Jan-Feb 2011 Theme Read: Journeys
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for the months of January, February & March, we will be reading on the theme of Journeys
“Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey.” unknown
I must admit I’m excited by this theme with expectations of adventures in ice, snow, rushing rivers, impenetrable jungles, desert crossings, hospitable hosts , bandits and tales of foreign shores.
While ‘journey’ brings up these images of the physical journey, I’m also expecting suggestions of inner and imaginative journeys. A journey brings growth of the individual in some way, changing how they view the world around them. Along with new experiences, a journey also implies an absence, and a leaving behind.
Classic journey texts include:
The Odyssey by Homer (Greece, classic)
Don Quixote by Cervantes (Spain, 1605):
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (US, 1884)
You are welcome to add links to resources, articles, quotes etc etc
Here are a few guidelines to help keep some order.
1. Recommend a few books for others to read, try not to impinge on our other theme reads of The Sea, Regions in Conflict / War and Migrationwhich come later in the year, as there can be some crossover.
2. This group is primarily focused on reading fiction, so keep this in mind when making recommendations. I realize that some books, such as 23127::The Songlines or The Journey of Anders Sparrman are combinations/blends of fiction and nonfiction, so leave it up to each individual on what they choose to read or discuss.
3. The books may be in any narrative style (novel, short stories, graphic novel, poem, play, etc.)
4. In your recommendations, indicate the main country/region addressed by each book. You are encouraged to include a small blurb to entice others to read your choice of books.
5. Comment on the book, the author and what you found interesting about the aspect of journey in your chosen read.
One of my most memorable literary journeys is the trek across the ice on a planet called Winter (Gethen) in Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.
To the end of the land by David Grossman (Israel, 2010): A woman wanders in the north Galilee rather than remain at home and await the fate of her son, a soldier.
Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (US, 1949): An American couple travel to the North African desert.
The Sound of Butterflies by Rachel King (New Zealand, 2007): 1905, Thomas has been on a naturalists’ expedition collecting butterflies in the wilds of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, he returns to England a changed man.
The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago (Portugal, 2010): An elephant needs to be transported from Lisbon to Vienna.
The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder (Norway, 1997): A surreal road trip across Europe and the imagination.
Wandering Star: a novel by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (France,1992 ) : captures the nomadic journey of the Jew and refugee Arab Palestinian alike
Slow Water by Annamarie Jagose (New Zealand, 2003): English clergyman William Yates makes a 4 month voyage to New Zealand that changes his life
Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon (US, 2007): Join two world-traveling Jewish bandits on the roads of the legendary Kingdom of the Khazars.
The Book of Fame by Lloyd Jones (New Zealand, 2007) : a semi-fictional account of the 1905 All Black tour of Europe-a tour that shaped New Zealand's identity.
Gatty’s Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland (UK, 2006): a beautifully written children’s story of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1206.
The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz by Russell Hoban (US, 1973): Jachin-Boaz, the father, in the throes of existential despair and mid-life crisis, quietly leaves home, leaving behind a note which reads 'I have gone to look for a lion’.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (US, 1902): a journey into the Belgian Congo.
In a strange Room by Delman Galgut (South Africa, 2010): A young man takes three journeys, through Greece, India and Africa. He travels lightly, simply.
Feel free to list some recommendations or reading intentions. I’d like to keep everything on a single thread unless it gets too unwieldy and I‘m not going to post questions before we start, but that doesn't mean you can't if there is anything you want others to look out for on their literary journeys.
As suggested in earlier group reads, it’s always interesting to read a short biography of the author (by short, it could be 2 or 3 sentences) in discussions.
Great list, Kerry. I've read, and would also recommend, two books from your list this year, In a Strange Room and The Elephant's Journey, and I'd also recommend Desert by J.M.G. Le Clézio, which is about the journey of a nomadic North African tribe in the early 20th century that has been displaced and tracked down by a French colonial army and a girl who travels from North Africa to Marseille to seek a better life.
I'll start with To the End of the Land by David Grossman and Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clézio, both of which I already own.
ETA: I'll be reviewing a book for issue 12 of Belletrista that also fits this challenge: Above All, Don't Look Back by Maïssa Bey, a novel about a young woman who flees a devastating earthquake in Algeria, and in the journey evaluates her family and culture, and her place in both entities.
Not to be a spoilsport, but isn't this challenge going through March?
2: One of my most memorable literary journeys is the trek across the ice on a planet called Winter (Gethen) in Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.
YES! Completely agree.
One of my favourite children's books describes a journey and it is called Mitchell is Moving.
Avatiakh, if you enjoyed The Sheltering Sky, you might be interested in reading something by Paul's wife, Jane Bowles. She also writes extensively about their travels through Africa and is a very unique storyteller. She writes in a manner that is completely her own.
This is fantastic.....Several of the suggestions made have been sitting on my TBR pile and now I will bump them up to the top! Looking forward to this literary journey with all of you!
I think this is the first time I'm posting to this group, but I can't resist this topic!
Off the top of my head I can think of two novels--one very short, one very long. An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira is a brief but intense historical novel about the journey the German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas took across Argentina in 1837.
And Michael Malone's Handling Sin is, as the author describes, ". . .a kind of Southern Don Quixote."
#3 - Darryl, thanks for pointing out that I should have included March, I was so busy checking everything else, I slipped up on the obvious! I've tried to make amends in post#1.
There was one book Journey to the end of the night in a subversive travel list I looked at that sounded very interesting but I wasn't sure enough to add to the list though I might investigate it some more.
#4 - I was hoping to get a good Arctic/Antarctic recommendation, as journey always brings up images of ice and snow, I'll add The Voyage of the Narwhal to my tbr. All I could think of were children's books and Jack London's The Call of the Wild and I couldn't remember how much of the book focused on journey. Is there any fiction based on Scott's expedition?
#5 - There's a few on the list that I haven't read but are on my tbr pile, The Sheltering Sky is one of them, but I'll look out for Jane Bowles as I'll be reading quite a bit of travel literature this coming year. I'm thinking of reading In a strange room, The Songlines and The Sheltering Sky though I'll wait to see what else is suggested.
Welcome along for the ride to hemlokgang and southernbooklady - yes, an irresistible topic and both those books look interesting. I can see my tbr list increasing dramatically with this theme.
#2 I loved Gatty's Tale when I read it. Another great kids book is Apache: Girl Warrior by Tanya Landman a journey of growth and personal strength rather than travel.
I've got to browse my shelves and see what I can find as I want to tackle the tbr mountains, I'm sure there's loads but at the moment I just keep thinking of non-fiction examples.
I think I may try Blackout by Connie Willis wherein her character(s), in researching history, journey into the past, specifically 1940s England during the Blitz. I've never read any Willis and this science fiction/time-travel book is definitely out of my usual comfort zone.
#8: Although it isn't a work of fiction, one book that I'll read this year (and possibly for this topic) is An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie, a New York Review Book about a man from Togo who moves to Greenland after reading about the country, and chronicles his travel to Greenland and his experiences with the people there.
I am excited by all the suggestions here, because I don't have a lot of books in the journey category that I haven't read (or that are fiction, although I may read one of my nonfiction books too) and so am going to have to buy some -- needless to say, shopping for books is one of my favorite activities.
#7 southernbooklady, I read Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter and I have to say it is one of the stranger books I've read!
>12 rebeccanyc: I have a fondness for novels about artists, writers, poets, musicians, etc, that explore the creative process. But one thing that really stuck with me in that novel(la) was the image of the slow-moving wagons across the high plain.
For a good young adult book (or is it a children's book?) about a more symbolical journey, try Diane Duane's Deep Wizardry. It's the second book in the series, but I don't think you really have to have read the first one to enjoy this one.
