akeela's 2009 reading

CharlasClub Read 2009

Únete a LibraryThing para publicar.

akeela's 2009 reading

Este tema está marcado actualmente como "inactivo"—el último mensaje es de hace más de 90 días. Puedes reactivarlo escribiendo una respuesta.

Ene 7, 2009, 3:24am

I did the 75 book challenge in 2008 and it was an amazing year of reading – probably my best ever! However, I’m not aiming for any particular numerical goal this year. The one goal I have is to continue my jaunt around the world.

I’m currently reading Anita Rau Badami’s The Hero's Walk. It’s a lovely read. I just wish I had more time to devote to it. With the holidays, and friends and family around, it’s been a challenge to find time to do what I most want to – read! But things are winding down, so hopefully I’ll get more me-time soon!

Ene 7, 2009, 6:45pm

Hi there. Finally found your thread. I've got you starred; looking forward to following along. And, of course, I'll keep my eyes out for any 5-stars that might appear here ;)

Ene 7, 2009, 6:47pm

Good luck and have fun reading in 2009

Ene 8, 2009, 1:24am

Hi Dan. Thanks for popping over. Did Santa bring you By the Sea, by any chance? It got pretty close to the 5-star mark :) Seriously, it was probably my top read for 2008.

Ene 8, 2009, 1:26am

Thanks, Jacx! You, too!

Ene 8, 2009, 5:52am

#4 And it was in my Top 6 for 2008.

Ene 8, 2009, 9:05am

#4 No, but it's one of the four books on my to-buy list (along with The Hungry Tide - another suggestion from you). Santa did well, however. He found my master's thesis in my catalogue, on geology in China, so he got me a book of Chinese fiction: Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan.

Ene 8, 2009, 9:18am

#7 Cool! That's an intriguing title.! I'll watch out for your comments.

Based on your thesis subject matter - did you get to spend time in China exploring its mountains?!

Ene 8, 2009, 9:34am

Not it's MOUNTAINS, as in the Himalayas and the like, but I didn't see much flat land. I was in Guizhou province in the SW where the elevation isn't that high, but the terrain is insane. It was a beautiful place to spend a handful of weeks doing geology fieldwork. This was in 1995. Previously I had assumed the crazy steep landscapes in Chinese art were stylistic exaggeration. Now I'm not so sure.

For a picture, see message 5 here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/23454

Ene 8, 2009, 9:55am

#4, 6, 7 and it was in my 'best books' the year I read it...summer of 2007, I think!

Ene 8, 2009, 9:02pm

akeela, I read The Hero's Walk several years ago and loved it. It's nice to find someone else who appreciates it.

Ene 9, 2009, 4:26am

Lovely to have you stop by, Urania and Avaland. What great timing! (see below ;)

Finally finished my first book for the year, what a book!

The Hero's Walk by Anita Rau Badami transports one to Big House, the busy home of the Rao family, in Toturpuram, a hot and dusty town in Southern India. We meet Sripathi, the man of the house; his crotchety, mean-spirited, caste-conscious, 80-year-old mother, Ammayya; his long-suffering wife, Nirmala; son, Arun; and spinster sister, the poor Putti, who has not been married simply because her mother prefers her at her beck and call 24/7.

Sripathi and Nirmala also have a daughter, Maya, who lives in Vancouver. Maya has been denounced by her father because she has defied Hindu rules and married someone outside of their caste; even worse, she has married a non-Hindu, American man, and for this, Sripathi cannot forgive her, refusing even to acknowledge his grandchild, Nandana, when she is born.

And then, the unthinkable happens. Maya and Alan are killed in an accident. And Sripathi has to fetch the orphaned 7-year-old, Nandana, to join the family in India.

The coming to terms with Maya's death is a large part of the book, as Sripathi, Nirmala and Nandana each face their own inner struggles. Sripathi is the hardest hit. He wants to feel the pain and loss for as long and hard as possible. He refuses to cry as he walks through the guilt of refusing his daughter's many advances to be included in the family over the years. His disillusionment, disappointment and regret consume him and, more than anything, he wants to have the power to reshape the past. But life's not like that.

Nirmala's pain leads to an awakening and a realisation that she needn't always be obedient to her elders, and a breaking of the chains that have always held her captive in subservience. And the silent Nandana, who has come from Canada to this small, noisy and relatively dirty enclave and does not quite grasp the concept of death but finds some measure of comfort in the palpable things – like the mango tree outside the family home, that her mum had told her about.

The writing is lovely and one can taste and smell the Indian air and its surrounds. I read this book back-to-back with Tamarind Woman, also by Rau Badami. This book was a vast improvement on the first one. Although the subject matter is weighty, the writing isn't. There were many passages that were beautifully written, and Badami has cleverly sprinkled bits of humor throughout.

I enjoyed the child's voice at the end. It added a wonderful lightness to the text. I also enjoyed Ammayya, the naughty old hag who took perverse pleasure in exasperating the members of her family. Nirmala was possibly the voice of reason, and Sripathi, what can one say about this hapless fellow who was but the product of his society?

I read this book now because Urania, Dihiba and Avaland so heartily recommended it when I mentioned that I was reading Tamarind Woman on LT threads.

Urania, I can see how you would enjoy the character of the mischievous and somewhat senile Ammayya! She'd pilfer her son's newspapers and hide them under her bed just for the heck of it! Or steal family members' clothing to sell, so she could have some extra paise to add to her collection – which, of course, she would take with her when she died. She wasn't going to leave anything to anyone. As far as she was concerned, she was taking it all with her!

In my understanding, the Hero's Walk signified the effort made by each of the characters to find the hero within; each of the members of the family had to learn to walk (and live) with dignity, grace, valor and strength, regardless of the challenges that life brought.

Finally, I have found that similes always seem to jump out at me when I read. And often, there's one that I just love. Regrettably I haven't made a note of these in the past but, in this reading journal, I think I'll add them to my book comments when they pounce on me. They're often simple, but hit the nail so on the head!

This excerpt, which includes the simile that did it for me in this book, also includes a snippet of the charming Ammayya, who has just succeeded in stealing her great granddaughter's jacket from her cupboard:

“The old woman cuddled it against her ancient body, remembered to open out the windows she had shut, pull the curtains she had drawn, and creaked down the stairs like a bandit queen, satisfied with her efforts. She shuffled across the gloomy living room and into her own chamber where she secreted the jacket in one of her cupboards, locking it carefully with a key from the bunch around her neck. Ah, what a good evening it had been! Thoroughly pleased with herself, she went onto the veranda and sat on the steps. Innocent as a leaf on a tree (my simile). An old woman waiting for her family to come home.”

Thank you, ladies! This was a great read, one that I will now recommend.

Ene 9, 2009, 5:57am

#9 Wow! Sounds and looks amazing!

Thanks so much for the link. During the holidays, hubby and I went to Cape Point - the extreme southwestern tip of Africa - and I wanted you to see one particular pic I took. I now have a place to post it! Thanks, Dan.

Please bear with me, I have a to go through the pics and find that one, and figure out how to post it again, and then there's rl that beckons ... hopefully, it'll be posted soon!

Ene 9, 2009, 6:59am

>12 akeela: It was nice to revisit a book I enjoyed in the past through your great review!

Ene 9, 2009, 10:08am

#12 akeela - That was such a nice review, it really makes that book sound special.

as for the picture (message #13)... I'd love to see it. That poor little picture thread could use attention.

Ene 9, 2009, 11:05am

I've just dipped into the opening pages of the debut novel So Long a Letter by the Senegalese Mariama Ba, and I'm already enthralled! I read this book very many moons ago and don't remember any of it, so pulled it out for a reread.

Some background reading on Ba yielded the following: She was born in Dakar, Senegal, in 1929 into a wealthy, Muslim family. Unlike most women of her time, she received an education and began writing at a very young age, then already demonstrating a critical approach to the society she lived in.

Ba qualified as a schoolteacher and later inspector. She was an activist for women's rights in several Senegalese women's organisations. She was committed to eradicating inequalities between men and women, hence the writing of So Long a Letter, in which she addresses some of the issues she had gripes with.

This novel was first written in French and has since been translated into 16 languages. Ba believed that writers within developing countries have a crucial role to play, and that their "sacred mission" was to speak out against the "archaic practices, traditions and customs that are not a real part of our precious cultural heritage". She died at 52 after a prolonged illness.

I also enjoy a good dedication in the opening pages of a book.
Mariama Ba’s dedication in So Long A Letter reads as follows:

To Abibatou Niang, pure and constant,
Lucid and thorough, who shares my feelings.

To Annette d’Enerville of the
warm heart and level head.

To all women and to men of goodwill.

Wish I’d known how to centre the dedication. *Note to self to find out*

Ene 9, 2009, 11:10am

Well, thank you, Lois and Dan.

About the pic, I have yet to post it. But I will. And I have quite a collection of pictures from hikes around South Africa, so hope to post a couple of those, too. I'll get there yet!

Ene 9, 2009, 12:00pm


I look forward to your review of So Long a Letter, another novel that I greatly enjoyed. I have also read Ba's Scarlet Song but did not find it as good as the former novel.

Ene 9, 2009, 12:06pm

Thanks, Urania. I have both - should I skip Scarlet Song do you think?!

Ene 9, 2009, 12:11pm

Umm, I don't know that I would skip it. If you're expecting something like So Long a Letter, you will be disappointed. The plot revolves around a young Senagalese man who falls in love with a white woman and the consequences that I ensue. I think reading Franz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks might provide a useful critical context in which to understand the book, although I have some problems with Fanon's analysis of African women.

Ene 12, 2009, 12:19pm

Este mensaje fue borrado por su autor.

Ene 12, 2009, 6:48pm

Just discovering this thread, and to go all the way back to message 7: I read Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out last year and I definitely enjoyed its satire and imagination but it could really have benefitted by some serious editing -- much too long for what it set out to do.

Ene 12, 2009, 9:32pm

R-nyc - thanks for the note. I haven't read it yet, although I plan to soon... I think.

Long-under-edited-books seems to be a common theme lately.

Ene 12, 2009, 9:38pm

#22 - agreed. Way too long (although it has one of the best titles of the millennium) - i stopped half way through, even though i'd enjoyed a fair portion of Life & Death.

Editado: Ene 14, 2009, 3:29am

So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba. Translated from the French by Modupé Bodé-Thomas (no touchstone). Only book number two, but I may already have found one of my top reads for 2009!

It's a novel (only 90 pages) in the form of a letter from Ramatoulaye to her childhood friend, Assiatou, on the death of her husband. These two women have a deep-rooted friendship cultivated over many years of shared life experiences: from good, happy marriages, and the birth of their several children, to the tribulations (emotional, but also financial) when their long-term husbands reveal that they have taken young, second wives. Although polygamy is acceptable in Senegalese society, the two women are dazed by their husbands' actions, mostly because they've had meaningful relationships with their spouses – and their reactions are markedly different.

Ramatoulaye reminisces and her outpouring of the heart is thoughtful, and considered. She is an intelligent, educated woman, a devoted teacher who values and insists on educating her children, both girls and boys. The letter depicts Senegalese society during the 70s, after independence, especially the reduced role of women, slowly coming into their own. The writing is simple, yet profound. It is wise, and moving, and there were numerous paragraphs that resonated with me.

There was a lot to appreciate in this little book, and I also particularly enjoyed the tenderness and understanding between a number of the couples in the telling, especially the relationship between Ramatoulaye and her husband, Modou.

An extract of how they met and fell in love:

"Modou Fall, the very moment you bowed before me, asking me to dance, I knew you were the one I was waiting for. Tall and athletically built, of course. Olive-colored skin due to your distant Moorish blood, no question. Virility and fineness of features harmoniously blended, once again, no question. But, above all, you knew how to be tender. You could fathom every thought, every desire. You knew many undefinable things, which glorified you and sealed our relationship.

"As we danced, your forehead, hairline already receding, bent over my own. The same happy smile lit up our faces. The pressure of your hand became more tender, more possessive. Everything in me gave in and our relationship endured over the school years and during the holidays, strengthened in me by the discovery of your subtle intelligence, of your embracing sensitivity, of your readiness to help, of your ambition, which suffered no mediocrity."

And when they are no longer together:

"Our common habits sprang up at their usual times. I missed dreadfully our nightly conversation; I missed our bursts of refreshing or understanding laughter. Like opium, I missed our daily consultations. I pitted myself against the shadows. The wanderings of my thoughts chased away all sleep..."

This may be a woman's voice in the throes of disappointment and loss, but it is equally a voice of hope and remarkable personal growth.

Ba's writing is exquisite and this gem comes highly recommended!

Edited to fix ts for the title of the book.

Ene 13, 2009, 3:03am

#21 You're welcome, Carolyn. Lovely to see you here.

Ene 13, 2009, 8:26am

#25 - Another lovely review, thanks for posting.

