Little Bee

Cleave, Chris. Little Bee. Narrated by Anne Flosnik. Tantor Media, 2009.

Reason read: Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s outgoing president was elected in March of 2015. Read in his honor.

Oh, the decisions we make. Have you ever been in a situation where you make a blunder and in an hurried attempt to remedy the situation you make more mistakes? I think of it as stepping in dog sh-t. You are so panicked and embarrassed by the smell emanating from your foot that you don’t think about the most efficient way to clean it off and instead track it around and around looking for a suitable way to wipe it off. This is Sarah’s plight. Upon making a huge marital mistake Sarah tries to remedy it with a quick and careless solution: run away from the problem by taking a free holiday. The trouble only multiplies and multiples until Sarah is faced with dead ends and deep regret. Told from the perspective of Sarah and a Nigerian girl Sarah meets on holiday named Little Bee. Little Bee’s story of trauma will wrap around Sarah until they are forever melded together.

I cannot get over the imagery of Cleve’s writing. Take this combination of words, for example: “butterflies drowning in honey”. What the what?

Author fact: While Cleave has written other books, I am only reading Little Bee for the Challenge. This is his second novel.

Book trivia: Little Bee is published elsewhere as The Other Hand.

Playlist: “One” by U2 and “We Are the Champions” by Queen.

Nancy said: Pearl said a great deal about Little Bee. She called it unforgettable and perfect for book groups. I completely agree because there are so many different themes to ponder and argue about.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Nigeria” (p 156).

Born to Run

McDougall, Christopher. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.

Reason read: A trip to Mexico deserves a book about something that takes place in Mexico.

Ann Trason. The Tarahumara runners. Caballo Blanco. Scott Jurek. These names spark my running imagination. Then there is Mexico and the allure of a different country’s culture. Christopher McDougall writes as if he has stepped beside you in the middle of a twenty mile run and launches into telling you of his adventures in the jungles of Mexico chasing the mythology of Gordy Ainsleigh. His tone is casual, conversational, and warm. The reporting reporter has been left behind for the moment, but he has an ulterior motive. Yes, he will tell you about a race you have probably never heard of, and he’ll talk about people you are vaguely familiar with, but what he really wants to do is tell you about barefoot running. As a long-distance runner he was always injured. He learned of the Tarahumara runners and how they ran with only thin sandals, but they never knew a single injury.
As an aside, I was taken aback by the information in Chapter 25: expensive, high-tech running shoes do not save runners from injuries; in fact, they may be the cause of them. Is there truth to the theory that foot control is king, so the thinner the sole, the better? That would make sense if your foot strike changes with every shoe. It’s the reason why I rotate four pair of shoes.

As an aside, I have always been curious about the Leadville 100 so it was nice to learn a little of the history behind this historic race.

On a personal note, I could relate to Christopher when Dr. Torg told him to take up cycling instead of running. Dr. John told me to take up swimming instead of running when I hurt my knee.

Author fact: McDougall has his own website here. You can find videos about Born to Run.

Book trivia: There is a Born to Run 2 book out there somewhere. I think it supposed to be a training guide.

Playlist: the Beatles, Valentin Elizalde, Zayda Pena of “Zayda y Los Cupables”, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”, Christina Aguilera, Charlie Parker, and “Strangelove”,

Nancy said: Pearl said Born to Run is a must-read for runners.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go on the chapter called “Postcards From Mexico” (p 184).

James Brooke of Sarawak

Hahn, Emily. James Brooke of Sarawak: a Biography of Sir James Brooke. Arthur Baker, Ltd., 1953.

Reason read: I am reading this as a follow-up to by . had a whole section on James Brooke.

As a young age, James Brooke had a unique life. After he inherited a small fortune, he was interested in buying ships and starting new colonies. He imagined being able to save the souls of the Malays, but really he wanted an entire country to call his own. His confidence went out before him like a high school bully in na├»ve full swagger. From the beginning, Brooke was expecting Sultan Omar Ali to draw up papers – a deed of possession for Brooke to govern Sarawak, just like that. Once in charge Brooke was able to bring order to Sarawak. He established a council of state, an army, national flag, and a constitution. Twenty-four years after the fact he was finally recognized for his feats. He died four years after that. The end.
Hahn draws her biography of James Brooke from letters and journals that have survived time. A surprising tidbit of information was that Brooke was a mama’s boy. But after thinking about his spoiled attitude, I don’t know why I was so surprised by his letters home. Brooke never married, although there is the mystery of Ms. Angela Burdett-Coutts and the broken engagement…
I found it interesting that Hahn seemed to be, most of the time, sympathetic to Brooke. She writes with a conversational tone that is not dry or dull, but is more in defense of most of his actions and questionable character. She almost needs you to like Brooke as much as she apparently does. She uses words like “poor” and “unfortunate” to describe Brooke. She blames the reformers for having contradicting opinions about murder – almost calling them hypocrites for being against Brooke killing people of Borneo saying, “…we must try to understand how he could have acted as he did in various matters…” (p 223). Actually, if you must know, I questioned Hahn’s choice of words often. Consider this sentence, “the fate of the Middletons makes a horrible and somewhat embarrassing story” (p 213). Tell me. What is so embarrassing about absolute terror and the undeniable urge for self preservation? Mrs. Middleton remained hidden while her children were being murdered. I find the next scenario more of an “embarrassment” – a man was charged with guarding a plank but accidentally shot himself in the head. But I digress…

Quote I liked, “Strong men were proud of being able to weep like babies” (p 36). What kind of culture encouraged men to show emotion? That is practically unheard of in our society! Here’s another line I liked,

Author fact: Hahn also wrote China To Me, a Partial Autobiography. This was also on my Challenge list. I have already finished it.

Nancy said: Pearl said if you were interested in learning more about James Brooke, try reading his biography by Hahn. Pearl hints that Brooke is not a likeable character. Maybe she disapproves of him murdering Borneons.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very straightforward chapter called “Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

le Carre, John. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. Ballantine Books, 1963.

Reason read: while The Spy Who Came In from the Cold didn’t win an Academy Award, Richard Burton was nominated for his role as Alec Leamas. The Oscars are usually presented in March.

I had heard a lot of great things about John le Carre’s novels. Growing up, I can remember one or two titles floating around the house. I definitely think The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was one of them.
You know the story: someone is very close to retiring, getting out of the game, but there is one last job they need to do. After they complete this one final task, whatever it is, then they are out. Fini. Except, you know that’s not how it ends up. The job is always more complicated and/or dangerous. Something always goes sideways and the end is horribly wrong. The spy Who Came In from the Cold is no different. Alec Leamas is nearing the end of his career as a British agent. He wants out but die to a fabricated “problem” with his pension, he has one last mission in East Germany. All he has to do is spread rumors about an East German intelligence officer. After that, he can “get out of the cold” comfortably. Of course, nothing goes to plan. I knew this book was going to be trouble when, within 15 pages four people would die in quick succession.
Heads up: keep in mind this was written in a time when men were allowed to be sexist. It never occurs to Leamas that he might have to work for a woman.

As an aside, I love when books give me a connection to Monhegan however small. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold mentions the Morris Dancers. They performed on Monhegan every summer for years and years.

Line that made me think, “At first his colleagues treated him with indulgence, perhaps his decline served them in the same way as we are scared by cripples, beggars and invalids because we fear we could ourselves become them; but in the end his neglect, his brutal, unreasoning malice, isolated him” (p 23).

Author fact: le Carre died in 2020 and according to his Wiki page, his death was unrelated to Covid-19.

Book trivia: The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is the sequel to Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality. I only have the former title on my Challenge list, but once again I have read these books out of order. Ugh.

Playlist: “On Ilkley Moor bat t’ at”

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned le Carre as someone to read if you are into spy novels. She also called The spy Who Came In from the Cold remarkable.

BookLust Twist: from a few places. First, Book Lust in the chapters called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1960” (p 175) and “Spies and Spymasters: the Really Real Unreal World of Intelligence” (p 223). Second, in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Berlin” (p 36).

36 Views of Mount Fuji

Davidson, Cathy N. 36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan. Plume Book, 1994.

Reason read: In January Japan celebrates Coming of Age. I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge for the category, “a nonfiction set in a country that interests me.”

