VIII: Italy

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This is actually my favourite book, by one of my favourite current authors. Well, she’s been my favourite writer for about the past three years. Ali Smith is just so inventive and funny and the characters so unbelievably believable. When I first read a book by her, I strongly suspected that it was largely autobiographical. But now I’ve read enough of her other novels and short stories to realise that she couldn’t possibly be writing all those different kinds of characters and situations from an autobiographical perspective. She’s just got an incredible talent for getting the reader completely sucked into the world of the characters. I can’t think of a writer like her.

How to be both is a novel all about art, time, gender and self identify. Before reading this book, I have to admit I was pretty clueless about the work that went into fresco painting, but I feel I learnt a bit through reading this novel. I particularly love books that involve different eras. This one involves a Renaissance artist in 1460s Florence, contrasted against and combined with the life of a family in London in 2015.

Also, I absolutely love the creativity from a production point of view. There are two main points of view in this book, chapters from the point of view of “Eyes”, and chapters from the point of view of “Camera”. And fascinatingly, there are two editions of this book! One version starts with Eyes, so it goes Eyes/Camera/Eyes…etc. The other version goes Camera/Eyes/Camera…etc. The narratives are exactly the same in both versions, just in a different order. Incidentally, the paper copy of the book, which was the first time I read the book, my copy started with “Eyes”.

I just think this is a fantastic idea, that makes me wonder how my opinion of the book might’ve changed if I had read the opposite way around.

I’m tagging this one as Scotland because the writer is Scottish; English, because half the book is set in London; and Italian, because the other half of the story is set in Florence.

VII: Argentina

Mafalda_paseohist

Mafalda is a comic series that I have grown to love, it features a 6-year-old girl of the same name, who reflects the Argentinian middle class and progressive youth. She is concerned about humanity and world peace, and has serious attitude problems but in an innocent manner. It’s an Argentinian comic by Quino and I was initially put off trying to read it just due to how tricky I found it to get hold of an English language translation.

My Spanish has been improving, so eventually I decided to just try my best with reading the original language edition. As it turns out, reading a comic is generally easier than trying to read a novel in a foreign language. However, some of the jokes proved almost impossible for me to understand. That said, there was a real sense of reward when I did fully understand a joke quickly enough to actually laugh out loud! I didn’t mind not understanding every joke, because I find the character of Mafalda to be just so adorable and fiercely independent and endlessly curious.

When I first moved to Spain, I had conversations with people for whom Mafalda is just such a visual cultural reference that they actually found it kind of bizarre that I hadn’t really been aware of her. Granted, the comics were published some years ago now, so sometimes the cultural/political references seem a little dated. But more often than not, the situations that Quino highlights in his comic strip of Mafalda, are issues that exist across borders and time zones and years – so they still work now.

I really enjoyed this series of comic books…of which I have to admit I’ve only read the first two…so far! I find it endearing how Mafalda sees the world and how her perspective as a child somehow enables her to ask the adults in her life questions about the world that many of us perhaps used to wonder about as children. But that somehow perhaps we don’t ask those same questions as much when we ourselves become adults, there’s sometimes a sense of accepting that it’s the way things are (or as Quino puts it “Así es la cosa, Mafalda”/”This is the way things are, Mafalda“).

Mafalda has been a joy to read and it’s also given me a fresh insight into the perceived cultural differences between South American Spanish cultures and Spain. My favourite image was one of Mafalda with a globe of the world. She asks her dad if the reason why people in Spain are generally wealthier than the people in Argentina is because the people in Argentina are “upside-down” and that their brains/intelligence must fall out!!! I can’t do the joke justice in mere words, the real humour is in Quino’s drawings.

About the photo, it’s of a mini statue made of Mafalda that is in Buenos Aires. If I ever get the opportunity to go to Buenos Aires I’d like to check this bench out!

VI: Afghanistan

kiterunner

This is a post about a book I read quite a few years ago. I scored it five stars on Goodreads. Until I read this book, I had never heard of kite running as a game. But Khaled Hosseini describes it so well, I almost feel like I’ve played it myself!

