JANUARY 2022 READING ROUNDUP

My first read of 2022 was memorable. A debut novel by Zimbabwean author, Petina Gappah – The Book of Memory. See my review on 21 January, https://thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/2022/01/21/my-first-read-of

I followed it up with another very different, but spellbinding read by prolific Turkish author, Elif Shafak.

                                               

FICTION

10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World – Elif Shafak. What a marvelous story-teller  this Turkish Writer is – she has mastered the art. Leila is a street walker who is murdered,  and her fading consciousness reveals her five close friends, and how their relationships started and grew. All  the women are social outcasts, ostracized by rigid social norms, but vibrant human beings. The novel glitters with the Istanbul background, rich with sensual detail, and is an immersive read.  I loved it.

The Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom – John Boyne. An epic tale of humanity over two millennia, the themes of love, loss, vengeance, violence, fathers and sons, the dismal fate of women endlessly repeated. The constant change of country, background setting, and new cast of characters was confusing and exhausting. Not for me, but I’m sure Historical Fantasy fans will love the book.

The Authenticity Project – Clare Pooley.  A light read, set in London. “Desperate to confess the deep loneliness he feels, Julian begins The Authenticity   Project – a small, green notebook containing the truth about his life, to pass on and encourage others to share their own”. The results are explosive, dramatic, funny, sad, wildly unpredictable, involving recognisable, contemporary people; I was rooting for all of them. A  thoroughly enjoyable read. If you want a feel-good read, with a satisfying ending, this is it.

The Paper Palace – Miranda Cowley . Summer, sea, sun, sand, swimming, sex and family complications, including several dramatic and horrifying childhood incidents which extend tentacles into present adult lives. I’m tempted to label it as a Beach Read, but the writing deserves a better rating, due to the descriptive writing of the coastal area. Action and history unfold between the American East Coast states & NYC . Blurb used words like ‘immersive’ and ‘addictive’. An OK read for me.

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People –  Farahad Zama. Have I saved the best until last? Possibly. I always enjoy Indian novels, chiefly for their colour, rich, spicy atmosphere, peopled with characters who stand by their very decided opinions. Great insights into the Indian system of arranged marriages, such a foreign concept to the modern, Western world. But given our divorce rates, their system may have considerable merit. This novel ticked all the boxes: setting, characters, dialogue, plot, satisfying ending. And, I’m delighted to discover that Farahad Zama has written 4 more books in the series, all available on Kindle. I can’t wait!

All in all, a good start to my reading year. How has yours been ?

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MY FIRST READ OF 2022

My first read of 2022 was memorable. A debut novel by Zimbabwean author, Petina Gappah – The Book of Memory.

Synopsis from Faber & Faber:  Memory, the narrator of The Book of Memory, is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she has been convicted of murder. As part of her appeal her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it. The death penalty is a mandatory sentence for murder, and Memory is, both literally and metaphorically, writing for her life. As her story unfolds, Memory reveals that she has been tried and convicted for the murder of Lloyd Hendricks, her adopted father. But who was Lloyd Hendricks? Why does Memory feel no remorse for his death? And did everything happen exactly as she remembers?

Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich, and between the past and the present, Memory weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate and the treachery of memory.

Petina Gappah  paints an unforgettable picture of modern Zimbabwe, warts and all. Albinos live a perilous existence in Africa. They are often murdered for their body parts, used in traditional muti.  We have rural tradition colliding with modern urban life.  Tribal superstition playing out in an urban setting. The corruption of modern African dictatorships beating down its hapless citizens. Not to overlook the persistent  vexed question of homosexuality, and attitudes to mental illnesses,  in the African traditional  context.

Apart from these hefty themes which run throughout the book, PG also gives us evocative portraits of people living  under difficult circumstances,  chiefly Memory who narrates her  story through the lens of childhood. And then there are the prison warders at Chikurubi Prison. Tyrannical, newly converted Christian wardress Synodia, with her speech defect, still lingers in my mind. She’s a menacing, comic figure.

Despite the grim events and themes, the book has short chapters and is very readable.  I highly recommend you give it a try, if you’re interested in exploring contemporary African writers, and/or learning more about Zimbabwe.   

                                                                        ***

The book had a very personal resonance for me, because I met our previous neighbour, Wally Stuttaford,  a few years after his release from Chikurubi.  It was deeply shocking to see this once confident, successful man who was an MP in the last Rhodesian government, reduced to a gaunt wreck, utterly haunted by his 308 days spent as a prisoner in Chikurubi, undergoing torture during this time. He died in South Africa in May 2000.  See links below.

https://www.upi.com/Archives/1982/10/14/Zimbabwe-re-arrests-acquitted-member-of-parliament/24644034160

A FEW BOOKISH THOUGHTS TO OPEN A NEW READING YEAR

I’m definitely ditching Goodreads in 2022. Apart from the fact it’s a  tiresome chore to log on to the site,  hunt up my books, then label my reads with their unhelpful star rating system, at year’s end GR never, but never, get my year-end total reads figure correct.  Reverting to my Stone Age tools i.e. my Book Journal and a ballpoint pen, I keep a running total of my reads.  It never coincides with GR’s figure.

I’ve flirted with the idea of swapping over to another electronic book app, but no, I’m done with book apps. One of my friends is a whizz at spreadsheets, and will set up a comprehensive spreadsheet for me. Trick is, of course, to keep adding the data.

Yet again I will be refusing all Reading Challenges, continue  abandoning any book that does not either entertain or inform me, and rambling through the Back Lists with a happy song on my lips.

I’m also debating whether I am finished with my Read more African Writers project. Last year I won a number of books via the Goethe Institute’s generous  Virtually Yours Zoom sessions, some of which were a great success, whilst others were not. I still have two recent  Indian Ocean novels* highlighted on my Wish List, which are very tempting, but on the whole, I think I’m done with the project.

