Willoyd's Read Around the World

KeskusteluThe Global Challenge

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Willoyd's Read Around the World

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 30, 7:03 pm

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

My list comprises 200 'countries' as follows:

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

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

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

Countries read to date: 27 / 200

Create Your Own Visited Countries Map

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 5, 9:43 am

Europe 10/48

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

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 30, 7:04 pm

Africa (8/54)

Angola: The Book of Chameleons - Jose Eduardo Agualusa ****
Burkina Faso:
Cape Verde:
Central African Republic:
Congo, DR:
Congo, Rep: Black Moses - Alain Mabanckou ****
Cote d'Ivoire: Standing Heavy - GauZ *****
Djibouti: In the United States of Africa - Abdourahman Waberi ****
Equatorial Guinea:
Kenya: A Grain of Wheat - Ngugi wa Thiong'o *****
Sao Tome and Principe:
Sierra Leone:
South Africa: The Promise - Damon Galgut *****
South Sudan:
Sudan: Season of Migration to the North - Tayeb Salih *****
Togo: Michel the Giant - Tete-Michel Kpomassie *****

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 29, 6:20 pm

Asia (4/48)

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

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 21, 6:36 pm

North America (2/23)

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

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 24, 1:08 pm

South America (2/12)

Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez *****
Uruguay: Quien de Nosotros? (Who Among Us?) - Mario Benedetti ****

Oceania and Antarctica (1/15)

Marshall Is:
New Zealand: The Garden Party and Other Stories - Katherine Mansfield *****
Papua NG:
Solomon Is:

heinäkuu 12, 2022, 8:05 am

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

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 27, 2022, 4:35 am

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

heinäkuu 12, 2022, 9:23 pm

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

heinäkuu 13, 2022, 5:32 pm

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

heinäkuu 15, 2022, 12:54 pm

Welcome to the group! :)

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 19, 2022, 8:13 am

>11 Jackie_K:
Thank you!

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

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

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 19, 2022, 8:13 am

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

elokuu 1, 2022, 4:04 am

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

elokuu 1, 2022, 6:07 pm

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

elokuu 3, 2022, 5:08 pm

Welcome, Willoyd!

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 19, 2022, 8:13 am

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

syyskuu 16, 2022, 4:14 pm

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

syyskuu 16, 2022, 4:30 pm

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

syyskuu 17, 2022, 4:51 am

>18 labfs39: Same for me!

syyskuu 17, 2022, 6:41 am

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

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 19, 2022, 8:13 am

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

lokakuu 14, 2022, 3:03 pm

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

lokakuu 14, 2022, 6:54 pm

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

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 19, 2022, 8:14 am

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

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

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 19, 2022, 8:14 am

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

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 19, 2022, 8:14 am

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

joulukuu 10, 2022, 5:35 pm

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

joulukuu 19, 2022, 8:12 am

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

joulukuu 21, 2022, 12:17 pm

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

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 30, 10:36 am

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

joulukuu 23, 2022, 1:38 pm

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

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 30, 10:37 am

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

>32 labfs39:
Thanks for the tip.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 30, 8:37 pm

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

tammikuu 21, 6:34 pm

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

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 30, 10:45 am

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

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

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

tammikuu 30, 10:35 am

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

helmikuu 1, 6:11 pm

>36 Willoyd: I remember enjoying too. The Finnish certainly have a unique sense of humour!

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 3:14 pm

#20: The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas for Norway *****
Another slim Scandinavian volume, regarded as a literary classic by many. It's certainly hypnotic, highly poetic in style, very lean, even simple, in its language, using a range of techniques that appear to upend many of the norms of 'good' writing (eg deliberately repeating words or phrases, multiple times sometimes, in sentences, really focusing the reader's mind). It's one of those books that is utterly captivating even if not sure I fully understood everything going on; it cries out to be reread, probably several times. There's so much packed in here, that even though it's only 140 pages long, I felt at the end as if I'd read a book at least double the length, and that was not due to boredom! I also find it very hard to describe my reaction - almost too complex, and much easier to talk than write about it - but perhaps it's sufficient for the present to say that I've immediately ordered a copy of Vesaas's other major work available in English, The Birds. I can completely see why the word 'classic' is so often applied.

maaliskuu 24, 2:15 pm

>39 Willoyd: This one goes on my WL!

