JustJoey's travelling the World
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I plan to visit (almost) every country in the world alphabetically. I'm already travelling through Europe on the Europe Endless Challenge. That's why the European countries won't be added alphabetically, but geographically. You'll find my European thread here: http://www.librarything.nl/topic/92322
I would love to receive recommendations for books about the countries I'll visit. It's my goal to read at least one book of a native author and one book about the country (fiction or non-fiction). And of course, I'll try to learn more about the country I'm visiting.
Here's my list of countries:
Afghanistan: The bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad (my review).
Albania: Het land waar je nooit sterft (The Country Where No One Ever Dies) by Ornela Vorpsi - 4 stars (message 27)
Algeria: The Last Summer of Reason by Tahar Djaout (see message 6)
Andorra: Andorra by Peter Cameron
Angola: My Father's Wives by José Eduardo Agualusa (see message 11)
Antigua and Barbuda: My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid
Argentina: Te veel helden / Demasiados Heroes (Too Many Heroes) by Laura Restrepo (see message 12)
Armenia: Het huis met de leeuweriken / Skylark Farm by Antonia Arslan (see message 16).
Aruba: Zuidstraat by Denis Henriquez (see message 19)
Australia: Cloudstreet by Tim Winton (see message 22)
Austria: Wie liefheeft slaapt niet / Schlafes Bruder by Robert Schneider (see message 23)
Azerbaijan: Ali and Nino by Kurban Said
Bahrain: An Archaeological Guide to Bahrain by Timothy Insoll
Bangladesh: Het bijtende gevoel van verlies (A Golden Age) by Tahmima Anam
Belarus: De werkplaats van de duivel (Chilly Land) by Jáchym Topol
Belgium: Mevrouw Verona daalt de heuvel af by Dimitri Verhulst
Benin: De bruid van Benin by annette bokpê
Bhutan: The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden
Bosnia: How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišic
Botswana: Black Mulberries by Caitlin Davies
British Virgin Islands
Central African Republic
Micronesia, Federated States of
Northern Mariana Islands
Papua New Guinea
Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Sao Tome and Principe
Trinidad and Tobago
Turks and Caicos Islands
United Arab Emirates
The alphabetical angle makes me chuckle; while at university I decided to listen to all the music in the house I shared by a few other students in alphabetical order. I did not make it out of A--a roommate had an exhaustive collection of Air Supply, which following ABC and a Bryan Adams album, proved too much to endure.
I'm sure you'll last much longer than I did!
Well, I hope so anyway :-) Europe will bring me some relief as I travel this continent from country to country.
1. Afghanistan: The bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad.
. . .
The Norwegian journalist Seierstad lived with an Afghan family in Kabul for several months. We get to know the family, the national history, customs, traditions, etc of the Afghan people.
I like the book because you get to learn more about Afghanistan. I didn't like the fact that she is absent as an observer and that she tells the story as if she really knows what all these people are thinking. It may be that she has talked a lot to many people and that they have confided in her. It may be that her observations are right, but as a reader you get the impression the Afghan people really think this way, while it's actually an interpretation by a Western journalist who inevitably adds her own flavour and viewpoints to the story. If it had been written by an Afghan woman, it would have been a different story (just think of how foreigners describe your country and customs and compare them to what you experience as a native). However, this book is a splendid recording of life in Afghanistan as seen through the eyes of a Western woman and that's quite something. Recommended.
Next stop on my alphabetical tour of the world is The Last Summer of Reason, quite a disturbing book written by Tahar Djaout who was murdered by Algerian fundamentalists.
2. Algeria: The last Summer of Reason by Tahar Djaout.
. . .
About an (Algerian) book-seller who sees his world falling apart when the religious fanatic take over society. He sees how people give in to the threats and intimidation and become shadows of themselves. He witnesses how arts, science, books, music, colour, beauty,alcohol, joy and happines... all is banned and forbidden. He sees men growing a beard, wearing identical clothes and women hiding under a burka. It's a very sad story, but beautifully written. It explains how a little spark can light a fire. The author himself was murdered in 1993 by Algerian extremists. This manuscript was found between his papers. Highly recommended.
Next stop on my global tour is Angola. I'm doubting between Pepetela's The Glorious Family and José Eduardo Agualusa's My father’s wives... Can anyone help me out?
