Good Wives – Louisa May Alcott
May’s arrival found me still seeking out some pandemic comfort reading, and having re-read the first volume of Little Women back in March in the very first week of lockdown, I’ve now enjoyed reading the second, Good Wives, for the first time. Picking up where I’d left off with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, I loved returning to this family’s world; these girls’ faith, resolve and determination; and watching the next years of their lives play out. This book is not without its share of sorrow, but is a testament to the endurance of a family all together – most especially to the bonds of sisterhood, and was a poignant and relevant book for now.
I recently watched the 2019 film Little Women and read memoirs by Louisa May Alcott talking of the pressure she found herself under to marry off the fiercely independent Jo. Reading this with some background in mind gave new dimension to some of the characters, but – in spite of any moulding the author may have been required to do – this book is a feminist achievement worthy of celebration all this time on; and I truly loved losing myself in the warmth and companionship of these strong women and inhabiting the Marches’ world once again.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr
This month I have re-read the first two novels in Judith Kerr’s semi-autobiographical trilogy Out of the Hitler Time.
The first, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, begins in 1933 with the election of the Nazi party and the Kerr family’s necessary escape – first to Switzerland, before later France and finally England. It was a favourite of mine in childhood, and it was wonderful to read again now as an adult with a fresh perspective on it – especially as Judith Kerr plays such a huge role in our current home life, having brought us not just the Mog books, a truly wonderful collection, but also the one and only The Tiger Who Came To Tea. While these were favourites of my childhood too from a very young age and make me feel very connected to my family too, they’ve become everything to our little unit today – they’ve been read I don’t know how many times; a cuddly Mog and Tiger make up prominent figures in our two-year-old’s toy team and we know them inside out. This made it even more special to step into “Anna’s” world, and especially to enjoy moments like the account of her first day at her new and alien school in Paris. Unable to speak the language and anxious to keep up and fit in, an art class provided a much-needed opportunity to feel on an even footing, and a picture of a cat she drew that day not only led to a turning point in her settling-in, but gave an early glimpse of the characters she would go on to create.
In this novel, Kerr captures such a huge period in history from a child’s unique perspective in nine-year-old Anna’s narrative; the most striking and moving example perhaps being the fact that her deepest sense of personal loss at the very beginning of the story, when the family home is possessed by the Nazis – all belongings seized and all of her father’s books burned – is that of her beloved stuffed Pink Rabbit, left behind when they made their swift journey across the border.
Above all else, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a novel about the strength of family. We learn that Anna harbours a secret desire to become famous, but laments that she will never succeed due to not having had what she believes is the required “difficult childhood”. That she doesn’t view her family’s struggles as meeting this criteria is a testament not only to her spirit, but also to her parents’ incredible achievement in creating a sense of security irrespective of place – a contentment just to be together and a determination to greet every twist and turn as an adventure; and illustrates so very beautifully what is so special about this book.
The Other Way Round – Judith Kerr
The second part of the trilogy is set a few years on and finds the family in London during the Second World War. The events of this time – the rumbling uncertainty, the waves of terror, the juxta-positioning of normal struggles in relationships and work life with the vastness of the world situation – are so very real when told to us by Anna and framed by the small and solid unit of her family. By the time we have reached this book, Papa, Mama, Max and Anna feel so very well known that all that they live through is so keenly felt. As Anna grows up and learns so many lessons, I felt so much for her – and the way the family band together and flare with such a passion for protecting each other is so very moving. This is a subtly drawn insight into life during the war years, a coming of age tale as Anna faces all the ups and downs of young adulthood, and once again a story of the great triumph of this family’s togetherness in the face of their struggles.
The Girl Who Speaks Bear – Sophie Anderson
Our book club pick for this month, The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson was one we chose having read and enjoyed The House With Chicken Legs by the same author last year. Yanka lives in a village on the edge of a great forest where she was found as an infant safe and well and living in a bear cave. She has been raised ever since by a loving adopted mother but forever been unable to shake the feeling that she doesn’t quite fit in – and when she one day wakes up with a bear’s legs instead of her own she sets off to try to find out more about where she came from. This was just simply a beautiful book to read, the gentle story of Yanka’s growing acceptance of who she is and shifting understanding of the family and friends around her. Interspersed throughout with sweeping Slavic folk tales of dragons and journeys, it is a really lovely read (and another one that leant itself perfectly to reading aloud to the littlest one in the night ❤️). I very rarely find myself reading fantasy (Harry Potter the exception!) but really enjoyed this total departure from the usual and this special little story.
One Day in December – Josie Silver
This is the first book I’ve read this year that I really haven’t enjoyed. I’d been looking for a light and easy read and had had this on my Kindle for a while and seen it recommended by everyone from Marian Keyes to Reese Witherspoon. On paper this should be my ideal book, sold as perfect for Bridget Jones fans and set at Christmas time. I absolutely love a cosy wintry novel and Bridget and Mark Darcy’s love story is one of my favourites and one I’ve re-read over and over; but I really can’t see the comparison with One Day in December‘s Laurie and Jack’s.
First “meeting” through a bus window on a snowy December day, both remember the other though they don’t speak and don’t come across each other again until a year later when Jack is introduced to Laurie as her flatmate Sarah’s new boyfriend. The novel covers the next ten years of the characters’ lives with their stories interweaving over time. Especially in the second half it did have me turning the pages to find out where it would go next, and there are definitely some twists and turns, but I didn’t find much to root for in Laurie and Jack’s story and Jack in particular seemed unpleasant and even violent at one point. Reading this held up as the “sweetest love story” reminded me a little of the summer holiday I read all three Fifty Shades books waiting to come across the reason they were such bestsellers and instead just being left incredulous at the controlling and abusive nature of their relationship. I did enjoy the story of Laurie and Sarah’s friendship in this book, and felt for Laurie as a narrator to an extent but really did not warm to Jack at all or to the idea of them as a couple and this as a beautiful love story. I know I seem to be in the minority (although there at least some on Goodreads who seem to feel the same!) so definitely keen to hear what anyone else thought if you’ve read!
Hope everyone is well and having a good week. X