Corelli’s Mandolin Book Review

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Review:

Corelli’s Mandolin is one of my favorite novels to pick up and get lost in. Set in World War 2 era Greece, it tells the story of a young Greek woman named Pelagia who falls in love with an Italian soldier and mandolinist.

I was a little slow to get into the novel, because it’s written in a somewhat rambly and discursive style that tends to wander off on tangents a lot and change styles at random. You’ll see what I mean immediately, with the charming third person first chapter and the second chapter that’s essentially a monologue in print (and ends with a dead cat, which almost made me put the book down right there). However, once you get past the initial chaos, the charming wins out. When there are no dead cats and crazy Duces involved, de Bernieres writes beautiful prose, with a lot of vividness and wit (often to the point of laughing out loud) that sucks you into the story and makes it come alive.

The ending was disappointing compared to the rest of the book, but not to the point of ruining it. However, you will want to skip the beautifully shot but horribly miscast (and, frankly, just all around butchered) film version of the book.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Pavlovsk: The Life of a Russian Palace Book Review

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Review:

One of my favorite Russian history books, Pavlovsk: The Life of a Russian Palace is the “biography” of a lesser known palace near St. Petersburg. Pavlovsk Palace is not as grand as better known palaces such as Peter the Great’s imitation Versailles at Peterhof, or the massive Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, but it’s inspired an unusual degree of devotion in many people across the centuries, starting with its original owner, the Empress Maria Feodorovna, Catherine the Great’s daughter-in-law and wife of the ill-fated Emperor Paul (Pavel) I. Catherine took Maria’s first two sons away from her at birth to raise herself, and Maria and Paul were only permitted to see them once a week. Deprived of her children, the artistic and cultured Maria threw her energies into designing and decorating the palace and gardens of Pavlovsk. There is quite a bit of interesting information about Maria, her architects and landscapers, and the different influences on the park’s final design, especially for anyone interested in architecture, fine art, or landscape design.

After Maria’s death, the park was opened to the public and became the site of fashionable concerts (including an extended visit by Strauss) for most of the later 19th century. The Soviets, after initially planning to sell off its treasures, were eventually persuaded by Pavlovsk’s caretaker to turn it into a state museum.

Then came World War II and the Nazi invasion of Russia. There is a fascinating and horrifying chapter about the siege of Leningrad, the deadliest in human history, during which 1-1.5 million civilians died and an additional 1,400,000 were evacuated. Pavlovsk itself was stripped of as many of its treasures as its caretakers could preserve while the Nazi army approached, and these were buried on the grounds of the park or taken to Leningrad or Siberia.  The rest were looted or destroyed by the Germans, who also cut down 70,000 trees within the park and set fire to the palace as they retreated near the end of the war. In the aftermath of the war, with the palace and park in smoldering ruins, its caretakers spent decades painstakingly rebuilding and restoring it to its former glory, and it is now once again open to the public.

Pavlovsk: The Life of a Russian Palace is well-written and absorbing, and will make you love Pavlovsk as much as its author clearly does. I was inspired after reading it to visit the park three times during my semester abroad in Russia and consider it one of the most beautiful spots in Russia.

Here’s a video with scenes from the palace and park:

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

From Time To Time Movie Review

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Review:

This movie was advertised as a family film on Netflix, but my seven year old daughter didn’t get much out of it and we sent her to bed partway through. I think it would probably be better suited to somewhat older children – maybe 10 or 12.

My husband and I thought it was enjoyable, but not as good as its cast. From Time To Time is one of those films that’s like a game of “Who’s The Great British Character Actor?” It’s got the goddess Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall of Harry Potter, Dominic West of The Wire, Carice van Houten of Game of Thrones (I know, I know, Dutch, not British), Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey, Allen Leach of Rome, Harriet Walter of Sense and Sensibility, and more. Unfortunately, none of them were really given a whole lot to do.

The screenplay was written by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, and other favorites of me and my husband, and based on the novel The Chimneys of Green Knowe (aka Treasure of Green Knowe). The main storyline is set in World War II Britain and follows a boy sent to live with his grandmother (Smith) at his family’s ancestral home in the countryside. On his very first night, he bumps into the ghost of one of his Regency-era relatives and soon realizes that he can travel between his own time and hers. When he discovers that his grandmother is struggling financially and may soon be forced to sell the estate, he uses his time travel ability to solve the mystery of some priceless jewels stolen from the ghost’s mother nearly 150 years earlier.

The blending of modern and Regency eras to solve a mystery from the past reminded me somewhat of Arcadia (complete with house fire), but without the play’s brilliant wit. Though Maggie Smith had a few good lines, none were as memorable as her other Julian Fellowes roles, as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey and Countess of Trentham in Gosford Park. The ending may also be a bit of a downer for some children.

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My rating:2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

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The English Patient

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Review:

This movie is gorgeously shot, with a great script and many outstanding performances. Though the central romance is epic and all consuming, I felt it was marred by the unlikeability of Almasy and Katherine. Still, it’s very easy to get swept up in it all.

For the heart is an organ of fire.

My rating4 Stars (4 / 5)

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