Ene 13, 2009, 10:23am

Yeah, great review--makes me want to pick it up right now. *glances over at shelf*

Ene 13, 2009, 10:31am

Very nice review. With that review everyone is going to want to go out and buy the book. Thanks for sharing.

Ene 13, 2009, 10:20pm

A lovely review. I think I shall go upstairs and fetch my well-thumbed copy for a reread.

Ene 14, 2009, 2:27am

I just love LT! So many well-read bodies over here :) Thank you all, for your kind compliments! Seems people already have copies, Jacx! Hope you enjoy it another time around, Urania and Medellia!

I'm sure I'm not the only one with this predicament, but often after I’ve finished a really great read, I have difficulty getting into something else!

In light of this, I started and then stopped reading The Sun Hath Looked Upon Me by Calixthe Beyala. It left me wondering why I’d brought the book home. The editorial review on Amazon.com reads reads, uhm, “Set in the grim world of urban prostitution, this book gives voice to the multitude of women trapped in African ghettos.” (...not very hopeful, is it?)

The first pages did NOT grab me, so I've set it aside, and doubt I'll return to it. So many other wonderful books around clamoring for attention! In its defence, I’m reading it after a really good book; in my defence, I brought it home cos it’s written and set in Cameroon, a country I have yet to read in my Global Reading pursuit.


I’ve now started reading selected short stories from a collection by Alice Munro entitled The Moons of Jupiter, just to get me over this hurdle.

Lined up as possible follow-up reads: The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing or The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. Kiran Desai advocates it as “A Brilliant Book” on the cover, so I might go with her nudge, but first, some Munro.

Ene 15, 2009, 3:15am

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. The book is a monologue of sorts. The setting is a café in Lahore where the protagonist, Changez, sees a visibly uneasy American stranger and starts chatting with him, in an effort to put him at ease. As they are seated and place their orders, Changez starts telling the man about his life as an immigrant in the United States, living the American dream.

He is an intelligent 25-year-old who graduated top of his class at Princeton U, then got snatched up by a prestigious firm where he achieved spectacular professional success. To crown it all, he found love with the classy Erica, who proceeded to introduce him to the elite circles of Manhattan society. In the midst of this headiness, September 11 occurs and Changez is seized by a strong sense of allegiance to Pakistan...

This was a quick, compelling read. I thoroughly enjoyed the elegant, thought-provoking prose.

Ene 15, 2009, 5:59pm

I also recently read The Reluctant fundamentalist and really enjoyed it. However, I didn't really enjoy the ending of the story - it happens too quickly and the author really doesn't explain his thought process too well.

Editado: Ene 19, 2009, 5:30am

I'm about a third of the way through Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor. I find it oddly compelling, but wanted a break from it to gain some perspective.

In the meantime, I've started The Stillborn by Zaynab Alkali. I do so enjoy Nigerian writers! Alkali is apparently one of the first women novelists of Northern Nigeria. This book was first published in 1984.

Ene 20, 2009, 5:54am

The Stillborn by the award-winning Nigerian author, Professor Zaynab Alkali. Thirteen-year-old Li has just finished grade 7 – the highest grade girls are generally allowed to complete – in the neighboring village and is on her way home in a swerving truck brimful with kids. One is immediately struck by her independence and verve. She dislikes being squashed up in the truck, and is the only child to notice that the driver is driving recklessly. Everyone else is totally absorbed in clapping and cheering the driver on home. At her tender age, she exudes unusual strength of character as she takes control of a number of disquieting thoughts.

Though she is excited at the prospect of being with her many siblings again, she is ambivalent about her parents. Her mother is distant and her father authoritarian. They live in a compound with her grandparents, her senile grandmother and a grandfather whom she adores.

While she attends to her daily chores, Li enthusiastically daydreams about her future: "She was dreaming of a paradise called the 'city'. A place where she would have an easy life, free from slimy calabashes and evil-smelling goats".

As children, she, her older sister, Awa, and their friend, Faku each nurture their own private dreams of a happy future dominated by their lives as married women with many children, a token of a woman's success in society. But Li has dreams beyond marriage, she also wants to be educated to become a successful teacher.

This novel takes you to the heart of an African village, into the huts and down to the streams to collect water and firewood. You also experience nights of revelry, where everyone in the village comes to dances dominated by the beating of drums that dictate the rhythm of the dancers.

But one cannot ignore the harsh patriarchal rules imposed on the women in this society. Women are meant to stay home and wait for proposals to come to them, or for their husbands to come home to them at the end of the day. Women wait, while men go out in search of their destinies.

Li is different. She is resolute and goes in search of what she wants. When she is attracted to a handsome new kid-on-the-block, she leaves a gaping hole in the fence through which she escapes to go out to be at the dance with him – something completely unheard of, with potentially severe consequences. She follows her heart. And although everything does not always work out for Li, and we may not always agree with the choices she makes, she is a woman struggling for her dreams and in the process, she may grieve but she also grows.

The title is a reference to the dreams the women have and the fact that while some of their dreams are realised, others remain stillborn.

I enjoyed this trip back into Africa. There are obviously many deeper issues at play here, and this was ostensibly a first step by Alkali in addressing issues of women in contemporary Nigerian society and the approach of modernisation.

Three wonderful African similes in one sentence this time. Awa describes Li’s daughter to her: "True. She looks like her father, but she resembles you in character. She is as restless as a goat in labour, as stubborn as a tired donkey and as arrogant as a dethroned chief".

This book made me want to lose myself in the works of Chinua Achebe and Buchi Emecheta because the aura of the African setting was so wonderful. Also I loved the level of respect between the different characters as they conversed with one another and the good warm wishes they’d extend as a matter of courtesy. T'was lovely!

Ene 20, 2009, 5:55am

Sound like another good one, akeela! On to the Continent it goes.

Ene 20, 2009, 9:36am

The Stillborn - another book to add to my ever-growing list of books to be read. A lovely review. Thank you.

Ene 20, 2009, 10:21pm

Another great review, akeela! I'm also adding it to my wish list.

Ene 21, 2009, 6:01pm

Loved your review.

Ene 23, 2009, 11:01am

>36 alcottacre:-39 Thank you for your encouraging comments!

The formidable Doris Lessing’s debut novel The Grass is Singing – published in 1950 – had me completely engrossed from its first troubled pages until the bitter end.

The book opens with the murder of Mary Turner and the arrest of the black man responsible for the deed.

Lessing draws one into the arid blazing heat of the African landscape in Southern Rhodesia in the 50s. The story is about Mary and Dick Turner, who met, got married and went to live in a little ramshackle home on a farm. They don't really like one another; in fact, sometimes each one is totally revolted by the other. But as neither wants to hurt the other's feelings, they live together, mostly in silence. Inside, they are filled with resentment and a build-up of debilitating negative energy.

Mary hates the searing heat, only marginally more than she loathes the black workers on the farm. There is no limit to her contempt for the natives, whom she deems savages. While Mary is at odds with nature, Dick is at peace with it.
In this novel, Lessing boldly thrashes out the theme of racism (as well as human isolation and alienation). While she explores racism in this society broadly, she also zones in particularly on the relationship between one white woman and her black male servant.

Though Mary and Dick Turner may well be the most unlikable characters I’ve come across, Lessing’s storytelling is superb. You may want to give up on the wretched Mary and Dick, but you cannot discard this book – not until you know exactly what has happened! Highly recommended.

Ene 23, 2009, 11:13am

>40 akeela: akeela, thanks for the lovely description of The Grass is Singing. It is one of the few Doris Lessing books that I have not read. For some reason, I simply cannot bring myself to read it. Clearly I need to reconsider. My favorite Lessing novel is The Memoirs of a Survivor. I also really loved The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 from her Canopus in Argos series. It concerns narrative and the collective memory of a planet doomed to extinction.

Ene 23, 2009, 1:36pm

Akeela, I'm so glad you liked The Grass is Singing. As I think you know, it was the first Lessing I read, and my reaction was similar to yours.
I see you're going to be a very bad (or very good, depending on your point of view!) influence on me this year again - So Long a Letter and The Stillborn sound fascinating. Thanks!

Ene 24, 2009, 9:38am

Rachel, if it means we're going to see more of you on LT, then I'd say it's a very good thing! :)

I've had Lessing on my TBR list for a long time, but I did indeed finally read The Grass is Singing after a recommendation from you, as well as The Reluctant Fundamentalist - both great reads - so thank you, too!

Ene 24, 2009, 9:49am

Urania, the characters in The Grass is Singing are certainly bleak, but Lessing's penmanship more than makes up for it! And the fact that she wrote this book in the 50s – when apartheid was rearing its ugly head and was being enforced by law in South Africa – is astounding. She was one audacious woman! Thanks for the additional Lessing recs.

Editado: Ene 27, 2009, 3:01am

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi. This novel is set on the eve of independence from British rule in Kenya, in the early 60s. The protagonists are a handful of men, including Gikonyo and Mugo who each face their own demons after time spent in prison and detention camps, as political prisoners. This is a country on the brink of change, so there is a fair amount of hope as the resistance plots and plans for the new, free nation they envisage.

The story unfolds from a number of varying perspectives, and a picture emerges of an entire community in turmoil. Amongst the male protagonists there is, of course, a beautiful woman in the form of the desirable Mumbi, who has stolen the imagination of more than one of the men, which leads to all sorts of interesting events.

Ngugi is a supreme storyteller with the amazing ability to build up tension in the plot. He literally had me on the edge of my seat a few times during the telling! There’s intrigue as the whole community rallies to find the person responsible for the betrayal and murder of their struggle hero. Furthermore there’s a compelling blend of joy, hope, tragedy, fear and disillusionment that makes for an informative but great read!

There was one scene in the book where the detainees were briefly engaged in a moment of hilarity before they were moved off to the quarry to break stones – these would be used to build houses for new British officers. This moment evoked an image of Mr Nelson Mandela, in prison on Robben Island, with his comrades who also had to do hard labor in the quarry. These pages made me want to read Long Walk to Freedom, which is waiting patiently on Mount TBR!

Thank you Darryl (kidzdoc) for a great recommendation!

Edited to tweak the review :)

Ene 26, 2009, 2:10pm

Looks like I'm going to have to look out for a copy of A Grain of Wheat; I've seen a couple of good reviews about it recently. As for Long Walk to Freedom, it's been languishing on my TBR pile for several years now - I don't know why it never makes it to the top! (Go on Akeela, read it first and check it out for me, please!)

Ene 26, 2009, 3:05pm

Long Walk to Freedom is a very moving and inspirational book. Informative too.

Ene 27, 2009, 2:36am

Thanks, Rebecca! I know I should read it. I have the book since '94 already. Perhaps I should make it a goal for this year's reading? Hmmm...

Rachel, maybe the size has a little something to do with it? I'd love to, but I can't promise! I have a full-time job, remember?!

Ene 27, 2009, 4:19pm

I'm stalking you! Just posted on your 75 BC thread too. I couldn't put LWTF down and it was a pretty fast read, considering the length.

Ene 27, 2009, 4:57pm

I've just had a brief squiz at your fascinating jaunt around the world, particularly the African writers. After reading Half of a yellow sun I realised I should be reading much more from authors that continent.

Ene 28, 2009, 5:02am

Cushla, I'm strongly considering just jumping in!

There's no telling how long it'll take me to finish, but I think it's time for a non-fiction title...

Oh, stalkers are most welcome on my threads - especially the well-read variety, so stalk away! :)

Ene 28, 2009, 5:12am

Thanks, Kim. I'm just in the process of discovering some wonderful African talent. Do join me! You might be interested to know the Reading Globally group is embarking on an Africa Theme Read in February 2009. Check out the thread for some great recs!

Ene 28, 2009, 12:35pm

#48 Oh, it's definitely the length that puts me off! I'd really like to read it though; I keep thinking that one day it'll just suggest itself to me, but maybe I need to be more proactive and just do it. (I've had it nearly as long as you have - since 97, I think).

Feb 2, 2009, 1:35am

Okay, so I've started Madiba's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. It's beautifully written! As it's a doorstopper, which prohibits carrying it around, I'll read it alongside other fiction.

To whet potential readers' appetite, or as a reminder to those who have already read and enjoyed it, the opening paragraph:

"Apart from my life, a strong constitution and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlahla. In Xhosa, Rolihlahla literally means 'pulling the branch of a tree' , but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be 'troublemaker'. I do not believe that names are destiny or that my father somehow divined my future, but in later years, friends and relatives would ascribe to my birth name the many storms I have caused and weathered. My more familiar English or Christian name was not given to me until my first day of school. But I am getting ahead of myself."

Feb 2, 2009, 1:50am

The Whale Caller by South African-born Zakes Mda. This was a treat! The Whale Caller is passionate about the whales that periodically visit the waters of the small coastal town of Hermanus, where he blows his kelp horn for them. He is especially enamoured of Sharisa, a female southern right, who responds to his call and rewards him by dancing to his music, with him, for hours on end.

