‘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

Iona Grey’s ‘Letters to the Lost’

Letters to the lostIn wartime Britain, American airman Dan Rosinski falls in love with the newly – but unhappily – married Stella Thorne. Against their better judgement, they embark on a passionate affair. But the odds are stacked against them. Dan risks his life every day and Stella is trapped under the weight of social conventions, and their relationship is soon tested to its limits.

Many years later, a young girl is hiding out in an abandoned house on the run from an abusive partner – ill, broke and with no plans for the future. But when Jess opens a letter addressed to an ‘S. Thorne’, she’s immediately drawn into a love story that spans over half a century.

Now ninety years old and living in the USA, Dan is determined to find the girl that he fell in love with all those years ago. As Jess reads through a box of old letters she finds in the house, she becomes determined to help him to find an ending to his story. Continue reading

Imperial War Museum North

After living in Manchester for almost six years, last weekend I finally got around to visiting one of the city’s most established and impressive tourist attractions – the Imperial War Museum North. Located near Salford Quays, opposite the newly developed MediaCityUk development, the most immediately striking feature of the museum is its stunning architecture.

Designed by award winning architect Daniel Libeskind, the three main shards of the building are imagined to be the remnants of an imagined globe shattered by conflict, represent the elements of air, earth and water. Each shard serves a different functional purpose, with earth housing the main exhibition spaces, air leading up to the viewing area and observatory platform and finally water holding the main cafe.

The museum is easily accessible by tram from Manchester city centre and is free to enter, although it’s run as a charity so we made sure to buy a museum guide and left a donation to help maintain the exhibits.

Once inside, the main space that houses the permanent exhibitions is large and excellently laid out, with a chronological display and timeline feature running around the gallery’s 200 metre perimeter to guide visitors through a complete history of conflict from the First World War to present day. As well as larger artefacts such as fighter jets, sea mines and the like, the exhibition is brought to life by the many effects, including diaries, photographs, letters and records, that came together to reveal a very personal experience of war. There’s something about knowing who a particular uniform belonged to or learning about events through the eyes of the very people that experienced them first hand that gives the IWMN a really personal touch and through reading their individual stories I felt a real connection to the past.

There are also hourly audiovisual shows, projected onto the main exhibition space, which bring together recollections of war shown with video and photographic material from a variety of conflict from around the globe spanning the past century.That we saw three of these shows gives some indication of how long we were in there for!

At the moment, there’s also a special ‘Saving Lives’ exhibition on that is definitely worth a visit. Examining all aspects of medical care on the front line, from the trenches of the First World War to present-day Afghanistan, the exhibition by its own description ‘looks at the physical and emotional impact on individuals in fighting wars and the wider consequences for society’. As part of this, it explores the development of modern medicine through a variety of media including personal interviews with medics, soldiers and volunteers.

I’m definitely glad we went and would recommend anyone in Manchester, whether it’s just for flying visit or if, like me, you actually live in Manchester and have never been, to give it a go!

More information on the IWMN, it’s exhibits and how to find it can be found here.