1960s Uncategorized

When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head

When Rain Clouds Gather And Maru (VMC)

Five words from the blurb: Botswana, outsiders, help, community, farming

When Rain Clouds Gather is an African classic. It was first published in 1968 and gives an insight into life in rural Botswana. The book follows Makehaya, a South African convict who escapes across the border into Botswana. In a small village he meets Gilbert, an Englishman determined to help the local community by introducing modern farming methods. They work together to try to improve lives in this rural area, but a severe drought threatens to starve them all.

This book was very easy to read. The writing was compelling and deceptively simple, but there was depth and symbolism buried just beneath the surface:

‘Even the trees were dying, from roots upwards,’ he said. ‘Does everything die like this?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘You may see no rivers on the ground but we keep the rivers inside us. That is why all good things and all good people are called rain. Sometimes we see the rain clouds gather even though not a cloud appears in the sky. It is all in our heart.’

I was initially concerned that everything was seen through the eyes of outsiders. I longed to know what the native community thought of these newcomers and to find out what life was like before they arrived, but by the end of the book I realised that the writing encouraged me to think more about these issues than if it had been explained to me. I missed the raw emotion, but the book was probably stronger without it.

Another minor problem was that this book failed to explain the political situation of the country. Botswana became an independent country in 1966 and a knowledge of events leading up to this would increase the reader’s appreciation of the book. I read a potted history online, but still felt I was missing out on something.

Overall this is a very important book. The issues were all mine and I’d encourage everyone to read this classic piece of African literature.


1960s Books in Translation

The Wall by Marlen Haushofer

 The Wall Translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside

Five words from the blurb: woman, solitude, survival, dystopian, parable

The Wall was originally written in 1968 and is hailed as a feminist classic. I’m a big fan of dystopian fiction so I accepted a review copy, keen to see an Austrian take on this genre.

The Wall begins with a woman waking up to discover that she is surrounded by a giant transparent wall. Her relatives have disappeared and she can see many dead animals on the other side of the wall. She assumes she is the last human alive and sets about trying to survive. As time passes she plants crops and becomes a great hunter; becoming at ease with life by herself.

Unfortunately I had a few problems with the writing style. The first was that it all felt very distant. Everything was observed in such a cold way that I failed to develop any empathy with the woman. She is unnamed throughout and this didn’t help the bonding process.

She knew a great deal about many things, and nothing at all about many others; all in all her mind was governed by terrible disorder, a reflection of the society in which she lived, which was just as ignorant and put upon as herself. But I should like to grant her one thing: she always had a dim sense of discomfort, and knew that all this was far from enough.

The second was that the scientist in me questioned the entire back story. Why was there a wall and who put it there? Why did the women assume everyone in the world was dead? Why didn’t she try to escape?  There was no evidence to back up any of her assumptions and she never questioned the reasons behind her captivity. If someone suddenly trapped me in a giant glass box I would be very upset and be asking a lot of questions. Yes, I’d still get on with things and survive in the same way she did, but I wouldn’t be so emotionless. There were many more elements of the story that didn’t quite add up, especially towards the end, but I’ll leave you to discover those yourself. The feminist aspects of the book also irritated me and I found her hatred of men difficult to understand. 

I can see why this is considered a classic in Austria and the fact it annoyed me so much proves it has power over the reader. Recommended to feminists who enjoy a colder writing style.


The thoughts of other bloggers

 ….one of the most profound reading experiences I’ve ever had. Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

…a wonderful, profoundly moving novel…Crafty Green Poet

I’m sure, men don’t like this novel. Film, Book Tips and Buch Tipps

1960s Books in Translation

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea (Vintage Classics) Translated from the Japanese by John Nathan

Five words from the blurb: savage, boys, mother, affair, sailor

Yukio Mishima is an important Japanese author; infamous for committing seppuku (ritual suicide) at the age of forty-five. He was born into a samurai family and is renowned for having complete control over both his mind and body. I was keen to see this power and try one of his books for the first time.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea was first published in 1963 and concentrates on a group of thirteen-year-old boys who commit a range of savage acts. Noboru is one of this gang. He lives with his widowed mother, but everything changes when she begins to have an affair with a ship’s officer and he observes their sexual relationship through a hole in his bedroom wall.

