Shreve, Anita. A Change in Altitude. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2009.
Reason read: Shreve’s birth month is in October. Read in her honor.
I love Shreve’s work. I love how at the end of every book she always leaves the reader slightly unsettled, as if there is more to the story. She refuses to wrap up the ending in a solid “Hollywood-happy” resolution.
Margaret and Patrick are newlyweds; only married for five months and yet I personally found their relationship flat and dispassionate. He, a doctor, travels around Kenya in exchange for research data on equatorial diseases. She, an out of work photographer, hopes to freelance around Nairobi and capture landscapes unfamiliar to her American eye. Together Patrick and Margaret join two other couples in an effort to climb Mount Kenya. Almost immediately, there is an imbalance to their chemistry. Margaret’s feminist sensibilities were threatened when she couldn’t earn her keep with a job and now she can’t keep up with the mountaineering climb. The others continuously leave her behind. Her companions have a much easier go at it. She is further insulted when the men in the group display subtle attitudes of sexism towards her. Arthur repeatedly claims he will take care of her while Wilfred casually refers to the women in the group as “girls.” Her climbing partners are snobbish; questioning the Masai tribe that has been around for centuries. All the while Margaret doesn’t fit in and stays quiet. She has something to prove but does little to promote her capabilities. Oddly, it is only after tragedy strikes is she then able to find her voice. This tragedy will carry consequences long into the future; long after Margaret finds a photography job with a controversial newspaper; long after Patrick and Margaret have new troubles in their marriage.
I couldn’t get a read on Margaret. It was weird, but I found her to be a bit unemotional. She was strangely calm when the couple’s only car is stolen or when she is attacked by fire ants. [The fire ant scene made me itch for days.]
As an aside, there were several things I needed to look up after reading A Change in Altitude. The breed of dog called “Rhodesian Ridgeback” for one. Mount Monadnock for another.
Author fact: Shreve spent some time in Nairobi, Kenya and even climbed Mount Kenya. This definitely helped with her descriptions of the area, if not the characters.
Book trivia: A Change in Altitude is Shreve’s 16th book.
Nancy said: Pearl called A Change in Altitude one of her “favorite” Shreve books.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Kenya” (p 123).
Mankell, Henning. The Eye of the Leopard. Translated by Steven T. Murray. New York: Random House, 2009.
Reason read: Read in honor of Levy Mwanawasa Day in Zambia.
Jumping between Hans Olofson’s Swedish childhood in Norrland and adult life in Mutshatsha, Africa, Eye of the Leopard depresses its reader with hopelessness and failure. Hans tries to escape memories of a father driven to drink out of loneliness and a series of personal tragedies by embarking on the quest that once belonged to a now deceased girlfriend. Janine wanted to see the mission station and grave of a legendary missionary, but as a 25 year old white European, Hans is confronted with grim realities. Janine’s dream is not his to obtain. Not only is he sorely out of place due to ignorance, his skin color is monumentally hated. A series of abandonments haunt him: his father left him for the bottle, Janine died, his best friend disowned him, and his mother just plain vanished when he was a small child. Sweden was a mediocre existence; an ultimate dead end. Even Africa is not what he envisioned for himself. Despite being ready to leave as soon as he arrives, Olofson takes a job on an egg farm. His own actions confound him. While Africa gives him a clean slate from everyone who deserted him and every failure he experienced in Norrland, he can’t imagine calling a place like Africa home.
The title of the novel comes from Olofson’s obsessive hallucination of a leopard in the African bush. The leopard comes to be symbolic of everything Olofson can’t escape.
Quotes that got me, “It is a constant reminder of a sailor who wound up in the utterly wrong place, who managed to make landfall where there wasn’t any sea,” “In every person’s life there are ill-considered actions, trips that never needed to be taken,” and “He feels like a conman who has grown tired of not being unmasked.”
Author fact: Mankell traveled to Africa. Many suspect parts of Eye of the Leopard to be autobiographical.
Book trivia: Eye of the Leopard is a departure from Mankell’s Swedish mysteries. Incidentally, there was a National Geographic documentary of the same name produced in 2006. Completely unrelated to the book, though.
Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Eye of the Leopard except to say it takes place in Zambia, just after it achieved independence.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the penultimate chapter simply called “Zambia” (p 266).
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).
January is a month of great indecision. I can’t decide if I want to say more…
If there is one thing I can say for the January books, it is that most all of the fiction made mention of great music. Some musicians I knew, some I didn’t. Some songs I knew, some I didn’t. I had fun looking it all up though.
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen (EB & print). Music: Philip Fogarty, Anne Lardi, Rolling Stones, Snow Patrol, Johnny Duhan.
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (EB & print).
- Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland (EB & print). Music: Lucinda Williams, Slim Dusty, Nick Cave, The Warumpi Band, Ry Cooder.
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett (EB & print). Music: Charles Tenet.
- Graced Land by Laura Kalpakian (EB & print). Music: Elvis, Elvis, and more Elvis.
- The Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel (print). Music: Leonard Cohen, Beethoven, and the fictional heavy metal band, Panda Bear Soup.
- The Passage to India by E.M. Forster (EB & print).
- Barcardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten (EB & print).
- Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset (EB & print).
- The Persuader by Lee Child (EB & AB).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Fine, Thanks by Mary Dunnewold (EB). Music: Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison, Talking Heads, Aaron Copeland (can you tell, Dunnewold really likes music!).
Bennett, Ronan. The Catastrophist: a Novel. New york: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Reason read: Bennett celebrates a birthday in January.
The underlying theme of this political thriller is the mistiming of love. One is already more ready than the other to give into the insecurities of love…until they are not. Compared over and over to Graham Greene, Bennett’s Catastrophist is character driven and full of political intrigue. Irish novelist James Gillespie tells the story of his journey to the Belgian Congo to follow his Italian girlfriend, Ines. As an ambitious journalist, she is covering the Congolese struggle for independence. Once the passion of her life, now she has little time or patience for James. Meanwhile, his romantic pendulum has swung in the other direction, clinging to a newfound
adoration obsession for Ines. I found their relationship to be shallow and self-serving. But, no matter. James gets caught up in the politics and befriends all the wrong people, pushing Ines further away. When she takes up with another man, it appears all hope is lost for reconciliation with James…and yet, James is blindly willing to go to unbelievably remarkable lengths to show his devotion.
Line I really, really liked and just had to quote, “The apartment reeked of our estrangement” (p 160). One more, “He was too absorbed in disguising his own failure, from me, from himself” (p 206).
Author fact: Bennett has written a plethora of other books, but I am only reading The Catastrophist for the Challenge. Additionally, I read somewhere that Bennett had trouble with the law throughout his life, including accusations of murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy.
Book trivia: this should be a movie. There is certainly enough sex and violence to make it a thriller. There was talk of making a movie, but I’m not sure it ever got off the ground.
Nancy said: Pearl called The Catastrophist a “political thriller” and suggested it should be read with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African Colonialism (fiction)” (p 15).
Believe it or not, I’m kind of happy with the way January is shaping up already, five days in. After the disappointments of December I am definitely ready for change. I’m running more these days. I convinced a friend to see sirsy with me. I’m not sure what she thought, but I am still in love with the lyrics. Anyway, enough of that. Here are the books:
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett – in honor of Bennett’s birthday being on the 14th of January. (EB)
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen – in honor of Bruen’s birthday also being in January. Confessional: I read this book in one day. (EB)
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat – in honor of Danticat’s birthday also being in January. (EB)
- Graced Land by Laura Kalapakian – in honor of Elvis’s birth month also being in January.
- Passage to India by E.M. Forster – in honor of Forster’s birth month also being in January. Yes, celebrating a lot of birthdays this month!
- Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten – in honor of a Cuban Read Day held in January.
- Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel – in honor of China’s spring festival.
- Persuader by Lee Child – the last one in the series, read in honor of New York becoming a state in July (and where Child lived at the time I made this whole thing up). (AB)
- The Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset – this is another series I am wrapping up. I started it in October in honor of a pen pal I used to know in Norway.
- I am supposed to receive an Early Review from November’s list, but it hasn’t arrived so I can’t mention it. For the first time in a long, long time (perhaps ever, I’ll have to look), I did not request a book for the month of December.
