Penguin, Porcupine and the Plight of Immigrants

All three of the following books and their authors were completely new to me, and I’ve added all three writers to my ‘they need exploring’ list.

38 Congo: Alain Mabanckou – Memoirs of a Porcupine (translated by Helen Stevenson)

First of all, I was surprised to learn that there are two Congos on this planet. This book represents the Republic of the Congo. Something I truly enjoyed was that the story of the human beast was narrated by a porcupine … the details and background of which you really should explore yourself! The author also took a rather unconventional approach to sentence structure and punctuation which added to the quirkiness and delight.

39 Ethiopia: Dinaw Mengestu – The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Amazingly well narrated by Dion Graham, this story was full of tender moments without being tacky. It was also filled with moments of despair which were turned into humour by the three immigrant friends – how else can you avoid not giving into it? By making a guessing game out of dictatorship. The exploration of the question of identity and in what way it is connected to a country has come up time and again in this reading project (and I assume this isn’t going to change). I liked the way it was addressed by the author in this work.

40 Ukraine: Andrey Kurkov – Death and the Penguin (translated by George Bird)

Not Misha, but his cousins.

Not Misha, but his cousins.

I came across this novel via the BBC World Book Club. Having been to Antarctica and, as regular followers of my blog know, being a big fan of penguins, I just had to read it. Misha the Penguin, a King Penguin, to be precise, isn’t the main character, but my favourite. I thoroughly suffered with him in his wish for Antarctic ice and penguin company. And yes, the story around the obituaries and the Ukranian mafia is equally wonderfully weird.



Silence is heaven

Mid-May, the tally for my WorldBookProject stands as follows:

35: Italy: Andrea Camilleri – The Shape of Water (translated by Stephen Sartarelli)
I found this crime novel a funny, vivid depiction of society. It’s the first in a series around the main character, inspector Montalbano. This makes up for the fact that the book could have been longer, purely because I enjoyed it so much. The series, however, is quite substantial, so I’m hoping for more page-turners and time to devour them.

36: Sri Lanka: Romesh Gunesekera – The Sandglass
While the book was off to an intriguing start, about a third into the story I found it suddenly rather difficult to connect to the characters. I guess all this thinking about family feuds and the money-making-plans was just not my cup of tea. The most fascinating parts were for me the narrator’s musings about travel and the stopping thereof, and a discussion about silence. The title of this post is a quote from the book.

37: Somalia: Nuruddin Farah – Knots
Now, here I’m really not on the fence: what could have been a range of fascinating characters in a challenging setting turned out to be tedious female good, male bad. People’s motivation remained unclear. Clichés appeared on every page, extraordinary coincidences abounded, and on top of that the writing was clumsy. The rose-tinted ending was completely unbelievable given that events happened in a city torn apart by civil war. The one big redeeming factor was the marvellous narration by Robin Miles.

Guess What The Storks Brought!

Young storks, of course. Here they are, three of possibly more in the nest:

storklingsSnakes are also back on the playing field – this pic shows adult games.

aesculapius snakeOthers just leave traces of their existence:

pilesBack from their journey are Cuckoos and Golden Orioles, and Slovakia’s arguably most beautiful birds, the Bee-eaters. bee eater

Fortune Smiles On You When You See A Wolf

The books which I read during the second half of April and the beginning of May were mostly non-fiction, mostly about family and, unfortunately, mostly not very well-written. Here’s the list:

  • Denmark: Peter Høeg – Borderliners
  • Kosovo: Remzija Sherifi – Shadow Behind The Sun
  • Mongolia: Uuganaa Ramsay – Mongol
  • North Korea: Kang Chol-hwan and Pierre Rigoulot – The Aquariums of Pyonyang

The total count of countries & territories read is 34, at the moment. So, let’s take a quick look at each book in turn.

Borderliners turned out to be very different from what you could expect of a novel that opens with the question ‘What is time?’ Throughout the book, this question is addressed, mostly from the perspective of a child or teenager, but never really explored. The themes of paedophilia, sexual violence, murder, suicide and emotional blackmail/violence are centre-stage. All in all a rather convoluted piece of writing, which I had to read in small doses and found very dark.

When it comes to former Yugoslavia and the Balkans, I have to plead guilty to ignorance. So I thought, Shadow Behind The Sun (non-fiction) would be great to mitigate my lack of knowledge, but the extent to which the book offered a chance for that was quite limited. Basically a piece of pro-Kosovo propaganda, I learned that – window-dressing good Serbian soldier & doctor excluded – Albanians are good, Serbians are bad. The author also told the story of a great number of members of her family, jumping between different times and places. All of which made it impossible to connect to any person or event, which is awful given the fact that we’re talking about a war and people losing loved ones and their home.

Similarly, The Aquariums of Pyonyang left me with a non-impression. The madness, the brutality, the atrocities – the way the author pointed out how cunning and smart he was seemed more vital than anybody or anything else. It should have been a warning to read in the preface that some god had told the writer that George W Bush would come and rescue all North Koreans … Barbara Demick’s ‘Nothing to envy – Ordinary lives in North Korea‘ is, in my view, a much better written book about the topic.

Mongol, on the other hand, proved to be more interesting than I had expected. Having been to Mongolia, it was great to be able to make connections to life in a ger, the nadaam festival and the descriptions of the landscape. I even saw a wolf there, hence the title of this post – it’s a Mongolian proverb. It was indeed heartwrenching to read about the baby with trisomie 21. Although the writer spoke about her & her family’s suffering, she steered clear of sentimentality. A good read.