Books

Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

My Read the World Project? Completed it!

Way back in January 2017, I decided I was going to try and read a book from every country in the world before my 30th birthday in September 2021, giving me just under five years. To begin with I wasn’t sure if I was going to go with authors from every country or just having the book set in each country be enough. I soon went with the authors from that country approach though as I thought that while it was likely to be more challenging, it would allow me to experience a more authentic take on a country and its people, culture and history.

I didn’t meet my self-imposed target of reading a book from every country in the world before I was 30. This was due to a combination of things over the years I was doing this challenge. There were times I was in reading slumps, or when I wasn’t prioritising the international books, or when I couldn’t find certain ones, or just how generally a lot of the books for this challenge were non-fiction or historical fiction and those kinds of books don’t tend to be ones that I read very quickly.

After failing at my original deadline with 48 books/countries still to go, I decided to tweak things a bit so I had till my 31st birthday to read a book from every country in the world as then I’d at least still have completed the challenge in my 30th year. And with my 31st birthday tomorrow I’m very pleased to say that on 17th September 2022 I read the final book for my Read the World Project! Part of me was kind of annoyed that I didn’t stick to my original goal but a lot of things happened over the years I’ve been reading books from around the world – I moved to a new city, got new jobs, there was a global pandemic, I experienced the loss of three close family members, including my dad, in the space of three weeks in March 2020. It’s no wonder that reading of any kind got pushed to the back burner at times.

I have read books from 205 different countries! Technically there are 195 countries in the world but I did things like split the UK into England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and read books by authors from places like Taiwan, Palestine and Kosovo which often has their autonomy disputed. I read short stories, novels, poetry, essays, non-fiction, plays, children’s stories – just about every type of literature you can imagine to complete this challenge. I also read physical books, ebooks, and audiobooks during this challenge as there were some books that were only available digitally or were a lot cheaper than a physical copy. It was fascinating discovering authors and books that I never would’ve heard of or read if it wasn’t for this challenge.

No offence to any of the books I read but there’s some I have very little memory of as I read them like four years ago. Part of me would be interested in rereading some of the books from the early part of this challenge to see if my opinions changed at all now I’ve read more widely and have experienced so many different writing styles.

I’d say I read a lot of things out of my comfort zone but to be honest I’m not sure what my comfort zone is anymore. Because such a huge chunk of my reading for the past five years has been focused on my Read the World Project, and often there wasn’t a lot of choice when it came to what I read for a country as there might only be a few books translated into English, I’ve read what I had to, not necessarily what I was interested in. I grew up a fantasy fan and I’ve read the odd fantasy book over the past few years but I’m not sure if that is still my favourite genre. I’ve acquired a lot of books over the years from browsing Waterstones or from the times I’ve been subscribed to things like Illumicrate or FairyLoot and I’ve read very few of them even if at the time I got them they sounded super interesting.

It’s going to be a bit weird but also exciting to have total freedom with my reading choices again. The times I went on holiday I would always take a mixture of “fun books” aka not for my Read the World Project and books for my Read the World Project as I never felt like I could completely stop reading books from around the world as I didn’t want to fall behind or get out of the habit of reading them.

I want to mention a few websites that really helped me find books and writers for my Read the World Project. I’m not the first person to embark on this reading journey and I’ll surely not be the last but finding others who had blogged about their experience of reading a book from every country in the world helped me a lot when I was stumped on a country.

While it was sometimes really hard to find certain books because they were old or out of print or ridiculously expensive, looking over those websites gave me options and helped me feel confident that I would find some sort of literature from each country somehow. Taking full advantage of the University of Cambridge’s library sure helped (I work in a University department so automatically get library access) especially with some of the smaller countries, and I’m lucky enough to have the disposable income to do things like pay to have the one copy of a book I found on AbeBooks to be shipped from Texas to the UK – it was The Golden Horse and cost $56. Thankfully this was before the British Pound tanked in value so it worked out to cost about £42.

I’m really pleased and proud to have read a book from every country in the world. I learnt a lot from so many of the books I read. Even the fiction books as when a book is written by someone who has lived that culture or experience, that authenticity shines through. It was an interesting but sometimes difficult challenge and I’m looking forward to revisiting some of the authors I read for my Read the World Project in the future.

I’ve put together a master post for my Read the World Project so anyone who’s interested in a specific country can easily find the work I read for it.