What also could be seen as a symbolical journey is The Runaway Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini, where the main character journeys through accepting and integrating new information from her ancestry.
#8: Arctic/Antarctica journeys
Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica
Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang has a sojourn in the Arctic and also includes a trip to China
Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay includes a number of journeys including one across Antarctica and is also about a forced migration.
One of the books I am thinking of reading is I Was an Elephant Salesman: Adventures between Dakar, Paris, and Milan by Pap Khouma which I picked up this week largely because of the title. It is said to be fiction, but largely autobiographical. I might save this for the migration theme read, though.
I am considering (ok, a more honest beginning to this sentence would be "I am dying to read") You Shall Know Our Velocity . An African in Greenland also sounds interesting, kidzdoc!
ETA touchstones; You Shall Know Or Velocity refuses to become one
Might I suggest Doris Lessing's Mara and Dann: An Adventure, the journey of a brother and sister through a future Africa. It's a provocative look at a world in the throes of climate change and how communities and individuals adapt (or not) to that change. The overall plot is a little far-fetched, but the descriptions of landscapes from deserts to marshes and rivers that have flooded earlier cities have an incredible immediacy.
aulsmith> Thanks for mentioning Kavlier and Clay. That one is on my Mount TBR, so I'll grab it for the group read.
While I'm not at all suggesting anyone read these 6 volumes, I thought I'd make mention of the 16th century Chinese classic Journey to the west by Wu Cheng'en. The story is well known in both China and Japan. There is quite an extensive wikipedia entry about it. The book came up in my google searches of 'journey, literature' when I was setting this thread up and I've just come across a review it over on the 75 books challenge on xieouyang's thread.
Wiki: The novel is a fictionalised account of the mythologized legends around the Buddhist monk Xuanzang's pilgrimage to India (known as the Western Regions) during the Tang dynasty in order to obtain Buddhist religious texts called sūtras.
And here's the link to the 9 Subversive Travel Novels List I mentioned earlier on in post#8.
I dithered back and forth between two potential books for this theme, but finally settled on All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.
There were several legs of a year-long roundabout journey from near San Angelo, Texas to Zacatecas, Mexico and back. The protagonists mostly went horseback (from March of 1949 until March of 1950; not during the 1930s as the jacket flap of my Everyman edition mistakenly states) and they also frequently traveled in the beds of pickup trucks. The hero, John Grady, had the luxury of one train ride.
McCarthy comes from middle-western Appalachia, and he didn't get central Texas right, so it makes me wonder about the realism of his Mexican scenery. I won't deny that his writing is glorious, though.
>1 avatiakh:: Let's see, we had "rushing rivers, ~snip~ desert crossings, hospitable hosts , bandits"... did we ever have bandits!
I had a glance at one small stack of books on my pile and grabbed three that will be my reads for this theme.
This Thing of Darkness, Harry Thompson a fictionalisation of the journey Robert Fitzroy and Charles Darwin took to survery Tierra del Fuego.
Across the Nightingale Floor, Lian Hearn set in Japan it is the story of a young boys revenge; a physical, emotional and educational journey according to the blurb.
A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth, Samantha Weinberg, this starts in South Africa with a scientific discovery and tells the story of the search for a rare fish. The blurb says it "covers four continents and spans 400 million years".
Since this is Reading Globally, I am going to try to focus on books written by non-English-speaking authors. I see several in avatiakh's great list in post #2, but if anyone has other suggestions, I would love to hear them, especially any by non-European authors as I would like to broaden my global reading this year.
Soul by Andrey Platonov, which I read for the 20th century Russian literature theme, would fit brilliantly with this theme too.
I'd highly recommend Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf. Although Leo Africanus (born al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi in Grenada, Spain in 1494) is not a fictional character, this novel takes Leo Africanus' historical travels as a starting point for a journey which places Africanus in all the right places and at the right times around the Mediterranean during the Renaissance.
The book is translated from French and the Maalouf, the author, who is from Lebanon and whose native language is Arabic but who writes in French, won the 2010 Prince of Asturias award for literature.
#27 I brought the illustrated Life of Pi at the weekend, it's gorgeous. A great read as well.
Katie, I've read both books and liked Life of Pi much better. However, don't miss the movie of "The Motorcycle Diaries". That was wonderful!! :)
ETA: I definitely want to participate in this challenge, but I want to wait until January before choosing my book so I don't change my mind about reading it by then! That's just me...
#26> I had a little dig around and came up with these -
Gabriel García Márquez's The General in his Labyrinth,a fictional reconstruction of the last journey of Simon Bolívar and Andean Express by Juan de Recacoechea (Bolivia) which is set on an overnight train ride between Bolivia and Chile. Grossman's The Zigzag Kid (Israel) also fits the bill from memory.
I haven't read widely in Asian or African literature - a lot of the writers I think of tend to be of African/Indian descent living in the US or UK and writing in English. Then again other novels fit the migration or conflict theme.
#32> Thanks, I found this one too, Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition, fictional diary of the ship's cat on Shackleton's expedition - 'closely based on the true events of Shackleton's heroic journey'.
avatiakh> Ah! The General in his Labyrinth? If I have time, I might read this one too. I love Garcia Marquez.
squeakychu> I've seen the movie Motorcycle Diaries. I agree. It's interesting, and beautiful, and it has Gael Garcia Bernal. I like his acting, although Amores Perros was a bit hard to watch. Yes, I've seen a ton of Spanish-language movies. :) & I know that Che's writing style is a bit pretentious. Oh well.
Another interesting journey: Catfish and Mandala by Andrew XX. Pham, who goes back to Vietnam (by bicycle) to find the country and family he left when he went to America at the age of 10.
Books I have on my shelf relating to journeys:
Leo Africanus--see #29
Hello to Cannibals by Richard Bausch--Victorian lady explorers
The Hill of Devi by E.M. Forster--private secretary to a maharajah (NF, I think)
The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason--journey to Burma
Lost City of Z by David Grann--NF
Not sure which one(s) I'll read, or if I'll pick up something new. I've had my eye on The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier
> i've just finished Carpentier's The Lost Steps which made it to my best of this year's reads. And the theme indeed falls squarely under Journeys, both literally and figuratively.
#39, deebee That sounds like a great book; I'm going to look for it.
Rebecca, what little criticism there is of the novel usually center on the seeming sexist behaviour of the narrator and what may come off as tedious references to works of art and music. Don't be turned off by that. I myself don't think Carpentier meant to offend or make pretensions -- all elements are essential to the novel (Carpentier was also a music theorist and composer so he obviously knew what he was talking about). Simple and straightforward in plot, the book is rich in all other levels, sensorily and philosophically. Enjoy this rare treat!
I just received The Tenderness of Wolves, a BookMooch acquisition......after the rave reviews it has had on LT I think I will start the theme read with this one. First read in January!
That confirms it deebee--I'll have to break down and buy The Lost Steps.
I declare extra points for those reading authors who are not from North America or the UK! :-)
I agree, avaland! I know, I know, I am starting with a North American read.....but then.....I will be branching out!
I am going to read Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb. The story involves Haile Selassie's Ethiopia, and later England.
Count me in for the theme-reads of 2011. I'll try to be a bit more sociable than in 2010 when I started (and still enjoy) my personal global travels, but I guess I can throw in some theme-reads as well. I'll try to find me a few books to warm places because the thought of an icy climate is not appealing right now, since it's bitterly cold where I live right now. Some books mentioned here seem really interesting, but I'll have to see if I can find them.
It's not 2011 yet, and Travels in Siberia is nonfiction, but because I loved it so much, I'm going to post my review here anyway. I didn't focus on the journey aspect of the book in my review, but the long middle section of the book, which involves a drive from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok (on the Pacific) is quite an epic.
