Alexander, Meena. Nampally Road. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1991.
Reason read: In honor of the International Flower Festival, held in the month of May.
While barely one hundred pages long, Nampally Road shouts a clear message of India. Protagonist and poet, Mira Kannadical returns to Hyderabad, India after four years studying in England. She has come home to teach poetry, but finds her neighborhood in a constant state of civil unrest; a battle field where violence and tear gas clouds are everyday occurrences. Police brutality and political corruption hold the community in paralyzed fear, especially after a woman is gang-raped by police officers and left for dead in a prison cell. Not many are willing to rock the boat after a group of orange sellers are attacked for protesting taxes. Mira is dating an activist who thinks differently. This suspends Mira in conflict as she tries to reconcile her beliefs with the changes of modern India.
Quotes to quote, “It was if the bloodshed in the afternoon already belonged in another country” (p 9) “I suffered from dislocation” (p 29), and “He died a safe death, in another country, under the gentle shade of the tamarind tree” (p 96).
Author fact: Alexander has written a great deal of poetry, but Nampally Road was her first novel. She died in 2018.
Book trivia: Illustrations are by Pablo Haz.
Nancy said: Pearl included Nampally Road as a book “by Indian writers (many of whom now live in England, Canada, or the United States” (p 127).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “India: A Reader’s Itinerary (Fiction)” (p 125).
Parkin, Gaile. Baking Cakes in Kigali. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.
Reason read: the Rwanda genocide happened on April 6th, 1994. Read in memory of that event.
Respected as a skilled baker in her new Rwandan community, Angel Tungaraza also acts as a voice of reason and likes to solve her customer’s problems whether they ask for her help or not (think of a bartender or hair dresser; someone who can listen to one’s woes and offer advice for the sheer sake of chitchat). Drawing from her life in Tanzania, she manages to help her friends and neighbors in unique ways. Angel isn’t without her faults, though. She protects her reputation fiercely and can come across as snobbish when she doesn’t approve of the cake someone else has baked or designed. If the customer chooses colors and styles that are “boring” in Angel’s opinion she secretly scoffs at them. She also carries a secret shame; one that she cannot even admit to herself.
Throughout Baking Cakes in Kigali I was comparing Angela to Angela Lansbury in “Murder, She Wrote.” Only instead of murders, Angel Tungaraza muddles her way through issues such as adultery, ritual cutting, equal rights for women, and racial prejudices; tackling the aftershocks of societal catastrophes such as AIDS and the Rwandan genocide.
Author fact: Parkin also wrote When Hoopoes Go to Heaven which is not on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Many, many people compared Baking Cakes in Kigali to Alexander McCall Smith’s series.
Nancy said: Pearl called Baking Cakes in Kigali “charming.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).
Unsworth, Barry. Rage of the Vulture. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982.
Reason read: March is (or was) a good time to visit Turkey. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “good time to visit” reasons, but I guess there was one straggler. Oh well.
As an aside, I am always daunted by books with lists of characters. It’s as if the author is warning the reader, “I have included so many people you won’t be able to keep up.” One character I could not wrap my empathy around was Captain Robert Markham. He’s not very lovable as the main protagonist. He doesn’t connect with his ten year old son except to see him as a rival for his wife’s affections. It’s as if he doesn’t know what to do with his boy, Henry. This fact is not lost on the kid. Meanwhile, Robert treats his wife as an ornamental yet extremely fragile vase he parades out and places front and center during social occasions. His saves his sexual appetite for Henry’s governess. He all but rapes this poor girl because he has told her his truth; his Armenian fiance was raped and murdered twelve years earlier at their engagement party. What happens when all these secrets are revealed and Markham’s world starts to unravel? It’s an interesting dilemma.
Lines that got me (and there were a lot of them so I will try to keep this to a minimum), “He seemed to live behind some contrived fence, as ill or afflicted people do” (p 22), and “He would silence this voice of consolation which sought to make his apostasy trivial” (p 231).
Author fact: Unsworth also wrote Sacred Hunger which is also on my list.
Book trivia: I could picture this as a movie.
