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Willoyd's Read Around The World


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As June said in the first post of her trip round the world's nations, I've been thinking about this for some time.  Given that I've only just reached the half-way point of my Tour of the USA, it's probably a bit precipitate to start  a new challenge, but I think I can handle too, and having seen June complete her journey recently, I'm inspired to get going on mine, so two challenges it is!


In terms of places I've decided to start with:

+ the 193 full member countries the United Nations

+.the 2 observer countries: Vatican City, Palestine

+ an ex-member: Taiwan

+ the United Kingdom split into its 4 constituent countries (I've read loads of English literature, but little from the others)

+ the only continent otherwise not represented in this tour: Antarctica

which takes me to 200, a good starting point, although that may well change as things progress.


As for criteria in choosing each book, I'm going for aims rather than rules, simply because I suspect, from reading others' challenges, it would 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 used in my Tour of the USA.  So, my main aim is to read an example of post-1920 (ie last hundred years) adult literature set by an author born in or a citizen of that country (or resident as next best), set in that country - books regarded as 'classics' 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. If all else fails, a book about the country written by someone who is neither from nor a resident (eg, a history of...).  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!


To keep posts manageable, I'm splitting countries up by continents in the checklists below: Europe; Africa; Asia; North America; South America and Oceania/Antarctica.  Books in blue are those that have been read - I may list more than one book if I think later books are 'worthy' enough!  Books in black are suggestions, either considered or to be considered. 


Read to date:  35/ 200



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Europe (13/48)


Albania:  Broken April / Chronicle in Stone/A Girl in Exile/The Traitor's Niche - Ismail Kadare

Andorra:  The Teacher of Cheops - Albert Salvado

Austria:  Chess Story - Stefan Zweig The Exiles' Return - Elizabeth de Waal; The Tobacconist - Robert Seethaler; Peter Handke, Vienna Passion - Lilian Faschinger; Frozen Time - Anna Klim

Belarus:  King Stakh's Wild Hunt - Uladzimir Karatkevich, Svetlana Alexievich (NF), Alindarka's Children - Alhierld Bakharevich

Belgium:  The Sorrow of Belgium - Hugo Claus; Invitation to a Voyage - Francois Emmanuel

Bosnia and Hezorgovina: The Bridge over the Drina - Ivo Andric

Bulgaria: Time Shelter - Georgi Gosposdinov

Croatia:  Our Man in Iraq - Robert Perisic, The Ministry of Pain/Baba Yaga Laid An Egg/The Museum of Unconditional Surrender - Dubravka Ugresic

Cyprus:  Margarita's Husband - Andriana Ierodiaconou, Ledra Street - Nora Nadjarian (shorts);  The Silent Patient - Alex Michaelides

Czech Republic:  Closely Watched Trains - Bohumil Hrabel

Denmark  A History of Danish Dreams - Peter Hoeg; We The Drowned - Carsten Jensen, The Angelic Avengers - Isak Dinesen

England:  The Good Companions - JB Priestley; White Teeth -Zadie Smith

Estonia:  The Autumn Ball - Mati Unt, Border State - Tonu Onepalu, Treading Air - Jaan Kross

Finland:  The Year of the Hare - Arto Paasilinna

France:  Life, A User's Manual - Georges Perec; The Mandarins - Simone de Beauvoir

Germany:  Measuring the World - Daniel Kehlmann

Greece:  The Murderess - Alexandros Papadiamantis, The Scapegoat - Sophia Nikolaidou, Why I Killed My Best Friend - Amanda Michalopoulou, Zorba the Greek/Report to Greco - Nikos Kazantzakis

Hungary:  The Door/Katalin Street - Magda Szabo

Iceland:  History. A Mess. - Sigrun Palsdottir

Ireland:  Ulysses - James Joyce

Italy:  The Leopard - Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

Latvia:  The Book of Riga - various (shorts), Flesh-Coloured Dominoes - Zigmunds Skujins

Liechtenstein: Die letzte Reise der Hindenburg - Armin Ohri; Stamping Grounds - Charlie Connolly (NF).

