Make yours @ BigHugeLabs.com
With February coming to an end, so is the second month of the Around the World in 52 Books challenge. I decided to join WanderLit on her WanderLit World Tour, a quest to read a book representing a different country each week of the year. Angie initiated me to Good Reads where there is an active group of readers also working their way around the world. People are still joining and you still have lots of time. Head on over and check out each of our proposed reading lists for the challenge. I know I have some busy weeks ahead of me this year so I have taken advantage of the slower days of winter to read ahead in the challenge. I’ve traveled all over the world this month and completed nine books.
I will also share with you two bonus books. I lead the International Book Club at the East Lansing Public Library where we read a selection from around the globe and many of you will enjoy this month’s choice. The other bonus book is from a book club formed by Docents from our local art museum and February’s selection is a great choice if you are looking to understand modern and contemporary art. Without further ado, here are the books you’ve seen WanderShopper reading this month and a brief review. Please join me on my literary journey.
Title: A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True
Author: Brigid Pasulka
Brigid Pasulka has written an enchanting novel that weaves Poland’s contemporary stories with those from before World War II. Each chapter alternates between the two time periods. I found myself becoming attached to several of the characters and would be frustrated at the end of each chapter knowing that I would have to wait awhile to learn what happens next. Yet at the same time, I was relieved that I was rejoining my other friends to learn the next event in their journey. This technique made it hard for me to put the book down which made it a fast read. This selection will easily make my favorites list for the entire year.
Title: From a Persian Tea House: Travels in Old Iran
Author: Michael Carroll
In the late 1950’s, Michael Carroll and a friend traveled through Iran. A couple years after returning, Carroll published a summary of their experiences in From a Persian Tea House: Travels in Old Iran. The memoir beautifully captures a glimpse of an Iran that no longer exists. Carroll spends days lounging around a tea house in Isfahan developing relationships with locals that will help him the rest of his journey. He and his friend boldly drive through the country in their Land Rover, many times into areas even locals won’t go. In some communities they are welcomed and feted while in another they are chased out by an angry mob. Carroll also gives a master class in bargaining, in Chapter 4, where he discusses their efforts to purchase the rugs of their dreams as well as other vintage and antique items. Reading about the wonderful people and incredible destinations of Iran makes me hope for a day when I will also be able to visit safely.
Title: A Hundred Flowers: A Novel
Author: Gail Tsukiyama
Follow three generations of a family from Guangzhou as they navigate Mao’s China for a few months in 1958. Each family member is tormented by their own secrets and the tension builds throughout the novel as they are revealed to you. In A Hundred Flowers, Gail Tsukiyama captures visions of the oppression and fear created by the Cultural Revolution as experienced by a little boy, his mother and his paternal grandfather as they all try to make sense of life in the absence of their father, husband and son.
Title: Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria
Author: Noo Saro-Wiwa
Revisit Nigeria with author Noo Saro-Wiwa as she returns to her native land a decade after her politically active father’s murder by the government in power at the time. Schooled in England, Saro-Wiwa became a travel writer and decided to try to visit her homeland and see it through the eyes of a tourist. Although you bear witness to the pain of her family, she also strives to paint an impartial picture of Nigeria. When there is something to celebrate, she does. But she is also quick to point out the country’s many flaws as well as its promise for the future.
Title: Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life
Author: Daniel Klein
In Travels with Epicurus, author Daniel Klein revisits Greece with a stack of books by some of his favorite philosophers as he attempts to make sense of aging. Now in his seventies, Klein reminisces of his irresponsible days of youth when he headed to Greece after dropping out of the Sorbonne. Philosophers throughout the ages, and from different nationalities, are referenced as he explores the island of Hydra. I found myself reading it at an interesting time personally as there had been a death in my family. I think people of different ages may find it meaningful in different ways. I would like to reread this in another decade and see how my perceptions have changed.