I could hardly put this book down because Ian Frazier is such a wonderful writer. On the surface the story of his five trips to Siberia -- with a cross-Siberia drive the centerpiece -- it encompasses a great deal more: the history of Siberia (and Russia) from the Mongol tribes to the gulag and beyond, including a compelling chapter on the Decembrists; natural history from mosquitoes to ravens to reindeer to sables (with fascinating information about the historic fur trade) and geology from permafrost to oil wells; Russian literature and culture; Russian technology, especially cars and roads; and of course people of all sorts.
Despite the seriousness of some of these topics, Frazier's writing is so deceptively easy that the reader (or this one, anyway) learns a tremendous amount while feeling entertained. Frazier has a remarkable ability to talk to all sorts of people and convey their information in their own voices, a lively sense of humor, and an unobtrusive way of bringing his own thoughts and feelings into the story. He can be funny, horrified, worried, admiring, and appalled, and everything in between. He fell in love with Russia, and especially Siberia (which occupies 1/12 of the earth's surface), and by the end of the book the reader has too.
I first read excerpts of this book in the New Yorker; somehow, I'd missed Ian Frazier until then. Now I will look for his other work
I agree with you about Ian Frazier. Great Plains is the only book of his that I've read so far, but I highly recommend it. One of my favorite scenes described making the last turn on a drive down the mountains and suddenly being able to see for miles straight ahead on the flatlands. (BTW, I clicked the touchstone and see you've added it, rebeccanyc.)
Happy Christmas to you, too, jtelling!
I ordered it from Amazon while I was reading Travels in Siberia and it arrived yesterday, Megi53.
#47 I have that book at home too, didn't have any idea what it was about, will try to get it read for this theme.
I think I'll read The Piano Tuner suggested by Deborah (Arubabookwoman). I would also like to read The Sisters of Sinai about two feisty Scottish twin-sisters who set out to Egypt to find hidden gospels in the late 1800s. It sounds like fiction, but apparently it's not. For everybody who's considering reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, I read it this year and I can highly recommend it.
Kicking off the year 2011, I've started my first theme-read with The Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice.
I'm starting the theme read with Tun-huang by Yasushi Inoue, but so far I've only read the introduction to the new NYRB edition. From the blurb on the back, I think this will have enough of a journey in it, but I'll see as I read.
Although this would not be a book I'd pick for myself at all, a friend of mine presented me with a copy of The Alchemist by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho and wanted to read it to me.
"Okay", I thought, "Club Read's doing a journey theme read. I'll let her do this".
I gave her permission to do so even though I still have a nagging feeling I might be underwhelmed by this very popular book. She read me about a third of it on New Year's Day. It's so-so.
We'll see what happens...and if she finishes reading it to me this month.
Ah well, Squeaky, you've actually got three months for her to read it to you. ;-)
I just finished my first book from Mt TBR that I hope to knock off with this challenge, Return to Nisa, by Marjorie Shosak. Unfortunately, this book, like several others on the mountain, is non-fiction and by a US author. Its good points (besides being one off the mountain) are that it is about a fascinating part of Africa, namely Botswana and Namibia, and a people, the !Kung or Bushmen. The journey was mostly cultural and spiritual with a bit of wandering in the sub-Saharan Kalahari.
Four stars. Full review on the book page.
I only have 50 pages left of Motorcycle Diaries and am enjoying it, but also feeling the movie picked up most of the highlights in the book. Amused that the coca leaves made them both sick.
I'm reading Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf as my first journey book.
Rebecca--I just bought Tun-huang, but hadn't thought of it in terms of a journey book. I might read it as a second journey book.
i hadn't thought of it as a journey book until I read the blurb, and even now I'm not sure whether it is. To be continued!
And I have some other journey books waiting to be read.
I'm in a queue at the library for the two books I've thought of reading, so will request The General in his Labyrinth and see how that goes.
I've looked through my pile of books to be read and picked out Vertigo by WG Sebald to read for this theme. Sebald always has a deep and interesting perspective on journeys and memories. This one has four linked narratives in Italy and Germany. This is partly autobiographical, but I think will provide some thought provoking insights.
I've just finished Pereira Declares by Antonio Tabucchi. The author is Italian and the book is set in 1938 in Portugal. The journey involved in an internal one as Pereira moves from being removed from what is happening in his country, to not being a by-stander. I can't say any more without giving away some of the book, but it was excellent.
I have The Voyage of the Narwhal and The Tenderness of Wolves here somewhere and hope to read them soon although, personally, I would prefer the journeys to all take place in warm locations.
I just finished Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The climate (the Congo River in Western Africa) was very warm, but the story was chilling. A lot of the river journey was very reminiscent of The African Queen and Mark Twain at the same time (it was a paddle-wheeled steamboat). The most unexpected thing was how Conrad made the native people both human and alien at the same time.
My "plan" for this theme read was to read this one book and then see where it takes me. In talking to my husband about it, he mentioned Robert Silverberg's Downward to Earth which was influenced by Heart of Darkness and T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" which quotes from it. So that's where I'm headed. If I find anything on my journey that qualifies for "Reading Globally" I'll report back here.
While I was puzzling what to read for this theme (as I want to read from my shelves, preferably), I had a moment I felt profoundly stupid when I remembered I own, but have never read, Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. Of course I know the story, I've seen several different version of it on film and even one in the theater once. But I've never read the book, and it certainly fits the theme.
I was actually surprised to see nobody had recommended it yet here. In fact, there are a lot of books by Jules Verne that could work for this theme. All of his books in the series Les Voyages Extraordinaires, of which Around the World is a part, will work.
So I hadn't intentionally participated in this read - I've still been looking for something off my TBR shelves that would qualify - but then I realized that the book I had just finished actually fit!
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less - Sarah Glidden
A gorgeously-illustrated memoir of the author's Birthright Israel* trip to Israel, taken as a cynical, leftist twenty-something. Before going into the story itself, I just need to say again how seriously nice-looking this book is. Glidden's drawing technique is fairly simple, but the entire book is rendered in pretty colors, with different light and tone depending on the setting (northern Israel is lush green with blue skies, while the sand and sky of the southern deserts are sunbleached), and each chapter opens with a beautifully-done watercolor-esque map of a portion of Israel. No black and white chicken scratch here.
Glidden's story is fairly simple, yet compelling. Secular, liberal-lefty Jewish girl from New York decides to take advantage of a free trip to Israel to "discover the truth behind this whole mess once and for all" - the mess being, obviously, the Israel-Palestinian-other Arabs situation. Confident that she knows it all, and more than a little bit smug in her prejudices about Americans, Israelis, and Arabs, the main character (also called Sarah) steels herself against what she assumes will be Brithright's pro-Israel propaganda, grabs an ambivalent friend, and hops a flight to Ben Gurion. In the course of her time in Israel, she - of course - learns that "the truth" is more complicated than she thought, "the mess" is messier than she thought, and Israel is different - better in some ways but with internal problems she'd never known of - than she'd imagined it would be. She also reconnects with her Jewishness and learns that one doesn't have to be a blind supporter of Israel to be connected to it. It is somewhat cheesy as a political philosophy, but as a personal memoir of a physical and somewhat spiritual journey, I think it works fairly well.
It also helps that there is a tremendous amount of humor, both textual and visual, in this work. The character Sarah is continually imagining herself in the midst of stories about the past and the author illustrates these in full detail. We see the protagonist in an imaginary courtroom presenting both sides and presiding over the case of "Birthright is Trying to Brainwash Me vs. Birthright is Actually Pretty Reasonable," dinosaurs fighting in the Golan Heights during the 1967 war, and the ghost of David Ben Gurion. Also, there are just the amusing/irritating things that anyone who's ever been to Israel will immediately identify with: the intensive security, the constant smoking, the very loose definition of a line.