READ THE WORLD – Monaco: My Book of Flowers by Princess Grace of Monaco with Gwen Robyns

The former actress shares her sense of floral aesthetics, discloses the secrets of flower pressing, examines the portrayal of flowers throughout history in the arts, and discusses the use of flowers as beauty aids and home remedies

This was the last country/book for my Read the World Project! I did feel like I was cheating a bit as this is the only book where the author isn’t of the nationality of the country the book is supposed to represent, but Monaco is just such a small country that it was impossible to find any works by native writers available in English. However, as I read My Book of Flowers I started to think that it did count, especially at the beginning where the Princess talks about Monaco’s history in relation to flowers and the local flora. Like The State in the Third Millennium, My Book of Flowers made me interesting in visiting a place I’d never really considered before which was interesting.

I’m not really a flower person. While it is always nice to see pretty flowers, I never really have any at home in a vase (I’m not sure if I even own a vase) and I struggle to keep plants alive. That being said I did find My Book of Flowers interesting and I learnt a lot from it. The Princess’s passion for flowers shines through and I think learning about something the author is clearly passionate about always makes the topic more interesting and thought-provoking. I especially liked the chapter on the legends related to different flowers. I never thought there was such a thing but considering there are myths and legends about pretty much anything in any culture it makes sense that there would be ones surrounding flowers. They’re legends about how the flower got its name, why it looks how it does, for some flowers there’s just the one story but for others there’s multiple stories as different countries have different legends for the same flower.

My Book of Flowers contains so many photographs and illustrations, there’s at least one image on each page. There are photos the Princess’s flowering pressings, the Royal gardens and their home, as well as images of paintings and furniture where flowers are heavily featured. It’s a nice book to flick through and read at a chapter or two at time or just look at the photos.

And this is my last review for my Read the World Project! Can’t quite believe it’s over. I am writing a sort of wrap-up post about this experience which should be published next week but after that this is done.

READ THE WORLD – North Macedonia: A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska

Translated by Christina E. Kramer.

Zlata and Srebra are 12-year-old twins conjoined at the head. It is 1984 and they live in Skopje, which will one day be the capital of Macedonia but is currently a part of Yugoslavia. A Spare Life tells the story of their childhood, from their only friend Roza to their neighbour Bogdan, so poor that he one day must eat his pet rabbit. Treated as freaks and outcasts, even by their own family, the twins just want to be normal girls. But after an incident that almost destroys their bond as sisters, they fly to London, determined to be surgically separated. Will this be their liberation, or only more tightly ensnare them?

A Spare Life begins in 1984 but the story crosses decades into the new millennium as Zlata and Srebra grow together and have to make choices about high school, university, and relationships. Lots of people in their lives, including their parents, presume they are mentally deficient because of their situation but both girls are smart and capable. It’s clear from the outset that if they weren’t conjoined twins they could’ve had their own interests, friends and lives if they weren’t attached to one another by a small bit of skin and a vein.

People naturally don’t get on all the time, no matter how close they are, and for Zlata and Srebra to never be able to have their own personal space from one another it’s clear to see the frustrations both girls have. However, A Spare Life is solely told from Zlata’s point of view and personally I would’ve liked it if there were chapters from Srebra’s point of view to see what she thought of her sister and to see if their ideas of one another aligned. Though naturally the girls go through every experience physically together, it’s clear that they’re attitudes and feelings towards things are different and they have different interests and passions too. A Spare Life covers every problem the conjoined twins could have, from the mundane – how to use the toilet – to the more adult – what to do when one of them wants to have sex.

The collapse of Yugoslavia and the various conflicts different nations had during that time is like background noise to Zlata and Srebra’s childhood and adolescence. As they make plans to go to university, Srebra is the one who is most interesting in what’s happening to their home and the people around them, constantly reading newspapers and watching the news. Naturally Zlata also hears about these things but she rarely pays attention. It is interesting to see how different prejudices play out from a Macedonian point of view and how some of the conflicts I’ve read about during my Read the World Project play out in the background.

