Finland, Pakistan and Hungary – The Defenceless – Kati Hiekkapelto

KATI-BOOK

Why a booktrail?

Finland has many different sides to it that most of us will never see….

Story in a nutshell

Police investigator Anna Fekete is brought in to investigate when an old man, wearing pyjamas, is found dead on the road. Gabriella, the girl who ran him over is Hungarian and speaks no Finnish so Anna has to try and remember her lapsed Hungarian.

As the investigation continues however, it soon becomes clear that this case is a whole lot more than a car accident. The man’s appartment block seems to be a haven for all sorts of goings on from drug dealing to illegal immigrants.

Anna’s partner Esko is also involved in a  similarly dubious investigation and it’s not long before the two cases merge with dangerous consequences for all.

Place and setting

A Finnish thriller with a unique tour of locations...The town in Finland where Anna works and lives has no name and it is fictional. It could be Oulu though, the town where Kati was born.
A Finnish thriller with a unique tour of locations…The town in Finland where Anna works and lives has no name and it is fictional. It could be Oulu though, the town where Kati was born.

Who would have thought that one apartment building gin the centre of a Finnish city could be so ‘varied’? A microcosm of so many nationalities, society problems and a haven of the city’s underbelly.

The issues which result from this apartment, from this city are made up of various issues which live side by side in this cramped and cold world. Issues such as cultural dislocation – where a person is forced to leave their entire world, their life and some part of their identity behind in order to start a new life, to escape religious or some other kind of persecution.

Pakistan

Sammy is one such person whose application to stay in Finland has been rejected. Having lost his family, his only comfort now is heroin and Subutex. A desperately cold and isolating place to be.

Sammy’s story is particularly moving. He’s ran from his homeland, a refugee from the persecuted Christian minority in Pakistan, and thought nothing more of than ‘cargo’ in much the same way as the drugs are which come in from the same truck –

Hidden in a truck belching  thick exhaust fumes and driven across the endless steppes of Russia illegally.

He is forced to go underground in order to survive in the best and only way he can. His spiral downwards into hell is all too tragic and realistic and the people he comes across in this world are not the kind you would ever want to meet yourself.

Hungary

Anna  is also an outsider ( a Croat of Hungarian origin who came to Finland as a child to escape the war in Yugoslavia) but from the other side of the track. An immigrant yes but also a police officer. Her view of the world and of her adopted country are different to those she serves. Still somewhat of an outsider however, she has a unique view of them and how she fits in, and how the changes in her home country are unsettling on so many levels. When her brother returns to Hungary (and it’s how and why he leaves that are important) Anna is once again faced with feelings of how her life was then compared to how it is now.

Review

A crime novel with a difference. Not your typical Nordic Noir as it is much more multilayered and complex which elevates it to a whole new level. The characters and setting from the Hummingbird are back but this is a whole new meaning of the word ‘ underbelly’

Anna is a fascinating character. Where does she fit it and how can she settle in Finland when her own identity and that of her country keeps changing. Even the name of the country continues to change. Such a background gives her empathy and understanding but a whole other set of problems which I found very interesting. Just how do you work to help people like Sammy and solve crimes when your own story is just as tangled?

The problems faced by Finland are of course problems which cross borders and these are all very topical subjects at the moment which makes this novel particularly timely.

Anna has some tough issues to deal with – alcohol being one of the most confused – for her own brother returns to Hungary and her role of helping Gabriella and Sammy are fraught with conflict.

Immigrants and drug gangs,  not to mention the cold and biting weather makes for one heck of a backdrop to a complex and ultimately satisfying read.

The Goddess and the Thief – Windsor and India – Essie Fox

The Goddess and the Thief and the mystery of the Koi- i- Noor diamond...
The Goddess and the Thief and the mystery of the Koh- i- Noor diamond…

The Goddess and the Thief is an intriguing and exotic gothic tale of passion, obsession, betrayal and deception. With a mystery concerning a real life diamond at its heart.

a diamond

Story in a bejewelled nutshell

Alice who has been brought up in India is taken to England with her father to settle there. Her mother died not long after Alice was born and so her father hopes they can have a fresh start.

