Willoyd's Read Around the World

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Willoyd's Read Around the World

Edited: Jan 30, 10:33am

In January 2022, I started my own challenge of reading round the world. Whist the global challenge takes things even further (!), I intend to remain primarily focused on the target of a book for each country, but it'll be good to be able to include more than one from each of them here if and when I read them (and my experience during the first months suggests that the extra interest will mean I will).

My list comprises 200 'countries' as follows:

193 full members of the United Nations;
its 2 observer nations: Vatican City and Palestine;
one ex-member: Taiwan;
the United Kingdom split into its 4 constituent countries (I've read loads of English literature, but less from the other 3);
the only continent not otherwise represented on this 'tour': Antarctica

As for criteria in choosing each book, I'm going for aims rather than rules, simply because I suspect, from reading others' challenges, it will be nigh on impossible to find books which I can read (eg most will need to be available in translation) that satisfy similar conditions to those I am using in my Tour of the USA (still ongoing). So, my main aim is to read an example of adult literature set in the country with an author born in or a citizen of that country (or resident as next best) - books regarded as 'classics' (modern or older) preferred. I will generally go for fiction,but, again unlike my Tour of the USA, non-fiction is allowed; it may even, on occasions, be preferred if I think it gives more insight into the country and/or its literature. On occasions (Antarctica for instance!) it will need to be a book about the place written by someone who is neither from there nor a resident, but that will generally be a last resort. As well, whichever 'criteria' are satisfied, it will have to be a book I haven't read before - this is about expanding my literary experience after all. BTW, books being read in my Tour of the USA can't be used to double up and count here too.

Rather than a purely alphabetical list of countries, as others have generally used, I've initially divided them up into continental lists below. Star ratings are my usual 1-6: 1-disliked (a lot!), 2-disappointing, 3-OK, 4-good/very good, 5-excellent, 6-a personal favourite (a rare grading - I've only ever given 130 or so of these). To get these on to Librarything, I give 1, 2, 3, 3.5, 4 and 5 respectively.

Countries read to date: 19 / 200

Create Your Own Visited Countries Map

Edited: Jan 30, 10:34am

Europe 8/48

Bosnia and Hezorgovina:
Czech Republic: Closely Watched Trains - Bohumil Hrabel *****
Finland: The Year of the Hare - Arto Paasilinna ****
Germany: Measuring the World - Daniel Kehlmann *****
Italy: The Leopard - Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa *****
Northern Ireland:
North Macedonia:
San Marino: The Republic of San Marino - Giuseppe Rossi (NF) ***
Scotland: O Caledonia - Elspeth Barker ****
Ukraine: Death and the Penguin - Andrey Kurkov ***
Vatican City:
Wales: One Moonlit Night - Caradog Prichard *****

Edited: Jan 9, 7:19am

Africa (5/54)

Burkina Faso:
Cape Verde:
Central African Republic:
Congo, DR:
Congo, Rep: Black Moses - Alain Mabanckou ****
Cote d'Ivoire:
Djibouti: In the United States of Africa - Abdourahman Waberi ****
Equatorial Guinea:
Kenya: A Grain of Wheat - Ngugi wa Thiong'o *****
Sao Tome and Principe:
Sierra Leone:
South Africa: The Promise - Damon Galgut *****
South Sudan:
Togo: Michel the Giant - Tete-Michel Kpomassie *****

Edited: Dec 27, 2022, 5:56pm

Asia (4/48)

Japan: Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata **
Korea, North:
Korea, South: The Vegetarian - Han Kang **
Malaysia: The Night Tiger - Yangze Choo ****
Saudi Arabia:
Sri Lanka:
Turkey: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World - Elif Shafak ***

Edited: Jan 21, 6:36pm

North America (2/23)

Antigua and Barbuda: Annie John - Jamaica Kincaid ****
Costa Rica:
Dominican Republic:
El Salvador:
St Kitts and Nevis:
St Lucia:
St Vincent and Grenadines:
Trinidad and Tobago:
United States: Beloved - Toni Morrison *****

Jul 11, 2022, 7:06pm

South America (0/12)


Oceania and Antarctica (0/15)

Marshall Is:
New Zealand:
Papua NG:
Solomon Is:

Jul 12, 2022, 8:05am

Hello and welcome! I like your main aim ("adult literature set in the country with an author born in or a citizen of that country (or resident as next best) - books regarded as 'classics' (modern or older) preferred"): that's basically what I am trying to do too.