Saluni, the feisty village drunk, is equally passionate about the Whale Caller. She follows him around and makes no secret of her adoration for him. Being of subtle disposition, he is regularly embarrassed and scandalised by her attention. She couldn’t be more different to him. "Saluni was made to be recklessly happy". She is a free spirit who loves life, laughter and living; he is quiet, cautious, and patiently content with his lot.

"She has no cares in the world ... She is a transgressor of all that he holds sacred: quiet dignity, never raising the voice, avoidance of vulgar vocabulary, never flaunting desires of any kind, frugality. Created in sin, she is such a wonderful sinner. A glorious celebrant of worldliness."

Her physical make-up is as colourful: Her manicured nails are red. She always wears a fawn pure-wool coat over a green taffeta dress, with red pencil-heeled shoes (which she often has to remove, when inebriated), black fishnet stockings, a long black cigarette holder and shock of red hair, to complete the picture.

As a relationship slowly develops between the two, we become steeped in an unforgettable love triangle compromising a gentle man lost in his adoration of a whale, a whale who seems to love him in return, and a seriously enamoured woman who will stop at nothing to have the man she loves completely to herself. According to Saluni, "The fish must go!"

This was a wonderfully entertaining read!

Thank you, Miriam (almigwin), for making me read this now! Urania, if you haven't read it yet, I think you will love this book. It is naughty, playful and sometimes totally irreverent.

A Note on the Author: Zakes Mda is a South African writer, painter, composer and filmmaker. He commutes between South Africa and the United States of America, working as a professor of creative writing at Ohio University, as a beekeeper in the Eastern Cape, a dramaturge at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and a director of the South African Multimedia AIDS Trust in Sophiatown, Johannesburg.

Feb 2, 2009, 10:15am

"He commutes between South Africa and the United States" - that just sounds painful. I might have to hunt down a copy of Long Walk to Freedom. You know, I'd really cut down adding to my unrealistic TBR. You're the main person who keeps undermining that. ;)

Feb 2, 2009, 10:40am

Oops! :) Okay, here's one you really shouldn't get, Dan!

180 Degrees: New Fiction by South African Women Writers. I wish I could say this was a great collection of short stories, but it wasn't. It was okay. In fact, if truth be told, I skipped some of the stories - they just weren't doing it for me. Besides, Mount TBR is filled with incredibe reads clamoring for attention!

Feb 2, 2009, 1:16pm


When I read your post about The Whale Call over on the Reading Globally Forum, I said, "Self, you should probably order this book." Lately, I haven't been able to drum up much enthusiasm for African literature. Most of the writers seem to be telling the same story with a few possible variations: (A) Colonization happens, wrecks horrible tragedy on the indigenous people; post-colonization happens, terrible violence ensues, tragedy and diaspora result. (B) Young women fight/succumb/prevail over repressive conditions caused by tradition, post-colonial violence, etc. I do not mean to make light of suffering. I realize such conditions are the reality for many people across the continent of Africa. However, I have been asking myself, "Are there truly no other stories to tell? Are African writers either consciously or unconsciously writing to a Western audience? I don't know. I tend to wonder as much about what isn't published as what is published. The Whale Call sounds like something different.

Feb 2, 2009, 2:02pm

Urania, that settles it, then. You should read it!

You're right, The Whale Caller is totally different, and I honestly thought about you throughout the reading of it. It's a quick, fun read and I have a feeling you’ll enjoy the wilful and wanton Saluni thoroughly!

A couple of other South Africa books that I found very entertaining and well-written are Confessions of a Gambler by Rayda Jacobs, and the memoir, Shirley, Mercy & Goodness by Chris Van Wyk. I loved the latter.

Feb 2, 2009, 2:06pm

An effort to get the touchstone for Shirley, Mercy and Goodness: A Childhood Memoir by Chris Van Wyk to work!

Feb 2, 2009, 2:24pm

Thanks akeela.

Feb 2, 2009, 2:48pm

#55: I've been wavering on whether to purchase The Whale Caller, and thanks to your post, I may just go ahead! I bought Mda's Ways of Dying last week, and as soon as I have time for a reading binge (this coming weekend is looking good), I'm going to go at it.

Feb 2, 2009, 4:12pm

Great, I hope you do! I'll look out for your comments, Medellia.

Just finished Thura's Diary: A Young Girl's Life in War-Torn Baghdad by Thura Al-Windawi. Translated from the Arabic by Robin Bray. This was a quick read. I found it to be a somewhat unemotional account by a teenager living in Baghdad during 2003, when American bombs starting raining down on the city, throwing it and its inhabitants into turmoil. We see how the family goes from enjoying a peaceful, happy existence to how they experience the utter destruction of the city, and everything they hold sacred.

At 19, Al-Windawi is still finding her voice and this was a tentative piece of writing that could do with some editing. One sentence, for example, reads: "I’ve also heard that we're going to be going back to school and college..." Perhaps a tad unwieldy.

It may be that it's a voice (a woman's voice, at that) coming out of war-torn Iraq that was so welcome. Her story was apparently also published in The Times in the UK, and she also mentions a BBC crew that came to interview her for a television programme, in the book. It seems Al-Windawi has already enjoyed some coverage of her story and her diary in western media. I didn't find it compelling.

The 'Dear Diary' at the beginning of each chapter was somewhat reminiscent of Anne Frank's 'Dear Kitty' at the beginning of her diary entries; while the account of the family leaving their home to secure themselves and their loved ones reminded me of the wonderfully written memoir, The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig, also of a young girl experiencing the onset of war and its resultant horrors.

Feb 2, 2009, 6:46pm

I'll skip Thura's Diary if I see it (anyway, I'm not buying any new books, I'm not buying any new books, I'm not buying any new books) - thanks for the review. I loved The Endless Steppe and must dig it out of a box at my parents' place - I've forgotten most of it but can still picture the cover.

And great to see you're into Long Walk to Freedom...don't drop it on your foot!

Feb 3, 2009, 1:42pm

Cushla, that could hurt!

Searching by Nawal El Saadawi. Translated from the Arabic by Shirley Eber. Thirty-year-old Fouada meets her lover Fareed every Tuesday at an Egyptian restaurant overlooking the Nile. Beyond this date, they have no contact. She doesn’t know his friends, his workplace, or anything else about him. One Tuesday evening, after years of meeting with him, he doesn’t turn up, and Fouada’s life falls apart.

Up until this point, she hadn’t realised how much Fareed had meant to her. His rejection propels her into a deep state of depression, and she loses interest in everything. In moments of clarity, she finds herself searching for answers as she battles with the challenge of understanding what exactly the relationship meant, if it was real, what she deems important personally and professionally, what she wants out of life, etc.

This short novel delves into the status of women in patriarchal Egyptian society, where men reign supreme. It’s an undemanding and compelling, if somewhat uncomfortable, read.

Feb 3, 2009, 4:30pm

akeela, is this a new Saadawi novel? The title isn't familiar to me. Sounds interesting.

Feb 4, 2009, 5:44am

Hey, Lois. This one was published in '91. It was the best of the Saadawi novels I've read.

Feb 4, 2009, 1:23pm

Seems I'm in a reading slump. Nothing is working its magic on me!

I've started a number of books. They're not bad books; in fact, they've all been carefully selected and are meant to be great in their own right.

The books on the front (or is that back) burner, in turns:
The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer
Gifts by Nuruddin Farah
I Lock My Door Upon Myself by Joyce Carol Oates
Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

There's no telling which one I'll finish first - or if indeed I'll find something else to start! ...Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto is beckoning from Mount TBR :)

Feb 4, 2009, 4:08pm

Oh no, not a reading slump!

Have you read any Joyce Carol Oates before? I just picked up my first of hers in the trusty second hand shop across the road from work the other day, having seen several LTers recommend her highly. (I got Middle Age: a Romance).

If Sleepwalking Land is as good as A River Called Time, it will get you out of your slump! I'm just off to bed with the last of those short stories I told you about - I'm going to miss them when they're gone...

Feb 4, 2009, 7:41pm

Akeela, I'm eager to learn what you think of Bitter Fruit, which I bought a couple of months ago.

Feb 5, 2009, 12:25pm

Sorry about the slump, good luck akeela.

Feb 5, 2009, 12:32pm

Thanks, Dan!

Rachel, I haven't read Joyce Carol Oates before. It's a very slim book, but for now The Pickup seems to be the pick-me-up :)

Darryl, I stopped reading Bitter Fruit about three weeks ago. Dangor is a talented author but I needed some time out from the book to wrap my head around events in the book, and I haven't picked it up again... Will keep you posted if I do get around to it again.

Feb 5, 2009, 12:38pm

akeela, Bitter Fruit is pretty depressing. I, for one, found the dirty underside of idealism a little hard to take, not to mention its unintended consequences. It is a book worth reading.

Feb 6, 2009, 4:02am

I eventually managed to stick to one book and finish it!

The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer. Julie, a privileged White South African, gets stuck with her car in a busy city street one day. She is assisted by Abdu, an illegal immigrant who comes from an impoverished Arab village, and is working as a "grease monkey" at a garage nearby. Their backgrounds and psyches couldn’t be more different! The setting is the new South Africa and she picks him up, or he picks her up - I’m not entirely sure which - but they end up being lovers.

Their relationship is very beautifully depicted, as each finds in the other an oasis of sorts. She's miserable and has no real connection with members of her family, while he's an alien in the country, still struggling with English, and not really fitting in anywhere. While their love sustains them, it does not transcend their cultural differences. In fact, these are emphasized as Gordimer examines the social and cultural differences between the two, who have grown up literally worlds apart.

When Abdu is served his deportation papers, Julie makes the astonishing decision to join him on his trip home. They end up in a dusty village where people speak in a different tongue, there is no running water or reliable electricity, but Julie makes herself fit in. She's more than happy to be with him. He, on the other hand, is less than thrilled to be home; his whole aim in life is to improve his lot and live in a cosmopolitan city.

A word on Gordimer's writing. It's certainly unconventional. Her writing is curt, she appears to love dashes, and she generally omits quotation marks for dialogue - all of which provide a challenge to the reader. It took me a few pages to get into, and I had to read at a different tempo to stay with her. When I found the required rhythm, though, some of the passages were pretty amazing. But, admittedly, it took some work. I thought this a worthwhile read!

Feb 6, 2009, 8:39am

Regarding Gordimer's avoidance of the quotation mark and joy in the dash - she is just a woman keeping up with the times. Quotations marks are so passé now :-). As for the dash - I have a certain fondness for it myself.

Feb 9, 2009, 9:11am

Urania, you mean it's okay to use dashes more frequently? I love them!!

I Lock My Door Upon Myself by Joyce Carol Oates. This was my introduction to Oates, a gifted author who writes a challenging novella, making it seem effortless. Calla, so named by her mother on her deathbed – on the day Calla was born in January 1890 – for the whiter than white, massed funeral flower.

The story is told by her granddaughter, in an effort to understand the strange, enigmatic flame-haired beauty, who seemingly never got a grip on real life. Oates gets into the head of this absent person who to others appears like a sleepwalker, suspended in another world. Hers is a troubled world; and we're allowed into the horror, grief, vagueness, embarrassment and rare happiness of this troubled personality.

Calla was a beautiful woman with not an ounce of vanity or perhaps self-respect, not caring what she wore, or how she appeared to others – sometimes forgetting to wash her beautiful locks from one week to the next. She lived in a New England community, at the turn of the century. The novel explores the repression of women, and racism in American society at that time. There is also an unexpected love story that unfolds.

Though it didn't depress me, this was cheerless read. I have to add that the misery was sometimes so extreme that it became almost comical! Or maybe that's just my way of coping with nonsensical gloom and doom :)

An excerpt I found comical:
"Yet: if Calla were forced to pass close by Freilicht (her husband) in some cramped space, on the steep narrow staircase for instance, she perceived how the poor man recoiled slightly from her, as if a charge of static electricity leapt between them; if she made an abrupt movement, even if only to set down a plate heaped with steaming food in front of him, she perceived how he shuddered and flinched, or managed to restrain himself from flinching. Poor man! Poor fool!"

Feb 9, 2009, 9:38am

>75 urania1:/76: Well, if you are a dash addict, there are a few types.

The hyphen ('-') for creating compound words is found on the keyboard. However, the en dash ('–') for indicating ranges (e.g., 1995–2001) is created by the HTML –. The em dash ('—') for indicating breaks in sentences is created with the HTML —.


Feb 10, 2009, 3:30am

Hey Tad! Nice to see you here!

I must confess, although I know the difference between the dashes and their formal usage, I had no idea how to form them!

I now know how to form my favorite among the dashes — and will be using the correct one in future comments :)

Thank you!

