The Book Page II

I have read some very varied reviews of this book. Some found it side-splittingly funny while others saw it as a shameless depiction of all that is worst about illegal immigration and bogus marriage. For my part, I had been looking forward to reading it, intrigued by that strange title, so I was delighted to find it on the book table at a U3A meeting.


It is the story of Pappa, who shocks his two daughters, Nadia (the story-teller) and Vera, by falling in love with and marrying a glamorous Ukrainian divorcee with "superior Botticellian breasts". The daughters, who had been estranged for years after falling out over their mother's will, find themselves somewhat unwillingly reunited in a bid to save their father from himself - and from the voluptuous Valentina.


Valentina is a certainly a character - and even while acknowledging that this could, indeed, be seen as a tale of oppression and victimisation, I have to say that I found it very funny. Add to the mix a cast of other, equally large as life characters and you have a rich pudding of a book with the eccentric Pappa (author of The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian) at its centre.


Alongside the humour, there is poignancy, too, in the relationship between the two sisters as they seek to rescue their father from Valentina's ample embrace. They discover, along the way, how the events of their early lives - so starkly different - have shaped their outlooks on life. Vera is the War Baby, born in conflict, experiencing unspeakable horrors in a war-time labour camp. Nadia is the Peace Baby, born in a country of kindness and free cod liver oil. I loved the passages towards the end of the novel which explained what, and where and why. The author, Marina Lewycka, is a Ukrainian, born in a refugee camp in Kiel, who grew up in England and I wondered how much of her own parents' history she wove into her story. 


In short, I found this an extremely readable, very funny, enjoyable book which made me laugh and cry. I just loved the ending which was one of those uplifting conclusions which makes you smile for the rest of the day as you think of it. Perfect!

My main complaint about The Beginner's Goodbye is that it it just SO short! I read it in a sitting and really, really didn't want it to end so soon.


The book tells the story of Aaron whose wife, Dorothy, dies in a tragic accident - but then starts appearing in the oddest places.  Because Dorothy is already dead when the story begins, the reader has to form a view on what she might have been like from odd comments here and there. Aaron, who has disabilities which he refuses to recognise as limiting, loved her because she, too, ignored his handicaps. Which sounds callous, but clearly wasn't as far as Aaron was concerned.


The emptiness which comes with the sudden loss of a partner is put over particularly strongly, especially the difficulty of forming and maintaining relationships when the one person you are closest to is not there anymore. Nandina, Aaron's sister, is his back-stop and the flowering of her unlikely relationship with the builder hired to rebuild Aaron's shattered house is unexpectedly sweet.


The name of the book derives from the range of self-help books published by the firm where Aaron works. There is a Beginner's Guide to almost everything, it seems - even, for Aaron, learning to say goodbye to the one person he loved the most. Though, as the story unfolds, he discovers he didn't know as much about her as he thought. And for us readers, who never knew Dorothy when she was alive, her sudden "appearances" help us form in our minds a complex but strangely likeable character. For Aaron the strange sightings are his second chance to understand his lost wife - and in learning more about her, he is able to let her go so that he can move on into a new life (though I was a bit surprised at the rather neat ending.)


So, yes, I enjoyed The Beginner's Goodbye. I just hope Anne Tyler's next book is a little bit longer...

My brother-in-law, Baz, said I had to read this book. I managed to find it on Amazon for the amazing price of £1.19, including post and packing. What a bargain! Though, having read it, I have to say I'd have paid full price for this book, it's a great read.


Set in an English village, home for the duration of World War 2 to a US airforce base, the book has a somewhat disturbing first chapter which, while introducing the reader to a number of potentially interesting characters, had an ending steeped (quite literally) in gore. This, combined with very full descriptions of flying missions (author Robert Radcliffe was himself a pilot so these descriptions ring with authenticity) made me wonder, early on, if I was going to enjoy the book.


But gradually the story of the crew of Flying Fortress Misbehavin' Martha, claimed me completely. Led by pilot Matt Hooper "Hoop" the crew must complete 24 dangerous bombing missions over enemy territory before they can call it a day and return to their homeland having been deemed to have "done their bit". But this is 1943 and the attrition rate is frighteningly huge. Their chances of making it through are desperately slim. Hoop has his own cross to bear - he believes himself responsible for the death of the first crew he commanded. He dedicates himself to trying to secure the safety of Martha's crew and gradually builds them into a cohesive, close and comradely band of brothers. Quite a feat, because it was this crew whose first ever mission was reported in that gory first chapter I mentioned above - described, chillingly, as "from milk-run to blood-bath in a couple of seconds." Hoop has his work cut out for him. 


The book interlinks the fragile lives of the airmen with the more mundane lives of the villagers of Bedenham.  There is the local school teacher, Heather, whose husband is missing and who falls in love with Hoop. And a street-wise young evacuee, Billy, who is "adopted" by the airmen and makes a few extra shillings by meeting their needs for bicycles and - too strange not to be true! - pet cats.  Robert Radcliffe is a born story-teller and manages to create well-rounded and believable characters among both air crews and villagers.


Some of the reviews of this book I have read have dismissed the ending as being trite and unbelievable.  I have to say I loved it. I wanted to know what happened to all the characters I had grown to know and love. I needed to know, for sure, what happened to Misbehavin' Martha.  And, after reading of so much death and destruction in the skies above England, France and Germany as these brave airmen fought for their lives and their country - well, I felt I (and they) deserved a happy ending.

Latest comments

28.12 | 07:41

This wonderful blog has summed up the true meaning of A Christmas Day. Once the dread of a restricted day had sunk in, other ways were invented. Thank you

22.12 | 09:20

So sorry to hear that Brian is in hospital. It would be bad at any time but at present....... It must be true agony for you. You'll both be in my thoughts. xx

22.08 | 02:02


I'll be able to help you with information on the usher's as Thomas Henry Usher is my aunt's ancestor as well can you please email me so we can talk

22.08 | 02:00

Hi Karen,

I thought I would try again to see if I can get a response from you again please email me so we can talk further. My email is:

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