I finished A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle for my Ireland-book on my European tour. You can find more in my message 23 at The Europe Endless Challenge).
Next up is Angola with Pepetela's The Glorious Family. I've finally chosen this one because it's a historical book (fiction though) with a story about a Flemish merchant and the Dutch in the slave-trade. Although I'm Flemish, this is an aspect I know very little about. I'm also reading Salka Valka by Haldór Laxness for Iceland (again to be followed on my Europe Endless Challenge).
I finished Salka Valka by Halldór Kiljan Laxness for my Iceland-book on my European tour. You can find more in my message 25 at The Europe Endless Challenge).
I gave up on Pepetela's book on Angola. I couldn't get interested in the book as it was hard to really get into it without knowing both the history and geography of Angola beforehand. I switched to My Father's Wives by José Eduardo Agualusa, but I haven't finished it yet. I did finish my Europe Endless Challenge on Denmark: Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. I didn't particularly like that one.
>9, Really? Miss Smilla's Sense of Snow is one of my favourite books ever!
Angola: My father's wives by José Eduardo Agualusa
. . .
I finished My father's wives by José Eduardo Agualusa as my book for Angola. I would not have read this book if it had not been one of the only two I found on Angola that were available. But I liked it, surprisingly. It was warm, refreshing and a good read.
I've also finished Berlin Poplars by Anne B. Ragde, a book that surprised me. Although it dealt with a lot of grief, sorrow and secrets, it was light-hearted and heart-warming. I read it's part of a trilogy and now I'm determined to read the second one as well (only to read the third if the second one convinces me too). It's about three brothers, their father and a daughter who come together when their mother dies. The interaction, the characterization, the descriptions are lovely. It even changed my thoughts on pigs... Maybe not the most intellectual literature, but highly recommended.
4. Argentina: Te veel helden / Demasiados Heroes (Too Many Heroes) by Laura Restrepo.
. . .
I guess this book isn't well-known (undeservedly), as I'm the first one to add the Dutch version on LT and only 7 have added the Spanish version.
But I enjoyed it very much. The story is about a (Columbian) mother who returns to Argentina with her 15 year old son to find his (Argentinian) father who left when the boy was 2 (well, it's a bit more complicated than that, but you should read the book if you want to know the fine details). Both the mother and the father were in the resistance at the time Argentina suffered under the dictatorship in the late 1970's and 1980's. Apart from the fact that you get a feel of what it must have been like to live under such regime, you also see the difficult relationship of a mother and her teenage-son, both undecided whether the man they are looking for is a hero or a nutcase. The mother and the son aren't flat characters either: you sometimes like them, understand them, but also sometimes get annoyed with, i.e. they're portrayed very human.
It's a very well-written, bitter-sweet testimony of an unusual expedition which I liked very much. Recommended.
Demasiados Heroes is a very new book so that's the reason why it doesn't have that many copies yet. In fact, I was the first person on LT to read it! Glad to see you enjoyed it. I only ranked it 3.5 out of 5 stars but I think that was more because I wasn't really in the mood to read this although it was indeed well done.
Looking forward to seeing how the rest of your challenge progresses.
5. Armenia: Het huis met de leeuweriken / Skylark Farm by Antonia Arslan.
. . .
Without a doubt, this is one of the most gripping books I've read in a very long time. The author tells the story of what happened to her Armenian family just before and during the Armenian genocide of 1915. Genocide must be one of the worst things that can happen to anyone, but when it is described through the eyes of survivors and relatives like Antonia Arslan does, your heart goes out to a people you've never met. In this book, you get a privileged look into the rich culture of the Armenian people, their sense of kindness, humour, style, their ways and habits. But it's also about unconditional love and friendship, bravery, courage, compassion, perseverance and dignity. Some parts of the book are really very hard to read because they tell in detail what happened to these people, but I think, if you can stand it, it's our duty as human beings to try to understand what happened.
Finland: Waar we ooit liepen / (Where Once We Walked) by Kjell Westö
This is a beautiful book. The setting which is described is interesting enough: Helsinki during the first part of the 20th century, the first World War, the impact of the civil war between the Reds and the Whites, the gay twenties with the introduction of jazz, alcohol-prohibition, the introduction of modern age,...
