Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke (tr. Liz Waters)

thirty days on kindle with cover as blue sky and single cloud

a nutshell: this layered novel imagines thirty days through the lens of Senegalese painter/decorator Alphonse, who glimpses the ‘interiors’ of his clients’ often chaotic lives in the Belgian countryside (the good and the very ugly)

a line: “And I don’t believe in hell. Not after death, anyhow.”

an image: at one point Alphone recalls his mother saying that everyone he’ll meet is a child, and the nicest people are those who are aware of it

a thought: this book took me an incredibly long time to read as I kept dipping in & out, perhaps because of the sheer quantity of things that happen in it – nonetheless Alphonse was one of the most likeable characters I’ve encountered in a long time

a fact: Verbeke is a Belgian writer who writes in Dutch, and this novel was chosen as the best Dutch-language novel of 2015 by readers of a Dutch newspaper

want to read Thirty Days? visit here

The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris by Leïla Marouane (tr. Alison Anderson)

a nutshell: sharing the possibly delusionary (?) perspective of an Algerian-born, Paris-based man who decides to leave his mother’s home in search of independence, this novel continually took me by surprise

a line: “A place where, he said to me, you have come to listen to me at last”

an image: I was particularly moved by a moment when the narrator recalls his mother describing how she gave up her education & independence to marry, according to her father’s wishes, and from then on devoted herself to raising & educating her children

a thought: I may be in the minority (at least, according to Goodreads…) but I found this book fascinating & totally entertaining – I loved the ambiguity that allowed me to come to my own conclusions about the narrator’s reliability/motives

a fact: born in 1960 in Djerba, Tunisia, to a family living in exile, Marouane then lived in Biskra until she was six and in Algiers until her exile to Paris in 1991

want to read The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris? visit here

Eve Out of her Ruins by Ananda Devi (tr. Jeffrey Zuckerman)

Eve Out of Her Ruins

a nutshell: this is a stunningly moving novel that sees four adolescent Mauritians (Eve, Savita, Saadiq & Clélio) narrate their struggle for survival in an impoverished neighbourhood of Port Louis, the capital

a line: “I read as if books could loosen the noose tightening around my throat. I read to understand that there is somewhere else. A dimension where possibilities shimmer”

an image: at one point, Saad remarks that poverty is the harshest of jailers – a particularly resonant image given the trajectory of the story

a thought: I was interested in the moment when a teacher tells Saadiq, in three different languages, that he owes it to himself to succeed – afterwards I learned that most Mauritians are very multilingual, which makes Zuckerman’s beautiful translation (of French sprinkled with Creole phrases & unfamiliar syntax) all the more admirable

a fact: the novel was brought to the screen as The Children of Troumaron (2012), which is now firmly on my watchlist!

want to read Eve Out of her Ruins? visit here

My Fathers’ Daughter by Hannah Pool

My father's daughter book with author on front and my cat in the background

a nutshell: adopted from an orphanage in Eritrea by white parents in 1974, Pool grew up in the UK under the assumption that she has no birth family – that is, until she receives a letter from a brother, leading her on a journey to reunite with them ten years later

a line: “It’s tattooed on your psyche: love is temporary”

an image: for me the most vividly interesting passages in the book were where Pool describes her visits to the family’s villages – the landscape, buildings, habits, festivities

a thought: in order to avoid spoilers, all I’ll say about p.115 is that it moved me to tears and I can’t imagine how Pool felt in that moment

a fact: while I usually share something I learned here, instead I want to share a few things I’d like to know – what was the response to this memoir in Eritrea? did the criticism of the government in Pool’s epilogue trigger any repercussions for her family? has she been back to Eritrea in the 15 years since the book’s publication?

want to read My Fathers’ Daughter? visit here

Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging by Tessa McWatt

a nutshell: this stunningly incisive memoir of identity by Guyanese-born, Canadian-raised, UK-residing author Tessa McWatt is a journey through body and time in attempt to answer the question of what – or rather – who am I?

a line: “Why does race exist? To do the accounting for who will have more and who will have less.”

IMG_5498an image: in her chapter ‘Hair’, McWatt is sceptical of the notion that Meghan Markle and Michelle Obama (both of who have ‘relaxed’/straightened hair) should be seen as straightforward icons of progress and compares their public image with the FBI’s ‘Wanted’ poster for Angela Davis – McWatt presciently disputes the idea that Prince Harry’s marriage demonstrates a new, non-racist Britain (Shame on Me was published before the UK’s rabid press essentially forced Markle to leave the country); with all this in mind, it’s worth noting the exasperating search results when I started to type in this book’s title >>>