Davidson spent a year with Japan with her husband, Ted. Together, they have jobs teaching English while trying to learn all things Japanese. They make friends who help them with their quest. During this time of total immersion, Davidson becomes intimate with Japanese customs, so much so that when she and Ted are faced with tragedy and their Japanese friends break with tradition for their sake, Davidson is embarrassed and uncomfortable for them. This break from normal protocol touched me. Davidson went back to Japan a total of four times with varying lengths of stay. She and Ted contemplated a move to Japan only to decide the language barrier was too great to conquer. This bothered Davidson. Her inability to learn the language bothered her and shattered her confidence so much so she had to put the books she had written in front of her to reaffirm she is a smart woman.
I promise you, you will walk away with a deepened appreciation for Japanese culture. I did not know Tokyo is chaotic and disorganized in purpose. Streets are unnamed to anonymize people’s addresses. How do things get delivered?

As an aside, in this day of careful avoidance of cultural appropriation, how can someone be offended by Taco Tuesday and not see Davidson’s efforts to build an exact replica of a Japanese house in North Carolina as completely different. Is not that the same thing on a much grander scale?

Best lines I liked, “I was in Japan to see, to experience, to learn, to understand” (p 12) and
“This place was how my life felt: one breath away from disaster” (108).

Author fact: Davidson at the time of writing 36 Views of Mount Fuji was a professor of English at Duke University.

Playlist: “Singing in the Rain”, “One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater”, “Weemaway”, Edith Piaf, “Leader of the Pack”, Red Sails at sunset”, Jo Stafford’s “Shrimp Boats Are a Coming”, and “Mashed Potato Time”.

Nancy said: Pearl included 36 Views of Mount Fuji as an example of “the best gaijin account.” She also called it “thoughtful” (Book Lust To Go p 117).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 116).

Bay of Noon

Hazzard, Shirley. The Bay of Noon. Little, Brown and Company, 1970.

Reason read: the Battle of Oranges takes place in February.

There is a secret in Bay of Noon. My eyes did a double read when the words “I am in love with my brother” floated past my face. Did narrator Jenny mean what I think she meant? Is that the secret every reviewer alludes to when writing about Bay of Noon? Hazzard drops hints like pebbles disturbing tranquil waters.
In addition to being a story about a woman fleeing a dark secret, Bay of Noon is about the power of friendship. In the end, the reader is left with this question: do years of disconnection matter if the bonds of relationship are stronger than any prolonged length of time?
Confessional: None of the characters were likeable to me and maybe that was the point. I really did not care for Justin. His refusal of plain speak was annoying. Circumventing addressing matters of the heart the way he did would make me walk away. What I did love was the vivid descriptions of the Mediterranean. It made me hunger for all things Italy.
Bay of Noon has been called a romance novel and I guess in some ways it is, but I didn’t like any of the couples and I never really felt any of them were actually in love.

Author fact: Hazzard was Australian but wrote a great deal about Naples.

Book trivia: Bay of Noon was originally published in 1970 but found life again after being republished in 2003. It was shortlisted for the Lost Man Booker Prize in 2010.

Play list: Hazzard has many opportunities to mention songs of musicians by name through all of the dancing, signing, and listening to the radio, but she doesn’t.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bay of Noon “most likely autobiographical” (Book Lust To Go p 148).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the simple chapter called “Naples” (p 146).

The Wedding

West, Dorothy. The Wedding. Read by Robin Miles. Books on Tape, 2021.

Reason read: February was the month Massachusetts became a state. The Wedding takes place on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts.

Dorothy West is a master of character development. Every member of the Martha’s Vineyard Oval community is meticulously realized by their actions and reactions to events surrounding them and by the subservient relationships they keep: black and white, man and wife, neighbor and stranger, parent and child, landlord and tenant. Strangely enough, there is harmony in the contrasts.
It is the wedding of beautiful Shelby Coles. Her engagement to a white jazz musician from New York City has her family in turmoil. Lute McNeil would like nothing better than to steal Miss Coles for his own. He already has three young daughters by three different white women, but in his obsessive mind Shelby would make the perfect mother for his biracial children. Even though the Oval is comprised of black middle class residents, the question of belonging is pervasive. The standard assumption that blonde hair and blue eyes means white race. Everyone uses color to get what they want. Example: the preacher uses the image of white children in danger of hurting themselves around a derelict barn in order to get a white man to give him a horse that was of no use to him. The preacher is really after the barn wood.
Dorothy West forces her characters to face the question of identity. The end of The Wedding will leave you hanging. Would Shelby have given Lute a chance if tragedy had not intervened? Were Shelby’s sisters right in their warnings about misguided infatuation?

