Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood ****

I read Oryx and Crake quite a few years ago now.  It's about what happens to the world when the eventual day comes when there are too many people & most of them are living in a horrible state.  It's one of my favorite post-apocalyptic books.  So imagine my surprise when I opened up this book after buying it at a grab-bag sale at the library & seeing that this is the sequel.  Or rather a sort of prequel.  Or maybe just the same story, but told from different characters' views.  Whatever it is, I liked it.
This vision of what happens is from two women that somehow live through the "Waterless Flood"--the plague that kills most of humanity in the not-so-distant future.  The first is Toby, a woman that has lived the typical brutish American life of the future--has to drop out of college because her parents can't continue to pay for it, parents pass away, & she's left fending for herself in a very unfriendly world.  She works at Secret Burger, a fast food restaurant of that serves burgers made out of God-knows-what, hence the name.  But after Toby's boss assaults her repeatedly, she escapes to a different world, the world of the God's Gardeners.
Ren is a young woman who was raised with the God's Gardeners for most of her young childhood.  The cult/religion/survivalist group believes in being strict vegetarians & learning how to take care of themselves without any outside help.  They are waiting for the "Waterless Flood" to come, when the world will be wiped clean again by God & the Gardeners will rise up & take over the stewardship of the Earth just like Noah & his family.  They never write anything down, but memorize animal names & celebrate holidays like Saint Dian Fossey Day & Saint Euell Gibbons Day.  Ren came here with her mother when she left her father for Zeb, a man with a shady past but who knows how to take care of himself.  He teaches the Gods Gardeners how to survive on the gang-ridden violently corrupt streets & is Ren's father figure while she is young. 
The action mostly takes place after the Flood has killed off most of the human population.  Toby has survived by using the skills she's learned from the Gardeners & her own father.  Ren has survived only because she was on quarantine at the upscale brothel she works at as a dancer.  Both women flash back to how they've gotten to this point, & how they might possibly survive from this point on.
My only wish was that I'd more recently read Oryx and Crake so I could have put the puzzle pieces of this story together with the other better.  But suffice it to say I enjoyed this book without having done so. 
Disturbing yet hopeful, I highly recommend both books.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch ***

The idea is very intriguing--using your own family's history, write a mystery novel with your relatives as characters!  That's what Oliver Pötzsch did about his ancestors, the Kuisl's, a family of professional executioners.  Set in Bavaria in the 1600's, after the 30 Years War, Jakob Kuisl is the hangman for the town of Schongau.  When a group of children that played together start showing up dead, one by one, Jakob is charged with proving the local midwife innocent of the crimes.  With superstition, allegations of witchcraft, hidden treasure, & hired swords, the action is very intense & the plot thickens nicely.
I was excited to find Schongau in a modern German atlas that my husband has.  He's a high school German teacher, but more importantly he loves history, so when I told him where & when the story was taking place in the book he knew immediately that the 30 Years War was over, but that it had decimated Germany.  The whole area was left in poverty & ruin, & it took many years for the people of the area to get back to what their lives had been before the war.  The war had been very brutal & been fought on German soil, with many atrocities performed on both sides of the conflict.  He told me that many people, especially not from Europe, don't know anything about this war & why it was fought.  We think that the Protestant faith just came about when Martin Luther nailed his list on the door of the church, but that was just the beginning.  The 30 Years' War was the fight for control of Europe--would each country remain firmly Catholic, or would they become Protestant?
I liked the setting, the characters, & the action of the book.  My only personal, petty issue was that I was hoping for a bigger mystery in the end.  I was a little disappointed by the conclusion & found it lacking in believability, but overall it was a great read.  I don't know if I'll read any more of the books Pötzsch has since written about his famous ancestors (they seem to be a series of mysteries), but I definitely don't regret the time I spent reading this book.