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Review: His Only Wife: A Novel by Peace Adzo Medie

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.com

Afi Tekple has grown up with a widowed mother who is “beholden,” as we used to say, to wealthy woman in the community for her home, her job, her daughter’s education. When “Auntie” [as the lady is known] needs a wife for her well-off, son to tempt him away from the “foreign” woman who is the mother of his child, her gaze falls on Afi. No matter that the son cannot show up for the [traditional] wedding–it goes on with a brother as his proxy.

Afi is then parked in a luxury apartment in Ghana’s capital city, Accra, a modern city with all the normal upper-class diversions.  Only one problem–Elikem  or “Elie” as he is known, rarely visits the apartment in the same luxury development expatriates and his own brother’s current girlfriend live. How can Afi be a wife without a husband?

I did not like Afi. That is not to say I like Elie, either. Afi was no naive American marrying a Ghanaian hotshot. She knew the score. She knew the men of her area and ethnic group. Elie just did what men do there. I found her whining to be about as tone deaf as Meghan Markle’s. I thought she was very spoiled and tried to hard to feel put-out over everything.

As for Elie, if Afi had bothered to listen, he was as upfront as most men would ever be about his situation. Malawi, where I lived, is a world away from Ghana in most ways, but traditional culture is very much the same in many places on the African continent. One successful person supports several villages worth of relatives. Men have their ways. Women accept them–or not.

Afi’s friend was basically right. By all that he knew, Elie WAS a good man. And, yes, many women would have–and willingly. So what was up with precious little Afi? She no longer lived in the dreary shack of a house her mother rented from Auntie. She had the career she wanted in the city to have it in and her son would grow up with almost unlimited privileged. It wasn’t enough.

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I’m sure I’m supposed to side with Afi and see her as a champion for women. And, she was a champion for women. But, again, like Meghan Markle, she’d have nothing without the guy having provided it! It’s not that no other Ghanaian women think like Afi–I’m sure there are millions who do. To be the only wife is every woman’s dream. In no culture is plural marriage or the “bit on the side” taken without insult. It was just the WAY Afi whined about it. I did not hear maturity in it. I heard only “I want, I want, I deserve,” yet never a reason for it. Why was she worthy? Why did she and not the other woman deserve this commitment? That is what was truly lacking in this story.

In spite of my feelings for Afi, the story was well-told. I did not like having an American voice read the book. When a book is set elsewhere, I want to hear the accent of that country in the audio book.

His Only Wife: A Novel  by Peace Adzo Medie

3.5 Stars

Sunshine

Other Titles I’ve Read From Reece Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club

 

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Everything Inside: Stories by Edwidge Danticat

 

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The Guest List: A Novel by Lucy Foley

 

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Next Year in Havana: A Novel by Chancel Cleeton

 

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Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

 

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

 

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Review: Wild Horses of the Summer Sun: A Memoir of Iceland by Tory Bilski

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Thank you to Liz Dexter for bringing this  book to my attention.

If you are a horse lover, you may already know that one of Iceland’s greatest natural resources are it’s horses. Short and sturdy, Icelandics are somewhat like the Fell Ponies we’ve seen Queen Elizabeth ride in recent years.

Tory writes vividly of the trail rides, which for me were the highlight of the book:

“The horses pick up the pace. They vie to be in the front of the pack. This is what horses are like in Iceland because they aren’t coddled like pets. They are brought up in semi-feral conditions: the young and the mares are set free for many months, driven into the mountains to live off the land with no human care. Since they are left to forage for food and water on tier own and figures things out for themselves, they grow to be healthy, sturdy, and for the most part, sane.”

The horses have four or even six gaits. The six gait horses are from a genetic mutation. Riding a horse through all of those gates must be a bit like getting a Semi through a short, uphill intersection for the first time. It takes practice to for the horse and practice for the rider to not only post properly, but to get the horse to agree to the different gaits.