Author fact: Dorothy West was 85 years old when she wrote The Wedding.

Book trivia: West was known for her short stories. The Wedding is only one of two novels West wrote in her lifetime.

Playlist: “Swing Lo Sweet Chariot” and “Motherless Child”.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Wedding other than to indicate it takes place on Martha’s Vineyard.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple chapter called “Martha’s Vineyard” (p 141). No big stretch there.

Dinner with Persephone

Storace, Patricia. Dinner with Persephone. Pantheon Books, 1996.

Reason read: January 6th is the Fest of Theofania celebrating the baptism of Christ and a celebration of a return to light.

I have always wanted to visit Greece. The landscapes, the weather, the food. Sigh. All of it has me spellbound. But. But! But, the more I read of Storace’s Dinner with Persephone, I am not sure about the culture. I definitely do not agree with some of the attitudes towards women and marriage. Women are inferior to men. Sexual condescension is a thing. The accepted violence of smacking a wife or daughter around and how it is glamorized in television and movies is concerning. There is an ambivalence towards arson, too which I found odd.
Beyond the confusing side of Greek culture, I enjoyed learning about the icons of the region: a blue eye talisman hanging from an old woman’s neck, the juicy red jewels of pomegranates, the fable of Dionysus and the plant. To be sure, there is a lot of religious talk in Dinner with Persephone. The people Storace talk with mention the Virgin Mary as if she is a next-door neighbor they bumped into while going for coffee. Children bring up events dating back to the Ottoman Empire as if it were yesterday. It is only a perception but it seems religion is worked into nearly every conversation.
There is a subtle, almost secretive sultriness to Storace’s writing. I can’t put my finger on why I think that. The language is tedious at times, but more often sensuous.

P.S. I have not given up on the food of Greece. There is this one dish I am dying to try: zucchini blossoms filled with feta cheese, egg, and fresh mint. Yum.

Quotes I liked, “As I travel here, I am losing the illusion that I know where I am” (p 156),

Author fact: Storace has published a book of poetry and has received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award for her work.

Book trivia: This would have been a fantastic book to include photographs. Sorry to say that there are none.

Playlist: “Kyrie Eleison”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “Let’s Take a Walk on the Moon”, “Denial”, Mozart, Bach, Hayden, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding Recessional”, Elton John, “This Land is Your Land”, “The Dream After the Dance”, “Roll Out the Barrel”, “Greece Will Never Die”, Katie Grey, Patsy Cline, and “Carmen Sylvia Waltz”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Dinner with Persephone an excellent choice.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).

Flying Carpet

Halliburton, Richard. The Flying Carpet. City Garden Publishing Company, Inc., 1932.

Reason read: Richard Halliburton celebrated a birthday in January. Read in his honor.

Richard Halliburton was a self-described vagabond of the clouds. In Flying Carpet he brings Moye Stephens Jr. along as pilot/captain and mechanic. Their journey takes them through the far reaches of North Africa and East Asia. They followed Alexander the Great’s path into Egypt, over Alexandria and through Babylon. They stop for a month or two in ever location and submerge themselves in the culture. Like on the island of Borneo, trying to impress the tribal chief with a plane ride. My favorite section was when they visited the Taj Mahal, calling it “the one perfect thing on earth.”
A tough portion of Halliburton’s memoir is his treatment of “Negros” and the buying of young slaves. He explained it away by saying his grandfathers were slave owners in Tennessee. He bought two ten year old children to wash dishes and fight the overpopulation of bats in Timbuctoo.
Halliburton seemed like a fun guy to hang out with. He brought a portable record player and liked to dance. He was bold enough to compete for the love of a woman with whom he could not communicate. He opted to live as a prisoner in Teheran “just to see” what it was like.
As an aside, Flying Carpet was the name of the plane Richard Halliburton flew.
As an another aside, I wonder what Halliburton would think of the traffic jams of Mount Everest today. In Halliburton’s time it was forbidden (“irresistible, unattained, and inviolate”). In 1920 Nepal and Tibet had staunchly refused foreigners. Only the Dalai Lama was able to allow English climbers to enter from the Tibetan side. That might have been the beginning of commercial tourism. Halliburton and Stephens were finally allowed to gain access to the airspace around Everest (at 18,000 feet) only because they impressed the Mararajah of Nepal.