When I look back at August my first thought is what the hell happened? The month went by way too fast. Could the fact that I saw the Grateful Dead, Natalie Merchant (4xs), Trey Anastasio, Sirsy, and Aerosmith all in the same month have anything to do with that? Probably. It was a big month for traveling (Vermont, Connecticut, NYC) and for being alone while Kisa was in Charlotte, Roanoke, Erie, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Colorado. And. And, And! I got some running done! The treadmill was broken for twenty days but in the last eleven days I eked out 12.2 miles. Meh. It’s something. Speaking of something, here are the books:
- African Queen by C.S. Forester
- Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas
- Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin
- Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen
- Beauty by Robin McKinley
- Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
- American Chica by Marie Arana
- Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge
- Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson
- Die Trying by Lee Child
- Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov
Early Review cleanup:
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm
- Open Water by Mikael Rosen
Thomas, Maria. Antonia Saw the Oryx First. New York: Soho, 1987.
Reason read: August is Friendship Month.
Antonia Redmond and Esther Moro have an interesting relationship as they couldn’t be anymore different from one another. Antonia, an educated white woman, was born to American parents but has lived in Dar es Salaam, Africa nearly all of her life. As a doctor, she has been schooled in traditional modern medicine. Meanwhile, Esther Moro is on the other end of the spectrum as a woman who sells her body to make ends meet. “She knows only men” as the band The Horseflies would say. After a particularly violent encounter with a Greek fisherman Esther and Antonia meet as patient and doctor. At first Esther wants Antonia to teach her the rules of modern medicine, but soon discovers she has the power to heal within her already. Esther listens to her culture’s whisperings of witchcraft, ancient legends, and curses.
Author fact: Maria Thomas was a pen name for Roberta Worrick. She died in a plane crash was she was only 47 years old.
Book trivia: Two pieces of trivia, actually. Antonia Saw the Oryx First was Thomas’s first novel. She also wrote African Visas which is on my Challenge list for May 2031.
Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t say anything specific about the book or the author; just describes the plot a little.
BookLust Twist: Twice from Book Lust. Once in the chapter called “African Colonialism: Fiction” (p 14) and also in the Book Lust chapter “Women’s Friendships” (p 247).
Forester, Cecil Scott. The African Queen. New york: The Modern Library, 1940.
Reason read: I needed a classic I’ve always wanted to read for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading challenge. This one fit the bill. And, and! And, it was short!
Who doesn’t know the movie version of this book? Thanks to Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and a little Academy Award for Best Actor, everyone has seen it. Nearly everyone that is, except me. Fear not, it’s on the list.
To set the stage: Africa, World War I. Rose is high spirited, a spunky woman despite being a strait-laced and virginal missionary’s sister. She is out for revenge for the death of her brother; she wants to torpedo the Germans to strike a blow for England. Enter gin-swilling mechanic Charlie Allnut and his river boat, the African Queen. Rose is only too eager to learn all about the African Queen to determine its full usefulness to exact her revenge – torpedoing the German police boat, the Konigin Luise. Rose’s patriotism and lust for adventure adds up to a woman Allnut has never seen the likes of before. She somehow convinces him to take on her quest and it is her feisty nature that gets her and Allnut through deadly rapids, thick mangroves, choking weeds, malaria infested swarms of mosquitoes and stifling heat down the Bora delta.
Typical and predictable, a relationship blooms between Rose and Charlie, but how could it not when confined on a river boat for days on end? As they say, misery loves company. Despite seeing the relationship a mile away Forester reissued his story so that he had the opportunity to present the end of the story as he originally intended. It’s not what you expect.
Lines I just had to quote, “Allnut tried to keep his amusement out of sight” (p 39), while Rose was described thusly, “A woman sewing has a powerful weapon at her disposal when engaged in a duel with a man” (p 91). He’s bumbling and she’s feisty.
More lines I liked, “Allnut would not have exchanged Rose for all the fried fish shops in the world” (p 165). Aint romance grand?
As an aside, I just love an author who uses the word willynilly.
Author fact: C.S. Forester might be better known for his Horatio Hornblower sea adventures.
Book trivia: The African Queen was made into a movie in 1951 as I mentioned before.
