In each monthly 'Book worm', I review all the books I have read the previous month, no matter how varied! I am looking forward to discovering what takes my attention in a year.
Sharpe’s Tiger, by Bernard Cornwell. Published July 1999
Rothschild Buildings: Life in an East-End Tenement Block, 1887-1920, by Jerry White. Published 2003
Gypsy Boy, by Mikey Walsh. Published 2009
I must admit the reason I bought this was I passed by the television and saw the actor Sean Bean with his kit off playing the character of Richard Sharpe. Hello, I thought, maybe it is time for me to read about the battles of the 18th century.
That aside, I really enjoyed this book. I wonder what came first for the author – the story or the research? As there is a real love of his subject here and I wonder if he was first a historian and wrote the story around his obsession, or had the idea for the story and fell in love with the research. Either way it definitely works – there is a real sense of a soldier’s life in the King’s Army, and it is very clever to write so much detail without resorting to showing off your knowledge.
The story itself is good – regardless of the association with the handsome leads of the long-running successful television series. Inter-woven against the hot back-drop of India, fact and fiction meld perfectly. The characters are all equally compelling from the wily hero Sharpe to his sadistic sergeant Hakewill, and there is enough action to ensure the adventure doesn’t stop until the very end. Well worth a read, good escapism.
Rothschild Buildings: Life in an East-End Tenement Block, 1887-1920
In a way this book is family history for me! My family have strong links to the Rothschild Buildings; and so this has a dual purpose – satisfying my love of social history, and also exploring my roots.
The east end of London has always absorbed, if not welcomed, immigrants from overseas. Back in the time this book documents, those immigrants were mainly poor but respectable Jewish people escaping from the troubles of Eastern Europe. The Rothschild Buildings were erected on slum-clearance ground as a solution to the over-crowding in the area, and were set up to be ‘model dwellings’ for a mainly artisan population.
Totally gripping and fascinating, the book draws on the testimonies of people that lived through those times, and paints a complete picture of their lives, tensions, and the community spirit that springs from close habitation.
This is my east end, my family history. I must find out more sometime.
A bit of an odd one for me to pick up, as I usually steer clear of anything that smacks of a tragic life tale. But there’s a couple of things going on here that make this book head and shoulders above mis-lit autobiographies.
Firstly the author has a very good subtle sense of humour. In fact, this is what persuaded me to buy the book – in the first paragraph he describes his small granny as a ‘pygmy in a cardigan’ – and I was hooked. He has a deft light touch with his words, always a pleasure to read.
Secondly he gives us a glimpse into the gypsy way of life that demonstrates pride in his roots and yet is objective enough to see from an outsider’s point of view. Since non-travelling folk don’t get much of an opportunity to learn about gypsies apart from what is highlighted in the Daily Mail, this is a fascinating reveal.
It is the light-touch with his writing that makes the abuse he suffers all the more horrific and unexpected to read, although the author, understandably, doesn’t dwell on such periods in his life. Instead he goes on to tell of his escape and reincarnation, by which point you are rooting for him so bad that you want to give him a hug and shake his hand.
My only quibble with this book was that it felt as though the end was somewhat rushed, as a reader I would have liked to share more of his joy at discovering freedom, especially after all that hardship.
Read more from January's Book Worm