Open Book Group
Friends of Balmain Library Open Book Group read from a wide variety of literature and regularly meets for an enjoyable discussion and debate about the book chosen for the month. We are always open to new members.
The following have been selected for future meetings in 2020
11th February 2020 - The Buried : An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution by Peter Hessler
Fascinated by Egypt’s rich history, Peter Hessler moved with his family to Cairo just after the Arab Spring had begun.
In the midst of the revolution, he attached himself to an important archaeological dig at a site known as The Buried. In Cairo, he got to know a young gay Egyptian who struggled with pressures from the police and society. Hessler and his wife also struck up a friendship with their Arabic-language instructor, Rifaat, a cynical political sophisticate who helped explain the country’s turmoil. And a different kind of friendship was formed with their illiterate garbage collector, Sayyid, whose access to the refuse of Cairo is another kind of archaeological excavation.
Through the lives of ordinary Egyptians, Hessler creates a richly textured portrait of a revolution and the people swept up in it, drawing connections between contemporary politics and the ancient past. The Buried is a work of uncompromising intelligence and glorious humanity: an extraordinary achievement that unearths a new world for the reader.
10th March 2020 - Small Island by Andrea Levy
Small Island is an international bestseller. It won the Orange Prize for Fiction, The Orange Prize for Fiction: Best of the Best, The Whitbread Novel Award, The Whitbread Book of the Year Award, and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. It has now been adapted for the screen as a coproduction of the BBC and Masterpiece/WGBH Boston.
Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer's daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve.
Told in these four voices, Small Island is a courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers---in short, an encapsulation of that most American of experiences: the immigrant's life.
14th April 2020 - Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.
At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.
At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.
As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.
12th May 2020 - The Weekend by Charlotte Wood
The brilliant new novel from Charlotte Wood, acclaimed author of The Natural Way of Things.
People went on about death bringing friends together, but it wasn't true. The graveyard, the stony dirt - that's what it was like now . . . Despite the three women knowing each other better than their own siblings, Sylvie's death had opened up strange caverns of distance between them.
Four older women have a lifelong friendship of the best kind: loving, practical, frank and steadfast. But when Sylvie dies, the ground shifts dangerously for the remaining three. Can they survive together without her?
They are Jude, a once-famous restaurateur, Wendy, an acclaimed public intellectual, and Adele, a renowned actress now mostly out of work. Struggling to recall exactly why they've remained close all these years, the grieving women gather for Christmas at Sylvie's old beach house - not for festivities, but to clean the place out before it is sold.
Without Sylvie to maintain the group's delicate equilibrium, frustrations build and painful memories press in. Fraying tempers, an elderly dog, unwelcome guests and too much wine collide in a storm that brings long-buried hurts to the surface - and threatens to sweep away their friendship for good.
The Weekend explores growing old and growing up, and what happens when we're forced to uncover the lies we tell ourselves. Sharply observed and excruciatingly funny, this is a jewel of a book: a celebration of tenderness and friendship that is nothing short of a masterpiece.
'A compelling and vivid look at the friendships we make as women. Honest, unsettling and, like all good literature, had me asking questions about life and myself.'
Heather Rose, author of The Museum of Modern Love, winner of the 2017 Stella Prize
9th June 2020 - Milkman by Anna Burns
In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes 'interesting'. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.
Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.
14th July 2020 - In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
IN OUR MAD AND FURIOUS CITY follows three young men on a London council estate over two days when suddenly everything is at stake
*WINNER OF THE JHALAK PRIZE, THE INTERNATIONAL DYLAN THOMAS PRIZE AND THE AUTHORS' CLUB BEST FIRST NOVEL AWARD*
*LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE*
*SHORTLISTED FOR THE GOLDSMITHS PRIZE AND THE GORDON BURN*
'I was gripped... remarkable' Robert Macfarlane, Guardian Books of the Year
'A novel that doesn't flinch, and demands change right now' Ali Smith
'A novel so of this moment that you don't even realize you've waited your whole life for it' Marlon James
For Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf, growing up under the towers of Stones Estate, summer means what it does anywhere: football, music and freedom. But now, after the killing of a British soldier, riots are spreading across the city, and nowhere is safe.
While the fury swirls around them, Selvon and Ardan remain focused on their own obsessions, girls and grime. Their friend Yusuf is caught up in a different tide, a wave of radicalism surging through his local mosque, threatening to carry his troubled brother, Irfan, with it.
11th August 2020 - Girl, Women, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Teeming with energy, humour and heart, a love song to black Britain told by twelve very different women.
Winner of the Booker Prize 2019.
Teeming with life and crackling with energy, told through many distinctive voices, this novel follows the lives of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. Joyfully polyphonic and sparklingly contemporary, Girl, Woman, Other is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
8th September 2020 - Buckley’s Chance by Garry Linnell
The greatest Australian story never told - until now.
He fought Napoleon’s army and survived.