Unlike many other books where characters are merely "results" of their time or upbringing who must "fit the story", Westö manages to create wonderful characters who not only have their own, complex personality, but he lets them grow up and evolve, influenced by the time they are living in, by interacting with the society they live in or oppose to, by confronting them with their friends and their family-background.
While you get a great insight in life in Helsinki, it's far more subtle and universal than a description of this society because the characters aren't placed there merely as metaphors, but they have their own psychological development as well: hope, fear, strenght, courage, weakness, despair, love, pride, ... it's all there. The beautiful and fluent writing-style of the author adds to the magic of this book.
With this book, Kjell Westö deservedly won the Finlandia Prize in 2006. It's a book you cannot help but fall in love with. It slightly reminded me of the atmosphere of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, but then a lot more intricate and subtle. Highly recommended and one of my best reads of 2010.
Estonia: Purge by Sofi Oksanen
This is the story of Aliide Truu, an Estonian old woman, who finds the young, desperate Zara at her doorstep. Reluctantly, she takes her in but it soon becomes clear that both have their own deep, dark secrets and both are afraid of what the other might be or might do.
Slowly, the history of both Aliide and Zara unravels: Aliide isn't simply the sweet, pitiful old lady who cares for her fruit and herbs. After the war, she did nothing to prevent her sister Ingel and niece from being deported because of Ingel's husband Paul who went into hiding after having sympathized with the Germans. Aliide, while being married to Martin, a communist, kept Paul in hiding, hoping he would fall in love with her. Now, she's a widow and alone.
When Zara shows up, she's very afraid the truth about her past may come out.
Zara has her own problems. She's the grand-daughter of Ingel and has fallen into the hands of sex-trafficking men. While visiting Estonia, she manages to flee to her great-aunt's house.
The story is told very psychologically. A lot happens but it's all seen and told through the eyes of Aliide who's very reticent and Zara who's traumatized by the brutal sex-abuse. In between, there are diary-fragments from Paul.
Although this story has a lot to offer, I think the story of Zara was one too many and not really necessary to add to Aliide's story. Sometimes it felt a bit overdone with too many explicit scenes of sex-abuse and violence. I also think that the end, however brilliant in itself, was presented too fast and a bit over the top, especially if you take into consideration the pace in which the first two thirds of the book were presented. Also, the book would have benefited from creeping into the head of Ingel herself instead of her grand-daughter who was too ignorant to really add to Aliide's story.
So, all in all, this book has some flaws but it's still brilliant enough to make this one of my better reads of 2010 and recommend it to anyone who's willing to make the effort of reading every single word of this book very carefully, as every word is important.
6. Aruba: Zuidstraat by Denis Henriquez
This book is a collection of stories about the people living on Zuidstraat in Oranjestad on Aruba in the 1940-1950's. The author has a very fluent, witty, swift style. There isn't a real plot or storyline. Each chapter tells a different story, which gives an insight in what life must have been like then and there. We get to know more about the two schoolboys having a crush on a nanny, about the Portuguese man who falls in love with an Aruban woman, about the laidback Dutchman Johannes who marries Catharina but who cannot live up to the expectations of his father-in-law who is a businessman, about the uncle who's been all over the world and now is back in Aruba, etc. It's a heart-warming book with splashes of joie-de-vivre, sadness, togetherness, love, friendship, homesickness,... Recommended, but regretfully only for those who can read Dutch.
Latvia: Barnsteen by Guido Van Heulendonk
Flemish writers seem to have a tendency to choose depressed, frustrated young males for their main characters. This book is no exception. Dorian, the Flemish 30-something son of a right-wing politician and a left-wing poetress, tries to come to terms with the suicide of his mother. We find out he's at sick-leave because of an apparent depression when he decides to go to Latvia to find out about his mother's lover. In Latvia, he gets to know a student-guide Ineta, much like "Natalie" in Gilbert Becaud's song. She tells him about Latvia and its history. They end up in the hotel, the former Lieven family estate Mežotne, where his mother is supposed to have had her affair and where he tries to resist to fall in love himself. He then goes back to Belgium but returns later that year to Latvia to execute his plans.