Nancy said: Pearl only mentioned The African Queen because Forester is known for it, above and beyond his Horatio Hornblower series.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sea Stories” (p 217). As you guessed it, I deleted this from the Challenge list because The African Queen takes place on an African river, not the high seas.
Last month (okay, yesterday!) I whined about how I have been feeling uninspired writing this blog. I think it’s because I haven’t really been in touch with what I’ve been reading. None of the books in July jump started my heart into beating just a little faster. “Dull torpor” as Natalie would say in the Maniacs song, Like the Weather. Maybe it comes down to wanting more oomph in my I’mNotSureWhat; meaning I don’t know if what I need or what would fire me up enough to burn down my yesterdays; at least so that they aren’t repeated tomorrow. I’m just not sure.
Hopefully, these books will do something for me:
- African Queen by Cecil Forester – in honor of the movie. Can I be honest? I’ve never seen the movie!
- Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas (EB/print) – in honor of August being Friendship month.
- Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object (EB/print) by Laurie Colwin – in honor of August being National Grief Month.
- Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen (EB/print) – in honor of August being Frazen’s birth month.
- Beauty: the Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley (EB/print) – in honor of August being Fairy Tale month.
- Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge (EB/print) – in memory of Florence Nightingale. August is her death month.
- American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Maria Arana (EB/print) – a memoir in honor of August being “Selfish Month.”
- If there is time: What Just Happened by James Gleick – in honor of Back to School month.
- Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov (EB/print) – the penultimate book in the Foundation series.
- Die Trying by Lee child (AB/EB/print) – the second book in the Jack Reacher series.
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm (started in July).
- Open Water by Mikael Sturm.
So. I never posted what I hoped to accomplish reading for July. Whoops and whoops. To tell you the truth, I got busy with other things. What other things I couldn’t tell you. It’s not the thing keeping me up at night. Besides, if I’m truly honest no one reads this blather anyway. In my mind the “you” that I address is really me, myself and moi; our own whacked out sense of conformity. Let’s face it, my reviews are as uninspiring as dry toast carelessly dropped in sand. It’s obvious something needs to change. I just haven’t figured out what that something is or what the much needed change looks like. Not yet at least. I need a who, where, what, why, and how analysis to shake off the same as it ever was. It’ll come to me eventually.
But, enough of that and that and that. Here’s what July looked like for books and why:
- Killing Floor by Lee Child – in honor of New York becoming a state in July (Child lives in New York).
- Alligator by Lisa Moore – in honor of Orangemen Day in Newfoundland.
- Forrest Gump by winston Groom – on honor of the movie of the same name being released in the month of July.
- Aunt Julia and the Script Writer by Mario Vargas Llosa – in honor of July being the busiest month to visit Peru.
- Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch – in honor of Murdoch’s birth month.
- Blood Safari by Leon Meyer – in honor of Meyer’s birth month.
- By the River Piedra I Sat down and Wept by Paulo Coelho – in honor of July being Summer Fling Month.
- Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Yes, I am behind.
- Blood Spilt by Asa Larsson.
- Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. Confessional. Even though there are two more books in the Barsetshire Chronicles I am putting Trollope back on the shelf for a little while. The stories are not interconnected and I am getting bored.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm. I only started this. It will be finished in August.
What startles me as I type this list is I didn’t finish any nonfiction in July. I started the Holocaust memoir but haven’t finished it yet. No nonfiction. Huh.
Uwimana, Denise. From Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness. New York: Plough Publishing House, 2019
Reason read: and Early Review book for LibraryThing.
I began reading this book review on the 25th anniversary of the start of Uwimana’s story. April 7th, 1994 began a hundred-day nightmare as nearly one million Rwandan Tutsi were brutally slaughtered by neighboring Hutus. Uwimana’s suffering began as more of an inconvenience three years earlier when her village had an innocuous curfew and her husband was forced to leave his family. Prejudices abounded but they were manageable. At the time Uwimana would practice small acts of defiance such as combing her hair in Tutsi fashion or having clandestine visits with her husband, but as mentioned before, life was bearable. Everything came to a head when President Habyarimana was assassinated on April 6th, 1994. Then the real nightmare began. Tutsi were blamed for the death and a campaign to wipe out there tribe ensured.