Possible best line of the book: "Basically, Masada is what happens when a paranoid schizophrenic rules a troubled kingdom." - in reference to King Herod's construction of Masada as an impenetrable fortress in which to wait out a possible revolt against him.
*Birthright Israel, for those unfamiliar with the organization, is an organization that provides free trips to Israel to teen and twenty-something Jews from the Diaspora to encourage them to learn about and feel connected to Israel. This is the most neutral way I can describe it. Others may disagree and feel more or less like "Sarah" did before taking the trip.
#71> Nice review, I've just started this too and agree it has a lovely illustration style.
>72 avatiakh:, Will be excited for your thoughts. I tried to avoid thinking too deeply about politics when I read this and tried to just concentrate on the personal aspect.
I am not sure whether to really consider Tun-huang by Yasushi Inoue a journey book or not. The protagonist certainly travels a lot, but in a largely unintentional way, and he also undergoes an internal journey as well. In any case, here's my review.
In 1026, Chao Hsing-te falls asleep in a courtyard and misses his call for an all-important examination that will land him a coveted job in the Chinese civil service. With his life plans turned upside down, he wanders aimlessly and then a chance encounter makes him decide to travel westward so he can learn the language of the Hsi-hsias, a neighboring people who are threatening the western boundaries of China. Over the subsequent years, he wanders, frequently changing course on what seems to be spur of the moment: fighting battles with the vanguard Chinese unit of the Hsi-hsia army, falling in love with a princess caught in a captured city, learning to write the Hsi-hsia language and creating a Hsi-hsia - Chinese dictionary, traveling with an arrogant and successful trader, studying and becoming enamored of Buddhism. All of this leads up to his role in an actual historic event, hiding thousands of Buddhist scrolls in the caves at Tun-huang, scrolls that were not rediscovered until the 20th century.
While I found Hsing-te's personality a little difficult to understand and Inoue's focus on the nobility of characters with royal blood a little irritating, I really enjoyed the depiction of the environment, people, and the interactions among warriors, traders, and scholars in the western regions of China and central Asia nearly 1000 years ago. And it is an adventure story too; I definitely kept wanting to find out what was going to happen Inoue's writing is deceptively simple, but well suited to what reads almost like a history, a history with fascinating character
I'm 2/3 of the way through The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by José Saramago, and I'm now convinced that it applies to this theme. I'll finish it no later than tomorrow, and review it on Thursday or Friday.
I'm three chapters in to Life of Pi and am loving it. How many authors can go on for over a page about swimming pools without the reader dropping the book with boredom?
76> I've heard a lot about Murakami, but am a bit hesitant to pick up his books. Is he a very literary author?
@78, I've read 5 of his books so far and they've all been very easy to read.
Samantha> I love him, but yes, he is very literary. He's character driven, not plot, and uses a lot of symbolism. He isn't scary literary though like James Joyce.
79 & 80> Maybe I'll put him on my list then. See if I like him. Which book of his do you think is best?
#81 I loved Norwegian Wood. I haven't read it, but it seems like Kafka on the Shore is his most popular/critically acclaimed novel.
#81 I rank them Kafka on the Shore then The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but there is only a miniscule difference in rating between them for me. Both were excellent.
Be advised - Murakami uses a form of Japanese magical realism. I can remember commenting to someone when I was 150 pages into Kafka that I hadn't the slightest idea what was going on in the plot, but I was absolutely fascinated and couldn't read it fast enough.
I'm thinking of reading a couple of Jules Verne and Saramago's Elephant's Journey for this challenge.
I'm also taking part on a Murakami year-long reading challenge on my blog. where I'm planning on reading about 3 books by him.
Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf (1986) 360 pp.
Author nationality/original language: Lebanese/Arabic
Setting: Late 15th century/early 16th century Moorish Spain, Rome, and North Africa
Leo Africanus, as he was referred to by the Romans, is a true historical figure, author of "Description of Africa" published in 1550, as well as an Arabic/Hebrew/Latin grammar/dictionary, only a small portion of which survives. He was born in Granada c. 1494. As a young boy his family was expelled from Spain, along with other Muslims. They settled in Fez in Morroco, where Leo (originally Hasan) grew up. As a youth, he began making diplomatic journeys, the first being with his uncle to Timbuktu. He later spent time in Egypt (where he was when the Ottomans conquered the Egyptians), and made a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was captured by pirates in the Mediterranean, and brought to Rome, where he was baptised a Christian. He thereafter acted as a diplomat on behalf of the Pope.
This novel follows what is known of his life, but is clearly a novel rather than a history. Leo's character is thoughtfully imagined, and he is surrounded by friends and family who are living, breathing people. The novel is narrated chronologically by Leo in the form of a letter to his son, with each chapter covering the events of one year. The chapters are included in larger books, i.e. The Book of Granada, The Book of Fez, etc, each including the chapters of his life in the context of the major events of his life. The prose is straight-forward, as Leo interacts with other historical figures, and with his family members and friends. There are a few described incidents that seemed a little far-fetched, but the world was smaller then, so perhaps it was easier to meet people from your past by chance many years after you last saw them.
The descriptions of his caravan journeys across North Africa, the Sahara, the Atlas Mountains, and of Timbuktu were riveting. I'm not sure how much of the events and places described were taken from his "Description of North Africa." It is a fact, however, that Leo's book, "Description of North Africa," became a best-seller of sorts in its own time, as Europeans knew very little and were starved for information about this part of the world. Leo's other adventures--his time in Egypt during the Ottoman onslaught, the journey to Mecca, his involvement in the European religious strife of the early 16th century--make for equally compelling reading.
Fanny--I haven't read the Glidden book, but would like to now. My son took the birthright trip too. My husband is Jewish and I am not, and he was raised as an agnostic. Nevertheless, he was accepted for the trip, and went two weeks after the Gaza hostilities flared up a few years ago. (As his mom, I didn't want him to go then). As a lefty, he found the people he met to be reasonable, fair and balanced, and he was very impressed. He certainly hasn't been converted, but he is very much interested in visiting again.
The Journey Jiro Osaragi
It seems like it took me so long to finish this book, only 340 pages, but dense and slow moving.
Set in post WWII Japan, during the American occupation. A group of several characters, over the span of several months. It is about "journeys" in general and specifically.
In Japanese tradition, life is a journey "without destination". Much is made of the Western (American) influence to change this to one with a destination. By this the author means money. Over the course of the book most of the characters lose there traditional morals in the pursuit of money - "filling their rice bowl" in one way or another.
Specifically one of the characters, Soroko, tries to replicate a hike that his son Akira once made thru the Japanese Alps. Akira, a soldier, had died during the war and this hike is the father's attempt to connect with the sorrow of his son's death.
Throughout the book there is a sadness for a lost Japan. The author was born in 1898 and died in 1973 so he experienced this time period first hand.
> 69 Justjoey4:
You talked me into The Sisters of the Sinai. Happily, our library has a copy. I've already reserved it!
It sounds like a book that will be right up my alley..strong, indendent, adventurous Victorian ladies, travel in the days when the world was huge and the journey was as interesting or more so than the destination, and an ancient manuscript, too boot!
I just finished reading Life of Pi. Except for the questionable moments in a zoo in a most likely fictitious town, we don't see a lot of the world in this one. There's a quick tour of several Olympic swimming pools, but then most of the time is spent on the Pacific Ocean. It's a wonderful book though, filled with realistic animal/human interaction, even if the book isn't (and was never meant to be) that realistic. 4 star read.