Aunt Mercy takes on Alice’s care but she is involved in the occult and works as a spiritualist medium. When Lucian Tilsbury  enters their lives, things become stranger still.

For Tilsbury is obsessed with the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a priceless jewel now owned by Queen Victoria. This diamond holds a special story as it was claimed by the British following the  Anglo-Sikh wars. This Indian stone exerts its power over all who encounter it especially a handsome deposed maharajah determined to claim his rightful throne.

The power of this diamond has far reaching consequences for all those who come in contact with it.

Place and setting

India Benares - Alice lives here at first Palace of Mount Kailash - The Lord Shiva and Sati story is based here Lahore the family moves here to the hills the  surrounding villages have English names and are the setting for Charles Willougby diary entries Windsor Claremont road - where Mercy’s house is Park street house, near castle walls - a mystery happens here London Great Exhibition in london in 1851 - appearances throughout by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, as well as Maharajah Duleep Singh.
India
D – Benares – Alice lives here at first
C – Mount Kailash – The Lord Shiva and Sati story is based here
B – LAHORE
the family moves here to the hills
the surrounding villages have English names and are the setting for Charles Willougby diary entries
A – Windsor
Claremont Road – where Mercy’s house is
A – London
Great Exhibition in london in 1851 – appearances throughout by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, as well as Maharajah Duleep Singh.

a diamond

East meets West in this fascinating tale of mystery, mysticism and a much sought after sacred jewel  whose powers transcend far beyond what seems possible. The Koh- Noor diamond is now part of the Crown Jewels and are kept in the Tower of London.

The figure of Duleep as shown in the inside cover of the book  – the Maharajan himself:

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Maharajah Duleep Singh – who claimed the Koh-i-Noor diamond was exiled to Britain but eventually pardoned by Queen Victoria and buried at Elvedon in Suffolk

Those years I lived in India , I think they were my paradise

From the descriptions and the story of the Mythical Koh-i-Noor diamond, this was our paradise too. The history of the Hindu belief and story surrounding Lord Shiva, his goddess bride Parvati and the woman he loved before, Sati, was enchanting and beguiling in equal measure.

Through this story, this legend we lean of the turbulent relationship between Britain and India, the role of the British Empire during the Anglo-Sikh wars and the deposed Maharajah. The sacred Koh-i-Noor diamond is at the centre of it all…..

The Jewel’s light waxes and wanes with the moon. Every new moon is a time of rebirth, of the body as well as the soul.

There is another legend told, that only a Queen may own this jewel… that any man who possess it will be doomed to a dark and terrible fate…..

The mix of a legend, historical reality and serious themes such as the British Anglo-Sikh wars is a fascinating and enchanting mix. This is a novel far beyond Gothic melodrama – it is rich and colourful tapestry.

The complete contrast between England and India at that time – the colourful and sensual nature of Indian culture compared with the repressive nature of Victorian society is shocking as it is chilling. As Alice finds, the veil of respectability slips easily from the English facade. Queen Victoria’s appearance in the novel shows this in a very unique way. 

a diamond

Well this book is just our favourite of the Essie Fox jewel box of novels so far and that’s saying something as both The Somnambulist and Elijah’s Mermaid are two booktrail favourites as well. The story, history and mysticism of the Victorian era, Shiva and the Koh-i-Noor diamond and the backdrop of the Anglo-Sikh wars, Queen Victoria, the Maharajah is absolutely enchanting and utterly compelling and it was a world I did not want to leave.

The English setting of Windsor with its Royal connections, in the midst of a time where social mores and habits of women were curtailed, I felt very sorry for Alice who became so trapped in the plot to steal the diamond that the whole world seemed to fall in on her and it was hard for her to know who to trust. The characters as a whole  – a cast if you will as this was a sumptuous performance – were made up of historical figures, cads, thieves and spiritualists. Fact and fiction mix with mind-blowing effect.

With the theft of a valued diamond as the main story, I rather think that it was Alice’s life and mind which were also stolen and abused at the wishes of the men and women in her life. The plot to steal the diamond drags Alice so far deep into it, that before she realises……well she is exploited again and again, her vulnerability showing the author’s social awareness of the time period.