The book is laden with cryptic information of Belgian politics (which probably should give it a feeling of topicality), Latvian history (but too little to really be worthwhile), Dorothea Lieven (who's supposed to have had an important role in creating Belgium, although I'd never heard of her, but again, too cryptic and little to be interesting). The story itself is flimsy, misty and a bit dreary although there's nog doubt the author knows how to write. He does a wonderful job, but unfortunately it feels as if his story let him down. There is far too much information that doesn't stick together, too many details that do not lead to anything, promising threads that aren't worked out properly, although it may ofcourse have been the author's intention as a way of emphasizing the confusion of Dorian. Maybe the merit of this book to me is that it has enticed me to read more about this Dorothea Lieven and Latvia in general and to pursue other books by this author because I do like his writing-style.
Probably only available in Dutch, I'm afraid.
Lithuania: De schaduw van de slang by Saulius T. Kondrotas
What a strange book. It had flashes of brilliance but also pages which were so boring and confusing, I just wondered if this book had been assembled correctly. It's the story of a family in Lithuania in the 19th and early 20th century. The best parts reminded me of Garcia Marquez, but all in all, after a blizzard-start, it turned out to be a huge disappointment. Whch is just as well, because I just started wondering if I was getting less critical, having read all these great books lately.
Australia: Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
. . .
This book is about two Australian families, having their own problems and peculiarities, living in the same house in Cloud Street, Australia. The story spans some 20 years of their lives. I'm undecided about this book. The first 100 or so pages, I really liked. The author introduced a bunch of characters and situations that were very promising. It sometimes reminded me of Garcia Marquez and John Irving (magic and all included), but after a while I sometimes felt something was missing. The families had their own problems and solved them or tried to adapt and survive, which is what happens in real life too, but in a book you expect some change, some evolution, apart from time going by and people ageing. Also, sometimes characters just changed without an explanation. E.g. Rose is anorexic as a teenager, but then, all of a sudden, she starts eating again. Some characters are depressed one day and then, without a real reason, they are very happy. But on the other hand, the characters are so warm and lively that you simply have to at least like the book. The compassion, the love, the togetherness of families that are obliged to live together, for good and for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer,... is worth the while.
So, OK, this book may not be perfect, but I liked it.
Austria: Wie liefheeft slaapt niet / Schlafes Bruder by Robert Schneider
. . .
I felt like reading a contemporary book by an Austrian author and this one seemed just right. I must admit I was drawn to the fact that the author was said to live on a lonely mountain-top in Austria and - having travelled to the Austrian mountains myself numerous times - I wondered what effect this might have on someone's writing: if it was mentioned in his biography at the back of the book, it must be relevant. After reading the book, I think it did affect his writing. The story is about a boy, born in a small, Austrian village in the 19th century. He turns out to be an extremely gifted musician although his talent is never nurtured and formed in a proper way, because he is born in a simple farmer's family, never leaves his village and is hardly educated. When he falls in love with a girl from the village and his love is not reciprocated, this has an immense impact on his life. I don't want to give away too much about this book, but the author wonders about the fact that so much talent is never discovered and withers without ever being appreciated. There might have been born someone bigger than da Vinci and Mozart, but maybe we missed out on this because he wasn't born in the right place and the right time. In a bigger context, the book also deals with the effects of living in a closely-knit community where everyone knows everything. It is a strange but dazzling book, written in a very expressive yet subtle and intimate style which gives the reader plenty of things to think about. I recommend this one to anyone who likes psychological literature but I'm afraid this one might not have been translated to English yet (what a shame...).
Poland Over het doppen van bonen (A Treatise on Shelling Beans) by Wieslaw Mysliwski
This must be one of the strangest books I've read this year. It is one brilliant monologue of an older man in which he tells an anonimous visitor his random thoughts, memories, insights while shelling beans. Little by little we get to know the man and his own history which is also the history of the common man in Poland.
Sometimes I was a bit overwhelmed by the prose which went on and on and on. The book really grabbed me at times, e.g. when the man talked of the drunk music-teacher who conducted the orchestra in silence, or of the dependant pig that was a metaphor of his happy childhood, or of the man who taught him how to play the saxophone, or of the girl from the Red Cross who helped him during the war, or of his uncle who committed suicide. Through his eyes and mouth you sense there is more to these people and, you feel the sorrow, pain, hope, joy and happiness of the individual.
