Wednesday, December 23, 2015


The European Reading Challenge
January 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017




When you review a book for the 2016 European Reading Challenge, please add it to this list using the linky widget below.  Please link to your review post, NOT the main page of your blog.

If you don't have a blog or other place where you post reviews, so don't have a way to link your review below, just post your review in a comment on this page.

NOTE: There is overlap in January 2016 between the last month of the 2015 challenge and the first month of the 2016 challenge. If you participated both years, only count books read in January in one of the years, not both.

Please put your name or the name of your blog, the name of the book you reviewed, and the country of the book or author. For example: Rose City Reader, Doctor Zhivago, Russia.



  1. Hi Gilion, I just linked my first Europe book - set in Greece.

  2. I posted a review for a book set in Russia (Leningrad/St. Petersburg)- well the story within the story is set in Russia. At first I was thinking it didn't count but I think it does as most of the book is the Russian setting, although the person telling the tale is in Washington... :)

  3. Hi Gilion, forgot to add that The Third Man is my Austria entry.

  4. Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils, 1986
    An author who wrote many books outdid himself late in life with this book which is set in Wales. I am not a professional reviewer but the book said something to me, in part from the age and lifestyle of the central characters. Although there are several other memorable characters, the novel is about three couples, all Welsh, one of whom made a career on television as a "professional Welshman." He returns to his roots with his wife and they reconnect with two other couples. The book approaches each major character in turn: memories, infidelity, business relationships, socialization, and so on. There is quite a bit of social satire which was noticeable but not of great meaning because I have not lived in the British Isles. Some is still quite amusing. What struck me about the book as an aging reader is the nature of the friendship among the three couples who have known each other for many years. As we age, we learn a lot about our friends and something of ourselves. What I really enjoyed about the book was the way it connected the individuals as couples and by gender and the way it reconnected them to their youth. I was struck by the return to places of youth and the reaction of the characters. I can't say how a reader in their 20's or 30's will respond to this book but as someone who left middle age and became old without noticing, the book said a lot.

  5. Sandor Marai, Embers, 1942 (English translation published 2001)
    This book by a Hungarian author is set in 1940s Hungary but develops out of relationships that began in the late years of the Austro-Hungarian empire. This book was published during World War II but not known to the rest of the world until its translation into English. Unfortunately, the author had fled Hungary and ended up in exile in the U.S. where he committed suicide in 1989. The central character is a retired general who was commissioned in 1886, served in WWI, eventually retired and lives a solitary life, surrounded by memory, suspicion, and ultimately regret. Although other characters are introduced, particularly a friend of more than sixty years from military school, the book is one of brief scene setting, dropping of clues, then reminiscence. All of this is about the nature of friendship and, more briefly, the nature of marriage and the effect of infidelity on the friendship and the marriage then the life the general leads for his last 41 years. About halfway through the general meets again the friend of long ago and from there is mostly soliloquy with occasional, very slight, dialogue The book is a quick read. The author kept it interesting. When you expect you understand the complete story, more detail is added or other testimony arrives from another source. Although this is about friendship of two boys as they move from youth to old age, I found it dissatisfying and unrealistic. In the end, I felt that none of the parties understood the implications of their actions or the results that came from them. I am not sure the author intended that this be wrapped up into a neat package.

  6. The country for #20 The Serpent Pool is UK (sorry, I forgot to type it)

  7. James -- The Old Devils is one of my favorites! I'm a huge KA fan and TOD, his only Booker winner, is one of his very best. Thanks for sharing your review.

  8. I just added a link to 'All Quiet on the Western Front.' German author & set partly in Germany. Thanks!

  9. Linked to 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' - Netherlands. Thanks, Gilion.

  10. Hi Gilion, would you please change the country from Armenia to Turkey on The Road From Home. It's about an Armenia girl but set in Turkey, written by her son who was born in the US.

  11. The Metamorphosis was written by Frank Kafka, a Czech.

  12. Carol: Noted! You are on a roll with your reviews!

  13. Alan Furst, Spies of the Balkans, 2010
    One thing to be said about Alan Furst...he has a formula that sort of works: interesting people, interesting places. This book is set (mostly) in Salonika, Greece, though it touches on Yugoslavia, Hungary, and, like all of his books, makes a visit to the Brasserie Heininger, in Paris, to see a bullet hole in a mirror. (Apparently the owners of the bistro at the location of this supposed bistro are tired of tourists coming in to see a bullet hole that exists only in Furst books.) In this case, the number two man in the local police becomes involved in saving local and refugee Jews. He is also part of the reserves and called up when Italy starts to invade and released back to his regular work when the invasion doesn't go well for Italy. As usual, there is romance and as the real German invasion starts, the refugee pipeline ends. Family is evacuated. Our protagonist is able to escape with his love. The dog gets out of Greece safely. All Jewish refugees he is involved with ultimately are OK though I shouldn't tell the details about the dog and the refugees since that is about the only suspense in this formulaic novel. It was a quick read and enjoyable on an afternoon in which I didn't care to do anything else.

