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Reading Group


This Reading Group meets at MittelhofKIEZladen, Onkel-Toms-Hütte

(U-Banhof).  Always on the third Monday in the month.    You can contact me at: alisonpask@web.de

10 Kiezladen Mittelhof

Inh. Stadtteilzentrum Mittelhof e.V.
Ladenstraße 27/28, 14169 Berlin


People attending the meetings will pay 3,00 to the Mittelhof for the use of the facilities.

On the other side of the tracks in the Onkel-Toms-Hütte-Underground station is

BUCHHANDLUNG BORN. Inh. Juliane Kaiser Ladenstraße 17-18, 14169 Berlin Telefon: 030.31 86 91 60.

It is an independent bookshop – with friedly, helpful service where can pre-order books and pick them up a month in advance – or ask me to pre-order them.


Here is the list of books we have discussed since moving to this venue (Apologies that I cannot edit the underlining.):

(To see the list of books we read when still at our last location scroll right down):

October 16th 2017 –Groff: Fates and Furies. fates and furies three reviews

November 20th 2017: McEwen: Nutshell

December 18th 2017  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson 

January 15th 2018    Winterston – The Gap of Time (2015)     Hogarth Shakespeare

Feb 19th 2018 : Colson Whitehead: Underground Railroad

March 19th 2018 : Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

April 16th 2018: Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

June 18th  2018 – Julian Barnes, Noise of Time (It is now out in paperback and there should be plenty of copies in libraries).

July 16th 2018 “Stay with Me” by Ayobami Adebyo

August 20th  2018 A Gentleman in Moscow (Towles)

September 17th 2018 :   Reservoir 13 (Jon McGregor)

October 2018 : Carr: A Month in the Country

November 2018: Days without End (Sebastian Barry)

December 2018:   Winter (Ali Smith)

      PLAN: for 2019

January 2019: Another Brooklyn  (Jaqueline Woodson) (2016)

Running into a long-ago friend sets memories from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them.

But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.(Goodreads)

Feb 2019  Lincoln in the Bardo : George Saunders.( Start reading early!)

In this novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices—living and dead, historical and invented—to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end. Goodreads. ALso Bookbrowse – the same text!(The highlghting is mine – Alison)

Excerpt from a Guardian review:

In this, his first novel, the Lincoln trapped in the bardo is Willie, the cherished 11-year-old son of the great civil war president. As his parents host a lavish state reception, their boy is upstairs in the throes of typhoid fever. Saunders quotes contemporary observers on the magnificence of the feast, trailing the terrible family tragedy that is unfolding. Sure enough, Willie dies and is taken to Oak Hill cemetery, where he is interred in a marble crypt. On at least two occasions – and this is the germ of historical fact from which Saunders has spun his extraordinary story – the president visits the crypt at night, where he sits over the body and mourns.

The cemetery is populated by a teeming horde of spirits – dead people who, for reasons that become an important part of the narrative, are unwilling to complete their journey to the afterlife and still hang around in or near their physical remains. This is not a straightforwardly Tibetan bardo, in which souls are destined for release or rebirth. It is a sort of syncretic limbo which has much in common with the Catholic purgatory, and at one point we are treated to a Technicolor vision of judgment that seems to be drawn from popular 19th-century Protestantism, compounding the head-scratching theological complexity. Like Dantesque damned souls, the spirits manifest with hideous deformities, physical analogues to their various moral failings, or the concerns that keep them tethered to the world of the living: a woman who can’t let go of her three daughters is oppressed by three glowing orbs; a miser is “compelled to float horizontally, like a human compass needle, the top of his head facing in the direction of whichever of his properties he found himself most worried about at the moment”. The novel is told through their speeches, the narrative passing from hand to hand, mainly between a trio consisting of a young gay man who has killed himself after being rejected by his lover, an elderly reverend and a middle-aged printer who was killed in an accident before he could consummate his marriage to his young wife.

Willie, like other children, is expected to pass on quickly to the afterlife proper, instead of remaining in the cemetery, but because of his father’s grief he is tempted to stay. Children who don’t move on are tormented by a sort of horror movie amalgamation, their bodies becoming welded to their surroundings by painful and hideous demonic growths. The narrating trio – Bevins, Vollman and the Reverend Early – make it their business to save Willie from this appalling fate, and much of the action centres on their attempts to influence Lincoln to let his son go. The polyphonic narrative of the spirits is interleaved with constellations of artfully arranged quotation from primary and secondary sources about Lincoln’s life, which Saunders uses to show that observers can be unreliable about the motivations and mental state of the president, and that even such questions as whether the moon shone or not on a particular night can be distorted by memory.

