The Greatness of Grandparents – Picture Books that Celebrate Generations

For children fortunate enough to grow up with grandparents the bonds they create can be intense and everlasting. Should something happen to their beloved grandparent(s), accepting that change whether through loss, illness or disability may be difficult to cope with. This handful of picture books celebrates the many golden moments grandparents provide invariably enriching their grandchildren’s lives whilst also gently exploring ways to cope with the inevitable experience of change.

Loss of a Grandparent

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers

This is another glorious picture book by the gifted North American duo, Terry and Eric Fan.  Ocean Meets Sky is a sumptuously articulated story about a small boy’s way of remembering his grandfather and dealing with his passing. Suffused with heart-hugging illustrations, the simple narration, which centres on a young boy searching for his grandfather aboard a boat he built himself, escorts readers to the moon and back, cultivating hope and collecting wonderment along the way. The hardback version, embossed with gilt images, comes with a gorgeous, eye-catching dust cover which is almost reason enough to open it and venture in. Collectable and memorable, full points for this magical and reassuring reading experience.

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Review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

9781472151377I almost completely missed this book! If it wasn’t for the Karl Marlantes quote on the back cover I would never have picked it up and what a tragedy that would have been. This is an outstanding novel that deserves all the accolades and then some. It is so witty and cutting in it’s dissection of America’s attitude to the Vietnam War (or as the Vietnamese call it the American War). It is not just an anti-war novel but it is THE anti-Vietnam War novel bringing a perspective to the war, the conflict and it’s aftermath, that has been purposely ignored all these years.

The novel is told in the form of a confession by a North Vietnamese spy. He recounts his life growing up in Vietnam, the bastard son of a French father and Vietnamese mother. His time at an American university and his recruitment as a communist sleeper agent in South Vietnam. The story opens with the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the chaos of the American evacuation. Our narrator flees with countless other refugees to America where he bides his time in the land of his enemy. But far from his homeland, where the war seems to now be over, he begins to doubt his commitment to the cause and what the cause is that he is supposedly fighting for.

Viet Thanh Nguyen injects the story with a truly wicked sense of humour that reminds me a lot of The Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka. His complete deconstruction of American Vietnam War films is utterly brilliant and you will never watch Apocalypse Now the same way again. He also expertly captures the confusion, the cynicism, the betrayals and the outright hypocrisy which has framed the Vietnam War over the last forty years. The heart of the novel though is the dichotomy that is the entire Vietnam War. The actual divided country of North and South that continued after reunification, the polarity of what actually happened in the war versus America’s portrayal of it and the two minds of our narrator as his mind is slowly torn in two over loyalty, love and freindship.

Like All Quiet On The Western Front this is a novel that cannot and should not be ignored. If you have read any literature, fiction or non-fiction, on the Vietnam War this needs to be on your shelf and in your hands as soon as humanly possible.

Buy the book here…

Top 10 War Novels: A Response

You might have seen the great post by Jon Page entitled My Top 10 War Novels. Like most people I was entertained and added more books to my ever growing ‘to be read’ list. I was also thinking about all the great war novels that were missed; in fact I made a mental list of my favourite war novels and we share no books in common. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers just missed my top 10 but that was the closest common book I found. What I enjoy about war novels is exploring the human connection, the struggle with the horrors of war and its aftermath. So I thought as a response to Jon Page’s post here are some great war novels that were missed.

10. Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone dog soldiers

This cult novel seems to capture a unique mood of Americans during the Vietnam War. This book deals with some different themes, not just the war and its effect on America, but it takes a look at counter culture, drug trafficking and the corruptibility of authority.

the narrow road to the deep north9. Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

I feel an Australian perspective is needed on the list and Flanagan offered a great option last year. This book focuses on not just the cruelty of war and its after effects but the impossibility of love, especially when so damaged.

8. Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding painter of silence

This novel looks at Post World War II Romania under the brutal Stalinist regime. This looks at the devastation war had on Romania, providing not only hopelessness and despair but also great beauty. This is a novel that feels like a piece of art and yet it still managed to capture the mental and physical burdens of the characters living in this post-war town.

Maus7. Maus by Art Spiegelman 

This graphic novel tells the story of a Jewish family living and surviving in Hitler’s Europe. This offers a unique perspective of a type of story that has been told time and time again. Maus is also the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

People of Forever are not Afraid6. People of Forever are not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu 

This is the story of three normal Israeli girls who go from passing notes in school, talking about boys to turning eighteen and being conscripted into the army. For the most, this book is about a perpetual state of war.  The conflict between Israel and Lebanon still puts them into real danger, it is here we explore the idea of self-discovery when they are thrown into such an extreme situation.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk5. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain 

This entire book really showed the disconnection between the military and civil life in the modern day. American wants revenge for 9/11 but they are not willing to sacrifice some like a Thanksgiving football game for it. This is a powerful book in the same vain as Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse-Five.

Constellation of Vital Phenomena4. Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra 

Chechnya is in a fragile state due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991) followed by the Chechen-Ingush ASSR split (1992). This novel takes place during the second Chechen War. This is a beautiful novel of human connection and the struggles found in an abused country. This was one of the best novels of 2013 (for me anyway).

catch 223. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller 

This satirical masterpiece is a novel I’ll never forget; it was surprisingly funny but also remained insightful. This novel talks about the mental suffering caused from war but also the absurdity that can be found in bureaucratic operation and reasoning.

war and peace2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 

This Russian classic depicts the French invasion of Russia in 1812. True to Tolstoy form, War and Peace also looks at classes and the impact of the Napoleonic invasion on the Tsarist society. One of the things I love about Tolstoy’s writing is the way he looks at a situation as a whole; he had a unique ability to capture the lives of everyone involved in one war.

slaughterhouse-five1. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

This story just has so many layers to try to explain, but it makes for an interesting read. Billy keeps randomly traveling to the Past, Future and a planet called Tralfamadore; this may seem weird but this classic really captures the effects of war on its survivors and the mental scaring it causes.