I gotta go Iceland

Author Tory and friends, one of whom was among the first to import Icelandic horses into the United States, began going to the same horse farm in Iceland as an annual get-a-way, recharging mission, and gal-pal road trip on their favorite breed of horses. Horses that even swim them places! Now, that is my kind of road trip!!

 

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Photo source: Wikipedia

All of the women are in mid-life, in the 40 to late 50-ish years of yo-yo-ing young adult children, aging parents. The marriages are settled and allow for alone time. The jobs are a now not stressful from inexperience but are now routine. “Going Iceland” is what they think of when the stress gets to them. In Iceland the worries are on another continent and for a week life is reduced to riding amazing horses in the beautiful natural world surrounding them.

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Icelandic Horse  photo credit

The trips are not without problems–one year it’s a mean girl clique, another year its a visit to a new touristy horse farm where anyone, even a novice, can ride Icelandics with a German, Norwegian or other hired guide working for the farm. This causes the ladies to see how truly blessed to have “their” farm to visit all those years.

There are fun side-trips to Iceland’s many quirky museums–a cod canning museum that recreates the workers living quarters is on–there are others celebrating folk lore, fishing and maritime history among other subjects (I actually knew of this–a professor of mine at I.U. wrote a book on the Anglo-Icelandic Cod War). Then there’s the horse show where they are rescue by Iceland’s answer to George Clooney and the ladies imagine one of their own being swept off her feet by him!

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As Game of Thrones and various movies put Iceland on the tourist map, changes come to Iceland. The capital city, Reykjavik, goes from town to city, albeit a still-small city and suburbs begin sprouting around it. What changes are coming for the nation and its horses? The ladies start seeing writing on the wall, but choose to turn their heads–exactly s I would do! Your own version of paradise is just that–your own. Tourists, movie stars, McDonald’s–they can’t take it from you.

Wild Horses of Summer: A Memoir of Iceland by Tory Bilski

You can follow author Tory Bilski on Twitter @exploratoryish or on Facebook.

My other reviews of books set in Iceland:

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Names for the Sea by Sara Moss

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The Sacrament: A Novel by Olaf Olafsson

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Spanish Lit Month Review: This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets

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My Interest

I’ve enjoyed several reading challenges this year.I’m not very familiar with Spanish literature so when I saw the challenge I knew I’d do it. But, I also knew I was not up to diving into a classic right now. This Too Shall Pass sounded light enough and relatable enough for my present situation. It was a good pick.

The Story

Being forty was never on Bianca’s radar, but it finally hit. Then her beloved mom dies. Her life is in a bit of tailspin. With her two ex-husbands, her married lover, her kids, and a few friends to support her, Bianca heads off to her mother’s home to get away fro a while.

The story is told as a stream of consciousness. It is just the right amount of everything: relationships, conflicts, sex, exotic locale, you name it. I often point out “ick moments” in books–my term for explicit sex. There’s a lot of talk of sex in this one, but not a lot of action. Nonetheless, it belongs in this story. It was not forced in by some apparent p.c. mandate. It’s just who Bianca is–at least at this stage in her life.

“He may be a little younger than me, I realize for the first time with a blend of irrelevance and apprehension. I never consciously used my youth as a weapon of seduction, but neither did it occur to me before to before now that it would come to an end.”

Bianca’s self-absorption, her grand assumption that everyone is as free and lose about relationships is at the heart of it all. She collects, or “curates” in today’s term, a loose-knit family of friends, their boyfriends or lovers, her ex-husbands, her children, her current lover and assumes everyone feels life the same way she does. But her chosen circle is leaving her and she is only just starting to realize it. After a party night, one friend clues her in. One of her ex-husbands takes up with one of her friends but sweetly asks her permission. And, for the first time, she is possibly feeling too old for one of the men to whom she is attracted.

“I think there are certain things that we lose forever. In fact, I think we are more the sum of the things we’ve lost than of the things we’ve kept.”