With social issues, historical detail and a carefully plotted novel, this delivers on many many levels.

Sumptuous velvet layers

And a shining diamond above them all.

The Good Children – Lahore, Pakistan

Leaving home is one thing. Surviving is another.

1930s -40s Lahore, the Punjab. Two brothers and their two younger sisters are brought up to be ‘good children’, who do what they’re told. 

goodchilden

Beaten and browbeaten by their manipulative mother, to study, honour and obey. 

Sons Sully, and Jackie escape t0 study medicine in the USA and England getting into unsuitable relationships.

Meanwhile back at home, sisters Mae and Lana, try to study and behave well but neither of them want to be trophy wives so they decide to strike out on their own.

The Good Children grow up and leave home but as each one returns they have to face the consequences for ever and the saying ‘ you can take a child out of its home life but you can’t take the home life completely out of the child’ 

A story of discipline and disobedience, punishment and the pursuit of passion. ‘Tea and sweets, crime and punishment’ 

Welcome to the home of the Saddeq family …..

On location with the Good Children
On location with the Good Children (c) the booktrail

Taking in turns to tell their story, everyone of the Good Children try and manage to escape their old lives and their very overbearing home environment only to find that invisible strings that bind them are a lot stronger than they first thought.

The delight and unique storytelling ability of Roopa, not an author we had come across before shamefully, is what makes this novel so enjoyable. Her characters are flawed and sensitive yet the reader can relate to each of them in different ways. How the four children develop into adults has to be one of the main joys of this novel – set against a culturally diverse background.

The settings of Pakistan, England and America

book

The story beings and ends in a place that no longer exists and was even then disappearing. In Lahore, the Punjab, India.In the late thirties, the events were already in motion that would slice the Muslims off the west an east sides of India like dangling limbs, and rename our divided territory Pakistan.

The settings represent the various cultures and lifestyles that the children find themselves in as the move to different countries and have to immerse them selves in more social mores and cultural differences. Such a strict upbringing has left them with some difficulties in adapting and all these are explored to full affect

What use are your ninety five percent in mathematics if you cannot make samosas or French pastry?

The expectations and desires of a traditional family from  Lahore may seem distant and even shocking to a Western reader, but why the mother and family act the way they do is succinctly examined and explained so that by the time the children are ready to leave home, we understand them more and can see things through their eyes. The difference in treatment between the girls and boys for example  is where the main differences lie.

The novel develops from 1938  to 2009 and so the book is a true journey through the lives and various countries of the good children.

The places where the novel really excels is showing the daughter and her attitudes made in Pakistan seem so raw and alienated elsewhere. How the sons try ti fit in with their colleagues and friends and indeed lovers in England and America respectively.

But this is not just a story where setting represents and is so intricately linked to the essence of the story – ties that bind them across cultures, continents and decades. The South Asian immigrant experience is tied up in every word and every full stop and it is a real eye opener as well as as extremely cultural booktrail.

Even the clothes in this novel are important for even as the fashions of the daughters change from the traditional outfits of Pakistan revealed as gaudy and flamboyant in the west, reveal different expectations and the need for them to take more notice of their new surroundings.

If you want to understand and experience different cultures and experience life in 1930s Lahore then this is the book to do it with.

And remember, children and their parents seem to act the same the world over to various degrees. Maybe we are not that different from each other after all.

Book Advent – day 23 – Booktrail top ten

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This year we have read some fantastic books and been to some fantastic places so here is our top ten in no particular order to inspire you to travel – via your armchair this Christmas season –

Bamburgh, Northumberland
Bamburgh, Northumberland
A journey through Cuba
A train journey through Cuba
Paris, France
The mysterious backstreets of Paris, France

 

To the dark streets of Edinburgh, Scotland
To the dark streets of Edinburgh, Scotland
The Garden of Evening Mists
The Garden of Evening Mists in Malaysia

 

experience the personal story of a small girl in Africa
experience the personal story of a small girl in Africa
Experience the cemetery of forgotten books in Barcelona
Step inside the cemetery of forgotten books in Barcelona –  in Shadow of the Wind
Explore the mystery of Keswick and it surroundings in Island of Bones
Explore the mystery of Keswick and its surroundings in Island of Bones

