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!

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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.

Germany – Bus 666 to Colditz

Having left Slovakia, we spent a few days in Thuringia to visit family. Someone had the good idea of going on a day trip, and because neither of us had been to Colditz before, we decided to go there. They have a website (http://www.schloss-colditz.com/index.html), but no information how exactly to get there. So, while we were driving into what we thought as the right direction, a public bus headed towards us, labelled ‘666 Colditz’. Uh-oh.

Well, we eventually arrived. There was a diversion, and signposting towards Colditz town or Colditz castle was much sparser than I had anticipated, given how important the place is, especially for British tourists. For the uninitiated: Colditz was an Oflag during World War II, and most of the PoWs were British. Having said that, there were also substantial numbers of Polish, French and Belgian prisoners.

This is what the castle looks like these days:

One can go on guided tours, where there’s a lot to be discovered, but we only went to the permanent museum and the special exhibition. The latter was about the role of Poland during WWII, in particular Polish resistance and prisoners at Colditz.

Have a look at this poem:poem

‘Kriegsgefangenenpost’ means ‘post for prisoners of war’. We saw more of that in the permanent exhibition.post

The major part of this bit of the museum was about all the ways of escaping from Colditz. If you’ve ever watched a film called ‘The Great Escape’ – that did not happen at Colditz, but lots of similar stories did. I was amazed to learn that people escaped from this prison in the middle of Germany and made it through enemy country all the way to Britain or Allied territory! And Colditz today looks probably nicer than in the 1940s …colditz view

Of course, there was also some birding to be had, both inside and outside the castle.

All in all, if you’re in Saxony or Thuringia, and don’t know what to do, Colditz castle is certainly worth a couple of hours. There’s plenty of information available in English. And if you don’t have your own transport, you might actually get a chance to go by bus 666. Reward yourself afterwards with a home-brewed glass of beer in the pub Waldhof (on the western main road towards the town of Bad Lausick, closed Mondays and Tuesdays). Prost.beer

Wrocław – Animals

Wrocław, which we visited in mid-November, turned out to be full of creatures of all kinds, not only tourists. The beasts appeared in many forms, a selection of which follows here.

There’s plenty of beer to be had, and there are allegedly some bears roaming the forests. I can confirm many a gull flying around.

Wrocław is also home to a magnificent zoo. There they have real rhinos.

After WWII, Wrocław lay in ruins, but it has been rebuilt wonderfully. Buildings in the centre are marked with plaques in Polish, English, and sometimes German which inform about the building’s history and also the people who lived and/or worked there. Animalic decoration abounds.

The place is steeped in history and features lots of statues. And it came as a lovely surprise to find a memorial to all the slaughtered & eaten animals.animal-memorial

The only other place I’ve seen something vaguely similar is London – the memorial to the animals which died in wars.

Wrocław also used to have the third-biggest Jewish community in Germany before WWII. So, there are two Jewish cemeteries in town. We visited the older one, and found many birds, a stone butterfly and an agile cat.

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.