WorldBookProject – Notes from small islands

Here are my latest additions to my project to read a book from each country and dependent territory. I’ve read stories from and about several small islands or groups of islands. And it was a mixture of exciting and depressing.

115 British Indian Ocean Territory: David Vine – Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia 

Definitely on the depressing side. When you see what has been done to the Chagossian people by British and US governments and how, after 40-odd years they’re still fighting for justice, it makes me also angry. Having said that, I highly recommend the book to everyone who is interested in human rights or the Empire USA.

116 Montserrat: E.A. Markham – Against the Graine: A 1956 Memoir

This one was more exciting, but then the author also spoke about the racism he and his family experienced in the UK – just awful. What I liked most about the book was its diversity. The author cherry-picked episodes from his life and his favourite plays and created a fascinating web where you’d learn about a volcano in the Caribbean and obscure German poets within one paragraph.

117 El Salvador: Manlio Argueta – One Day of Life

This book is a gem from Latin America, and it made me cry.

118 Wallis and Futuna: Elise Huffer and Petelo Leleivai (ed.) – Futuna: Mo Ona Puleaga Sau

Now, this book is rather eccentric. Written by people from Futuna, it was more a collection of anthropological essays interspersed with mythology than the story book I had expected. It’s a bilingual edition in English and French. Thus I can learn about those islands of the French overseas territory, and some French too.

WorldBookProject – Burundi, Jersey and Nicaragua

WorldBookProject continues, and if you’re like me looking forward to #WITmonth – women in translation month – then here you find two very good suggestions of what you could read. Out of the 114 books I’ve read so far 48 were written by women and 6 have mixed authorship.

112 Burundi: Esther Kamatari – Prinzessin der  Waisen

This autobiography has not been translated into English, as far as I could find out, but there’s a translation into Dutch. It was fascinating to follow the author’s life from court to fields, from a school run by nuns to catwalks to being a philanthropist. She seems a remarkable woman.

113 Jersey: Gerald Durrell – Birds, Beasts and Relatives

This audiobook narrated by Nigel Davenport told stories about the writer’s childhood on Corfu in the 1930s. It’s very much of its time, but in a way also extremely modern and open, e.g. when introducing a gay character. A rather graphic account of a woman giving birth was also very funny. Many thanks to writer Jane Alexander for recommending the author. I really want to read more by him and also visit the zoo he founded on Jersey.

114 Nicaragua: Gioconda Belli – The Country under my Skin: a memoir of love and war

Of all the books I’ve read so far for this project, this one and its author are possibly the most intense and diverse. It kicks off with shooting lessons under the watchful eyes of Fidel Castro, continues with poems about menstruation, a career in advertising and as a resistance fighter, mother and accomplished writer, and so much more. I also learned a lot about Nicaragua, and the appalling role the USA played in its history. What I particularly liked was the sensuality of the writing with a focus on sounds and smells.

 

May Morning

Oxford is home to many traditions, and one of them is May Morning.

This is how you do it: get up at about 4am, try to put on your clothes the right way round and walk into the city centre. Don’t jump off Magdalen Bridge.
 

Stand in front of Magdalen Tower and admire the people who come from last night’s party and look more awake than you will feel for the whole day. Wait for crowds to assemble properly.

Wait patiently until 6am. Listen to Magdalen College Choir intoning the Hymnus Eucharisticus and madrigals, and the chiming of the tower bells. Applaud.Magdalen tower

Follow the crowds on the High Street up to Radcliffe Camera. Leave a minute or two to ponder any signs you come across.

Divert your attention to May Morning get-ups ranging from leafy headgear to walking trees.

Upon arrival or along the way, take in any occurrences of Samba, pipers and Scottish dancers, rock music, English folk music or Morris dancing.

Finally, try to find a pub that’s only 105% full so you can have breakfast. Failing that, try and make your way home. Can’t guarantee that’s possible, though.

sign2

WorldBookProject – Visiting some Islands

Over the last few days, I’ve visited a lot of islands in the Caribbean and the South Atlantic via WorldBookProject. In the mornings, I would walk into the city centre, then sit there for a few hours in the library, and then walk back home in the afternoon. The walk is about 5 miles return (or ca 8km in civilised units), so it’s perfect to clear your head before and after such an intense reading session.

109 British Virgin Islands: Verna Penn Moll – Johnny-cake Country

At first, I was a bit flummoxed by the title, but during reading this delightful little book its meaning became clear. Originally, there was a thing called a Journey cake which was very rich to keep one going while travelling. The name became corrupted, but the cake is still made in many varieties, and the recipes in the book sound yummy. Now, the cake in the book seems to me a wonderful allegory for how the culture of the islands has changed, and how people are trying to adapt to new things, like a huge influx of tourism, and the effects that has on their traditional lifestyle.

110 Cayman Islands: Michael Craton and the New History Committee – Founded upon the Seas: A History of the Cayman Islands and their People

When I started looking for a book for the Cayman Islands, my main fear had been that I’d have to read about tax evasion or something equally boring and unpleasant. Luckily, that was not to be. This history gave a comprehensive and readable overview of the last 500 years on the three islands with a focus on social issues like slavery and the economy. I was surprised to learn that things really only took off after the 1960s. Another thing which I found surprising and actually quite appalling was the tiny part that environmental issues seem to play: 2 paragraphs in 500 pages. If this reflects what it’s like on those islands, I’d rather spend my holidays somewhere else – where people care about their wetlands, sharks and forests.

