WorldBookProject – Dipping into Corvids, History, and Art

The eagle-eyed among you might already have noticed that there’s a new feature on the blog: reading through the ages. Of course, WorldBookProject is still going on, but I’ve only just over 100 books / places left to read. Hence my idea of doing something really long-term once I’ve read all the territories on my list. For now, here are the books I’ve read for WBP in the second half of August.

144 First Nations: Joanne Arnott – the family of crow

Long-standing readers of this blog will be aware that I love birds, and corvids are a particular favourite of mine. So it’ll come as no surprise that I was happy to come across this neat collection of crow-related poems and art. It describes the life cycle of the birds in an artistic way and builds bridges that reach as far as Ancient China (http://www.chinese-poems.com/lb13.html). A gem.

145 Jordan: Suleiman Mousa – T.E. Lawrence: An Arab View

If you have a larger-than-life figure like Lawrence, it is really tricky to get through all the layers of legend (or lies) down to what might be called reality. The book did so when it came to all the battles and skirmishes (where Lawrence apparently managed to shoot his camel and knock himself unconscious). However, I still feel no connection to the person behind the sagas. But I do have the feeling that this book makes a better attempt to unravel the mystery than any try from Hollywood.

146 Qatar:  Sophia Al-Maria – Fresh Hell

Hm. Well. I don’t really know … This book was odd. Double pages where women spread their legs, followed by an artist explaining why this wasn’t pornography, were then followed by a poignant account of the horrors of the First Gulf War. Several of the essays and visual expressions connected the topic of oil, and the environmental and social disasters it brought with it. I’m not a very ‘arty’ person, but I agree that ‘survival is not sufficient‘ – and this book fits the bill.

 

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WorldBookProject – Read Women and Women in Translation

About a year and a half ago, when I started my project to read the world, I had no idea about the imbalance in the translation of non-anglophone female/male writers.  Or indeed the imbalance between published male/female anglophone authors. Then I came across this blog post https://womenintranslation.com/ 58 and decided to look into my own reading habits. Since then I’ve tried to read an equal number of books by male and female authors (I have yet to find an author who identifies as non-binary).

So, how am I doing? Out of the 143 books I’ve read so far there were 58 books written by women (40%), 10 have mixed authorship (6%), and there was one book were the authors were unknown. That makes me look a lot better than the anglophone publishing industry, but there’s still some room for improvement.

141 Guadeloupe: Maryse Condé – I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem

This.Is.Mindblowingly.Good. It is also brutal, painful, and violent. The main themes are misogyny, racism, and religious hypocrisy. Still, I was drawn into the main character’s life and it was difficult to let go. I’ve since read another short story by the same author, and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading much more by her.

142 Philippines: Jessica Hagedorn (ed) – Manila Noir

I listened to these short stories as an audiobook. They were read by Tez Bois and Ramon De Ocampo. Both did a good job and made the gruesome stories come to life. Again, this was a book with a lot of (sexual) violence in it. However, and I think this is a hallmark of good short stories, they mostly had a really surprising twist. Quite a number also figured transgender characters, which was interesting.

143 Swaziland: Sarah Mkhonza – What the Future Holds

I really like a character in a story who does something not in line with tradition and gets away with it. This is not giving away the denouement – we as readers know this from the first chapter of this book. Which also might have not been the best idea on the part of the writer, but maybe this is because it’s a debut novel. Anyway, seeing the main character grow and grow up and fight for her identity and place in life made me really root for her. Again, this is another writer to explore further.

WorldBookProject – Revolution, Archaeology and Pain

First of all, August is coming – and August is #WITmonth. That’s #womenintranslation for the uninitiated, and I’m planning to participate and to read translated books by female authors. Of course, I’ll try to choose books from places which #WorldBookProject hasn’t covered yet.

On matters closer at hand, this post deals with more books from or about dependent territories and issues stemming from colonialism. Since I’m probably not the only one who is mildly geographically challenged, here’s the quick explainer: the Cocos Islands are a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean, Guam is a territory of the USA in the Pacific Ocean, and the Republic of Guinea is a West-African country and not to be confused with Guinea-Bisseau or Equatorial Guinea.

138  Cocos (Keeling) Islands: Pat Linford – The Coconut Revolution

I found this book a typical self-published oddity. It dealt with the author and her husband’s experience during the transfer of the islands from a British colonial system to Australia. The self-proclaimed king and his dynasty of Scottish-Malay ancestry, the family Clunies-Ross, featured heavily. There were lots of typos and grammatical errors which took the joy out of reading.

139 Guam: Mike T. Carson – Guam’s hidden gem: archaeological and historical studies at Ritidian

Yes, this was a gem. Imagine you’re the poor sod who has to shift excavated soil from 77 holes, each at least 1m³, through a 1mm mesh. Reading academic articles can actually be fascinating (or a bit masochistic) when you come to the methodology. I learned about Near and Remote Oceania, the brutal deaths of missionaries and how the archaeologists work together with environmental agencies to protect the Guam National Wildlife Refuge.

