Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

I recently finished The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, another book from the Ontario Library Association's 2011 Evergreen list. John Vaillant's book about the Amur tiger takes the reader into the most remote regions of Far East Russia. It provides an in-depth and fascinating examination of the psyches of both the tiger and the people living in these isolated Russian communities in post-Perestroika times.

There are a number of interesting human and tigrine characters, but the main ones are Yuri Trush, who works for a government agency set up to protect the Amur tiger, and the man-eating tiger he is charged with destroying. Though this is a work of non-fiction, it often reads like a mystery/thriller, as predator stalks prey, with tiger and human interchanging roles.

Vaillant often veers from the main story to talk about the history of tiger hunting in Asia. He succeeds in conveying to us the significant environmental impact of this practice without being overly preachy. My only complaint is that the audiobook version was narrated by the author. The narration was tolerable but subpar compared to that of narrators professionally trained for the job. Otherwise, this book is well worth a read (or a listen).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Elizabeth I by Margaret George

I devoured Jean Plaidy's historical novels as a teenager and was thrilled to receive a review copy of Elizabeth I by American novelist Margaret George from Penguin Canada. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel that covers the second half of Elizabeth I's life, starting from the attack of the Spanish Armada. Narrated in turn by Elizabeth and Lettice Knollys, lifelong enemy of the queen because of their shared love for Robert Dudley, the people and events of the era are seen through the eyes of these older, more mature and reflective women.

Though the novel is ostensibly about Elizabeth, the more poignant story for me is that of the rise and fall of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, son of Lettice and a favourite of Elizabeth. Like a Shakespearean hero with a tragic flaw, Essex manufactures his own downfall through his pride and sense of entitlement. Shakespeare himself is a major character in this novel. While much of what he says and does may be speculation on George's part, her portrayal of his character is entirely consistent with what I would expect, or perhaps hope, he had been like.

Coincidentally, when I received this book, Kate was doing a unit on historical fiction at school. She is a huge fan of Tudor history and insisted on reading it herself, though I had some doubts whether she'd be able to get through the almost-700 pages. Clearly, the characters and plot were engaging enough to keep her attention, as she did finish it, and we will both look for more of Margaret George's work.