Title: In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel
Author: Vaddey Ratner
In the Shadow of the Banyan is a heart breakingly beautiful account of survival through the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Seen through the eyes of an eight year old girl, you catch a glimpse of life before everything in her world is painfully and abruptly stripped away. Such a story would be almost unbearable to read except this one is written so beautifully. The main character’s father had been a poet and there are wonderful poetic images throughout this first novel by Vaddey Ratner. And those moments of beauty are what offer the hope and the will to survive. This is the best book I have read this year and highly recommend it to everyone.
Title: Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay
Author: Benjamin Taylor
Jam packed with quotes, facts and history, Naples Declared will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the Italian city and probably a lot you didn’t. I found this to be a hard read as so much information was offered that it was overwhelming, to the point of unpleasant, at times. The author clearly loves Naples and has thoroughly researched it in every conceivable way but that didn’t translate into an enjoyable read. And I think he knows it. At the end of the chapter two he says, “Even the politest people glaze over somewhere between Odoacer and Bishop Pomponius, and I am learning, at the tender age of fifty-nine, not to bore friends with things of interest only to me. At least I like to think so.” Apparently, he chose to bore the rest of us instead.
Title: Lessons from the Monk I Married
Author: Katherine Jenkins
While in South Korea to teach English, author Katherine Jenkins meets a Buddhist monk and begins to take his mediation class before work each morning. A friendship develops between the two and later a romance. In Lessons from the Monk I Married, the reader will learn basic Buddhist principles along with the author as you follow the development of their relationship. If you are new to Buddhism, this is a great way to learn about its approach to life. Although I have heard many of the ideas many times, I find that I can’t be reminded of them enough. It strikes me how often I seem to reach for the right book just as I need to read it. I suspect this book, will be that right book, for almost all of you.
Title: The Beach at Galle Road: Stories
Author: Joanna Luloff
A collection of short stories woven together with a common character, sometimes a few more, “The Beach at Galle Road” gives voice to experiences in Sri Lanka during its civil war. Melancholy and madness hang over many of the characters including the westerners there to teach and do aid work. Perhaps the impact of the shifting people prevents you from becoming too attached to anyone as the book accelerates its pace toward its tragic end.
Title: The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe
Author: Glynnis Ridley
Honoring the first woman to ever circumnavigate the world, this was an especially meaningful find as I also found may way entirely around the world in March and April of last year. I have to say that Jeanne Baret had a much tougher challenge than me. Glynis Ridley provides us with the phenomenally well researched account in The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe. In 1765, France’s first round the world expedition set sail with Jeanne Baret disguised as the male assistant to the naturalist chosen for the voyage who happened to be her lover. She came from a long line of herbalists and her experience and perseverance was solely what lead to the discovery of many of the plants we know today. Women were not allowed to travel on ships at that time and when the crew eventually uncovers her ruse, she pays a very high price. Reading about her adventures and challenges will inspire you as well as make you glad that you are traveling in a 21st century world.
Title: What Are You Looking At?: The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art
Author: Will Gompertz
It is easy to be intimidated by art, especially modern art when you may feel like the joke is on you. Reading What Are You Looking At? will give you the background information to help you understand art you may come across in your travels at museums, galleries and in public spaces. Author Will Gompertz is the BBC’s Arts editor and was Director of the Tate gallery for seven years. This book is an extension of a bet he took (and won) to present the history of modern art as a sketch at a stand-up comedy club. His routine was so well received, he decided to write a book to share his wealth of humor and information as he was not interested in pursuing a comedy career. As a lifelong arts enthusiast, and a docent at an art museum, I’ve found that the more I know about the history surrounding a piece of art the more I enjoy it. This book is a great introduction to all the art movements and major artists of the last 150 years and by reading it you will be ready to competently issue an opinion on everything you discover as you explore the world.
There are so many great books out there to be read. If you are looking for more inspiration and reviews, please see my January post for eight other great works of world literature. Have you read a great book that has inspired your travel? Please share it so I can complete my 52 book list.