Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

I had been wanting to read this book for a long time and when I finally got around to it, it was a difficult read – not only because my copy was over 600 pages of densely packed font, but also because there is simply so much information and so many names coming at the reader. In tracing the AIDS epidemic throughout the 1980s, there are so many facets of the story, and it often switches between locations so concentration is key. For that reason I found I could only read 10 or so pages at a time before I needed to put the book down for a rest.

But for all that it almost felt like homework, it was an illuminating read, and I have kept my copy to read again in future. Randy Shilts was an American journalist and author, who obviously meticulously researched his subject and in the end delivered not just a timeline of an epidemic that ravaged the gay community, but a searing indictment on the Reagan administration who ignored it all for years despite thousands of people dying and despite being told frequently that this disease was tearing through the country. This book horrified me and made me furious at the lack of regard for the AIDS victims.

Shilts describes how in the early 1980s several young gay men started presenting with an unusual skin cancer, which led to much speculation about its cause. While doctors and scientists could see fairly quickly that there was a huge problem in the offing, and worked tirelessly to try to find the cause, they were up against not just an indifferent federal government, but politics at all levels, the gay community themselves, many of whom resented being advised to lessen their sexual activities, and the abhorrent negligence of such places as many blood banks in America, who refused to start testing their blood even after it was proven that AIDS could be caught through infected transfused blood. The national and local press were also largely uninterested in a disease that only affected gay men.

Amongst the scientific challenges and breakthroughs – including one very interesting narrative about the rivalry between American and French scientists – and the grass roots political attempts to get the Reagan administration interested in this disease, there are tales of key people in the epidemic, many of whom succumbed to AIDS themselves. These for me were some of the most interesting parts, as they focussed on the human aspect of living with a disease, or seeing friend after friend pass away. It portrayed the desperation and hopelessness that people felt, and the anger at their government for ignoring them. I often found myself googling certain people and events to find out more about them – which was another reason it took me such a long time to read this book.

So not an easy read, but an extremely worthwhile one and definitely worth the investment of time and concentration.

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This incredibly moving documentary tells the story of the early days of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco in the early 1980s, by people who lived through it. Four gay men and one female AIDS nurse recount the terror, the heartbreak and the anger at seeing their friends die, at the complacency of the government and the prejudice against the gay community. The film will break your heart and make you angry – in just three years in San Francisco along 15,500 young men died of AIDS – and the government did nothing. (In fact, it wasn’t until 1985 when Reagan’s friend Rock Hudson succumbed to the disease that the then president even uttered the term ‘AIDS’).

As upsetting as it is to watch, this is a story that needs to be heard, and it is filmed with courage and compassion. I urge everyone to watch it.

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This book tells the story of two women, separated by centuries.  In Tuscany in 1347, 13 year old Mia hasn’t spoken a word since her mother died, and now lives with her loving aunt in a villa where they take in pilgrims and travellers.  One night a young couple come to them seeking refuge, and soon become friends.  The woman, Signora Toscana believes that she can help Mia find her voice again, but is hiding a secret of her own.  Rumours surround her, and Mia and her aunt have to try and help their new friend to a safe future.

In San Francisco in 2007, Madeleine Moretti is grieving after the death of her fiancé.  She throws herself into her work at a human rights lawyers firm, defending people who have developed illness through their unsafe workplace.  However, her own grief threatens to overwhelm her, and her grandmother sends her to stay with a friend in Tuscany.  There, Maddie grows to love the life and the people, and becomes entranced by the mystery of an old ruined villa which was destroyed centuries earlier.

Centuries apart, Mia and Madeleine will both have to find their way through their pain, to find a future for themselves…

There were so many good things to like about this book.  The writing itself flowed well, and was at many times really gorgeous (even if it occasionally trod the fine line between eloquent and too-flowery, with lines like “her eyes shone him an answer” or “she looked into her eyes and into her soul.”).

I also really liked both of the main characters – Madeleine (Maddie) sometimes seemed almost too good a person to be true; seemingly a character without the flaws that can make characters so interesting – but she was the kind of person that I knew I would like in real life.  Her grief for her fiancé was portrayed beautifully and believably and almost moved me to tears at times.

Mia’s story contained so much detail about life in Tuscany in the time period described, and I really enjoyed those parts of the story.  I also very much liked her Aunt Jacquetta – a modern woman in a world where women were supposed to be subservient and only have the opinions of the men of the time.

The separate but parallel storyline technique worked well; overall I probably enjoyed the historical narrative slightly more.

My only wish for this book would have been for the story to move along quicker.  At times it seemed so slow that it almost seemed to stop, and sometimes events happened which seemed to serve little or no purpose in the book.  I felt that it would have been a better ‘read’ if it had been tightened up – the same story told in fewer pages.

The writing was lovely however, and although this is the first book I have read by Titania Hardie, I would certainly look out for more work by this author.

(I would like to thank the publishers for sending me this book to review. For more information about Titania Hardie’s first book, The Rose Labyrinth, please click here.)

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Vida is 19, has a heart condition, and has spent her whole life waiting to die.  When she receives a transplanted heart, she is given a second chance at life.  But how does someone who has never really lived know how to start?  And why does she think she can remember things which she has never experienced?

Richard’s life falls apart when his wife is killed in a road accident.  He donates her heart, and feels compelled to meet the young recipient.  However, the first time he meets Vida, she tells him that she loves him.  He dismisses her as a silly young girl – but could she possibly be right?  Could it be that her new heart remembers it’s former life?

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  On the plus side, I thought the writing flowed well, and the story moved along quickly, but still had plenty of time to focus on each character.  It was narrated alternately by Vida and Richard, so we got to see both points of view, and to see events from both sides, as it were.  The premise of the story is strongly connected to the possibility of cellular memory – enabling organ recipients to retain the memories of the donors.  I’m not at all sure that I believe in this, but it was not hard to suspend my disbelief for the duration of the book.

There were a small number of other characters – Vida’s mother Abigail, Richard’s mother-in-law Myra, Victor – a friend of Vida, and her best friend Esther.  My favourite character was Esther – a 90 something women who had survived life in a concentration camp in Germany before coming to live in San Francisco, and who was perhaps the only person in Vida’s life who knew what it was like to expect death at every turn.

On the negative side, I found Vida to be an intensely irritating character, especially at first.  While I could understand that due to her mother’s over-protectiveness, she had never really had a chance to mix a lot with other people, and was therefore perhaps lacking in some social skills, I felt that her attitude and some of her actions towards Richard were beyond stupid and insensitive.  He actually came across as very patient under the circumstances.

I also really disliked the ending, especially in regard to Richard’s actions.  I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but I thought it was inappropriate and not in keeping with the way the story had played out prior to that.

Overall, while this book was not terrible, it left me feeling ultimately a bit disappointed.  It had it’s good points, but an irritating main character and an ending which took me by surprise (and not in a good way) made it feel like a bit of a let down.

(I’d like to thank Transworld Publishers for sending me this book to review.  Transworld Publishers website can be found here.  Catherine Ryan Hyde’s website can be found here.)

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