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 3:14 pm

#21: The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa for Angola *****
Having thoroughly enjoyed the author's more recent book A General Theory of Oblivion as a book group read, I was keen to try him again for my Angolan stop on this tour. This was the one generally recommended! A interesting quirk of this book, and one that instantly attracted me to it, is that the story is told by a gecko (lizard) whose mobility around the house of the central human character, Felix Ventura, makes him a realistic omniscient narrator. Felix is an albino native of Angola, one who sells clients reinvented/imagined pasts. He is approached by someone who wants to create a completely new, documented, identity, the implication being that they are on the run (but who from?), and far harder core than Felix has been involved in before. Events start to spiral out of control (but not necessarily in the way that one might have imagined!).
A lot of (most?) reviewers suggest that the book has really been misnamed - the narrator is a gecko after all, not a chameleon, but I think that's a fundamental misunderstanding of what the title is referring to - it's not the narrator, but the human characters - adopting new identities, adapting to those identities, camouflaged by them, identities that become more real than their original ones, although these start to break through.... Actually, we find (fairly early on; it's not a spoiler) that our gecko was once human - perhaps the ultimate chameleon of all, now absorbed into the background of Felix's life and work (and regarding Felix as a friend).
It's an intriguing story, told in very short chapters (including a number of dream sequences when the gecko - Eulalio - recalls his human existence) that give a rather staccato feel to the reading at times (deliberately I'm sure, and sometimes rather disconcerting). I'm not sure I really got everything from it first time through, so it's now added to the lengthening queue of books on this tour which I want to reread. I need to find time for them!

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 3:15 pm

#22: Quien de Nosotros? (Who Among Us?) by Mario Benedetti for Uruguay ****
A very short novel (novella), telling the story of a three-way relationship, with all three protagonists contributing in their own way. The primary narrator, telling his story through a series of entries in a diary/notebook, is the husband, Miguel. HIs wife, Alicia, contributes barely half a dozen pages, in one letter. The 'lover', Lucas (and also Miguel's best friend) provides the final element, his side told through a short story, written for personal not public consumption ( he is a writer), and footnoted as the story is fiction based on the reality, and the footnotes explain the differences. Complicated? Yes, it is, although for the most part I found the reading reasonably straightforward - it was just those footnotes; I could read the story, or I could read the footnotes, but the latter disrupted the former too much to read in parallel. Maybe that was the point?
It's an odd relationship. Miguel pretty much wills on Alicia's and Lucas's relationship - they are initially pretty antipathetic, and it's only because of Miguel's actions that they ever come together. Love manifests itself in very different ways - and, as with so many love stories, misunderstandings abound, as we find out once we see things from more than one perspective.
To a considerable extent, the plot is really rather trivial. What this is, is a study of 3 characters and their triangular relationship. The plot is the relationship. The book is brief, and very much to the point. It may be less than a hundred pages long, but it feels worth so much more.

Incidentally, I read it under the English title, but have included the original title as the touchstone doesn't otherwise work.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 6, 3:16 pm

#23: History. A Mess. by Sigrun Palsdottir for Iceland *****
A young, female post-grad student studying a 400-year old diary trying to see if she can link the author to a famous portrait artist of the English Civil War era, finds a series of clues that suggest that not only is there a link, but that the artist is female, the first female professional artist in Britain. Her thesis is based around this premise, yet just as she's due to finish and submit, she finds an overseen entry that looks like it blows her work out of the water. What to do?
This is the central premise for a plot that sees our protagonist (I don't think she's ever named) come under increasing strain as she tries to come to a conclusion, returning to her native Iceland with her husband, Hans, and struggling to retain her equilibrium and sanity.
I was intrigued, increasingly so as I continued to read. The book is written from the perspective of the central character, and we see the world as she sees it. As a result, things become thoroughly increasingly disjointed as our subject starts to struggle mentally, imagining what people are saying, flashing back to and reliving remembered incidents (is her memory reliable?), becoming increasingly confused, even hallucinatory (early on, she contemplates a door in her sitting room that she doesn't ever recall seeing before!) as she struggles to hold on to reality. Tjhere are moments of real concern, but also of some humour.
It's a book which I can't pretend I understood all the time. Quite a few reviewers completely lost it, and a fair number reported giving up, but every time I though I might be losing it altogether, things seemed to resolve themselves again, and the mystery, quality of writing, and interest in the main character, kept me reading all the way to the end. I needed those moments of clarity though! I'm glad I persisted - the last dozen pages or so produced an ending that not only left me really pleased I'd made it, but also looking forward to going back and exploring the book further (it's only 170 pages long) to try and get to grips with elements I failed to grasp first time round.
This was not an easy read (well, the reading was easy, it was comprehension that wasn't always!), but one I found ultimately worth the effort. I'm certainly looking forward to the second of the author's books to be translated, due out soon (Embroidery).