140 Guinea: Tierno Monénembo – The Bush Toads

This is in all likelihood one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read, but it’s also very well crafted. The pain, anger, fear and hate the characters felt came truly to live. That made it also rather difficult to read, but then I didn’t set out to read around the world to make life easier. It’s definitely an author I’d love to explore further (this was his first book, published almost 40 years ago), and if you want to read it – there’s a ray of sunshine at the end.

WorldBookProject – Yet more island cruising

WorldBookProject is still visiting some overseas territories, dependencies and territories which are claimed or contested. A lot of these places are not permanently inhabited, but provide space for a research station or a military outpost. In other territories the number of inhabitants is so small that nobody has as yet put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and written a book. That’s the reason why many of the books I’ve read to represent these places were written by authors from somewhere else.

133 Bouvet Island:  Geoffrey Jenkins –  A Grue of Ice

This felt a bit like James Bond goes Antarctica. The characters were clear-cut into good guys and baddies and thus utterly boring. However, the scenery provided by icebergs and glaciers was stunning, I had a chance to brush up on inorganic chemistry in a fun way, and there were some pretty good action scenes.

134 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: Alice Joseph and Veronica F. Murray – Chamorros and Carolinians of Saipan: Personality Studies

At the beginning of the 1950s, the two authors wrote up their psychological explorations of the people of Saipan. If you’re interested in Rorschach, Bender gestalt or IQ tests, this book is for you. I have to admit that I find all this a bit dodgy, but then I’m not a psychologist. For me, it was most interesting to learn that the islands were under German occupation at the beginning of the 20th century. Compared to the Spanish rule before and the Japanese and American after, people told the authors that they were pining for the good old days under the Kaiser.

135 Jan Mayen: Johannes Lid and Dagny Tande Lid – The flora of Jan Mayen

20 years ago, when I had just failed abysmally badly in a botany exam at uni who would have thought that one day I would read a book about botany? Certainly not me. However, going down memory lane with this piece of writing was quite fun. Most impressive however, was the author’s determination not to translate any of the quotes he used in the text. Hence, this book came in English, German, French, Latin, and Norwegian. I dealt more or less successfully with four of the languages, but had to give up on the Latin parts.

136 Overseas Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon: William F. Rannie  – Saint Pierre and Miquelon

This was a very good overview of what is a group of islands near Canada, but actually part of France proper. Most interesting fact: During Prohibition, the islands were THE hub for liquor trade or smuggling, depending on your perspective.

137 Territory of Christmas Island: Margaret Neale – We were the Christmas Islanders

The author collected people’s memories of living on the island, which was usually only a few years. People from China or Malaysia would work in phosphate mining, white people (usually British) ruled. After the island became Australian, things changed extremely slowly, while racism and discrimination were rife. The silver lining: the annual crab migration.

 

 

WorldBookProject – Island Hopping

WorldBookProject has taken me to many unexpected places, but this time I went to some extraordinary corners of the world. I had some kind of map with me almost all the time while reading these books. Quick overview: Guernsey is in the Channel (between France and Great Britain), the French Southern Lands are also known as the Crozet Islands and  Kerguelen Islands in the Southern Ocean south of the Indian Ocean, Heard Island is just around the corner from there, and Mauritius is in the Indian Ocean.

Many thanks to Aran and her friends from Slovakia who organised the Mauritius book for me.

129 Bailiwick of Guernsey: Diana Bachmann –  A Sound like Thunder

Generally, I like reading historical fiction, and a book set around 1930 to 1945 should make for a gripping/haunting read. Unfortunately, this one didn’t quite deliver to my mind. I found the characters way too stereotypical and the plot too soap-opera-like. Having said that, I thought the author managed very well to convey the feeling of utter despair people on the island must have felt after the Allied landing in Normandy  when Guernsey was left in Nazi-German hands for another year. The book is the first part of a trilogy.

130 French Southern and Antarctic Lands: H.W. Tilman – Mischief among the penguins

Mischief, who would have thought, was the name of a sailing ship, and the author its skipper. Together with a handful of male companions (women were not allowed) they sailed from England to the Kerguelen islands and back. I learned a lot of sailing vocabulary, but I still don’t know really what a gybe is (only that it’s bad). I don’t like people who slaughter penguins, but the sailors’ sense of adventure was brilliant. And I unexpectedly met the skipper again in book 132.

131 Mauritius: Ramesh Ramdoyal – Tales from Mauritius 

The stories offered insights into the lives of the communities of fishermen and their families, and also some background on the island’s history, such as slavery. With most of them, you could always see an invisible finger telling you how to behave. It was rather moralising at times. However, a lot of the tales had an unexpected creepy twist or a funny bit, which reminded me somewhat of Roald Dahl’s stories. There’s a second part, More Tales from Mauritius, which I’ll read in good time.