  14. Giuseppi Lampedusa, The Leopard 1958
    The novel is named for leopard on the coat of arms of a Sicilian family. it is set in a period of 50 years from 1860 to 1910, a time of great change in a kingdom that ultimately fails to survive the challenges provided by Garibaldi. The view of the country and the life that was there fascinated me. The family's failure to recognize what was happening was no great surprise: throughout the world royal families and nobility have been unable to accept change until it is forced upon them. What happened in Sicily was tragic. Despite the feeling of hopelessness obvious to a 21st century reader, the story is well worth reading. I particularly enjoyed the description of the Sicilian society in which this family lived and the lifestyle they had compared to the places they had property.

  15. August Strindberg, By the Open Sea 1890
    Everything changes: even the fishing on a remote Swedish Island. A fisheries inspector is assigned to investigate dwindling supplies of herring and encounters a local society that is focused on the place and people and not particularly interested in a government expert who has come to help them. The environment is harsh.
    The inspector expects to dominate the locals. One of them is a young woman who sort of has an interest in him and in whom he has some interest. Things don't go well. He realizes his weakness..sort of, and attempts to do more to control people and place. What he attempts doesn't work well and things get worse. He loses and things get even worse. He is no superman. The setting is obscure but the plot not an unusual one. I expect similar results would be found on a remote Canadian island or a distant south Pacific island: showing up and saying I am from the government and here to help you may be a modern cliche but had always been received skeptically by inbred societies.

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  17. Jim: It looks like you have a New Year's project going! Keep the reviews coming!

    Interesting choice for a Swedish book! We can safely say you are the only one who read By the Open Sea for this year's ERC.

    I read The Leopard years ago and remember enjoying it much more than I thought I would. It was fascinating.

    I found Spies of the Balkans to be particularly formulaic and I have a high tolerance for Alan Furst novels. It felt a little like a grab bag of bits edited out of other books.

    Thanks for posting your reviews. And Happy New Year!

  18. Friedrich Hayek, The Counterrevolution of Science 1952
    Why would anyone read a 64 year old book which combines earlier articles on economics published the German language? It helps if the writer is a Nobel laureate of the Austrian school. Another answer is that we eat vegetables for a reason and hope they are good for us. As I age, I try to read serious books as well as the junk that tempts me. In this case, at a seminar the audience was urged to read this book. Two years later, I purchased it and read it. I have read several of works by Von Mises and that made me appreciate his (relative) simplicity. I have no false pride, this was a hard book to read, even as a libertarian. The goal is to understand and refute socialism through analysis of humans and their actions. The problem is that humans have varying values, goals, and purposes. Actions can't easily be classified or results easily quantified. Change happens. European economists and other intellectuals propose solutions to attempt to control the economy and society through the control of the economy. Change is nonetheless. Science still has to meet reality. For those with some desire to see how disciplined a reader they are, this is good for two days of challenging reading. If you don't enjoy the experience, blame Jeffrey Tucker formerly at the Mises Institute and now at the Foundation for Economic Education. He recommended it. No warranties expressed or implied on my part. I hope I understood some of it.

  19. Erik Larson, Dead Wake 2015
    Although this book is about events on a ship owned by a British company sailing from the U.S. to the Great Britain, most events and the tragedy happened in Irish coastal waters then on Irish territory so I consider this to qualify for Ireland in the European Reading Challenge.
    Let's face it, bad things can happen to rich people, even on luxury ships if the passenger ship is in a war zone. I read the book because I respect the author and enjoyed earlier books by him. He is not a historian but seriously researches the material on the subject he chooses.
    This tells the story of the Lusitania. I assume most educated people have heard the story. In recent years there have been several new histories. This isn't serious history but does offer information I didn't know from earlier books, including one I purchased and read in 2003. Erik Larson writes to sell books. He tells a good story. If you haven't already read it, you probably won't be disappointed if you read it now. The description of the ship and the most important passengers, crew and rescuers is well known and included, of course. There is a lot of detail on the German submarine, particularly the captain but also something of what the crew of a submarine endured on a voyage. There are also obscure bits of information, such as three Germans who might have been spies detected and confined during the voyage. It was a quick read. I recommend it but also recommend a recent history by a historian if you want an academic perspective. if you don't need serious historical research, this will satisfy you.

