I am reading a book from every country in the world. This book is intense!(!!) (Jason Mendoza voice). Buy it here, if you like. The last book I read was Austria: Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler by Trudi Kanter. THE BOOK: Beauty Is a Wound, by Ewa Kurniawan IN SHORT: This is the bananas recount of the life (and afterlife) of the beautiful Dewi Ayu, daughter of a Dutch man and his Indonesian “concubine”/woman forced into sexual slavery; her four daughters; and the men who rape them. It is also a scabrous retelling of the creation of modern Indonesia, and the millions dead in its wake.
I am reading a book from every country in the world. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is my book for China. Buy it here. THE BOOK: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang IN SHORT: This is the verifiably wild story of three women in China—from a warlord’s concubine born in 1909 to her granddaughter, a product of the Cultural Revolution who became the first Chinese person to receive a doctorate (in linguistics) at a British university. THE BEST BIT: “The Best Bit” just doesn’t work in this context because the whole thing is terrifying and horrifying and moving and really perhaps exactly what you’d expect from a comprehensive retelling about life from the perspective of three women grappling with literally everything (starvation/privation/repression/everything bad) over nearly 100 years in China. If you are reading this book from the relative comfort of the United States, U.K., or most of western Europe in the year 2018, in most cases, I would find it difficult to believe that you would not do so with a great bit of …
2017 was a year I would quite happily burn into the ground. If it was a town I had invaded, I would plow salt into its fields and then burn the fields, and if they wouldn’t burn, I would wait until they had grown back a bit, and then burn them down again. So. There’s that. If 2017 was terrible, and it was, in all kinds of big and planet-destabilizing ways, I also found that it was terrible in small ways as well. (HA not that I’m literally just complaining.) One of them means quite a lot to me: the books that I read.
This is my review of Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler, my Austria book: I am trying to read a book from every country in the world. The last book I read was Pakistan: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid. THE BOOK: Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, by Trudi Kanter IN SHORT: This is the ridiculously titled, profoundly moving memoir, originally published in the 1980s, of a singularly wily Viennese hat designer whose relentless invention saved her family from the Holocaust.
This book is terrific. It’s my Pakistan book for the “reading around the world” challenge. Buy it here, maybe. 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.”
The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig: The End of Everything 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.
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.
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).
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.
This is my Spain book: The Infatuations by Javier Marias. 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 The Infatuations, 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.