That's being filmed right now by Ang Lee (of Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger etc.)
Before moving back to the U.S., Bill Bryson decides to make a tour through Great Britain by public transport and on foot which resulted in Notes from a small island. The tour is not only a way of finally seeing parts of the country he hasn't visited yet but especially a trip down memory-lane. The book looked promising and I had high hopes but I was a bit disappointed. I appreciated the funny aspects - some were hilarious - and I did see that he actually loves the country but overall, Bryson gave me the impression that Britain is a country full of shabby hotels, ugly shopping-malls, weird people, awful public transport, uninteresting towns and villages, bad food and abominable weather. If Bryson's book was the only information I had on Britain, I'd never visit the country.
It just so happens that the first book I started this year centers on a journey...Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende. I'm not actually into the journey part of it yet, but I can see that the main character will leave her home in Chile in order to follow her true love through the Gold Rushing western United States. I have no doubts that it will be a good one!
I finished Blackout by Connie Willis, which has many characters taking journeys via time travel into the past for research on historical periods. The book centers on those travels to England during World War II.
Although Blackout is the first of a two-part series, and thus is unfinished, in the 500 pages I read I saw little effect on the historians as a result of their journey. They both observed and experienced a myriad of incidents and made the acqaintance of many locals (contemps) who suffered at the hands of the German war machine, yet some of the historians are unmoved and unimpressed by it all. Polly and Michael are the big exceptions. Both get very close to some locals and as a result are much more affected by their experiences.
All in all, I don't think I'd recommend this book for someone wishing to vicariously experience journeys.
95> Bummer. Sounds like there wasn't much reason for the time travel. Could have been a historical just as easily.
I took my cue from avatiakh in #34 and read David Grossman's The Zigzag Kid for this theme read. It's definitely about journeys, both exterior - the narrator is kidnapped and travels around in Israel - and also interior - he makes an emotional journey as he finds out that the kidnapper knows a lot about his past that he himself didn't know. Made me want to read more of Grossman's work! My review is here.
I am reading a non-fiction book Kiwi's might fly by Polly Evans. It is an autobiography of a journey she took on a motor bike through New Zealand
The Zigzag Kid was such a fun book! I read it back in 1998. I'll go ahead an post my personal review (from my pc) on LT so we'll both have the only reviews of that book here. That novel deserves wider readership.
Another fairly easy-to-read book by Grossman (some are way more difficult) is Someone to Run With. Give that one a try to!
I didn't read this as a journey novel, but it definitely fits both geographically and psychologically.
She Drove without Stopping by Jaimy Gordon
What a thrilling mixture this book is! Partly a road trip story, partly a coming-of-age tale, partly a portrait of the poet as a young woman, this novel interweaves sexual exploration, exploitation of women and feminist anger, race and class issues, money and its real and imagined significance, the impact of family, and questions of loyalty and friendship.
Jane Turner, the product of an unhappy childhood, decides she can no longer stand living in the dorms in her college and sets off on what she hopes will be the life of an adventuress. Of course, adventure in reality isn't what it seems to be from the outside, and over the course of the novel Jane encounters a variety of charming or dangerous characters (who largely fall into the category of people who would appall her parents), drives cars on the verge of falling apart, struggles with her writing and with her father's hostility, and questions herself every step (or mile) of the way.
As with her National Book Award winner, Lord of Misrule which was one of my favorite books of last year, Gordon's writing is gorgeous and allusive, and her compassion for her characters is clear; however, this book is less structured and "conventional" and much more personal and brave than her latest work.
How can I keep working for a living with all these books waiting to be read???? What a wonderful theme, and many wonderful titles. I'll climb aboard this train after I finish Shantaram, which, come to think of it, fits the category!
Good luck with See: Under Love. I gave up on that one. Perhaps I'll try it again some day (but not any day too soon!).
I finished a non-fiction book, Turn Left at the Trojan Horse for my second journey book. It is an unusual travel memoir because Herzog uses the Iliad, the Odyssey, and Greek mythology to decide which places he will visit on his trip across the United States to return to Ithaca, where he will attend his college reunion at Cornell. It was great fun being reminded about those books, which I haven't read in 40+ years, and to meet the very interesting people he comes into contact with along the way. Herzog himself definitely completes a journey as well.
I read Midnight Robber, which I think fits the theme well despite not having picked it out as a 'journey' book. It's by Nalo Hopkinson, who was born in Jamaica and raised in the Caribbean and now lives in Canada. It's a science fiction novel, but the futuristic society has grown out of the Afro-Caribbean cultural mêlée. It is the story of Tan-Tan, a spoilt little girl who is dragged into exile by her controlling politician-father, and how she comes to deal with the way her life develops on the exile planet, Half-Way Tree. Tan-Tan does a lot of physical journeying through this fabulous world (complete with reptilian aliens and African folklore monsters come-to-life) as she tries to survive, but the novel really comes alive because of her psychological journey that accompanies her recovery from her childhood.
I really enjoyed Hopkinson's writing. The futuristic setting feels weightless - it's essential to the story but serves to illuminate Tan-Tan's journey rather than overshadow it. Similarly, the Jamaican feel that pervades the whole novel (to the extent that much of the story is told in a kind of anglicised patois) doesn't feel like it's there to add exoticism or excitement, it's just a different reflection of humanity. It also manages to be a page-turner. I would highly recommend it.
Wandering Star by J.M.G. LeCezio, translated from French by C. Dickson
The title comes from her father's nickname for the main chararcter, Estrellita (little star) otherwise known as Esther/Helene. In 1943 she and her parents are living in a mountain village in occupied France just north of Italy. Her father is a communist and they don't participate in the religious community, and she has little conscious identity as Jew. The story tells of Esther/Helene's adolescence in the mountain, her escape with her mother Elizabeth over the mountains further into Italy and subsequent illegal immigration to Israel. Esther and her mother travel from one place to another, and it seems nowhere are they wanted. Instead, they are forced to journey on toward Jerusalem, the place they hope will receive and welcome them.
The most poignant encounter takes place after they slip into Israel. Their convoy crosses paths with a group of Palestinians who have been evicted from their homes. Esther & Nejma, a young Palestinian woman, interact briefly before both groups move on.
I am slowly re-reading this. Now that I know the parameters of the story, I can pay more attention to the language. It seems to me light plays a part in this story as well, but I can't articulate that yet.
#106: Adding Midnight Robber to the hold list at the library. I'm excited to find some science fiction set in the Caribbean (or at least a Caribbean-like world).
I finished The Stone Raft by Jose Saramago. It definitely has a strong "journey" theme. The Iberian Peninsula breaks off from Europe and goes floating across the Atlantic. Five people mysteriously find each other and go traveling around the now-island. It seems to be an allegory of Iberian identity and relationship with Europe-- overlaid on the journey of all people through life to death and beyond. There are strong themes of searching, wandering, changing direction-- while the "goal" is shrouded in the mystery of the future. While it's a good choice for this theme, I did not really like the book all that much. My review:
"The concept for this book is so exciting and original that I had really high expectations. But, somehow it just didn't deliver. The first half was really slow (until all 5 people are in the picture) and the last half was only somewhat more compelling. The particular narrative style Saramago uses-- where the narrator takes numerous asides to speak directly to the reader-- was really irritating and overused. There are also many long philosophical diatribes which I eventually started skipping.
I can see why this is considered an important book and I think it would be fascinating to study in a class on Iberian Studies or something. But for the casual (and ignorant) reader, it's just a bit boring. Too bad, I LOVED All the Names. I'll read some more Saramago and hope The Stone Raft is not representative. 2.5 stars"
107 Markon> I'll be interested to see what you say about Wandering Star. It would fit into my 11 11 challenge, so I'm thinking about reading it.