The torrent of quotation, set against the torrent of spirit voices, gives Lincoln in the Bardo the feel of the parts of the Bardo Thodol where the soul is beset by wrathful demonic hordes. This cacophony, and the grotesquerie of the deformed spirits, lends the novel a texture that is superficially unlike the work that has made Saunders popular, stories that often play off the tension between a casual vernacular voice and a surreal situation. Lincoln in the Bardo feels like a blend of Victorian gothic with one of the more sfx-heavy horror franchises. But in many ways, Oak Hill cemetery has a lot in common with the theme parks and office spaces readers have come to expect from the author of Pastoralia and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. The spirits (I hesitate to call them ghosts, since they don’t manifest to living people) are trapped in a space that is fundamentally inauthentic and unreal, much like a theme park. Unable to accept the fact of death, they have endless euphemisms for their condition (coffins are “sick boxes”, and so on) and employ all sorts of mental gymnastics to avoid confronting the reality of their situation.

Saunders is not usually thought of as a religious writer, though his concern with the inauthenticity of a certain kind of human experience seems consistent with the Buddhist doctrine that worldly phenomena are a sort of veil or illusion masking the truth. One of his great strengths is compassion, a quality that infuses his wilder conceits, making them land emotionally in a way that wouldn’t necessarily be true of another ludic postmodernist. In Lincoln in the Bardo, the immense pathos of the father mourning his son, all the while burdened with affairs of state, gives these sections of the book a depth that isn’t always there when Lincoln is off stage. The busy doings of the spirits are entertaining, and Saunders voices them with great virtuosity, but the tug of Lincoln’s grief is sometimes too strong for them not to feel like a distraction.

One of the novel’s conceits is that by occupying the same space, the spirits can experience a dissolution of interpersonal boundaries, understanding and feeling sympathy for each other in a mystical way. It is hard to be specific without spoiling the plot, but Saunders uses this device to imply a cause for Lincoln’s later signing of the emancipation proclamation, a move that seems glib and reductive, a blemish on a book that otherwise largely manages to avoid sentiment and cliche. This is a small quibble. Lincoln in the Bardo is a performance of great formal daring. It perhaps won’t be to everyone’s taste, but minor missteps aside it stands head and shoulders above most contemporary fiction, showing a writer who is expanding his universe outwards, and who clearly has many more pleasures to offer his readers.



March 2019 Little Fires Everywhere : Celeste Ng      
34273236Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak

April : Tessa Hadley : Bad Dreams (several short stories)

Bad Dreams by Tessa Hadley review – enthralling short stories

A sleepless mother and daughter wander their house by night while a girl accepts a ride from a stranger in a collection of breathtaking delicacyGreat nuance and psychological acuity … Bad Dreams.The title story of Tessa Hadley’s outstanding new collection sits at the heart of the book. It is exquisite, haunting and serves as something of an index to the whole: “A child woke up in the dark. She seemed to swim up into consciousness as if to a surface which she then broke through, looking around with her eyes open. At first the darkness was implacable. She might have arrived anywhere.”

This is writing of great nuance and psychological acuity. In these stories – predominantly concerning girls and women, with settings ranging from the present day to early last century – thresholds are crossed, the familiar is thrown off.

Knowledge, in Bad Dreams, is often unexpected or unwanted; and it can feel transgressive. In “One Saturday Morning”, a young girl struggles with “terrible knowledge” that “seemed to be stuck inside her, in her stomach or her throat”. In “Under the Sign of the Moon”, a young man asks, “Will the stain come out?” This question inhabits the minds of a number of characters in the collection.

Sometimes the experiences explored come with unbidden, violent force; sometimes Hadley’s characters are courting the force of change – they long for transformation, the chance for “a new skin”. In “An Abduction”, a 15-year-old is asked by a stranger, “Want to come for a ride?” – and she accepts. In “Under the Sign of the Moon”, a woman, having thought “she would never break out of the bounds of her reasonable self”, surprises herself by following up on a chance encounter on a train.

Hadley is clear-sighted about the way women can be shamed for overreaching: in some stories, “pushing across the threshold of safety” goes hand in hand with the risk of being punished; in others, the desire for experience is paired with the vulnerability of inexperience. However, this boldness can lead to moments of great exhilaration: there can also be “obliterating pleasure”. In the light-hearted – albeit heartfelt – “Her Share of Sorrow”, a 10-year-old girl discovers a secret love which leads her to lock herself in the attic, joyfully transported.

