Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Two caravans again

Having enjoyed 'Ukrainian Tractors' very much, I found that I was rather disappointed by this book. Firstly we were introduced to the Eastern European, Chinese and African characters with quite a lot of dialogue, each time in the sort of fractured English that they might be expected to use. I did not find that on trying to convert the writing into sound, I was getting a very true impression, rather a caricature. This was, for me a barrier and made getting into the story difficult.
The topics covered were all very laudable and close to my heart, so I would have liked the subjects treated with more depth; difficult in a novel where several subjects, each worthy of their place, were covered. I don't think, therefore. that I was the target audience. As an exercise in raising awareness of some of the current issues that need addressing to those who don't give much consideration to these things,it is probably successful. However,I did not find it as humorous as 'Tractors' and found the link to that book at the residential home, contrived.
I certainly agree with Val that some episodes were unnecessary, and thought, the letters to Africa were very tiresome. The final outcome of that character (sorry, I can't remember the name), was quite unbelievable.
I agree that we were left to assume the worst about the girls sent to Amsterdam, but one, if I remember correctly, was hoping to be a doctor, so bright. Would she be that gullible?
I liked the character, Lena. Her matter of fact manner and logical thinking made you believe that she was a survivor and would end up strengthened by her privations.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Two caravans

I enjoyed this – read at pace and not with a view to writing commentary on it. It was probably only with such a light touch that she stands any chance of getting a wide audience, which the subject deserves. Thank goodness I grow my own strawberries and chickens! I noticed that research for this draws heavily on Felicity Lawrence’s investigative journalism and latest books, which I felt I ought to read anyway.

Structurally, I think she went on far too long and I could have done without the old people’s home ( where we met the Ukrainian Tractor’s anti hero again, quite unnecessarily) and the hippy camp and denouement in Sheffield. I suppose the ‘happy ending’ for the couple is necessary in this bleak world but I think it unbalanced the book.

What really did surprise me was that we didn’t return to the two Chinese girls, which I was expecting as she tied up all the other loose ends. Maybe the research was just too difficult? But as it was, I think it made an unsettling absence and was very effective. I don’t have the book with me, but I was very struck by the retort made by Lena (?) when interrupted in the car with Vulk, along the lines of … it is better to be paid for sex than not. Salutary.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Mothers' helpers

A heartfelt thank you to Val for choosing this. I found it utterly gripping. I hadn't heard of it but was sold on the idea before I started, since it sounded fascinating. I agree with Valerie - and I would have refused to read it if it had been fictional. But as it was, I found it almost unbearably moving. I loved the support the women offered each other and the extra-curricular friendships they developed. I found them amazing women, and the things they coped with quite chastening. I was especially struck by the sheer number of children they had (generally quite willingly it seemed). I'm moderately unusual with 3, these days. Then I'd have been a lightweight! Yes, Valerie, the fluid written style was self-selecting and very welcome. The ending was rather bleak, wasn't it. I suppose that's often the case, but these women were articulating what often gets suffered in silence or just not broadcast to people like me in very different situations. It was a really mind-expanding read all the way through and I am just so glad that these women - and the other groups - found each other and shared so much.

Friday, July 04, 2008


Hi. Long time no visit! (Sorry 'bout that...). Have been keeping an eye on what you've been posting, but am still reading "Can any mother hear me?" so won't read your posts until I've finished it.

Just a suggestion, if I may. Valerie and I have just read "Two Caravans" by Marina Lewycka (who wrote "A Short History of Tractors") and I believe Val is about to also. So I thought I'd recommend it to Helen - who I think would enjoy it - and suggest we formalise it as a shared read on here. Trust that's OK. I'd really enjoy discussing it with you in due course.