Amir is the son of a wealthy merchant. Hassan, his servant and friend, is from a despised and impoverished caste. I suppose what makes it so interesting is that the two boys seem so unlikely to be friends in the first instance.

They are torn apart by the divisions in the community. There are a number of disturbing events including rape, brutal beatings and public executions. These things make for uncomfortable reading and even though it is a work of fiction it is written in such a graphic and believable voice that it is hard to separate yourself from the idea that it is based on actual events.

Years later, Amir goes back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs. And that it is Amir that goes looking for Hassan, makes it somehow that bit more powerful and yet more tragic too. The hold that guilt can have over a person, over a lifetime. At times, I almost thought it was selfish of Amir to go looking for Hassan, to bring up the past. Further highlighting the privilege of Amir’s life, his ability escape the past for so many years, and then to travel back to it to heal his own scars.

Pronunciation #1: “…fisioterap(e)uta”

As first impressions go, well, this wasn’t the best to give when speaking to my new flatmates. I was trying to say the word for physiotherapist. In the written form, the similarity of the two words were quite clear. However, the pronunciation was somewhat different. How was I to realise in that moment what a difference would be made by neglecting to pronounce the ‘e’ in fisioterapeuta? I unconsciously applied English pronunciation rules and thought that “physiotheraputa” would be close enough. Peuta as in like “pewter”.

Despite studying Spanish for four years at secondary school and somehow obtaining a GCSE in the language, I had unfortunately missed out on learning the more colourful words of Spanish. With my anglified pronunciation I had unknowingly referred to somebody as being  “physiobitch”…much to the amusement of my new flatmates!

As somebody that couldn’t claim to be shy about swearing in my first language, it was a surprise to me that I had a swear-shaped gap in my Spanish language abilities.The first of many gaffes in my naïve attempts to practice my new language.

V: Slovenia

This isn’t the first book I ever read by Paulo Coelho, but it is one of my favourites. Veronika Decides to Die is a dramatic story of love, life and death. It highlights ways in which all of us make decisions every second of our existence relating to living and dying.

Even the title sounds dramatic. Veronika is a girl that from the outside seems to have a pretty good life. Nothing particularly bad happens to her, there’s no tragic backstory. But she just felt unsatisfied. Her suicide attempt did not “succeed” and so she finds herself in a hospital for patients with mental disorders. She is told that the overdose damaged her heart and she had one more week to live before she dies. With only week to live, Veronika re-discovers herself sexually and emotionally, falls in love, and starts wanting to live. It’s almost like the intensity of a short space of time highlighted the priorities of her “bucket list”.

Anyone who thinks life is not worth living should give it a try. I’d maybe even go so far as to say that doctors and other medical professionals should read it in order to have a better insight into the mind-set of patients.

veronika

IV: India

Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani was a fascinating story that at times brought tears to my eyes. It’s quite rare that a book has that kind of impact on me. I had to actually avoid reading it on public transport at one point because it was just too hard to keep myself together.
Without giving the whole story away, basically it’s about a photographer that hasn’t been in touch with her family for some years. But when her father falls into a coma she reluctantly returns to the family. She has changed, and her family have also changed. There are some really dark secrets that come to light and a history of violence that comes to the surface. Even though it wasn’t an easy read, it was a really interesting exploration of how cultures interact and how cultures change from one generation to the next. But I found the ending to be a bit of a disappointment to be honest *spoiler alert* because she seemed to still believe that she needs somebody to “fix” her, which is somehow beautiful but ultimately disempowering. Though possibly more realistic.
Below is a quote I fell in love with in this book:
“Everyone must reach a point in their life when they stop running. When it is easier to stand still than to keep being chased, even if the person chasing you is only in your head.” 

III: Japan

I’m a big fan of Haruki Murakami. I started reading his books when I was trying to learn Japanese. I read the books in English! Just out of interest for the culture and the country. The first book of his that I read was Norwegian Wood. It was really fascinating, and I was hooked.

Many of Murakami’s novels deal with the transition from adolescence to adulthood.  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is about a young man haunted by a great loss. It’s a journey into the past to mend the present. It’s about love, friendship, and heartbreak.

