IX: Chile


When I first moved to Spain, I kept seeing El Amante Japonés (The Japanese Lover) in every bus station I went to. And in those first few weeks I went to a lot of bus stations! It was on the bestsellers list. Due to my love of sushi and origami, I was particularly intrigued by the title.

A year went by, and eventually I bought a copy. Though not from a Spanish bus station. I opted for the translated English e-book edition. I raced through the book during breaks at work. I possibly wouldn’t have heard about Isabel Allende, if I hadn’t been living in Spain.

Without giving too much away… it is a story about migration,¬†connection and being somehow the outsider or ‘foreign’ in the community in which you live. But it’s also about ageing and the decisions people make about their lives. Alma Belasco is the kind of older person I aspire to being like. She makes her own decisions, is fiercely independent, and doesn’t resign herself to behaving a particular way in order to match her supposed age. She lives in a residential home and the novel explores her younger years including her encounters with Ichimei, her childhood friend of Japanese descent. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again. There is a connection that remains bright, despite the social obstacles they faced during hostilities between the United States and Japan in the 1940s. Alma’s personal assistant in the residential home, Irina Bazili, is a European¬†immigrant with a troubled family background. Together with Alma’s grandson, she¬†gradually uncover the secrets that Alma kept so closely guarded over seven decades.

I read this the first time in English. I’m currently re-reading it in Spanish (though more at tortoise pace…).

I’m tagging this as United States because the bulk of the story takes places there, but also as Chile because the author, Isabel Allende, is Chilean.

Favourite Words: Stereognosis

Ok, so this post isn’t about a book. It’s not about a location. And it’s not about travel through time via language. Rather it’s about one of my favourite words. Ever.

Stereognosis. Stereooo-og-no-sis…I love how it feels to say it. But mostly I love what it means. I actually didn’t come across this word until my first year at university. But I instantly loved it. In case you’re wondering, it refers to the ability to perceive and recognize the form of an object in the absence of visual and auditory information. It is the¬†word to describe how you find your house¬†key in your handbag without actually looking.¬†By using tactile information to provide cues¬†about texture, size, spatial properties and temperature. It’s not just the ability to sense these different things independently. It’s the ability to put all that information together to recognise an object instinctively.

Granted, stereognosis does not often crop up in my day to day conversations. Though I have to admit it sneaks into my head a lot whenever I’m trying to work out if that card in my hand¬†is my bank card or my photo ID.


VIII: Italy


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 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¬†“As√≠ 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


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‚ÄĚ

As first impressions go, well, this wasn‚Äôt 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¬†‚Äėe‚Äô 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¬†¬†‚Äúphysiobitch‚ÄĚ…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 na√Įve 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.