I took up 2010 Global Reading Challenge – The Medium Challenge somewhere around early March this year and have read novels from twelve different countries or states. With two novels from each of these continents in the course of 2010:
For Africa, this is what I have selected:
The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene (Sierra Leone) tells the story, principally, of Scobie, a colonial policemen trapped in a loveless marriage. Soon he was caught in a situation where he compromised his integrity and there is no turning back.
Rating: 4.5/5. What I like about Greene’s novels are the tales about good people turning bad due to unforeseen circumstances, self-preservation or what not, rendering no clear distinction of the hero and the villain. It is also about the good and bad of the human nature. Perhaps due to his faith and unbelief he is acutely aware of good people who did bad things, and their journey of redemption. One of my favourite book of Greene.
The Last Friend by Tahar Ben Jelloun Tangier, Morocco, the late 1950’s. Two teenagers, Mamed and Ali, strike up an intense friendship that will last a life time. But lurking just beneath the surface is a deep, unspoken jealousy in their friendship. The two friends, wiser and world-weary offering differing accounts of their relationship’s from their rebellious youth spent subverting the rigid moral strictures of the day to harrowing months spent together as political prisoners, and their eventual settling into conventional family lives. Only then do the real differences between them emerge, culminating into a tragic end.
Rating: 3/5. I wanted one of my Africa read to be Moroccan. Although an easy read, but it fell short of the spellbinding The Blinding Absence of Light. For those who seek out a novel about Morocco and friendship, this book may offers you a good glimpse.
Since then I have discovered many books from Africa. I was pleasantly surprised to find so many good books on Africa.
The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa, (Manchuria, China) the first of Shan Sa’s books to be translated from French into English – is set against the brutal backdrop of war-torn Manchuria in the 1930s, a prelude to World War II. In the Square of a Thousand Winds, snow falls as 16-year -old Chinese girl beats all-corners at the game of go, the ancient Chinese board game that requires artful strategy and skill to attempt to surround the opponent’s stones. One of the opponents is, unknown to her, a young Japanese officer of the occupying power, rigidly militaristic, imbued with the imperial ethic, but far from home and intrigued by this young opponent.
Ratings: 4.5/5. The narrative is alternate between the boy and the girl and the book introduces me to the intricacies of both Chinese and Japanese culture. I found this to be an entertaining read albeit the not-so-good ending.
The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa, (Japan) So many raves about Ogawa’s novels that I had to pick up this one up. It consists of 3 short stories. In The Diving Pool, a lonely teenaged girl falls in love with her foster-brother as she watches him leap from a high diving board into a pool – an infatuation that is seeded since childhood. In Pregnancy Diary, a young woman records the daily moods of her pregnant sister in a diary, taking meticulous note of a pregnancy which is surreal in her inexperienced eyes. In Dormitory, a woman nostalgically visits her old college dormitory on the outskirts of Tokyo, a boarding house run by a mysterious triple amputee with one leg.
Rating: 3.5/5 It is haunting and twisted stories about normal people who discover their own dark possibilities of taking action upon their cruel intentions. This is Ogawa’s darker rendition compared to her “The Housekeeper + The Professor” and I welcomed it.
I am never short of books to read about Asia as half of my TBR are from the continent.
This is my first introduction to the continent and a major discovery of new to me Aussie Authors that led me to sign up Aussie Authors challenge. My choices have been good although not an easy light read.
The elegiac note sounded in these stories reminds me of Ishiguro, except Malouf captures the emotions of the protagonists better than Ishiguro’s indifference could. At the end of it, I felt it is wrong to compare Ishiguro with Malouf. I think Malouf is on a league of his own. For that I will be reading some of his other work at some point in the future.
The Secret River, Kate Grenville, Thornhill’s story begins in 1777 London, where he was born into extreme poverty. The family is too large and too far down the social scale to be able to get along by strictly honest means, and Will, decent at heart but pragmatic in his approach to the business of staying alive, ekes out his meagre earnings with the proceeds of petty crime. When he marries Sal, the daughter of a local waterman, he seems to have his first light of setting his life straight; but with the untimely deaths of his parents-in-law he finds himself adrift again, unable to support his wife and the young child she has borne him. Desperate for a little extra money, he takes one risk too many and ends up before an Old Bailey judge, accused of theft. Initially condemned to death, he is saved from the hangman’s rope by Sal, whose activities on using a gifted letter writer to appeal the death sentence his behalf result in the more lenient sentence of transportation to Australia. I couldn’t ask for a better introduction to Australia than this book. a
I finished Europe at the very early stage, I think a lot of participants may feel the same.
The End of the Affair By Graham Greene (England)
Maurice Bendrix affair had ended 2 years ago. Out of the blue he was invited to have a drink by Henry Miles and rekindles his love and jealousy of Maurice to Sarah Miles. The love affair between Maurice and Sarah flourishing in the turbulent times of the London Blitz, ends when she suddenly and without explanation breaks it off. Bendrix hires a private detective named Parkis who trails his subject with his young son. Slowly Maurice love (or hate) for Sarah turn into an obsession.
Rating : 3.5/5
There is hardly any plot in this novel, but it is an intimate account of emotions and passions so intense that can be both riveting and frustrating. It is perhaps a book which offers a good glimpse into Greene’s private affairs.
In 1945, the aftermath of the Spanish Civil war, Daniel Sempere was 10, when his father led him to a hidden heart of the old city of Barcelona to the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’. It is a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles. Daniel is allowed to choose one book and from it he pulled out “The Shadow of the Wind” by Julián Carax.
As he grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find. What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind the life and death of Julián Carax. Daniel’s life becomes intertwine with Carax’s through fate and destiny, that may cause Daniel to lose his life…………..
One gorgeous read. I felt invested in the characters so much so that I will most probably read the next instalment, just to find out what happen to them.
North America (incl Central America)
I begin the North America read with two of the American slim classics. I’ll leave my review to tell you about how I feel about the books as they require no introduction, except to say that I am glad I read them so that whenever there is mentioned of any of these books elsewhere (and there are countless mentions in the literary world) at least I have read them! 😉
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (United State of America)
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (United State of America)
Somehow or rather I found this continent to be a challenging one. I have no idea what to read when I started out in this continent, but now I know there is Gabriel Marquez Garcia, Isabelle Adende, Roberto Bolano and Machado De Asiss, and I don’t have to resort to Paul Coelho! Hooray!
- The Armies by Evelio Rosero (Colombia)
- Bel Canto, Ann Patchett (Peru) The final book to finish up the Global Challenge.
The challenge wasn’t so hard. I wasn’t inclined to upgrade to a higher level (or read the third book in each continent) as Antartica compulsory read left me cold. Perhaps of all the challenges I have participated, this one gave me the most insights and introduction to authors that I never knew before from lesser known continents. I even manage to compile a list of crime fictions by continents. I conclude the post by saying that I had an amazing time, and I strongly encourage you to sign up for it! Many thanks to Dorte H for hosting this. It has been tremendous fun!
Perhaps next year if the extreme challenge level of 21 countries is still around I will sign up for it. But what I really want to do in the future is to create my personal continent hopping reading challenge next year.