Saturday, September 22, 2018

Review - Barcelona Heiress by Sergio Vila-Sanjuan

Barcelona, 1920s - a city racked by a tsunami of radical and bloody events that led to a confrontation between those citizens without rights - the working classes -and the bourgeoise, who after profitting greatly during the first world war at the expense of the labouring classes, were now determined to protect their own interests at any cost and were hell-bent on crushing the lower classes, using whatever weapons or institutions they could.

Unionism took hold in the previous decade, and a series of rolling strikes by workers would culminate in the La Canadiense strike of 1919 - a general strike involving the entire population of the city, lasting the biblical forty days, in which the workers demanded better working conditions. It was only a decade since the events of Tragic Week when workers rose up, buildings were destroyed and 150 were reportedly killed, and more than 1,700 individuals were indicted in military courts for "armed rebellion". Events still very much prevalent in the minds of Barcelona's citizens.

The working class, the industrial class, and the military were united together in the hope of removing the corrupt central government, but were unsuccessful. Fears of communism grew. A military coup brought Miguel Primo de Rivera to power in 1923, and he ran Spain as a military dictatorship. Anarchism became popular among the working class, and was far stronger in Spain than anywhere else in Europe at the time

As support for his regime gradually faded, Primo de Rivera resigned in January 1930. There was little support for the monarchy in the major cities, and King Alfonso XIII abdicated; the Second Spanish Republic was formed, whose power would remain until the culmination of the Spanish Civil War.

Barcelona Heiress is said to be based on real-life events that occurred during this time, and from the notes left by the author's grandfather (on whom I could find no information - I would have been interested to know who the author's grandfather was and what his role was in all of this).

The fictional narrative is from the perspective of Pablo Vilar, a journalist and lawyer, and man with connections to a diverse group of people that stretches across a vast area of the social strata (a bit like the infamous Inocencio Feced - a sinister figure from the 1920s; a man on familiar terms with all sorts of people in Barcelona ranging from the police chief Arlegui to the Libre’s president, Ramón Sales, as well as the Libertarian Movement and, naturally, the city’s underworld.)

There is also the parallel story of a vigilante who provides justice when the courts didn't. At the height of civil unrest in Barcelona. business owners hired assassins to infiltrate workers organisations and to murder troublesome union leaders; newspapers and their staff were targetted, as were lawyers defending unionists. The nobility, politicians, police, and church were not exempt from the violence and assassinations. Repression would be harsh and very one-sided.

The author assumes the readers' familiarity with the subject matter as a given. Had the author provided a short background to this story, then the fictional narrative would have made more sense. As it was, the execution was lacking as there was no real connection between narratives - it comes off as a disjointed attempt to recreate the glitz and glamour of the Gatsby era with the setting in Barcelona.

Side note: the author's father, the writer and historian José Luis Vila-San-Juan wrote 'The daily life in Spain under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera'.

Review - Colossus: Stone & Steel by David Blixt

Colossus: Stone and Steel
In Judea 66AD, retribution will be severe for the Jewish deafeat of the Roman army under Governor Gessius Florus. This was the time of the Great Revolt, originating in Roman and Jewish ethnic and religious tensions. The crisis escalated due to anti-taxation protests and attacks upon Roman citizens. Four years later, the Temple of Jerusalem will be sacked.

This is a well told story from both perspective - the Jewish (through the fictional characters of brothers Judah and Asher) and the Roman, and features the real life character of Josephus, the chronicler. The fictional character of the mason Judah finds himself an unlikely hero in the defence of Jodapatha, which was under the command of Yosef ben Matitiyahu, against the forces of the General (later Emperor) Vespasian and his son Titus.

The reader is drawn into this compelling story, which has a touch of the psychological thriller about, with a mix of political intrigue. In reality, it was a bloody and brutal time, and this has been conveyed quite convincingly - the tension in this region was palpable - you could cut the air with a knife.

If you have an interest in this period of history, this series may be for you.

