Hello out there! I’ve been quiet for quite some time haven’t I? And I have so much to tell! Mostly that seeing as it’s been two almost three months since my last post I have three new countries to talk about so here goes….
First: a confession. It turns out that my knowledge of world geography and the politics thereof is not quite up to scratch. In May I decided to read a book from the Faroe Islands which apparently are NOT a country. They are in fact an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark (located, in case you, like me, are not quite up to speed, in the Norwegian Sea between Scotland and Iceland).
But they have their own language (Faroese which bears heavy similarities to Danish), culture and history so as far as I’m concerned they can count as an entry on my world reading challenge. And it’s got nothing at all to do with the fact that I bought a Faroese book before looking up their politics.
This book was: The Old Man and His Sons (Feðgar á ferð) by Heðin Brú which was first published in 1940 in the author’s native Faroese and was chosen by the Faroese people as their “Book of the twentieth century”.
It’s a touching tale of one man and his wife’s struggle to clear a huge debt that he incurs when he gets overexcited after a whale hunt.
Ketil and his wife belong to a generation who are becoming outdated and ridiculed by their more modern children as the values they lived by are fast disappearing. But Ketil remains true to himself throughout his hardship and makes do in the only way he’s ever known. Ketil and his wife were a lovely couple and it was awful to see the way his “modern” children treated them. It was a really interesting book as it showed both the modern and traditional side to the Faroese people and reflected how fast change can happen, leaving a trail of the less adaptable in its wake. Something which is as true here as it is in the remoter parts of the world.
A word of warning though – any animal lovers may want to skip the first chapter, the whale-hunting scenes were hard to stomach!
June took me far away to the Arabian Kingdom of Jordan and a book called Willow Trees Don’t Weep by Fadia Faqir. Another tale of family relationships and their cultural importance, alas Willow Trees Don’t Weep did very little for me.
It’s the story of Najwa whose father left when she was a toddler and whose mother has recently passed away. Left with only her ailing grandmother, Najwa is forced to set off into the unknown to find her father as Jordan’s strict Islamic society forbids a young woman from living alone. An excellent premise but unfortunately very poorly executed.
Nothing in this book felt real. The characters were one-dimensional and wooden, the conversation stilted and the action very, very flat. It took me 10 days to read under 300 pages, a number I can usually get through in less than a week. There were days I just couldn’t face reading this book it was so bad! And it’s such a shame because the subject matter was interesting, and the twists that came as Najwa uncovered her father’s troubled life should have been captivating but it was just too badly written.
And so onwards to July. I bought all three of these books at the same time but I saved this one for last as it sounded the most interesting. This was my Angolan offering: The Book of Chameleons (O Vendedor de Passados which actually translates to The Seller of Pasts) by José Eduardo Agualusa.
The Book of Chameleons chronicles an eventful period in the life of one Félix Ventura, an albino Angolan who makes his living by creating pasts for those who’d rather forget theirs. One night a foreigner arrives at Ventura’s house and a few weeks later he leaves as the Angolan José Buchmann. The consequences of this change in identity play out over the next few months, the whole thing story being told in Ventura’s living room and being relayed to us through the voice of the gecko who is Ventura’s best friend and rarely misses any of the action.
In contrast to last months offering, I zipped through my Angolan choice, the writing was poetical at times, funny at others and the mystery at the heart of the novel was so intriguing that I couldn’t wait to turn the next page. But for all that it’s a very gentle book, in essence it’s a conversation between two old men who are musing on their pasts and the philosophy of memory which makes for a slightly slower pace than might be expected.
So it’s been an interesting clutch of books but how’s that affected the graphs? Let’s take a look shall we?