The monologue is not linear and jumps back and forth through time, creating this beautiful, epic image of an ordinary life which proves that no life is ordinary once you dig a bit deeper.
It's a book you should read slowly. It's probably not everybody's cup of tea as it is rather hermetic at times, but if you take the time and are ready to put in the effort, you'll certainly be rewarded.
I've just received a book by Wieslaw Mysliwski, Stone upon Stone, from my Archipelago Books subscription. It is quite a tome, so I'm going to have to wait until I have time to read it, especially now that I've read your comments and see it probably needs to be read slowly.
# 26 - Stone upon Stone looks interesting! I've also added it to my list, although I will take some time to digest the other one first. It's not a "fluffy" read.
Azerbaijan: Ali and Nino by Kurban Said
. . .
This book was written in 1937 but it feels as if it was written very recently. Although the title says it's a love-story, it's primarily a story of the differences between East and West, Muslims and Christians, male and female, epitomized in the persons of Ali, a rich muslim boy and Nino, a Georgian christian living in Azerbaijan during the First World War. The turmoil in Azerbaijan, the difference of cultures (Arab, Georgian, Russian, Armenian, Turkish, Persian, ...) that clash and gell, the richess, the beauty, the ugliness of the cultural identity, honour and friendship is breathtaking. In the midst of all this turmoil are Ali and Nino who try to find a compromise to make each other happy without compromising their own soul and identity.
This is a magnificent book which not only gives you an insight into a fragment of the history of Azerbaijan but also into the meaning of a cultural identity.
There's also some mystery to the identity of Kurban Said.. It was a pen-name for the mysterious Turkish-Arab Essad Bey. Only in the 1990's it was discovered that Bey was actually Lev Nussimbaum, a jew who was born in Baku. More on Kurban Said can be found in the book The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life by Tom Reiss.
Albania: Het land waar je nooit sterft (The Country Where No One Ever Dies) by Ornela Vorpsi - 4 stars
. . .
Due to some discussion on Lisa's (labfs39) CR-thread, I was reminded of my Reading Globally-thread that I had enjoyed so much last year. The plan then was to alphabetically visit every country of the world, either through a book by a native writer or a book set in the country, preferably both. However, I got stuck in the Bahamas and Bahrein and let go. So this discussion rekindled the flame and I decided to continue where I left off, although I've decided to not be so dogmatic on reading alphabetically if a book is not available right away. I also decided to add the European countries which I'd left out first, because I 'd also started a European challenge (which I also may take up again, later). So, when trying to find a suitable book about Albania, this one came up and it was just perfect.
Ornela Vorpsi is an Albanian writer and in this book, more of a novella, she writes down her impressions of what it was like to grow up in Albania, one of the strictest communist regimes in the world. I can't imagine what it must have been like then and there, but the way in which she tells the story, subdued and cynical, makes it all very visible and tangible. There's a certain distance in her writing and yet it's very confronting at the same time. It would be strange to say I liked this book because it's a very bitter story (rather a collection of memories and impressions) but I did like it, because to me it conveyed perfectly the feelings of despair and bitterness that surrounded Vorpsi when growing up as a young woman in this harsh, very male society. Recommended if you feel up to reading the more serious stuff.
Hmm, so this is how you do it? I guess I should start a thread, but I'm worried about one more thing to keep up!
As I mentioned on Lisa's Club Read thread, I mostly don't follow individual RG threads, so I'm glad you also posted this review in the regional threads, which I do follow. Good luck and happy reading with your challenge!
PS Love the maps!
# 29 Thanks for stopping by, Rebecca. I think the regional threads were a great idea and I can't blame you for focussing on them rather than the personal threads. I created my thread before the regional threads were available and now I just keep it to log my personal reading-progress. But you won't miss out on anything because I'll always post in the regional threads as well... except for the maps of course :-)
I've just added all the books that I read in 2011 and that are more or less relevant to the regional threads. I'm a bit astonished that almost all are situated in Europe. I thought I was more of an international reader. I hope and think reviving this thread and challenge will broaden my reading-horizons.