Lithuania:  White Shroud - Antanas Skema, Tula - Jurgis Kuncinas, Vilnius Poker - Ricardas Gavelis, The Last Book Smuggler - Birute Putrius

Luxembourg: The Pleasure of Drowning - Jean Burlesk

Malta:  In the Name of the Father (and of the Son) - Immanuel Mifsud, Children Come By Ship/others - Oliver Friggieri; The Lives and Deaths of K. Pensa - Clare Azzopardi

Moldova:  The Good Life Elsewhere - Vladimir Lorchenkov

Monaco: Making Monte Carlo - Mark Braude (NF); Monaco Cool - Robert Eringer (NF)

Montenegro: The Son/The Coming - Andrej Nikolaidis

Netherlands: Tomorrow Pamplona - Jan van Mersbergen;The Dark Room of Domocles - Willem Hermans, The Assault / The Discovery of Heaven - Harry Mulisch, The Evenings - Gerard Reve;The Twin - Gerbrand Bakker

Northern Ireland:  Travelling in a Strange Land - David Park

North Macedonia:  My Husband - Rumena Buzarovska (shorts); Freud's Sister - Goce Smilevski

Norway:  The Ice Palace - Tarjei Vesaas

Poland: The Books of Jacob/Flights / Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead - Olga Tokarczuk, The Issa Valley - Cselaw Milosz.  Isaac Bashevis Singer

Portugal:  All The Names / The Stone Raft / The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by Jose Saramago; The City and The Mountains - Jose Maria de Eca de Queiroz

Romania: Nostalgia - Mircea Cartarescu, Life Begins On Friday - Iona Parvulescu

Russia:  Stalingrad/Life and Fate - Vasily Grossman

San Marino:  The Republic of San Marino - Giuseppe Rossi (NF)

Scotland:  O Caledonia - Elspeth Barker

Serbia:  The Tiger's Wife - Tea Obreht; Iron Curtain - Vesna Goldsworthy

Slovakia: Rivers of Babylon - Peter Pistanek, Night Circus and other stories - Ursula Kovalyk (shorts)

Slovenia:  Alamut - Vladimir Bartol, The Harvest of Chronos - Mojca Kumerdej

Spain:  Nada - Carmen Laforet; The Hive - Camilo Jose Cela; Javier Marias

Sweden:  To Cook A Bear - Mikael Niemi; The Saga of Gosta Berling - Selma Lagerlof; The Red Room/The People of Hemso - August Strindberg

Switzerland:  I'm Not Stiller - Max Frisch. The Assistant - Robert Walser

Ukraine: Death and the Penguin - Andrey Kurkov

Vatican City:  When In Rome: A Journal of Life in Vatican City - Robert Hutchinson (NF)

Wales: One Moonlit Night - Caradog Prichard




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Africa (9/54)


Algeria:  What the Day Owes the Night - Yasmina Khadra; Fantasia - Assia Djebar

Angola:  The Book of Chameleons - Jose Eduardo Agualusa

Benin: books by Florent Couao-Zotti (in French)

Botswana:  A Question of Power / When Rain Clouds Gather - Bessie Head

Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop - Nobert Zongo

Burundi:  Baho! - Roland Rugero; Small Country - Gael Faye (or Rwanda)

Cameroon:  Mission to Kala - Mongo Beti

Cape Verde:  The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araujo - Germano Almeida

Central African Republic: Daba's Travels from Ouadda to Bangui/Princess Mandapu (in French) - Makombo Bambote

Chad:  Told By Starlight in Chad - Joseph Brahim Seid

Cormoros: A Girl Called Eel - Ali Zamir

Congo, DR:  Before the Birth of the Moon - Valentin Y Mudimbe

Congo, Rep:  Black Moses - Alain Mabanckou

Cote d'Ivoire:  Standing Heavy - GauZ

Djibouti:  In the United States of Africa - Abdourahman Waberi

Egypt: Palace Walk (Cairo Trilogy v1) - Naguib Mahfouz

Equatorial Guinea:  By Night the Mountain Burns - Juan Tomas Avila Laurel, Shadows of Your Black Memory - Donato Ndongo

Eritrea: The Consequences of Love - Suleiman Addonia, Gratitude in Low Voices - Dawit Gebremichael Habte (NF)

Eswatini: Weeding the Flowerbeds - Sarah Mkhonza (NF), When the Ground Is Hard - Malla Nunn (YA)

