This book is written by a Norwegian journalist, Anne Seierstad, who lived and worked in Kabul with a bookseller’s family post 9/11. The Afghan bookseller, whose family we delve into in the pages of this book is a bit of rebel, who has been saving Afghanistan’s books from the Soviets, the Americans, the Taliban, and war in general. He is a man with a mission to save the history of his country.
I must confess, I wasn’t as impressed with this book as I had hoped I’d be. It is a nice enough read, but there is nothing particularly hard hitting about it. When books are written by journalists, my expectations on how much a book is going to move me is higher. Additionally, the author is a bit judgemental about how downtrodden Afghan women’s lives are. The condition of women is not great in those parts of the world, but it wasn’t that which came out. It was more around how families are structured, how people marry one another, how they dress etc. And a lot of that is just peoples’ culture and their own personal choices. I have sympathy for the author because it must have been an incredible culture shock being a Scandinavian woman in Afghanistan.
Having said all that, the book does provide an intimate portrayal of families and their dynamics, their hopes and dreams, their funerals and celebrations. The writing is easygoing and I particularly enjoyed the adventures of the humble bookseller, whose simple mission becomes the David to the Goliath of macro forces that impinge upon his country, his faith and his people.
A nice read. I am giving my copy away, so if you want me to post it to you, do let me know.
Some kind and enterprising folks have started a ‘book swapping’ shelf downstairs. Of course, it has taken off. There’s everything on it from ‘How to write stand-up comedy’ to a 1000-page biography of the Queen Mother. This book is one I picked up. I put The Librarian of Auschwitz on the shelf in its place.
A middle-aged American lady, Debbie Rodriguez is fed up with her life and her relationships. To make a change to her life, she volunteers with an aid organisation to travel to Kabul in the mid-naughties. At this time, Afghanistan is war torn, with a heavily militarised capital that turns into a Taliban badland every night. Debbie ends up starting a ‘beauty school’, where she imparts hairdressing and makeup skills. Her students are women who come from all walks of Afghan life, and when the hijabs come off, their eclectic personalities shine.
I read later that this book has been controversial, because apparently events did not happen as Debbie claimed in the book. But to me, making one trip alone, never mind spending 5 years there, is courageous. And if she embellished some stories to spin a yarn then it’s fine by me. She does end up imbibing life enough that she marries an Afghan. In some ways, Debbie is a typical American – she never manages to learn the language, and she does present some cultures through the incredulity of a Western lens.
But the girls she introduces – from Roshanna to Nahida, are ones that will warm your heart. And there’s a multitude of experiences – from forced marriages to the utter hilarity of these women dancing with thongs on their faces. This is a lighthearted book with a serious war raging in the background. Don’t use it as the defining guide to Afghan life (for that, Khaled Hosseini perhaps?). But read it for a sneak peek into the women and their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I did enjoy it.
I was ‘nominated’ to do the 7 days 7 books challenge on Facebook by a reader friend. And this is the sort of thing I like, because it forces me to revisit books and my feelings for them. I thought I’ll do books set in ‘unusual locations.’ I’ve been trying to read fiction from regions less known about for the last few years. And so here were my 7
I tried to pick books from far flung regions – ones that those in my circle may not have come across. Unfortunately, I didn’t do anything compelling from Africa or Middle East (or even Australia/NZ) but I had to pick 7. I also wanted to include female authors so that helped me hone this down as well.
In no particular order, these were Jamilia, The Hungry Tide, A Dream in Polar Fog, Zlata’s Diary, Island on the Edge, Papillon, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society.
What books would you have picked? Feel free to recommend some that I may not have read!
It’s Day 10 of social distancing and isolation because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. So of course, I have turned to books. Literature to me is not only a means of escape, but also a way in which I absorb and process things. I find reading extremely relaxing. However, having said that, a Holocaust book is perhaps not the most obvious of choices to pick up at a time like this.