108 technodiabla> Have you seen the movie they made of The Stone Raft? The best moment in the movie is when the "peninsula" passes Gibralter & watches the Scots dancing around to bagpipe music. It was a rather odd movie, and other than the five being "saints" of sorts, there never seemed a good reason for all five to be together. Is that what it was like in the book?
110 Cammykitty: I haven't seen the movie. They don't actually see Gibralter in the book as I remember (or it wasn't memorable). No, there was no compelling reason for the 5 to find each other or for anything else-- I think that was the point. There was a vague notion that journeys-- including life-- are all about random wandering. You can make plans, but fate will interfere. As soon as you get to a "goal" then it becomes history and the journey is just continuing forever. If I'm right and that is the point of the novel, it was very subtle. The plot was not tight.
I'm about halfway through The Way to Paradise now. (Also for LT Author Theme Reads year long study on Llosa). The journey theme here is also strong and it is an excellent, can't-put-it-down, book. Will post a review soon.
An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
This unique and highly entertaining travelogue begins in the west African country of Togo in the late 1950s, as the teenage author recuperates from a near fatal illness. Kpomassie, an avid reader, is enthralled by a book that he discovers at the town's evangelical bookshop, The Eskimos from Greenland to Alaska, with its descriptions of vast territory devoid of trees, eternal cold, hunters clothed in animal skins, and a society that valued the child above all else, which contrasted sharply with Togo's elder dominated society and its numerous tropical forests, blistering hot beaches, and dangerous snakes. He soon decides that his destiny is to travel to Greenland, instead of fulfilling his father's promise to entrust him to the healers that saved his life.
Kpomassie slowly makes his way to Greenland via the countries on the west African coast, France, Germany and Denmark, aided by relatives and benefactors who are impressed with and fond of the soft spoken but determined young man. He finally arrives in the southern Greenlandic town of Julianehåb, eight years after he left Togo, and is warmly welcomed by the town's Inuit and Danish inhabitants, who are entranced by the gentle black giant.
Kpomassie's descriptions of the different cultures in Greenland, the people he meets, and the unique if not exactly palatable cuisine are entertaining, often warm and humorous, and always evocative and pointedly descriptive. He becomes disenchanted with the culture of southern Greenland, and slowly travels to the even more isolated northern regions, in order to seek the true Inuit people that he read and dreamed about.
An African in Greenland is an improbable and unforgettable work of travel literature, which is easily my favorite in this genre. I suppose that my ultimate compliment is that it made me eager to accompany Kpomassie to Greenland, despite its brutal climate and horrid cuisine.
I just finished The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa. What a fantastic novel! This is the first Llhosa I've read and I'm hooked.
The Way to Paradise is a dual fictionalized biography of Paul Gauguin and his grandmother Flora Tristan, a feminist communist revolutionary. It follows Gauguin's development as an artist through France and Tahiti and Tristan's development into a revolutionary through France, Peru and London.
The stories themselves are interesting, but Llhosa really does some magic with the Gauguin portions of the book. His spirit, decline, and inner journey to find savagery are all just perfectly depicted-- as is the contrast to the colonial rulers and the Maori people. Gauguin is actually reprehensible as a person but Llhosa-- without glossing over his faults-- somehow makes him, if not likeable, understandable, tragic, and human.
The Tristan portions are not quite as impressive. There aren't many male writers who could delve into a woman's psyche and have the results be believable. Llhosa wasn't far off the mark, but it didn't have the same gut-wrenching truth to it as Gauguin's depiction.
The stories are both vulgar and a bit depressing, but I would recommend this novel to almost anyone. Great stories, great writing! 4.5 stars
This is great book for the Journey Theme. There are two geographical journeys, two inner journeys, and the journey of civilization towards "Paradise" which clearly means different things to different people.
>technodiable Great review. Have you read The Moon and Sixpence? It is also a fictionalized biography of Gauguin. I was wondering how the books compare. Certainly, Vargas Llosa has read it.
#116 I have not, but this book makes me want to. It is sitting on my shelf. So many books so little time :)
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney - *****
"I remember a time once, when I set out on a long journey, and I suppose it has stayed in my mind so vividly because it marked the end of one period of my life and the beginning of another."
"I like to think of that journey, afterward, imagining the hand of fate at work, sniping the threads behind me......"
This is the tale of multiple journeys on one primary set of paths, motivated by such varied feelings as love, fear, greed, and revenge. Journeys in this novel, set in the vast Canadian wilderness resulted in discoveries, death, love, loss, and coming full circle. Each of the main characters must follow their individual quests by depending on others, and adjusting to the surprising outcomes of those relationships. An absolutely marvelous story with great characters and great plot.
#115, technodiabla, I'm a big Vargas Llosa fan, and so will look forward to reading The Way to Paradise.
#119, hemlokgang, I loved The Tenderness of Wolves too.
I read Doctor Zhivago, which marginally fits this theme because various characters journey back and forth across Russia, but I would not call it a journey novel per se. For those who are interested, I've reviewed it on my Club Read 2011 reading thread and on the book page.
Just finished The Sheltering Sky last night. Definitely a good read for the Journey Theme. An American couple in a lifeless marriage embark on aimless travels through North Africa post-WWII. This is a short book, and a quick read-- but it is loaded with layers upon layers of meanings that extend well beyond the basic plot. Review below:
I enjoyed this book-- both the story and the writing. Bowles is a master of capturing a moment, a feeling, with just the perfect words. Everything he describes comes across as completely unambiguous and familiar. He even made me forget that I hate the desert.
The characters are remarkably believable and his portrait of the decaying marriage has so many facets-- each described perfectly from both Kit's and Port's viewpoints.
I don't want to spoil the plot, but Book 3 was completely unexpected. I read it in one sitting and it felt like a dream/nightmare. Once I have emerged from the hypnosis of Bowles writing, Book 3 will either disgust me or amaze me with its provocative and disturbing insight. I won't know which for a while.
I highly recommend this book-- it is not a difficult or long read but high in enjoyment and thought-provoking content. 4 stars (maybe more later)
In Wandering Stars by Sholem Aleichem, the characters travel through much of Eastern Europe, and ultimately to Vienna, London, and New York, but their traveling has more of the characteristics of wandering than of a thoughtful journey, and the novel is more about the characters than the journey. Nonetheless, the characters (some, anyway) are making a psychological journey as well as a geographical one. I really enjoyed this book, and reviewed it on my Club Read 2011 reading thread and on the book page.
I just finished In a strange room by South African writer Damon Galgut, it was one of the shortlisted books for last year's Booker Prize.
This contemporary novel is about three different journeys taken over several years. In the first, the narrator goes trekking in Lesotho with a German he met on a trip to Greece. The story maps their changing relationship to each other, Galgut captures the tension and lack of communication between the two as they begin to fall out. The third story, set in India, was the highlight for me, I found it riveting reading as the narrator's companion spirals out of control and descends into some form of insanity far from home. The stories feel very real, like reading nonfiction. The narrator jumps between first and third person narration, even within the same sentence, and it works. I ended up enjoying this far more than I thought I would.
I loved this quote which feels appropriate for this thread:
A journey is a gesture inscribed in space, it vanishes even as it's made. You go from one place to another place, and on to somewhere else again, and already behind you there is no trace that you were ever there. The roads you went down yesterday are full of different people now, none of them knows who you are. Dust covers over your footprints, the marks of your fingers are wiped off the door, from the floor and table the bits and pieces of evidence that you might have dropped are swept up and thrown away and they never come back again. The very air closes behind you like water and soon your presence, which felt so weighty and permanent, has completely gone. Things happen once only and are never repeated, never return. Except in memory. pg123
#123> The Aleichem book is on my tbr pile, I'll have to check out your review.
