I’m joining in with a Word Press Book Challenge, suggested in the interests of festive inclusivity :-). The idea is to mention one book for each of the eight nights of the festival of Chanukah, which starts tonight. So I have amused myself by listing eight books, some of which are old favourites and some of which were new reads this year, with (gloriously tenuous – I have an over-vivid imagination) links to the Chanukah story. I’ve got football, the Chalet School, Coronation Street, Little Women, Renaissance Italy and the Napoleonic Wars in here, amongst other things. I know. I’m weird. Also, if you Google “Chanukah”, it comes up with a really cute cartoon – give it a go!
Thanks to The Chocolate Lady for suggesting this. Sorry that I’m not very good at finding books to fit categories suggested elsewhere, but these are my eight books … in no particular order.
The Lights of Manchester by Tony Warren. Lights – Chanukah, Festival of Lights. We hear a lot about “diversity” these days, and that’s important, and wonderful up to a point, but it gets rather silly when, for example, you get people claiming that the new CATS film is racist because the colour of the fur on one of the costumes doesn’t match the actress’s skin tone … without stopping to find out that he character concerned, Victoria, is also known as “The White Cat”, so her fur has to be white. It’s nothing to do with racism! I do wish everyone would try a bit harder to look for the good in society, instead of assuming the worst. Most people are actually rather nice. Anyway, in this lovely book from the 1990s, written by the late creator of Coronation Street, the main character is white and Protestant, but her soul mate and eventual husband Barney is Jewish, her best friend Mickey is gay, her friends Judy, Monica and Delia are all Catholic, and Delia’s husband Carlton is black. Tony Warren wasn’t trying to make a point, or to prove anything, or to accuse anyone of anything, like some people seem to do incessantly. He was just writing about life, and people, and Manchester life and people in particular. I first read this book just before the festive season in 1992. It’s an all-time favourite.
No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton. The baddies in the Chanukah story are Syrian. Except that they’re actually Greek. Like Cleopatra and the rest of the Ptolemy brigade were Egyptian, but actually Greek. Anyway, the baddies are the rulers of “Coele-Syria”, an area now forming parts of Syria, Lebanon and Israel, and are generally referred to as “Syrians”. This book, also set in Manchester, came out this year, and is about Syrian refugees. It’s an important subject, and I love the way it uses a traditional GO-type format to tell a modern-day story.
Circe by Madeline Miller. As I said, the Syrian baddies are actually Greek! This book’s about Greek gods rather than real Greeks, but I’m including it because it’s the last book I read. I believe there’s a mini-series coming, so fingers crossed that it’s shown somewhere I can see it!
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. The Chanukah story isn’t actually in the Jewish or Protestant versions of the Old Testament, although it’s in the Catholic, Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox versions … I always thought it just wasn’t in, but apparently it depends which version you’ve got. How very confusing! Anyway, I was going to say that, although it isn’t actually in the Bible, but make that “although it isn’t actually in all versions of the Bible”, it’s still a religious story, and they tend to feature blokes as heroes, so it’s great to have a book which focuses on some of the female characters in the Bible … and this one’s become hugely popular.
Hunting Midnight by Richard Zimler. This is primarily set in the very lovely city of Porto. No, it isn’t about football: it’s about the Napoleonic Wars. It’s also about crypto-Jews. There’ve been a lot of times during which, for one reason or another – being Jews or Muslims in the Spanish or Portuguese Empires, being “heretics”, belonging to a Christian denomination that’s on the opposite side to the authorities during/after the Reformation, belonging to any religion in a strict communist regime – people have been able to practice their religion only in secret. This was also the case in the Chanukah story, in which the Syrians-who-were-actually-Greeks were busy Hellenising everything. According to a great historical tradition dating back two millennia (ahem, which was possibly invented in the 19th century, rather like a lot of those wondrous “age-old” Christmas traditions, but never mind), Jews meeting in secret to study religious texts would, if caught by the Greek-Syrian authorities, pretend to be playing a game with spinning tops. No spinning tops in this book, sadly, but Richard Zimler’s books are always interesting.
The spinning tops are actually historically accurate, i.e. relating to that period of history, even if their link to the story may possibly be a bit tenuous. And, if you do look at the Google cartoon, you’ll see them in there.
The Greatest Comeback by David Bolchover. This one is about football! And the author’s from Manchester, and a lifelong United fan. The link here is that the Maccabees, the heroes of the Chanukah story, whilst they were possibly more interested in playing with spinning tops than in playing football, have ended up with a load of sporting clubs named after them, the most famous being Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa, who are often involved in Champions League or Europa League action. This book’s a biography of a Holocaust survivor who went on to manage Benfica to European Cup glory.
The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi by Jacqueline Park. I was trying to think of a book which involved olive oil, to go with the Chanukah oil story, but the best I could think of was a book set somewhere where I’ve seen lots of olive groves, so either Greece or Italy. This one’s set in Renaissance Italy, where the heroine, Grazia dei Rossi (who is Jewish, although I don’t think she ever mentions Chanukah!) works as a secretary for Isabella d’Este, daughter of the ruler of Ferrara and wife of the ruler of Mantua. Both of those areas have lots of olive groves!
Little Women by Louisa M Alcott. A sub-plot in the Chanukah story involves a woman called Hannah, who has seven sons. Although, apparently the books about the Maccabees, which are or aren’t in the Bible depending on which version you’ve got, don’t actually mention her name, but she’s usually called Hannah … although in some countries she’s called Miriam. Or Solomonia. Anyway, Hannah and her sons are arrested by the Syrian king. Who is actually Greek. Pass the doughnuts, someone: I’m confusing myself here. Anyway, I thought it’d be easy to come up with a book about someone called Hannah, but it wasn’t. However, we do have Hannah, the March family’s faithful old retainer in Little Women – and, seeing as there’s yet another new film version of Little Women due out later this month, I thought that that was quite apt. And I do like to have American Civil War books on my lists.
And … because there are actually nine candles, because one is needed to light the other eight, and because it seems a bit weird not to have a Chalet School book on the list, book number nine is Peggy of the Chalet School by Elinor M Brent-Dyer. When Peggy Bettany returns to her friends after her surprise appointment as the new Head Girl, Judy Rose teases her by chanting “See the Conqu’ring Heroine Comes” … referring to “See the Conqu’ring Hero Comes” which (although it’s actually a veiled reference to the Battle of Culloden!) is about Judah the Maccabee, the leader of the Maccabees. Incidentally, someone has put up a giant lime green menorah (well, a metal one with fluorescent tape on it, but it looks lime green!) by the side of the road not far from chez moi, and, every time I walk past it, I think about all the Chalet School fandom jokes about characters liking lime green clothes, furnishings and even vehicles. It’s certainly hard to miss!
Told you I had an over-active imagination! Thank you to anyone who’s read all that. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays, Cool Yule, or any other form of festive greeting you prefer. They all work. Peace and goodwill to one and all xxx.