I’d been wishing to read this copy I picked up for a while now. And I somewhat enjoyed it. The story is based on the true account of Dita Kraus – a Czech Jew who, along with her family, spent most of the Second World War in various concentration camps. She was a fiesty, spirited teenager, and ended up being the book ‘keeper’ of her block, hiding her treasure from the Germans, and using books as a means to learn and to escape.
The novel is a good read, but I felt that it was a hard one. There was something in the storytelling that made it a bit stilted. Of course, I haven’t read anything else by the author, Antonio Iturbe. So I find it hard to compare. But it took me a long time to get to the halfway point. The second half of the book is more exciting, the characters had grown on me and as a reader, I felt invested in their stories. This is not just another Holocaust book, because the weight of true experiences is heavy. Overall, I would recommend it for its honesty and its ability to shine a light on the indomitable human spirit. A good read in these trying times, hope you are all safe wherever you are…
I received this book as an early Christmas present from a friend. And because I am impatient with books and I also want to watch the movie, I’ve even finished reading it before Christmas! What an enjoyable read. This story is set on the tiny island of Guernsey in the English Channel in the mid-1940s. After the end of World War II, the German occupation of Guernsey ended and our book’s protagonist Juliet Ashton is touring the UK promoting her book.
Out of the blue, she receives a letter from an unknown man called Dawsey Adams from Guernsey. One thing leads to another, and instead of ‘settling down’ with her suitor Reynolds, which she never intended to do anyway, Ashton ends up researching her next book about the Occupation of Guernsey. Not least to do with the fact that she is intrigued by the name of the society that Adams is a part of ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’.
This is a beautifully written book, based on letters that the characters write to one another. The backdrop of war is very prominent, but because of the time it is set in, the war isn’t central, which I liked. Overall, it is light-hearted in its approach to the life of the characters and has a heart-warming ending. Not that that’s what I go for at Christmastime, but I did enjoy it. Now to get the popcorn and watch the movie!
Most of my reading this year has been guided by the latest releases picked up by The Wee Review and Neon Books. So it has been a while since I picked anything else up. This book caught my eye in a second hand Christmas book sale and the blurb looked very interesting. This is the story of Zlata Filipovich who lives in Sarajevo. She is 11 years old in 1991, when war breaks out in Bosnia and Herzegovina and she starts recording her experiences in a diary.
If it sounds similar to Anne Frank’s Diary, it is. It tells the story of a different war, through the eyes of a different girl, but fundamentally, the story is the same. The futility of war, the robbing of innocent childhoods and the utterly despicable nature of war is captured here.
Zlata is a regular pre-teen when war breaks out – going to school, getting top grades, loving piano and living life. But slowly the climate in her city becomes suffocating. And her family go into living in one room – often without heating or electricity or food. They lose many loved ones, their family friends, all of Zlata’s schoolfriends leave and they take on refugees from other parts of the country. All of this is written into ‘Mimmi’ which is what Zlata calls her diary.
Unlike Anne Frank, this novella has a happy ending. Zlata’s diary becomes famous in about two years, and her family and she are able to move to Paris because of its worldwide success. It is an unlikely tale, and goes the full gamut of emotions. But it provides a glimpse into what life is like during modern warfare and it brings home the horrific reality that hundreds of thousands of people are living in many countries today.
This is a hands down brilliant book. I picked this up because I saw a friend reading it and I thought it looked interesting. I am usually not up for books set during the war (unless they are classics like Hemingway or Remarque). But this book is different, because it follows the journey of a young girl in Paris, the blind Marie-Laure LeBlanc – daughter of a Museum employee and a young boy Werner Pfennig in Germany.
Werner and his sister Jutta fix a half broken radio and listen to a Science made simple show, where an older Frenchman breaks complicated concepts down for children. When Germany invades France in 1940, Marie-Laure has to flee Paris and ends up with her eccentric great-Uncle Etienne. The story interleaves between the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner and the amazing thing is that the two central characters don’t meet until 80% of the book is over. Even so, it is a fleeting meeting that doesn’t last long at all. Everything about the story is incredibly well crafted. I loved Jules Verne as a child and this book has snippets of all time favourite ‘20,000 Leagues under the Sea’.