Quotes to quote, “To my great annoyance and disappointment, he did not drown” (p 114), “Because it is monstrous, merciless, demanding the utmost of one’s energy and effort” (in answer to why climb Mount Everest), and “A head is a head, and its sex is of no consequence when it has been dried and smoked, and hangs from a ceiling at home” (p 327).

Author fact: I am reading five of Halliburton’s books. I cannot wait to learn more about this fascinating adventurer!

Book trivia: The Flying Carpet includes a few photographs of Stephens and Halliburton’s journey. While there are very many, they are cool.

Playlist: “Happy Days were Here Again”, Ravel’s “Bolero”, “St. Louis Blues,” Schubert’s Serenade “Song of India”, Hymn to the Sun – Coq d’Or, “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”, “Falling in Love Again”, “St. Louis Blues”, and “What Good Am I Without You?”

Nancy said: Pearl called Halliburton’s style of writing “you-are-there” prose. I agree completely.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Where in the World Do These Books Belong?” (p 260).

Rum Diary

Thompson, Hunter S. The Rum Diary. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Reason read: to celebrate Eugenio Maria de Hostos, philosopher who campaigned for education for women. His life is celebrated on the second Monday in January in Puerto Rico. Additionally, for the 2023 Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I needed a book with a person on the cover.

Paul Kemp, fresh in from New York, begins writing for the Daily News in San Juan. Throughout the entire Rum Diary he comes off as a bumbling and stumbling alcoholic cad who never really writes very much. He spends a great deal of time eating hamburgers at Al’s, chasing women, playing on the beach, getting into various troubles, and of course, drinking gallons of rum. Paul works off a tangle of conflicting emotions through an alcoholic haze. Rum on the island act as a currency.
Thompson’s portrait of Paul Kemp seems three quarters finished. Underneath the swagger and swaying, there lies a decent soul, but you never really understand Paul.
As as aside, I have never been to San Juan so I don’t know why this is a thing, but there seems to be a peculiar animosity towards stray dogs on the island.

Confessional: Reading Doug Stanhope’s Digging Up Mother at the same time as Hunter S. Thompson’s Rum Diary was like a lesson in debauchery. Even though Stanhope’s memories were thirty years later than Thompson’s, the attitudes were much the same. Here’s another trivial similarity – Johnny Depp starred in Thompson’s movie. He also wrote the foreword for Digging Up Mother.

Best lines, “Arriving half-drunk in a foreign place is hard on the nerves” (p 12).

Author fact: Thompson is better known for his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Book trivia: Rum Diary was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp.

Playlist: Braham’s Lullaby and “Maybellene”.

Nancy said: Rum Diary is an “exuberant” picture of the drinking life in Puerto Rico. She’s not wrong.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean (Puerto Rico)” (p 57).

Brideshead Revisited

Waugh, Evelyn. Brideshead Revisited: the Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder. Everyman’s Library, 1993.

Reason read: Waugh was born in October; read in his memory.

Brideshead Revisited is twenty years in the life of Captain Charles Ryder and the relationships that sustained him. Friendships with the Flyte family and Brideshead Castle, the military, religion, romance. We learn early on that he compares his waning affection for the military to a marriage in the post-honeymoon phase. I found that to be a really interesting analogy.
I would compare Brideshead Revisited to a lazy river. There is no white water pulse pounding plot twists. Instead it is a pleasant, gentle read that meanders through Victorian life. I can see the reason for its popularity and the various made for television movies it spawned.

Line I liked, “He was the acid test of all these alloys” (p 9).

Author fact: Brideshead Revisited was Waugh’s most successful novel. It was made into a miniseries in 1981 and a movie in 2008.