The next book in the series is Colossus: The Four Emperors

Colossus: The Four EmperorsRome under Nero is a dangerous place. His cruel artistic whims border on madness, and any man who dares rise too high has his wings clipped, with fatal results.  For one family, Nero means either promotion or destruction. While his uncle Vespasian goes off to put down a rebellion in Judea, Titus Flavius Sabinus struggles to walk the perilous line between success and notoriety as he climbs Rome's ladder. When Nero is impaled on his own artistry, the whole world is thrown into chaos and Sabinus must navigate shifting allegiances and murderous alliances as his family tries to survive the year of the Four Emperors. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Women at War in the Classical World by Paul Chrystal

Paul Chrystal's Women at War in the Classical World is a useful overview of how women experienced warfare in the Classical World. He emphasizes that no matter where and when the warfare has occured, women were, and are, always involved. Chrystal primarily discusses the women involved in the wars and traditions of warfare of Greece and Rome, though he does address women of other ancient cultures in the introduction.

The book is usefully divided by time period and geographic location, with relatively short chapters focused on one topic or a few related topics. This makes it an effective introduction for students of the Classical World on a topic that is little handled in most textbooks of the period.

read full review @ UNRV

Æthelflæd by Tim Clarkson

ÆthelflædAt the end of the ninth century AD, a large part of what is now England was controlled by the Vikings – heathen warriors from Scandinavia who had been attacking the British Isles for more than a hundred years. Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, was determined to regain the conquered lands but his death in 899 meant that the task passed to his son Edward. In the early 900s, Edward led a great fightback against the Viking armies. He was assisted by the English rulers of Mercia: Lord Æthelred and his wife Æthelflæd (Edward’s sister).

After her husband’s death, Æthelflæd ruled Mercia on her own, leading the army to war and working with her brother to achieve their father’s aims. Known to history as the Lady of the Mercians, she earned a reputation as a competent general and was feared by her enemies. She helped to save England from the Vikings and is one of the most famous women of the Dark Ages. This book, published 1100 years after her death, tells her remarkable story.

About The Author
Tim Clarkson is an independent researcher and historian who previously worked in academic librarianship. He gained an MPhil in archaeology and a PhD in medieval history, both from the University of Manchester. His other books include The Men of the North, The Makers of Scotland and Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age.

I have a few of Tim's books, so maybe I am slightly biased.  I do enjoy the topics on which he writes - so make sure you visit his website Senchus - and see what else takes his interest.

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD Barker

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD BarkerA riveting novel of gothic suspense, Dracul reveals not only Dracula’s true origin, but Bram Stoker’s—and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a supernatural thriller that reveals not only Dracula’s true origins but Bram Stoker’s—and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

It is 1868, and a twenty-one-year-old Bram Stoker waits in a desolate tower to face an indescribable evil. Armed only with crucifixes, holy water, and a rifle, he prays to survive a single night, the longest of his life. Desperate to record what he has witnessed, Bram scribbles down the events that led him here...

A sickly child, Bram spent his early days bedridden in his parents' Dublin home, tended to by his caretaker, a young woman named Ellen Crone. When a string of strange deaths occur in a nearby town, Bram and his sister Matilda detect a pattern of bizarre behavior by Ellen—a mystery that deepens chillingly until Ellen vanishes suddenly from their lives. Years later, Matilda returns from studying in Paris to tell Bram the news that she has seen Ellen—and that the nightmare they've thought long ended is only beginning.

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre

Ben Macintyre brings readers deep into a world of treachery and betrayal, where the lines bleed between the personal and the professional, and one man’s hatred of communism had the power to change the future of nations.

The celebrated author of Double Cross and Rogue Heroes returns with his greatest spy story yet, a thrilling Americans-era tale of Oleg Gordievsky, the Russian whose secret work helped hasten the end of the Cold War.

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre
If anyone could be considered a Russian counterpart to the infamous British double-agent Kim Philby, it was Oleg Gordievsky. The son of two KGB agents and the product of the best Soviet institutions, the savvy, sophisticated Gordievsky grew to see his nation's communism as both criminal and philistine. He took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union's top man in London, but from 1973 on he was secretly working for MI6. For nearly a decade, as the Cold War reached its twilight, Gordievsky helped the West turn the tables on the KGB, exposing Russian spies and helping to foil countless intelligence plots, as the Soviet leadership grew increasingly paranoid at the United States's nuclear first-strike capabilities and brought the world closer to the brink of war. Desperate to keep the circle of trust close, MI6 never revealed Gordievsky's name to its counterparts in the CIA, which in turn grew obsessed with figuring out the identity of Britain's obviously top-level source. Their obsession ultimately doomed Gordievsky: the CIA officer assigned to identify him was none other than Aldrich Ames, the man who would become infamous for secretly spying for the Soviets. 