That party night introduces a stoners’ philosophy discussion. Is love the only thing that makes people or things belong to us? Or do our observations of them also do that? And doesn’t that mean they are never lost to us? Bianca though stoned is certain that some things ARE lost to us. This is part of her trouble with losing her mother and facing the loss of her own youth. Both are just GONE.

“The opposite of death is life, is sex.”

Bianca isn’t just a party girl. She is lonely. She is now lost and lonely. She uses her sex life to try to drown out the loneliness, just as she used it to escape the coming blow of her mother’s death.  But now, with her mother gone, she must also face growing up. The principal grown up of her life is gone–no, has left her. While still reeling, she slams into an older, old friend who has never grown up–still parties with much younger people, and she can sense old age, but it is really just the onset of maturity.

 

My Thoughts

I was left feeling Bianca, sans audience would be fine when she returns to her beloved loft in Barcelona and her normal life with just her boys and maybe her mom’s old dog. The stage would be gone for her to play out more drama about herself.

This was a much better book than I thought it would be. I admit, I chose it for the challenge because it was short and sounded light enough for my current quarantine-induced attention span. I was pleasantly surprised. This is also a good choice for Women in Translation Month, going on now.

My Verdict

3.75

More great Spanish or Spanish-language literature in translation at Winstonsdad’s Blog.

 

 

 

 

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Review: A Passage to India, a classic just right for today

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My Interest

Never mind that I chose to finally read it because it is a classic. It is as much about today as it is about early 20th Century India. For minorities, even when they are the true majority in a country, real justice is often hard come-by. The British rule over India enforced a Western sense of order, justice, and manners and morality. But was that justice as fair to one group as to the British themselves? This is a very timely topic. In the United States, justice for Blacks has always been a problem, though as a nation we pride ourselves on an independent judiciary.  Reading Passage to India, if you substitute an American location, Passage to Indiana if you will, could as well be written about a white American woman and a Black American or Mexcian-American man. No difference.

The Story

“The issues Miss Quested had raised were so much more important than she was herself that people inevitably forgot her.”

“God who saves the King will surely support the police.”

A trip in a mixed (English and Indian) group to the Maranbar Caves has newly-arrived Miss Adela Quested sure she has been molested by the Indian host, Dr. Aziz. The Echo. The subsequent arrest and trial of Aziz bring out the worst in the rulers. The plotting, obfuscation, and outright lying would be right at home today in any court in the U.S.A. not trying the rape case of a top white, wealthy, collegiate swimmer. Miss Quested is treated like an imbecile (also still common today in rape cases anywhere in the world). But the predictable does not end predictably. In this case, justice prevails, but only in court. Aziz must remake his life elsewhere. Miss Quested returns home never to venture out of the UK again. Damages? A civil suit? No, no, no, move on, nothing to see here. The more things change the more they stay the same, eh?

My Thoughts

“The conversation had become unreal since Christianity had entered it. Ronny approved of religion as long as it endorsed the National Anthem, but he objected when it attempted to influence his life.”

“Ronny’s religion was of the sterilized Public School brand, which never goes bad, even in the tropics. Wherever he entered, mosque, cave or temple, he retained the spiritual outlook of the fifth form, and condemned as ‘weakening’ any attempt to understand them.”

First of all, I had a problem keeping two Ronnies straight. Ronnie Heaslop, the City Magistrate and putative fiancee of Miss Quested and the other Ronnie of the Raj–Ronnie Merrick of Jewel in the Crown–a story that also involves “fraternization” between a British woman and an Indian man, and which I enjoyed more, likely because I read it pre-cell phone attention span. I loved the miniseries, too, but then, back in the 80’s I loved the movie of Passage to India, too.

This book reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird even though it predates TKAMB by many years. The vivid portrayal of racism, the proceedings in court, the emotions generated. All were very much alike, only set in different countries and cultures.

Confession: I was not expecting an Indian voice to narrate the audio! #WhitePrivilege strikes again.

Note: This book was published in the 1920s. There are racial slurs in use at the time in this book that would not be used today. I think there were two such instances. Do not let that stop you from reading this impressive work that deserves its reputation as a classic.

