March III: The Ghost Bride

Yesterday, I surprised myself by finishing yet another book which brings the count to country no 23:

  • Malaysia: Yangsze Choo – The Ghost Bride.
the bride

A real bride in the palace of Eggenhof, Graz, Austria.

It was a reread, and since I quite often read books at least a second time if they were any good this is a good sign for this work. I had even completely forgotten how it ended!

the hens

and some rather curious peahens

Chinese culture is something I’ve been interested in for a long time, but I’d never heard of the custom of having a ghost marriage before. Apparently, this is still practised. While I don’t believe in an afterlife, I liked the way the book took me on a journey to the afterworld with its demons, dragons and ghosts. What I didn’t fancy that much was the way the female lead behaved towards the man she wanted to marry. On top of that, keeping track of all the concubines and family relationships was just impossible (but nothing compared to the Dream of the Red Chamber).

All in all: culturally exciting, but a mildy convoluted plot with a for me unsatisfying ending.


March II: A Rose Boy and a Lot of Death

So far, I’ve finished reading books from 22 countries, just below 10% of what I’m aiming for. Here’s now a short summary of my readings during the second half of March. There are fewer books this month, as work kept me busy and most of the books dealt with tricky issues – I’m not the kind of person who reads stories about stoning women to death because of some silly religious rule in one go.

Firstly, the list:

  • Egypt: Nawal El Sadaawi – The Fall of the Imam
  • Iceland: Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir – The Greenhouse
  • Pakistan: various authors – Grant 112: Pakistan
  • Slovakia: Peter Pišťanek – The Rivers of Babylon

Sadaawi’s book was actually fairly short, but it haunted me right from the first chapter on, and it did so still weeks after I had finished it. The story is built like a spiral, in a way that a small set of characters lives through the same events (stoned to death, rape, hangings) again and again, with ever more hurtful details and complications. Add a good deal of non-sensical religious laws, hypocrisy, brutality and ignorance. Still, it is worth persevering. I loved the lyrical style of the author and I’ll hope to read more by her.

The rose boy from the title of this post comes from the ‘Greenhouse‘ where he, heavily influenced by his mother, learnt to grow roses. This botanical part of the book struck a chord with me, whereas the other storyline about rose boy’s daughter didn’t quite ring true. On the whole, the book made for an enjoyable contrast after all the killings since the beginning of the month, even if there occurred some deaths here too. The writer gave her characters lots of room to breathe and left a lot to the reader’s imagination, something I quite liked.

The collection of short stories and articles (both fiction and non-fiction) in ‘Granta 112: Pakistan’ was an emotional roller-coaster ride. Again, so much suffering, caused to a great extend by religious laws, but also international politics and greed. There were however, light moments too, plus lots of optimism. It was fascinating to read and I learnt a lot about the country’s history. But my overall impression was, unfortunately, that Pakistan is very close to the bottom of the list of countries I’d like to visit. Anyway, the book itself is very good!

I found my last book for March, The Rivers of Babylon, hilarious. A brilliant parody of life in Slovakia, from what my students tell me and what I can observe myself. The main character, a peasant turned small-time crook turned bigger crook turned politician reminded me a lot of … yes, if you think USA … Pišťanek just nailed it. The same is true for the every-day racism I see in this country – the good gypsies and the bad gypsies are just one example. The novel is the first part in a trilogy, and I’d love to read that one completely.

Peacock in the gardens of the palace of Eggenberg, Graz in Austria.

Peacock in the gardens of the palace of Eggenberg, Graz in Austria.

On A Bleak Day In Early Spring …

Our walk along the river Morava this morning was pretty amazing, despite a chilly wind blowing from the north. Several times, we saw a white-tailed eagle flying by:

white tailed eagle


And now guess whom that made extremely nervous? The newly arrived white storks, happily settled back on their nest near the bridge into Austria.


storks clattering1

Most of the time, however, they were quite calm, and we even saw them mating! Pictures of the act are on my husband’s blog, a post called Sex and Violence, together with some history of the female – we figured out her ring number. white storks


There was plenty of action going on around the nest area. Most vocal of all were some green and great spotted woodpeckergreat spotted woodpeckers.

green woodpecker





Other birds flying by included kestrels, cormorants and a pair of geese (geese?).


Further down the river, there was the usual muchness of mallards, and a first great egret.

great egret


In spite of ‘our’ storks being back, the long-tailed tits were my personal highlight today.long tailed tit

March I: War and Love

What books have you read so far in March?.

  • Belarus: Swetlana Alexijewitsch – War has an unwomanly face
  • Sierra Leone: Aminatta Forna – The Memory of Love

What are they about?

World War II and the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Nothing else?

Surprisingly, love and tenderness also play an enormous role in both books. The authors approach their works in two very different ways, though. Alexijewitsch lets her interviewees speak for themselves for the most part. Women who were snipers, cooks, pilots, bakers, nurses or partisans during WWII and fought on the frontline talk about all of their experiences. What the women went through was so awful, that their occasional silences are almost as telling.


People having experienced something so horrible they can’t talk about it. Those silences are reoccuring in Forna’s novel. It needs the help of an outsider to break them – here the character of a psychologist, whereas in Alexijewitsch’s work it is herself as the interviewer.

What else is important?

Although they couldn’t be more unrelated in style, neither pretends to have answers how to deal with the inhumanity of war. However, they show how people (not some unbelievable heros) survived.

Can you recommend them, then?

Both books are in my opinion unconditionally worth reading.

The Great Great Bustards

blossomsSpring is really on its way now, as we found out on our walk today. We went near the triple point, where Slovakia, Austria and Hungary meet. Experience told us that most wildlife tends to live on the Austrian side of the border, so this is where we spent most of our time. And that turned out to be a brilliant idea!

We saw a lots of deer, hares, skylarks, a kestrel and this white-tailed eagle.

white tailed eagleWe found remnants of what might have been a kestrel.

feathers2 feathers1There were starlings and lapwings on their search for food.

starlings and lapwingsThe best of all, however, were the great bustards we spotted. These birds are highly endangered, mostly due to loss of habitat. So it’s always a joy to see them!great bustard great bustards flockgreat bustards flying