person's memory lives on, but also how the memory of a community survives. The question is asked: can there be friendship between enemies? and so on...

If you're looking for long descriptions about the heat of the battles don't look here. The whole book is set in the background, at the camps. But there's plenty of pressure behind closed doors and consequences of the fighting always touch the women's lives. They are strong and enduring, they are women to look up to; Briseis, Arianna, Helen, Chryseis, Hecamede, Hecuba, Polyxena, and I could go on... these are names to remember.

I'm always looking for works that present Iliad from a new angle; Pat Barker's book is not one that I'll soon forget, I'm sure.


1 May 2020

April Wrap-Up, May TBR

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Hello Lovelies! 

Another hard month is behind us in this surreal world we're currently living in. I hope you're all holding up okay and staying safe.

I don't have work at the moment, since air traffic is basically non-existent during the virus and thus I was put on standby for a month. To be honest I'm not sure if the situation will be better in May, but I'm hoping for a miracle.

I'm trying to do my best with the big amount of spare time I suddenly have on my hands. Of course I'm reading a lot, doing a puzzle and working on my diamond painting I started months ago but never had time to finish. From time to time I go out to play frisbee with my younger brothers or we just have a walk.

Bad news that I still didn't manage to conceive (we've been trying for 10 months now and it's worse and worse to face the failure at the end of each month). But May is a blank page and therefore a new possibility. Fingers crossed.

Good news that we'll be cat parents soon!!! My colleague's cat has had kittens recently and we'll adopt one in the beginning of June. I'm very excited for the new member of the family. I've never had a kitty, according to my mum she'll be spoiled. Tell me if you have any good name ideas for a girl cat!

And now onto what happened on the blog last month...

Here's a summary of April on Paradise Found:

I've finished 5 books:

Screamcatcher: Web World by Christy J. Breedlove My Review

A Rudnay Gyilkosságok by Gyula Böszörményi

White Lotus by Libbie Hawker My Review

My Family and Other Animals by Gerard Durrell 

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker 


Other posts on the blog in the month of April:

Books for Characters on TV - La Casa de Papel Edition


Happy Easter! - Easter Readathon Update

Excerpt - Dreams of Thunder by Christian Cura


 Weekly Memes:

Book Beginnings and the Friday 56 (Apr 10, Apr 24)

Down the TBR Whole (Apr 20)

WWW Wednesday (Apr 29)

Plans for May:


I'd like to read the following books in November (in no particular order):

 Green Rider (Green Rider #1) by Kristen Britain 


Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

What are you planning to read in May?

29 Apr 2020

WWW Wednesday #20

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words

WWW stands for three questions:

What are you currently reading?
(How to Hang a Witch #2)
by Adriana Mather

I read How to Hang a Witch about 2 years ago and loved that book a lot (read my review here) so I've decided it was time pick up the second instalment in this duology. This time Sam is being visited by ghosts from the Titanic. I'm curious what the mystery will be.

 What did you recently finish reading?

By Pat Barker

 This book was wonderful and yet heartbreaking. Such a great piece of feminist literature! The review is coming soon.

 What do you think you'll read next?

by Kristen Britain

 I'm craving fantasy now...

Please share a link to your WWW post below so I can see what you are up to these days! :)

24 Apr 2020

Book Beginnings and the Friday 56 #39

Book Beginnings on Friday and The Friday 56 are weekly memes hosted by Rose City Reader and Freda's Voice.

Rules: 

Book Beginnings: Share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. 

The Friday 56: Grab a book, turn to page 56 or 56% in you eReader. Find any sentence (not spoilery) and reflect on it if you want.

This week in the spotlight:

by Pat Barker

Synopsis:

When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis's old life is shattered. She goes from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the godlike warrior Achilles as a prize of battle. She's not alone. On the same day, and on many others in the course of a long, bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters.

As told in The Iliad, the Trojan War was a quarrel between men. But what of the women in this story, silenced by their fates? What words did the speak when alone with each other, in the laundry, at the loom, when laying out the dead?

In this magnificent novel of the Trojan War, Pat Barker summons the voices of Briseis and her fellow women to tell this mythic story anew, foregrounding their experiences against the backdrop of savage battle between men. One of the contemporary writers on war and its collateral damage, here Pat Barker reimagines the most famous of all wars in literature, charting one woman's journey throught it, as she struggles to free herself and to become the author of her own story.

Book Beginning:

Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles... How the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him 'the butcher'. 

Well, Achilles is not described as the great hero in this one, that's for sure...

The Friday 56:

Somebody once said to me: You never mention his looks. And it's true, I don't, I find it difficult. At that time, he was probably the most beautiful man alive, as he was certainly the most violent, but that's the problem. How do you separate a tiger's beauty from its ferocity? Or a cheetah's elegance from the speed of its attack? Achilles was like that – the beauty and the terror were two sides of a single coin.

 I love this snippet!

What are you reading this week?

20 Apr 2020

Down the TBR Hole #1

The Royal Bookshelf showed me this wonderful idea that will help me shorten my TBR pile.