I was gripped throughout and completed this short book in a single day. The writing was excellent and the descriptions were particularly evocative:

He never cried, not even in his dreams, for hard-heartedness was a point of pride. A large iron anchor withstanding the corrosion of the sea and scornful of the barnacles and oysters that harass the hulls of ships, sinking polished and indifferent through heaps of broken glass, toothless combs, bottle caps, and prophylactics into the mud at habor bottom – that was how he liked to imagine his heart.

Readers of a sensitive nature should be warned that some of the scenes in this book, especially one involving the murder of a kitten, were graphic and disturbing. These scenes had more impact because they were sandwiched between gentle ones observing nature and the sea.

My only problem with this book was that I didn’t see the point of it. The reader wasn’t given enough background information to understand why this group of boys became so violent. Without knowing (and so being able to sympathise with) their motivations the book lacked that extra power. This was compounded by the faceless nature of the gang – it was impossible to bond with characters known only as “Boy 2” and “Boy 3”.

This was a compelling read, but overall I wouldn’t recommend it. Perhaps those who enjoy short stories would have more luck with it?


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…a genuinely perverse book, and worth reading because of the insight it gives into a mindset that is alien to most of us. Asylum

I didn’t really enjoy this book. WinstonsDad’s Blog

…it has a really powerful ending and it’s one I would definitely recommend. Dead Saukko


1960s Classics

The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea by Randolph Stow

The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea (Penguin Modern Classics)

Five words from the blurb: Australia, remote, war, disillusioned, restless

I hadn’t heard of The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea until David, a regular commenter on my blog, recommended it. Further research revealed it to be an Australian classic, so I thought it would be the perfect book to read for Kim’s Australian Literature month. I’m surprised that it isn’t more well known outside Australia – it is a wonderful piece of literature!

The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea is set in Geraldton, Western Australian and shows how one family is affected by WWII. The story is narrated by Rob, who is six at the start of the book in 1941, and a teenager by the time it ends in 1949. Rob’s older cousin, Rick, is sent to fight and the whole family must deal with the changes brought on by war and the mental scars of those who return from it. 

The main joy of this book is the vivid sense of place – it contains some of the most evocative descriptions of the Australian landscape I’ve ever read:

In winter, rain flooded the gravelled verges of the street and made brown lakes where wooden and paper boats were floated. The soft mud squished up between the boy’s toes. In winter they were forced into shoes and socks, but they took them off and paddled home in the delicious mud.
The stark grey berry-bushes on the vacant land grew green and soft-looking, and put out small, mauve-tinged flowers. Then spring came, loud with bees, and the red berries formed, and in many yards were yellow flowering cassias. When the petals fell, the flowers turned into writhing green snakes full of seeds.

Rob was a fantastic narrator. He was initially too wise for his age, but I was willing to forgive this problem because of the wonderful narrative arc created. The blurb states that the story is semi-autobiographical and it is easy to see the way personal insight has added to the realistic feel of this story.

The only reason I didn’t fall in love with this book is because the plot was too slow for me. The family dynamics and emotions were flawlessly observed, but very little actually happened. It is a testament to the writing quality that I managed to enjoy a book with so little plot at all. 

Overall, I highly recommend The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea to anyone looking for a fantastic Australian book. This classic deserves a wider audience. 




For more Australian fiction reviews head over to Kim’s blog.


1960s Crime

Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Roseanna (The Martin Beck series)Translated from the Swedish by Lois Roth

Five words from the blurb: detective, Sweden, crime, strangled, boat

Martin Beck is commonly described as one of the best fictional detectives ever created and this series always tops crime fiction “must-read” lists. Roseanna is the first of ten books and I’ve been wanting to try it for a long time. I’m pleased I’ve finally read this crime classic and look forward to enjoying the rest of the series. 

The plot was quite simple, revolving around the discovery of a dead woman in a lake. The identity of her killer is quickly narrowed down to one of the 85 people on board a passenger ferry. Martin Beck uses his slow, but thorough detective skills to locate the murderer in this easy to read, but gripping narrative.

Roseanna was written in the 1960s, a golden age for crime fiction. In our Internet age there is something charming about the lack of mobile phones and the fact that it takes two weeks for messages to travel from America to Sweden.  The writing also has a gentleness that means it isn’t disturbing, no matter how violent the crime. 

Unfortunately I was a little disappointed by the ending. Despite the initial slowness of the investigation, the resolution seemed to happen too easily. I wished that there had been several suspects so the reader had the opportunity to guess whodunnit.  Instead it just seemed like a charming introduction to Martin Beck – nothing really wrong with that, but not that exciting either:

When he smiled, you could see his healthy, white teeth. His dark hair was combed straight back from the even hairline and had not yet begun to gray. The look in his soft blue eyes was clear and calm. He was thin but not especially tall and somewhat round-shouldered. Some women would say he was good looking but most of them would see him as quite ordinary. He dressed in a way that would draw no attention. If anything, his clothes were a little too discreet.

I’ve heard that the real joy of this series is seeing how Beck (and Sweden) develop over time and so although this wasn’t completely satisfying I’m still keen to try the rest of the series.


Have you read this series?

Were you hooked from book one?

Which books in this series did you enjoy the most?



1960s Classics Crime Non Fiction

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences (Penguin Modern Classics)

Five words from the blurb: American, family, murdered, crime, killers

In Cold Blood is a modern classic. I’d heard so many positive comments about this true crime book that I was convinced I’d fall in love with it. Unfortunately, although I can see why it played an important role in the development of the genre, I’m afraid it didn’t bowl me over.

In 1959 an American family were brutally murdered in their home. In Cold Blood describes what happened by explaining the movements of both the victims and their killers.

I’d been warned about the powerful nature of this book and so ensured that I only read it during daylight hours, but I was surprised by how little emotional impact this book had on me. The actual murder was described only briefly and never through the eyes of the victims. I was relieved that I didn’t have to witness their fear, but a part of me wished that there were more details of the murder from the perpetrator’s point of view.  It might have helped me to understand how it is possible to murder an entire family and whether they had doubts and fears about being caught. Although the motivation for the murder was eventually revealed I wished that we’d learnt more about what caused them to begin their criminal career.

The book was very well written and engaging throughout, but the fact the reader knows everything from the beginning means that there is no mystery or intrigue to move the narrative forward.

The journalistic nature of the writing style meant the reader remained detached from events. I longed to get inside the heads of the people, instead of just witnessing their actions.

Next they were interested in rope. Perry studied the stock, tested it. Having once served in the Merchant Marine, he understood rope and was clever with knots. He chose a white nylon cord, as strong as wire and not much thicker. They discussed how many yards of it they required. The question irritated Dick, for it was part of a greater quandary, and he could not, despite the alleged perfection of his over-all design, be certain of the answer.

I think my main problem is that I’ve read so many similar books. If I’d read this when it was originally published then I’m sure I’d have been impressed by creation of this new genre, but the fact that this book’s successful formula has spawned hundreds of replicas means that it doesn’t have the same impact now. This simple investigation of an individual crime, whilst shocking in its nature, failed to teach me anything new. I wanted some insight into the criminal mind or some thought-provoking questions to be raised. The sad fact is that this crime is quite ordinary nowadays. I’m not shocked by it and the tame nature of the descriptions means that I am likely to forget about it quite quickly.

It seems unfair to penalise the original book because people have copied its style so successfully, but it also seems wrong to rave about a book that is no longer the best of its genre. As a compromise I’ll give it four stars. It is a classic.

I know a lot of people love this book. Can you explain why it is so special?