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As March draws to a close, I’m excited to report on my progress with the Around the World in 52 Books challenge. Issued by my blogging sister WanderLit back at the start of the year, the idea is to read a book from or about a different country each week for a year. We have joined an avid group of over 500 international readers over on GoodReads who have also committed to the adventure. It has been a lot of fun to see the books everyone has chosen and to see their reviews which has done nothing but increase the stack of books on my “to read” piles.
At the end of each month, I share with you the books I have completed as well as a short review of my impressions so you can know what to expect if you decide to pick up each book too. This month I am also offering a bonus read. As you may remember, I coordinate the International Book Club for the East Lansing Public Library. Each month we read a selection from a different country to help further our understanding of our global community. This month we are reading In the Sea There are Crocodiles. This book was really well received by our group and I thought you might like to learn more about it as well. And with that, let’s depart with March’s book itinerary.
Title: The House of the Spirits Author: Isabel Allende
Chilean author Isabel Allende’s first book, The House of the Spirits, explores three generations of a family as members go from rags to riches and riches to rags along with the different political movements of the time. A representative of the magical realism genre in literature, several of the women possess various powers of premonition, converse with spirits and can float furniture around the room at will. It is a story of extremes as passions, obsessions and feuds bring characters to the heights of ecstasy and to the depths of ruin. Life in rural Chile, as well as in the city, is explored as communist ideals slowly sweep a nation as the youngest member of the family is held accountable for the choices of her grandfather.
Title: Round Ireland with a Fridge Author: Tony Hawks
Deciding to take on a bet issued during a night of drinking, British comedian Tony Hawks records his experiences of hitching hiking around Ireland in less than a month with a refrigerator as his constant companion. The entire country gets behind him and you discover that it is surprisingly easy to find a ride even when you’re traveling with an appliance. As you can imagine, he encounters many unusual characters that add to Ireland’s rich personality quite often in local pubs. Loads of fun, pick up a copy of Round Ireland with a Fridge as an entertaining way to explore the perimeter of the Emerald Isle. I featured this book in my St. Patrick’s Day post earlier this month.
Title: The Seamstress and the Wind Author: Cesar Aira
Another read from the magical realism genre so popular in Latin American literature, Cesar Aira’s The Seamstress and the Wind was an odd little novel with a strange cast of characters. Set in the small Argentinian town near Buenos Aires, a wild chase begins after a boy disappears while playing in the back of a truck and missing his chance to get off before it suddenly leaves for Patagonia. Upon discovering him missing, his seamstress mother hires a taxi to help her track down the truck while sewing a wedding dress that is due to the bride. Her husband follows after he arrives home from work and he is pursued by the pregnant bride desperate to obtain her dress and get to the church. Then things start to get stranger still when the wind develops a crush on the seamstress and a monster searches to destroy her. I enjoyed how Aira played with words but ended up spending so much time trying to figure out what he was intending to communicate that it took away from simply enjoying the read. Aira also shares his thoughts on travel throughout the story such as “A person travels, goes to the other side of the world, but leaves his life packed away at home, ready to be recovered on his return. But when he’s far away he wonders if perhaps he might have brought his life with him by accident, and left nothing at home. The doubt is enough to create an atrocious fear, unbearable above all because it is a baseless fear, a melancholy.” Welcome to Aira and The Seamstress and the Wind.
Title: Three Women of Herat: A Memoir of Life, Love and Friendship in Afghanistan
Author: Veronica Doubleday
While living in Herat, Afghanistan during two separate years in the mid-seventies, British author Veronica Doubleday befriends three women from different hereditary classes. Through her developing relationships, readers will gain an understanding of what it meant to be a woman in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion and the rule of the Taliban. Doubleday’s ability to speak Persian, as well as willingness to embrace their culture and traditions, give her access to Herati family life rarely seen by westerners. This is a beautifully written account of the lives of Afghani women and provides layers of insight for a country so frequently misunderstood today. Anyone seeking impartial information about a culture rich in traditions and arts will find Three Women of Herat invaluable in providing a framework for understanding women in Afghanistan.
Title: Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through the World’s Most Dangerous Country
Author: Tim Butcher
Reading Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through the World’s Most Dangerous Country is a tense and thrilling adventure that will leave you with a better understanding of this forgotten country in central Africa. Author Tim Butcher strives to recreate explorer Henry Morton Stanley’s nineteenth century route along the Congo River from Lake Tanganyika to the Atlantic Ocean which cuts through two-thirds of the African continent. Along the journey you discover how the Congo is the only place in the world where technological advancements go backwards and grandparents can tell their grandchildren about inventions they can’t even dream of. The Congo has so many resources and a people desperate for peace yet so many obstacles stacked against their success. You also learn about the efforts of the United Nations and other aid organizations and why so little is being done to help the people faced with massive institutionalized corruption. Butcher’s book shines a spotlight on a country the world seems to have given up on and a people just hoping for a fair chance.
Title: Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of Romany Gypsies Author: Mikey Walsh
I started reading Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of Romany Gypsies because I wanted to learn more about this closed and misunderstood society. I got way more than I bargained for and found this to be a very emotionally tough book to read. Author Mikey Walsh tells his story of growing up in a clan of gypsies where the men have a tradition of being champion bare-fisted boxers. His father begins his training while he is still very young and all of Mikey’s action are met with a brutal beatings to toughen him up. In a family where physical and emotional abuse occurs everyday, as well as sexual assaults by an uncle, Mikey sees no hope of escape because of the isolation and persecution experienced by gypsies in England. Although Romany gypsies seek an independent existence it is also perpetuated by the mistrust and hatred of them by the general public. Mikey becomes further alienated as he realizes he is gay, an orientation not allowed in gypsy society, and he is afraid his father will kill him if he finds out. I struggled with whether I liked this book or not. It’s tough subject matter made it hard to keep turning the pages but I also feel it is important to witness his story as a means to having an informed opinion of Romany gypsies in Britain.
Author: Fabio Geda
At 10 years old, Enaiatollah Akbari is abandoned by his mother in Pakistan. To save him from the Taliban, she sneaks him over the border from their native Afghanistan and leaves him there as a way to give him a chance at survival. While reading In the Sea There are Crocodiles, you join Enaiat on his journey from Pakistan, through Iran, Turkey, Greece and eventually Italy where he gains refugees status and eventually asylum. He is an amazing boy who inspires through his perseverance and optimism in conditions and situations that most people wouldn’t survive. It is a candid tale of the reality of human trafficking and life as an illegal immigrant as experienced by a child. His is an unforgettable true story that will change how you view the world.
There are so many wonderful books out there depicting different countries and cultures. You may enjoy catching up by reading my January and February selections. What books have you been reading this month? Please share so we can learn from your literary adventures too!