Six Degrees of Separation – From Golden to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

This month’s starting book is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I haven’t read it but the blurb tells me…

In Memoirs of a Geisha, we enter a world where appearances are paramount; where a girl’s virginity is auctioned to the highest bidder; where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; and where love is scorned as illusion. It is a unique and triumphant work of fiction—at once romantic, erotic, suspenseful—and completely unforgettable.

The life of a Japanese Geisha shares similarities with that of the Chinese courtesan, which made me think of…

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. Violet Minturn is the half-Chinese daughter of an American woman, owner of a high-class courtesan house in Shanghai in the early 20th century. As a young teenager, she is separated from her mother and sold into a courtesan house, and the story follows her trials and tribulations through her life into middle-age. I found it a patchy read overall, but the descriptions of the courtesan traditions have stayed with me.

“The only problem with old men is that they die, sometimes suddenly. You may have one as your patron who gives you a handsome stipend. It’s a sad day when you learn his sons are burning incense for him at the family temple. You can be sure that his wife won’t be toddling over with your stipend in hand.”

Shanghai is also the venue for a yet to be published book, City of Devils by Paul French, which I’m eagerly anticipating because of how much I enjoyed his earlier book…

Midnight in Peking by Paul French – a fascinating story of a true-life crime committed in the last days of old Peking as the threat of invasion, war and revolution spread fear amongst the Chinese and foreign inhabitants of the city. Was Pamela Werner an innocent schoolgirl or an independent and rebellious young woman bent on sampling some of the excitements Peking could offer? Was she murdered by a maniac or by someone closer to home? French’s solution, when it comes, is as convincing as it is horrifying.

Schoolgirl… or sophisticate?

When I do a search, Peking gets only one other mention in my blog reviews, in the wonderfully prescient…

The Machine Stops by EM Forster. Written way back in 1909, Forster imagines a world where man has created a Machine to fulfil all his wants, and has now handed over control of life to the Machine. People sit in their individual rooms, never physically meeting other humans. All their needs are catered for at the touch of a button, and they communicate constantly with their thousands of friends through the Machine in short bursts, increasingly irritated by the interruptions of people contacting them, but still responding to those interruptions. Sounds amazingly familiar, doesn’t it? As does this quote from it…

Few travelled in these days, for, thanks to the advance of science, the earth was exactly alike all over. Rapid intercourse, from which the previous civilisation had hoped so much, had ended by defeating itself. What was the good of going to Peking when it was just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Peking? Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul.

One reason for going to Shrewsbury might be to visit Brother Cadfael, a favourite of mine in both the books and the TV adaptation. I haven’t reviewed any of the books on the blog, but I have one on my TBR…

Brother Cadfael’s Penance by Ellis Peters. The Goodreads blurb tells me:

While Cadfael has bent Abbey rules, he has never broken his monastic vows–until now. Word has come to Shrewsbury of a treacherous act that has left 30 of Maud’s knights imprisoned. All have been ransomed except Cadfael’s secret son, Olivier. Conceived in Cadfael’s soldiering youth and unaware of his father’s identity, Olivier will die if he is not freed.

Cadfael’s soldiering youth took him to the Crusades in the Holy Lands, which includes the territories we now call Israel and Palestine. Which made me think of…

Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye. In this beautifully written and thoughtful book, the author, a British-born Jew, muses on her troubled relationship with the place she thinks of as ‘home’ – Israel. At the age of forty, Donahaye started a journey that led her to learn the other history of Israel – the one that talks about ethnic cleansing of the Arabs, that explains the refugee camps, that suggests that the Palestinian Arabs saw this land as home as much as the Jews, either of Palestine or from the diaspora, ever did, and had as much right to it. This book is the story of that journey, as she takes the reader through her gradual awakening to the full complexities of the history of this troubled region and her agonised process of reassessment of the country she still loves and feels inextricably drawn towards.

(Two sides to every story)

One of the things Donahaye talks about is the renaming of Arab villages after they had been cleared of their occupants, to give them Hebrew names and to, in some cases, suggest links back to the Biblical era. This reminds me of…

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. When John Ames learns he doesn’t have much longer to live, he takes up his pen to write to his young son, to tell him some of the things he would have liked to tell him in person as he grew up. As Ames writes, it is 1956, so his personal recollections take him back to the end of the previous century, but his knowledge of his family history allows him to go back a few decades further, to the Civil War and the struggle for the abolition of slavery. A beautifully written book, full of emotional truth.

Well, I can imagine him beyond the world, looking back at me with an amazement of realisation – “This is why we have lived this life!” There are a thousand, thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.