Feb 10, 2009, 8:18am

>76 akeela: An Oates I don't have and haven't read. . . Good review! I'm fascinated with Oates, really. I would recommend The Gravedigger's Daughter for one of her more recent novels. Sometime - maybe later this year - I'm going on a JCO's jag:-)

Feb 10, 2009, 8:39am

Thanks, Lois!

The Oates title is apparently derived from a poem by pre-Raphaelite poet, Christina G. Rossetti (1830 – 1894), entitled "Who shall deliver me?" published in Poems in 1876:


God strengthen me to bear myself;
That heaviest weight of all to bear,
Inalienable weight of care.

All others are outside myself;
I lock my door and bar them out
The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.

I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?

If I could once lay down myself,
And start self-purged upon the race
That all must run ! Death runs apace.

If I could set aside myself,
And start with lightened heart upon
The road by all men overgone!

God harden me against myself,
This coward with pathetic voice
Who craves for ease and rest and joys

Myself, arch-traitor to mysel ;
My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,
My clog whatever road I go.

Yet One there is can curb myself,
Can roll the strangling load from me
Break off the yoke and set me free.

Feb 10, 2009, 12:08pm

#79 avaland--have you read Bellefleur, a somewhat atypical Oates, which is one of my favorites?

Feb 11, 2009, 8:44am

>81 arubabookwoman: no, I haven't but I have it. The most recent Oates I have read is her journals and her poetry. The journals are fascinating and the poetry so very different, imo, from her prose.

Feb 13, 2009, 8:37am

It's taken many good days to get halfway through Gifts by Somalian-born Nuruddin Farah and now, I quit. Sadly. I loved the opening paragraph, but my interest has been steadily waning. I wanted to like this one!

I still don't have a real sense of the main character (who is at once strong and decisive, and mellow and apologetic) or where the “relationship” with her love interest is going, if anywhere. And I don't seem to be grasping the significance of the many dreams the characters have, or the symbolism embedded in the text. Initially I thought it might be the cultural gap, but good authors normally facilitate this passage through culturally disparate milieux, no?

So Somalia remains unvisited.

Editado: Feb 13, 2009, 9:33am

#83 - Good for you, some books need to be punted, or at least set aside for another time.

ps - I noticed you a have a new* and lovely picture on your profile. I'm curious where it's from... and also how I can possibly get myself to South Africa some time.

*well, new to me. I can't remember when I last checked your profile page.

edited typo

Feb 13, 2009, 9:31am

Thanks, Dan. I doubt I'll be going back to this one anytime soon!

The pic was taken a couple of weeks ago by moi in the Kogelberg Biosphere reserve, about 37 miles (60km) outside of Cape Town.

Why, just fly yourself right over! :)

Feb 13, 2009, 9:39am

well, there's a bit of money involved, and that little issue with my job. And then there's somewhat discouraging question of what to do with the children if we were to go. Since endless hours on a plane sounds a bit tortuous, I suggested to wife we leave a weeks worth of jelly beans on the table and run... but I'm sure that's best plan.

Feb 13, 2009, 10:52am

:D And don't forget a healthy supply of picture books for the kids!

Oh, and remember to pack sun-tan lotion — it's piping hot in Cape Town at the moment!

On the other hand, you could consider swimming across the pond...

Feb 13, 2009, 3:01pm

A word on Gordimer's writing. It's certainly unconventional. Her writing is curt, she appears to love dashes, and she generally omits quotation marks for dialogue - all of which provide a challenge to the reader. It took me a few pages to get into, and I had to read at a different tempo to stay with her. When I found the required rhythm, though, some of the passages were pretty amazing. But, admittedly, it took some work.

I like the dash too, but I also appreciate writers who follow basic transparent writing conventions. I read Gordimer last year and was highly irritated by this aspect of her writing. She also seems to have lost the quotation mark key on her keyboard. She may be a fabulous author, but there are so many wonderful and interesting books out there that I'd rather read than try her again.

Feb 13, 2009, 8:27pm

JUST found your thread, Akeela, so now duly starred. You have been reading a really great selection here. I have just spend the last hour reading through everything!!

Feb 16, 2009, 2:51am

>89 kiwidoc: Well, thank you Karen! A real pleasure to see you here!

>88 Nickelini: Joyce, as a South African reader, I felt Gordimer was way overdue in my reading! I wasn't really irritated as much as fascinated by the fact that when I slowed down my reading to match the pace of the writing, I actually found the writing to be rather special. It definitely required more effort than usual!

Feb 19, 2009, 5:21am

In The Box Children by Sharon Wyse we get a front-row seat in the goings-on of the Campbell family home via the diary of 11-year-old Lou Anne, who lives on a Texas farm with her dysfunctional family including her womanising father, her crazy, abusive mother and her teenage brother during the 60s.

Hers is an authentic voice, and her writing is consistent with an average 11-year-old's, I would imagine. She writes as one speaks, spelling words exactly as she hears them. For example, "...one vase is on the chester drawers in Mother and Daddy’s bedroom", and, "I know Mother is mean sometimes but I don’t think she’s crazy. Crazy people live in insanasilums".

When she starts menstruating, she writes, "Well well well. This morning I woke up and went to the bathroom what did I see? Red, that’s what, bright on my underwear. I have started ministrating."

Lou Anne is an impressionable but insightful young girl who weather life's storms with ease. She is subjected to much more than an 11-year-old should be, and some of it is downright sad, but Lou Anne picks herself right up and finds solace in her secret diary and the Box Children, a box of paper dolls, which to her represent each of the five children her mother has miscarried. Lou Anne speaks with the Box Children, giving them courage and understanding, every time she needs to come to terms with something challenging.

I enjoyed this child's pure and unemotional voice. Although this one did tug at the heartstrings a bit, I found it to be a quick and lovely read.

Feb 19, 2009, 10:43am

Sounds like a great book akeela. I just might put in on my wish list.

Feb 19, 2009, 11:21am

Interesting book, akeela. I sometimes worry when the narrator has 'a language' or a 'stylised' speaking voice as I can be distracted by it, or it can grate if not done well. It sounds as though this 'voice' was very effective.

Feb 19, 2009, 11:28am

>re: lack of quotation marks in a novel. I've read several books in which the authors do not use quotation marks - The Road, The Idea of Perfection and the forthcoming The Winter Vault. I can't say whether this is the authors' style or not, I've not cared enough to compare with other works, but in each book I thought the lack of quotations marks created a distance between the reader and the characters. In some instances, I felt I was watching them through a window (at least that is what I would liken it to). In The Winter Vault it has everything to do with reminiscence.

Feb 19, 2009, 11:36am

Commenting as an ignorant layman not as a literary scholar, I think that creative use of punctuation can be extremely effective in the right hands.

It can add weight and punch to a theme - such as in the last book I read - Blindness by Saramago - where he uses run on sentences, and moves in and out of tenses with abandon. It really works to create atmosphere, tension, distance, etc.

Yet in some cases, I have thrown books against the wall in frustration when authors try to be clever and it reads like a cat's breakfast. It works in the hands of genius, like all great art.

Editado: Feb 19, 2009, 11:50am

more on dialogue punctuation - I've come across the lack missing quotation marks a lot lately, always new or new-ish books. (The Road, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Sweetsmoke (where the free people have quotation marks and the black slaves don't), etc) It hasn't bothered me. The effects can be interesting. But, what strikes me the most is how unnecessary they it can become. If the dialogue is written up well an author can freely mix speakers and mix it into the narrative without confusion. This surprises me.

I think the effects of distancing the reader is not directly related to the punctuation. It can do that, but it doesn't have to. For example, in The Road, I think the distancing was intentional. In Oscar Wao I didn't feel that at all. The book is in first person narrative and the lack of punctuation helps keep the flow.

Feb 19, 2009, 2:35pm

I agree with kiwidoc about how effective what Saramago does in Blindness is - not only are there no quotation marks, but the same sentence can include dialogue from several different characters (the trick, I learned, is to look out for the capital letters, which signify a change of speaker). This could have gone horribly wrong, but it's brilliant. Lois, I know exactly what you mean about the looking-through-a-window effect, but Saramago manages to acheive quite the opposite, I think, and brings the characters even closer to the reader.

Feb 19, 2009, 9:10pm

I've pulled out the topic of quotation marks into a separate thread if some of you would like to post or repost over there. I think it's interesting and worth putting it out there for everyone in the group to mull over. Akeela, you can have your thread back now:-)

Feb 20, 2009, 1:54am

Not at all, Lois! It's interesting how authors can use the same technique with markedly different results.

Wyse also didn't use quotation marks in The Box Children and in this case, it served to simplify the read and add to the childlike charm of the book.

Feb 20, 2009, 6:26am

Este mensaje fue borrado por su autor.

Feb 20, 2009, 9:00am

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. A brilliant book about a book-loving family’s devotion to books and reading. There were many wonderful moments in the book, and Fadiman struck many chords. Every bibliophile should have a copy!

In talking about trawling secondhand bookshops, she writes: "You may prefer Veuve Clicquot for your birthday, but give me (actually, you can't, because George beat you to it) a nine-dollar 1929 edition of Vincent Starrett's Penny Wise and Book Foolish, a tender paean to book collecting that contains the following sentence: 'Every new search is a voyage to the Indies, a quest for buried treasure, a journey to the end of the rainbow; and whether or not at the end there shall be turned up a pot of gold or merely a delightful volume, there are always wonders along the way.'"

And further, "'Alas,' wrote Henry Ward Beecher. 'Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore!'"

I think a few of us can relate!

Feb 20, 2009, 9:14am

#101 I've had a copy sitting around the house for almost 2-yrs now....an LT-inspired purchase. Not sure why I haven't picked it up yet. Those excerpts are... well, they really hit home.

Editado: Feb 20, 2009, 9:31am

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is one of my all-time favorite books. In addition to the essay akeela mentions, I loved the ones about merging her library with her husband's, the one about how people treat their books ("courtly" vs "carnal" love), the one about how she agonized over the wording the first time her future husband inscribed a book to her, the one about her family's love of words . . . I guess I loved them all! I keep a few extra copies around to give to friends.

PS Anne Fadiman is a remarkable writer; her book about the tragic effects of cultural misunderstanding between Hmong immigrants and US health care workers, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is insightful, compassionate, and beautifully written. It got me started on reading everything she writes.

Feb 20, 2009, 9:47am

Rebecca, I'm afraid I didn't do justice in describing this book. Thanks for the additional comments! There is so much written about Ex Libris on LT, I thought I might be the last LT-er reading it :)

I will have to find The Spirit Catches you and You Fall Down. Thank you.

>102 dchaikin: Dan, do read it! It's very special.

Feb 20, 2009, 10:31am

I have a T-shirt with that Henry Ward Beecher quote on it. I love to wear it to the bowling alley, where someone always asks me what it means! (Hush, all you bowlers, I'm one myself. Don't send me e-mails telling me I'm a snob.)

Feb 20, 2009, 11:27am

Speaking of Henry Ward Beecher, I don't know if this will seem funny in print because its humor comes from hearing it said aloud, but I've been laughing over this limerick my father taught me for almost 50 years.

The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher
Called the hen an elegant creature
The hen pleased with that
Laid an egg in his hat
And thus did the hen reward Beecher

Sorry for hijacking your thread, akeela.

Feb 20, 2009, 1:51pm

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is one of my top 10 all time favorite books.

I'm not sure why, but I didn't realize that she also wrote Ex Libris! OK, I'll pick it up from Borders today or tomorrow (Borders Rewards members get 40% off of the list price of any book today and tomorrow).

Feb 20, 2009, 2:19pm

I think it's time for a reread of Ex Libris. I concur the The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a fascinating and well-written book, and it is entirely different from Ex Libris.

Feb 24, 2009, 7:38am

A Thousand Years of Prayers is a collection of short stories written by Yiyun Li, at the age of 33, when she had been writing in English for a mere 6 years only. One could never tell from the writing! The book was shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers in 2006.

Li is an engaging and thoughtful storyteller who takes you into the Chinese psyche, past and present, via her authentic, revealing stories. The set of humane stories draws you in, as it casts some light on what it meant to live in a village in Mongolia, a flat in Beijing in the 80s or 90s, or as a eunuch in the Chinese court in days long past. There are also a couple of stories that reflect the perspectives of present-day Chinese immigrants to America.

In the title story, the young Chinese-American protagonist tells her elderly estranged father who complains that she doesn’t speak to him enough: "If you grew up in a language that you never used to express your feelings, it would be easier to take another language and talk more in the new language. It makes you a new person."

Seems Li found her voice when she learnt to speak (and write) in English! At the time of publication, she had been living in the US for 10 years, and had yet to attain US citizenship.

I look forward to more great writing by this (young) talent!

