Completing my “journey” of reading a book set in each of the 50 States has led me to make another foray into Reading the World [aka Reading the Globe]. South America is the continent about which I know the least, so when researching books for an upcoming reading challenge I noticed one author identified as Chilean, I requested whatever my regional library owned of his work.
American maps would show the Americas in the middle and Asia divided in two. I like this way better.
“That I prefer writing to having written. I’d rather stay there, inhabit the time of the book, cohabit with those years….” (p, 39)
This novella is done a bit differently though all of it relates to the idea of coming home. It begins with the story of a young boy and his inner world. After an earthquake he begins to explore his world, agreeing to “spy” on a neighbor for an older friend. He is bright–he reads Madame Bovary in French at 11 or so years old.
“We are united by a desire to regain the scenes of secondary characters. Unnecessary scenes that were reasonably discarded, and which nonetheless we collect obsessively.” (p. 99)
As the story progresses, the boy emerges as the author of the story. The “older girl” he knew as a boy is now more of a contemporary. She has come home for her father’s funeral. She struggles with coming home. She struggles with the idea of names.
This is a very short book, only 139 pages of the actual story, but it took me a while to dig into it. I expected to read it in an evening, but I found I had to stop and process what I’d read. Was the text as deceptively simple as it seemed? Like with some Japanese novels, I felt I was too stupid to understand all that was supposedly contained in the story both on and between the lines. The brief issue of names did interest me, but that issue neither toyed with long enough nor satisfactorily enough to give me any sense of resolution. I found this to be the longest short book I’ve read in years and one that ultimately left me with a “meh?” or unsatisfied feeling.
Ways of Going Home: A Novelby Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell
I learned of this book from City of Asylum Books
Remember: Regardless of which online retailer I link to in my posts, I do not make any money off your clicks. They are simply included for your convenience. Today I am linking to an Indie bookseller–the one that introduced me to this novel.
Our world is experiencing an unprecedented flux of refugees. Border policies, immigration laws, and related policy topics are at the forefront of national debates. All varieties of exclusionist Nationalism are rearing their ugly heads all over the place. Another book, a nonfiction title, Afropean: Notes From Black Europe by Johny Pitts, also caught my eye as I followed the rabbit trail through the internet that led me to this novel. I will review that book another time–if I am able to get a copy through the library.
Leaving America with his wife so she can do accept a prestigious fellowship in Berlin, a Nigerian graduate student finds life in today’s Europe to be an interesting mix of nationalities–all seeking to better their lives in affluent, well-educated Northern European countries. The various characters that cycle through the story come from different countries–mostly African nations struggling with poverty. Some have been refugees, others have arrived as students. All come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. The refugee experience, whether intentional or from lapsing out of legal status, is what they have in common.
When Malawi was mentioned I knew I’d read this book. Zambia came up as well as other countries with which I was familiar. I found the stories poignant, but not cloying. The characters were mostly very believable. One was a bit pc but it made me stop and wonder, if, just if, perhaps things truly have changed enough for that character’s story to be based on reality. The narrative was woven like a tapestry–the different people and experiences overlapping in a way that I enjoyed. The ways people adapted, the places they made into homes, those were the human side of things that we often forget and which the book made so real.
Travelers: A Novel by Helon Habila
I will definitely read more of this author’s work.
My Beatrix Potter story
My own most vivid memory of a Beatrix Potter tale is over the version broadcast on PBS in 2003. My kids and I were watching The Tale of Samuel Whiskers–suddenly the poor guy is wrapped in pie crust and ready to be baked! My daughter, understandably, fell to pieces. She clutched our beloved big orange cat, Stanley, and wept uncontrollably. I tried to reassure my daughter that all would be fine and that, more importantly, it wasn’t real and that our big guy was fine. She didn’t let our cats out of her sight for a week. It took hours to get her to sleep–and this was the kid who collapsed so early, I cheated and put the clock ahead so she’d go to bed! No need to tell you that no more Beatrix Potter happened at our house!
Matthew Dennison’s Book
Dennison chose to tell Beatrix’s story a little differently. He anchors each chapter with a quote that goes with the theme of the chapter. He also tried, whenever possible, to show what aspects of her children’s books came from real life. So we learn of scenery being at real places Beatrix lived or that certain real animals were involved–that real children dear to Beatrix were the first to receive her stories as illustrated letters.
He also tells the story of Beatrix’s isolation. Her eccentric parents went above and beyond the normal Victorian mantra of keeping daughters at home. Starved of company outside her family circle, she turned inward. With no one to befriend, she befriended a menagerie of animals and shared her thoughts in her carefully coded journal. From childhood into early adulthood she was very lonely. Her parents kept such a tight reign on her that even as an adult with her own home she was forced to spend most of her time as a sort of lady in waiting to her parents. I found this very sad.
