Rewrite, Burn, Reread

One of the advantages of working in an international environment is the variety in reading tastes among my colleagues. Many of them have already expressed an interest in this project, and they’ve also suggested certain books or authors. My thanks this time go to Vlado for recommending Kadare and to Mark for providing me with copies of the two other books.

The idea for the title of this post comes from BlueChickenNinja.

44 Albania: Ismail Kadare – Chronicles in Stone (translated by Arshi Pipa, edited by David Bellos)

According to the editor of the book, Kadare seems to have a more than average need of rewriting his books. I like the idea of a story being fluid and open to changes, at least up to a certain degree. Not sure how I’d react if I suddenly found my favourite story with a completely different ending … Anyway, here I saw a city springing to life and could perceive places and events with all senses. For want of a better word, I thought this novel organic, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it – even though it took its reader to some nasty places.

45 China: Liu Cixin – The Three-Body Problem (translated by Ken Liu)

I’m a big fan of sci-fi, and so had been looking forward to reading this book. Now, I’m not the kind of person who’s into book-burning, but here we have a contender for bonfire number one. The story is filled with xenophobia and a deep-rooted longing for autocracy. On top of that, I found the characters flatter than one dimension and the science, especially the dialogues between the scientists, mediocre at best.

46 The Netherlands: Gaston Dorren – Lingo – A language spotters’ guide to Europe (with contributions by Jenny Audring, Frauke Watson and Alison Edwards (translation))

I had no idea that there are that many languages in Europe! The book provided fascinating insights into etymology, evolution of languages, specifics of grammar and delightful words which don’t exist in English, but should. The chapters on sign language and Basque were particularly enlightening. A reread is definitely in order.

Changing Identities

In my project to read a book from each country or territory, I so far have found some reoccuring themes: family, travel and migration, how our identities change in places and through time. All of those resurfaced again in the three books I read in June so far.

41 America Samoa: A.P. Lutali – My Samoan Journey

The book was an autobiography and a political narrative. I’d have wished for a bit more of a human touch and analysis of why things happened the way they did. Nevertheless, I gained lots of knowledge about what I think is, unfortunately and wrongly, a little-known territory of the USA. It was interesting to read how the author transformed from an educator into a politician. His descriptions of the amazing nature of the islands were splendid – I really hope I can get a chance to see them one day.

42 Morocco: Laila Lalami – The Moor’s Account

What a great book! I loved listening to the adventures and experiences of Mustafa/Estebanico, in the audiobook read by Neil Shah. Mustafa’s narration shows the importance of perspective and different voices telling a story about the same event, in this case the expedition of Narváez and Cabeza de Vaca to what are now the southern USA and Mexico. His distinct views on the various cultures, religions and people are truly enriching to the reader.

43 Syria: Fawwaz Haddad – Gottes blutiger Himmel (translated into German by Günther Orth)

This book, called God’s Soldiers in its English translation, reminded me of accounts of Nazi atrocities committed at Babi Yar. Massacres, bloodshed and torture were committed by all participants in this novel, including US-American soldiers, al-Qaeda, private security services, and whoever else was fighting in Iraq in 2006. To imagine that those events, which form the frame for the story of a father in search of his son, more or less happened in this described way made for a rather painful read, especially the sequences in the morgue and about the young gay men. It was, however, worth persevering, in particular because of the multiple views on religion.