111 Falkland Islands: David Gledhill – Fighters over the Falklands: Defending the Islanders’ Way of Life

Having been to the Falklands before (https://spockisworld.wordpress.com/category/countries-places-ive-been-to/falkland-islands/), I was looking for a book that was not just about the war. And this one delivered. I learned about different kind of fighter planes, the complications of refuelling mid-air, the way personnel have to assure safety when it comes to wildlife,  the issues around supply chains in remote outposts, and that I’m hundreds of hours away from earning a ‘1000 hour Life of Brian badge’.  I’m still scared of flying, but if one is interested in aviation and British aviation history, this book is a goldmine.

And something that stood out for me was that if you buy a copy of this book, part of the money goes to the charity http://houndsforheroes.com/. From their website: Hounds for Heroes provide specially trained assistance dogs to injured and disabled men and women of both the UK Armed Forces and Emergency Services.

WorldBookProject – For the Love of Libraries

If you want to read a book from every country and dependent territory, you not only need a lot of stamina, but also resources to get the books. So far, I had already had dozens of countries on my own shelf or got them from my husband. I also got some books as presents. On top of that, colleagues lent my some of theirs, and there was a small library in a former work place. But quite a number of books I bought myself. I have a subscription for a monthly audiobook, and luckily, there are many second-hand bookshops on the internet. All in all, it is still not cheap, and for some places there just doesn’t seem to be any kind of book available. So, I’m very happy that for the time being I got a reader’s card of one of the most amazing libraries ever. What’s more, this also allows access to some rather rare books, as you can see below. All hail Bodleian Libraries!

107 Cook Islands: Te Ariki Tara ‘Are – History and Traditions of Rarotonga

Reading this story by one of the last High Priests of the islands was truly captivating. It was a mix of genealogy, myths, recipes, poem, song, description of rites and much more. Several people had translated what had been an oral account dictated over a period of time and published it in short instalments in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, where it appeared alongside the original version. The first bit was published in 1898, so just touching and smelling this book was so rewarding. There is apparently a new edition of this History available, but I loved reading it with all the translators’ remarks like [I have no idea what that means].

108 Solomon Islands: John Selwyn Saunana – Cruising Through the Reverie

As far as I could find out, this book is out of print and only available second-hand at a hefty sum. That means, it is another reason to be eternally grateful for the existence of libraries. The poem is also called Cruising Through the Riverie; in fact, I found both versions in the book I read. It was a kind of dialogue between Ambition and Expectation, and also quite political – several world leaders of the day like Nyerere, Nixon or Sukarno were mentioned. I found it a rather refreshing read.

WorldBookProject – Burkina Faso, Puerto Rico and Tonga

After a short reading break during March, I’m continuing with WorldBookProject. It isn’t always easy, but most often very enjoyable to dive into a book = a new reality = a different way of seeing the world. This was definitely the case for the three books mentioned in this post.

104 Burkina Faso: Malidoma Patrice Somé – Of Water and Spirit: Ritual Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman

I was fascinated by the author’s autobiographical account of his initiation. It was very short, yet at the same time really intense (maybe also because he narrated the audiobook himself). His points about linguistic colonialism were of particular interest to me. I think what I liked most is his ambition to reconcile the ways of perceiving reality in different cultures.

105 Puerto Rico: Rosario Ferré – The House on the Lagoon: A Novel

This audiobook was well narrated by Silvia Sierra. It followed the story of a Puerto Rican family through the 20th century. It took me a while to get to grips with the enormous number of characters, but eventually I just went with the flow and enjoyed their experiences. It was equally exciting to learn about the local history, especially attempts to  gain either independence from the USA or statehood.

106 Tonga: Epeli Hau’ofa – Rückkehr durch die Hintertür (Tales of the Tikongs)

I haven’t read much of the Pacific yet, but what always seems to come up are these themes: abusive families, hypocritical clergy, and corruption (usually in connection with aid programmes). In this collection of short stories, all of this and more was beautifully wrapped in the cloak of jokes and satire. So, despite some sad and bleak events, I found myself laughing. I think this is a hallmark of good literature: it puts difficult occurrences into comprehensible and digestible language, so we can deal with the dark stuff on an emotional and a rational level.

Out in Oxford

For the time being, we’re in Britain, and last week we had a lovely day out in Oxford. Of course, the colleges in all their non-Cantabrian modesty (aka pomp) are always worth a visit, and this time we went to see Balliol (having been into Pembroke, Magdalen, and St Edmund’s before).

Balliol college oxfordPretty much all colleges sport some pretty or not so pretty gargoyles, and Balliol is no exception. They also seem to like rather long lunch breaks.

From the posh, we went to the more down-to-earth, but not less educational Pitt Rivers Museum. It must be one of the most crammed exhibitions, and I really like it. If you are in Oxford, don’t miss out on this one!

The English weather was merciful, so we could also stroll around Christchurch Meadow and along the river Isis (usually known as Thames). The cows were impressive, and to our surprise and delight we also saw the first hatchlings of the year.