My Verdict

4.5

 

Reading Around the World · Uncategorized

Review: Ways of Going Home: A Novel by Alejandro Zambra

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My Interest

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.

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American maps would show the Americas in the middle and Asia divided in two. I like this way better.

The Story

“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.

 

My Thoughts

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.

 

My Verdict

3 Stars

Ways of Going Home: A Novelby Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell

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Review: Unmarriageable: A Novel by Soniah Kamal

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My Interest

I love reading books set in other countries and other cultures. Pakistan is a country the media tells us to fear, so that made this story even more appealing. The idea of a Pakistani P & P was so clever I couldn’t wait!  For the record, I enjoy Jane Austen but prefer to watch or listen to the stories rather than read them so I knew it would have to be an audiobook to fully enjoy it. Thankfully, I finally made it up the library waiting list for the e-audio. It was well worth the wait.

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The Story

The Binat family has been swindled by relatives and left with only a house in a nowheresville small city in their native Pakistan. The marital prospects for the five Binat daughters look to be nil due to their being in the poor part of the otherwise prominent family. The two oldest daughters, Jena and Alys, teach at a private school and the other three sisters attend the school. The mother, who wants her social position back, is determined they will all marry excellent rich men. Her husband, for whom the betrayal of his family has been the source of a near breakdown, potters in his garden and tries to stay out of the way.

Meanwhile, the family garners an invitation to the top wedding of the year. Mrs. Binat pulls out all possible stops to send her daughters off in the best possible outfits, with the best-looking hair and the best accessories they can manage on their paultry budget. Let the fun begin!

The story shifts with the shifting alliances, makes twists when treachery is uncovered and generally takes the reader on a prom-night-stretch-limo-party-bus of a ride to the predictable happy ending.

My Thoughts

The backstabbing relatives, overly abundant gossip and the general cattiness of women are marvelously employed devices in this story. The author has a great ear for dialogue and the voices of the characters each run true. Of course, the daughters are stereotypes. It’s an Austen re-tell! Jena, the quiet one, Alys the bold one, Marie the religious one and Kitty and Lady the bratty younger ones.

I loved this book! It was so much fun. I wanted to hug hapless Mr. Binat, smack Kity and Lady and Sami and Hami [I listened to the audio–sorry if I spelled them wrong] The fun nicknames like Gin and Rum added to the party atmosphere.  Get yourself some chai and get ready for a great read.

My Verdict

4 Full Stars

 

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For another Pride & Prejudice retelling see:

 

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Ayesha At Last: A Novel by Uzma Jalaluddin

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Review: Strange Weather in Tokyo [aka The Briefcase] by Hiromi Kawakami

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My Interest

As you’ve learned if you have read my blog for a while, I love a good older man–younger woman romance. No Sugardaddies! No gold-diggers! No pervs! Just a sincere older man, younger woman pairing.

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Map Source

The Story

Tsukiko is an office worker in early midlife. One evening at a bar she encounters a teacher from her high school. They develop a close, loving relationship. “Sensei” as she continues to call him is much older, but they find they order the same foods, like drinking together, and enjoy each other’s take on the world.

“Would you consider a relationship with me, based on a premise of love?” he asks a few years later.

My Thoughts

Hopefully, no spoilers. I hate them. Sorry if I give something away without realizing it First, let me say that I loved the sound of the food–I want to try ALL the food in this book!

I’ve only read a handful of Japanese books, so I probably missed miles of symbolism in this one. For example, Sensei always carries a briefcase and in the end, we find something out about it, but I’m still unsure what it means. Some of his pronouncements, some of her acts–surely there was supposed to be more meaning than I understood in them?

This is one of the few older man/younger woman relationships that I accepted and liked but found “off.” Not pervy, not desperate, not cringe-y, just “off” somehow. I found myself hoping Tsukiko would take off for America or move-in with her high school classmate or just adopt a pet. I did not “feel” the relationship between her and Sensei in the way I believe the author intended. I found Tsukiko’s only true-to-life emotion was in the cringy last part where she wonders if a physical relationship even matters.

