Brushstrokes in Time – Sylvia Vetta

Brushstrokes in Time – Sylvia Vetta

“I come into this world

Bringing only paper, rope, a shadow.”

My Bank Holiday Monday has not quite gone the way I expected it to. I had planned a Spring clean, preparations for the coming week at work, perhaps a walk. None of this has yet happened. I have instead read, from start to finish, Brushstrokes in Time by Sylvia Vetta.

The story, based (heart-wrenchingly) on real-life events, is set in China and spans decades, through the 1950s to the 1990s. Prior to reading this book, I had not considered life in this period as particularly difficult in China. I was born in 1988, and this struggle has been invisible to me before now. Of course, I have seen the image of the solitary man in Tiananmen Square holding up the tanks, but I didn’t know the reasons for this, nor had I considered the human stories behind it.

As with all my reviews, I do not wish to give the plot away here (the joy of reading a story is discovery, surely?) but to briefly overview – we follow a young woman who just wants to experience the joy and beauty in the world. Perhaps unwittingly, she becomes a scapegoat for a regime which is violently and embarrassingly lacking in self-confidence by this time.

By the time I finished reading, I (normally stone-hearted, as anyone who knows me will tell you) was wiping tears from my face. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the story is that our main character was relaying her life story to her daughter, born in America and unaware of the struggles her immigrant mother had faced.

A truly human story, in equal measures enlightening and disheartening. I read this story as an ebook but will be purchasing a physical copy for my bookcase so I don’t forget it.

8.5/10

Brushstrokes in Time

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30 Books To Read Before You’re 30 (part two)

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This is part two of my list of 30 books to read before you’re 30 (the big day is coming around all too quickly for me…). If you haven’t read part one, you can find it here. So, without further delay, here are numbers 16 – 30:

16. The Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemingway

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This is a beautiful, calming story which really put my life and petty worries into perspective. A joy of a book.

The Old Man and the Sea

17. Animal Farm – George Orwell

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” – need I say any more? Everyone has heard of this novel, and everyone should read it.

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (Penguin Modern Classics)

18. Dracula – Bram Stoker

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What a story! This book chilled me to the bone and showed me the true power of horror writing.

Dracula: The Original Edition

19. Jane Eyre -Charlotte Bronte

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This book is here – not only because I love everything by the Brontes – but also because it taught me how I didn’t want to behave in a relationship. I saw Jane as a pushover, and knew I could never act that way – though even so the ending makes my knees weak!

Jane Eyre (Wordsworth Classics)

20. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

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I couldn’t include Jane Eyre without the antithesis Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth taught me to be brave and speak my mind, regardless of what friends and family might be saying.

Pride and Prejudice (Wordsworth Classics)

21. The Book Thief – Marcus Zusac

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A stunning but absolutely heartbreaking story. I read it when the book came out and it has stayed with me ever since – although I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it again.

The Book Thief (Definitions Young Adult)

22. Ulysses – James Joyce

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This looks daunting because of its length, but the stream of consciousness made me feel for the first time ever as though I was in someone else’s head. Disquieting!

Ulysses

23. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

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Beautiful and moving, this book made me think deeply about love, the futility of war, parenthood and numerous other themes.

Birdsong

24. MacBeth – William Shakespeare

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My favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, this is rife with action, exciting characters (who doesn’t know about Lade Macbeth or the witches?) and plenty of memorable quotes. Everyone should read at least one Shakespeare play, and this is the best.

Macbeth (Wordsworth Classics)

25. American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis American Psycho

Oh, what a book. This taught me that a book can be far more entertaining than a horror movie. Review here.

American Psycho

26. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

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This book should be part of the National Curriculum. As it’s not, read it before you’re 30.

The Diary of a Young Girl: Definitive Edition

27. The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch

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The last lecture Randy Pausch gave before he died, this will make you rethink everything and realise what you truly value in life.

The Last Lecture

28. Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

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An honest depiction of mental illnesses and their effect on everyone. Review here.

Norwegian Wood

29. Les Liaisons Dangereuses- Choderlos de Laclos

Les Liaisons Dangereuses choderlos de laclos dangerous Liaisons

This book is not just here for the story – it’s also for the political and social outrage and change words can cause. Banned in many countries, it eventually led the way to a societal shift on how sex and adultery were understood.

Les Liaisons dangereuses (Oxford World’s Classics)

30. The Harry Potter series – J. K. Rowling

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I couldn’t write this list without including Harry Potter, and I couldn’t choose between those books either. They all have to be here. I grew up with these, and they have shaped the person I am today.

