The Books' Whisper

Literary Consultant and Scout
The Books’ Whisper 2019 Advent Calendar

The Books’ Whisper 2019 Advent Calendar

December 1st

10 Minutes 38 seconds in this strange world by Elif Shafak

This book was a contender for the Booker Prize 2019, and IMO it should have won. The story is genius, it begins with the death by murder of Tequila Leila, a prostitute working in Istanbul. Apparently, after our body dies our brain keeps working for about ten minutes, and that’s why Leila is able to recall her life and we get to know all about her. In the second and third parts of the novel, after her mind has died, we learn the rest of the story from her five friends (who are all outsiders in their own way), and we also get to know who committed the murder and their motive. This is a brilliant novel, beautifully written and heart-wrenching, and it also tackles delicate issues such as the terrible Article 438 of the Turkish Penal Code, which allowed a reduced sentence for those who raped prostitutes and was abolished in 1992 thanks to the women’s movement, or the existence of the Cemetery of the Companionless, the final resting place of people who don’t have a family or have been shunned by theirs. For exposing the dark side of Turkey, the author is investigated and censored in her country. She now lives in London. Here’s a quote from the book,

‘Nostalgia Nalan believed there were two kinds of families in this world: relatives formed the blood family; and friends, the water family. If your blood family happened to be nice and caring, you could count your lucky stars and make the most of it; and if not, there was still hope; things could take a turn for the better once you were old enough to leave your home sour home.

As for the water family, this was formed much later in life, and was, to a large extent, of your own making. While it was true that nothing could take the place of a loving, happy blood family, in the absence of one, a good water family could wash away the hurt and pain collected inside like black soot. It was therefore possible for your friends to have a treasured place in your heart, and occupy a bigger space than all your kin combined. But those who had never experienced what it felt like to be spurned by their own relatives would not understand this truth in a million years. They would never know that there were times when water ran thicker than blood.’

December 2nd

Zero by Marc Elsberg
This is a gripping thriller about a nagging contemporary issue: the oligopoly of a bunch of IT giants, and technology ever-increasing control on the masses. The audiobook version, read by actor Bradley James (who plays king Arthur in the tv series Merlin) it’s even more intriguing. We follow three “sides”, all of which have their own mission. The Daily newspapers hunts Zero, the number one most wanted online activists; Zero wants to destroy the credibility of the social media giants and awaken people’s conscience; Freemee, a big and dangerous tech giant with evil intent, must stop anyone getting in between the company and the power they’re conquering. Marc Elsberg created a world not so distant from the one we’re living in, but particularly scary. This novel, a real page-turner, invites us to ponder about social media or, at least, to use them with extreme care and awareness. Here’s a quote from the book,

‘Imagine if your government or the police demanded you carry a little box around with you at all times that constantly signals where you are and what you’re doing. You’d give them the finger! Yet you’re paying the world’s data oligarchs to spy on you. That, right there, is consummate surveillance. Please let me give you money so you can locate me and use my data! They could sure teach international spy agencies a thing or two …’ Zero lowers his voice, his tone more biting. ‘Here they come with their Trojan horses, offering you search results, friends, maps, love, success, fitness tips, discounts on your shopping and who knows what else – but all the while, armed warriors sit lurking in their bellies, waiting for an opportunity to pounce! Their arrows strike you right in the heart and the head. They know more about you than any intelligence service. They know you better than you know yourself! But the old question remains: who’s monitoring the monitors? And who’s monitoring their monitors? But perhaps we already know the answer: everyone monitors everyone else.’

December 3rd

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

Two timelines. In modern-day London, Helen Watt and Aaron Levy find an important collection of letters dating back to 17th Century. This discovery’s not only invaluable as a historical document but also as evidence of what Jewish Europeans had to endure during the time of the Inquisition and the fictitious Popish Plot. In the sections of the novel set in 17th Century we read about instead Ester Velasquez, a charming, highly intelligent young Jewish woman, whose hunger for knowledge cannot be fulfilled because as a woman she’s not allowed to study. These timelines intertwine, and slowly the pieces of the whole story untangle, fascinating and engaging the reader. A must-read if you love books and history. Here’s a quote from the book,

‘Love must be, then, an act of truth-telling, a baring of mind and spirit just as ardent as the baring of the body. Truth and passion were one, and each impossible without the other.’

