“A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini

Read as part of the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge 2014.

I did like the book and found it interesting, even taking into consideration both the depressing fate of the main heroines Mariam and Laila and the bigger than life, soap opera like, turns the plot takes in some places.

At first I was going to shrug off a complaint I read in a review, that this book made Muslim Afghan women reading the book sad that their fate of happy Muslim women was not even glimpsed in the novel. But then I remembered how some Estonian women felt about the novel by Sofi Oksanen “Purge” – that it causes the English language readers to have VERY wrong idea about Estonian women and their lives. That a book about abuse and damage of PTSD and the maladaptive ways some victims may use is interesting as long as one knows other, more normal Estonian women, but when the ONLY image of who an Estonian woman is comes from such a story, it sure does make some Estonians uneasy. And, if you are a native English speaker, do tell me about how many Estonian women have you read in fiction?

“Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.” That is the wisdom Mariams mother gives to her little daughter.

And the marriage of Mariam seems to prove this point, as her much older husband Rasheed certainly turns out to be fast to accuse and free with his fists to release tension.

Yet the abuse itself is nothing specifically Afghan, but widespread in traditional patriarchal world. Or, as it gets said out loud (regarding life in a Vietnamese village in middle of 20th century, quoting from “When Heaven and Earth Changed Places” by Le Ly Hayslip vith Jay Wurts) : “In fact, wife beating was so common it was accepted as a necessary way for men to blow off steam and, oddly enough, keep the family together – for we believed the main reason men abandoned their families was because of bad karma: they had lost all hope of living a happy life. Like the extremes single mothers sometimes went to for survival, we accepted wife abuse without condoning it – as an unfortunate but sometimes inescapable part of life, like hard work or disease.”

As conclusion – I did find the book thought provoking, as it made me ponder about more general questions of fates of women* and of what we seek in novels. Of how hard it may prove to be THE writer to introduce your country to English speaking readership at the moment.

* for me it is fascinating to compare the fate and the resulting actions of Mariam and Laila to fate and actions of Aliide and Zara. I would be very interested to discuss these similarities and differences with other people, who also have read both “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini and Purge by Sofi Oksanen.

“An African Love Story. Love , Life and Elephants” by Daphne Seldrick

Read as part of the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge 2014.

I am currently reading”An African Love Story. Love, Life and Elephants” by Daphne Sheldrick.

The two quotes below made me to reach out for my colored pencils, how could they have done anything else?

“When we had visitors, Sheila and I had to vacate our tent to sleep under a tarpaulin open at one end, where my mother erected a barricade of camp chairs, its sides anchored by two planks of wood. It was at these times that my sister and I became somewhat edgy when darkness set in. The smell of meat attached predators of all shapes and sizes, not least lions. Their roaring kept us awake, but what truly scared us, lying there in pitch darkness, was the rhythmic rasping of their tongues as they licked the sides of our sleeping shelter. The lions could not resist the flavoursome tarpaulin, which had previously been used to carry salt. The thought that only a flimsy piece of canvas separated lions’ faces from ours was daunting, to say the least.”

“Ticks were everywhere and they got into every part of our anatomy, but although they irritated us like mad, I couldn’t help being fascinated by their splendid variety – striped legs, spotted legs, red legs, yellow legs, spotted legs with green stripes, so it went on.”

“The Last Enemy” by Grace Brophy

Read as part of the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge 2014.

I am quite a fan of crime fiction, yet I rarely have anything to say about the crime fiction I read.

I did enjoy both the setting and the characters of this story. The exotic Italian town of Assisi, the snooty aristocratic Casati family, the gossipy maid, the damaged immigrant worker from former Yugoslavia, the lusty catholic priest … Counted out like that, the cast reminds soap opera, yet I did enjoy the result. Also, it was thought provoking what the author had done with the victim, the 45 years old American-Italian “little Rita”. Even if, it looked like, the author did not trust she was able to SHOW what she intended about Rita, so there was a bit of telling to keep the reader on the right track.

And here, unfortunately, I have to stop, as my further contemplations would contain spoilers and, as I do recommend the book to others, so no more …

“Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles” by Simon Winchester

Read as part of the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge 2014.

