Two Books From the Library Stacks

First of all, let's talk about the library. This will be a short  but heartfelt ode.

The library is my very favourite public institution. Probably hospitals and schools are more necessary, but the library makes me happiest. Without the library I would be quite poor and my house would have books falling out of the windows and spilling out of the doors. The library gives me free words. I am in love with the library.

This week the library gave me two wonderful books. I think they are wonderful. Books that really take my fancy are often unappreciated by other people. But there are authors out there who are clearly fellow citizens of my secret world. Here are two of them.

No One Is Here Except All of Us

A tiny isolated Jewish village in Rumania discovers the terrible truth of Hitler's Jewish purges when a stranger washes up on their riverbank. The villagers take an extraordinary action on hearing this news. They decide to remake the world, their little world, and start again from Day One of Creation.

To me this seems like such an eminently sensible course of action. I frequently want to start the world all over again. So this becomes the story of Creation, a world within the world. It is a novel about the power of story, it is a magical dreamscape of purpose and the possibility of intent.

Inevitably, worlds collide. But story, as the way we make and remake our world, is what gives meaning to the lives of the villagers and gives them strength to carry on.

I was up until midnight finishing this novel. It is often dark and disturbing, but filled with love and light as well. Lyrical, magical, a fable turned into a novel.

I chose it for its irresistible title and the captivating cover. I love the way the words try to hide among the birch trunks..

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

It is 1799 when Jacob de Zoet arrives in the Japanese port trading city of Dejima. This is a walled city, the only part of Japan open to foreigners, and leased by the Dutch East India Company. Jacob will work here as a clerk and try to make his fortune so that he can go home to Holland and marry his sweetheart. But Fate has other plans for him. He falls in love with a midwife, the only woman in Japan permitted to study with the Dutch doctor in Dejima. Through his encounters with the midwife and his interpreter de Zoet becomes an instrument in an intricate and dark game of Dutch and Japanese politics and religion.

The two things that drew me to this novel was the wonderful, visceral language - it is easy to live in the world of this novel, which is so extraordinarily detailed in its research - and its characters which are very human. I live in a world full of flawed characters, and I want to meet them in novels too, want to see how they tick, what makes them do what they do. People watching is endlessly captivating. Moral ambiguity? It is what we are faced with every day. I want to know how other people meet it and weave their failings into their lives, as well as their successes.

As a bonus, the text is woven through with sentences and images that read like haiku. Love a bit of lyrical in my bed time reading...

What treasures have you found at the library recently?


Both of these books sound wonderful--I'm putting them on my library list today!

The book I fell in love with most recently is a graphic novel called Here by Richard McGuire. It takes as its subject one piece of land and explores its many layers of history, from way-prehistoric times to the future, with most of its focus around the last hundred years (so you get to see the many families who lived in the house build on the land, sometimes layered on top of each other). Hard to describe, but so brilliant! Here's a link via


narf7 said…
My library card expired a few weeks ago. I am Jonesing till I can get it renewed.
Jo said…
Frances, thank you for that, our library doesn't have it:( but I can put it on their suggestion list.. I found the images for it on-line. They are suberb. I especially like the image of the buffalo in the forest superimposed over the Victorian parlour..

I love that concept. There is an Australian children's picture book by Nadia Wheatley called My Place which pictures the same Moreton Bay fig tree on the Sydney shore on each double spread, and traces its history back from 1988, when the book was published, through to the daily life of an Aboriginal girl in 1788, before European settlement.

for a read aloud:)

Fran, good lord, girl, this is an emergency! Get thee to the library asap!!
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

They sound like wonderful books.

I'm reading the very scholarly, entertaining and highly thoughtful book by Nikolai Tolstoy called: The Quest for Merlin.

My only bit of advice from reading the book is this: If you are prepared to innocently mutter foolish things about an Archdruid to said Archdruid, don't be at all surprised when that same Archdruid gifts you clarity of vision on the subject matter at a much later date! Nuff said really. It is a good read too.

Did you read that the Spirit of Tasmania broke free of its moorings at Port Melbourne today? It must have been feral windy there...


Tanya Murray said…
I have recently discovered audio books and I am loving them on my commute between Campbell Town and Launceston. "Child 44" was gripping. I almost didn't make it after the first 20mins, so disturbing, but I'm glad I did. Just finished "The Sound Of One Hand Clapping" and enjoyed it too and especially love Flanagan's three dimensional twist of words as memories come to life. Fascinating use of language and metaphor.
Jo said…
Chris, that sounds intriguing. There is a fascinating children's novel by Rosemary Sutcliff which posits Merlin as a historical druid, and Arthur as Arturos, half-Roman, half-Celtic, as the Romans leave Britain and the Vikings begin to invade. I find that such an intriguing era..

Tanya, Child 44 looks very scary. I am not good at scary (you say gripping, I say terrifying..). I am ashamed to confess I have never read any of Richard Flanagan's novels, which must make me a less than well read Tasmanian, but this one is now on my holds list at the library, thanks:)
gretchenjoanna said…
Thank you for engaging book reviews - I had to read more about them and make note for later. I have...I think?...resolved not to bring any more books into the house until I finish reading a few of the hundred or so that are at the top of my To Read list. You make it harder to stay resolute!
Jo said…
Gretchen Joanna, I don't really regard having a hundred books to read as much of a problem:) xx
Anonymous said…
These sound wonderful, Jo! My latest two reads were nonfiction: The Right to Be Cold, the story of an Inuit woman from the Canadian Arctic who became an international climate change advocate; and the memoir of Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia fame.

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