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Author:
• Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Susanne Dunlap was born in 1943 in Buffalo, New York. After finishing school she studied mathematics major at Bucknell University before quitting for an English major. Dunlap obtained a masters degree in education from the University of North Carolina and a major in music from Smith. Then, thirteen years later, she went back to achieve an MA in musicology and finally obtained a PhD in music history from Yale University after eight years of study.

Susanne Dunlap has worked as a legal assistant, a Yoga teacher and a music history teacher. In 1986 she was a founding member and president of Sisters in Crime – an organisation that provides advice and support to mystery authors and promotes women crime writers. She has been an Associate Creative Director at a small advertising agency in Manhattan and won the Anthony and Macavity awards – a literary award for mystery writers. Dunlap has two grown-up daughters and grandchildren.

Susanne Dunlap has written several books and short stories. After reading a novel by Agatha Christie she decided to become a writer of crime and mystery fiction. The Musician’s Daughter, published in 2009, has been nominated for the Utah Beehive Award and the Missouri Gateway Readers Award.

The Musician’s Daughter is a historical fiction set in eighteenth century imperial Vienna with its opulent palaces and its Viennese and Hungarian nobilities as well as the wonderful world of Viennese music, alongside poor gypsy camps, exoticism and folklore.

On Christmas eve Theresa’s father, Antonius Schurman, the finest violinist who plays in prince Nicholas Esterhazy’s court orchestra conducted by the distinguished Kappelmeister Franz Joseph Haydn, is brought back home dead by three of his colleagues. They find that he has been killed out of town by the river Danube, near a gypsy camp.

The intelligent, fifteen-year-old, Theresa, knows that her father had no enemies and was kind to everyone. She sets her mind on unravelling this perplexing mystery, courageously, on her own. Like a detective, she spends her time gathering clues and facing several dangerous adventures and in the end she finds the culprit.

Theresa is a liberated girl ahead of her time. She refuses to comply with the tradition of accepting any suitor. She is discretely in love with the young Hungarian musician Zoltan who is involved in the same mysterious intrigues as her. She dreams of becoming a musician like her beloved father, although she knows that society at the time finds women musicians unacceptable. After her father’s death, she takes control of her mother and little brother, with the help of her God-father, Haydn, .

After the breadwinner of the family dies, Franz Joseph Haydn, who is losing his eyesight, helps his God-daughter, Theresa, financially, during this difficult period by employing her as copyist for his compositions. Theresa is very grateful, she needs the money desperately, especially with a helpless, bereaved mother at the end of her pregnancy and a brother about to start a violin maker apprenticeship lasting nine years.

Theresa decides to find her father’s murderer and retrieve her late father’s old, valuable, stolen, Italian, Amati violin – the very same violin that Theresa loved and was taught to play by her father. All she has to go by for starting her pursuit is a mysterious gold pendant that she has never seen before, found round her father’s neck.

As the story unfolds, Theresa discovers she is penetrating into a world of deceit, conspiracy and political intrigues. She will acquire information and consequently learn that her father was against injustice. He was against Hungarian serfs and against the hunting down of gypsy camps. He was spying in order to unveil the atrocious behaviour of the Hungarian lords.

She will also find out that her highly positioned rich uncle, was making money by selling young boys to become Hungarian serfs. Theresa, with the help of some of her late father’s colleagues and some gypsies will extricate her kidnapped little brother, Toby from her evil uncle’s grasp.

The Musician’s Daughter, written by an indisputable music history lover, is a pleasant, entertaining,well described, easy-read mystery adventure, abounding with action and twists. The story starts off at a slow pace before catching-up and moving at a faster steady rhythm, building up the tension until the unveiling of the last twist.

Theresa, Mirela and Danior’s characters are especially sympathetic and well portrayed. The novel has good historical insight into the non existence of women’s rights as well as social security rights and is filled with social injustice. These are some of the problems of the time in this area of the world. The author describes the abominable way the Hungarian lords obtained their serfs and how gypsy people suffered by being unfairly persecuted. Even today the plight of gypsies remains an unsolved problem in many countries of the world.

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Author:
• Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Kanegae Hideyoshi was born in Harbin, China in 1926 and his pen-name was Mitsugu Saotome. He studied at Keio University’s Literature Department but left before obtaining a degree.

In 1954, Yamamoto Shugoro, the popular Japanese novelist and short-story writer, accepted to be Saotome’s mentor.