Ethiopia:  Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese

Gabon:  Mema - Daniel M Mengara

Gambia:  Reading the Ceiling - Dayo Forster

Ghana:  The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born - Ayi Kwei Armah

Guinea:  The Dark Child - Camara Laye (NF)

Guinea-Bissau:  The Ultimate Tragedy - Abdulai Sila

Kenya: A Grain of Wheat  - Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Lesotho:  Chaka/Traveller To The East - Thomas Mofolo

Liberia: She Would Be King - Wayetu Moore

Libya:  The Bleeding of the Stone - Ibrahim al-Koni; In the Country of Men - Hisham Matar

Madagascar: Beyond the Rice Fields - Naivo

Malawi:  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - William Kamkwamba (NF)

Mali: The Fortunes of Wangrin - Amadou Hampate Ba

Mauritania:  The Desert and the Drum - Mbarek Ould Beyrouk

Mauritius:  The Last Brother - Nathacha Appanah

Morocco:The Sand Child - Tahar Ben Jelloun, The Year of the Elephant - Leila Abouzeid:

Mozambique:  Woman of the Ashes - Mia Couto

Namibia:  The Purple Violets of Oshaantu - Neshani Andreas; Born of the Sun/Troubled Waters - Joseph Diescho

Niger:  The Epic of Askia Mohammed - Thomas Hale/Nouhou Malio

Nigeria:  Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe

Rwanda:  Small Country - Gael Faye (or Burundi); Our Lady of the Nile - Scholastique Mukasonga

Sao Tome and Principe:  Equator - Miguel Sousa Tavares

Senegal:  So Long A Letter - Mariama Ba, God's Bits of Wood - Ousmane Sembene

Seychelles:  Voices (shorts) / Kolony - Glynn Burridge

Sierra Leone:  The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar - Syl Cheney-Choker; The Memory of Love - Aminatta Forna

Somalia:  Crossbones / From A Cracked Rib - Nuruddin Farah

South Africa:  The Promise - Damon Galgut

South Sudan:  There Is A Country - Nyuol Luoth Tong (ed-shorts); Eddo's Souls - Stella Gaitano (due out 2022 - Dedalus)

Sudan:  Season of Migration to the North - Tayeb Salih

Tanzania:  Abdulrazak Gurnah

Togo:  Michel the Giant, An African in Greenland - Tete-Michel Kpomassie (NF)

Tunisia:  The Pillar of Salt - Albert Memmi

Uganda:  Kintu / The First Woman - Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Zambia:  The Old Drift - Namwali Serpell

Zimbabwe:  The House of Hunger - Dambudzo Marechera; We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo, Nervous Conditions - Tsitsi Dangarembga



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Asia (5/48)


Afghanistan:  The Patience Stone / Earth and Ashes - Atiq Rahimi; The Wasted Vigil - Nadeem Aslam

Armenia:  Three Apples Fell From The Sky - Narine Abgaryan

Azerbaijan:  Ali and Nino - Kurban Said, Days in the Caucasus - Banine

Bahrain:  Yummah - Sarah A. Al Shafei

Bangladesh:  A Golden Age - Tahmima Anam; The Book of Dhaka - shorts

Bhutan: The Circle of Karma - Choden Kunzang

Brunei:  Written in Black - KH Lim

Cambodia: In the Shadow of the Banyan - Vaddey Ratner

China:  The Garlic Ballads / Red Sorghum - Mo Yan

Georgia:  Flight From The USSR (Jeans Generation) - Dato Turashvili; The Book of Tblisi (shorts)

India:  A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry; The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy; Tomb of Sand - Geetanjali Shree 

Indonesia:  The Earth of Mankind - Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Iran:  Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi (NF), Touba and the Meaning of Night - Shahrnush Parsipur, Savushun - Simin Daneshvar

Iraq:  Prophecy of Pharaoh - Maysalun Hadi; God 99 / The Iraqi Christ - Hassan Blasim (inc shorts)

Israel:  Judas - Amos Oz, More Than I Love My Life/To The End Of The Land - David Grossman

Japan:  Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata; Tokyo Express - Seicho Matsumoto

