Without doubt, Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald is top of the list. She’s an English naturalist, ornithologist, who writes brilliantly about the natural world, and particularly about birds. Her observations and experiences make for compelling reading.
I particularly enjoyed the title essay Vesper Flights : an account of swifts, that fly up to ten thousand feet altitude, and then go into deep sleep mode! Verified by scientific observation, let me add.
The essays are mostly short, but concentrated. One essay gives you plenty to think about, mull over and return to. I enjoyed the book so much that I’ve ordered my own copy.
My second April Hit is The Last Hunt by Deon Meyer, South Africa’s #1 crime writer. What an excellent read! I seldom read crime because every time I consume any local media, crime confronts me. I read to escape it, not be faced with more of the same! However, that said, the book is set partly in Cape Town and I always enjoy reading stories set in my city. Deon Meyer is hailed as SA’s best crime writer, with good reason. He knows how to plot and tell a darn good story, and how to create authentic characters.
Some years ago, before he became super-famous, he was kind enough to attend our West Coast Writers’ Circle meeting as guest speaker. What a modest, down to earth man who was prepared to give time to aspiring writers.
Lastly but by no means least, my third April Top Read : KIara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Generally I’m not an Ishiguro fan, but this book blew me away. How refreshing to read such an original book. The book is narrated by Klara, an Artificial Friend; robot companion to a lonely and sickly teenage girl, Josie. The book explores the theme of love, via childhood, adult and AF forms of love. Humans don’t always emerge covered in glory .
Its fascinating to see our world through the eyes of an Artificial Creature and to be party to the sometimes skewed (by human standards) thoughts of an Artificial Creature.
The title is enormously apt. AFs are solar powered, and Klara views the Sun as a god; to expand on this aspect would be a spoiler.
I continue to mull over sections of the story, it leaves the reader with plenty to think about, on many levels. Beg, borrow or steal a copy.
On the downside, I read two African novels, Bitter Eden (see earlier review) and the Booker Short List nomination (2019) This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangaremba. I found the novel a difficult read, because of the oblique mode of narrative. I struggled to relate to the main character Tambudzai, she was such a solipsistic woman. This said, the novel gives insight into the harsh realities of Zimbabwean life.
Two DNFs this month. If I’m not enjoying a book, I firmly close it. Sometimes books are not to one’s taste, or they arrive at the wrong moment in your life. C’est la vie.
Gold Never Rusts – Paul-Constant Smit. Action packed, epic South African novel that starts with the pre-Biblical era Queen of Sheba, and finishes in 1901 at the end of the Anglo-Boer War. Adventure, wildest Africa, pioneering, mining, political intrigue, romance, and gold. Fans of historical novels with an African setting will find plenty to enjoy.
The Last Hunt – Deon Meyer. A cracking good thriller set in current day captured, corrupt South Africa, and France. A crime and an assasination plot, peopled with credible characters . It’s a page turner that provides a truly satisfying ending. Recommended!
Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro. A speculative novel that explores the ramifications of introducing Artificial Friends (AI /robots) into close relationships with humans. Thought provoking, fascinating; a melancholy and truthful ending. Highly Recommended.
Ordinary Grace – William Kent Kruger. A thoughtful literary mystery, a tale of fury, guilt and redemption; also a coming of age story set in 1960’s Minnesota. A compelling and satisfying read. Recommended.
Bitter Eden – Tatamkhulu Afrika. Men struggling to survive WWII POW camps in North Africa, Italy & Germany. Male friendships, and their aftermath. A challenging read. See my review posted on 10 April 2021.
This Mournable Body – Tsitsi Dangaremba. A challenging read. A young Zimbabwean woman’s struggle to succeed in the big city of Harare. She struggles against herself (chiefly) but also against society, her rural relatives and background. Ultimately, after many trials and failures, she remains at the bottom of the heap. Life in Zimbabwe, not a comfortable read.
Vesper Flights – Helen MacDonald . A collection of essays about human relationship to the natural world. The perfect dipper. Well written, most of the essays are short but crammed with ideas and questions about us and about the natural world.
In the Midst of Winter- Isabel Allende
Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi