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 – 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.

 

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.