December 4th

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

In this book, the first of a trilogy, Myrddin Emrys, also known as Merlin, is still a child. Being the bastard nephew of a British king and son of princess Niniane, he’s regularly mocked and alienated by others, especially because his mother refuses to reveal his father’s true identity, and this makes everyone believe that he’s the devil’s son. From a very young age, Merlin starts “seeing things”, and a wise man named Galapas teaches him the natural laws, how to use medicinal herbs, and much more. Despite his harmlessness and disregard to politics and power, eventually Merlin’s seen as a menace to the throne and forced to flee to save his own life. During his exile he has the opportunity to improve his magical arts and to sow the seeds of the Arthurian legend. This first volume of the trilogy ends with Arthur’s birth. Here’s one of my favourite quotes from the book,

‘My Lord, when you look for (…) what I am looking for, you have to look in strange places. Men can never look at the sun, except downwards, at his reflection in things of earth. If he is reflected in a dirty puddle, he is still the sun. There is nowhere I will not look, to find him.’

December 5th

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help is a choral historical novel with three main characters, two black women and one white girl living in the segregated Mississippi during the ’60s. Aibileen works as a maid for Elizabeth’s family and looks after little Mae Mobley. Minny’s a fantastic cook but always gets in trouble for speaking up. Skeeter is the young daughter of a plantation owner; she dreams to become a writer and is obsessed to find out why her beloved nanny suddenly left her family. Nobody would have thought that these women would become friends, especially in Jackson, one of the American towns with the highest rate of hate crime at the time, and yet out of necessity they start working together on a very brave, but also extremely dangerous, project. Apparently, this book was rejected by more than fifty literary agents before Susan Ramer agreed to take Stockett on as an author. Since then, it’s been published in over forty languages, and a movie based on it hit the cinemas in 2011. Here’s a quote from the book,

 ‘All my life I’d been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine's thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe.’

December 6th

Tender at the bone by Ruth Reichl

Food critic and writer Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Tender at the bone, is a masterpiece. Through her experiences with food and cooking, the author shares her life: her childhood with a manic-depressive mother and a “resigned” father, the French boarding school in Canada where she had her first proper culinary experience, her job as a waitress in a restaurant, her experience as a cook in an ”anarchic” cafe, and so on. An exceptionally gifted cook and writer, Ruth Reichl captures readers with her engaging, frank, insightful story, and her magnetic, elegant, and pleasant writing. It reads more like a novel (or a fairy tale) than a memoir, for the delicate style and the structure make it a book for you to taste – together with the recipes included – and to lose yourself into. A perfect reading for a cozy winter night with a cup of hot chocolate and comfy chair. Ruth Reichl writes how she soon discovered that, ‘food could be a way of making sense of the world’ and ‘I was slowly discovering that if you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were’.

December 7th

Restless by William Boyd

When Ruth finds out that her mom’s name is not Sally Gilmartin but Eva Delectorskaya, and that she was a British spy in WWI, she is obviously shocked. Why did her mother waited so long to tell her, and why now? Why is her mom behaving so weirdly, like she’s paranoid? Are there really ex-spies that are trying to kill her? While Eva tells her daughter, and us, about her life as a spy, Ruth also finds herself confronting her own past and choices. Eva’s story is gripping and she’s an extremely charming, brave and intelligent character. Another page-turner for the Christmas holidays. Here’s a quote from the book,

“I stood there in the kitchen, watching her staring across the meadow still searching for her nemesis and I thought, suddenly, that this is all our lives - this is the one fact that applies to us all, that makes us what we are, our common mortality, our common humanity. One day someone is going to come and take us away: you don't need to have been a spy, I thought, to feel like this.”

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