Feb 24, 2009, 9:00am

Nice review, akeela. This book is somewhere on my TBR mountain range (no longer just a single mountain). Her first novel, The Vagrants, has just been published in the US and the UK, and it has received sparkling reviews, including this one from The Guardian:

Madness after Mao

Feb 24, 2009, 9:08am

I'm not surprised. Thanks, Darryl! Another for my mountain range, too :)

Feb 25, 2009, 5:36am

Mrs Sartoris by Elke Schmitter. Translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway (who incidentally translated The Reader by Bernard Schlink and Embers by Sandor Marai).

When Margarethe falls in love, she does so with her heart and soul. But after her overwhelming first love fails miserably — and she is left in a sanatorium to recover for two years — she chooses a "safe" marriage. She becomes Mrs Sartoris. But she doesn't count on ever falling in love again. When she eventually loses her heart to a man, 20 years into her sensible marriage, she devotes herself to him with reckless abandon.

At home, she has a good, faithful husband and a rebellious teenage daughter. There is an element of a thriller playing out in the background narrative, where a hit-and-run accident has rendered a man dead. Who is this man? Was he deliberately killed, or was it an accident? As Mrs Sartoris imparts this unsentimental narrative of her life and her loves, we learn the details of this unsettling tale.

A good read; preferably — and easily manageable — in one sitting.

This book has been translated into 13 languages.

Feb 25, 2009, 8:15am


Mrs Sartoris sounds good. I will add it to my wishlist. Perhaps I can find it in the library.

Mar 1, 2009, 8:54am

Hope you do, Urania. It's really an effortless read.

Finished Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the last couple of days. It's a short novel filled with punch and amazing tongue-in-cheek humor. A lovely read!

Mar 2, 2009, 1:02am

#114: The only one of Marquez' books that I have attempted was One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I could not finish. I may try him again with Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

Mar 9, 2009, 8:42am

I read a rather special book entitled Maru by Bessie Head. This short novel takes the reader into the remote village of Dilepe in Botswana, where racial prejudice is rife and people have difficulty accepting a young Masarwa – considered the lowest group of black people – into their midst.

She is Margaret Cadmore. Her mother died at childbirth leaving her to be raised by the English wife of a missionary, Margaret Cadmore, who didn’t bother to name the child. So they share a name.

The little girl has grown into a distinguished young lady who has just obtained a teacher’s diploma, and enters the village of Dilepe to start teaching at the primary school. At first everyone is taken by the dignified young woman, but as soon as they learn she is a Masarwa, all hell breaks loose as racial prejudice sets in and threatens to divide the society.

Maru is the future paramount chief, revered by all. He has a deep, lifelong friendship with Moleka. Both these men are notorious in the Dilepe village for their love affairs, and both men are immediately and acutely drawn to the young Margaret. And so we’re drawn into a love triangle of dramatic proportions.

This is a beautifully written book with many light, magical moments strewn throughout the text. This is one I recommend, but I have been told that her “When Rain Clouds Gather” is better.

A note on the author: Bessie Emery Head (b. 1937) is considered Botswana's most important writer. She was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, the child of a wealthy white South African woman and a black servant when interracial relationships were illegal in South Africa.

She attended a mission school, trained as a teacher and later worked in Botswana as a teacher. She died in Botswana at age 49.

Mar 9, 2009, 9:27am

Thanks, akeela! I hadn't heard of Bessie Head before this year. I'll look for Maru and When Rain Clouds Gather later this week; there is a good independent feminist bookstore in town that will probably have these books.

Mar 11, 2009, 10:43am

Ok, so I had to look up Botswana on a map. A nice review Akeela.

Mar 11, 2009, 12:41pm

Thanks, Dan. When you visit South Africa (i.e. Cape Town ;)) you can wave at the Batswanans, just north of us!

You're welcome, Darryl! I'd be interested to know if you heard of Bessie Head on LT, or elsewhere?

Mar 11, 2009, 12:54pm

Akeela, I first learned about Bessie Head on LT last month, when her name was nominated for one of the mini-authors to be read by the Author Theme Read group.

Mar 11, 2009, 1:48pm

Oh, right! I forgot I'd seen that ... it didn't quite register, at the time. I found a copy of When Rain Clouds Gather. Will read it soon, hopefully. I prefer to take a solid break from an author, else I tend to mix up books. Besides, Maru is still very much with me!

I finished Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El-Saadawi yesterday. I hope to be back soon with some thoughts. Thank you, Rachel and Lois, for a great rec!

Mar 12, 2009, 4:34am

Woman at Point Zero, or Firdaus, by Nawal El-Saadawi. Translated by her husband Sherif Hetata. This is a little book – I seem to be specialising in them this year – but I found it really powerful, and poignant. It was a better read than Searching by the same author, read earlier this year.

This book was the result of an encounter El-Saadawi had with an Arab woman in the Egyptian Qanatir Prison, while doing research on neuroses in Egyptian women. In real life, the woman, Firdaus, had killed a man and was sentenced to death for the offence. Firdaus initially refused to see her but finally conceded an interview and then slowly began to reveal her "terrible but wonderful" life story to El-Saadawi, the psychiatrist.

The dignified Firdaus had a huge impact on El-Saadawi, so much so that she never quite forgot her. When she herself landed in prison some years later as a political activist, she still looked out for the almost regal Firdaus – though by then Firdaus had already been executed.

The storyline in the novel is much the same. A psychiatrist seeks an interview with a woman (a prostitute) imprisoned for murdering a man (her pimp). She is refused numerous times but finally gains an interview. What follows is the woman's narration of her terrible yet amazing life story, since childhood. Here was a child and woman, with loads of potential and a yearning to use her mind to do something useful with her life; sadly society didn't accommodate her at any point.

The book is an indictment of men (and some women) in patriarchal Egyptian society, but it also a celebration of the human spirit and how it strives to survive against all odds. I recommend this book – although it becomes fairly unpleasant, at times.

Editado: Mar 12, 2009, 8:48am

>beautifully done review, akeela.

I have found it interesting that both El-Saadawi and Assia Djebar, both feminists, prefer their own organic feminism than the Western brand of feminism that tends to be foisted upon them as a one size fits all.

Mar 13, 2009, 7:40am

Thank you, Lois.

Having read a bit about El-Saadawi's challenging life as a woman (and professional) in her society, her novels do come across as very authentic.

I admire her accomplishments in spite of terrible odds, which would break most people — but only served to make this incredible woman stronger.

There is a harshness towards men in her books, which I found very hard to swallow initially but I've since gained a better understanding of where she's coming from.

I haven't managed to locate an Assia Djebar yet, but will read her as soon as I do! Thanks for the reminder.

Mar 13, 2009, 4:09pm

>124 akeela: neither one of these women are anything near young (both born in the 1930s), so I'm wondering who represents the next generation of feminist women writers in North Africa. I've read Malika Mokeddem's Of Dreams and Assassins (Algerian) and she might be a bit younger than Djebar.

It is interesting also to note that Djebar and Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwean, as you probably know) both went into film making partially because it was a way of reaching women.

Mar 14, 2009, 3:30pm

>125 avaland: There's Miral al-Tahawy from Egypt, in her 30s, I think. Haven't read anything by her but she's been on my mental TBR list for a while. Very interesting life story, from Bedouin village to assistant professorship at Cairo University. I read somewhere that she's considered to be part of the so-called "1990 generation" in Egyptian literature but I don't know who the other writers are, or if they're male or female.

Mar 14, 2009, 3:55pm

Okay, I couldn't resist. She's been on my mental TBR list for too long, so I now have a copy of Miral al-Tahawy's Blue Aubergine on its way from the Book Depository. Will let you know...

Mar 14, 2009, 8:18pm

>yes, please!

Mar 15, 2009, 9:21am

>125 avaland: You pose a very interesting question!

Rachel, I'll be looking out for your thoughts on Al-Tahawy's book.

Thirteen Cents by K. Sello Duiker. This is a gem of a book, but I’ve bailed on it because it is so heartbreaking. I am torn between picking it up again, or leaving it unread. It is the story of a thirteen-year-old street kid in Cape Town and the sexual, emotional and physical abuse he endures in a bid to survive. The details are graphic and awful. The child is extremely likable and sensible. But he’s thirteen and impressionable, so older street kids, men and women take advantage of him at every turn.

From what I gather from my reading thus far, the title is a reference to the sense this thirteen year old makes of life – with his 13-years of life experience – and also the lengths he has to go to, to earn some “cents” to survive.

This book has made me so sad, and it has touched me on so many levels, and it is so difficult to read because of it. It was the winner of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, Best First Book in 2001. It is based on the life of the author. He also wrote a second prizewinning novel entitled The Quiet Violence of Dreams. Sadly he committed suicide in 2005 at the age of 30. I want to recommend this book, although I haven’t finished it ... and don’t know if I’m strong enough to pick it up again.

Mar 15, 2009, 9:40am

Wow...thanks for the review, akeela. I don't think I can read it, though...

Mar 17, 2009, 8:37am

You're welcome, doc. I understand your reluctance. I haven't gone back to it, and probably won't - but it's a book that deserves to be read IMO.

I've since learned that Duiker was from a "moderately wealthy" family, and had a degree in Journalism. He wrote as intensely and knowingly as he did, because of time spent with street kids.

I got the impression that it was his life story from the cover, which read: "His varied experiences while living in Cape Town form the basis of this book". Seems I read too much into it. Apologies everyone!

He wrote two other novels. The Quiet Violence of Dreams, which won the (South African) Herman Charles Bosman Prize for English literature, and his final novel The Hidden Star, which was published posthumously. He was apparent adept in employing magical realism, particularly in his latter publications.

Mar 17, 2009, 9:51am

Good point, akeela; books like this should be read. I'm adding both books to my wish list (which is growing like a well fed dandelion).

Your comments and the brief bio on Duiker on Wikipedia remind me somewhat of the brief life of the Chinese-American writer Iris Chang, who wrote three powerful nonfiction books, The Rape of Nanking, The Chinese in America, and Thread of the Silkworm (I've read the first two, and they were fascinating and disturbing, especially the book on the Nanking massacre). She suffered a nervous breakdown while she was researching a book she was planning to write about the Bataan Death March, and committed suicide several months later. The husband of a good friend of mine grew up with her, and he told me that she was a sensitive and amazing woman.

Mar 20, 2009, 3:33am

Thanks for your additional comments, Darryl. You're right, there are some books and authors that deserve to be read. I'm adding Iris Chang to my wishlist, though it might be while before I'm ready for it.

Kira-Kira by Japanese-American Cynthia Kadohata. This charming, quick read won the Newbery Award in 2005. It is the story of a beautiful childhood bond between two sisters, Katie and Lynne Takeshima.

The story is told by the young Katie, who adores her smart older sister. They've always been surrounded by the love and affirming behavior of their parents and extended family. When their baby brother Sammy joins the family, Katie naturally becomes the devoted older sister conferring huge doses of love and affection on him, as Lynne did to her.

As they grow up, they realize how hard their immigrant parents work to survive. They also note the unexpected hostility in their new non-Japanese neighborhood and school. When Lynne becomes ill, the whole family rallies around to help one another and to make her comfortable.

I didn't realize this was a YA book when I bought it. I'd definitely recommend it to young girls. It's innocent and sweet – something rare today :)

Abr 15, 2009, 7:13am

Fools by the distinguished South African Njabulo S. Ndebele. This is a wonderfully written novella of remarkable subtlety. The protagonists are both male, one a middle-aged schoolteacher, the other an 18-year-old who has just completed school in Swaziland. They seem to be the complete opposite of each other, yet they are also surprisingly similar. Zamani, the older man, sees his younger self in the idealistic Zani who has returned home with enthusiastic hopes of uplifting his community.

The book is narrated in the first person from the Zamani’s perspective and we see a haunting picture of embarrassment and disappointment emerge as the tale unfolds. He is a restless soul desperately in search of meaning in his life. Zani knows Zamani’s darkest secrets and makes no secret of his derision for him. Yet they form an unlikely bond and come to depend on one another for support in moments when it really matters.

Although the novel is told from the male perspective, Zamani and Zani’s relationships with the women in their lives play a pivotal role in the level of their humanity, and their struggles to be their best selves.

Ndebele has an incredible academic background and was the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Cape Town from 2000-2008. This book won the Noma Award, Africa’s highest literary award for the best book published in Africa in 1984. I'd definitely recommended it.

Abr 15, 2009, 12:52pm

Hey Akeela! Just thought I would let you know I am still lurking around your thread. I will add Fools to the Continent.

Abr 15, 2009, 2:08pm

akeela -- I've just had a chance to read your thread from the beginning, and not only am I in awe and overwhelmed, but my Amazon wishlist has grown exponentially with African books!

I haven't read The Grass Is Singing by Lessing (one of her few that I haven't read), but your description of it reminded me of her memoir/novel Alfred and Emily about her parents' experiences in Rhodesia. It's a fascinating glimpse into her parents' lives and their frustrated expectations.