Jordan:  Times of White Horses/others - Ibrahim Nasrallah

Kazakhstan: The Silent Steppe/Surviving the Silent Steppe Mukhamet Shayakhmetov

Korea, North:  The Accusation - Bandi

Korea, South:  The Vegetarian - Han Kang

KuwaitMama Hissa's Mice - Said Alsanousi

Kyrgyzstan:  Jamilia / The White Ship - Chinghiz Aitmatov

Laos: Mother's Beloved: Stories from Laos - Outhine Bounyavong

Lebanon: The Prophet - Khali Gibran, The Tiller of Waters - Hoda Barakat

Malaysia: The Night Tiger - Yangsze Choo

Maldives:  Dhon Hiyala and Ali Fulhu - Abdullah Sadiz

Mongolia: The Blue Sky - Galsan Tschinag

Myanmar:  Smile As They Bow - Nu Nu Yi

Nepal:  The Tutor of History/others - Manjushree Thapa; Samrat Upadhyay; Karnali Blues - Buddhisagar

Oman:  Celestial Bodies - Jokha Alharthi

Pakistan:  The Wandering Falcon - Jamil Ahmad, Basti - Intizar Husain, The Crow Eaters - Bapsi Sidhwa

Palestine: Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands - Sonia Nimr;  Minor Detail - Adania Shibli

Philippines:  Illustrado - Miguel Syjuco; Noli Me Tangere - Jose Rizal

Qatar:  The Corsair by Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud

Saudi Arabia:  The Ruins Of Us - Keija Parssinen; The Dove's Necklace - Raja Alem; Girls of Riyadh - Rajaa Alsanea

Singapore: Fistful of Colours / The River's Song - Suchen Christine Lim; How We Disappeared - Jing-Jing Lee

Sri Lanka: The Story  of a Brief Marriage / A Passage North - Anuk Arudpragasam; The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida / Chinaman - Shehan Karunatilaka

Syria:  The Frightened Ones - Dima Wannous

Tajikistan:  Hurramabad - Andrei Volos

Taiwan: The Stolen Bicycle / The Man with the Compound Eyes - Wu Ming-yi


Timor-Leste:  Eyewitness - Seno Ajidarma

Turkey:  10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World - Elif Shafak

Turkmenistan: The Tale of Aypi - AK Welsapar, Unknown Sands - John Knopf (memoir)

UAE:  Temporary People - Deepak Unnikrishnan; The Sand Fish - Maha Gargash

Uzbekistan: Heirs to the Great Sinner San'On - Erkin A'zam

Vietnam: The Sorrow of War - Bao Ninh

Yemen:  The Hostage - Zayd Mutee' Dammaj; They Die Strangers - Mohammed Abdul-Wali (shorts); A Land Without Jasmine - Wajdi Al-Ahdal



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North America  (4/23)


Antigua and Barbuda:  Annie John - Jamaica Kincaid

Bahamas:  Thine is the Kingdom - Garth Buckner

Barbados:  In the Castle of My Skin - George Lamming

Belize:  Beka Lamb/The Festival of Sain Joaquin - Zee Edgell

Canada: Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood; Runaway by Alice Munro

Costa Rica

Cuba: Oscar Hijuelos? Dirty Havana Trilogy - Pedro Juan Gutierrez

Dominica:  Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys

Dominican Republic: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz, Tentacle - Rita Indiana; Julia Alvarez

El Salvador:  One Day of Life - Manlio Argueta

Grenada:  The Bone Readers  - Jacob Ross

Guatemala:  The President - Miguel Angel Asturias;  The Art of Political Murder - Francisco Goldman;

Haiti:  The Dew Breaker - Edwidge Danticat


Jamaica:  Augustown - Kai Miller, The Hills Were Joyful Together - Roger Mais; The Book of Night Women - Marlon James

Mexico:  Down the Rabbit Hole / Quesadillas - Juan Pablo Villalobos; The Death of Artemio Cruz - Carlos Fuentes, Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquivel;  Pedro Paramo - Juan Rulfo

Nicaragua:  Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand - Gioconda Belli


St Kitts and Nevis

St Lucia

St Vincent and Grenadines

Trinidad and  Tobago:  Minty Alley - CLR James; A House for Mr Biswas - VS Naipaul; Salt - Earl Lovelace