Edited: Oct 27, 2022, 4:35am

>7 Dilara86:
Thank you!
Those aims could be challenging though - fairly stretched even with the first Sanmarinese book! Hoping to pick up some suggestions here as I go along.

Jul 12, 2022, 9:23pm

Welcome! Ooh, I like how you are setting up your lists. By continent makes a lot of sense. Thanks for explaining your choices for countries too. There are so many ways to slice this particular cheese. You've hit some interesting countries so far.

Jul 13, 2022, 5:32pm

>9 labfs39:
Thank you too.
I've really enjoyed those books so far too - really underline the joy in spreading one's wings a bit. The San Marino book was fairly limited, inevitably perhaps given its nature, but the others were excellent. Must get some comments up

Jul 15, 2022, 12:54pm

Welcome to the group! :)

Edited: Dec 19, 2022, 8:13am

>11 Jackie_K:
Thank you!

First seven books completed:
1. The Promise - Damon Galgut, for South Africa *****
2. In the United States of Africa - Abdourahman Waberi, for Djibouti ****
3.Beloved - Toni Morrison, for the USA *****
4. The Leopard - Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, for Italy *****
5. The Republic of San Marino - Giuseppe Rossi, for San Marino ***
6. Measuring the World - Daniel Kehlmann, for Germany *****
7.The Vegetarian - Han Kang, for South Korea **

Can't say I enjoyed the last one, even if thought provoking - cold and singularly unpleasant. Almost the shortest (San Marino was slimline!) but easily the hardest read. Others were far more rewarding. Will try and get to write some proper reviews.

Edited: Dec 19, 2022, 8:13am

#8: O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker for Scotland ****.
Superbly written, and deservedly described as a classic IMO, but not sure how much I actually enjoyed this, with the whole book in the shadow of the opening where the main protagonist is mudered on p.1 (no spoiler, it's in the blurb). The rest of the book is the story of her life. Really appreciated yes, enjoyed hmm. Think I need to sit on this and see what I think longer term!

Aug 1, 2022, 4:04am

I don't think I'd heard of O Caledonia before, but I had a look at the work page and this is a book bullet for me!

Aug 1, 2022, 6:07pm

>14 Dilara86:
I picked it up after it was reviewed in the Book Club Review podcast. Their reading is a wee bit more eclectic than most, and one of the presenters raved about this. I don't always agree with them, but they're one of the more reliable at providing leads (especially, for me at least, Kate).

Aug 3, 2022, 5:08pm

Welcome, Willoyd!

Edited: Dec 19, 2022, 8:13am

#9: One Moonlit Night by Caradog Prichard for Wales *****
In spite of having a strong streak of Welsh in me (and actually run for a Welsh team), this is probably my first piece of fiction translated from Welsh. It's the fictional autobiographical narrative of a never-named young boy growing up in a northern Welsh town in the years around World War One. The town is apparently based on Bethesda, and there are elements of the authors own life in the novel. It's dark, very dark in places, but it never feels like mis-lit, with moments of wonderful humour and 'sunshine' in it. This may be written by an older adult, but it has the definite feel of a child's positiveness. It's beautifully written, almost poetic in places; I can see why so many regard it as a modern classic. Quite simply, I loved it. This achieved exactly what I hoped for this challenge - introducing me to a great book that I would probably have never otherwise read (I hadn't even heard of it before researching the list).

Sep 16, 2022, 4:14pm

>17 Willoyd: You certainly sell that book, onto my list it goes.

Sep 16, 2022, 4:30pm

>18 labfs39: Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Sep 17, 2022, 4:51am

>18 labfs39: Same for me!

Sep 17, 2022, 6:41am

>20 Dilara86: And for me, too!
I don't think I have read anything translated from Welsh so far.

Edited: Dec 19, 2022, 8:13am

#10 Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov for Ukraine ***
A fairly slim satire on post-Soviet life in Ukraine. Inevitably, there's a strong streak of black humour in this, but I rarely find myself engaging fully with satire, and, although highly readable, this was no exception. The writing was admirably lean, saying a lot in a fairly short space, and Misha (the penguin) was well used on occasions to reflect Viktor's (the main protagonist) state of mind, even though he never actually 'said' a word! But, but, but, I never really felt I was seeing characters fully in the round, maybe a result of that very spareness; they just felt too underdeveloped for my taste - apart from Viktor himself perhaps, just not coming fully alive for me. Maybe because the book is actually focused elsewhere? So, I rattled through it, but I can't say it left me satisfied. On a different level, it did also feel horribly poignant that so much of where the book is set is now being blasted to destruction, but it does underline the fact that things weren't all sweetness and light beforehand.