Book trivia: Waugh made revisions in 1954 (the original was published in 1944). He was of two minds about Julia’s outburst about mortal sin and Lord Marchmain’s dying silioquy. Were they appropriate for the story?

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything about Brideshead Revisited in either chapter.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1940s” (p 177) and from Book Lust To Go from the chapter called “Oxford: Literary Fiction” (p 170).

Persuasion

Austen, Jane. Persuasion. Read by Michael Page. Blackstone Audio, 2016.

Reason read: Persuasion was published in December 1817. Jane Austen was born in December. I also needed a one-word title for the Portland Public Library 2022 Reading Challenge.

As you probably remember from your high school literature class, there is not a whole lot of excitement happening in Persuasion. This is a character driven story based on personality, dialogue and society. Austen’s keen sense of observation was not in what people did, but how they did them.
Confessional: sometimes the characters drove me crazy. Maybe it was a Victorian societal thing, but I was annoyed with one character who was disagreeable to be in the confidences of other residents, especially when they constantly bitched to her about others. Mary is annoying with her fashionable hysterics, ailments and imaginary agitations. I liked the more clever persuasions, like when Anne was persuaded to think the engagement an indiscreet and improper mistake. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Anne as isolated and unloved as she was.
Jane Austen had a tongue-in-cheek humor. My favorite line was something like, “He took out a gun but never killed. Such a gentleman.”

Author fact: Austen was only 41 years old when she died. One of her aunts was named Philadelphia. I have never heard of a person being named Philadelphia before. What a cool name!

Book trivia: Persuasion was unfinished at the time of Austen’s death. Her brother found the manuscript and was able to publish it as Austen’s last novel. I ended up reading an anniversay edition of Persuasion which included exhausting and exhaustive footnotes and some photography that was out of context or referred to other Austen stories. To compliment the anniversary edition I listened to an audio version by Blackstone Audio.

Nancy said: Pearl said Austen’s writing is lighter in tone.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “An Anglophile’s Literary Pilgrimage” (p 19) and again in “Lyme Regis” (p 134). True story: somehow I missed cataloging this entire chapter on my Challenge spreadsheet. Woops.

Anthills of the Savannah

Achebe, Chinua. Anthills of the Savannah.Anchor Press, 1988.

Reason read: Achebe was born in the month of November. I also needed a book written by a Nigerian author for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge 2022.

The entire time I was reading Anthills of the Savannah I was suspicious of every single character. I knew going into it there was going to be a betrayal of some kind and that put me on edge. I was always questioning who would be the one to fall from grace. A friendship can be detroyed by a single misconception or a rumor born out of paranoia. All it takes is for one slight and lovers become enemies in an instant.
Reading Anthills of the Savannah was like being a vulture, soaring over the fictional African state of Kangan, hungry for the kill. From drought to political tribal disputes with city villages, the themes of love, friendship, and loyalty weave a complicated story. What with the Commissioner for Information, Commissioner for Education, Commissioner for Justice, Commissioner for Words, Commissioner for Works, Inspector General of Police, Chief Secretary, Master of Ceremonies, Superintendent of Traffic, and His Excellency all being introduced at once I felt like governance was a farse.

Author fact: Achebe also wrote Things Fall Apart which I read in 2006. Such a long time ago, but it has stuck with me ever since.

Book trivia: Anthills of the Savannah includes the legend of Idemili.

Quotes to quote: “For Cliche is but pauperized ecstasy” (p 11), “Worshipping a dictator is such a pain in the ass” (p 41), and “May you put that your useless story for inside your pocket” (p 214).

Nancy said: Pearl was including Things Fall Apart for her chapter on Nigeria, but said to check out Anthills of the Savannah as well.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Nigeria” (p 156).

God of Small Things

Roy, Arundhati. God of Small Things. Random House, 1997.

Reason read: God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, a prize that is normally awarded in October.