United States:  Beloved - Toni Morrison 


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South America  (2/12)


Argentina:  The Tango Singer - Tomas Eloy Martinez; Heartbreak Tango - Manuel Puig; Eleanor Knows - Claudia Pineiro' The Invention of Morel - Adolfo Bioy Casares

Bolivia: Our Dead World - Liliana Colanzi (shorts); Fresh Dirt from the Grave - Giovanna Rivero (shorts); The Fat Man from La Paz - Rosario Santos (shorts)

Brazil:  Macunaima  - Mario de Andrade; The Violent Land / Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon - Jorge Amado; Hour of the Star - Clarice Lispector

Chile:  The House of Spirits / Eva Luna - Isabel Allende; When We Cease To Understand the World - Benjamin Labatut

Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Ecuador: The Pot-Bellied Virgin - Alicia Yanez Cossio; Jawbone - Monica Ojeda;  Gabriela Aleman - Poso Wells

Guyana:  My Bones and My Flute by Edgar Mittelholzer; Frangipani House - Beryl Gilroy

Paraguay: I, The Supreme - Augusto Roa Bastos

Peru:  Red April - Santiago Roncagliolo;  Aunt Julia and the Scrptwriter - Maria Vargas Llosa

Suriname:  The Cost of Sugar - Cynthia McLeod

Uruguay:  Who Among Us - Mario Benedetti

Venezuala:  Dona Barbara - Romulo Gallegos



Oceania and Antarctica (2/15)


Antarctica:  Antarctic Navigation -Elizabeth Arthur

Australia:  Voss - Patrick White; Cloudstreet - Tim Winton

Fiji:  Kava in the Blood - Peter Thomson (NF)

Kiribati:  Nuanua - Albert Wendt (ed) plus readings from Indigenous Literatures of Micronesia, Pacific Island Legends

Marshall Is:  Marshall Islands Legends and Stories - Daniel Kelin II

Micronesia:  Indigenous Literatures of Micronesia - Evelyn Flores and Emelihter Kihleng (eds), plus readings from Pacific Island Legends

Nauru: Stories from Nauru - Bam Bam Solomon and others; readings from Indigenous Literatures of Micronesia

New Zealand:  The Garden Party and Other Stories - Katherine Mansfield; Potiki - Patricia Grace (Maori)

Palau: Pacific Island Legends  - Bo Flood et al (eds)

Papua NG: Maiba - Russell Soaba

Samoa:  Where We Once Belonged - Sia Figiel

Solomon Is:  Being The First - Pollard and Waring (eds)

Tonga:  Tales of the Tikongs - Epeli Hau'ofa

Tuvalu:  Tuvalu, A History - Simani Faaitu (ed - NF)

Vanuatu:  Sista, Stanap Strong - Mikaela Nyman (ed)

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First of the 200 completed, kicking off with South Africa, and a great start too: Damon Galgut's Booker Prize-winning The Promise, a relatively rare occasion when I agree completely with the judges - this was a brilliant read.  It's chatty, unrelentingly driven, not pretty (characters get killed off in a variety of natural and man-made ways), and really gets its claws into you - I couldn't read it in particularly large chunks (most was around 80 pages), but I couldn't wait to get back to it either.  6 out of 7 stars.

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Second up was In the United States of Africa by Abdouhrahman Waberi, from Djibouti. This was a slim volume (123 pages) with an interesting premise - Africa being the first world continent, and Europe and North America being the third world. The main protagonist, Maya, is a European born white girl adopted by a black couple, who travels to France to look for her birth mother.  It's a challenging read, requiring considerable concentration, but is written with a strongly poetic rhythm and style; there are some real bubbles of humour in amongst otherwise fairly stark material.. The last quarter, in France, is the easiest section of the book to read, resulting in a sense of acceleration towards the finish. I do think, though, that the author could have perhaps made more of what was a fascinating idea. Even so, it proved a solid 4-star read, and one that positively demands I return to it in the near future.

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  • 2 months later...

Book #4: The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, for Italy *****

Book #5: The Republic of San Marino by Giuseppe Rossi, for San Marino ***.

Book #6: Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, for Germany ******.