Unfolding the delicious three-way gamesmanship between America, Britain, and the Soviet Union, and culminating in the gripping cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky's nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985, Ben Macintyre's latest may be his best yet. Like the greatest novels of John le Carré, it brings readers deep into a world of treachery and betrayal, where the lines bleed between the personal and the professional, and one man's hatred of communism had the power to change the future of nations.

Review - Dr Jekyll & Mr Seek by Anthony O'Neill

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Seek
In the classic RL Stevenson novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the lawyer Gabriel Utterson, investigates the series of strange events occurring between his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll, and the evil Edward Hyde.

In this story or sequel, seven years have passed, and Utterson, on the verge of realising the inheritance left to him by his good friend Jekyll, finds his world crashing down as an imposter appears to lay claim to Jekyll's estate - an imposter who claims to be Jekyll himself!

Only one man is not taken in - that is the lawyer Utterson, a measured, emotionless bachelor, who alone knows the truth - that this can in no way be Jekyll. In his quest to bring the truth to the fore, Utterson realises that those who knew Jekyll in the past, and upon welcoming him back, are slowly being erased, and yet none can see this but himself.

"... how could he possibly be certain of anything, if he was no longer certain of himself ..."

In a vain attempt to prove his theory correct, Utterson abandons all common sense and seeks to recreate Jekyll's transformation potion. And so begins his slow descent ..... " ... [Utterson] knew he had been dismantled ... he knew that he would forever be regarded as mad ..."

I found this to be a rather compelling homage to Stevenson's original gothic horror story - it could quite easily have had another 100 or so pages added, as Utterson's delusions and decay are further investigated. i especially enjoyed the last chapter as events pertaining to Utterson are closed - although the fate of Jekyll remains tantalisingly unanswered!.

read more here 
@ Britannica - Summary & Notes (Jekyll & Hyde)

Inside a 17th-Century 'Barbarian' Cookbook From Japan

These day, treats including tempura, konpeitō hard candy, and fluffy castella cake are available in restaurants, convenience stores, and bakeries across Japan. It might seem hard to believe that these dishes, especially fried tempura, were once curiosities even to the Japanese. Early recipes for these things and more were compiled in a cookbook manuscript dating from the 17th century. It’s called the Nanban ryōrisho, or the “Southern Barbarians’ Cookbook.”

Who were the “southern barbarians?” According to Eric C. Rath, author of Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan, that was the term for the largely Portuguese Europeans who sailed to Japan beginning in the 16th century. As traders and missionaries, they brought along Christianity and Western technology. But they also brought their food.

The author is unknown, though Rath writes that they were obviously very familiar with Iberian cuisine, perhaps even knowing Portuguese and Spanish people personally. A collection of 45 recipes, which Rath translates in his book, the Barbarian’s Cookbook long existed as a handful of handwritten manuscripts in Japanese libraries, only to be published by the 20th century. The recipes therein offer a glimpse into changing attitudes towards food in Japan at the time, and the development of the nanban cuisine still enjoyed today.

Front CoverThe other half of the Barbarian’s Cookbook contained savory dishes, notable for the eggs and meat they required. At the time, lingering dietary taboos over both existed in Japan for health and religious reasons. 

By the time the Barbarian’s Cookbook was written, Christianity had been outlawed, and most foreigners prohibited from Japan. But nanban cuisine lingered. The sweet and meaty treats in the Barbarian’s Cookbook “became increasingly popular over the course of the Edo period,” writes Rath. But even today, many nanban treats remain favorites.

Ranjeeta Dutta reviews Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji by Manu S. Pillai

From The Hindu:
Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji review: Melting pot of ideasA history of the Deccan introduces us to a cosmopolitan world with fluid identities, cross-cultural interactions and political strategies

As a teacher of history, one is often confronted with students asking why the curriculum based on rigorous research has always remained confined to the precincts of university classrooms. Manu Pillai’s Rebel Sultans provides the much-needed bridge between the isolated world of academia and wider public audience. The book tells us a story of the fascinating world of Deccan, full of splendour, exciting political intrigues, glorious rulers, magnificent cities and fabulous treasures.

read more here @ The Hindu