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 – 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 – 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.

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.