I found A Spare Life tough going at times because it’s a truly bleak story and Zlata goes through so much heartbreak that it’s depressing but then there’s so much of it you become desensitised to it all. There’s the hardship of being a conjoined twin and how that impacts every part of their lives but then there’s a lot of death surrounding the two of them. Childhood friends, family, loved ones, so many people in their lives die! Honestly it gets kind of much and sure, some people go through a lot of personal tragedy but reading about it here almost became tedious especially as the ones dying were often the ones who actually treated Zlata and Srebra well and like they were their own people.

Perhaps intentionally I found A Spare Life a book of two halves. The first being their childhood to early adulthood in Macedonia and the second half being when they decide to go to London and try and have the operation that would separate the two of them. I did prefer the first half as there was often the sort of childlike naivety to big situations and while they experience on traumatic event when they’re young, it’s not until they’re adults that so much of the death and depressing things happen to them. 3/5.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Autumn 2022 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. I’m actually really excited about this TBR as this is the first one in years where I don’t have any books for my Read the World Project as I’ve completed it! I still have a couple of reviews to post and am planning to do a wrap-up post as well talking about the project but that book-related chapter of my life is done! I still have two books for the 12 Books from 12 Friends challenge but besides from that I have no more compulsory reads. It’s going to be feel very weird to be a proper mood reader with no restrictions and to read books that feel seasonal and everything.

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
This 12 Challenge book is one I don’t think I’d even heard of before it was recommended to me which is half the fun of the challenge. It looks to be a contemporary YA about a teen who’s struggling with his cultural identity and mental health. I don’t read contemporary YA that often so I’m looking forward to seeing what I make of it.

John Dies at the End by David Wong
This 12 Challenge book I had heard of before – I think it’s also a film? – but besides from the title presumably giving away the ending I have no idea what it’s going to be like.

Babel by R.F. Kuang
I have a hunch that this is going to be on a lot of people’s TBRs. I got a very pretty copy from FairyLoot and while I’ve yet to read The Poppy War trilogy (I do have the first book) I’m interested to see what I make of Babel. I also want to read it sooner rather than later as it is so hyped/popular and it’d be nice to be a part of those conversations while they’re at their peak rather than being late to the party as I usually am. Plus, though I’ve heard that generally everyone loves Babel, I know little about the plot so hopefully the general excitement won’t cloud my own judgement much.

Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega
I got this book a year ago and I still haven’t read it! I don’t tend to read middle grade at all (probably the last time I read a middle grade book was when I was a child) but I liked the sound of this one especially as it is kind of spooky but I think it’s also about grief.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
I think the sequel is released soon and this is a book I’ve heard a lot of good things about – it’s even my pal Brin’s favourite book of the year. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten properly into a YA fantasy series so maybe this will be the one.

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
I love films about investigative journalism but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about it before. She Said is a non-fiction book by the two New York Times investigative reporters who exposed Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse and sexual misconduct against women. This’ll no doubt be a tough and uncomfortable read at times but I’m interested to see how these reporters put everything together and got people to trust them enough to go on the record.

Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
October is Black History Month here in the UK so that’s extra motivation to read this. Over the years I’ve learnt more about Britain and its racism and though I think what I learnt in my history classes wasn’t whitewashed, there’s probably a lot I don’t know. Also, so much news or information on racial injustice that I hear about day to day via social media seems to come from America but there’s still a lot of issues here in the UK that I should be more educated on.

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen
Another book I got via FairyLoot and this one I hadn’t heard before which is always fun. I think it might be a romcom with the undead? Or at least there’s bones on the cover which clashes with the cutesy colour scheme on the cover so that should be interesting.

The Sisters Grimm by Meena van Praag
Pretty sure this has been on a TBR before but now might just be the time I get to it. It’s set where I live and seems to have spooky/autumnal vibes so if perfect for this time of year.

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
I have heard nothing but good things about this book and the entire trilogy. I have The Bear and The Nightingale in paperback and the other two on my kindle as I got them super cheap, like for 99p each or something and it’d have been stupid not to get them even though I hadn’t read the first book and didn’t know if I liked the story or not. Hopefully I do and then I have the whole trilogy to read.

What books are on your TBR for the end of the year?

READ THE WORLD – Tuvalu: Tuvalu – A History edited by Hugh Laracy

First off as there were too many names for the title of this post, here are all the people who wrote chapters for this book: Simati Faaniu, Vinaka Ielemia, Taula Isako, Tito Isala, Reverend Laumua Kofe, Nofoaiga Lafita, Pusineli Lafai, Dr Kalaaki Laupepa, Nalu Nia, Talakatoa O’Brien, Sotaga Pape, Laloniu Samelu, Enele Sapoaga, Pasoni Taafaki, Melei Telavi, Noatia Penitala Teo and Vaieli Tinilau.