  20. William Walker, Betrayal at Little Gibraltar 2016
    When American troops arrived in France, World War I (The Great War) was quickly won. Difficulties were over. The French were happy. The U.S. officers command and the officers were prepared and ready to win the war...and had a coordinated plan. All true except when it wasn't. This book tells a story of a campaign led by Americans which was badly planned and fought at great cost to U.S. troops. This is an amazing story.
    The French were pleased to have U.S. troops in France. The first challenge faced by American leadership was to be allowed to keep the troops together, to be led by American officers and to fight as large units. The French didn't trust Americans to know how to fight this kind of war. They wanted Americans as reinforcements to French troops, that is additional bodies in the trenches. Pershing prevailed on this point but the reward was a fight the French had been unable to win.
    There were battles that went well for Americans. This wasn't one. The battle for Montfaucon in Northeast France was a different story. This prominent position allowed the Germans to direct artillery fire over a wide area. After several unsuccessful attempts, the French named this position Little Gibraltar. American troops were assigned the task of taking the well defended position. They succeeded but at great cost. This is a story of sacrifice by troops and platoon and company level officers and betrayal at higher levels of the command. I found it difficult to accept but I tend to believe it is accurate. The author researched and discloses details from 100 year old records. Reviewers have been kind to the author, at least those I saw in looking around. Amazon readers rate it well.

  21. David Benioff, City of Thieves, 2008
    This historical novel is set in World War II Leningrad and tells the story of a young man and his improbable adventures. The book begins as Leningrad is surrounded and slowly cut off. The central character has a father who has been "disappeared" by the NKVD. His mother and sister flee the city. In his civil defense duties, he comes across the body of a Luftwaffe pilot and loots it. He is found out and imprisoned. He expects to be executed. He and another prisoner are freed by a Colonel of the NKVD with the task of finding a dozen eggs to cook a wedding cake for the colonel's daughter's wedding scheduled a few days later. Failure to do so will result in a return to prison and death. A series of adventures follows, inside and outside of the city. The eggs are located by a female partisan encountered during time outside of the city. (They had gone out of the city through Russian and German lines when it was obvious eggs were not to be found in the city. They then fought Germans with the partisans.) When the eggs are brought back to the colonel, the eggs aren't needed since he had several other possible sources.
    This is an unusual story. The central character survives the war. The partisan survives the war, too. They marry. They come to the U.S. They start an insurance business and make their fortune. Their story is eventually related to a grandson who writes the book. It was an enjoyable book to read. I suppose one time in the history of the world something like this could have happened.

  22. The Alchemy of Air by Thomas Hager 2008
    In 1898 guano from Peru was about to run out. Nitrates from Chile were subject to blockade in time of war. Germany had some real concerns over its ability to manufacture fertilizer to feed its people and, without nitrate, its ability to make explosives.
    Fritz Haber, a young chemist, had separated nitrogen from air as an experiment. Eventually he succeeded in figuring out how to fix nitrogen in a saleable quantity. Experiments continued and quantity increased. The next challenge was making machinery to produce the nitrogen. That problem was solved. Continued research and engineering created factories.
    The next concern was production of nitrates. The process for fixing nitrogen could be modified to make nitrates. This was useful for fertilizer but also useful for gunpowder. The German government saw the need and contracted for manufacture of nitrates. Another factory was opened.
    This book covers much more territory than this brief description. It is fascinating to a person like me who has no understanding of science and engineering. Good things can come from the mind of a creative chemist. Unfortunately, bad results might keeping Germany in two wars far longer than it could have without the ability to fix nitrogen and manufacture nitrates. This book is easier to read than it sounds. It educated me on a subject about which I had given little thought.

  23. Richard Pipes, The Formation of the Soviet Union 1954
    Before World War I there was a Russian Empire inside Europe and extending east across Asia to the Pacific Ocean. At the end of the war, the Bolsheviks took control of Russia while its possessions attempted to establish themselves as independent states as they had been before being conquered by Russia. This book addresses, a chapter at a time, the process by which the states were reconquered. This book and others which are by Peter Hopkirk provide interesting detail on Asian "republics" forced into the USSR. This is the European Reading Challenge, so I am limiting this review to the chapter on the Ukraine which preferred to be independent from Russia. Things were complicated and this explanation is much briefer than the explanation the book provides. Some of the Ukraine had been part of the Austro Hungarian Empire (for example, Ludwig Von Mises birthplace.) Some had been part of Poland which wanted it back. Its army took some of it for a time but the Soviets wanted it and Poland itself which kept Poland from continuing to control Ukrainian territory. Many other forces were involved. Once the Soviets didn't have to worry about the White armies, it turned its attention to the Ukraine. Initially it pushed the Polish army out again. Then it focused on taking the Ukraine. However, when accused of aggression the Soviets denied being involved, claiming that locals and other volunteers were involved in the fighting. Without going into detail, it looks like more recent Russian activity in the Ukraine might be using the Soviet playbook of 90 years earlier. This book was worth reading even though it is over 60 years old and focuses on many obscure parts of the world.

  24. I just linked to my review of Elizabeth and Her German Garden, by Elizabeth von Arnim. Country: Germany.

  25. I just linked to my review of Elizabeth and Her German Garden, by Elizabeth von Arnim. Country: Germany.


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