Tuesday, June 28, 2011

reading around the world (update)

As I wrote back in January, one of my challenges to myself this year was to read a book from every continent (author's nationality + setting of book + language originally published in must all be from the same country in that continent, although I will read them in English). Since we're now almost halfway through the year, it seems like a good time to report on my progress. I'm actually quite pleased with my progress, but not quite finished with this challenge yet. Here's what I've read so far:

Africa: Song for Night by Chris Abani (Nigeria). On the recommendation of my friend Duncan. While all the reviews for this say it's set in 'an unknown country in Africa', the tribes mentioned in the book are both from around Nigeria, as is the author... so I'm calling this Nigeria. Not entirely happy with this one as a representation of Africa though. I do feel this is perhaps written for Western audiences... which wasn't really the point of this challenge. So I might try to read something else from Africa as well. Apart from that, this was a good book. I thought the story of a child soldier might be overwhelmingly depressing but it's not, very sad, certainly, but more haunting than anything.

Asia: The Pillow Book by Sei Shongagon (Japan). I've already reviewed this one but I will say it again, I liked this one! It's such a personal tour through the world of the Japanese court at the end of the last millennium, and a beautiful book.

Australasia: Truth by Peter Temple (Australia). This was a Christmas present, and the only Australian book I've read all year... Which is a bit sad really. It's a detective story set in Melbourne, the sequel to a book I haven't read, and that and the fact that it's a hardboiled-ish Crime novel (not my favourite subgenre) meant that I didn't like it all that much. Not a writer I will feel compelled to follow more.

Europe: A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot (France). The book the movie (which I haven't seen) was based on. It's a WWI story, and I am constantly amazed that despite all the books and movies made about the World Wars they still have the power to be so moving. This one certainly was. It's the story about Mathilde, a young girl in a wheelchair whose fiance declared dead, in the trenches. She hears from another soldier that the circumstances surrounding her fiance's death are murky, and spends years following leads to try to find out the truth. A very bittersweet ending, this was definitely a bit of a tearjerker. It's not all romance, there is a lot about the horrors of war and I guess the expendability of soldiers... Anyway, recommended.

North America: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (US). This seems a very fitting book to read for the US, it's by one of the current 'Great American Writers' crop and it is about America in the 2000s, it's even called 'freedom'. Like many people, I loved Corrections, and I think that it's very hard for other books to measure up. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this book, the story of the Berglund family from middle-class middle America. There's a lot to write about in this book, it's too hard to fit in a mini-review (and hard to sum up my thoughts, which were, like the Berglunds, in the middle). Suffice to say it talks about liberals and conservatives, particularly in the wake of the September 11th attacks, and has some pretty scathing things to say about both. In the figure of Walter Berglund we have the well-meaning liberal who has lost his way somewhere along the line, and his son shows a fairly self-interested and uninformed young conservative, looking for profit and self-preservation. I love, though, how I came to feel affection for all the characters, no matter how misguided or self-seeking, by the end. That's why I read Franzen.

South America: The Captain's Verses by Pablo Neruda (Chile). I am not planning on counting this one. This collection of poems was written, in exile in Europe, mostly for his lover, who was with him in exile. Therefore it doesn't really fulfill the criteria of being set in South America. But the poet's love for Chile is a major theme running through his poetry, and his yearning for a better society in his country, as much as the love for his mistress/lover/later wife. A beautiful set of poems.

So there you go- just halfway through the year and mostly done! Maybe I was too easy on myself... I would definitely like to read another book from South America, probably another book from Africa and I feel like I should read some more from Australia. I might add some more to the other continents too. Suggestions for further reading welcome!


  1. Call me a pedant but I'm noticing a distinct lack of antarctic literature in your list :p

  2. Yeah, thought that might be a bit too tricky...

  3. Anonymous11/7/11 20:25

    would "Mawson's Antarctic Diaries" fill the gap?

  4. If you read the January post- Antarctica is excluded. :p