WorldBookProject – Bahrain, Equatorial Guinea, Paraguay

Reading the world has been exciting from the word go. However, sometimes there’s a book which is particularly gripping and keeps haunting me long after I finished it. And every now and then, there’s a book which really isn’t my cup of tea. In this blog post, I’m writing about both kinds of book. On my nightstand at the moment are Uzbekistan and Antarctica (still). Thanks to my parents who sponsored all three countries 🙂 !

168 Bahrain: Yummah by Sarah A. Al Shafei

The basic premise of the book (child marriage and a resulting life story) was good. However, sometimes really odd writing was off-putting, e.g. people ‘screamed’ very often and the only thing important seemed to be a beautiful woman with a rich husband. Better editing help might have been a very good idea for this inexperienced writer. I felt this book was a missed chance.

169 Equatorial Guinea: La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

I first heard about this book on www.ayearofreadingtheworld.com and was glad when it finally appeared in English translation. What a read! It is basically an exploration of gay people’s lives in the traditional Fang society. I started reading it while sitting in a dentist’s waiting room and was halfway through by the time the anaesthesia had worn off. The ending was a bit rushed, but apart from that it’s one of the best books I’ve read for this project so far.

170 Paraguay: Die Nacht der treibenden Feuer by Augusto Roa Bastos

Another book which is still haunting me! This collection of short stories managed to draw me into its pages from the very first sentence. The jungle, the river, the mid-day heat on the fields – and then invariably something horrible would happen. I had to take a break after each story because it was so nerve-wracking. Still, I’d love to read much more by the author who was a master of catching his readers and characters alike.

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Dinosaur of the week: Spotted Flycatcher

spotted flycatcher

Our local patch of forest and shrubs is also home to Muscicapa striata. According to the IUCN the species is threatened by biocide-induced reductions or contamination of insect populations, removal of old trees and general habitat deterioration.

Dinosaur of the week: Common Linnet

linnet

This Linaria cannabina was perching in the dunes of Dunkirk in France. The species is in decline because of ‘the intensification of agriculture, resulting in destruction of hedgerows, improved harvesting of cereals, and the eradication of fallow and weedy fields through application of herbicides‘.

The bird is also commonly mentioned in popular culture, e.g. mentioned by Charles Dickens or Oscar Wilde. Thanks to the people on birdforum.net for their help with the ID.

Belgium and France – Along the Frontline

memorial LilleOn my recent holiday in Europe I spent a handful of days in and around Lille in northern France. One of the days included a tour along the frontline in Flanders during World War I.

Starting point was the memorial to those who died in France during the two world wars in Lille. The dead of French wars in Indochina and North Africa have their honorary mention at the bottom of the monument. France doesn’t seem to be terribly good at dealing with that part of its history. But then, my guide was French and the driver was Algerian and they got along quite well.

We then ventured via Fromelles along the frontline. The road follows it for long stretches and you can see signposts to cemeteries and memorials every few hundred metres. In the past, the dead were kept separated by nationality (not religion though), but bodies are still found and these days all the fallen are being laid to rest together. Which I think is a good idea.

It was interesting to learn that there are also unexploded shells which farmers find when tilling the land. This ammunition is still live and so poses a real threat even after a hundred years. In Flanders, you don’t see remnants of the trenches though because of the geology of the area. The ground is very soft, hence the soldiers mentioning mud all the time, and after the war was over the farmers went back to their fields. If you want to get a feel for trenches, visit the area around Verdun.

After the fourth or fifth cemetery it all felt deeply gloomy despite it being a glorious day. I can’t even begin to imagine what the people back then must have gone through. But it was a relief to get to the Christmas football game memorial.

football memorial

Last stop on the tour was Ypres which had been in total ruins after the war. Today, it’s all really splendid. Main points of call are the cathedral, a church run by the Church of England, the museum of the fields of Flanders if you’ve got ample time, and Menin Gate. This last structure has the names of more than 54000 soldiers inscribed on its walls whose graves are unknown.

I had booked this tour in the tourist office in Lille. At 260 euros for one person it was quite expensive (gets cheaper if you’re more people), but I thought it was really worth it. My guide was very good  and I learned a lot. The thing is that being German WWII is never very far, but WWI has already kind of faded into deep history, unlike for British people for example. So it shouldn’t have come as a real surprise when my guide told me that although he’d been in this business for about 15 years, I was his very first German customer ever.

poppy

WorldBookProject – Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan

You hadn’t thought I’d given up on reading the world now, had you? Yes, it is going slower than in the first two years, but I’m ploughing on and keep making great discoveries. Some stats: the current count overall is 167 out of 257 books, and 71 of these were written by female authors, 11 by a mixed team and one book didn’t name an author.

165 Saudi Arabia: Daring to Drive: My Life as an Accidental Activist in a Kingdom of Men by Manal Al-Sharif

This book is an autobiography written by someone who hasn’t much experience of the craft, but her story makes more than up for it. If you thought that the KSA was kind of a hellhole for women, here several new circles of hell are added to the equation.

166 Taiwan: Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin

While listening to the audiobook version of this story I found it somewhat tricky to follow the many characters. I think it might have been better to read the printed version. Content-wise, I felt with the Crocodiles of the story. It’s good to see that Taiwan has now legalised same-sex marriage.

167 Kenya: Devil on the Cross by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Revolution! This book is a call to arms and takes a broad aim: colonialism, sexual predation, big money, tribalism, corruption, religion and the list isn’t finished. It’s not exactly subtle in its stance but not without a sense of humour. The denouement came as a surprise to me and the heroine of the story … , well, read for yourself.

And what’s coming next? I’m in the middle of Bahrain, Antarctica and Kazakhstan and just got a big present from my parents including Uzbekistan, Paraguay and Equatorial Guinea. Thank you 🙂 .