My Verdict

3 Stars

Read all of the reviews of Japanese Literature Challenge 13 here

#JapaneseLitChallenge13

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Review: The Sacrament: A Novel by Olaf Olafsson

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My Interest

I tried this audiobook earlier as I was curious to read more about Iceland, but got too confused and quit. I did something I rarely do, I read some reader reviewers on Amazon and got the gist of what was confusing me and tried it again a few months later. This week, it made sense.

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The Story

Pauline/Sister Johanna reveals her story in an often confusing narrative told in back-and-forth switches in time from her student days in Paris to later in her life and to even later in her life. Her personal story is entwined with the stories of her investigation into tales of abuse in a Catholic School in Iceland. An emotionally blackmailing priest, a headmaster with problems, children who are being abused, and a church hierarchy wanting to hide it all away combine with the dark winter days and gloomy weather of Iceland and the gloomy emotional landscape of her early Paris years to make this story a fascinating, if somewhat dark, read. [Note: Abuse is a topic in the book, but there are no descriptions of the abuse and there is no sex. It is all just there in the background, it is not a focus.] The gloom is enlivened by a dog named after a Beatle and a car named after a Savior.

My Thoughts

This story had such promise I took the time to sort it out and try it again–that should be all I need to say! Olafsson can really spin a tale. I do wish, though, that for the sake of the reader he’d take on just a tiny bit of conventional style and put in a date or a place when he switches back and forth in time. This is confusing enough in print, but in the audio, it was often truly frustrating until I got the hang of his storytelling style, by which time in my first attempt, I was hopelessly lost.

In spite of the confusion, this book more than lives up to its hype. The audio was beautifully done by Jane Copeland whose voice was perfect for the story’s atmosphere. I will definitely look for more of Olafsson’s work.

My Verdict

4 Stars

The Sacrament: A Novel by Olaf Olafsson

 

For A Nonfiction Book Set in Iceland, see:

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Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss

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Review: Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller

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My Interest

I’ve enjoyed all of Fuller’s memoirs of her family’s life in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi due to my own stay in Malawi and visit to Zimbabwe. Her Colonial with a capital “C” mother, her wild father, disowned by his British family, are the sort of people I tend to love–their belief in Rhodesia and all it stood for aside. She has become a “must-read” author for me.

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Zambia–where the family now lives

The Story

Having had a childhood lived in unusual circumstances marks a person, but having such a childhood and having it in the middle of a war, can do real damage. Fuller’s growing up could be called Glass Castle meets Out of Africa. Part abuse, part wild ride, part fantastic adventure. In this installment of her family memoirs, she begins in Budapest with her father’s death while there on holiday. This time the author is narrating the audio version and she voices her mother EXACTLY the way I imagined her, which was very exciting for me.

Having very seriously contemplated staying on in Malawi, I always find the daily life parts of her memoirs to be the best and that continued in this volume. That the author is only about 7  years younger than me makes it all the more relatable. But this time the cracks are showing. The end of Dad is too much–and for the author, there is more in store after that [no spoilers].

Her eccentric parents, who “survive magnificently,” have aged and their daughters, “squaddies [i.e. G.I.s/soldiers] before they were sisters” are in their 50s and time has not helped the wounds of their childhood. The mother whose leaving the house checklist once went something like “Uzi, bullets, lipstick, sunglasses” is still her indomitable Memsiab self, surrounded by her beloved troop of dogs and cats, and after 50+ years of marriage, she and her husband still “do not bore each other” and still do not try to possess each other.