I loved learning that in addition to her children’s books with their marvelous illustrations she also quite an amateur natural scientist. She was especially fascinated by fungi–mushrooms. Nature journals, were a popular past time for Victorians and Edwardians. They would find specimens, draw or watercolor them and label them beautifully. Her nature drawings were of a professional standard as her parents had at least given her excellent tuition in art from private teachers. The book includes a few color plates with some of her nature drawings. Her love of nature also led her to be an early land conservator–buying up land to protect if from encroaching development.
Having loved the movie Miss Potter, I was pleased to learn the real stories of her first engagement and later marriage. For having such a lonely, often isolated childhood, she at least found someone with whom to share some aspects of her life.
Finally, I was so pleased to see that the author and published used such lovely endpapers for they were a fixation of Beatrix’s in her own books.
My Thoughts on This Book
This is a not-so-typical immigrant-slash-coming-of-age story aimed mostly at young adults. I did skip one story-line that bothered me. Overall, I enjoyed this one. Cross-cultural experiences always hold my attention, and immigrant stories are among the most interesting. This was very well written. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarz. [This review was originally published on my old blog on July 23, 2013.]
A few of my favorite quotes from this book:
“…his eyes lidded with hopefulness….”
“…how we lie to ourselves when we fall in love with the wrong man….”
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
Ms Buchi Emecheta is a favorite of mine–I devoured her books when I returned home from my Peace Corps service (Malawi) in 1991. Ms Emecheta was born July 21, 1944, so to celebrate her birthday I’m listing may many favorites among her books. Her books deal with African womanhood, both at home and abroad. The expatriate experience was fascinating to me in 1991. I’d also just spent two years with some of the best educated women in Malawi–research scientists in agriculture, so I found her topics of women’s empowerment vs the pull of tradition to be very meaningful.
Here then are my favorite– listed in no particular order, though, I would say The Bride Price is my favorite.
The Joys of Motherhood
The Bride Price
In the Ditch
Head Above Water
This is Buchi’s autobiography.
Second Class Citizen
I’ve read elsewhere, and completely agree, that author Zadie Smith, writes in ways very like hers. I enjoy both authors.
If you’ve been trying to Read the World, or to find a book or two from a country new to you, or just enjoy good books about strong women, then I urge you to give at least one of her books a try.
Happy Birthday, Ms Emecheta!
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Over at the great blog The Broke and The Bookish, they hold a fun link party called Top Ten Tuesday. (Yes, I KNOW it is Wednesday–I found it late, ok?) This is my first time participating, but I know it won’t be my last! This week it’s 10 Favorite Books Set Outside the USA. In my bullet journal post last week, I showed how I track books read by geography. Naturally, as I write this list, I do not have that journal at hand! Typical me. Happily, I do have my Goodreads lists of books read by year.
I also decided to make it more difficult. I do love travel books and live-abroad books, but those are nonfiction. These needed to be novels, set in current day (or very close…well in MY lifetime at least) and not be about Americans abroad if possible ( I gave in and put one in since it was Malawi and Paul Theroux). I read tons of British fiction so I only chose one set in the UK and one featuring Brits abroad. I also chose books that were reasonably current in terms of publication date.
So, here are ten favorites–in no particular order.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Britt Marie Was Here by Fredrikh Backman
No, 1 Ladies Detective Agency (series) by Alexander McCall Smith
White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol
Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji
Lower River by Paul Theroux
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Siji
Do you like books set abroad? Want to geographically expand your reading? Head over to The Broke and the Bookish for Top Ten Tuesday where you’ll find a tremendous selection of books set in foreign places!
Previously I’ve written about tracking the books I’ve finished in Reading Around the World. (And here, too.)Today I’m beginning a look at those I’ve finished in Reading Across the USA–with a caveat. I’m skipping those books in New York City and Los Angeles. America needs more books set in other locations and more published writers who have never lived in either place. I gag on the phrase “the heartland,” and sick-to-death of “the Bible belt,” and want to gag the person who coined the oh-so-precious “Red State” and “Blue State” moniker, because how a state votes doesn’t really tell all.
To start us off I’ve picked one of the hippest places on Earth–Oregon and a genre I don’t often read: Young Adult. But, let me tell you, this is a novel to savor. That it has a sequel is even better. And, did I mention? It is zombie- and vampire-free? No one eats their young. There are no dystopian elements–at least not by my definition.
Gayle Foreman is a master storyteller! The world of music and teens–superb canvas. Characters? Completely believeable. Dialog? Real LIfe. I loved this. Loved the sequel. Just read it!
If I Stay and the sequel, Where She Went, by Gayle Foreman.