Couple of years ago I read and loved “The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary ” and so it was due to the author, not due to the topic that I picked the book about Korea when browsing the library shelves. And it seems, comparing my impressions with the reviews of other readers of this book on Amazon, that by setting out with expectation to read what Simon Winchester had to say and NOT with expectation to learn a lot about Korea, was the best way to enjoy the book.

May-be, as I did enjoy the book, I did not feel like one of the disappointed readers, that the author had not liked the country and the people. But the other complaints – that while one could find some fascinating titbits in the book (for example, about the haenyo diving women of Chenju, about Chindo-kae dogs or about the history of the hangul writing ), still too many of the encounters are with foreigners in Korea and , of course, as nearly 30 years have gone by from that walk thorough Korea, it is more of an history book than a travel book by now.

Adrian Tomine “Shortcomings”

Yesterday I read a graphic novel Adrian Tomine “Shortcomings”. Had it on my Amazon list for couple of years, but never got to buying it. And now a friend had given it as gift to my younger son, who shared with me … It amused me that the friend is a female blonde and my son is, of course, half Asian. For my son, though, the question of main hero’s character was more tricky topic to wonder about: “Do I sometimes sound like THAT???” (I think he does not, but I am his mother, so what do I know?! Or how objective can I be)

I found the book interesting, even if one of those examples when the hero is interesting to study and think about, but one sure hopes NEVER to have to interact with them in person. And, of course, the USA as scene for the story to happen is an exotic location for me!

“Staying On” by Paul Scott

Read as part of the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge 2014.

I loved this book and found it both moving and thought provoking on more than one topic. It touched themes of long marriage partners, of colonialism, of class issues.

I ended up quite liking both Colonel Tusker and Lucy Smalley (even if her habitual racism – that she DID seem to try to get over of – was harder for me to swallow, considering my personal history).

And, as a non-native English speaker myself, I absolutely loved to read about Ibrahim getting to know English language better:

“Tucker Sahib had been taken seriously ill for the first time in his seventy-odd years, and Dr Mitra had ordered him to bed, either in the hospital or at home, preferably the hospital. ‘Bugger hospital,’ Tucker had shouted. ‘Come to that, bugger bed. Ibrahim’ll look after me, so will Lucy if she can get her arse off the chair.’

One of the pleasures of working for Tucker Sahib was the further insight it gave him into the fascinating flexibility and poetry of the English language. Since his youth in Mirat, since his boyhood even, it had never failed to stun him with its elegance. […]

For days after Tucker’s confinement he had gone round muttering, ‘Bugger bed, and get your arse off the chair.'”

Or, Ibrahim explaining these tricky English phrases to young mali Joseph, when the boy asks:

“‘What is this buggeroff?’

‘It is a very old English phrase meaning jeldi jao. Likewise piss-off. These are sacred phrases, Joseph, never to be used by you and me when speaking to Sahib-log but I will teach you some of them.'”

“Staying on”, even if situation here is so very different from what happened in India, still made me think about the Russians who were left behind here, after the Soviet Union fell apart.

“Purple Hibiscus” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Read as part of Around the World in 12 Books Challenge 2014

I learned about writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie thanks to Aarti of Booklust.

“Americanah” was not available in my local library, but “Purple Hibiscus” and “Half of a Yellow Sun” were.

Looking at the content summaries I would have wanted to start with “Purple Hibiscus”, but as it was out, I picked up “Half of a Yellow Sun” first and loved it.

I found “Purple Hibiscus” harder to read and even if it does have lot of descriptions of Nigerian customs and history, due to the emotionally hard story of the abuse inside one family, I found it harder to pay attention to the world outside of the abuse Kambili, Jaja and their mother were suffering from.

Yet, the book also brings up the favorite dilemma of young history students – how should one evaluate a person, who is doing much positive to society, but is a monster towards people in his/her immediate circle?

Many actions of the monster-father can be described as vain, as directed toward the positive public face (like the holiday feast to whole village or just letting the children to see their grandfather for 15 minutes annually), but we are informed that, as a member of society, Kambili’s father IS an upstanding and honest man who does a lot of good.