Oct 14, 2022, 3:03pm

>22 Willoyd: Interesting. I've had this title on my wishlist for years. Not sure if I'll push it up or down based on your review...

Oct 14, 2022, 6:54pm

>23 labfs39:
It's such an easy read, I'd say definitely give it a go. It wasn't to my taste totally, but that's more to do with the overall style rather than the quality. I can see why more widely it's highly regarded.

Edited: Dec 19, 2022, 8:14am

#11 A Grain Of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o for Kenya *****
This was read as a book group choice, taken from the Big Jubilee Read* list, although I already had it down as my likely choice for Kenya. It's a fairly short read, just over 240 pages long, but packs a huge amount in to such a short space. Set in the days leading up to Kenyan independence in 1963, the main plotline covers the plans by local elders to expose, at they independence celebrations, the traitor responsible for the capture and death of a local Mau Mau leader. Other sub-plots examine the relationships of members of the same village, in particular the younger sister of the leader and her husband, himself interned for 6 years as a 'rebel'. Themes of betrayal and redemption, isolation and unity, religion and empire are interwoven in a narrative that, whilst progressing towards the denouement, shifts time and perspective sometimes almost without noticing, as one gets inside the minds of the various protagonists to see events from their viewpoint, whilst occasionally being drawn away to see the overall picture. It's complex, and it's deep, provoking an intense and very interesting discussion in our group, especially as we had members of our group with experience of both immediate post-colonial Kenya and knowledge of the author at at the time of his writing the book (we didn't find this out until the discussion!). One of my strongest reads of the year, and of the challenge so far.

*The Big Jubilee Read list is a list of 70 books (10 from each decade) developed through the Reading Agency and the BBC to celebrate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, taken from across the Commonwealth. Many of the books aren't so well known in the UK, and the list looks like rich pickings for someone like me looking to broaden my range of reading beyond the usual Anglo-American fare (although my USA Tour suggests that my American reading has previously been rather limited too!). One of my book groups decided to take a couple of books off the list to finish the year off - we're reading Yangsze Choo's The Night Tiger next.

Edited: Dec 19, 2022, 8:14am

#12 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak for Turkey ***
Another book that was read as a book group choice, and not my original choice for Turkey, but it fitted neatly enough. The premise was interesting - the main protagonist Leila having just been murdered, 'lives' through the first 10 minutes 38 seconds of her death with her dying brain each minute experiencing sensations that in turn evoked key instances of her life (the idea was apparently based on a scientific paper that reported brain wave activity in a body for that period post-death). Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that this was just a 'different' way of telling a fairly standard story, the life of a girl growing up in an increasingly repressive Muslim household and how she 'escapes' and lands up working as a prostitute in Istanbul, complete with religious fanatic father, repressed mother, a sexually abusive uncle etc etc. All pretty predictable, and little different to so many other similar narratives (even if the story deals with important issues). The second half experienced a complete change of pace as Leila's friends (the story of how they became so having been told as part of the first part) work to honour her and ensure that she receives an appropriate burial (she's scheduled for a virtually unmarked grave in a pauper's cemetery). The narrative descends into virtual slapstick, and the ending was near farcical (in the literal sense). Whilst in some ways more interesting than the highly predictable first section, the juxtaposition of the two sections jarred - it almost felt like reading two different books that had been roughly stuck together
Overall, this was an OK if rather underwhelming read. It certainly left me wondering why the rave reviews and the Booker shortlisting?