I loved Nadine Gordimer's early books, especially Burger's Daughter, but I haven't read any of her later work past The House Gun -- The Pickup has definitely gone on the TBR list!

If you liked Garcia Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold, you should read Of Love and Other Demons -- an historical novella about a young girl who seems to be suffering from rabies and is sent to a convent to be "cured".

Abr 17, 2009, 6:21am

Thanks, Jane :) I'm on an Africa binge at the moment...

Thanks also for the great recs. I'll look out for them.

Hey Stase!

Abr 23, 2009, 4:26am

African Short Stories edited by Chinua Achebe and C.L. Innes. This is a selection of 20 short stories from some of the best-known authors across the African continent, including Abdulrazak Gurnah, Ngugi, Bessie Head, Tayeb Salih, Chinua Achebe, Ahmed Essop, and Ama Ata Aidoo. Some of the stories were really good, and some were not great. But it was a good read, overall.

Two stories I’d like to comment on very briefly include one by Nadine Gordimer. It was written in plain English, with diacritical marks and was very easy to read ") The other, by Alifa Rifaat was, I thought, quite "modern" in that a young girl faces the dilemma of a pregnancy out of wedlock in an Arab state – something uncommon in Arab writing – so I was excited at the prospect that I had happened on a younger Arab woman writer, writing about latter-day experiences. Turns out that Rifaat, like Nawal El Saadawi, was also born in the 30s... :)

I've also started the enjoyable A Pound of Paper by John Baxter - the memoirs of a book addict. Definitely not recommended reading for those who want to stop buying books!

Abr 24, 2009, 3:58am

Sky Burial by Xinran, translated from the Chinese by Julia Lovell and Esther Tyldesley. Xinran is a successful Chinese journalist and radio presenter who once met the fascinating Chinese woman, Shu Wen, and spent two days with her listening to her life story. Xinran was so utterly taken by the story she'd heard, that she proceeded to write this book to share the story with the world.

It is about a medical doctor whose husband of less than 100 days had been called to military duty in Tibet. Very soon after, he is declared dead, but his body is never found. Unable to find peace of mind, Shu Wen leaves China and goes to Tibet in search of her husband. She sets out in 1958, and comes face-to-face with a strange and challenging world.

The book is an enlightening introduction to the rich distinctive culture and people of Tibet. Though my copy is labeled a memoir, the story is clearly fictionalized, because Xinran could not have gleaned all the facts she presents, in only two days.

Essentially it is the incredible story of one woman's love for her husband, and the lengths she went to to find him. She had to navigate a grueling terrain, amongst a people with a different language and a totally disparate way of living to hers. In the long search that spans very many years, she comes to understand the profound and quiet way of life, adopting the manner of prayer and even the dress code. This was a quick, worthwhile read.

Abr 24, 2009, 8:52am

Nice review, akeela; I've added it to my (Amazon) wish list.

What is it like in CT and SA, after the election?

Abr 24, 2009, 8:59am

#139 What an interesting premise, thanks for the review.

Abr 24, 2009, 9:58am

>139 akeela: akeela, I read Sky Burial a few years ago which I enjoyed immensely. I recently read Stick Out Your Tongue by Ma Jian, written prior to the Xinran book which also included a sky burial. I could not help but think while reading the latter, that Xinran had read the Jian collection because of certain vague similarities. Of course, my observations are not meant to take away from the Xinran book, which as noted previously, I enjoyed.

mayo 1, 2009, 8:29am

Thanks, Darryl. All's still very quiet, as we wait to see what the future holds... :)

You're welcome, Dan.

Lois, I'll look out for the Ma Jian book as it would be interesting to compare the two. I was intrigued by the Tibetan culture.

Just finished Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. Translated from the French by Ina Rilke. This was an LT-inspired read. It’s about two young men (from privileged backgrounds, set in Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China during the 70s) and the lengths they go to to steal a small suitcase of banned Western novels. Luo and Ma love a good story and take great joy in devouring the stories, and sharing them with the little Chinese seamstress who is transformed by the literature.

This is a little book with a lot of depth that I still need to think on. On the surface, it was great prose that provided lots of entertainment in the oral storytelling tradition. A quick read.

mayo 1, 2009, 8:35am

>143 akeela: The movie, which is directed by the author, is also quite good.


And that's it, isn't it? The power of literature to transform lives.

mayo 9, 2009, 7:46am

Thanks, Lois. I'd love to see the movie.

Talk about the power of literature to transform lives! I just finished The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. One day the Queen of England unexpectedly stumbles into the mobile library she sees on the royal grounds, and feels obligated to borrow a book. This is followed by another, and another. Soon the Queen is transformed into a voracious reader many of us could absolutely relate to! This is a wonderful little gem filled with many quotable quotes on books and reading. Loved it.

Editado: mayo 9, 2009, 9:05am

Just wanted to say thanks for all the African-related reviews. I've added lots to my African summer reading list!

mayo 9, 2009, 9:03am

>145 akeela: I picked The Uncommon Reader at a library sale recently. I thought it would make for a fun, short read sometime when I need one. Nice to hear you liked it.

mayo 9, 2009, 11:16am

>145 akeela:/147 I loved The Uncommon Reader, too.

avaland - save it for a day when you need a little pick-me-up, or maybe a perfect rainy afternoon with a cup of tea.

mayo 9, 2009, 11:46am

Another The Uncommon Reader fan here! I bought it when I went home at Christmas and it was a lovely short read, quirky and somehow uplifting. (It would have been an even quicker read had I not been fighting off my 93-year old grandma with one hand as she tried to prize it out of my clutches as I read! She enjoyed it too, once she got her hands on it).

mayo 14, 2009, 4:11pm

>148 Talbin:, 149 well, then, I will definitely keep in on hand (it sounds like a great literary palate cleanser also - between more 'serious' books)

mayo 15, 2009, 1:07pm

Went for a quick trip into Morocco during the 1960s via Elias Canetti’s travel memoir The Voices of Marrakesh. It’s a small volume of well-told short stories that invite you into its exotic ambience, so you can smell and taste Marrakesh. I enjoyed the writing thoroughly.

mayo 15, 2009, 1:18pm

Meant to mention that Canetti was born in Bulgaria in 1905. The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit was written in German in 1967, and was translated in 1978 by J.A. Underwood.

Editado: mayo 24, 2009, 4:55am

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by the Chinese-born Xiaolu Guo. When 23-year old Zhuang is sent to the UK to learn English by her parents, so that she can benefit the family shoe business, she learns a lot more than she bargained for.

We follow Zhuang’s voice from the inception of her journey to London, as she relays her thoughts, hopes and fears and negotiates the daunting challenge of being in a foreign land with a miminal grasp of the language. Her Concise Chinese-English Dictionary, which goes wherever she goes, is her saving grace as she stumbles and learns many mystifying lessons. When Zhuang falls in love with an older Englishman, the lessons become even harder...

The text is filled with humor, and wisdom. Zhuang is baffled by the English breakfast, which could easily qualify as lunch for a construction worker as far as she is concerned; the confusing verbal linguistic tenses, which don’t exist in the Chinese language; only 26 letters in the “lazy” alphabet, as opposed to the thousands of characters in Chinese; the perplexing preoccupation of the English with the weather, which doesn’t warrant a second thought in China, and so on. Interestingly, each of these examples corresponds with a mindset that distinguishes the English from the Chinese on a deeper philosophical level.

This is a remarkable book that demonstrates how language and culture are inherently bound together, and that by learning a language, you are effectively adopting a culture. An enjoyable, humorous and thought-provoking read.

Thanks for the recommendation, kidzdoc!

trying to fix TS

mayo 23, 2009, 5:18pm

Nice review, akeela; I'm glad that you enjoyed it!

mayo 25, 2009, 10:30am

I got A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers out of the library last week, coincidentally - but I had to give up after a couple of chapters! Your review makes me want to read it (and I know others here have enjoyed it too), but I can't get beyond the bad English. I know it's meant to be charming, and I think I'd have been able to appreciate that at one time, but I hear so much BSE, as we call it (Badly Spoken English), every single day at work that I don't have any tolerance for it in any form any more. Thanks for a nice review, though.

Editado: mayo 25, 2009, 3:12pm

Hey, friends! Thank you.

Rach, I also wanted her language to improve at a faster rate. It didn’t. Fortunately I was able to get past the poor English and enjoy the content. I guess I'm not exposed to BSE on a daily basis ;)

The Orange Girl by the Norwegian Jostein Gaarder. Translated by James Anderson. Fifteen-year-old Georg Røed’s father died of cancer when he was just 4 years old. Now, all these years later, his grandmother is routinely cleaning the tool shed when she discovers a letter his father had written to him hidden in the lining of the old red pram, an item his father had repeatedly asked the family to hold onto.

The letter is a touching communiqué from a father to his son, on the eve of his death. The essence of the novel is the letter Georg has received, interspersed with his reactions to his father’s thoughts and questions. There are some tender moments of bittersweet love. A very quick read.

mayo 25, 2009, 8:41pm

Hi Akeela, I have "Concise..." on my shelf staring at me. I'll get there sometime. The Orange Girl sounds really interesting...I really enjoyed Sophie's World from the same author, although I liked that for the boiled down history of philosophy; the novel aspects were very much secondary. Thanks for the great reviews.

mayo 27, 2009, 3:31pm

Message # 138...If you enjoy African Stories you will certainly enjoy reading The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara. A true story that you will never forget.

mayo 28, 2009, 2:43am

You're welcome, Dan. There were some philosophical questions posed to the young boy in The Orange Girl, as well. But suited to his age, I'd say. And there were many astronomical allusions and facts that were informative.

Hi Jacx. I like the title of the Kamara book, so immediately looked in our huge library system for the book. Sadly didn't find it there, but I'll be looking out for it - especially since I haven't read anything from Sierra Leone yet. Appreciate the recommendation. Thanks.

mayo 28, 2009, 1:05pm

I could possibly get you a signed copy if you are interested.

mayo 29, 2009, 2:29am

Wow! (off to PM jacx...)

mayo 30, 2009, 10:10am

Hello, Akeela, it's my loss to be so late in discovering your thread here, but I'm glad I finally did. I love your reviews!

Jun 2, 2009, 2:29am

Thanks, Julia, I'm flattered :)

Finished and loved The Postman by the Chilean Antonio Skármeta; excellently translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. Hope to be back with some thoughts as soon as I find a moment...

Jun 3, 2009, 9:21am

The Postman by the Chilean Antonio Skármeta, expertly translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. Rather than becoming a fisherman – like every other man on the beautiful island of Isla Negra, just off the mainland – Mario Jiménez becomes the postman. He only has one client – Chile’s beloved poet Pablo Neruda, the only literate person on the island, who incidentally gets loads of mail daily. Mario, like everyone else, is a devotee of the poet, and dreams of obtaining his coveted autograph.

When Mario falls in love with the gorgeous Beatriz González, he promptly enlists the help of the poet to woo the voluptuous barmaid. And so he begins to impart lush and sensuous metaphors, which work its magic - despite her mother’s fervently impassioned protests.

It’s a little book, which elicited many chuckles. The writing’s a treat and there are some gorgeous metaphors, as could be expected. It’s a quick, light and poetic read. Looks like this one’s headed for my Top 10 list at the end of 2009!

Now to find some poetry by the celebrated Mr Neruda...

Jun 3, 2009, 9:36am

Thanks for posting this, akeela; I've added this to my TBR list. This book was also made into an award winning Italian language movie, Il Postino.

City Lights Books in San Francisco recently published a nice collection of Neruda's poems, entitled The Essential Neruda. The Captain's Verses is a collection of love poems that he wrote to his future wife. And Canto General, which I haven't read yet, is an epic poem about the formation of modern South America, but also mourns the destruction of ancient civilizations by European colonizers.

Jun 3, 2009, 2:29pm

#164/165 - I loved the movie. It lead me to check out some of Neruda's poetry, which I found interesting but opaque - if that makes sense. Thanks for the nice review of the book.

Jun 6, 2009, 7:06am

Hi guys! I'll have to get the movie then!

I like the sound of The Captain's Verses. I may fare better with it, based on Dan's comment. Thanks for the recommendation, Darryl.

Jun 14, 2009, 12:48pm

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart.

The Canadian, Smart, was born in 1913. One day as she was browsing in a bookshop, she chanced across a slim volume of poetry by the British, George Barker, and fell madly in love with the poetry. This was followed by communications with him. Because his finances did not allow him to travel to her she eventually bought him, and his wife, tickets to visit her in the United States. This signalled the beginning of an intense and tragic love affair that would last a lifetime. She also bore him four children.

The novel is autobiographical and though I was intrigued by the introduction above, I found it difficult to get into. It is filled with an intense outpouring of emotion, written in poetic prose. The protagonist is obsessed with love, being in love, and the object of her affection. There is a fair of amount of guilt, and pondering about the other woman; while she is simultaneously distraught at the physical distance between them. There were some really great lines of poetry, but overall, I found this little book overwhelming.