Tuvalu – A History is a history of Tuvalu, written by Tuvaluans. It’s a really interesting and accessible book as it’s not just the history and politics of the country, but it also spends time talking about the culture and the way Tuvaluans lives have – or haven’t – changed across the generations.

Tuvalu – A History is kind of a book of two halves with the first being more about the island’s origins, culture and traditions while the latter half is more about the history, politics and international relations. I liked both parts of the book and I think they complimented each other. Having the knowledge of the culture of the country and its people made the historical developments more understandable. There’s also photographs, maps and family trees which were all pretty cool too.

The first half was more of a narrative with the stories passed down the generations that explain how each of the islands that make up Tuvalu were formed and populated. Each of the eight islands that make up Tuvalu had their own story and some were related to each other – though technically there’s nine islands but one isn’t inhabited. I liked reading those stories as they’re like a snapshot of culture and history and of how people can explain the unexplainable.

The second half is interesting because as Tuvalu is such a small and remote country, naturally it took time before white Europeans “discovered” it and even when they did “discover” it and there’s written accounts about things, there’s also evidence that Europeans must’ve been there earlier but when and how is a mystery. For instance, there’s Christian Bibles on some of the islands with people know a few hymns in English but the people who must’ve taught them that or given them the Bible aren’t there. It’s kind of amusing how (for better or worse) Christianity manages to get everywhere in the world no matter how remote. Naturally when some Europeans arrive it’s to trick and take the Tuvaluans away from home to become slaves, forced to work in mines in countries like Peru. It’s horrifying to read how the population of an island went from almost 800 to about 170 in ten years because of these slavers.

Something that I hadn’t really considered before my Read the World Project was how big world events affected the countries we don’t tend to learn about in school. Sure, the clue is in the name, but it’s always interesting and insightful to see World War Two from other countries point of view – especially non-European ones as that was the focus for my schooling in the UK. It turns out that Tuvalu became an outpost for Americans as they fought the Japanese and while some thing’s they did had a positive effect on the country – like cutting down a load of coconut trees to make an airstrip – others weren’t so much, like the Americans leaving a load of unexploded munitions around so children could play with it.

Tuvalu – A History was written and published in the early 1980s so naturally the history/politics side of things finishes there. I’d love to learn more about Tuvalu and see if/how life on the islands have changed over the last 40 years. I guess there’s a good chance they’d be suffering the affects of climate change as Tuvalu is not far from the Marshall Islands and the poetry I read for that country touched on how climate change was affecting them. I think I’ve used the word “interesting” a lot here but that’s how I found Tuvalu – A History, it’s very readable and the language used is simple but engaging and I read it in one sitting because I found it so interesting. The fact it’s under 200 pages probably helped a bit too.

READ THE WORLD – Gabon: The Fury and Cries of Women by Angèle Rawiri

Translated by Sara Hanaburgh.

Trigger warnings for death of a child, animal abuse, and discussions of miscarriage and infertility.

Emilienne completes her university studies in Paris; marries a man from another ethnic group; becomes a leader in women’s liberation; enjoys professional success, even earning more than her husband; and eventually takes a female lover. Yet still she remains unsatisfied. Those closest to her, and even she herself, constantly question her role as woman, wife, mother, and lover. The tragic death of her only child accentuates Emilienne’s anguish, all the more so because of her subsequent barrenness and the pressure that she concedes to her husband taking a second wife.

The Fury and Cries of Women is set in the 1980s and it’s one of those stories that seems as relevant today as when it was first published in 1989. Emilienne has a good job (that earns more than her husband) and she’s educated but all society and those closest to her seem to care about is her ability to have children – and she’s not immune to those thoughts either.

The Fury and Cries of Women can be a tough read at times because Emilienne puts up with so much from everyone around her including her parents, her sister, her husband and her mother-in-law that it’s surprising to takes her so long to snap at them when I got so mad at them when just reading about it. Her mother-in-law is especially awful as she thinks Emilienne is not good enough for her son and she conspires to end their marriage, even reaching out to her son’s mistress. Meanwhile, while the things they say are still bad, at least it’s still clear that Emilienne’s family cares about her.

