The World That Was Ours
This time around I chose a memoir for our book, I often lean towards reading fiction in my spare time and thought I'd use book club as a good chance to read some non-fiction. I love the concept behind Persephone books, (and their lovely dove-grey book covers) they print overlooked and neglected women's books. I've read (and enjoyed) a few of their books before, so I hoped they would have something interesting for the City Lick girls.
I picked The World That Was Ours by Hilda Bernstein, the memoir is set in South Africa during the apartheid and focuses around the events of the 1964 Rivonia trial (when Hilda Bernstein's husband Rusty was acquitted but Mandela and the 'men of Rivonia' received life sentences.) The book received good reviews and I was especially drawn to a memoir written from a woman's perspective during this highly politically charged time.
It was with high hopes that we began reading this book, I'm not the only City Lick member with an interest in history, so we all hoped this book would be a good read. Unfortunately, none of us really enjoyed this book, we all found it quite slow and too description-heavy with little development of a storyline.
Of course, this is a memoir, so Hilda Bernstein is describing events as they happened, but often, that is all this book really is; a listed description of events during the lead-up to the Rivonia trial. Whilst we all sympathised with Hilda Bernstein's situation of her husband's imprisonment and ongoing persecution, we all felt this book could have done with better editing. We learnt more about how it felt to be a white (and politically engaged) woman during apartheid in South Africa, but often the more interesting aspects of this story were left unturned. I for one, would have been interested in how the Bernstein's made their way to England through multiple African countries, but instead this journey is summed up in a few sentences at the end of the book.
Hilda admits at the beginning of the memoir that she (and other women of the time) were not very good at living without their men, and this is portrayed throughout her memoir. It does at times read as a love story, she is obviously very much in love with her husband, and the apartheid regime is portrayed in a dark & threatening light throughout the memoir.
We all agreed that the memoir captured a certain mood of the apartheid; the lack of trust between friends and neighbours, the constant paranoia coupled with desperation and the growing desire to escape. It is ultimately a microcosmic look into a family's life during this time period. We concluded that despite its historic importance and interesting subject matter, this book is just a bit flat.
As this was a joint book club lunch (we also discussed the Rivers of London – review to follow) we chose a British brunch spot to discuss the books. Villandry promised bottomless brunch and good food, and whilst it delivered on the prosecco, the food was nothing special. My fish cake was fine but came without any sides, and the cooked breakfasts were just OK. There were only women in our near vicinity at brunch (do men not see the appeal of barely any food and endless prosecco?) so it quickly became a rather female affair, much like the book we were discussing.
The highlight was probably the dessert plate, four mini desserts that all tasted pretty good and added to all the sugar already swimming around in our bellies.
Villandry is pretty good value for the amount of prosecco we managed to consume in two hours, but none of us will be rushing back to brunch there again. Much like the book it came with high expectations and turned out to be quite average.
Chosen & Written by Becka