While Uwimana writes in a crystalline clear voice I took in her words slowly and with great thoughtfulness. There is a subtle grace to the things she says. First she survived. Remarkable. Then she healed. Incredible. Finally, she forgave. Indescribable strength.
“…April is over. Will you tell me how long before I can be there?”
-The Painted Desert, 10,000 Maniacs
I will have that song playing in my head from now until June. Not only am I planning to be there, the trip cannot happen soon enough. But for the purposes of this post: April is over and here are the books accomplished:
- The Warden by Anthony Trollope.
- The City and the House by Natalia Ginzburg (EB & print).
- Summer at Fairacre by Miss Read (EB).
- Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding.
- All Souls by Javier Marias (EB & print).
- All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor (AB and print).
- Sixpence House by Paul Collins (EB & print).
- Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs.
- Hunting Season by Nevada Barr (EB and print).
- The Game by Laurie R. King (AB/AB/print).
- Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith (EB & print)
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (EB)
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwimana
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – Yes! I finally finished it!
I may not be happy with my personal life in regards to fitness, health, and so on, but I am definitely satisfied with the number of books I was able to check off my Challenge list for the month of December. Special thanks to my kisa who did all the driving up and back and around the great state of Maine.
- The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (EB/print).
- Any Old Iron by Anthony Burgess.
- Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund.
- This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun.
- Time Machines: the Best Time Travel Stories Ever Written edited by Bill Adler, Jr.
- The Black Tents of Arabia: (My Life Among the Bedouins by Carl Raswan.
- Lost Moon: the Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger.
- The Female Eunuch by Germain Greer.
- Stet: a Memoir by Diana Athill (EB and print).
- Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens (EB and print).
- Unicorn Hunt by Dorothy Dunnett. Confessional: I did not finish this.
- The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (EB/print/AB).
Owens, Mark and Delia. Cry of the Kalahari: Seven Years in Africa’s Last Great Wilderness. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Press, 1984.
Reason read: Mark and Delia Owens were married in the month of December. Read this in honor of their anniversary.
In 1974 Mark and Delia headed to Africa to start a research project just one year after their wedding day. Cry of the Kalahari is the story of their seven years in the Kalahari Desert. Taking turns, they share their experiences living with brown hyenas, lion prides, and unpredictable jackals, among many other animals. Because most of the animals have never seen humans before they are neither threatened or antagonized by Mark and Delia’s presence. At face value, Cry of the Kalahari is romantic and idealistic.
Admittedly, I have a few issues with Cry of the Kalahari, beginning with the trivial. One, how many times they mentioned the temperatures being 120 degrees in the shade. You are in the Kalahari desert! What did you expect?
Two, their so-called research. They went to Kalahari not really sure what they wanted to work on. When they discovered there was little known about the brown hyena they set about to learn all they could about the species, then they added jackals, and yet after Bones, a male lion, was murdered by hunters they changed their focus to protecting all wildlife of the Kalahari. By the end of the book their focus had widened to include wildebeest. How they received funding for such vague and vast research is beyond me. However, the couple is quick to point out Cry of the Kalahari is not detailed report of their research. That will show up elsewhere they promised.
My third issue is probably the most personal. They claimed over and over they didn’t want to interfere with the wildlife because it would change the validity of their research. They cried as animals starved to death outside their food-laden tent. Yet they had no problem performing a makeshift surgery on Bones, a lion who had broken his leg, or smearing motor oil on Blue, another lion who suffered from parasites. Most likely both of these animals would have died without human intervention. Essentially, the Owenes actions disrupted the circle of life in the Kalahari.
As an aside, the description of the cheetah hitting the wire fence at 70 miles an hour is heart breaking.
Author(s) fact(s): The Owenses are no strangers to the media spotlight. They have been on numerous talk shows.
Book trivia: there is a generous selection of color photographs in Cry of the Kalahari, along with a smaller section of black and whites.
Nancy said: Pearl was actually talking about another book written by the Owenses when she mentioned Cry. Interestingly enough, in relation to Cry Pearl said Mark and Delia were “expelled from Botswana” because of this book (Book Lust To Go p 267).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Zambia” (p 266). Confessional: I deleted Cry Of the Kalahari from the true list of books I needed to read for the Challenge because Cry does not take place in Zambia.