I just finished The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier, a Cuban writer who lived in both France and Venezuela before returning to Cuba after the revolution. It is a fascinating, multilayered novel that I thought was recommended for this theme read, maybe in our original discussion of ideas for theme reads.
The outline of the story is simple: an educated and cultured musician, originally of European parentage but living in New York shortly after the second world war, has been reduced to working in advertising to support his wife, an actress whom he almost never sees because of their different schedules, and himself; he also has a mistress who is devoted to astrology and various poorly thought out bohemian ideas. Frustrated, dissatisfied with his life, he accidentally encounters someone from his past, a museum curator who decides to send him on an expedition to the South American jungle to find some primitive musical instruments. The core of the novel is the narrator's journey up a nameless river, through the jungles, to a hidden village; his somewhat unwilling return to New York, and then a failed attempt to return to the hidden village.
But that is only the outline. The real journey is one of time, time both in the sense of going back through history to earlier eras, because there are people in South America still living as people did centuries and millennia earlier, and in the musical sense. Music, myth, and a stunning, rich, almost hypnotic, use of of language dominate this book; I needed to look up a lot of words and terminology. Carpentier's depiction of the jungle is dramatic and beautiful, based partly on a trip he actually took up the Orinoco.
As the narrator goes up the river and back in time, he recovers a sense of who he really is, independent of the trappings of modern "civilization," and falls in love with a woman who is at once both primitive and modern. He even begins to compose again, and believes he wants to spend the rest of his life there. But first his former life intervenes, in the form of rescuers sent by his wife, and then later, when he returns to South America, he discovers that the people of the remote village always saw him as an outsider. The introduction to the edition I read, by Timothy Brennan, makes clear, as does Carpentier's writing itself, that Carpentier did not believe in romantic notions of the "noble savage" but rather that people must live as best they can in their own world and time period.
This book is one of those books that, when I finished reading it, I felt I should start again at the beginning, because I understood much more of what it was about at the end. I really enjoyed it.
Rebbecca> Thanks for the great review. He sounds like an author to watch.
I just finished The Long Walk: The True Story of Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawisz. This memoir follows 7 prisoners as they are taken to a Siberian labor camp, escape, and journey across Siberia (in winter), through the Gobi Desert (in summer), and over the Himalayas into British India.
The hardships the suffered are unimaginable. The novel really highlighted man's love of freedom, his perseverance, and the value of camaraderie. The parts about the generous Mongolians and Tibetans was especially touching and human.
The writing was good for a memoir, but the editing was poor. That said, I highly recommend this book-- especially for the Journey Theme.
I am glad this was such a great read, but I believe there are questions about the accuracy of the story told in it. According to Anne Applebaum in Gulag, a book I am currently reading (p. 399 in the paperback edition):
"Finally, there is the case of Slavomir Rawicz, whose memoir, The Long Walk, contains the most spectacular and moving description of an escape in all of Gulag literature. . . . Unfortunately, several attempts to verify the story -- which bears a striking resemblance to a Rudyard Kpling short story, "The Man Who Was" -- have come to nothing. The Long Walk is a superbly told story, even if it never happened. Its convincing realism may well serve as a lesson to all who try to write a factual history of escapes from the Gulag."
Interesting.... I can imagine that even if it is true that it would be difficult to "verify" in that place and time. I'm not familiar with The Man Who Was but will look it up. Now, on to Wandering Star.
#127 and #128 -- Thanks for the information. I have both books on Mt. TBR and now have more to consider when I eventually drag them off.
Yes, it is very interesting, and I'm glad to see a dialog on this thread!
#129 I haven't read a lot of Gulag yet (because I'm reading other books too), and I skipped ahead to the section on escapes to look for information about Rawicz, but I have so far been very impressed by Applebaum's research and writing. She had access to Soviet files and former Gulag prisoners and interweaves facts and figures with personal stories.
I finished Wandering Star by JMG Le Clezio. Here's my general review-- and then a few comments related to the journeys in the book:
I just finished this book last night, and I think it will take a long time to finish absorbing it. First of all, Le Clezio's writing is amazing: sensual, vivid, lyrical. The impressionistic style lends itself well to descriptions of nature and human emotions (there's plenty of both in this book). However, it was a bit frustrating for me to try and get at the historical facts and geographical details from this writing style. I did end up doing a bit of my own research to fill in the gaps. One really interesting aspect of this book is that though the Jewish diaspora, founding of Israel, and subsequent regional unrest are major historical events, the storytellers (two teenage girls) clearly do not understand or appreciate the implications of these events. They are focused on the basics of survival, friendships, young love, etc. Extracting the individual human experience from the historical panorama was brilliant. A very quick compelling read, highly recommended. 4.25 stars
This is a great read for the Journeys theme. There are several journeys, mostly forced, as the characters and their people flee murder, imprisonment, war. Two interesting aspects are 1.) some of the journeys are to unknown destinations which really changes the meaning of the trip itself. This hits very hard in the last journey of Nejma since it has no destination and no end. She may wander until she dies. Is it a journey is there's nowhere to go? 2.) the stories are told by very young women so the focus is not on the historical significance of the diaspora but on friends, love, pretty birds, etc. The naivete actually makes the hard facts of the journey more painful.
#133: Is it a journey if there's nowhere to go?
I think that it is perhaps even more of a journey if there is nowhere to go. Because the focus cannot lie on the destination, it must lie on the journey itself. The journey and everything that happens during it becomes the focal point.
Of course, the reverse may also apply. Because there is no destination, the person making the journey is 'stuck' in the beginning point of the journey, constantly yearning to be back there, or just to be somewhere, go somewhere. Therefore, the journey itself is 'forgotten'.
Difficult question, with more than one answer, I think.
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne – 1873
The quintessential travel story, where the journey is the main element. Phileas Fogg bets he can travel around the world in 80 days, then sets out to prove it. It’s a story that almost everyone knows in one form or another, but I can say, without any reservation, that the original is the best version I’ve had the pleasure of seeing/reading/experiencing.
Jules Verne is a masterful storyteller and the quiet humor in the story, as well as the spot-on descriptions of both places and characters make this story truly great. His descriptions of the places, along with the other information he provides, are really detailed and great. As far as I know, they are also correct, at least at the time of writing.
There were two points that I found to be very interesting, when looking into the story. First is that Jules Verne witnessed a public execution not too long before writing this story, which might explain the adamancy and emphasis that is placed on Aouda’s rescue and the barbarity of the practice of human sacrifices.
Another point is the infamous balloon, which makes absolutely no appearance in the novel. Many people I spoke with while I was reading the book made a remark like ‘oh, that’s the story with the balloon, right?’ No, it’s not, and I couldn’t understand why that was an image they associated with Around the World in Eighty Days. I always picture the part in India with the elephant when thinking of the story. Wikipedia solved the riddle for me:
Although a journey by hot air balloon has become one of the images most strongly associated with the story, this iconic symbol was never deployed in the book by Verne himself – the idea is briefly brought up in chapter 32, but dismissed, it "would have been highly risky and, in any case, impossible." However the popular 1956 movie adaptation Around the World in Eighty Days floated the balloon idea, and it has now become a part of the mythology of the story, even appearing on book covers.
All in all, the book is deserving of the title of classic. I highly recommend it to everyone, even if they think they know the story well enough. Go, read it, you won’t regret it, I promise!
#135 My Classics Book Club read it last year and absolutely everyone commented on the fact that there was no balloon. Definitely has become iconic. However, I'm with you. Whenever I think of it I think of the young Princess being sacrificed and the elephant. Far more romantic, don't you think?