Jun 14, 2009, 5:40pm

You say that there were some really great lines of poetry. Could you share a few with us?

Editado: Nov 21, 2009, 3:12pm

Hey Jacx. Gosh! It was a library book and I didn't copy down any lines.. I must tell you that the book is regarded a masterpiece in some quarters – so you may want to check it out for yourself!

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julia Otsuka. This book is based on a true story and relates the challenging experiences of a Japanese-American family just after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942. We are privy, in turn, to the perspectives of a woman and her two young children (a girl and a boy, 11 and 8 years old) whose father has just been taken away "for questioning" by the authorities. He is subsequently incarcerated in Japanese internment camps, and doesn’t return for many years.

I deem this an important book – if just to get the Japanese-immigrant perspective on that time in American history. A touching read, definitely recommended.

Thank you to teelgee for her great reviews of this book.

edit: no ts?...

Jun 18, 2009, 10:15pm

You don't have to convince me. I will have to now put it on my wish list. It does some intriguing. I shall keep you posted.

Jun 21, 2009, 7:26am

The Journey Home by the Icelandic-born Olaf Olafsson. Middle-aged Asdis "Disa" Jonsdottir has been living in England for many years but on learning that she is terminally ill, decides to go on a journey to Iceland, the land of her birth. The story is the narrative of her life and her loves, as she quietly reflects on her past, sharing her greatest disappointments, and joys. A good, atmospheric read.

Jun 26, 2009, 8:13am

The Heather Blazing by Colm Tóibín. This quiet novel is a man’s compelling reflection on his life. Eamon Redmond is a 60-odd-year-old High Court judge in Dublin. He’s married to Carmel and they have a grown son and daughter. Each year, they spend their holidays at their vacation home in Cush, a remote village by the sea. This is an Irish author, so images of the weather abound, as do magnificent descriptions of the land and sea.

Eamon also spent his childhood holidays in Cush, so visits there evoke memories of times gone by. As he reminisces, a portrait of a man emerges.
His mother died during childbirth. So Eamon grew up with his father and together they led a comfortable existence. He recreates that kind of life with Carmel, where they do a lot for one another, and lead a peaceful, contented life. When Carmel has a stroke, he cares for her in the most touching way – as he cared for his father when he took ill, many years before. There were numerous poignant passages in the text.

Tóibín is a hugely accomplished writer and his spare, understated prose speaks volumes. This is a well-crafted novel I thoroughly recommend.

Jun 26, 2009, 8:28am

Lovely review, akeela. I'll add this to my "Buy ASAP" list.

Jun 26, 2009, 12:00pm

akeela - Really nice review. I think I already have a book by Toibin on my wishlist, I'll add this one too, referencing your review.

Jun 29, 2009, 2:31am

Thanks, D-squared :)

Darryl, I must give you credit for pointing Colm Tóibín out on your thread - else I may never have read him. So, thank you!

Jun 30, 2009, 10:26am

I have also added the Toibin book. I have only read one of his book, The Master, which was a great read and inspired me to read Henry James. Thanks.

Jul 9, 2009, 1:39pm

Hey Karen! I recently added The Master to my TBR. Thanks for the additional endorsement.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. When Nadezhda learns that her 84-year-old father has fallen in love with the voluptuous 36-year-old Valentina from the Ukraine, alarm bells go off. She doesn’t hesitate in recruiting her older sister – whom she hasn’t spoken to in years because they just don’t get along – to avert imminent disaster for their aging father.

What follows is a whacky family drama involving many colorful characters and lots of laughs. The backdrop is slightly more serious, as one gets a sense of Ukrainian history.

I particularly enjoyed the cultural nuances throughout, including Russian nicknames that were habitually invoked, like Nikolai, Kolya, Kolyusha, and Kolka, for example, all variations of Nicholas in Russian. A quick, fun read.

Jul 15, 2009, 11:34am

The Red Carpet by the Indian Lavanya Sankaran. A great debut. Review to come..

Jul 15, 2009, 11:35am

The Spare Room by Australian Helen Garner. This book centers around a comfortable, loving friendship between two 60-year-old women. The narrator, Helen, has invited her old friend, Nicola, to inhabit her spare room while she is in Melbourne (from Sydney) for three weeks to receive treatment for cancer. In spite of her frailty and the debilitating physical effects of the treatment, Nicola puts up a brave front while Helen exerts great efforts to keep her friend clean, comfortable, well-fed and rested.

It is a particularly challenging situation for both women as Nicola struggles to accept the reality of her illness, and Helen is pushed to the limits in supporting her friend. The writing is spare, and effortless, and serves as a wonderful comment on friendship. What indeed are the limits of friendship? How much love, compassion, and effort does a friendship exact? And how much anger or rage can it withstand? A lovely read.

Jul 15, 2009, 1:23pm

I love reading your reviews, you just paint such a colorful picture of the book. I might have this one to the wishlist.

Jul 15, 2009, 2:27pm

Lovely review, akeela. I also enjoyed The Spare Room when I read it last year, and I was amazed that it wasn't longlisted for the Booker Prize, as it was far better than most of the listed books.

Ago 28, 2009, 2:04pm

Thanks Dan and Darryl. Apologies for the terrible lack of hospitality. It's always great to have you pop in!

Oi! I've been largely absent from LT..

I recently read my first graphic novel, The Rabbi's Cat by the French cartoonist Joann Sfar. It’s set in 1930s Algeria and is a chuckle a minute.

The book revolves around a scrawny, gray cat with personality who lives with the gentle, widowed rabbi and his daughter, Zlabya. He adores his mistress, and will stop at nothing to be pampered by her. The family also has a parrot who squawks all day, irritating the family.

One day the cat gets into a tussle with the parrot and gobbles it up, with the result that he gains the ability to speak. And he doesn’t stop for a moment!

This cat has an opinion about everything. As he blabbers on, the rabbi realises that he’s taken to lying, so decides to mend his ways by teaching him the Torah. The cat, in turn, decides that if he is Jewish, he wants a bar mitzvah. This gives rise to some theological questions. When the rabbi cannot deal with the cat’s questions anymore, he takes him to his older and wiser rabbi for the bigger questions :)

When Zlabya gets a proposal from a dashing young French rabbi, the dejected cat accompanies the family to Paris, where he is up to his usual antics.

This was such a fun read, and the graphics are more than charming! I learnt a thing a two about Judaism that I didn’t know before, which was interesting. But on the whole, I was totally tickled by this irreverent, opinionated cat.

I read it more than a month ago, and have since pulled it off the shelf on more than one occasion for a quick dip in, and a chuckle. It’s a lovely addition to any library, IMO.

Ago 28, 2009, 2:11pm

Hello Akeela!
I've had half an eye out for The Rabbi's Cat for a little while; in view of what you say, I'll make that a full eye - or two, even ;)

Ago 28, 2009, 2:41pm

Hey Rach. Go for it! You're bound to enjoy it!

On a slightly more serious note, I read Singing Away the Hunger: The Autobiography of an African Woman by Mpho Matsepo Nthunya.

Mpho was a cleaning lady at the University of Lesotho with lots of stories to tell as she went about her work. As she routinely shared her life stories with a visiting lecturer at the university, the woman realised the deep value in her stories as a means to celebrate a life in the great African story-telling tradition.

The book is a tribute to a resilient woman who, through sheer determination, found a way to create a positive life for herself despite her circumstances. The stories are well-told, and her authentic voice has been maintained. As such, the stories are relatively unsophisticated, and the language is not great, but there is a lot to be appreciated.

Here is an autobiography of a woman without real formal education, almost no interaction with books and writing, but with a published book to her name: “a miracle” she proclaims, at the hands of someone who found the time to listen and capture what she thought was significant. Though strange in terms of some of the superstitions held by the African communities involved, this was a worthwhile read.

Ago 28, 2009, 2:43pm

Ago 29, 2009, 12:01am

>183 akeela:, Isn't that cat great!?!

Ago 29, 2009, 5:38am

>185 akeela:, sounds fascinating - thanks for bringing it to our attention!

Ago 29, 2009, 8:59pm

akeela, It's nice to see you back.

Sep 2, 2009, 1:34am

I also really enjoyed The Spare Room by Garner, which inspired me to read others of hers. However, as an example,The Monkey Grip was less appealing.

Sep 2, 2009, 6:11am

Hi Akeela! Nice review of Singing Away the Hunger, which I'm adding to my wish list.

Sep 2, 2009, 9:09am

>187 fannyprice: It sure was, fp!

>188 charbutton: You're welcome, Char!

>189 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan. I'll be firmly back in just over two weeks, I think :)

>190 kiwidoc: Thanks for pointing that out, kdoc! I would've looked out for more by by her..

>191 kidzdoc: Hey kdocII! ...or were you kdocI? :D Thanks!

Sep 2, 2009, 9:20am

I'm happy to be kdocII. :)

Sep 2, 2009, 11:37am

Kidzdoc and Kiwidoc are often confused 'cos they seem to hang out on similar threads - but he is Darryl and she is Karen!

Sep 2, 2009, 1:16pm

And importantly, they're both favorites on LT! Thanks for gracing my thread, you celebs, you :)

Sep 2, 2009, 2:32pm

Sing Away the Hunger is going to be released on Kindle. No dates are available yet.

Sep 3, 2009, 9:04pm

Akeela, did you also read the Magone collection that I read a short time ago? (or was that Char). There were parts of that - in the first half of the collection written in the voices of women working as domestics - that reminded me of Singing Away the Hunger.

Sep 4, 2009, 2:28pm

>196 urania1: Mary, you'll be pleased to learn that Kindle has now made it to South Africa as well!

>197 avaland: Lois, I have Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night by Sindiwe Magona but haven't read it yet. Watch this space :)

Thank you for inspiring me to read "Singing" now - it was on my tbr far too long...

Sep 16, 2009, 9:55am

The Butterfly Month by Ariëlla Kornmehl. Translated from the Dutch by Faith Hunter. Twenty-something, Joni, has fled her home in the Netherlands, disillusioned and disappointed by everyone and everything. She seeks refuge in South Africa, where she works as a doctor amongst underprivileged people for three years. She has a live-in Zulu domestic worker, Zanele, with two children, and an unexpected friendship develops between the two women, which was pleasant enough. But there were just too many loose ends, and the book just got gloomier and gloomier as it proceeded. Unfortunately not a title I’d recommend.

Grace Notes (no ts) also published as In Touch With Grace by Jenny Pattrick. This novel is set in New Zealand in the 90s, and started out as a series on radio, which proved very popular thus leading to its publication in this format.

The protagonist, Grace, is in her 70s and leads a reclusive existence punctuated by her visits to the bowling greens once a week, where she meets friends and bowls socially. Her husband has died and her daughter, a musical protégé, has committed suicide, so Grace is no longer given to socialising. She derives pleasure from the sound of mischievous children climbing her trees in the drive-way.

In spite of initial misgivings, she finds herself surprisingly drawn into a wonderful friendship with an unlikely friend, which leads to all sorts of people invading her life and her space as she knew it, bringing with it lots of joy and also a fair share of frustration. This was a quiet, enjoyable read.

Sep 16, 2009, 10:16am

Akeela - I just caught your review of The Red Carpet over at Belletrista - which I learned, among other things, that Akeela isn't just a username but actually your RL name! Always nice to see more reviews from you.

Sep 16, 2009, 10:42am

Thanks, Dan. So it is :) LT was the first forum I got involved in socially, so I didn't even consider a username when I joined LT 2 years ago. Amazing where LT has taken me - in my reading, and with the friendships I've since established!

Hope you enjoyed Belle?!

Sep 16, 2009, 3:36pm

I need to get a copy of the butterfly month. I can't seem to bring it to life in LT and I ddn't see it in your library.


Sep 17, 2009, 1:59am

Hi, Jacx. I read a library copy, else I would have gladly sent my copy to you! The link to the one copy on LT is here.

Sep 22, 2009, 12:38pm

Congrats on your great review on Belletrista. It is a pleasure to read.

Sep 22, 2009, 1:48pm

Thanks, Karen! Kind of you to reportback here :)

Sep 22, 2009, 4:40pm

>204 kiwidoc: she has two reviews in that issue!

Sep 22, 2009, 5:57pm

#206 - I missed one of Akeela's reviews as well, of Ancestor Stones. It's a wonderful evocative review and the book is going on by Wishlist.

Oct 11, 2009, 4:05pm

Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries by Suad Amiry. In 1981, Dr Suad Amiry moved to occupied Ramallah, where she lived and worked at the Birzeit University. There she also met a wonderful man, fell in love, married, and acquired a mother-in-law.