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On 7/12/2022 at 11:41 AM, France said:

Goodness, how I love The Leopard! It's one of those rare books read and adored when young (about 18 I think) and was even better when re-read nearly 40 years later.

Have you been to Sicily?

Sadly, no.  I do agree - superb book. We read it as a book group, and it was a favourite for the majority.

I can't say the same for my next world book, which proved hard work.  I'm sure it's great writing, but I find it tedious and not very rewarding, although there would be much to discuss in a book group!


Book #7:  The Vegetarian by Han Kang for South Korea **

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On 7/16/2022 at 1:26 AM, willoyd said:

Sadly, no.  I


You must go! It's incredibly beautiful, there are Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Moorish, Frankish and 18th century buildings and ruins to see, the mosaics at the Cathedral at Monreale are some of the most stunning things I have ever seen, an impressive volcano and  superb (and remarkably cheap) food. Oh, and if you've already read The Leopard wandering around Palermo is like going into the pages of the book.

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10 hours ago, France said:

You must go! It's incredibly beautiful, there are Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Moorish, Frankish and 18th century buildings and ruins to see, the mosaics at the Cathedral at Monreale are some of the most stunning things I have ever seen, an impressive volcano and  superb (and remarkably cheap) food. Oh, and if you've already read The Leopard wandering around Palermo is like going into the pages of the book.

It's high on our list, but outside the summer season as we don't get on with heat! I'm also a geographer by background, but have never seen a live volcano.....!

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11 hours ago, willoyd said:

It's high on our list, but outside the summer season as we don't get on with heat! I'm also a geographer by background, but have never seen a live volcano.....!

It is very hot in summer. Both times I've been there in May and it was getting pretty warm.


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Book #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, with the main protagonist murdered 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!


Book #9:  One Moonlit Night by Caradog Prichard for Wales *******

In spite of having a strong streak of Welsh in me (and being Welsh in sports terms), 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 - although that may be regarded as simply the naiveity that underlines the grimness of what's going on around him and how he is affected without realising it. 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 books and writing that I would probably have never otherwise read (I hadn't even heard of it before researching the list), and been the worse for it.


Book #10:  Death and the Penguin by Andrej 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.


Book #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 that 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 the strongest reads of my yeare, and of the challenge, so far.

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Funnily enough your post reminded me that I read O Caledonia earlier this year and forgot to include it in my reading list, which shows what an impact it had on me!  Yes it was beautifully written but I couldn't warm to anything within the story, nor get particularly involved, which is probably why it slipped my memory so easily. That said, now I think about it I can recall everything which says a lot about the quality of the writing, it's just that I remain utterly unengaged.

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Book #12:  10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak for Turkey ***

Warning: this review briefly discusses a few aspects of the book in its later stages. Not a true plot spoiler, but for those anxious not to know anything beyond the introductory blurb, it might have that effect (I worked on the basis that it wouldn't have affected my reading).

A book group choice, and whilst not my original choice for Turkey, 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 evoke 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.  I think I'll probably land up reading another book to count towards Turkey, as I'm really not sure how representative this is, but it'll do in the meantime.

Edited by willoyd
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Book #13:  The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo for Malaysia ****
The second book from the Big Jubilee Read for one of my book groups, and something of a contrast to the other,  A Grain of Wheat  ( my Kenya read too) 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 in its own way.
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 it's 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!

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Book #14: Michel the Giant, An African in Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie for Togo ******

My second non-fiction book for my Read Around the World, this one for Togo, but still a 'modern classic'; or, at least, one deemed worthy 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. I say 'finally', but whilst his life in Togo occupies a couple of fascinating chapters, his life en route, although occupying several years, takes up only a couple of dozen pages.
The main focus of the book is a searingly honest (or so it feels) account of Kpomassie's time spent in the country. Many Greenlanders have never seen a black person before, never mind one who towers some 8 inches or so above them. It's a real eye-opener, and not for the faint-hearted - to a 'soft' Westerner, this is a completely alien culture. In fact, it seems, with some of his comparisons, that Kpomassie's own upbringing has far more in common than our own - 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.
However, as much as 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 throughout his stay, and since. I loved his descriptive writing, and his openness  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. A thoroughly immersive real, all too real on occasions!

Edited by willoyd
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Book #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.

Edited by willoyd
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