A Guest Post by Alexandra George
It took me a shamefully long time to start reading The Kite Runner - the book came out in 2003, and I only read it this week. However, once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down.
The Kite Runner is a beautifully written story, about a young boy growing up in Afghanistan. Long days are spent playing with his servant: climbing trees, picking fruit, and participating in kite fighting tournaments. The first part of the book gives us a good picture of the life of an affluent family in pre-soviet Afghanistan - lavish parties, nice clothes and bicycles, travel, and education. From there, the story take us from the fall of Afghanistan's monarchy, through the Soviet military intervention, and finally to the rise of the Taliban regime.
Country: Saudi Arabia
Girls of Riyadh intrigued me precisely because of its title – girls in Riyadh are never spoken of, never written of, and therefore it was immensely appealing to gain some perspective on a world that is never really discussed.
As a summer read, it checks many boxes and it is an engaging page turner.
This week we will take a short look at four fantastic nonfiction books.
1.) A Thousand Sisters – Lisa Shannon
2.) In Search of Hope – The Global Diaries of Mariane Pearl.
3.) I Live Here – Mia Kirshner, J.B.MacKinnon, Paul Shoebridge, Michael Simons
4.) King Peggy – Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman
Country: United States
Bonaventure Arrow is born out of tragic circumstance, yet is perfectly healthy, gifted even, but lacks the ability to make a sound. And yet, he hears everything. Not just conversations and household noises, but the secrets contained in boxes, in stones, in his own backyard and across town.
Bonaventure is a charming yet mysterious child and he is at the centre of several tangled tales. The grief of his single mother. The lingering sorrow of his father’s mother, and the magnetic draw of her chapel. The once-handsome man now locked in an insane asylum. And the life of Trinidad, the only person who seems to share and understand his gift, whose own life has been a dramatic and intriguing saga.
In a fictional community at the southwestern tip of Australia, we meet Tom, a lighthouse keeper and WWI veteran who is haunted by the trauma of war, and Isabel, a lively, bold, adventurous young women who has a comfortable life in town.
An unlikely courtship brings the two together and when Tom takes a posting as a the lighthouse keeper of Janus Island - little more than a rock in the middle of the ocean. Marriage to Isabel soon follows, and the population of Janus island doubles overnight.
As a lighthouse keeper, Tom takes comfort in the routine, regularity, and rules of his trade and is meticulous in his work. Isabel, more surprisingly also easily takes to life at the lighthouse, bringing a lively sense of home to their isolated, remote abode.
Countries: Canada, United States
In honour of Black History Month, I have selected a book that was an absolute favourite of my childhood and is both appropriate for preteens / teenagers and will be enjoyed by adults alike: Underground to Canada.
When the central character, Julily, is separated from her mother and sent to work on a brutal slave plantation, she survives in part by forming a strong friendship by another young girl in equally distressing circumstances, Liza. Together, their lasting friendship is more than just a social bond: it is the key to their survival. Julily helps Liza with the backbreaking work, and Liza provides encouragement and relief with her wry sense of humor.
This would be a great book for a girl to leaf through no matter where she is in the world.
Since starting my weekly review of novels that inspire travel, I have looked at several works with high critical acclaim. One of them, 419, is a major award winner. This week, however, I'm taking a slightly different approach. Don't be concerned - this week's book is still well written and well thought out. It's just that, well, I'm almost afraid to say it, but this selection nearly falls into the category of "chick-lit"!!
It's no Bridget Jones' Diary I read, but rather Gaile Parkin's charming and delightful "Baking Cakes in Kigali".
Our central character, Angel, is a busy, mother-hen type of figure. A talented baker and cake decorator, as well as a savvy business woman, she decided the time is right to move to Kigali and set up a cakes-to-order business. She reasons that as Rwanda moves past their sad history of genocide, there will be much personal and political celebration.
Countries: Second World War Era Germany
One of the first anti-Nazi books to be published in Germany, it`s hard to believe that this book wasn't translated to English until 2009.
When you think of a tortured artistic soul, it`s hard to think of a more apt illustration than German writer Hans Fallada. His short life was a struggle. Marked by grief, addiction, suicide attempts, illness, isolation, crime, pain, and being committed to a Nazi insane asylum, he still managed to produce several masterpieces, including my favourite Every Man Dies Alone, which was written in 24 days and published just one week before Fallada`s death.
Inspired by the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel, the novel follows the life of Otto and Anna, a simple, unassuming, hardworking couple who live in a Berlin apartment building filled with interesting characters. The death of their only son in WWII war sets about a spiraling chain of events as Otto and Anna launch an unlikely clandestine campaign, a kind of civil disobedience, to undermine the Nazi authorities.
Primary setting: Guernsey Island. Secondary settings: London, Bath, Northern France.
World War II has just ended and all of Britain is picking up the pieces of their shattered lives, including our central character, Juliet, a London newspaper columnist, whose humourous work was a point of comic relief for many during the dark times of the war. By curious chance she falls into correspondence with the members of the The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society. Guernsey, the sole part of Britain occupied by German forces during WWII, suffers even more darkly than London, and the trials and tribulations of the islanders is slowly revealed in their correspondence with Juliet. Among the society members are Dawsey, the quiet farmer who's as steady as a rock, unflappable Isola - who makes for a good amateur detective, Will - a dubious cook who nevertheless invents the title pie, and Booker - the valet turned nobleman with a passion of wine. Central to the story, however, are courageous, loyal, plucky Elizabeth and her precocious, ferret loving daughter Kit. The literary society was sprung from necessity by a quick witted Elizabeth when she was pressed for an alibi by the Germans, but it soon developed into a lifeline of friendship and survival for the lonely isolated, and frightened Guernsey residents
The story is compelling and often very humourous - I loved the scene of recycling a pig corpse to foil the Germans - with poignant stories of heartbreak woven throughout that highlight just how very much was lost by so many. Just like Juliet, the reader will be captivated by the Guernsey Islanders for their unflinching honesty, steadfast loyalty, and cheerful courage. Despite the heavy subject matter, the book manages to be lighthearted and good humoured throughout and it is hard to put it down once you start reading it. While it may be perhaps characterized more as a "woman's" novel, I think it would also appeal to male readers for the great writing, sharp humour, and insight into a rarely heard chapter of WWII history. A rare example of a modern poly-logic epistolary novel, it took me a few minutes to get into the rhythms of reading the characters' letters but very soon I wasn't even conscious of their correspondence as the letters melted away and the story took hold.
Would this book make me want to travel to Guernsey - absolutely! The island is portrayed with beauty, charm, and character, from the harbourfront to the cottages and the residents are given even higher praise. This would make for a perfect read for anyone travelling to that area and any reader would be hard pressed not to fall in love with Guernsey.
You can check out your local bookstore for a copy, or get this book from my Amazon store.
Countries: Nigeria as primary, Canada as secondary
Will Ferguson, primarily a humourous travel writer, seemed a fitting choice for my first book review of 2013. Throughout the year, I'm going to write a review for every novel I read that is set in another country - I like the idea of how a book can inspire a trip and vice versa, and a great read can help bridge the quiet days between great escapes.
419 can be described in one word: rich. The words are lush and juicy, the narrative smooth and flowing. The descriptions of Nigeria are incredible - Ferguson does an amazing job covering the country as he covers the lives of his characters. Tribes, ethnicities, alliances, boundaries - he steers the reader from the oil rich Delta into the pale, stinging dust of the dessert, and back around to the putrid chaos of Lagos with ease. This is a proper book: great characters, vivid settings, the stories staying in your head long after you are done. A work most deserving of the Giller Prize - Canada's highest literary honor.