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Review: This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski

This is a very short and belated review of This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Thadeusz Borowski. I read this many months ago, and through a potent combination of procrastination and inability to actually talk about this book, late reviews happen.

I wanted to read more Holocaust literature, especially from voices who had actually lived and experienced the atrocities. Borowski’s work is translated from Polish and he survived both Auschwitz and Dachau. I’ve read Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, and I think I hold the somewhat unpopular opinion in finding more depth and interest in both Borowski and Levi over the better known Wiesel. It’s difficult to talk about ‘enjoyment’ of a Holocaust novel because you really shouldn’t, and I know I can’t, ‘enjoy’ these stories but you can still get something out of reading them. You walk away with a small fragment of understanding and a large slice of humble pie.

Talking from the historical point of view, these are interesting stories Borowski has put together, but we aren’t told if they are actual autobiographical accounts. You can’t be sure what is recollection and what is fabrication. Regardless of the amount of fictionalization, they are still important and illuminating vignettes of life in a concentration camp.

Borowski’s language is beautiful, thematic and dark. Thadeusz puts dark yet beautiful imagery in contrast with the atrocities of the Holocaust, creating some really haunting literature. There are a variety of stories in this collection, not just the title story, but besides having the Holocaust in common, they all discuss the idea of hope, or the subsequent loss of hope. Borowski describes people arriving in trains at Auschwitz, knowing that they were being led to their deaths, but hoping that it wasn’t going to come to that and following the instructions given to them by other prisoners – walking to the showers in the hope of being treated as human beings. An expectation I think we all can appreciate.

This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen would have to be one of the darkest and most harrowing books I have ever read. It won’t leave me any time soon.

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Classics Club Spin #14

It’s time for yet another Classics Club Spin. We have until October 3rd to compile our lists and have to read the chosen book by December 1st. I’ve participated in a bunch of these, and so far have only failed out of one. So here’s hoping that this gives me a boot to update a little more often.

  1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  2. Ulysses by James Joyce
  3. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  4. Casino Royale by Ian Flemming
  5. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  6. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  7. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  8. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  9. What Maisie Knew by Henry James
  10. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  11. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
  12. Flesh in Armour by Leonard Mann
  13. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  14. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  15. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
  16. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  17. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  18. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  19. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  20. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Review Spree: 16/7/2016

some unholy war

Some Unholy War by Terence Strong, paperback from library, July 2011, 512p.

3.5 stars.

Some Unholy War is the first Terence Strong book that I have read, and it was a good solid action novel. Although it had a somewhat slow start, the middle and ending where filled with action and suspense. I think that this novel would have been improved if the beginning 200 pages were condensed into 100. It was possible, and I know the author was trying to build characters, but it seemed over done.

I was expecting a military romp – the blurb and cover set it up to be based around a soldier fighting a war, but instead it concerned drugs and street crime, which was interesting. Some of the settings in Some Unholy War were very vivid, and struck a cord. Also, this book explores the issue of homelessness, and in particular how Veterans often end up on the streets. Certainly not a topic to be taken lightly, but interestingly handled in this novel.

birthdays for the dead

Birthdays for the Dead by Stuart MacBride (Ash Henderson, #1), Kindle edition, January 2012, 515p.

3 stars.

I’ve read and really enjoyed Stuart MacBride’s Logan McRae series and decided to give his Ash Henderson series a try. I was expecting a dark, Scottish wit-filled crime romp, and that is what I received. However, I found Birthdays for the Dead took the darkness too far. The idea of the plot was intriguing and different- a police detective’s daughter is kidnapped, tortured and killed but he keeps her death a secret from everyone so he doesn’t get taken off the case. He is also a corrupt character, and this just seemed too far from the realms of possibility. Plus, the psychologist character seemed to be a caricature of a mental health professional.

The plot hurled forward, but became increasingly unbelievable. I think the problem was there are multiple surreal and impossible storylines all vying for your attention. I am willing and able to suspend belief if it was one or two unbelievable events, but it was constant through this whole novel. Still enjoyable, and I will read the second book in this series, considering I already have a copy sitting on the book shelves.

one hitOne Hit by Jack Coughlin (Sniper, #8), Paperback from library, August 2015, 305p.

3 stars.

The Sniper series is one of my favourite military fiction series, and I was so excited to get my hands on this book. However, it is not readily available in Australia, and so I usually have to wait for awhile until the book can come from the library. This time the publication seemed rushed – not the actual story (which wasn’t perfect either) but the blurb didn’t match the story at all, and was poorly printed and edited. These things bug me.

The story itself was enjoyable, but the author had skipped forward in time quite a bit from the previous book, and I didn’t like all the choices he made for the characters. My favourite character from this series, Coastie, didn’t feature much at all in this book. It annoys me when these authors write such amazing, interesting and dynamic female characters and then just leave them on the wayside. To be honest, I’d be more interested in reading about Coastie managing international mayhem than Kyle Swanson. But no… we return once again to read about this cookie cutter character saving the world, again. I will pick up the next book in this series, but I will also hunt around for books in the same genre but with a female protagonist.