Bergie’s Books

Bears in the Streets by Lisa Dickey

The author travels to Russia over a 20 year period, visiting the same people. Her experiences track the changes in Russia from Soviet communism to Putin in a warm, personal way. Sometimes a bit annoying when she tries to have more anxieties than the locals do. 71/100

Chasing the Sea by Tom Bissell

Interesting book about the beautiful country of Uzbekistan. The author initially goes there to write about the disappearing Aral Sea but gets distracted by other places and some interesting local characters. Like many American travel writers, he just has to tell you about his irrelevant love life and personal trauma. 67/100

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

Had to read something Japanese while in Japan and this was my choice. Probably the poorest Murakami book, I found it irritating and pointless and hated all the characters but still has the distinctive Murakami weirdness of course. 40/100

Australian Gypsies: their secret history by Mandy Sayer

Fantastic history of the Roma people in Australia. Starting with brewer James Squire, the Roma or Gypsies have been here since 1788, coming from many different countries and doing everything from the traditional carnival shows through to trades. Lots of fantastic, entertaining and sometimes tragic stories of these people, probably the most persecuted in the world at the moment apart from the Kurds and Rohingya. However Australia has always treated them well (which is a change). 80/100

Reckoning by Magda Szubanski

Powerful and well written autobiography, but don’t think that it will be like a comedic work. It deals with her relationship with her father and her homosexuality in large doses. Loved the accounts of Melbounre suburbia and the contrasts with the horrors of WW2 Poland. 77/100

A horse walks into a bar by David Grossman

This won the MAN Booker International Prize but was very disappointing. A standup comedian goes to pieces on stage as he makes public his life. It all reads like a stretched out short story with lots of freudian themes. Don’t expect much in the way of social or political comment, or jokes you haven’t heard. 55/100

Salki by Wojciech Nowicki

If you thought that Eastern Europe was a sad depressing place, full of families suffering tragedies, and miserable impoverished towns, this book will make you think you are right. Hard to know if it is fiction or travel, these recollections of family and travel have a hypnotic effect and despite the misery are strangely soothing. 65/100

 Island People by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

If only all travel/social history type books were like this. Endlessly fascinating and insightful, I was constantly wanting to do further research on all the amazing facts and people and places that are uncovered. The author makes a great case for how significant Caribbean culture has been and remains. 90/100

The cyclist who went out in the cold by Tim Moore

This should have been funny and interesting but it isn’t, unlike many of his books. Half the book is just the author stupidly riding through Finland in freezing conditions, and then he covers the rest of Central and Eastern Europe in a rush. The whole concept of riding a ridiculous tiny East German bike is just such a fake gimmick it ruins the whole book. 41/100

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

An unusual novel juxtaposing possibly the most annoying fictional family ever with the collapse of the Middle East and Israel. Sometimes it seems like Portnoys Complaint meets HBO, and it strangely seems to be winding up half way through the book, giving it the longest conclusion in literary history. Some fine writing and good ideas but I can’t imagine anyone that isn’t American Jewish getting much out of this. Perhaps less of the middle class intellectual divorce and more of the middle East crisis would have made it more accessible.  52/100

Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh

Nasty guy from Trainspotting, Frank Begbie has reinvented himself as a Californian sculptor. But when he returns to Scotland for his estranged son’s funeral, well, you can guess it from here. Enjoyed this a lot up until the final chapters. 85/100

Country in the Moon by Michael Moran

This is really two books in one, a travelogue of Poland, especially the Vistula river, and an account of the author’s time running a college in rural Poland. The travelogue stuff was interesting, the work stuff a yawn. A bit too much about classical music too for my liking. 62/100

The Romanovs 1613 – 1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore

HBO would have a field day turning this excellent history book into a TV series. It has everything – alcohol and drug abuse, orgies, sex scandals, bizarre rituals, crazy religious nutters, battles and political intrigue. And yet it is all true and well referenced. An incredible epic story of some of Russia’s most famous rulers with unusual insight into their home life as well as their successes and blunders from Paris to Japan. 89/100

Indonesia Etc by Elizabeth Pisani

Insightful account of the author’s journeys around the many islands of Indonesia. It feels like it was heavily edited and there is so much that seems to be missing from this book, especially the last chapters. The sections dealing with the eastern islands are especially interesting, as is the workings of politics and business and the bizarre mash of traditional and Islamic traditions. 75/100

Mirrors of the Unseen by Jason Elliot

Having just returned from Iran, this was a good conclusion to my time there. The author, who I must say is a bit of a dag, observes many things we ourselves remarked upon, especially the ugliness of the towns of modern Iran, and the duplicities of life there. The book is at its best in the more obscure places, such as Tabriz and the Iraq border, and at its worst when he muses and drones on about Iranian art and his endless preoccupation with the mosques of Esfahan. 67/100

 All That Man Is by David Szalay

Most reviews of this interesting book see it as about men and masculinity, but really it is more about modern Europe than about men. Intriguing writing style and topical, punchy stories make this an interesting collection. But is it a novel, as the Booker people considered it to be? 81/100

Ali and Nino by Kurban Said

Absolutely beautiful book, at its heart it is a love story, but it is also a tribute to the unique cultures of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran, a political thriller and an examination of cultural and social conflict. Full of wit, nostalgia and at times anger and violence, this seems so modern for a book published in the 1930s. Looking forward to the recently released movie, though disappointed about the casting, especially a 30 year old actress to play 17 year old Nino! 91/100

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

A really good story spoilt in many ways by the author’s desire to show how much he knows about medicine and far too much detail about surgical procedures. The setting in Ethiopia is fascinating, and the links with South India make it even more so. Lots of plot twists too, but the graphic surgery is a bit too much. 77/100