The God of Small Things opens with a lush description of the monsoon season of Ayemenem and the statement, “Baby Kochamma was still alive” (p 4). The simple statement hooks your breath back into your lungs while your mind jumps the rail, “what do you mean still alive?” Still? As in to imply not supposed to be of this earth? As reader, be prepared to bounce between time and space. In one chapter we will cremate a woman, in the next she will be alive and flirting.
Rahel and Estha, twins who are separated after tragedy. Death is a tragedy. Divorce is one, too. But lack of social standing is the most tragic of them all. Like a pervasive black and choking smoke, the ancient Indian caste system hangs dark and poisonous in the air. The ongoing separation of Paravan and Brahmin, touchable and untouchable, inhaled through nostrils and accepted as common as air to breathe. I was reminded of Dr. Seuss and his star bellied Sneetches. But like all unfair systems, the order of life doesn’t always work when there is a tilt, an upset in the balance. Especially when opposites attract. I don’t know how to review this book without giving too much away so I speak in circles. Jusr read it.

Quotes to quote, “On their shoulders they carried a keg of ancient anger, lit with a recent fuse” (p 67). I love it when writers take the intangible, like anger, and make it something touchable. Here’s another, “Shadows gathered like bats in the steep hollows near her collarbone” (p 154). One more: “They were not arresting a man, they were exorcising fear” (p 293). If that doesn’t say it all about racism…

Author fact: Roy studied to be an architect. she decided to write a book. God of Small Things is her first novel and wouldn’t you know it? she wins the Booker Prize.

Book trivia: I watched a short Ted video on why one should read God of Small Things. I don’t know if the makers of the video had this intention but I thought it was cute.

Nancy said: Pearl said God of Small Things was “simply glorious.”

Playlist: Elvis Presley, Handel’s Water Music, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “The Sound of Music”, “Baby Elephany Walk”, “Colonel Bogey’s March”, Little Richard, “Ruby Tuesday”, “My Favorite Things”, “So Long Farewell”,

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “India: a Reader’s Itinerary” (p 125). Also from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scenes from Sri Lanka” (p 197).

Forty Words for Sorrow

Blunt, Giles. Forty Words for Sorrow. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001.

Reason read: Stories about serial killers scare me. Maybe it is the thought that once a person kills it can become easier and easier for them to do. Maybe Sting was onto something when he sang, “murder by numbers, it’s as easy as one, two, three.” For Halloween, I chose to read Forty Words for Sorrow. In addition, I needed a book with an emotion in the title for the Portland Public Library Reading challenge.

The title comes from a comparison to the Eskimo language. If there are forty words for snow, surely somewhere out there there are forty words that mean sorrow. John Cardinal is a flawed small town Canadian cop fixated on solving the mystery of the disappearance of a teenager girl. Maybe it was the thought of his own daughter that originally drove him, but Cardinal’s obsession to solve the case depleted department resources and ultimately got him transferred out of homicide and into the burglary and petty crimes division. Meanwhile, another teenager goes missing. Then another. Suddenly, Cardinal’s obsession, thirteen year old Katie Pine’s remains are found. Maybe he was onto something after all? Is this the work of a serial killer? This time John is back on the case with a rookie for a partner (is it Lise or Lisa?) who might be investigating him.
This all would be a typical story of a dedicated office with an I-told-you-so attitude but Cardinal is a cop with a complicated life and a dirty secret his partner is determined to uncover. Can he solve the crime(s) before his personal life crashes down around him? His daughter is attending Yale on illegal funds, his wife’s mental instability has landed her in an expensive in-patient hospital, and yet another individual has been found murdered. John asks again, is there a serial killer operating out of the tiny town of Algonquin Bay? Can Cardinal close the case before his colleagues close in on him?
Not a spoiler alert: I appreciate that Blunt leaves the ending open. Cardinal’s crimes are not wrapped up in an all-is-forgiven-because-you-are-a-hero bow. There is room for Cardinal to make a comeback and face his demons.

Author fact: Giles Blunt and I share a birthday.

Book trivia: this could have been a movie.

Playlist: Backstreet Boys, Tupac Shakur, Puff Daddy, Aerosmith, Madonna, Pretenders, Bryan Adams, Neil Young, “Good Morning Little School Girl”, Bach, Pearl Jam, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, “Abide with Me”, Rolling Stones, Anne Murray, and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”.

Nancy said: Pearl said Blunt’s writing is gripping and that Forty Words for Sorrow was one of her favorites.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Canada, O Canada” (p 51).