I feel like The Fury and Cries of Women would be difficult read for any woman who doesn’t have children, whether by choice or because they have their own fertility issues and heartbreak. The things characters say about women who don’t have children (never considering the fact they may not be able to) are incredibly harsh and are along the lines of “a woman’s purpose is to be a mother”, “you’re not a real woman if you don’t have children”, “it won’t be your husband’s fault if he leaves you because the role of the wife is to produce an heir” etc. Emilienne wants to have more children but ever since her daughter she’s not been able to carry a pregnancy to term in years. In fact, the opening chapter has Emilienne going through a miscarriage alone in her bed and she struggles to clean herself and hide the evidence from her husband of what she deems as another failure. Emilienne feels like a failure and when everyone around her is pretty much saying the same it’s not a surprise.

Her husband Joseph is pretty much absent from their marriage. He stays for days or weeks at his mistress’s house, moving clothes out of his marital home, ad constantly lies to Emilienne about where he’s been and who with, sometimes making her doubt her own mind. Joseph seems to have a sense of obligation to Emilienne but at the same time refuses to be the one to ask for a divorce and possibly give her a chance to be happy. Likewise, Emilienne refuses to ask for one because all the failures of their marriage would be placed at her feet.

The Fury and Cries of Women is a quick and engaging read even though it can be tough, seeing all the emotional and verbal abuse Emilienne. Also, it has a very abrupt ending and not a particularly satisfying one as none of the various conflicts in Emilienne’s life are solved. The Fury and Cries of Women doesn’t tie everything up neatly – or at all – which perhaps shows how true to life this story is. 4/5.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books with Geographical Terms in the Title

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This is one of those themes that I thought would be pretty easy but when I actually took a look at the books on my TBR or the ones I’ve already read I found it was a bit more difficult than I thought. I do have ten books with ten different geographical terms in their titles though. I’ve also included the definition for each term (as they appear on the glossary of geographical terms Wikipedia page) as while some are obvious, some aren’t so common terms. I’ve read all these books and have linked to my review if there is one.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Mountain – A large landform that rises prominently above the surrounding land in a limited area, usually in the form of a rocky peak with great vertical relief; a mountain is generally considered steeper than a hill.

Red Seas, Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
Sea – Any large body of salt water surrounded in whole or in part by land/any large subdivision of the World Ocean.

City of Clowns by Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado
City – A large human settlement, generally with extensive systems constructed for housing, transportation, sanitation, utilities, and communication.

The Desert and the Drum by Mbarek Ould Beyrouk
Desert – An arid, barren area of land where little precipitation occurs and living conditions are consequently unfavorable for most plant and animal life.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Lagoon – A small area of water connected to the ocean but otherwise blockaded by one or more islands.

Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune – A hill of loose sand built by the movements and erosional and depositional processes of wind or water, often occurring in deserts and coastal areas.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Forest – Any extensive area dominated by communities of trees.

Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė
Tundra – A treeless plain characteristic of the Arctic and subarctic regions.

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
Drift – the name for all material of glacial origin found anywhere on land or at sea, including sediment and large rocks.

The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov
Steppe – An ecoregion characterized by expansive grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes,

Have you read any of these? What are the geographical terms you found most common? I’ve definitely read more books with “city” in the title than any other.

READ THE WORD – Paraguay: I, the Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos

Translated by Helen Lane.

I, the Supreme is a historical novel that’s a fictionalised account of the nineteenth-century Paraguayan dictator José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia aka El Supremo. The opening pages present a sign that they had found nailed to the wall of a cathedral, purportedly written by El Supremo himself and ordering the execution of all of his servants upon his death. This sign is revealed to be a forgery, which takes the leader and his secretary Policarpo Patiño, into a larger discussion about the nature of truth and the fallibility of the written word.

I feel like I should preface this review by saying that anything I say about this book is what I think was happening and I have no concrete idea if that was the case as I was often left confused by everything that was in this novel.