Before writing novels about the Japanese Warring States period from the pre-modern to modern times (1868 to 1912), he was publishing period fiction and historical stories in journals.

In 1968 Mitsugu Saotome was awarded the prestigious Naoki Prize for his novel Kyojin No Ori (The Cage Of The Traveller) and in 2006 he was elected chairman of the Japanese P.E.N..

Saotome is well known as a writer of Japanese historical fiction. He claimed that this interest derived from the fact that he was descended from a Samurai of the Aizu-Wakamatsu domain and therefore he had a special affection for Aizu-Wakamatsu, the land of his ancestors.

He was a prolific writer, his novels are very popular in Japan and several of them have been adapted into feature films and television series. Okei was first published in Japan in 1974 and was translated into English in 2008. Unfortunately, Okei seems to be the only novel of all his work which has been translated into English.

Mitsugu Saotome died in 2008 of stomach cancer in the city of Kamakura in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan.

The epic story of Okei is set in the second half of the nineteenth century, in the mountainous town of Aizu-Wakamatsu, during a turbulent internal bloody period of Japanese history. It’s the transitional period between the end of the feudal shogunate, from 1853 to 1867, and the restoration of the Meiji era which lasted from 1868 to 1912.

The shogun had a very strong military power in Japan which relegated the power of the emperor to solely being a religious and political leader. The word Meiji means enlightened rule, which had as its target the combination of Western progress with Eastern established values. The Meiji era saw the disappearance of the Keio period and with it the city of Edo which became the “Eastern Capital” Tokyo and replaced the ancient capital, Kyoto, located in the western part of the country.

Okei, the main character of the novel and the one that stands out against all the others, is a teenage-peasant cooper’s daughter, who despite very strict rules, with class distinctions rigorously enforced, plus the Samurai complex code of honour, falls passionately in love with the young Samurai, Sasanuma Kingo. Her ardent flame isn’t shared by Kingo, being himself in love with Yukiko, the widow of the senior councillor, Jinbo Shuri, who had taken his own life by committing Seppuku (Harakiri) in order to wash his shame, as was the tradition among Samurai when they displeased their master.

The author describes how throughout centuries people had established connections and loyalties to the local feudal lord because his defeat meant the defeat of his clan and how the long established code of manners, loyalties and obedience started to fade from Japanese society and was replaced by new values. Aizu has lived three hundred years of peace before the Westerners violated the eastern land and were hated for it.

Okei, whose character is well developed in the novel, lived a short but intense life. In fact, her forlorn life and death are tragic. She matures too soon due to circumstances which she can’t fathom most of the time. The innocent, hard working, romantic girl becomes more reasonable and acquiescent to harsh reality. She is nearly raped by Edward Schnell when she is asleep in his warehouse loft. Luckily, Henry Schnell, Edward’s elder and wiser brother, who is nearby, comes to the rescue. The two Dutch brothers, Henry and Edward are suppliers of up-to-date arms and canons to the western Japanese. They have dissimilar characters, Edward is frivolous, liking to use Japanese women for his pleasure only and thinks little of them, while Henry is more level-headed, respects them and marries one of them, the widow, Matsuno.

Throughout her life, Okei has to re-adapt. Whether it is due to the war and the starting of a new era in Japan and with it the change of mentalities and new codes, or the emigration to the new world for survival. She has to learn to readjust, like her compatriots, to the American culture in Coloma, California, the El Dorado country, where the big Gold Rush took place from 1848 to 1855, fourteen years before Okei and her rural community arrived in the area.

Until her last breath, Okei was longing to go back to her home in Aizu but realised that her feet took her where she had to be buried, at the site of the old settlement, on top of Gold Hill colony in California.

If only she hadn’t murdered an imperial army officer, in panic, fear and in self defence and especially after the Crane Castle had fallen. She was certain that her deed would be considered a crime rather than an act of war and that is why she could never go back to her beloved Aizu. She realised and accepted that she had to submit to her fate and to the fact that the so far trustworthy, Henry and his wife, who was her mistress and friend, left California for Japan without ever keeping contact with her which is a big disappointment for Okei and a betrayal of the trust she had for them.

Touching in parts, violent and bloody in others, it’s a well documented novel with abundant action. A very colourful epic with vividly intense historical details. A good insight into Japanese and American history of the time.

 

 


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