All posts filed under: atwbooks

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid: ATW in Books

I am reading a book from every country in the world. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is my book for Pakistan. The last book I read was Norway: The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas.  THE BOOK: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid IN SHORT: This is the story of one man’s rise from poverty to wealth — and then, possibly, to contentment and companionship. THE BEST BIT: It’s impossible to talk about this book without spoiling everything, so — SPOILERS. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is the story of an unnamed “you” who travels “from my-shit-just-sits-there-until-it-rains poverty to which-of-my-toilets-shall-I-use affluence.” It is also the story, told in parallel, of the near-biological evolution of the city (and country) where he lives, and finally, his love for “the pretty girl,” a woman whose story is told in a manner more complex than her moniker might suggest. I read this book in 32 hours (not straight), which I found amazing considering that my last ATW book — Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday — took about …

The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig: Around the World in Books

Bereft of an adjective to describe the experience of reading Stefan Zweig’s memoir and manifesto, The World of Yesterday, I looked up the definition of “uncanny”: “strange or mysterious, especially in an unsettling way.” That is the one that fits. Read before November 2016, The World of Yesterday would be intermittently involving, occasionally fascinating, often tedious, at least for this reader. (I found myself in the habit of discovering paragraphs and sentences of startling beauty, amongst gossip, and bragging, and name-dropping, and blather.) Read now, it is terrifying in a particular way. Watching a house burn down is sad. Watching your own house burn down is horrifying. Watching a house that seems to resemble your own, in so many unexpected ways — that is uncanny. Once the most-translated author in Europe, Zweig’s life began in the cradle of the Hapsburg monarchy: “We lived well, we lived with light hearts and minds at ease in old Vienna, and the Germans to the north looked down with some annoyance and scorn at us, their neighbors on the Danube who, …

The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas: Around the World in Books

I am trying to read a book from every country in the world. The last book I read was Italy: My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante. THE BOOK: The Ice Palace, by Tarjei Vesaas IN SHORT: This is an utterly strange story about the relationship between two young Norwegian girls, and the titular ice palace. THE BEST BIT: This is a crazy book. I loved it the first time I read it, and liked it the second — maybe because the absolute otherworldliness of the titular ice palace — a frozen-over waterfall, and all the mysterious caverns behind it — were no longer a surprise, and what you’re left with is a difficult little story, about two young girls: 11-year-old Unn, newly arrived in a small Norwegian community, and Siss, a popular girl at their school. They are in that weird, gray place between childhood and adolescence, and whatever bubbles up between them, scares and enraptures them both. Even an early meeting is couched in the language of a very preliminary seduction: “[Unn was] an attractive girl. … …

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: Around the World in Books

I didn’t realize it until I was halfway through that “Between Shades of Gray” is officially a YA novel—and even then, the only thing that gave it away was its length (though now that I’m thinking about it, there are plenty of long YA novels, so please excuse my stereotyping). This is the story of 16-year-old Lina and her family, as they are deported from Lithuania with the arrival of Russian forces during World War II and subjected to a long list of miseries and deprivations. This is a very hard-nosed little book, and it is, in fact, remarkably well suited to being a tale told for (indeed) young adults: It is clear-eyed about the cruelties of the world in a way its intended readers will certainly understand. It was a relief, actually, that this book was not written (specifically) for adults, as that permits a simpler story, without the adult’s need to reconcile her experiences with her now-upended worldview. I do think that the average 16-year-old has an easier time adapting to a new, …

Blindness by José Saramago: Around the World in Books

I am reading a book from every country in the world. These are my thoughts on Blindness, by the Portuguese author José Saramago. The last book I read was The Infatuations by Javíer Marias, from Spain. IN SHORT: This is the story of the collapse of society following a worldwide plague of literal blindness. THE BEST BIT: Oh, how to pick a best bit in this book? Let me start with what I did not enjoy — or perhaps “understand” is the better word. Slowly but surely, humans on Earth are afflicted with physical blindness. At first, the plague seems controllable, and those stricken are corralled into treatment facilities — or holding pens, depending on your perspective. Once there, we soon revert to a Hobbesian state, living in violence, filth, hunger and organizational chaos that is soon replaced by whatever -archy is led by rapists. We closely follow a small band of the surviving blind, who have the exceptional good fortune to count among their number perhaps the only seeing woman left in society: the wife of an ophthalmologist. Saramago …