Harry Potter Box Set: The Complete Collection (Children’s Paperback)

I hope you’ve enjoyed the list. Let me know if you think there are any I’ve missed!

30 Books To Read Before You’re 30 (part one)

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With my 30th birthday looming soon, I’ve compiled a list of the books I think are important to read before you’re 30. Some are on the list for the intellectual development they provide, some simply for the pure joy of their entertainment. In no particular order, here is part one…(part two here)

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy

Laugh out loud funny! This is one of those books I finished and went straight back to the beginning. I read it as an angst filled teenage whilst listening to Kashmir by Led Zeppelin – perfection.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

2. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

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Heathcliff 😍 The ultimate anti-hero, but such a real and gritty character. The Story is as bleak as the moors it is set on – truly heartbreaking.

Wuthering Heights (Wordsworth Classics)

3. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

How to win friends and influence people

When I got my first job, my boss gave me this book as a gift and it completely changed how I view people, relationships and confidence. Although it’s a bit cheesy now, it’s a must read!

How to Win Friends and Influence People

4. The Beautiful and Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald

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I spent a lot of time during my poor early twenties wishing for a lottery win. I thought it would solve all of my problems – I wouldn’t believe anyone who said any different. This was the book which made me realise life with money isn’t automatically better.

The Beautiful and the Damned

5. Once – Morris Gleitzman

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This book truly made me understand proper human suffering – witnessing the Holocaust through the eyes of a Jewish child. A must read for anyone. Review here

Once (Once/Now/Then/After)

6. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

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Thought provoking, heart breaking and truly unforgettable.

Never Let Me Go

7. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

The handmaid's tale - Margaret atwood

A dystopian society which could easily happen. A must read for any feminist. Your vote counts. Review here

The Handmaid’s Tale (Contemporary Classics)

8. Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers

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This book caused a huge shift in my thinking. I saw there was no point in being frozen in place by imagined anxieties and fears. Feel the fear, and do it anyway!

Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway: How to Turn Your Fear and Indecision into Confidence and Action

9. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

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I read this book as a privileged white teenager. Although I knew racism was bad, I wasn’t able to consider the effects it could have on a person until I read this book.

Invisible Man (Penguin Modern Classics)

10. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

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I never knew books could be so twisted and dangerous until I read this book…it opened my eyes to a whole new world of literature and the vile depths of human imagination.

The Wasp Factory

11. Inferno -Dante

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The beauty of the language in Dante’s Inferno is truly worth a read. Hugely entertaining and twisted.

Inferno

12. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

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We are sold an image of war which is different to the reality. The fact that soldiers may be scared and trying to escape the front line was frowned upon when this book was published. A must read.

Catch-22: 50th Anniversary Edition

13. The Catcher In The Rye – J. D. Salinger

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A coming of age novel really, this is a quick read and such a good one. Rarely does a character come to life like this.

The Catcher in the Rye

14. Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien

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An immersive fantasy tale – recommended for any age.

The Lord of The Rings (Based on the 50th Anniversary Single volume edition 2004)

15. Gormenghast – Mervin Peake

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This series is so often overlooked, it’s a tragedy! One of my mum’s favourites, it always reminds me of her. Important for any fantasy fan.

The Gormenghast Trilogy

Ready for part two? Click here!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

The handmaid's tale - Margaret atwood

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

This book has been in the media a lot recently because of a new adaptation coming soon to television (or is it out already? I’m usually a few months behind when it comes to tv…). I read it recently and have struggled to shake the uncomfortable feeling I’ve had ever since.

We follow a handmaid in what, initially, seems to be some kind of historical, alternate universe. Her life is one dimensional and difficult to understand. It is only as we move further through the story and begin to receive flashbacks that the true horror is revealed – this is not a historical story at all, this is the future. And worse; people chose the societal structure that our handmaid is now living in. I won’t tell you why her life is so terrible- you’ll have to read the book to find out – but it truly is unsettling.

As I read the book only recently, I couldn’t help but draw similarities between the flashback society and our own. Divisiveness and nationalism are strong themes, and it is so easy to imagine a country slipping, almost without warning, into the awful situation our handmaid’s country is in.

I can’t say I enjoyed every moment of reading the book – it is too disquieting for that – but it is one that I strongly believe everyone should read, to remember the responsibilities we have.

8/10

 The Handmaid’s Tale (Contemporary Classics)