Nancy said: In Book Lust To Go Pearl recommended Rage of the Vulture as a book written by a non-Turkish writer. In More Book Lust Pearl mentions Rage of the Vulture as a historical novel and describes the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Turkish Delights: Fiction” (p 239). Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction (p 79).
Wallis, Velma. Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival. New York: Perennial, 1993.
Reason read: Seward Day is in March.
Two old women do not know each other very well before being abandoned by their People. Surviving the wilds of Arctic Circle Alaska is serious business, especially when you are elderly. Winter is closing in, food is scarce, and it is time for the tribe to be moving on. The Athabaskan Chief and his Council make the tough decision to leave their weakest behind in order to survive the harsh elements. This means seventy-five year old Sa’ and eighty year old Ch’idzigyaak are left to fend for themselves: finding food, making clothes, securing shelter, and staving off loneliness. These women are tough and resourceful, which makes for great perseverance.
Spoiler alert. This has a happy ending so you know the women survive. That wasn’t the plot twist for me. What I didn’t expect was the women’s fear of their tribe “finding” them again. They were suspicious of potential malevolent behavior (including cannibalism) if they were discovered to have survived. Even when they are reunited with their People, it takes time to trust them again. Who can blame them?
In my modern day society, I thought could not imagine a society where a community leaves its elderly behind, knowing full well they will probably will die. But then again, oh wait. I do. Italy, March 2020. They had to make the hard decision to not offer ventilators to anyone over the age of 80. Survival of the fittest.
Quote I liked best, “The body needs food but the mind needs people” (p 65).
Author fact: Wallis was born in the Alaskan interior. Two Old Women is her first novel.
Book trivia: Two Old Women was illustrated by James Grant.
Nancy said: Pearl actually didn’t chose Two Old Women. She asked author Dana Stabenow to select some Alaskan titles. Stabenow said Two Old Women is very controversial in Alaska.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “All Set For Alaska” (p 15).
Horwitz, Tony. Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia.
Reason read: Baghdad was bombed in March 2003. Read in memory of that event.
Baghdad in the mid 1980s was such a volatile place to be. For Tony Horwitz to be bombing around (pun totally intended) Arabia was insane. There he was, in a land where even local weather reports and maps were banned. Think about it. As a left handed, Jewish stringer, he was not the most popular person to be wandering about those parts of the middle east. He met many people who exclaimed, “Death to America!” before gushing about Disneyland or Hollywood. Despite the dangers and hatreds, his narrative is more than slightly tongue-in-cheek and a lot more than a little funny. He scoffs at roadblocks manned by a 7′ cardboard soldier (while the real military gets stoned on qat). He makes light of millions of crushing fanatics at Khomeini’s funeral. He jokes about not being able to find his wife cloaked in a chador. At the same time as being funny, he is keenly observant. One of my favorites notes – while middle eastern air travel is not the safest; the oxygen masks made be missing, but at least passengers know which direction they should bow their heads in prayer thanks to a “Mecca indicator” on the ceiling of their aircraft.
As an aside, I love it when the knowledge lens gets a little wider. Through reading Martin Mosebach’s The 21, I gained a broader perspective of the Coptic Christian community. So when the Coptics were mentioned in Baghdad Without a Map the reference wasn’t a foreign concept.
Quotes to quote, “The history of modern Baghdad reads like Macbeth, only bloodier” (p 113), and “A man could play Rambo for less money than he paid for a week’s worth of qat” (p 37).
Author fact: Sadly, Tony Horwitz died last year at the age of sixty years young. Heart attack, I think.
Book trivia: There are no photographs included in Baghdad Without a Map. Bummer.
Nancy said: Pearl said her favorite line in Baghdad without a Map included Horwitz’s humor and insight.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” (p 113). It’s funny Pearl included Horwitz’s book in this chapter because he ended up going back to the middle east again…so maybe it in his mind it was always a good idea. No regrets.
Lightner Jr., Sam. All Elevations Unknown: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo. New York: Broadway Books, 2001.
Reason read: Mount Kinabalu was first ascended in March 1851.
