This is the first of my planned occasional reviews. I download audio books onto my iPad. Because of my poor technical skills at present I only download from audible.com. I find CDs difficult to manage but this could be because of the extreme age of my CD player. I do still read books on Kindle but now I have developed a better listening technique am enjoying audio books.
Life after Life, Kate Atkinson, narrated by Fenella Woolgar (unabridged, 15 hours 33 minutes)
This is the time traveling story of Ursula Todd (known as Little Bear by her father) born at Fox Corner on a snowy night in 1910 who died at birth. Or did she? Alternatives are presented as Ursula lives through her various incarnations through two World Wars and onwards. She is born and dies over and over again.
Kate Atkinson draws a riveting picture of this time of rapid changes and its effects on a comfortable middle class family. Mother, Sylvia, and father, Henry, have four children (or do they?), a dog and two servants.
I particularly liked the various scenarios presented during World War 2 when Ursula lives in London. The author describes the London blitz without cliché and with a vividness and humanity that is very moving.
Usually I don’t like novels involving time shifts but I found Life after Life powerful and thought-provoking at the same time as being a real ‘page turner’. The importance of the slightest changes in actions and circumstances which can change the course of one’s life is the main premise of this clever novel. I found it atmospheric and interesting. It didn’t convert me to this genre of writing though.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, narrated by Adjoa Andoh (unabridged, 17 hours 28 minutes).
The narrator is superb taking in all the nuances of the different accents and language.
This is my favourite contemporary book for a very long time!
The two main characters, Ifenelu and Obinze, are teenage friends and then lovers in Lagos, Nigeria. In the face of the dangers and corruption of the military dictatorship, many young people, encouraged and supported where possible by their families, leave Nigeria to pursue their education elsewhere.
Ikenelu makes her way to America. In spite of acute financial hardship and humiliation she achieves the education she wants and becomes successful. I love the way Adichie uses the metaphor of African women’s hair styles to explore the levels of racism in the US.
After 9/11 America will not give Obinze a visa and he finds himself in London struggling to support himself with squalid and illegal work. Eventually, he too achieves his goals and returns to the new Nigeria to build a successful life.
Adichie is a marvellously perceptive writer who uses irony to explore the Nigerian diaspora. I laughed out loud at the description of the dinner party in North London when Obinze, fresh from his job cleaning toilets, visits his now yuppie school friend and his very rich wife. The description of the dinner party is funny and revealing and excruciatingly embarrassing.
This book explores the contemporary issues facing aspirational and foreign educated Nigerians who return to their own country which is now undergoing tremendous change. This elegant novel has all the qualities of Half of a Yellow Sun and has moved forward to embrace the present in America, the UK and West Africa.
I didn’t want it to end!
I would love to read your comments. Suggestions for future blog posts would be welcome. Above all what are you reading/listening to now? What kind of books do you like?
I enjoy your reviews.
I tried Life as an ebook and abandoned it. I wonder if I would have liked it if I listened to it?
I just downloaded Americanah as an ebook, but I was disappointed my library doesn’t have the audio book version. I listened to a fantastic interview last week with the author and really enjoyed her. Looking forward to this read.
I don’t think I would have persisted with Life after Life on ebooks either. I abandoned trying to keep track of thenincarnations! I’m sorry you couldn’t get the audio version of Americana as the narrator is such a delight. Lucky you hearing Adichie being interviewed. Hope you enjoy the novel.
Here’s a link to the NPR Fresh Air interview, perhaps it will work for you?
Thanks for the link. I’ve just listened to the interview and found it fascinating on so many levels. There seem to be other interesting items on the site as well. Don’t you just love the Internet!
I would like to read Americanah as I so enjoyed Purple Hibiscus and Half of a yellow sun, I don’t have it yet though I am sure to give in one of these days. I do have a book of short stories by Adichie though, which do look good.
Thanks, Ali. Give in to it! Waterstones have the paperback half price at the till. But if you listen to audiobooks I recommend it in this form because of the brilliance of the reader.
I saw Americanah in Waterstones yesterday and managed to ignore it for the time being, but it is on my wishlist, even though I didn’t fancy the earlier two. I’m enjoying the new reviews as part of your blog!
Glad to know Americanah is on your wish list! I’ve just listened to,the interview with Adichie from the link shown on Adventusinlowvisions comments on my blog. Mt honk you would find it interesting.
Sorry, ipad made a nonsense of editing the last sentence! I think it should read ‘I think’
Just caught up with your posts since September – terrible that I’ve not been on here since then! I liked your steps post – I’ll try not to point out the obvious in future! (Alternatively, just give me a prod if I do point out something daft!)
Most unlikely you will need a prod and I’m unlikely to fall out with my best audio transcriber at the cinema! Thanks for the comment.