Sunday, 24 July 2016


With a title such as this, and a cover to draw me in, I had to delve into this book. I had no idea where Kashgar was, but I was soon to discover that it was an 'oasis city', the westernmost city in China, once a stop on the Silk Road.

Fuelled by a long time curiousity re other cultures, I settled in for what promised to become an interesting adventure back in time. 1923 saw two sisters setting off for a mission in China. Lizzie was the zealous one, Eva went along for the ride, literally, and to escape what she deemed to be a dull existence.

Their arrival wasn't quite what they expected. They came across a young girl giving birth beneath a tree. Not surprisingly, there were complications.. the mother was about 10 years old, and despite the best efforts of the sisters, she died, though her baby girl survived, The authorities weren't interested in the baby, but blamed the foreigners for the girl's death and put them under house arrest, thankfully with the baby.. or who knows what her fate would have been.

From there, there were as many tangents as there are spokes in an average bicycle wheel. However, there are two main stories interwoven which overpower all, and despite many red herrings along the way, the reader doesn't discover the connection till almost the end of the book.

The understories are beautifully written, the descriptions delightful but not overpowering, and most of the characters are so well portrayed that you come to feel that you know them well, whether you want to or not.

It's a clash of cultures, of beliefs and personalities and while we aren't taken along on too many bike rides, we sure are taken deep into a world unfamiliar to many.

Suzanne Joinson has made her debut into the world of literature with engaging and encompassing style.

Sunday, 3 July 2016


little hut of leaping fishes

This is a book whose title I wanted to change immediately to CAPITALS... it intrigued me from the start.

I've always been interested in other cultures, wanting to know how the people live, if they were happy with their lives, what impression the 'state' had on their lives, the good and the bad.. and how they worked around their cultural history to live the best life they could.

This beautifully written, complicated story, certainly gave me a lot to think about. Chiew-Siah Tei holds little back as she draws the reader into the lives of two babies, born just two months apart, in the dying days of Imperial China, in 1875... The grandfather of the two boys, half brothers, rules the province with an iron fist, as becomes a feudal landlord and an opium farmer. Yet, he has a special place for his first born grandson who is destined to become a Mandarin, whether he likes it or not... while the second grandson has a very ambitious and indulgent mother, who thinks her son should be the chosen one. 

One chooses education to better not only himself, but his people, the other succumbs to the overwhelming power of opium.

 However, this is not without lightheartedness, despite the various tragedies that seem to bounce around both boys and follows them into manhood. It's more about relationships, of mystery and determination, of overcoming the set paths that both were destined to lead and a very intriguing insight into the changing Chinese culture and the reluctance of the warlords and Mandarins to let the 'foreign devils' upset their long fought for rule.

At times, I had to take a breath at the apparent lack of respect for life in general and females in particular, then I was caught up again in the bravery of those who fought against it. I railed at the ignorance of the burning of books, as if that would stop the wave of new knowledge that was sweeping the country... and rejoiced in the meditation and peace found via the little hut. 

It's a story of love and friendship, of brutality and savagery, of greed and generosity and so much more... all beautifully woven together in the tapestry of life.

Chiew-Siah Tei is Malaysian born. She went to study in the UK in the 1990's,  then moved to Glasgow.  'little hut of leaping fishes' was her first novel and was listed for the Man Asian Literature Prize in 2007, Best Scottish Fiction Prize 2008 Readers' Choice Award in Malaysia.

Friday, 27 May 2016


A Place I Called Home 
Kevin Haugh

A Place I Called Home 
is a memoir by Kevin Haugh of his childhood in the Loop Head Peninsula in County Clare from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s and is his second publication. It illustrates many of the social norms of that time, and shows how religion and immigration had an impact on both his life and the lives of those in the wider community. He shares a treasury of memories and tales handed down to him by the older generation, along with some salient nuggets of local history, social life and work on the land. 
Kevin’s affinity with his native place and its people is encapsulated in his own words, “The beauty of the landscape and the power of the sea in the Loop Head Peninsula are to be found in the souls of the people there.” 

I recently had the utmost pleasure of reading this book...or should it be called a journal or a diary or a memoir... Whatever you decide, it is a wonderful glimpse into a life unknown to many, that of a child growing up in the community of Loop Head Peninsula. So much is different, but also familiar, as there are many similarities to the life I led and knew as a child, growing up in a small village in Australia.
As a family historian, I appreciated learning of the generations that came before this young boy called Kevin, every much as I did enjoy learning of life in Ireland, which would have been much the same in many ways of that lived by my Irish grandmother.
Kevin's descriptions were intriguing. I now know that a 'haggard was a small garden at the west gable of the house where the first potatoes and vegetables were sown early in spring before the main tillage was done.' Kevin wrote of electricity not being widely available in West Clare until the early 50's.. and in my home, that didn't happen until the mid fifties... and at first was used only for lighting...  
I smiled when I read of visitors who came while the family were saying the rosary so dropped to their knees and joined in. My mother was visited by a nun when she was very ill, and the memory of the nun kneeling by her bedside and saying the rosary over and over, still lingers. 
There are so many vignettes of everyday life as it was in the 1950s to the 1970s that will stay with me. The insertion of poetry never seemed to intrude as you might expect, as it was so carefully chosen, as were the quotes. There are so many wonderful stories and so much history explained. 
We wander though the author's childhood years, feel the awkwardness of becoming a teenager and arrive at adulthood with him. It takes some reading, some concentration at times to take it all in, but to me, it will be a book to delve into time and again. It will be my 'go to' book if I want to learn about the children's graveyards, about St. Senan's Well... or perhaps the way that dairy farms were run in Ireland in the 50s and 60's...
 While I loved the photographs, I would have liked some of them to be a bit larger..  and I would appreciate an index, even if only as a little more detail of the chapters.. small matters.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book.

Disclosure: I was sent this book by the author after I offered to write about the launch here... I am not paid for reviews.
Full details of how to purchase are available in the initial post on As They Were as above.

Thursday, 4 February 2016



An intriguing title and one of the most
'addictive' books I've read in a long while. Then again, the first time I read it was when it was first published in 2014... and succumbed once more to it's mysteries and wonderful storytelling a few months ago.

Anthony Doerr weaves the most amazing story about a little French girl who loses her sight when only six years old. Her father builds her a model of their Paris neighbourhood, so she can 'see' it with her fingers and thus find her way around. However, these are troubled times and the Germans occupy Paris, so they move to a small village where Maree-Laure's Great Uncle lives. There are so many side stories... why does the occupation of the little girl's father play such an important part of the story? How come the Great Uncle never leaves his house? 

Then there is the young orphan boy in Germany who is fascinated by a crude radio and brilliant at working it and repairing it, making him invaluable to the resistance. Their lives soon become intertwined. 

The descriptions of the village, the once magnificent, but now crumbling house, and most of all the characters involved, will stay with you for a very long time. The story has so many layers, yet is very easy to follow. I suspect that this is one book I will reread  a few times yet, if only to enjoy the talent of this master story teller.

Published by Harper Collins

Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
National Book Award Finalist
New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the Carnegie Medal for Fiction