Edited: Dec 19, 2022, 8:14am

#13 The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo for Malaysia ****
The second book from the Big Jubilee Read, and something of a contrast to A Grain of Wheat. The latter was founded very much in the reality of colonialism. Whilst The Night Tiger is set in the 1930s, during the colonial period, there's a strong streak of magical realism in it that gives it rather more of a fantasy feel. Altogether a lighter book, but no less readable.
There are 2 strands to this novel, which are told alternately, and which gradually interweave more and more. Ren is an 11-year old houseboy tasked by the doctor he serves on the latter's deathbed with retrieving the doctor's amputated finger within 49 days of death, to ensure the doctor's spirit isn't left stranded in this world. In the meantime, Ji Lin is a young woman frustrated in her apprenticeship as a dressmaker when she wants to work as a nurse or doctor, who is also working as a dance instructor/partner (a rather less than polite job) to earn enough money to pay off her mother's gambling debts. She acquires an amputated finger in a vial from one of her clients....
At its heart this is very much a yarn to be enjoyed. Providing a rather different twist, it is suffused with Malaysian/Chinese beliefs and myths, particularly in the dream experiences of Ren and Ji Lin, which appear to be all too closely mixed up with the real world. Also underlying the narrative are suspicions of supernatural influences, including were-tigers and some improbable events and coincidences. And then there is, of course, Ren's objective.
At 470 pages it's a longer than average read, and there was a point just before halfway when I wondered quite how the author was going to spin things out to fill the space, but that brief longeuse was quickly replaced by a positive gallop to the finish which had me enthralled. My one caveat was on the historical element: whilst this was set in the 1930s and certainly reflected some of the social mores of the time and place, it never really felt fully settled in that period. I can't quite place why, but whilst it all felt 'correct' (at least as far as my very limited knowledge goes), there was something intangible missing - it just didn't fully breathe it for me. Not a spoiler though, and overall a definite like!
Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what the rest of the book group feel about it, particularly on that latter point (we have a writer of meticulous historical fiction in the group). Knowing me, I may well change my mind on some aspects after the discussion, but if I do, I'll edit and note the changes!

Dec 10, 2022, 5:35pm

>27 Willoyd: I felt much the same when I read it last month. In fact, I wrote: "I enjoyed learning more about Malaysian folklore, but was a bit disappointed with the historical aspect. I felt as though the characters had modern sensibilities and the setting lacked historical nuance." I'll be curious as to whether your book club has a different impression.

Dec 19, 2022, 8:12am

#14 Michel the Giant by Tete-Michel Kpomassie for Togo *****
My second non-fiction book for this tour - but still a 'modern classic'; or, at least, one deemed worth of the Penguin Modern Classic imprint. And I cannot disagree!
As a teenager, the author, brought up in a traditional Togolese family, develops a near obsession to visit Greenland, to such an extent that he runs away and, over several years, makes his way up the west African coast into Europe and then, finally, sails from Denmark to Greenland. Many Greenlanders have never seen a black person before, never mind one who towers some 8 inches or so above them.
The main focus of the book is a searingly honest (or so it feels) account of Kpomassie's time spent in the country. It's a real eye-opener, and not for the faint-hearted - to a 'soft' Westerner, it's a completely alien culture! In fact, it seems, with some of his comparisons, that Kpomassie's own upbringing has far more in common - although some of the sexual freedoms and his experiences with food (much of it eaten raw) definitely take him by surprise! The word 'raw' feels appropriate for much else of his experience too - not least the relationship between man and dog, where the latter are as much a threat as a friend.
But, however much his preconceived ideas may have been largely washed away (much of life was more squalid and less exotic than he anticipated), and however alien life might have been, it's obvious that Kpomassie remained in love with the Inuit and with Greenland as a whole. I loved his descriptive writing, and the openness of his writing as to his feelings and emotions, with all his faults (he's a human, and no saint). I suspect that much, if not most, of his account is of its time (the 1960s), and wonder how much of the culture and life remains, but it is no less interesting and relevant for that, given the state our world is in today. Thoroughly recommended!

Dec 21, 2022, 12:17pm

>29 Willoyd: I'm so glad you enjoyed it, it's a great book!

Edited: Jan 30, 10:36am

#15 Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabel for Czech Republic *****
Very short, powerful, intense read covering a huge range of emotions, from the laugh-out loud to the tragic. More detailed review to follow as an update edit.

Dec 23, 2022, 1:38pm

>31 Willoyd: If you like Hrabal, you might like Too Loud a Solitude. It's one of my favorite stories (and short too!).

Edited: Jan 30, 10:37am

#16 Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata for Japan **
If ever a book made me feel inadequate....! Acclaimed as a classic, regarded by many as the masterpiece of a Nobel laureate, I failed at pretty much every level to engage with this slim (thank goodness!) novel. As much as anything, I think this must be something of a culture clash, as I can't recall a single Japanese novel that I've enjoyed (I've not read many, but have tried a few now) - at least one reviewer has commented that one needs to understand at least something of the way the geisha system works (I admittedly don't). Even trying to allow for that, whilst I found some of the description of the landscape evocative, I never really felt there was much point to what I was reading, with 2 characters bumbling along going nowhere, either as people or on any form of narrative arc, and revealing about the same. I stumbled my way through this in a fog of incomprehension and bewilderment, but, unlike some difficult poetry, with no real 'hook' to movitate me to try and work it all out: I found the style of writing almost abrupt, too staccato and fractured, with dialogue where it was all too often difficult to identify who was speaking. I'm just relieved to be able to move on, although I will probably, once given a chance to draw breath, start to wonder what that was all about.