Screenshot 2020-04-26 at 12.18.14

a thought: having reread Wide Sargasso Sea just last week, I was intrigued by McWatt’s evolving relationship with Jane Eyre & Antoinette/Bertha Mason – the way in which Jean Rhys’ story influenced how she thought about plantation dynamics and how she felt about the time spent by her grandfather (whose surname, coincidentally, was Eyre) in an asylum after a nervous breakdown in what was then British Guiana; McWatt reveals that pyschoanalysis allowed her to access both Jane and Bertha in a less divisive manner

a fact: it continues to sicken me that, as mentioned towards the end of Shame on Me, following the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 the UK Government paid out what was at the time 40% of its national budget to ‘compensate’ slave owners – huge sums of which the slaves never received a single pound and, on the contrary, many descendants of slaves paid for across nearly two centuries until this enormous debt was paid off in 2015

want to read Shame on Me? visit here

The Green Eyed Lama by Oyungerel Tsedevdamba and Jeffrey L Falt

a nutshell: beginning in 1938 and based on a true story, this novel follows a horrifying purge inflicted by Mongolia’s communist government under Soviet orders – intertwined with a complicated love story between a herdswoman and a lama

a line: “Believe me, ideas are far more powerful than guns and trucks”

an image: I was particularly moved by Davaa’s dream-state sequence as he goes to face his death – the green valley, tall meadow flowers, rainbows, his grandson, his daughter, and finally his beloved wife outside a white ger making milk-vodka

a thought: a lingering observation for me was an elderly herdswoman’s remark about the arbitrariness of borders while they were being forced to relocate after the military’s successful attack against the Japanese – the invisible lines demarcating one country from the next had been of no importance to her & her granddaughter until now

a fact: this was the first Mongolian novel to be published in the West, and the author writes that she had dreamt for years of writing the stories of her ancestors – the book ends with many pages listing those who were killed and the characters are in fact referred to by their real names

want to read The Green Eyed Lama? visit here

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

a nutshell: bringing to light the life of the ‘madwoman in the attic’ from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, this novella is set between Jamaica and Dominica in the 1830s

a line: “You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that’s obeah too.”

an image: I found Antoinette’s story of waking as a child to see two huge rats then falling back asleep in the moonlight of a full moon fantastically eerie; her da (nurse) was furious the next morning and as a reader it felt strangely moving when, years later, Antoinette asks her husband if he too believes she has slept too long in the moonlight

a thought: I enjoyed reading Francis Wyndham’s introduction to the first edition of  this 1966 novella and am curious about how Wyndham’s evident enthusiasm for Rhys’ work sensationally ‘resurrected’ the writer, who was presumed dead when she vanished for 20 years after Good Morning, Midnight (1939) was unsuccessful

a fact: born in Dominica’s capital (Roseau) in 1890 to a Welsh doctor and a Creole mother, Rhys spent her childhood there before moving to England where she spent the First World War – she wrote many books before coming to this one, and her letters show that she was obsessed by Brontë’s novel and haunted by the need to write about the first Mrs Rochester

want to read Wide Sargasso Sea? visit here

Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández

knitting the fog cover with misty path image, book on tile floor all in black and white

a nutshell: blending narrative personal essays and bilingual poetry, Hernández shares her matriarchal upbringing and her childhood journey from Guatemala to Los Angeles

a line: “Tía Soila has always been a breathing poem who knows how to climb the tallest tamarindo trees”

an image: the scene in which Hernández, her sisters & her mother are to cross the Río Bravo to make the leap from Mexico to the US is one of the most intensely memorable in the book, particularly the moment where one of the sisters worries aloud about their inability to swim and Hernández (“trying to be brave and hopeful”) reassures her that she’ll rescue her

a thought: her mother’s physical violence towards others and corporal punishments on the girls for any misbehaviour made for discomfiting reading; Hernández’s explanation of what her mother had endured earlier in life was telling, but not excusing, nevertheless the writer expresses gratitude in the Acknowledgements for her mother’s courage & sacrifices

a fact: languages & accents play a big role in Hernández’s story about coming of age, and I learned that Guatemala has more than twenty Mayan & distinct indigenous languages

want to read Knitting the Fog? visit here

The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli (tr. Kristina Cordero)

Blue spine of book with title and author, blank red cover, yellow brick wall in background

a nutshell: subtitled ‘A Memoir of Love and War’, this is a stunningly rich remembrance of an acclaimed Nicaraguan writer’s involvement in the Sandinista Revolution and how she came to age as a passionate feminist in & out of exile

a line: “I couldn’t go on living if I didn’t believe in the creative powers of the human imagination”

an image: on returning to Managua after a heart-rending medical procedure in NYC, Belli presses her forehead to the plane window and realises the runway is beautifully lit by oil lamps – since recent storms had wreaked havoc, they had relied on these with the hope it wouldn’t rain

a thought: Belli’s account certainly made me reflect on social responsibility & collective joy – esp. as my partner is currently reading Lynne Segal’s Radical Happiness – but I never quite pinpointed whether her primary source of joy is herself or collaboration (sometimes she singles out the former as the key to happiness, other times the latter)

a fact: Belli’s most well-known book, The Inhabited Woman, is a semi-autobiographical novel which raised gender issues for the first time in the Nicaraguan revolutionary narratives, yet she considers herself a poet before all else

want to read The Country Under My Skin? visit here

Tentative by Anna Leader

cat and ebook

a nutshell: set in Paris but sprawling across Central Europe, this teen fiction (written by a Luxembourger teenager) follows a young girl whose heart is pulled in different directions

a line: “Or did you develop a tolerance for sadness, like a drug, and need larger and larger doses to produce the same effect?”

an image: there were many reminders of my adolescence in this novel, with some poignant chapters in which the main character immersed herself in books (& berries) to escape teen turmoil

a thought: it was so refreshing to read a book with a happy ending – I hadn’t realised how much I needed to dip into this unrefined yet enjoyable book

a fact: aged 16 when she wrote this, Leader is the youngest author I’ve read so far for this project – this is her first (semi-autobiographical) novel

want to read Tentative? visit here