I found I, the Supreme really hard to read due to how it was written. There aren’t any speech marks when characters are talking, there’s long paragraphs, and it often it read like a stream of consciousness as characters seem to go on so many tangents. Obviously, I concentrate/pay attention whenever I read a book but with I, the Supreme I felt I had to put so much more effort in to follow what was happening and still I ended up lost a lot of times. The lack of speech marks was especially difficult as characters appeared to have conversations in the same paragraph. This may be because it’s a story that started off as two characters discussing things so a character recounts what someone else said in their own dialogue. Whatever the reason, it still made it hard to read.

I, the Supreme appeared to follow the life of El Supremo but not in a linear order. It would jump around and it would take time and many pages later to realise the connections between certain events or people mentioned. There were a lot of footnotes in the book which were helpful in providing true historical context for the events the book was depicting or bending slightly. In the latter half of the book there was almost footnotes or asides in the main body of the text, giving context in a way that you couldn’t avoid – perhaps to show how important that information was to understand the fictionalised account.

There were sections that seemed far removed from the life of El Supremo or seemed to be a fantastical take on things. For instance, in multiple chapters there are sections that focus on a talking skull which I think is supposed to be El Supremo’s talking skull but I’m really not sure.

Naturally a dictator does abhorrent things and the way they were depicted had a wry or dark sense of humour to them sometimes which again made them difficult to read about. I, the Supreme also depicted El Supremo as a dangerous child who’d have temper tantrums and suddenly change their mind about people or situations to deadly results. Maybe that’s what dictators are though? Impulsive people with too much power and people who are too afraid to say no.

Unlike other historical novels I’ve read during my Read the World Project I don’t think I learnt too much about Paraguay in the 1800s because I didn’t understand a lot of I, the Supreme. I don’t mind a non-linear narrative but I think the way I, the Supreme is written with its lack of speech marks and jumping to different times, places, and characters points of views without being clear about when, where and who we’re now with made it very difficult to read. In the end I don’t think I took much of this story in at all.

READ THE WORLD – Azerbaijan: Ali and Nino by Kurban Said

It is the eve of World War I in Baku, Azerbaijan, a city on the edge of the Caspian Sea, poised precariously between east and west. Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a teenage Muslim schoolboy from a proud, aristocratic family, has fallen in love with the beautiful and enigmatic Nino Kipiani, a Christian girl with distinctly European sensibilities. To be together they must overcome blood feud and scandal, attempt a daring horseback rescue, and travel from the bustling street of oil-boom Baku, through starkly beautiful deserts and remote mountain villages, to the opulent palace of Ali’s uncle in neighbouring Persia. Ultimately the lovers are drawn back to Baku, but when war threatens their future, Ali is forced to choose between his loyalty to the beliefs of his Asian ancestors and his profound devotion to Nino.

Ali and Nino is set in between 1914-1920, and as they live in Azerbaijan and have familial connections in Georgia and Iran it’s another story where you can see a different side of the First World War and its effects on people. There’s also an Armenian character that faces hatred from some characters who can’t even explain why they hate Armenians so much – that was an interesting historical note after reading Armenian Golgotha.

I have such mixed feelings about Ali and Nino and a lot of the mixed feelings are probably because the book is successfully doing what it set out to do. So much of it is about the culture clash between Ali and Nino. They may love each other, but they both have different ideas about how a home should be run or how marriages work that they often struggle to understand one another. It’s a love story that questions if love really does conquer all when you’ve got people who have religious and cultural ideals that often seem to be in conflict. It’s the first third or so that made me the most uncomfortable but as Ali and Nino both started to mature, I could understand both their view points and their conflicts a lot better.

The religious aspect of how other male characters consider Nino and how women and wives should be treated is something that made me feel uncomfortable when reading. Ali doesn’t necessarily share the same views, but he’s young and was raised with those ideals so there’s often times you can see them there at a subconscious level. One memorable quote is a friend of Ali’s saying that “We have a proverb in our country – A woman has no more sense than an egg has hairs.” It makes my skin crawl even though based on the time period/culture it’s set in there’s a good chance that that was a common thought. When they’re in Persia, Nino chafes against the rules of the society. She can’t leave her home without wearing a veil, she can’t talk to any male guests who visit their home even if they’re her friends too, she can’t go walking around town side by side with her husband – all these customs she’s unused to and it makes her miserable.