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 17, 12:22 am

#24: The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield for New Zealand *****
I'm not a great short story reader, all too often finding them rather unsatisfying, but i have to make an exception for these. I think that's because Mansfield focuses so much more on character and place than on pure plot. They are more vignettes that tell us something about lives, even about ourselves. No more so than in the first, and longest, story At The Bay, which consists of 13 different 'episodes' spread over a day at or near the bay in question, building layer upon layer. The language is concise but rich - both places and characters come vividly alive in a very short space. One can see very quickly why she's regarded as one of the leading developers of modernist writing - these stories have a very strong affinity with, for instance, Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, and I can certainly see why Woolf so respected Mansfield's work. Perhaps the first short story writer whose work I'm going to definitely read more of - and have acquired a really nice second-hand copy of Constable's The Collected Stories in order to do so!
I immediately followed this with Claire Tomalin's Katherine Mansfield, A Secret Life; it doesn't tell us much (if anything!) about the generation of her work, and, unusually for a Tomalin work, left me a little bit unsatisfied, but provides some interesting insight into the difficult, fractured life of someone who, to be honest, I found it rather hard to warm to (maybe that's why I was unsatisfied?). I also have a copy of, and plan to read soon, Claire Harman's All Sorts of Lives, which hopefully will provide more insight into the stories themselves as well, as well as possible alternative perspectives.

huhtikuu 8, 12:14 pm

>44 Willoyd: one of my very fave authors

huhtikuu 12, 7:51 am

>43 Willoyd: Going on my WL as I need another read for Iceland.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 1, 2:24 am

#25 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez for Columbia*****
A book group read as well as a read for this challenge. A 'big' novel in more ways than one, this was an anything but easy read, even if very readable (if that makes sense!). A saga of seven generations of a family responsible for setting up a remote village in Columbia, reflecting the history of the country and its people's experience. Being anything but an expert on Latin American history, I spent much of my time wondering what on earth it was all about, and was grateful at the end to read a number of critiques, but the themes of colonialism and the human inability to apparently learn from history were all too clear! The strength and centrality of the female characters were prominent as well. Rich, colourful, unrelenting, this was a rare book that left me mentally exhausted (and wore out most of the book group - only 3 of us finished in it in the timeframe available, although several said they would continue with it) - although well sated. Needs a reread though, although I need some recovery time! Monumental.

huhtikuu 24, 9:59 pm

>47 Willoyd: I'm glad you liked OHYoS. It's a favorite.

huhtikuu 29, 6:18 pm

A second book for Japan: Tokyo Express by Seicho Matsumoto. A thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery from 1957, with an intriguingly complex plot. Written in what was for me 'typical' Japanese style - slightly cold, clinical, removed, which on this occasion was well suited to the narrative in hand (all too often I don't really get on with Japanese novels). The age of the book took me slightly by surprised when the author talked about "the recently introduced" passenger plane service, and explained one or two small questions I had around the book (nothing negative). Very much a book I just happened onto in my local independent, and very glad I did too. BTW, just love the cover (Penguin Modern Classic edition), taken from a 1937 Japanese Railways poster - superb artwork.

toukokuu 2, 6:10 pm

#26 Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih for Sudan *****
Review to follow - but yet another superb book that I wouldn't have read but for this tour - talk about eye-opening.

toukokuu 2, 9:19 pm

>50 Willoyd: And yet another book that I too loved. I check our stats, and we only share 211 books. I would have thought it would have been higher given the overlap in our tastes.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 3, 10:19 am

>51 labfs39:
It's even less than that: quite a few 'shared' books are in fact ones I've read and 'recycled' (ie gone to charity shop, sold on etc) - and 8 of them are Harry Potters (I don't have mine any more, but we've got our son's collection still)!
Quickly looking through our respective collections, I think it's a combination of factors:.
American vs British reader (you have more of the former, I have more of the latter!);
Rather different non-fiction books - you appear to have a fair bit of Jewish, memoir, WW2 (major tags). Whilst I do have some of the latter two (different emphasis though), I major on British/European history (esp17th/18th century), natural history, travel.
I'm also rather recent to world fiction reading (proving to be a bit of a personal revolution!), so in the early stages of acquiring non-western reading. I see you focused on Asian last year - I've read very little (not yet grabbed me in the same way that African has).
I enjoy using other's collection lists to broaden my own - so will explore yours a bit more now!

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 28, 5:55 pm

#24b Potiki by Patricia Grace, a second book for New Zealand *****
Another in a series of slim volumes that packs a big punch! Initially reading in the rather stiff and repetitive way of of a traditional oral tale, this, as with many world books tackled to date, took a little bit of getting into, but, as with all the others, it wasn't overlong before I found it thoroughly engrossing - this one picked up enormously at the point when the developers start to try and persuade the residents to sell up. Telling the story of how a group of Maori inhabitants of traditionally owned land on the seashore stood their ground against developers trying to establish, by hook or by crook, a major leisure complex*, the novel was an object lesson in culture clash and failure to understand a different point of view - classic post-colonial literature. Modernist in style, this had definite whiffs of Woolf and Mansfield about it, but was oh so different (interesting comparing and contrasting this with Mansfield's 'At The Bay' and, to a lesser extent, elements of Woolf's 'To The Lighthouse'). A book that definitely grew on me.

*Later reflected in Grace's own experience resisting the New Zealand government's efforts to compulsorily purchase land she lived on to develop an expressway.

toukokuu 30, 7:01 pm

#27 Standing Heavy by GauZ, for Cote d'Ivoire *****
Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize - review to follow here.