He was sent to the gallows and escaped the noose.
Now he is in chains and on his way to the other side of the world. What happens next will become one of the most remarkable survival stories in history.
The 19th century has just begun. The world is at war. England, ruled by a mad king, is exiling thousands of criminals to an old land that has become its newest dumping ground.
One of those prisoners is William Buckley, barely 21, a former soldier sentenced to life for stealing two small pieces of cloth. He’s a giant for his times. But it’s not just his towering frame that sets him apart. It’s his desire for freedom that will make his story so unique - even in an era famous for outrageous acts of bravery and heroism.
On a moonlit night Buckley escapes and disappears into the Australian bush. Discovered and adopted by an aboriginal tribe who regard him as a ghost, he is initiated into their rich and complex culture. Given up for dead by his white captors, he will not be seen again for more than 30 years until he emerges one day...carrying a spear, dressed in animal skins and having forgotten the English language.
Buckley’s Chance is a profound journey into a turning point in history where cultures clash, bitter rivals go to war and the body count mounts.
It’s also the story of a man who refuses to be held down.
A man prepared to defy all odds and take a chance.
13th October 2020 - Your Blue Eyed Boy by Helen Dunmore
Simone is 38, a district judge whose husband Donald is on the verge of bankruptcy and breakdown. Whilst she is at court, passing judgement on the lives of others, Donald stays at home and looks after their two young sons. One morning a letter arrives; someone she has tried to forget has not forgotten her and Simone's private history is about to collide with her public world.
10th November 2020 - The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power
Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power, widely known as a relentless advocate for promoting human rights, has been heralded by President Barack Obama as one of America's "foremost thinkers on foreign policy."
In her memoir, Power offers an urgent response to the question "What can one person do?"—and a call for a clearer eye, a kinder heart, and a more open and civil hand in our politics and daily lives. The Education of an Idealist traces Power’s distinctly American journey from immigrant to war correspondent to presidential Cabinet official. In 2005, her critiques of US foreign policy caught the eye of newly elected senator Barack Obama, who invited her to work with him on Capitol Hill and then on his presidential campaign. After Obama was elected president, Power went from being an activist outsider to a government insider, navigating the halls of power while trying to put her ideals into practice. She served for four years as Obama’s human rights adviser, and in 2013, he named her US Ambassador to the United Nations, the youngest American to assume the role.
A Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, Power transports us from her childhood in Dublin to the streets of war-torn Bosnia to the White House Situation Room and the world of high-stakes diplomacy. The Education of an Idealist lays bare the battles and defining moments of her life and shows how she juggled the demands of a 24/7 national security job with the challenge of raising two young children. Along the way, she illuminates the intricacies of politics and geopolitics, reminding us how the United States can lead in the world, and why we each have the opportunity to advance the cause of human dignity.
8th December 2020 - The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes
The Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending takes us on a rich, witty tour of Belle Epoque Paris, via the life story of the pioneering surgeon Samuel Pozzi
In the summer of 1885, three Frenchmen arrived in London for a few days’ shopping. One was a Prince, one was a Count, and the third was a commoner with an Italian name, who four years earlier had been the subject of one of John Singer Sargent’s greatest portraits. The commoner was Samuel Pozzi, society doctor, pioneer gynaecologist and free-thinker – a rational and scientific man with a famously complicated private life.
Pozzi's life played out against the backdrop of the Parisian Belle Epoque. The beautiful age of glamour and pleasure more often showed its ugly side: hysterical, narcissistic, decadent and violent, a time of rampant prejudice and blood-and-soil nativism, with more parallels to our own age than we might imagine.
The Man in the Red Coat is at once a fresh and original portrait of the Belle Epoque – its heroes and villains, its writers, artists and thinkers – and a life of a man ahead of his time. Witty, surprising and deeply researched, the new book from Julian Barnes illuminates the fruitful and longstanding exchange of ideas between Britain and France, and makes a compelling case for keeping that exchange alive.
9th February 2021 - The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvey
When her elderly mother is hospitalised after an accident, Vicki is summoned to her parents' isolated and run-down ranch home in Alberta, Canada, to care for her father. She has been estranged from her parents for many years (the reasons for which become quickly clear) and is horrified by what she discovers on her arrival.
For years her mother has suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness but carefully hidden her delusions and unpredictable behaviour behind a carefully guarded mask, and has successfully isolated herself and her husband from all their friends. But once in hospital her mask begins to crack and her actions leave everyone baffled and confused ... and eventually scared for their lives.
Meanwhile Vicki's father, who has been systematically starved and harruanged for years, and kept virtually a prisoner in his own home, begins to realise what has happened to him and embarks upon plans of his own to combat his wife.
The ensuing power play between the two takes a dramatic turn and leaves Vicki stuck in the middle of a bizarre and ludicrously strange family dilemma. All this makes for an intensely gripping, yet black-humoured family drama which will leave you on the edge of your seat.