Bedside Table for May
These are among the books that landed on my desk this month. All are from Exclusive Books’s list of top reads for May. – Vivien Horler
I Am Ella, by Joanne Jowell (Kwela Books)
Ella Blumenthal, a Cape Town centenarian who survived the Holocaust, is the subject of what looks like a remarkable book.
Author Joanne Jowell was approached in 2017 by Blumenthal’s daughter, Evelyn Kaplan, who asked if Jowell could help the family record Blumenthal’s story for her children and grandchildren.
Jowell spent hours interviewing Blumenthal and studying her personal archive of articles, books and pictures. In an interview with the SA Jewish Report, Jowell said of Blumenthal’s holocaust: “Every single survivor story is remarkable and, as Dr Edith Eger puts it, ‘There’s no hierarchy of suffering.’
“But Ella’s story reads like a hit list of Holocaust hot-spots, and her experience in Majdanek of being sent to the gas chambers and then released from that certain death, is unique.”
The Making of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece – A novel, by Tom Hanks (Penguin Random House)
This is not twice Oscar-winner Tom Hanks’s first venture into fiction – his 2017 collection of short stories, Uncommon Types, had reasonable reviews. But this novel might be a step too far.
It’s a novel about the making of a star-studded blockbuster called Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall, and takes the reader from the 1940s to a counter-culture comic and eventually to a premiere in New York’s Times Square.
Critics have not been particularly kind: The Guardian said it would have been nice to believe the film was a satire when, in fact, “Alarmingly … this tale is deadly serious.”
The New York Times says “You might admire its rah-rah spirit, yet still want to press fast-forward.”
Well, I haven’t read it yet, so am reserving judgment.
The Midnight News, by Jo Baker (Hachette)
This is writer Jo Baker’s second World War 2 novel, the first being A Country Road, A Tree, a fictionalised account of the Irish novelist Samuel Beckett’s experiences with the French Resistance.
The Midnight News follows the experiences of a young Ministry of Information typist whose friends start to disappear mysteriously. during the Blitz in London.
It has attracted excellent reviews, being described as thoroughly absorbing and a tour de force.
Baker, the author of seven novels, is best known for her bestselling Longbourn (2013), a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, told from the point of view of the Bennet family’s servants.
Go as a River, by Shelley Reed (Penguin Random House)
It is post-World War 2 and 17-year-old Victoria lives on her father’s Colorado peach farm, with her disabled uncle and angry brother. Ever since her mother, aunt and cousin died in a crash five years before, she has kept house, somewhat resentfully.
One day she goes into town with produce and meets a young coal miner with swarthy skin, straight black hair and a beautiful smile. Torie is charmed, having never met anyone like him before. But racism is rife in this mountainous corner of Colorado, and people have little patience with a Native American, nor a white girl who loves one.
Then Torie makes a decision that changes her life. This debut novel looks well worth a read.