   
   THIS IS HOW IT WORKS:

   1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
   2. Order on ascending date added.
   3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
   4. Read the synopses of the books
   5. Decide: keep it or should it go?
 

I'll try to go through 5 books every week from my Goodreads TBR and decide whether I still see any hope I'd get to those books sooner or later.

Let's see the first five!

by E. M. Forster


This might be the only E. M. Forster novel I haven't read yet and he's one of my favourite writers.

KEEP!

by John Green


This one was extremely hyped back in the day and I'd still like to know what the hype was about.

KEEP!

by Christopher Isherwood


Recently I DNF-ed A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood and despite the fact I own a copy of Christopher and His Kind it's unlikely I'll soon be in the mood to pick it up.

DROP!

by Edward John Trelawny


 I still haven't read my fill of the 2nd generation romantic poets.

KEEP!

by Andrew Motion


This is a beast of a book (though 'only' 636 pages, it looks longer) but it's said to be one of the best biographies about Keats so I don't want to miss out on it.

KEEP! 

 Result:

I've let 1 book go out of 5, my TBR is reduced to 421 books (it's still ridiculously long, but if I'll keep this up, I might see it being lowered to a more reasonable number).

16 Apr 2020

Review - White Lotus by Libbie Hawker

  Title: White Lotus (White Lotus Trilogy #1)

  Author: Libbie Hawker

  Synopsis:

  In the sixth century BCE, Egypt is the greatest civilization known to mankind. But with a foolish king on its throne, the Nile Valley is ripe for conquering.

Amid this climate of danger and strife, in the alleys and brothels of Memphis, an extraordinary young woman comes of age. To spare her siblings from starvation, Doricha is sold into prostitution. But she has gifts beyond mere beauty. Through wit and determination, she works her way into the realm of the hetaerae—courtesans of exceptional refinement.

As a hetaera, Doricha has access to the schemes and negotiations that shape the world. But the rich and powerful also have access to her, and Doricha soon finds herself in the Pharaoh’s harem, caught up in his reckless plans. When the Pharaoh sends her off to his fiercest enemy, thinly cloaked by a dangerous ruse, Doricha must become a double agent if she hopes to survive. Caught between the Pharaoh and the Persian king Cambyses, it is Doricha—once a slave, now a woman of great but secret power—who will determine Egypt’s fate.

Blending ancient fable with true history, White Lotus brings Egypt’s downfall to life.

My Thoughts:

I don't know what it is with me and books about strong ladies breaking their way out of sex slavery (or at least making the best of their situation by manipulating powerful men), but this theme seems to stick with me, I enjoy these kinds of books a lot. 

"However great Iadmon deems my value, he cannot value me more than I do myself." 

In White Lotus we follow Doricha, a young girl who's sold to be a prona (the name for prostitutes at the time) because her family is starving. However, her fate turns to the better when her master starts seeing potential in her and instead of turning her into a common prona, he decides to train her to be a hetaera. 

Hetaerae were highly cultivated courtesans in ancient Greece and later when Greek culture seeped into Egypt these girls were present there too to provide intellectual as well as physical entertainment for wealthy men.

Doricha's story is interesting because there are twists and turns along the way that you don't expect (in the beginning she doesn't have much control over her fate, and you can't help but feel for her because of her vulnerable situation). The majority of the novel is about her training through which we see what a hetaera was supposed to do or not do in the company of men and what the hetaerae's attitude was like towards one another (you can expect a lot of intrigue).

I loved the historical setting and how it came to life through Libbie Hawker's words. The tension between Egyptians and Greek people was seething at the time (we are in the 6th century BC just before the Persian conquest). The streets were dangerous because the two parties were wont to provoke fights and Egyptians were extremely dissatisfied with the Pharaoh, Amasis II, who enthusiastically embraced the Greek traditions and culture.

In these uncertain times Doricha meets friends like Aesop, the cunning servant who mastered the art of manoeuvring from the background and she also has to face some foes who slyly betray an initially well-forming friendship.

Doricha is very young, by the end of the book she's only 14 but she's got a quick mind and adapts easily. She's a charming character and I can't wait to see how she matures into a strong woman who's not afraid to play the hard games of politics to earn her freedom. 

I should also mention here that Doricha later goes by the name Rhodopis, and according to my research in real life there was a hetaera with that name indeed, who is associated with the origins of the fairy tale Cinderella. How cool is that?

The only thing that could have been better in the book was the editing; unfortunately there were typos here and there... It didn't ruin the whole reading experience but still... I'd have preferred if there hadn't been any.

This book became a new favourite of mine, naturally I'll read the second book in the trilogy too.


Next in the series:


15 Apr 2020

Easter Readathon Wrap-Up

Here are the final facts in connection with the Easter Readathon:

I finished 1 book, White Lotus by Libbie Hawker (expect a review up on the blog soon).

I read 80% of My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (I've finished that one on Tuesday, my review is coming soon).

I've started reading The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, I'd only read some 30 pages by midnight on Monday.

Big thanks to Kate @ Reading Through Infinity for hosting the event, I enjoyed this reading weekend a lot!

What did you read during the weekend?