Wow! Just got back to LT and discovered all those reviews you've added to the regional threads. Looking forward to reading them!
Bhutan: The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden - 3 stars
. . .
This is the fictional story about the Bhutanese woman Tsomo from early childhood, growing up, getting married, migrating to India, etc. until she finally finds her destination and becomes a bhuddist nun. It's a rather straightforward story, told by Tsomo herself (though in third person). I wasn't particularly taken by the story and found it at times a bit long-winded. I also was a bit disappointed because I expected to learn more about Bhutan but as the story only evolves around Tsomo from her limited point-of-view, the reader doesn't really get an insight into life in Bhutan and what is unique about that country. And it was such a s l o w read. It felt it took me forever to finish it.
Hmmm, fascinating subject, but poorly executed. I think I'll pass. Love the map!
Bangladesh: Het bijtende gevoel van verlies (A Golden Age) by Tahmima Anam
. . .
A gripping story of a woman, her children, a people and a country. For some reason however, the story could not hold my attention. I'm still trying to figure out why because the story really had everything I usually like in a book.
I started to get bothered by the many gaps in my alphabetical challenge. So I decided to go back and meticulously fill in the blanks. Some, like Belize and Bahrain, were really hard to find, but I finally managed. Since I already know where to find the books, it's only a matter of time before I read them.
Benin: De bruid van Benin (The Bride of Benin) by Annette Bokpê
. . .
I must admit I was a bit reluctant to read this book and I only started it because it was the only book about Benin I could locate. However, "forced reads" like this often hold very pleasant surprises, so after half a page, I was totally wrapped up in this autobiography and in the engaging style of Annette who married the modest, hard-working engineer Maurice she met in Germany who later became a prince in his own country Benin. Annette soon finds out that Benin is a country ruled by voodoo-rituals and although her husband tries to escape the traditions, he finally goes back to his roots.
I thought this was a magnificent book. Bokpê writes beautifully and vividly. She warmly embraces the Benin-culture and her new Benin-family and friends and undergoes events with a lot of open-mindedness. However, she manages to keep her identity and self-esteem, which cannot have been very easy in a culture that's so different from hers.
I must say, quite unexpectedly, I've learned a lot about Benin. The book's originally written in German and translated to Dutch. Highly recommended, but I don't think it's available in English.
Bosnia: How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišic
. . .
I'm temporarily skipping a few countries on my alphabetical tour of the world so now I've arrived in Bosnia.
This is a remarkable book. I had expected a somewhat conventional memoir but I was bowled over by a flood of fantasy, images, memories, flash-backs, personal histories and tragedies in which the Bosnian war plays a major role without being prominent. It's hard to describe the book, but it's very fresh and unusual and I recommend it to anyone who's not afraid to break away from conventional story-telling.
Botswana: Black Mulberries by Caitlin Davies
. . .
Continuing my alphabetical tour of the world, I've arrived in Botswana.
This is the story of a family from Botswana that's torn between tradition and progress. This book has a lot of potential: a fluid style, interesting perspectives, interesting characters, interesting issues but IMO it lacked some depth, some drama and tension. We get to meet three generations of women and two nationalities. There's the personal luggage of the mater familias who's raised her family rather succesfully in somewhat difficult circumstances after her husband died. There's the grand-daughter who has a special connection with her grand-mother. There's the beautiful daughter who has a carreer in modelling and there's the female neighbour-journalist who has a crush on the brother. The interaction between those women against the beautiful backdrop of Botswana gives plenty to write about. However, there are far too many loose ends, far too many easy-way-outs, too many gimmicks to make me overenthusiastic. In fact I had the same problem with this book as I did with Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. It's not exactly chicklit but it's coming close. On the other hand, if you liked Brooklyn, I'm pretty sure, you'll love this one. I liked it, didn't love it.
I was a bit behind on your thread, so it was a joy to read. I've added De bruid van Benin by Annette Bokpê to my own TBR list for when I go 'visit' Africa. I already had a short story(I think it's a short story anyway) on my list for Benin but this book sounds much more interesting!
Both A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam and Black Mulberries by Caitlin Davies were on my list of possible books for their respective countries. From your review, I think I'll like Black Mulberries, it sounds like the kind of book I like anyway. As for A Golden Age, I'll just have to wait and see.