Nino is quite a modern young woman thanks to her upbringing – or rather instead of modern, the term should be probably Western. Because that’s where a lot of Ali and Nino’s conflicts lie. Azerbaijan is a country that straddles on the border of Asia and Europe, the East and the West, and Ali and Nino are representations of that divide. As Ali says, “For me it would be just as impossible to live in Europe as it was for you to live in Asia. Let’s stay in Baku, where Asia and Europe meet.” The city of Baku seems like the perfect mix of cultures, religion, and ideals, and the description of the city paints a vivid picture. The novel is solely from Ali’s point of view and his love of his home, the city and the surrounding desert, shines through.

Azerbaijan is one of the many countries I knew nothing about before my Read the World Project – to be honest, Azerbaijan was one of those countries I only really knew of because it competed in Eurovision – and I really enjoyed seeing it through Ali’s eyes. The fact that it is such a blend of cultures due to where its situated makes it so unique and I’d be interested to learn more about what the country is like today as Ali and Nino is set 100 years ago and ends just as Azerbaijan’s independence is threatened by Russia’s expansion.

Ali and Nino is a love story but it’s so much more than that. It can be dark at times with honour killings but there’s also a lot of light to it too. The conflict over cultural ideals and the sense of belonging each character has is thought-provoking and makes their relationship all the more interesting. They both hurt each other, intentionally or not, but there’s something about their relationship that makes you hope for the best and they’ll find a middle ground on the things that threaten to push them a part. 4/5.

Thoughts on… rereading The Hunger Games trilogy

Warning for vague spoilers for the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Over the last few months, I’ve been rereading the Hunger Games trilogy for the first time since I first read them around 10 years ago. I wasn’t intending to revisit the series but I was looking for an audiobook to keep me occupied on my way to work and found my library had the trilogy and it was narrated by Tatiana Maslany which is always a bonus.

When I read the trilogy the first time, I did really like it but I remember not being too impressed with the final book, Mockingjay, and how the series ended as a whole. I was never Team Peeta or Team Gale so that wasn’t the reason but as they were so similar, I thought Katniss would end up like Haymitch, bitter and alone, so any type of happy ending for her didn’t really work for me. Having reread the series now I like Mockingjay a lot more and I’m more content about Katniss’s “happy ending”.

As well as not having reread the books before, I’ve not watched most of the films since I saw them in the cinema so while I remembered certain big moments or things like how it ended, I didn’t remember how it got there and various character dynamics. So, in some ways it was like experiencing the story for the first time.

I really enjoyed rereading the trilogy with the benefit of hindsight too. Characters like Johanna Mason were mentioned in like the fourth chapter of the first book and when you don’t actually meet her until half way through the second. Also, as the books are in the first-person point of view, everything’s from Katniss’s perspective which can be both interesting and frustrating with the benefit of hindsight. There were so many times when I could see the rumblings of a rebellion, or what Haymitch or Peeta’s true intentions were thanks to my knowledge of the overarching plot but Katniss was oblivious more times than not. That’s not to say she’s dumb, she’s incredibly smart and impulsive but she’s not a tactician like those two, or like Gale. She has a single-minded focus on the people she cares about which is admirable but it means she’s a bit clueless about what’s going on around her and how she’s affecting it – consciously or not.

This could be because it’s been so long since I’ve read the books/watched the films but I think took in a lot more of the nuances of the story this time round. For instance, I’d completely forgotten about what Finnick had to do once he’d won his games so that was like a sucker punch when I got to that reveal. Also, I don’t know if it’s down to being older or having read a lot more books about tougher topics since, but I think I could comprehend and sympathise with Katniss’s trauma a lot more this time round. She, and so many other characters but especially the other Victors, go through so much it’s no wonder they have PTSD and at times their minds just shutdown because they can’t cope with the reality of their situation.

All in all, I’ve really enjoyed revisiting the trilogy and they are all 5 star reads – though Catching Fire is still my favourite. I’ve not read the spin-off/prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes yet but I’m waiting for the audiobook to be available at my library. I’ve heard mixed things about it but after rereading the original trilogy I’m interested in seeing what Suzanne Collins did with a prequel. I’m also planning on rewatching (and possibly reviewing) the films too. Like the books, I remember enjoying the films and I think they were good adaptations so it’ll be interesting to see if that perception stays the same.

Have you read or reread the Hunger Games trilogy recently? Or seen the films? I always get a little apprehensive when revisiting a book or film I have fond memories of but I’m pleased in this instance I wasn’t disappointed upon reread.