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.

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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 – 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.

Venice – The Signs

Last December, we went to Venice for a handful of days. Being a language teacher, I suffer from that Berufskrankheit to look for odd bits and bobs of language, and I certainly found them.

For instance, weird places to live in:

sign-8Ok, I admit, my ignorance of Italian is probably the biggest issue here.

But there were also some surprises when it came to the inhabitants of such places.

sign-7A family of Jedi, fine. A family of galaxies? Or robots? Or …? Hm. Anyway, they have their day-to-day struggles to deal with and to make them visible to the many tourists.

sign-6 sign-5I hope their protests are successful. And I also hope, that all those numpties with their selfie-sticks will find their [heavily censored].sign-4

On a slightly more mundane note, there are also the usual lost-in-translation signs. This is something I’m not keen on trying:

sign-3And those two inside a museum and quite far away from any bathroom left me completely baffled. Please leave a comment if you can figure out what the unsuspecting visitor is supposed to be doing.sign-1 sign-2

WorldBookProject – Up to 100

In my quest (and at times it really feels like one), I’ve reached a first big milestone. So far, I’ve read books from 100 countries or territories. 43 were written by female authors, 5 had mixed authors, and 52 were written by men.

I’ve also read some books from countries which I’ve already covered. Most notable here is Alix Christie’s Gutenberg’s Apprentice. Even if you’re only vaguely interested in books, how to produce them and the history behind it, this one is for you. And if not, it’s still a great read as a piece of historical fiction.

98 Antigua and Barbuda: Jamaica Kincaid – The Autobiography of My Mother

Great to be back in the Caribbean. And also great to listen to another audiobook read by Robin Miles (the first one was my choice for Somalia). I found the story engrossing and at times enchanting. The main character was very sensual, at times quite saucy, and her descriptions of the physical world made her surroundings really come to life. The bitter-sweet denouement made for a perfect ending.

99 Lebanon: Hanan al-Shayk – Beirut Blues

Firstly, many thanks to my Arabic teacher Zuzka for recommending me the author. I’m just afraid I chose the wrong book here. It sounded intriguing to read a book of letters from war-torn Lebanon to different people, to the Country or to the War. But I couldn’t connect with the writer of those letters, the addressees or any other character, for that matter. I think I’ll try one of the non-fiction/autobiographical books by the author. They seem to be quite different.

100 Macedonia: Lidija Dimkovska – Do Not Awaken Them With Hammers

And it was time for some poetry. What I enjoyed most about the poems was the author’s sense of humor, which was at times quite cynical. It left me with the reassuring feeling that I’m not the only one who finds modern life a bit confusing every now and then.

WorldBookProject – (Not so) Fresh from the Shelf

91 Chile: Isabel Allende – Das Geisterhaus

‘The House of Spirits’ had lived on my shelf since my last year at uni, my first uni that is. Having read it now, more than 15 years later, I think it was rather good that I let the book lie there and wait. Back then, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated the grotesque characters who can communicate with spirits. What’s more, it’s likely that all the political implications would have gone straight over my head. Whereas now, I just loved it and devoured the 500 pages within a couple of days.

92 Faroe Islands: Heðin Brú – Ketil und die Wale

Here’s another book that came from a shelf where it had been living forever, in this case from my dad’s. ‘The Old Man and his Sons’ was short. Nevertheless, I thought it was a marvellous introduction to what life was like on the Faroe Islands in the early or mid-twentieth century. It also reminded me of the book I read for the Basque Country in a way that the story was set in a small contained space, but expressed sentiments which ring true for any community of humans. Interestingly, the book was selected ‘Book of the twentieth century by the Faroese.’

93 Laos: Outhine Bounyavong – Mother’s Beloved

To continue the shelf-motive, this book came from my husband’s shelf were it had hibernated for at least a decade. It’s a collection of short stories. So, as so very often happens with this kind of book, I liked some better (especially the ones with an environmental touch) than others (which crossed the line into communist propaganda from my point of view). All in all, the book offered a glimpse into rural and urban life in Laos and how it developed over the years.

94 Lesotho: Mpho ‘M’atsepo Nthunya – Singing Away the Hunger: Stories of a life in Lesotho

Now, this is a book that I got from a second-hand seller off the internet. And guess what, it came with an autograph by the author, what a lovely surprise! The stories in the book encapsulated all aspects of life with all its ups and downs. Although the author is not a professional writer, her way of narrating was gripping and I really enjoyed reading about her life. I think that the editor, K Limakatso Kendall, had a brilliant idea when she helped Nthunya publishing her book.