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 – 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.

November Blues

WorldBookProject continues. Here are some thoughts about four books by women writers.

76 Belgium: Marguerite Yourcenar – Ich zähmte die Wölfin: Die Erinnerungen des Kaisers Hadrian (Mémoirs d’Hadrian)

It was fascinating to learn about some of the history of the Roman Empire as seen through the author’s eyes. However, the awfully convoluted sentences and antiquated vocabulary took the joy out of the reading experience a bit too often.

77 Guyana: Oonya Kempadoo – Buxton Spice

The book didn’t impress me. Growing up in 1970s Guyana must have meant sex, violence and a combination thereof. On top of that, I found the usage of written dialect rather tiring. Maybe listening to this as an audiobook might make me feel different about it – I like guessing dialects both in English and German, but dislike reading them in either language.

78 Lithuania: Jurga Ivanauskaitė – Placebo

The best thing about this book was the plot device of a cat talking to the ghost of the deceased character. Very often, the author steered on the funny and ironic side of things. But every now and then she crossed the line with a sledgehammer to wage war against consumerism and other vices of contemporary Lithuania. I could connect to the changes people experienced after the revolution, having lived through something similar myself.

79 Mexico: Carmen Boullosa – They’re Cows, We’re Pigs

We’re a few hundred years ago, on Tortuga. Forget about pirates sailing the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean. The story, very well narrated by Ron Butler, describes the falling apart of a human being because of the cruelty and violence he’s subjected to himself and has to/ chooses to inflict on others. If one were to transfer the ideas of the main character into the now, I think it’d be fair to say that pretty much every soldier on this planet is a piece of broken flesh, and the same goes for their victims. This was a powerful book, and extremely hard to stomach.