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.