The General in his Labyrinth by Gabriel García Márquez (1989)
Well I must confess I read this book badly. When I came across the book I was really keen to read it, a re-imagining of Simon Bolivar's last journey into exile and written by a great author. But I just didn't do the book justice, kept on putting it down and only reading a few pages at a time. I also didn't have the knowledge of the events and need to read more South American history.
We follow the great liberator as he takes his final journey along the Magdalena River to Cartegena where he is to board a ship to Europe and exile. He is in poor health and as he travels he steps in and out of the past. We see what a great man he was, his legacy and the tragic downtrodden ending of his life, the slow deterioration just like his dream of a unified America.
Márquez writes in the afterward that his initial interest in writing the book was more for the Magdalena River than for Bolivar himself, though that changed as he researched the novel. He had sailed the river many times when young.
I have two more books that I want to read but haven't managed to fit in - The Sheltering Sky and Journey to the End of the Night, I'm just not good at sticking to deadlines. The April-June War and Regions in Conflict thread is now up.
Just thought I’d give my final thoughts on my reading for this theme read.
I picked up a classic I had on my shelves, but had never actually read: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. It is the quintessential travel story, where the journey is the main element. Phileas Fogg bets he can travel around the world in 80 days, then sets out to prove it. It’s a story that almost everyone knows in one form or another, but I can say, without any reservation, that the original is the best version I’ve had the pleasure of seeing/reading/experiencing.
Jules Verne is a masterful storyteller and the quiet humor in the story, as well as the spot-on descriptions of both places and characters make this story truly great. His descriptions of the places, along with the other information he provides, are really detailed and great. As far as I know, they are also correct, at least at the time of writing.
Due to this theme read, I also discovered the joys of reading travel stories. I read Alle wegen naar Rome (All Roads To Rome) by Jan Blokker Jr. and Zijdezacht zand (Silky Sand) by Sandra Bakker. Both non-fiction travel stories, but about as different as day and night.
Alle wegen naar Rome tells the story of Jan Blokker who went from Amsterdam to Rome on foot. It’s not just a travel account, but also a history story. As Jan travels, he takes in as much history as he can along the way. In fact, he planned his route to go through several places with some historical significance (large or small). For those who like travel stories, I’d definitely recommend this book, if only for the feeling you’ve walked the route yourself. But don’t expect either a fascinating look into history or an in-depth look at the places the author passes.
In contrast, Zijdezacht zand is a book that details the landscape, culture, history, but most of all the people of the countries Sandra Bakker and her husband travel through. There’s always something going on as they travel through Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and China. The things they experience are amazing, although sometimes I was very glad I could enjoy the ride safely at home in my comfortable chair. I don't think I'll ever have the guts to take the same journey! Through Sandra Bakker’s writing I felt like I got to know the countries and its people, something a good travel story is all about. I feel like I’ve been there myself and that’s the highest compliment I can give.
All in all, this theme read was very enjoyable. I discovered great joy in a new genre and read a classic that I enjoyed very much. Throughout it all, I was reminded that sometimes it really is all about the journey!
I wish I had read more for this theme read, but as I expect to read more books that involve journeys over the course of the year, I thought I might post reviews here even after the official theme read is over. Would anyone else like to do that too, so these threads have a continuing life?
I'd like that. I've got a few books on my TBR list that I couldn't fit in Jan-Feb-March, but are still about Journeys. (Including several inner-journey books)
I'd like to as well, there have been some excellent books suggested and reviewed on the thread so far.
I read Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner for this theme read. The main character travels to Hotel du Lac in Switzerland to recover from something "Terrible" she had done. During her stay there she meets several interesting characters and through her interaction with them takes a self-reflective journey.
Overall I felt the book was o.k. but it didn't end the way I thought it was going to which made me like it more.
>138 Samantha_kathy: Are either of those books translated into English? I'm language-deficient myself, alas.
>143 ffortsa:: Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it. If they are, I haven't been able to find the translations.
I wasn’t thinking of the journeys theme when I picked up Three day road at the Book Nook, but it fit so well I couldn’t resist reviewing it here. It is a novel both of physical journeys and interior ones.
The book opens with the two-page story of Xavier and Eijah’s first hunt together at age 12. Then the viewpoint moves to Xavier’s aunt, Niska, who is meeting the train she thinks is bringing Elijah home from World War I.
This is a story rich in theme. Journeys, war, spirituality, healing . . . Using alternating viewpoints, Joseph Boyden tells the story of Niska’s life, as well as that of her nephew Xavier Bird, and his best friend Elijah. Of Ojibwe/Cree descent, Niska’s family live in the bush as they have always done, until one particularly hard winter her father, a hookimaw, has to perform the necessary service of killing two windigo, a woman and baby who have been possessed and eaten human flesh. This killing cleanses the group and allows their hunt for sustenance to be successful.
Niska witnesses this ritual killing as she has hidden in the place it happens. Her father tells her afterward that he let her see it because she is his heir and may have to repeat the service sometime.
Rumor of the killing spreads to a settlement nearby, and the wimistikoshiw (whites) eventually arrest Niska’s father, who dies in jail, leaving the family group without leadership. Niska runs away from school to join her her mother and they continue to live in the bush, with her mother teaching Niska its ways. Niska inherits her father’s powers, but it is an uncomfortable inheritance. Her sister, Rabbit (Anne), is consumed by alcohol, and Rabbit’s son, called Xavier, is raised in a mission school. Eventually Niska sneaks onto the school grounds and offers Xavier the option of coming to live with her in the bush, an offer he eagerly accepts.
Xavier begins to learn Objiwe/Creek ways from Niska, including spiritual ways, and requests that his best friend from school, Elijah, join them in the summer. While Elijah mentored Xavier in school, helping him learn enough English to get by, Xavier mentors Elijah in the summers, teaching him to hunt, and Elijah comes to live with Xavier and Niska as an adult. Eventually the two young men volunteer for service in the European war, where their hunting skills serve them well as they use them to hunt German soldiers.
The “three day road” of the title is a reference to the road of death. It is also a literal reference to the three days travel it will take for Niska and her nephew Xavier (it turns out the army has mistakenly determined Xavier was killed) to travel back to her home. It may in fact be a literal road to death for Xavier, as he has had a leg amputated and has become addicted to morphine for the pain. He has only enough for 2-3 more days, and expects to die when he runs out. He is unable or unwilling to talk much, and the bulk of the novel consists of his ruminations on his experiences of the war, interspersed with Niska’s thoughts and their mostly nonverbal interactions.
What becomes clear over the course of the narration is that at the warfront Elijah comes to love killing for killing’s sake. Xavier has been wounded in spirit by the war, by the loss of his best friend in addition to his physical wounds, and Niska must call not only on survival skills, but on spiritual skills as well to attempt to heal herself and her nephew.
I enjoyed the reading of this novel. It has also left me with some unanswered questions – was it something in Elijah that went wrong, or was it perhaps that his “summers only” grounding in the Ojibwe/Creek world made him more susceptible to harm?
I read Boyden’s 2nd book, Through black spruce, recently, and it uses the same technique, the thoughts of, in this case, a niece and uncle, as a means of healing. In Through black spruce it is the younger generation calling the older “home”.
I’m curious now about both the content and the structure of Boyden’s third novel, as well as the role family connections play in the world he creates on paper. Also, it seems to me silence plays a large role – my reading is that the narration in both books is mostly silent reflection on the part of the younger and older generation, rather than direct speech to each other. How do the characters hear each other in this silence? It’s started me wondering about the role silence plays in my relationships, when this is a good thing and when it is not.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.