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.


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