132 Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands: Philip Temple – The Sea And The Snow: How we reached and climbed a volcano at the ends of the Earth

Like book 130, this was the account of an expedition, and as mentioned above, the skipper was the same, albeit on a different ship. This time, the blokes (again, no women) went to Heard Island to climb the local volcano. It was impressive to read how they dealt with all that Antarctic nature threw at them. Less impressed was I by their careless attitude towards the environment, something the author acknowledged in the 50th anniversary edition which I read. I really liked the openness and honesty of the writer – how people behaved and how they dealt with the psychological stress on top of the physical exhaustion. And I think this must have been the very first expedition I read about which contained descriptions of relieving yourself overboard or in freezing conditions on a mountain slope.

 

WorldBookProject – It’s Half Time!

Yep, reason to celebrate: I’ve read half of the books I set out to read in this project. So many wonderful discoveries in all those countries and territories – there are plenty of places I want to explore further, as well as many more authors whose books are all waiting to be read. In this post, we’re doing a bit more island hopping throughout the Atlantic and the Pacific. Many thanks to the Star-Wars-fan in the Balfour Library who used his Librarian Superpowers to find a misplaced book and to Ian Alexander for providing me with choices for Malta.

123 Jamaica: Erna Brodber – Jane and Louisa will soon come home

Hm. Who are Jane and Louisa? Why did they leave? Where to? Why do they want to / have to come home? I have no idea.

124 Malta: Stephen C. Spiteri – The Great Siege: Knights vs Turks MDLXV Anatomy of a Hospitaller Victory

That book could easily have been used as a brick in one of the forts under siege. The chapters about weapons and armor were not so exciting for me. However, I found it fascinating and was horrified by the human interest side of things. Seems to me that people haven’t changed that much – religion is still used as a smokescreen for ambition and power.

125 Niue: John Pule and Nicolas Thomas –  Hiapo: Past and present in Niuean barkcloth

A poet and an anthropologist write about an almost forgotten form of art. What a little treasure this book was! I shall walk through museums or exhibitions about the Pacific with new eyes.

126 Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha: D.M. Booy – Rock of Exile: A Narrative of Tristan da Cunha

Books or actually any reading materials from this British overseas territory are few and far between. I was glad I found this account of a soldier in a far-flung outpost during WWII. It was very much of its time – dominance of men, and specifically men from the British Empire. However, I liked to learn a bit about the local dialect of Tristan da Cunha: ‘Don’t cruelize the cat.’ is something you don’t hear everyday (luckily, for the cat!).

127 Svalbard: Ajahn Amaro – The hush at the end of the world: a pilgrimage to the Arctic wilderness

This book is a tale of what happens when three Buddhist monks go on a ritual journey North – not much, and that very peacefully. I loved how their calm and the silence of the places they visited came to life through the pages.

128 Tokelau: by different people or by groups of people for whom one person acted as a scribe – Matagi Tokelau: history and traditions of Tokelau

Finding written literature from cultures with an oral tradition is always a bit tricky. So I was glad that I stumbled across this collection by unknown authors while looking for something else. Most interesting and also terrifying was what is in all likelihood one of the earliest accounts of the effects of rising levels due to climate change: a flood, in 1987.

WorldBookProject – Eritrea, Turks and Caicos, South Georgia and Uganda

Here come four very different additions to WorldBookProject. Many thanks to Ilana Benady who suggested more Caribbean writers.

119 Eritrea: Helen Berhane with Emma Newrick – Song of the Nightingale: One woman’s dramatic story of faith and persecution in Eritrea

This book is a short and deeply disturbing autobiography. It mainly deals with the author’s horrific experiences in an Eritrean prison. It was impressive how her religion helped her through those times, but I also have to say that such fanaticism (in this case some kind of Christian belief) makes me rather uncomfortable. I have very little patience for proselytising, and this book had way too much for my taste.

120 South Georgia & Sandwich Islands: Royal Anglian South Georgia Expedition 1991 – Royal Anglian South Georgia Expedition

When some grown-up boys are going on an adventure … and end up in snow caves and on rations – this could also have been the title of the expedition. Having been to South Georgia myself, I mightily enjoyed reading this report, especially the part of the canoeing team. My respect to the expedition member who was on quarter rations and refused to eat freshly slaughtered penguin. Hero material!

121 Turks and Caicos:  Amelia Smithers – The Turks and Caicos Islands: lands of discovery

It was really tricky to find something other than a map or a government report for this British overseas territory, even within the extensive collections of the Bodleian libraries. So I opted for this kind of guidebook, but I couldn’t find any information about the author (and that’s quite a feat these days). The book was from the early 1990s, and it was brilliant to read about movements to protect the environment of the islands, in particular from too much tourism.

122 Uganda: Doreen Baingana – Tropical Fish

I found this collection of coming-of-age stories totally gripping. The questions it raised about identity and how it is sometimes forced upon us by our environment really struck a chord. I also liked the change of perspective between the three sisters the stories were about. Highly recommended!