And yet again, I will dive into my TBR shelf, which is actually very modest. I’ve read recent Book Bloggers’ posts wherein they admit to a hoard of +200 books. Einah! One good thing about the wretched Pandemic is that it’s kept me away from the bookshops and Charity Book Sales. Unfortunately, the online booksellers have been very obliging.

One good innovation last year, was registering with the LIBBY system, which the Cape Town Municipal Library system joined.  Such good news to be able to read e-books without having to fall into the capacious jaws of amazon.com .  

And finishing on a happy note: friends of mine are currently in the UK, and will be making forays into the Charity Book shops, with my Wish List added to their own. I can’t wait for them to return. Whenever I read UK Book Bloggers’ accounts of picking up book bargains for 50p per book, I could weep; we have no such bargains here.

So there we have it: no grand plans or target, just happy to be able to continue reading. Happy reading to everyone!

  • House of Rust –  Khadija Abdalla Bajaber  and Blue Dragonfly Sea – Yvonne  Oadihambo 

TAMING THE TBR

Title: The Shadow King

Author: Maaza  Mengistu

Published:  2019

Length: 428

What it’s about: Amazon synopsis:

A gripping novel set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record.

With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid in Kidane and his wife Aster’s household. Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilize his strongest men before the Italians invade. His initial kindness to Hirut shifts into a flinty cruelty when she resists his advances, and Hirut finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. Meanwhile, Mussolini’s technologically advanced army prepares for an easy victory. Hundreds of thousands of Italians―Jewish photographer Ettore among them―march on Ethiopia seeking adventure.

What follows is a gorgeously crafted and un-putdownable exploration of female power, with Hirut as the fierce, original, and brilliant voice at its heart. In incandescent, lyrical prose, Maaza Mengiste breathes life into complicated characters on both sides of the battle line, shaping a heartrending, indelible exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.

When I got the book: August 2020

How I acquired the book:  Birthday gift vouchers

Why I want to read it:  During my “Read more African authors” period. Plus the many rave reviews.

Lisa, at Book Shelf Fantasieshttps://bookshelffantasies.com/2022/01/ – hosts a weekly Wednesday feature called Shelf Control, which prompted me to write this post. Thanks for the wake-up call, Lisa – much needed.

READING ROUND-UP DECEMBER 2021

FICTION

Piranesi – Susanna Clarke. An elegant concept, and elegantly constructed in the telling. A Chinese-box sort of novel, gradually revealing its secrets. Curious as to the title, I googled the Italian Piranes, which helped my understanding and enjoyment of the book. A wildly different novel, that will  haunt me for some time to come.

A Mumbai Murder Mystery – Meeti Shroff-Shah. The thing I most enjoyed were the  descriptions of the mouth watering food served frequently to  the Jain family that are involved in the murder mystery. Sure, I puzzled over  the whodunnit aspect, but the background and setting stood out for me. I hope Ms SS  gives us another murder mystery  soon.

The Bear – Andrew Krivak. A Re-read. Just as moving, the second time around. The natural world continues its age old cycles of  birth, life and death, the seasons change, the equinoxes wax  and wane, and so does human life. An adult fable elegantly written in sparse prose. Probably a masterpiece.

What are you going Through – Sigrid Nunez. A thoughtful, reflective quiet novel about friendship,love, death and dying. Wise and  compassionate but not an easy read. Fans of Literary Novels and Sigrid Nunez will enjoy the novel.

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths – Barbara Comyns. A Virago Press reprint. The two things I enjoyed about the book were the catchy title and striking cover. Other than that,  London in the 1930s, Bohemian artists’ life, poverty, children, selfish, immature characters did not appeal. The book was promoted as funny, but didn’t tickle my funnybone. Fortunately the book was a quick, short read.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café – Toshikazu Kawaguchi. Appropriately, my last read of 2021, came from my TBR shelf. On my second attempt to read the book , I reached the last page, but with relief.  Whether due to  the author’s natural style, or the translation from Japanese, the story was stilted, which was a pity, because the premise of the book is time travel. Visitors to the café can travel backwards or forwards in time, but must return before the coffee in the cup turns cold. Four stories of guilt, grief and regret unfold: husbands, lovers, sons, surrogate fathers all wanting to make amends, or explain . The book was a big hit in 2019, but not with me. You can’t win ‘em all.

NON FICTION

Dear Reader. The Comfort and Joy of Books –  Cathy Rentzenbrink.  I devoured the book,  what a joy to share Cathy’s love of books and reading!  She’s my soul-mate.  A book to keep, treasure, and re-read many times. A must for booklovers.

Underland  -Robert MacFarlane. I’ve found my quintessential Desert Island Book. If permitted only one book for my Desert Island sojourn, I wouldn’t hesitate to pack Underland. It is a marvellous mosaic of science, history, culture, personal memoir, a veritable treasure chest of facts, travel writing and stories. A slow, thoughtful, delightful read.  Highly recommended.

Bon Appetit! – Peter Mayle. With his customary charm, the foodie writer par excellence,  shares his travels around his beloved  France, visiting Festivals and food fairs en route. The book is sub titled: Travels through France with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew. A neat summation of a delightful, atmospheric read. Perfect armchair travel with a light touch.

DECEMBER DIPPER

Zen Dust.  A Journey Home through the back roads of South Africa – Anthony Osler. A couple of pages daily is balm to the soul.  A mixture of gentle humour, wisdom , travel notes, the occasional poem or haiku fragment, together with elegant black and white photographs.  Occasionally a glimpse of a beloved teacher or local Sangha member that I know,  make the book personal for me.  Another book to treasure .