Acerbic social observation and dry humour … Tessa Hadley.

Hadley captures, beautifully, the feeling of events unfolding – often unanticipated, unpredictable – and is alert to the stream of recalibrations and negotiations at play as her characters try to process new experience. There is the young woman who “kept vigil faithfully for hours in the quiet of the night, presiding over the mystery of her changed life”. There is the girl who cannot understand what she has witnessed, but knows that it is “something headlong and reckless and sweet, unavailable to children”. Hadley also explores the seismic shifts of understanding and memory that can occur in a lifetime. At the end of “An Abduction”, related with a roving point of view, Hadley casts a fresh eye on the past with a sudden – and stark – shift of perspective.

A shift of perspective can also lead to moments of great tenderness. The story “Bad Dreams” is crafted to incorporate two perspectives of a particular night: the first part seen through a child’s eyes, the second through her mother’s. The connections between mother and child are drawn out through echoes in their experiences as they both – at different times on the same night – walk alone around their home. Here, the shift of viewpoint offers subtle revelations about the way the family interacts, how they understand and misunderstand each other, how intricately their lives are connected and yet how solitary they are. Attempts to decipher each other are moving: the child tracing her father’s papers with “her fingertips in the dark” as she tries to locate “his meaning: densely tangled in his black italic writing”. Intuition can be startling: the child sensing her father’s vulnerability, her mother watching as he lies curled, foetal, in bed.

One of Hadley’s striking achievements in this collection is setting up a tension between life lived moment by moment, “closely as a skin”, and events viewed from the outside, from positions of separation – of exile, dislocation or dispossession. She ends “Bad Dreams” with a form of epilogue, layering yet another – more distanced – viewpoint through the story, asking the reader to look again. This is a technique she employs here, as elsewhere, to great effect. It allows her to engage powerfully, if brutally, with a sense of change on a grand scale: the passage of time, the transience of life. The results can be unsettling and moving in equal measure. These stories speak deeply to the experience of change, and of loss.

Bad Dreams is remarkable not only for Hadley’s penetrating engagement with her subject matter, but for her extraordinary and distinctive range. It combines acerbic social observation and wry humour with moments of breathtaking delicacy and tenderness. This is a collection to be read and reread.


P L E A S E  bring your suggestions!





Who knows Jennifer Egan’s ‘Manhattan Beach’ (2017)

The daring and magnificent novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.

‎Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.

With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world. It is a magnificent novel by the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, one of the great writers of our time.  (Goodreads)

Who knows:The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015)

It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain,

Who knows:The Sea by John Banville       

The Sea is the fifteenth book by Irish writer John Banville. It won the 2005 Man Booker Prize.

In this luminous new novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the center of this elegiac, gorgeously written novel among the finest we have had from this masterful writer.” (Goodreads)

Later, may be: The Broken Shore  ( Peter Temple, 2005) The Broken SHore: Broken by his last case, homicide detective Joe Cashin has fled the city and returned to his hometown to run its one-man police station while his wounds heal and the nightmares fade. He lives a quiet life with his two dogs in the tumbledown wreck his family home has become. It’s a peaceful existence – ideal for the rehabilitating man. But his recovery is rudely interrupted by a brutal attack on Charles Bourgoyne, a prominent member of the local community. Suspicion falls on three young men from the local Aboriginal community. But Cashin’s not so sure and as the case unfolds amid simmering corruption and prejudice, he finds himself holding on to something that it might be better to let go.  (Goodreads)

See below for what we have already covered


1) First meeting (was) : November 2015: Ian McEwen: The Children Act

2) End of January 2016 :: The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Society von Barrows/Schaffer

3)  February (on Feb 29th! 2016) The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

4)  25th April. Anne Enright’s The Green Road 

5)  June 27th,:  Jo MacMillan’s Motherland    

6) Gail Jones: A Guide to Berlin –  July  25th 2016 ;

7) Joseph Kanon, Leaving Berlin – August 29th 2016 .

8)    ‘Reader, I married him’ on September 26th 2016

9) October 31st    2016  Kent Haruf: Our Souls at Night 

10) November_  Bill Clegg’s : Did you ever have a family

11. January 2017  Colim Toibin’s ‘Nora Webster’  

12) February 2017:  Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (Bloomsbury Publishing

13) March 2017 :Tyler: Vinegar Girl 

14) May 2017:  Zadie Smith: Swing Time

15) June 17 : The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan. 

16)  July 17 : My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout


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