The storyline is incredibly simple, but with Germany invading France during the war, even the simplest of stories take on a larger than life meaning. I would definitely recommend this book, even if it is the only one you read in the summer. It was long after I had finished reading and I couldn’t get the book out of my head, I decided to red up on the author and discovered that this book had won the 2015 Pulitzer!
I first heard about the book Jamilia a long time ago, in context of Kyrgyztan. I cannot remember what it was now… I got my hands on the Telegram copy a few weeks ago. It is only a novella, took me only about an hour and a half to read it. It is a beautiful love story and is the first major novel by Chingiz Aytmatov.
The novel is the story if Jamilia, as told by her brother-in-law Seit, a young Kyrgyz artist. Jamilia’s husband is at the front at war and this books talks of her love of Daniyar, a local cripple. While nothing earth-shattering happens, the book recounts the tender emotions of love and the sense of society very beautifully. The story is backdropped against the collective farming culture which was in its peak in that period.
During the Soviet era, Aitmatov was known as the “intellectual father of the Kyrgyz people” and as the “voice of Central Asia.” Under Stalin, he was a tax collector, a warehouse worker and a machinist, before studying veterinary medicine and literature and eventually becoming the most popular Soviet writer.
I’d recommend the book, and I think free versions are available on the web too.
I had read and enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love when it was doing its famous rounds. I had no idea that there was a sequel. So when I came across this book in a pile, I picked it up out of curiosity. I was not disappointed.
Gilbert is a good writer, her tone is very conversational and her stories and failures come across as honest and relatable. In this book, she traces the misadventures that ensue in her life when she falls in ove with ‘Felipe’ – a Brazilianborn businessman, nearlt twenty years her senior. He cannot get into the Us because of visa issues and so they must get married even though neither of them are remotely inclined. And all this happens in the first few pages, which is quite exciting.
What follows is a mish mash of travels, adventures, and Gilbert’s own journey into history to understand the very institution of marriage and where she might fit into it. She claims to be neither an anthropologist nor a sociologist as she takes the reader to a Laotian household and lays bare some secrets of the Hmong tribe. She frequently intersperses her travelogue with the relationship stories of her own ancestors and the history of the Western traditions as well.
Another interesting thing about the book was the analyses of the role of women in amarriage unit, both historically and also in the modern day world. Gilbert navigates this with great difficulty, but has thoroughly succeeded in making the reading experience enjoyable. Humour crept up on me as she speaks about what women want, what men are thinking, and why fighting on a stinky old bus is a bad idea.
Read this book, whether you are in a relationship or not, married or not, because in the end,it will help you understand your own perspective on things better as you take sides during her narrative.
The title of this book contains two favourite words, so even before I began reading it, I knew I would like it. The entire book is written in the form of letters – between a poetess Elspeth from Skye and her pen pal David from America, and parallely Elspeth’s daughter Margaret’s letters to various people. Elspeth and David correspond during World War I and Margaret’s letters are based around the Second World War. It all begins when, upon the publication of a book of poems, Elspeth receives a rather sweet letter from a ‘fan’ in America. The story spans two generations, about two decades, two wars, and two continents – finally reaching culmination at the St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh (it’s on Palmerston place on the West end, it’s beautiful).
The book is very well written. There isn’t much surprise in the way of the plot because the letters alternate between the two women’s stories and Margaret’s story fills us in on the gaps left in Elspeth’s. So, no surprises, really, but I enjoyed the concept and the backdrop of the war and of life on Skye. Skye is stunning and the idea of a poetess penning her thoughts as poems and letters and slowly but surely falling in love with a man she’d never met is just my type of thing. Let me warn you, however, it might not be everybody’s cup of tea; which is possibly why this book has got mixed reviews on websites etc
But like I said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought scenes from Skye, Edinburgh, and London quite vividly in my head. The writing is atmospheric and evocative; the emotions expressed are very natural and believable. I’d recommend it.