Hi Samantha-Kathy, thanks for stopping by. I do recommend any of the books you mentioned for the RG-read. They may not be brilliant or extraordinary, but sometimes good is more than good enough. In fact I wonder why Black Mulberries isn't a hit on LT because it has everything it takes.
Black Mulberries (and other good books) often get snowed under when the next new book-fad is there, no matter how good or bad that popular book is. Twilight anyone?
Nice reviews: I'll look forward to seeing The Bride of Benin in English, and How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone sounds interesting too.
Andorra: Andorra by Peter Cameron
. . .
A man moves to Andorra to start a new life, but what secret does he carry and who are the people who cross his path.
My personal thoughts
The story is set in the idyllic but fictionalized mini-state of Andorra (in reality landlocked in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, in this novel conveniently situated at the sea). The story slowly unwinds as the main character moves to Andorra and meets some people who influence his new life. It all leads to a climax that was interesting though a bit underwhelming. The beauty of this book primarily lies in the wonderful, dreamy setting and the elegant prose, minus points were the characters who were a bit too gimmicky, their stories a bit too plain and predictable. It felt as if the author forgot what he wanted to do with the story and suddenly decided to put an end to it. But all in all, a relaxing, enjoyable read.
Bahrain: An Archaeological Guide to Bahrain by Timothy Insoll (2011) – 3,5 stars
My Reading Globally-challenge sometimes brings me to countries that require a lot of effort to find a suitable book for or even to find just a book. As I did not find any fiction set in Bahrain or written by a Bahraini, I decided to read this non-fiction-book on the archaeological treasures of Bahrain. It was an eye-opener because it briefly sums up the archaeological highlights of the country and gives a little backgroundinfo on the history of the country. Since it is meant to be a guide to people living in or visiting Bahrain, there are also directions to find the sites and what to see in the museum which wasn't all that interesting to me. What bothered me more was the dry style in which the book is written. Surely, with a bit of imagination or effort, this book could have been much more entertaining, without comprimising to the scientific standards.
Antigua & Barbuda My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid (1997)
In this book Jamaica Kincaid describes the death of her younger brother from aids and all the feelings that accompany this tragic event. J.K. lives in the US with her husband and her children but when she hears that her brother is seriously ill, she travels to Antigua, the country where she grew up in. She finds her brother on the verge of death but manages to find adequate medical treatment which prolongs his life and its quality significantly.
This non-fiction-book is autobiographical which makes it difficult to comment or criticize. I could comment on the style – which is beautiful – and the structure – which is well-balanced –, but that would be inadequate, because the most important thing about this book is its contents. This book is packed with complicated feelings, unresolved issues and introspection. By writing the way she does, the author puts herself in a vulnerable position, because she seems very harsh towards her brother and her mother who she hates for reasons that are not quite explained in this book, at least not enough to feel unequivocally sympathetic towards the author. Okay, it may not have been relevant to this story to know the background of this feud between a daughter and her mother, but the way she puts it now, makes the author look harsh and selfish, while I sense she's frustrated and disillusioned about the whole situation. Apart from one incident which puts the mother into a bad light (and even then, one might understand the mother), she admits that her mother has always taken care of her children, prepared their food, looked after them when they were ill, while she had very little income to make ends meet. The author claims that her mother could get along with her children as long as they were depending on her, but was incapable of letting them go. But I wonder if that is such a horrible thing, moreso, isn't it normal for a mother to have difficulties in letting her children go? Again, I don't know what really happened between the author and her mother, but by omitting this vital information, she does not make herself all too likeable and makes me wonder what kind of woman the mother really is.
After reading this book I thought what she might have achieved if she had written a book from three different points of view: herself, the mother and the brother. I think, with the author's writing-skillls, this might have become a classic with clashes between generations, cultures and genders. Now, it's just a testimony of a resentful woman who has not come to terms with her own grief. In short, it's not a bad book, but it could have been so much better if she's stepped away from the autobiography.
I read this book for this challenge on Antigua (thanks to Carrie (cbl_tn) for suggesting it to me!) and it's excellent for that purpose: the author's originally from Antigua, the book is set in Antigua and it gives some insight into Antiguan ways. Cautiously recommended.
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