This memoir takes you into the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but, though the book’s setting is dire, the tone is surprisingly light. Amiry conveys her story with a sharp sense of humor, choosing to see the funny side of things – perhaps a mechanism employed to deal with the senselessness and absurdity amid heartbreaking circumstances.

We are given some insight into the challenges Palestinians face, the physical destruction of the land and homes, and the permits, passports and checkpoints that are a part of the day-to-day routine. Amiry has an amazing understanding of humanity and portrays her own struggle vis-a-vis that of others, on both sides of the divide. The narrative is mostly comical, but also sometimes quite sad.

Interestingly, these journal entries were written as a form of therapy during very trying times. When anxious friends asked how she was, Amiry would simply send her ramblings to them. When she later met fellow-Moroccan Fatema Mernissi in Stockholm once, the issue of publishing her thoughts first came up and later materialised. She then she had to recover some of the entries from friends, as she had lost track of many of them.

On the whole tongue-firmly-in-cheek, of course, it seems she cannot decide what her biggest challenge is: Ariel Sharon and the subjugation he has imposed on Palestinians, or having to deal with her mother-in-law and all that comes with it! This was a wonderful, insightful, funny read.

Editado: Oct 11, 2009, 5:08pm

Sharon and My Mother-in-Law sounds great. Just looked and the library here has 4 copies.

Ok, a weird, weird thing happened - I've gone to a fake work page with spam all through it! Eek. I'll try to report it to the LT gods.

Editado: Oct 14, 2009, 2:53pm

Thanks, Cushla! I also got the spam link, hence the italicised title in my post above. Hope it gets sorted..

I’ve landed in the Middle East, quite unintentionally!

Recently reads:
Zubaida’s Room: A Novel of Iraqi Exile by Iraqi-born Iqbal Al-Qazwini, now living in Berlin.
Some Dream for Fools by 24-year-old Faïza Guène, daughter of Algerian immigrants living in France. My reviews will appear in the second issue of belletrista.com – if the editor thinks it worthy :)

I’ve also just completed Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami. This young Moroccan-born writer has produced a wonderful debut collection of short stories, set in modern-day Morocco, and Spain. The first half of the book depicts various characters in Morocco who dream of a better life in Spain, just across the Strait of Gibraltar, not even 14 km across the waters. The second half encapsulates the lives of those who have already managed to leave, in search of a better life on the other side, with unfortunately less than desirable results.

The mood throughout the slim volume is gray and I would’ve liked a spurt of color here and there, to break the cheerlessness a tiny bit. That said, Lalami is a great writer and the book is a quick read.

The book provided an authentic voice, detailing the issues young people currently face in the Arab/Muslim world, which I enjoyed. The stories show the lengths people will go to, to secure a better life for themselves and their families, and the challenges Arabs and North Africans face when entering European/ Western countries. I’d definitely read more by Lalami given the chance.

Thank you, Lois!

Oct 14, 2009, 4:06pm

>210 akeela: and the editor does. You write great reviews!

A nice companion to Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits is Ben Jelloun's Leaving Tangier, a novel which focuses on one young man's quest to leave and what happens when he finally does! (and how it comes about). Also, Lorraine Adam's Harbor about a young Algerian who stows away to the US is also fabulous. It gives the story of him in the US and also his backstory.

Oct 15, 2009, 2:13am

Thanks, ed ;

I have Harbor here at home, thanks to your reviews on LT, and it may be time to unearth it. And I have my sights on Ben Jelloun - as soon as I can find a copy locally, I'll be dipping into it!

Oct 17, 2009, 10:54am

I am too lazy to check back through your posts, akeela, but This Blinding Absence of Light by Ben Jelloun is an amazing read, albeit extremely depressing.

Oct 17, 2009, 1:05pm

Thanks, Karen. I haven't read anything by Ben Jelloun yet, so will look out for it. Appreciate your input!

Oct 18, 2009, 1:40pm

Back From Africa by Corinne Hofmann is the sequel to The White Masai, the hugely popular autobiographical account of a Swiss woman who went to Kenya and fell in love with a Masai warrior. She pursued him; they fell madly in love, got married and later had a daughter, Napirai.

In this volume she narrates how, as a result of her husband’s intolerable alcohol abuse, jealousy and possessiveness, she left Kenya to return to Switzerland with Napirai after four happy years amongst the Masai. Her return is surprisingly difficult, as she had become used to living in extremely meagre conditions, with an extended social network. She found a lot to love in Kenya and its people, for example, the huge respect young people held for the elders in the tribe, which she immediately misses on her return home.

She remembers the sense of well-being, safety and security she experienced in Kenya, in spite of the primitiveness of the setting. In the first months and years back, she prefers to live a life with just the bare minimum essentials but, as time passes, she comes to slowly appreciate the luxuries Switzerland has to offer.

The book was written in an attempt to come to terms with the loss she felt at the end of her Kenyan dream, which had been both wonderful and terrible. She also describes the period of writing, the difficulty getting the book published, the eventual publication, and the acclaim that followed. I have to admit that towards the last quarter of the book I was skimming rather than reading each paragraph, but it was nevertheless an interesting tale.

Oct 22, 2009, 12:02pm

Breath, Eyes, Memory (no ts?) by the Haitian Edwidge Danticat. This was an astonishing debut novel, a window into the world of Haitian women. It is a coming-of age novel, narrated by Sophie, who is an adorable wise 12-year-old at the beginning of the novel, who lives with her aunt, Tante Atie, since her mother deserted her as a baby. There is a beautiful bond of love between the two.

When Sophie’s mom sends for her from New York, she is put on a plane by her aunt, despite the pain they share at their parting, to go and live with the woman she has only known via the stories her Tante Atie has woven for her through the years.

As she slowly comes to know her mom, she also learns her own story. This is a novel about a circle of four generations of strong women bound together by their stories, their traditions, their circumstances. It is funny, and wonderful, sad, and painful. I was really moved by the prose, and loved the evocative sense of place, and the descriptive writing.

An excerpt describing an everyday scene in their village: "The roads to my grandmother's house were too rough for anything but wheelbarrows, mules, or feet.

Tante Atie and I decided to go on foot. We walked by a line of thatched roofs where a group of women were pounding millet in a large mortar with a pestle. Others were cooking large cassava cakes in flat pans over charcoal pits.

In the cane fields, the men chopped cane stalks as they sang back and forth to one another. A crammed wheelbarrow rolled towards us. We stepped aside and allowed the boys to pass. They were bare-chested and soaked with sweat, with no protection from the sun except old straw hats."

Oct 22, 2009, 12:09pm

>216 akeela:, sounds like a great book. I've added it to my 'to buy' list in anticipation of the 'Caribbean New Year' that I'm planning.

Oct 30, 2009, 3:19am

Ur response to Rebecca,#48 This sounds like me, I've heared so much about the book, and of course I've seen it, however I cannot seem to get the courage to read it... Does it have to do with the fact that we know so much about Madiba by now that one probably feel there is nothing to gain from it? Just wondering


Oct 30, 2009, 5:32am

Hi Keorapetse. If you have the time, please do consider reading Long Walk to Freedom. It'll be worth the effort.

The prose is absolutely beautiful. I've read some of the introductory chapters and have been completely enthralled by it - especially hearing from Madiba himself about his childhood. And there were many anecdotes I'd never heard before - you may be pleasantly surprised! It's very personal and moving, and funny, and informative.

Editado: Oct 30, 2009, 5:35am

oops! dbl post...

Oct 30, 2009, 1:35pm

I agree with what akeela said and, for me, the most moving part was reading the story in his own words.

Nov 14, 2009, 1:13pm

My second equally enjoyable graphic novel for the year: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. Translated from the French by Mattias Ripa. This was a quick and wonderful read. It is Satrapi’s memoir of her childhood in Iran, during the Iran-Iraq war and the Iranian revolution. This was an LT-inspired read, and I found it to be nothing short of brilliant.

I have the sequel Persepolis: The Story of a Return lined up on Mt TBR but will only get to it in a couple of weeks.. can't wait!

Nov 14, 2009, 11:53pm

I had forgotten about this title. Now that Barefoot Gen has inspired me to check out more graphic novels - and with that description - to the wishlist...

Nov 15, 2009, 11:21am

Akeela, I'm glad you enjoyed Persepolis - it was one of my favourite books of last year, all the more so because for someone like me who doesn't "do" graphic novels it was such a wonderful surprise.

Nov 15, 2009, 5:27pm

I also loved Persepolis I: A Story of a Childhood and Persepolis II when I read them about 4 years ago. These books led me to read several more about Iran. I especially enjoyed Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran by Roya Hakakian, which I found much more satisfying than the popular Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.

Akeela, I follow your thread for your insightful comments, such as #215,216,210, 185, and so on. Thanks for sharing!

Nov 16, 2009, 1:13pm

Hi, Julia! You're welcome :) I wasn't as taken by Nafisi's Lolita either.

Rachel, after this second great graphic novel for the year, I'm certainly up for more! (The Rabbi's Cat a few months ago was wonderful, too.)

Dan I hope you get to it soon. I'll look out for your comments.

Nov 17, 2009, 5:46pm

I'm just finishing up a read of The Complete Persepolis for the Novel class that I'm teaching. I had read the first part a couple of years ago wanted something different to end this class with, so I chose to include this one -- we're coupling the reading with the filmed versions -- have you seen that? I think both are quite brilliantly done, and I'm really interested to see what the students think about this form.

Nov 19, 2009, 2:25am

Jane, I haven't. And I'm not sure I want to see the movies quite yet. I'm sure your students will enjoy it - it's very well done!

Nov 30, 2009, 9:54am

Read since I last posted:
Landscape with Dog and Other Stories by Ersi Sotiropoulos. Translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich.
Arab Women Writers: An Anthology of Short Stories compiled and translated by Dalya Cohen-Mor. Both were good! Reviews to appear in Issue 3 of Belletrista.

In the City by the Sea by Kamila Shamsie. Thoughts to follow.

Dic 1, 2009, 12:35pm

akeela - I also enjoyed the Satrapi graphic novels, so recently picked up another of hers Chicken with Plums, which was unfortunately not nearly as effective.

I can also recommend the Maus series by Art Spiegelman if you want to explore graphic novels, as well as Stitches by David Small.

Dic 1, 2009, 1:21pm

Hi Karen. Turns out the second volume of Persepolis didn't work as well as the first, for me.

Some thoughts on Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi. Translated from the French by Blake Ferris. I didn’t find it as convincing and compelling as the first. It wasn’t as natural, or half as enjoyable; a lot of it felt contrived. The cartoons were good, but not the ideas. Still, I will seek out more graphic novels. I think they're great! Thanks for the recs, Karen.

Dic 2, 2009, 7:42am

In the City by the Sea by Kamila Shamsie. The protagonist of this charming coming-of-age debut novel is 11-year-old Hasan. He is an adored only child, who completes the circle of love at home, where he lives with his vibrant, artistic mother (whom he refers to as Ami) and his intelligent word-loving father, Aba.

The book is set in an unnamed city – probably Karachi – ruled by an oppressive military regime. Besides his adoration of his parents, Hasan also adores his maternal uncle, Salman Mamoo, who is a politician under house-arrest. As the novel progresses, the seemingly interminable (to Hasan) house arrest ends but things become worse; uncle Salman is taken to prison on a charge of treason. This depressing turn of events is a huge disappointment for the close-knit family.

Hasan is an astute boy who is obsessed with finding a way to help his uncle. He also has a great sense of imagination and escapes into his own fantasy world, as a means of coping, when things become unbearable.

Pakistani-born Shamsie is extremely articulate and I really enjoyed the warmth of this family, and the resourceful, mature Hasan. This was a light and enjoyable read.

An excerpt: “There was the laugh. Hasan watched the backward flip of Aba’s head and the dimples in his cheeks like full-stops marking an end to all unpleasantness, and thought, not for the first time, that he would give up all his outward resemblance to Ami and Salman Mamoo if he could only inherit Aba’s laugh. Yes, he would even give up the promise of high cheekbones.”

Dic 13, 2009, 8:49am

Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros. This vibrant set of stories depicts the lives and loves of Mexican women, and Mexican immigrants in Texas. The stories draw on a vernacular that takes you into the heart of Mexican life, where Cisneros delights with rich and lively characters and descriptions. There were some short stories, and some slightly longer ones that were really good.

Dic 13, 2009, 9:30pm

>232 akeela: The Shamsie sounds gooood...
>233 akeela: I have enjoyed Cisneros poetry...

Dic 31, 2009, 4:06am

To round off the year: Read a lovely debut novel, Somewhere, Home by the Lebanese Nada Awar Jarrar about memories and connections to one's childhood home, and country.

Also enjoyed the brief but insightful Fair Play by the Finnish, Tove Jansson.

Hope to be back with more thoughts soon.

Thank you to everybody who visited my thread and made 2009 a memorable LT year!

Wishing you all a wonderful 2010!