Exit West- Mohsin Hamid, was my major foray into the backlists during early July. The story of two refugees, Nadia and Saeed, from an un-named Middle? Near? Far? Eastern country who manage to flee to the West. The book is short, but packs in a lot of ideas and events .It speaks about war, conflict, refuees, culture, nationalism, sexism, Moslem social mores, family ties, the concept of home, and above all the fluidity of modern life in the troubled times of the 21st century. It’s a genre bending book, partly speculative fiction because of the mysterious doors through which refugees transit from one life to a new life in another country, which lends a magical realism to the story. And there’s plenty of realism in the gritty, dangerous, difficult life of refugees.

The book lingers in my mind, and will probably do so for some time to come. South Africa attracts many refugees from the continent, and their problems feature often in our news bulletins. The novel is definitely a book of and for our times.

North and South – Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell. I think this can be labelled My Reading Challenge of 2020! I’m proud to announce that I persevered to the long and exhausting end. Its an early Victorian novel, that contrasts the old, bucolic, peaceful country life of the South with the growing, bustling, rapidly industrializing life of the North, particularly in the textile industry. I grew very weary of the many chapters delving into the endless agonies of conscience, whether over religious beliefs, or over correct social behaviour for young, unattached, middle class ladies. Oh the paroxysms of tears, the fainting fits, the prostrations upon sofas! Thank goodness I live now. The restrictions placed upon Victorian women by society were legion, and a spirited woman like Margaret Hale had to constantly rein in her energetic passions.

Another spirited woman: Tannie Maria, resident of the Ladismith district, in the Little Karoo, in the Western Cape. She’s one of my favourite literary characters, down to earth with a heart as big as the Karoo sky. I love her Agony Aunt weekly column in the local paper and I love her cooking. I snacked constantly while reading the book – the constant talk of food made me hungry! That said, this is #3 in the series, and in a sense, Tannie M grows up – among other things she learns to change a car tire! But she also is exposed to contemporary and historical South African issues. This book has more substance than the other two, plus an action charged plot. I think it may be the best in the series to date.

I Re-read one of my lifelong favourites: Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Yet again, it enchanted me.

Exit West- Mohsin Hamid. A genre-bending novel, speculative fiction/magical realism /love story mixture that combines in a thought provoking story about refugees and global migration. Recommended.
North and South – Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell. A long, challenging read. But a fascinating portrait of social and industrial change during the early Victorian era.

Death on the Limpopo – Sally Andrew. Tannie Maria cooks and charms her way from the Little Karoo to the Limpopo. An action filled adventure, & the recipes are to die for. Heartily recommended.

Vows, Vendettas & a Little Black Dress – Kyra Davis. Ebook . Sophie Katz is on the hunt – someone shot her best friend Dena; hence the Vengeance in the title. And the LBD? The antidote to the planned Disneyland wedding featuring peach taffeta bridesmaids’ dresses. Oh the horror! Madness, mayhem, her sexy Russian boyfriend – hugely entertaining.
Kim – Rudyard Kipling. Master storyteller Kipling writes a wonderful book brimming with adventure, unforgettable characters and a panoramic background of the colourful, chaotic, turmoil of daily life in the India of the British Raj.

The Last Train to Zona Verde – Paul Theroux. A clear-eyed, pull-no-punches account of his journey through South Africa, Namibia & Angola. Published 2013. Definitely not a feel-good read, but a pretty accurate account about post-millenial Africa. Thanks to all the gods I don’t live in Angola.

10 thoughts on “JULY 2020 READING ROUNDUP

    1. Thanks for this insightful comment. Must say, it had not occurred to me, but as an Afrikaans speaker you homed in on it immediately. Don’t you just love her recipes? I keep urging my family to bake the chocolate & peanut butter cake from book #1, but no luck so far.

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  1. I have not heard of the Tannie Maria books before – they sound very entertaining! And I have also not heard of Paul Theroux visiting SA, Namibia and Angola – I would like to read that one sometime.

    That said, my pile of ‘books I want to read’ is so daunting that I don’t know where to begin. It feels like the days have become shorter and more full of responsibilities, duties and tasks, as I’ve grown older… Did I really have that much more time to read books when I was younger?!

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    1. I hear you! I think most readers have a big TBR pile. To Be Read. One think about Library closure means I’ve been reading books out of my own TBR pile. And we won’t talk about all the trashy cozy mysteries I’ve read on my Kindle. Shhh!

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      1. Nothing wrong with reading ‘trashy cozy mysteries’! As I said last time, I haven’t heard of that genre before, but it sounds perfect for this time.

        I always loved going to our local library and browsing around… The ‘books returned and not yet put back on the correct shelf’ trolley was always a good place to start… My favourite part was finding a nook with an unoccupied pouffe or ‘perch’ of some kind, and ‘grazing’ through the books on the nearby shelf until I found the right one. 🙂 One never knows what one feels drawn to – some delightful serendipitous discoveries! Alas, I think those days are over, for a while at least. I’m not sure how the libraries will go back to operating. Ours was also a favourite place for school children, who constantly hogged the computers, and I always saw some elderly folk sitting and reading the newspapers. And of course there were often talks or meetings or workshops. I wonder what will happen to all of that.

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  2. Hi Alison. I read with interest your comments on Tannie Maria’s third foray into crime. I enjoyed this the least of her books. It did not convince me at all. She and her sister ( no! really?) manage to evade all the baddies who are very one dimensional and then find a mysterious parcel which answers all questions. Shades of Nancy Drew. No no Sally, stick to cosy domestic crime in the Karoo,
    and recipes.


    1. A fair comment. I’ve always found the plots of the TM mysteries a bit of a stretch, but the overall charm of the characters and the recipes have smoothed over my grumbles.


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