>32 labfs39:
Thanks for the tip.

Edited: Jan 30, 10:37am

#17 Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou for the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) ****
The story of the eponymous boy as he grows up in a Congolese orphanage, later escaping to a life of survival and petty criminality on the streets of Pointe-Noire, whilst seeing himself as a sort of Robin Hood. It's a pretty brutal life, and the violence is notably casual, but the author writes it more in the style of a latter day Don Quixote, a sort of picaresque bildungsroman, than what could have been an unrelentingly grim story. As 'Mose' gradually loses grip on reality, there seems to be an increasingly strong element of that self-deluding Spaniard present right to the end! Overall, this was a fairly easy read which I found myself fairly galloping through. What struck me most was the strong maleness of the book - there are plenty of women, but they aren't drawn in the same depth and seem to flit in and out of the narrative almost casually (that word again!) - although it's the lack of a mother figure, or rather, perhaps, the search for one, that seems to dominate Mose's life. How accurate a reflection of Congolese life at this time this is, I can't say, but there's a ring of authenticity to it that I found convincing - it feels that the author is drawing on personal experience.
Incidentally, the book's title in the original French is 'Petit Piment' or Little Pepper - Mose's nickname in the street gang he belonged to.

Jan 21, 6:34pm

#18 Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid for Antigua ****
Another growing-up story, this time centred on a young girl in Antigua. At the core of the novel is her relationship with her mother - initially very intimate, almost overwhelming, later more mixed and complicated as her mother appears to distance herself from her daughter as the latter reaches puberty - there's certainly growing alienation. But then, we're just seeing this from one perspective, and the reliability is uncertain. Annie certainly seeks substitutes, best-friending intensely successively with 2 contrasting peers. Annie is bright, top of her class, but increasingly rebellious, and the novel examines the complexities of her development - all from Annies point of view. It's beautifully written, with a clarity that makes this short, but very full, novel an easy read - almost too much so, as it's all too easy to miss some of the depth as one gallops from page to page. In particular, it touches on a number of different themes, the most prominent (at least to me) being the influence of colonialism. And yet, I never fully engaged with Annie. I think we're meant to sympathise with her, but there's something (fairly small admittedly) missing, possibly created by the temporal jumps between chapters - this is more episodic than continuous narrative (it was originally published as a series of chapters/short stories in The New Yorker). But still a powerful read, which I am likely to return to.

Edited: Jan 30, 10:45am

#19 The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna for Finland ****
A return to Europe, to Scandinavia, with a slim volume that is something of a cult read, although one that I didn't really expect to gel with. However, it's short, a mere 135 pages, so I reckoned I could hack it; the reviews are certainly mixed. In the end, though, I needn't have worried, as this actually really struck a chord, not least as I benefited enormously from getting more involved in nature when dealing with work-generated stress issues, even if my experiences were nothing like this! However, whilst this might have been written in the mid-70s, so much of what it's about resonates even more strongly today.

At heart, this is almost pure social satire (which is partly why I didn't expect to get on with it much, satire often going right over my head!). The main protagonist, Kaarlo Vatinen, rescues a hare that his car hits. The act seems to trigger a major reaction in his mind, and he takes off in the the Finnish landscape, leaving job, wife and his whole lifestyle behind, in spite of their efforts to hang on to him. The book then becomes something of a picaresque, almost back to nature, journey, although this is nature that is distinctly red in tooth, claw and fire. In the meantime, the 'civilised' world keeps threatening to intrude, and however dangerous nature might be, the latter is in danger of threatening even more, often ridiculously so.

The book's humour is often cited but, personally, it rarely made me more than smile. But it didn't need to - I still enjoyed the ridiculousness and the satire. As I so often find, I think the satire would be funnier, blackly so, on film, and I do intend to look out the film that was made of it in the 1970s (there are two adaptations apparently, with another French one made later in the 2000s). In the meantime, this proved to be a much more engaging and rewarding book than I expected, one I would recommend to others. even if just to decide for themselves what they think!

Jan 30, 10:35am

>36 Willoyd: I thought it was very good too, Willoyd. I wish I had written a review back when I read it so that I could make more cogent comments. I would like to read The Howling Miller by the same author. A very different book but also recommended by LTers whose tastes are similar to mine.