Halfway through the first month of 2018, and I have completed exactly two books. That's it. If I plan on completing my goal of 100 books this year, I need to get cracking.
In my defense, I was traveling for a week right after Christmas (will post photos soon), and we had a houseguest for another week, which included more travel (day trips to Trier, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg). But now the weather is cold and windy, and it's a good time to hide in my burrow and read those stacks of books.
So. My first book of 2018 was Christopher and Columbus, a rather oddly titled humorous novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. It was the first book on my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge list, so that was a good place to start. And though it is a charming book, the only explorers are in the metaphorical sense.
Published in 1919, Christopher and Columbus is the story of 17-year-old twin sisters, Anna-Rose and Anna-Felicitas. It's set in the early part of WWI, and the twins, orphaned, half German and half English, are living rather uncomfortably in England with an aunt who loves them and an uncle who does not, in a town where the presence of anything remotely German is suspect. Though their mother was very English and they mostly grew up in England, they look German, sound German (a great many mentions of their inability to lose the German "R"); and have a German last name -- von Twinkler.
Not surprisingly, the unhappy uncle by marriage decides that the anti-German sentiment is too high, and the twins must go. He packs them off to America, which has not yet entered the war, with 200 pounds and letters of introduction to friends in Boston and California. On board ship, though they are traveling second-class, Anna-Rose and Anna-Felicitas find a savior and protector during a ship's emergency -- Mr. Twist, a thirtysomething bachelor without much hair but with lots of money. This sounds like it could become sordid very quickly, but in fact, Mr. Edward Twist is a kind and noble soul. Though he made pots of money inventing a dripless teapot, he is taking a break from driving an ambulance for the war effort, returning to America to visit his widowed mother.
|Elizabeth von Arnim. Not Mr. Twist's mother.|
Overall, I enjoyed this book, though I did find the twins a little twee. They didn't seem to have much character development other than their fondness for each other, and for their beautiful golden ringlets. Yes, it's the nineteen teens, but these girls felt more like 12 year olds than 17 year olds. Plus, there is the underlying ick factor of these 17 year old girls -- Mr. Twist may have had the noblest of intentions, but there are other men in the book who clearly do not. There's also some racism regarding people of color they meet along the way, all of whom are in service positions, particularly a Chinese cook. The book does make some very good points about the anti-German sentiment which is not as surprising given the anti-immigrant feeling in the world today.
Of course, everything turns out all right in the end. I've now read six of von Arnim's works, and would rate this about the middle of the pack. If you are a fan, you will probably enjoy this book, but I don't know if I'd recommend it as a first read if you've never read her before.
This is one I've been thinking I should re-read. I was underwhelmed the first time, I thought the twins were a bit twee as well, but their situation was so terrible. As I remember, EvA left one of her daughters in Germany and was separated from her during the war.ReplyDelete
That's horrible. I'll have to research and find out what happened. Her life is so interesting but also sad.Delete
That does sound a bit twee. I wonder if the name "Twist" is a deliberate reference to Dickens? I have only read The Enchanted April, which I really enjoyed, by von Arnim. I think if I pick up another of her titles, it would be Elizabeth and her German Garden.ReplyDelete
I hadn't thought that about Mr. Twist. I thought it was because it went well with Twinkler. He doesn't really have any resemblance to Oliver Twist. And Elizabeth and Her German Garden is wonderful, it's my other favorite EvA along with Enchanted April.Delete
I liked this one but agree that the characterization is lame. I do love how von Arnim could go from flimsy books like this (though its sly humour raises it above its twee premise) to books that are masterfully confident and quite dark.ReplyDelete
Yes, The Pastor's Wife had some very serious moments, and I've heard Vera is quite dark. I haven't read it yet but apparently people either love it or hate it because of the main character.Delete
I need to read more of von Arnim's books; I've only read Enchanted April, which I totally loved.ReplyDelete
That's a great place to start (also the movie version is delightful). I also loved Elizabeth in Her German Garden and The Pastor's Wife.Delete