Highlights in the Charts
The Tiger Came To The Mountains by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Review by Lauren Fardoe
In this historical short story exploring the tenacity of sibling relationships, Silvia Moreno-Garcia establishes the bonding capacity of conflict between a brother and sister in a turbulent Mexican landscape. Set in 1917, war is imminent and revolution overtakes everything.
Moreno-Garcia puts forward how the enduring conflict has fundamentally changed the livelihoods of a family living in poverty. She shows how their lives have intrinsically changed, and the minute details exemplifying the encompassing nature of war into every possible quality of existence. However, prevailing despite circumstances is a tangible sense of familial love.
The narrative is told through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old girl, who is fiercely determined to survive. She is forced to flee to the mountains, hiding in caves to escape the perilous reality of merciless soldiers. During a hideout in a rural cave, the narrator is left alone with her younger brother, who is not only weaker than her, but suffering with an unknown illness.
The war coincides with a train crash, mentioned at the very beginning of the story as a framing narrative – this, alongside the title itself, lends a certain lack of mystery as to the events of the narrative, which are foreshadowed instantaneously. Despite this, the plot advances, and Moreno-Garcia’s skilful writing style perceptively builds suspense.
As the title suggests, there is a tense encounter with a tiger. Told from a future perspective looking back on the series of events, the older narrator’s tale portrays a certain sage wisdom as to the transience of the chronology told, whilst introducing a sense of permanence of trauma.
The story is stained with melancholy for what was necessary to endure and the circumstances which provoked the extreme measures detailed, and speaks of a derailment of normalcy co-existing with a deep longing for a return to safety. Overall, an enjoyable, easy read which deals with a variety of harrowing topics surrounding human tenacity during war.
Zeus Is A Dick by Susie Donkin
Review by Jenna Tomlinson
Donkin is best known for her work as an actress and writer with shows such as the Horrible Histories shows and Smack the Pony. It’s no wonder then that her foray into novel writing is steeped in making history accessible and funny, a fact which is clearly evidenced by the humour and tone of Zeus is a Dick.
Charting the origins and mythology of the Ancient Greek gods, Donkin encourages us to treat these myths exactly as they would have been shared amongst the ancient Greeks – with humour rather than reverence. Giving a feminist slant on the stories and focusing on the behaviour of the gods, Donkin frames the myths in terms we can relate to – like a gossip column or soap opera for the ancient Greeks. Because as we all know, the Greek gods were definitely not short on drama.
None of this humour detracts from Donkin’s knowledge, however. From the outset, she explains how the stories of the gods were shared as folk tales often are: passed through generations verbally, with those telling the stories interpreting the events through the prism of their own subjectivity and often their political views. In this way, the gods could be whatever the storytellers needed from them: powerful, omnipotent, forgiving or vengeful. It is exactly this stance that Donkin uses to prove just how much of a dick Zeus (and many others) actually was.
Alongside Zeus (whose dickish traits are too many to mention here) we learn about Hera, who threw away her baby for being ugly, and Pandora, who caused suffering by doing the one thing she was told not to do. Generally, as Donkin informs us, the major theme of the behaviour of these gods was that their actions were the result of self-serving and egotistical behaviour. And that a lot of the issues could have been avoided, had Zeus just kept it in his toga.
I’m a huge fan of history, with ancient mythology being one of my favourite parts, and Donkin does not disappoint. Zeus is a Dick is a hugely enjoyable romp through these myths, without losing the interest and information. I learnt a few things I hadn’t known and I think some of that is especially due to the humour. Donkin’s book doesn’t read like a historical book; it feels conversational, with the reader taking in the knowledge almost by osmosis. In a way, this book would be a great way to teach teens about Greek mythology.
It’s also an incredibly short book and this would probably be my only criticism, in that I wanted more! I would have quite happily read a whole tome of Donkin’s irreverent and sarcastic retellings of these myths, which at times felt more like a session with my friends than a retelling of history. I really hope she makes a series of these books, going more in-depth for some of the gods or even looking at the myths from other ancient civilisations. If she did, I’d be sure to read them.