I adore her parents in spite of it all, in spite of a war to keep Africans from ruling their own country. They are backbone of the Empire sorts who let nothing defeat them. These are not the stuffy folks who inhabit the Cricket and Tennis Club, or who run the local Anglican Church and hold the Gymkhanas. These are the real settlers. Give them land, sufficient booze, dogs, books, and an old Land Rover and they will survive. The booze is the key. And cigarettes. Lots and lots of cigarettes–or those “anti-mad” pills Mum gets from the Indian chemist. It IS a rough life.

Her mother with her books and animals has transformed herself time and again and is now a very successful fish farmer, having educated herself for her new role. She may have lost the war, but she’s won the battle–the family survived. Her very Mitford U-ish speech adds to the whole picture of one who can “Keep Buggering On” as Churchill said, quite beautifully even in a war, even after burying three babies. In this book, even she has reached her limit. I could completely relate to her rant about being sick of people telling her she’s strong and that she’d love to just fall apart.

The author’s father, who can hunt from a moving Land Rover, probably could still have played a rugby match at 70, and like any good Colonial Bwana could drink everyone under the table, could also live on beans on toast, alcohol, and tobacco. Like my own father, I’m sure Tim Fuller could have taken the Lord’s name in vain as any figure of speech. (They also saw eye-to-eye on missionaries). He could light a cigarette, fire an Uzi, and keep driving the Land Rover even with a hunting guide on the roof. That’s a manly man. He loved his wife, his family, and his life. [He also loathed “online f—ing banking” to which I say “hear, hear” especially on the passwords.]

It is the sisters though who are doing the worst. Vanessa has been in a clinic in South Africa, both are divorced, Vanessa is remarried, and the author is in a new relationship. No one in the family is at all happy about the books–and, honestly? Who can blame them? While I have loved reading them, I can see it from their side: Why are you telling our secrets? Why is it all reduced to your perspective, your way of seeing it?  The fissures are deep and will rend the family with Dad’s passing.

My Thoughts

The author, though, became whining somewhere along the way. [No spoilers but I am NOT disregarding something I cannot reveal without spoiling part of the book–ok?] The end of the book was a lot New Agey, naval gaze-y, word salad-ish moaning. [Tiny spoiler] That her new relationship wasn’t going to be the love of the ages was about as obvious as Meghan’s “love” for poor, dim Harry. That one she needed to walk it off–follow her Dad’s advice and have a party. Alcohol, her parents believe, lets one suffer successfully. She should have done that and had a splendid and necessary hangover, then reloaded and got back in the war of life.

I found the end of the book [in spite of what I won’t spoil] annoying. It bordered on minor-league narcissism–“Me, me, me–my, my, my–mine, mine, mine]. A girl raised to be a stalwart Rhodesian, able to take what life sends you for Queen and Empire (well, Commonwealth) or just because you won’t take it off any bastard, shouldn’t have grown into such a whiner. It almost spoils the excellence of her writing. I’m very much like her parents when it comes to freaking out over everything. I’d have had to tell her to get over herself and carry on! I wanted to say, “Look, the did the correct first aid, loaded all the guns, loaded you into that station wagon and drove you through a war to the hospital–remember? They CARED.”

The author’s falling apart and her self-absorption [part of which WAS 100% understandable — no spoilers] and the family’s dislike of her books, brings to mind Madeline L’Engle’s Crosswicks Diaries. L’Engle’s children dismissed them as “fiction.” I don’t think that is the case here, but I could see the annoyance so clearly, and equally clearly hear the author’s belief that she was right and saw things right. That was a bit hard to take.

Now? Who’s for a cup of tea and who’s for a g & t? In spite of my feelings on the end, this book is a good read. Need an ashtray? Here–have a dog, or would you prefer a cat?

My Verdict

3.5 Stars

I couldn’t give it a full 4 stars due to the whiney parts.

 

Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller.

 

Alexandra Fuller’s previous books that I have read:

Reading Around the World · Uncategorized

Review: Travelers: A Novel by Helon Habila

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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.

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My Interest

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.

The Story

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.

My Thoughts

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.

My Verdict

4 Stars

Travelers: A Novel by Helon Habila

I will definitely read more of this author’s work.