As an extremely accomplished rock climber, Sam Lightner was always looking for the next summit. Coming across a black and white photo of a mysterious mountain somewhere in the heart of Borneo sent his NeedToConquer heart beating a little faster and his adventurous spirit into overdrive. Where, exactly, was this mountain and how soon could he scale it? The map was labeled “all elevations unknown.” In the spring of 1999, following Major Tom Harrisson’s book, The World Within as his bible, Lightner and a team of fellow climbers, camera men, porters, and unseen spirits set off into the jungle. A total of twenty-seven men follow Harrisson’s footsteps to conquer mountain known as Batu Lawi.
What makes All Elevations Unknown different from other extreme sport memoirs is Lightner’s historical look-back of what Tom Harrisson was going through fifty-four years earlier. Every other chapter is set in 1945 as Tom and his native tribe of Kelabit fight off the enemy Japanese at the end of World War II. For Harrisson, it was a struggle to keep the Kelabit from using their own inhumane war tactics of decapitation and poisoned darts. For Lightner in present day, sponsorship makes it a struggle to keep the photographers and reporters from interfering with, or even ruining, the climb. Both men, fifty-four years apart, experience a necessary inconvenience by collaborating with men with different motives.
As an aside: evading leeches sounded like a true nightmare until Lightner mentioned centipedes….
Author fact: Lightner is an international rock climber and has been the subject of a documentary.
Book trivia: Sadly, there are no maps or real photographs relevant to the adventure in All Elevations Unknown. In the online version there is an image of the famed mountain. Additional trivia: Lightner includes climbing terms for those not in the know.
Nancy said: Pearl said All Elevations Unknown was “entertaining” (Book Lust To Go p 39).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called ” Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).
Hyland, Adrian. Gunshot Road. New York: Soho Press, 2010.
Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of I have no idea what. I continue to have no idea.
In the last Emily Tempest installment, Emily had just returned to the Outback. When we catch up to her in Gunshot Road, she has settled in as a Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) for the Bluebush police department. Only half the uniform fits her and she is “allergic to authority.” Add her temperament as a hothead, not afraid of authority and you can imagine why the job isn’t sitting with her as comfortably as she (and others) would like. To top it off, her superior is a by-the-book replacement by the name of Bruce Cockburn. Cockburn is filling in for Emily’s old friend, Tom MacGillivray while Tom is hospitalized. Unfortunately, Bruce doesn’t get Emily at all. All the barriers are there; the biggest being gender. As a female investigator she isn’t taken seriously. Being biracial doesn’t help either. Her very first case is a murder investigation at the Green Swamp Well Roadhouse and she has very little support during the investigation. Par for the course, someone is covering up something much bigger.
As an aside, Emily is someone I could kick back with and enjoy a beer. I admire her smart, funny, and courageous attitude. I do not, however, believe she could fire a shotgun with her big toe while wrestling, with her hands tied, with a 200lb+ brute. As you can probably tell, there is a lot of violence in Hyland novels.
Best part of Gunshot Road: Emily’s best friend, Hazel, and boyfriend, Jojo, are back. Yes!
Quote to quote, “Rage and shame, deaf to reason, swept through me in storms that tore aware the flimsy tarps lashed above my soul” (p 241 – 242).
As another aside, I was bothered by the cruelty towards animals in both Hyland books. It seems as if the citizens of the Aboriginal bush like to take their revenge out on dogs. A dog in Moonlight Downs was punched a killing blow because it bit a trespasser. This time, in Gunshot Road, a dog was beaten with a hammer. I’m more of a cat person but geeze!
Author fact: I wish I was reading Hyland’s nonfiction, Kinglake-350. It won a few awards. As of Gunshot Road, I am officially done with this author.
Book trivia: the one thing I remember commenting on before is Hyland’s use of music in his books. Almost right away in Gunshot Road he quoted “Mother and Child Reunion.” He also introduced me to the Pigram Brothers, a band of seven brothers from Broome, WA in Australia. Coral Cowboys, Cold Chisel, and Buffalo Express are others.
Nancy said: Gunshot Road was included in the list of Australian fiction that shouldn’t be missed.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Australia, the Land of Oz: Fiction” (p 26).