javier marias the infatuations

The Infatuations by Javier Marías: Around the World in Books

I am reading a book from every country in the world. The last book I read was Poland: This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, by Tadeusz Borowski.  IN SHORT: This is the story of a woman whose life changes in strange ways following the murder of a man she admired. THE BEST BIT: I’m not sure that I have a best bit for this book, which does not so much play out, in a linear sense, as it does unspool, unravel, un-everything: disintegrate into liquid like the tea cup on the cover of its American edition. The reason the book in the image above looks so worn is because it is exactly that: This book and I spent weeks together, as I followed, or tried to follow, the story — which is not so much story as it is a series of ruminations. Though there is ruminating, much does happen in this book. Murder, even — something I knew and left me expecting something closer to a police procedural than I had any right to expect. As …

this way to the gas ladies and gentlemen

This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski: Around the World in Books

I am trying to read a book from every country in the world.  BOOK: This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, by Tadeusz Borowski IN SHORT: This is a harrowing, fictionalized account of life as a prisoner at Auschwitz. THE BEST BIT: It is hard to use the word “best bit” to describe any passage in this book, because “best” implies an enjoyment that is difficult to come by here. Have I already used the word harrowing? In some ways there are similarities — in the setting, in the precision of the prose — to Primo Levi’s Survival at Auschwitz, though Borowski’s characters jockey more openly for positions of, and the spoils of, relative privilege. In the opening account, the narrator and Henri, a French prisoner, quarrel over the allocations of “the bacon, the onion … a can of evaporated milk” — even a loaf of bread baked by his mother. From the book’s introduction: “[Borowski and his fiancée] were both ‘lucky.’ Three weeks earlier ‘Aryans’ had stopped being sent to the gas chambers — except for special cases. …

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous: Around the World in Books

I am trying to read a book from every country in the world. The last book I read was Italy: My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante.  IN SHORT: This is the true, anonymously published story of one woman’s experiences in Berlin following the Nazi surrender, and the arrival of the Red Army. It is harrowing. THE BEST BIT: This book is specially special to me in my Around the World book journey, since it was my first. I had read a novel about a German woman’s experiences in Berlin during the war, which had primarily served to pique my interest in finding a non-fiction account of the same period — which led me to A Woman in Berlin, a staggeringly clear-eyed account of the German defeat in April 1945 and the subsequent Russian arrival. Thinking about this book, I keep returning to the Hop Along lyric: “There’s nothing more dangerous than a defeated army heading home” — though of course, in this case, there’s nothing more dangerous than a victorious, brutalized army collecting the spoils of war. Here, those spoils included the sexual violation of thousands …

my brilliant friend

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: Around the World in Books

I am trying to read a book from every country in the world. The last book I read was Nigeria: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  IN SHORT: This is the story of two best friends, Elena and Lila, growing up in 1950s Naples. It is the first of four books — or as Ferrante (a pseudonym has said), the first of four volumes in a single book. THE BEST BIT: What a singular book. The precision of its prose is tremendous — but it is more than that, it is something about the way the narrator, Elena (not accidentally, the same name as the author) describes her young life in Naples: It is bursting with sentiment — in the sense of regret, love, ambition, frustration — and utterly without sentiment: We see things, conveyed and dismissed in the space of a handful of paragraphs, that would suffice as the sole focus of another book — for example, when Lila’s father literally throws her out the window of their home into the street. I began to think …

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Around the World in Books

BOOK: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie IN SHORT: This is the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who immigrates to the U.S. and becomes a keen critic of our society; in parallel, we follow her true love, Obinze, as he tries to make his own way West. THE FAVORITE BIT: My favorite bit of this book comes exceptionally early: with Ifemelu’s email to Obinze. It actually involves two emails that Ifemelu sends her now-married ex-boyfriend from America, following her long absence from both their shared native country (Nigeria) and their shared life together. The earlier one is referenced: “A gracious email. He hated it. He hated it so much that he Googled the black American (Ifemelu’s boyfriend)—and why should she give him the man’s full name if not because she wanted him Googled?” The second email is the more promising one (even from the married Obinze’s perspective). “Ceiling, kedu?” “Ceiling” is her nickname for him, “kedu” means “hello” or “how are you.” It continues: “Hope all is well with work and family. Ranyinudo said she ran into you some time ago …