“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.

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“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.