 

The amusing goings on in a small village in India
The amusing goings on in a small village in Pakistan. Get a cultural insight and make great friends

 

Protect yourself from the Canadian chill in Ottawa with a cracking crime thriller
Protect yourself from the Canadian chill in Ottawa with a cracking crime thriller

So, there you have it, our top ten books this year. We’d love to hear yours and we do actually have loads more except we couldnt fit them all in. How do you pick only ten? Well based on location and atmosphere, these ten really did pack some punch. And well because I had to include this one –

Cry yourself to sleep on an island beside a lighthouse in Australia with A light Between Oceans...
Cry yourself to sleep on an island beside a lighthouse in Australia with A light Between Oceans…

Well, I guess that makes it 11 – well we best stop there otherwise we’d be here all night adding all our favs. Tomorrow we chose one that has both surprised and amazed us in equal measure. An imaginary location but one which we would love to go back to very very soon…….

 

 

Revolt in Pakistan

revolt-amazon-cover-657x1024

 

Set in the fictional Pakistani village of Gulistan, with an appearance of Liverpool in England, this is a story about human relationships and the complicated threads of love, loyalty and sacrifice that keep families together and sadly, also apart.

It’s a multi layered novel with three sisters of a family dealing with their grown up children and their children’s relationships which often go against their wishes, their sense of marrying the right person – either caste or religion – and  the resulting problems. A male character chastises a female –

I’m just reminding you about social propriety; that women in our culture do not go around kissing men or touching them physically unless they are very young or married to them or blood sisters! You are none of these!

 

The stunning backdrop may be fictional but it is I’m sure representative of a typical Pakistani village community  –

In Gulistan village, the morning sun was high up over the sugarcane fields

..dusty path……the humble local rikshaws..the rural landscape…

 

The houses in Gulistan
The houses in Gulistan

The description of homes – rich versus poor –  is a key indicator of status and pride –

..the rooftop terrace with its elegant alcoves, wall niches, marble floor and rows of earthenware potted petunias and geraniums in full bloom, propped against the iron railings.

compared to – the potter’s rooftop terrace

….used for staking pots and portable beds, was brick-lined. The other half had  a small heap of coal and a pile of chopped wood to use for the rooftop chappati tandoor. No plants or flowering bushes, or marble floor. Just three old rickety portable beds, one with a missing leg.

A woman in Gulistan
A woman in Gulistan

You would think that such a subject particularly dealing with Pakistani women, muslim women, would be a serious and difficult subject to write about and even though the blurb on the back read well, I did wonder whether I would relate to any of the women in the book and understand their lives and concerns.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. QS has such a skill as a writer) I will certainly be looking at more of her work) that she has not only introduced me to some of the most funny and warm characters that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I have not read many stories set in Pakistan and don’t even pretend to know anything about the culture but I will definitely be visiting the country again if this book is anything to go by. To meet and understand a man such as this –

 

A lost traveller wedged between two lands – that of his homeland and America yet belonging to neither; unable to come to terms with his parents’ world and running away from the other that had been increasingly hostile to him since the awful events of 9/11

 

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Where Revolt particularly excels in my view is how it gently introduces the relationships between locals and outsiders – particularly the hilarious portrayal of the strange white woman or ‘Goorie’ who is received as something of an oddity  – shock and disbelief surround her wherever she goes. Goorie is the local word for  white woman and many words are introduced in the original language which gives a powerful authentic feel to the novel as a whole. (there is a glossary at the end for any other Goories such as myself hehe)

 

Begum won’t be pleased if I keep bringing visitors to the hevali (mansion). She says that it’s not a zoo,or that the goorie is not an animal on exhibition for us all to ogle.

 

I laughed at many points of this story – the characters are so well developed that by the end I felt as if I knew each of them very well – especially the local gossip. And they were as warming as i would expect them to be if I visited Gulistan myself for real. I want to eat chappati and ooh patesas….

As I closed the book, I swear I could hear the women still chattering away, their animated voices tickling my ears long after I’d finished reading.