Tsukuru, the protagonist, doesn’t have a colourful surname, in contrast to his old friends. Colour, or the lack thereof, features heavily in the novel. The characters with colourful names seem to have nearly stereotypical identities. Colourless Tsukuru is 36 at the time most of the novel is set. It has been sixteen years since Tsukuru and his four friends turned 20. In Japan turning 20 is like turning 18 or 21 in many European cultures.  Although the novel is about this transition, it is told from the perspective of somebody much older. At times it felt pretty depressing, in my opinion, that there was this 36 year old guy that was still lamenting about things that happened 16 years previously. It was almost a bit frustrating, like he just needs to move on in life! Inevitably, his journey/pilgrimage does help him to understand his immediate past (the last 16 years) and his present, but also his future.

I really enjoyed the start of the book and the character formation. But, as with my experience with other books by the same author, I was disappointed by the lack of clarity at the ending.

 

II: Russia

This morning I read a short story called The Nose by the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Well, I say read, but in actuality it was an audio book, so for the sake of accuracy I listened to The Nose. Felt like giving my eyes a rest from reading. The Nose is set in St Petersburg. It was quite a surreal story about a man that wakes up to discover he has no nose. It was a bit strange, but also interesting – for example, one of the major concerns for the man-with-no-nose is that he won’t be able to flirt with the ladies anymore. But I found the characters a bit too hard to believe or to relate to. It worked quite well as an audio book because the nose-less character had quite a distinctive voice, almost like somebody with a bad headcold.

I: China

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan caught my eye on a library shelf when I was living on the outskirts of London. I had been looking for a literary form of escapism and this seemed like an ideal book. Set in a country and culture in which I didn’t have much familiarity.

It is partially set in the USA in San Francisco and the main characters discover secrets about their family from many years earlier. I enjoy these kind of books, where there’s a complex family problem and they learn more about their relatives at the same time as learning more about themselves. It was an interesting to read about the ways in which family expectations in a tightly-knit Chinese family continued to influence future generations of the family living abroad.

I also rather enjoyed the title, because I hadn’t come across the word bonesetter before. In traditional Chinese medicine a bonesetter was a person that performed joint manipulation. They could also have treated dislocations as well as actually re-setting a broken bone so that it heals in a better alignment. I like the idea of it being the original form of physiotherapy or osteopathy.

 

Reading Goal: Go Global

My inspiration for this reading challenge comes from a video that I saw earlier this week. A woman called Ann set herself a reading challenge in 2012 to read a book from every country (though no necessarily set in the country itself). So I’ve decided to set myself a pretty crazy reading challenge: reading a book related to each country in the world. Which from the list I’m going to be using works out at 196 countries!

I’m going to make the challenge more flexible so that I will include books that are set in a country, not limited to the book or author actually being from that country. My list will be open to non-fictional works as well as biographical writing. For me, no unpublished or, if at all possible, self-published books (I want anyone to be able to follow my trail). It would feel more authentic to read books in the original language version, though given my current language abilities this challenge will be completed predominantly in English (ultimately using translated versions), with some attempts to read in Spanish (though this will require more time!)

Of course, there are a number of countries that I can already tick off. Books from my childhood and teenage years which brought to life countries I might never get to visit in person. For the rest of the countries, well, I could do with a bit of help! Though I do have some ideas jotted down, I am more than open to suggestions, which I will add here for the benefit of anyone who might want to come along with me on my epic read-trip (road-trip…read-trip… get it?!…oh dear).

I’ll try to write a quick note or at the very least give a star rating out of five for each of the books I read. I’ll try to link this to my account on Goodreads (a site which I’d definitely recommend for all bookworms!). Of course, my comments or reviews are not going to be sophisticated literary criticism, but more to give an idea someone who might be tempted to give the title a try an idea as to what it’s like to read.

So, here goes! World travel minus the expense of a travel ticket! Ha, wish me luck, and I’d be delighted to get any suggestions of global books that I can add to me “to read” list! 🙂