* * * * *

So Golden to Robinson, via courtesans, Shanghai, Peking, Shrewsbury, the Holy Lands and Biblical place names!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

46 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – From Golden to…

  1. An absolutely super journey, FF! I particularly like the Chinese courtesan’s observations on old men. How inconsiderate of them to die, especially suddenly! The Machine Stops is a terrifying book in it’s accuracy, isn’t it? I didn’t know Cadfael had a soldiering youth, the rogue! A series on the adventures of a young Cadfael is most definitely called for!

  2. This is very clever, FictionFan! I like the way you’ve got that thread of different places running through this. And of course, I love Cadfael, so, very nice to see him (and Derek Jacobi!) get a mention. Amy Tan, too. Well done!

    • Thank you! I must admit never have a clue where my chain is going to go, but after the first few all linked by place, I thought I’d try to stick to it. Yes, it’s been way too long since I read a Cadfael novel – this has reminded me to get back to him soon… 😀

    • Ha – it’s odd how sometimes these chains are easy and sometimes impossible. I’ve got so badly stuck a few times, I’ve had to go right back to the beginning and head in a different direction all together. But I do enjoy doing them! The Forster story is amazing – just like how things might be in another couple of decades if we keep heading in the direction we’re currently going… 😱

  3. Quite the journey there! Well done!

    I love Brother Cadfael. I think there is only a couple of the books by Ellis Peters that I haven’t read. Will be interested in your thoughts of the Cadfael book. Did you see the series with Sir Derek? One of my favorites!

    • Thanks – glad you enjoyed it! 😀 I think I read most if not all the Cadfaels over the years but it’s been too long since I revisited them. This has reminded me to get back to them soon! Yes, I loved the TV series – in fact, it may have been that that started my fan-worship of the wonderful Sir Derek. I may have to watch them again too!

  4. What a good job you did with your chain! I always find it so very interesting the links provided and also how many of the books mentioned by others are unfamiliar to me. I love doing this event each month!

    • Thanks – glad you enjoyed it! Me too – I find it so much fun seeing how different all the chains always are. And it makes me realise that, even though I feel as if I read a lot, there are zillions of excellent books still to get to…

    • Ha – I know – I felt as if I was jumping around all over the world and all over the genres this month. Good fun! Gilead is definitely worth making time for – I really must read more of her books… *sighs*

  5. Wow, now I feel well-traveled!! I’ve read several of Amy Tan’s books and found them most interesting; however, I haven’t read The Valley of Amazement. Gilead, of course, is still on my TBR, too. Love how clever this challenge forces one to be!

    • Thanks – glad you enjoyed it! Haha – I know – I seemed to be jumping around all over the world this month! That’s the only one of Tan’s that I’ve read – as usual, I meant to read others, but haven’t found the time yet. Same with Gilead – I loved it and keep meaning to read her other books too… *sighs*

    • Thanks – glad you enjoyed it! Ha – I never have a clue where my chain is going to go but this time it was fun going all over the world and through all the different genres… 😀

    • Haha – I did begin to feel a little travel sick halfway through, and was glad to reach home again at the end. This international travelling can be exhausting… 😉

  6. Great chain this month – I haven’t read any of those books, but all of them sound interesting! I have actually just finished reading my first Cadfael book, so I liked the Shrewsbury link 🙂

    • Thank you – glad you enjoyed it! Yes, I liked all of these books and some I loved, and I always prefer when my chain is full of books I enjoyed. Oh, I love the Cadfael books – they used to be my go-to comfort reading for years. Doing this has made me miss him badly – I need to get back to him soon… 😀

  7. You’ve recommended The Machine Stops before and I’m keen to read it. Midnight in Peking sounds interesting too. If you had said at the beginning that you would end with Gilead I wouldn’t have believed you!

    • It’s years since I read Midnight in Peking and I don’t remember a huge amount about the actual case, but I do vividly remember the picture he painted of Peking at that moment in time. Haha – I wouldn’t have believed me either – I never have a clue where my chains are going to go… 😀

  8. What a great chain! You have an Amy Tan that’s new to me and the Forster leaves me speechless – simply not the sort of thing I associate with him, and eerily prescient. I admit, I’m very tempted. I WILL read Gilead one day soon, and regretfully I’ve never managed to watch or read any Cadfael despite the lure of lovely Derek. I really must do something about that. But the stand out book in your chain for me is the Donahaye which sounds compelling. It’s such fun doing these chains, isn’t it. You just never know where they’re going to go 🙂

    • The Forster is incredible – and short! It’s worth reading just to see how scarily accurate it is. Gilead is a lovely book that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Losing Israel was an intriguing read, indeed – well worth seeking out! Haha – I never even know where my own chain is going, much less anyone else’s… 😉

  9. When life is too full and the brain is too stretched, I turn to Cadfael. Luckily it’s a 20 book series so I haven’t had to start re-reading yet 🙂

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