‘Motherland’ by Jo McMillan

MotherlandGrowing up as the only child of the only communist in the Midlands town of Tamworth, Jess has felt like she’s ‘different’ all her life. When her mother, Eleanor, gets the opportunity to spend time in East Germany over the summers, her and Jess jump at the chance. Living in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), they begin to feel like they’ve found a place where they finally fit in.

While in Tamworth, Eleanor was the butt of every joke, in East Germany she is valued and appreciated. When they meet Peter, a widower, and his daughter Martina through the party, it seems like the final pieces might be starting to fall into place. But it soon clear that the Party comes first, and personal relationships that don’t meet with approval from the top are forced to come second.

Jess is the main character – we see through her eyes and are heavily influenced by her views. Despite this, the character that I emphasised the most with was Eleanor. She clearly has incredibly strong beliefs and a tireless commitment to a cause that she believes in completely – even when she’s spit on, ground down and disappointed. Her steadfast commitment to her values doesn’t even waver when her chance at true love is whisked away by the party. I admire her for sticking to her convictions through thick and thin, but can’t help but think that she’s choosing a life that doesn’t necessarily lead to her being very happy. Continue reading

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Jane Smiley’s ‘Some Luck’

some luckSome Luck follows the lives of Walter and Rosanna Langdon, year by year from 1920 to 1953. From a young couple starting their lives on a farm in Iowa, the book follows their family as it grows and expands, following them across the country and beyond as they find love, go to war, discover new things about themselves and have children of their own.

All of this is set against the backdrop of wider global issues taking place at the time, placing this one fictional family firmly in the middle of some of the most important events of America’s twentieth century – from the Great Depression to the prohibition to the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War.

Walter and Rosanna are a typical Midwest rural farming couple, and they raise a family in the hope that their children will go out into the world and choose their own paths. They sacrifice everything they have to keep their family going – enduring drought, falling prices and poverty to make sure that there’s food on their table and that their children never go without an education. Continue reading