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.

REVIEW: The Forgiven (2021)

When driving to a friends lavish party in the middle of the Moroccan desert in the dark, David and Jo Henninger (Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain) accidentally hit a teenage boy. While the police aren’t interested, the next day the boy’s father arrives and asks David to return to his village for the burial. David reluctantly agrees while Jo stays at the mansion in the desert, partying the weekend away.

The Forgiven feels like the kind of lavish film for adults that you don’t tend to see as often nowadays. It’s a grown-up film that deals with a lot of unlikeable but interesting and complex characters and is also darkly funny at times too. Perhaps The Forgiven isn’t as great as I think it is but when superhero movies (which I tend to enjoy) are the bread and butter for cinemas, it’s great to see a film where the “morals” are complex and people are messy.

One of the fascinating things about The Forgiven is how no character really comes across well. There are moments of growth or change, or at least the start of potentially something better for them, but that doesn’t mean they completely stop saying bigoted things or start treating people better.

It’s honestly great to see so many multifaceted characters on screen and them being so messy that you’re never sure who is – or even if there is – the “good” person. David and Jo are arguing and appear to be in a stagnant marriage before the accident and at the first introductions to them both you’re more predisposed to like Jo rather than David. She comes across as the put-upon wife dealing with a functioning alcoholic of a husband and a man who doesn’t appear to have said anything politically correct in his life. As the plot unfolds though David starts to see the consequences of his actions meanwhile Jo is drinking, flirting and revelling in her new found freedom.

Richard (Matt Smith) is their friend and it’s his and his boyfriend’s, stylist Dally (Caleb Landry Jones), party and home the Henninger’s are at. Richard is one of the most likable in an unlikable bunch. He’s a posh, sassy toff but he seems to be one of the only people that has any amount of understanding and respect of the Moroccan culture and traditions. He and Dally have a staff made up of Moroccans and while the staff seem to not be able to stand Dally, there is sometimes signs of a grudging respect when it comes to Richard. That’s not to say he and his guests don’t say or do things that hurt the staff, just that he’s a bit more aware of what’s going on. That being said, the staff have some of the funniest lines and Hamid (Mourad Zaoui), Richard’s righthand man, is a fascinating character as he toes the line of silently judging the people he works for.

The whole cast is brilliant in their roles. It is a lot of fun seeing Matt Smith being catty and cruel, while Chastain and Fiennes’ verbal sparring is wonderful and the film does feel like it misses that when they’re a part for so long. Chastain is delightful as she lounges about with a wine glass in hand, delivering cutting remarks to anyone who comes too close.

The Forgiven is a tension-filled culture clash and it’s often morbidly funny too. It’s such an interesting and compelling film and one I’m really glad I saw in the cinema with a pretty full audience. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Eswatini: Weeding the Flowerbeds by Sarah Mkhonza

A fictionalised memoir of Sarah Mkhonza’s time at Manzini Nazarene High School, a boarding school in Eswatini (formerly called Swaziland), in the 1970s. life there is strict but she and her friends grow up learning about life and Christianity and they love school.

It’s kind of unfortunate but Weeding the Flowerbeds is one of those books that I read but as soon as I’d finished it, I couldn’t really tell you anything that had happened. It’s also a book, that while short at less than 200 pages, felt longer at times and was a bit of a slog to get through. It’s another book I persevered with due to it being for my Read the World Project and the only book I found for this country.

Weeding the Flowerbeds is simply written which suits the mundane lives that the three school girls have as they study. There are things like sports days, new teachers, and the sudden interest in boys – all things that tend to happen in kids’ lives – but none of them are huge, earth-shattering moments. They’re just things they experience. I suppose Weeding the Flowerbeds is a good way to show how school life doesn’t really change no matter the year or where in the world the school is. There are the routines and classes everyone must go through in order to become a “grown up”.

The inclusion of photographs from, presumably, Sarah Mkhonza’s school days was a nice touch but overall Weeding the Flowerbeds wasn’t memorable. I suppose it’s a nice slice of life kind of story, and those who like books set at boarding schools may get more from it than I did. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Panama: The Golden Horse: A Novel About Triumph and Tragedy Building the Panama Railroad by Juan David Morgan

Translated by John Cullen.

Many people know the story of the Panama Canal, but few know that of the Panama Railroad: the first transcontinental railroad of the Americas that was built during the California Gold Rush. From 1851-55, a handful of adventurers and inventive engineers drove the enterprise to tame the unexplored jungle wilderness that would soon become the first inter-oceanic railroad, link the US to Central America and change Panama forever. Thousands of people died during the construction of the railroad, succumbing to tropical diseases and natural disasters. Despite the danger, the lust of gold fever and the challenge of conquering the wilderness drove the protagonists through the perils of torturous journeys, cutthroat competition, ruthless outlaws, savage jungles, the most ferocious extremes of the tropical frontier, and violent cultural clashes, but not without the thrill of romantic adventures, the wonder of human inventiveness, and rugged determination to succeed.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Golden Horse. The subject matter wasn’t something I was that interested in (like many books for my Read the World Project, the priority is finding a book/writer from a country rather than choosing one I think I’d enjoy) and as it’s set in the 1800s, I thought the language used might make it a bit of slog to read. Happily, that wasn’t the case and The Golden Horse was very readable and the characters and the various hardships they faced were compelling too.

This is a fictionalised true story so there are real people as main characters as well as imagined ones that fill in the gaps and it was fun to google various characters to see if they fell in the real or made-up category. Either way, these people did something extraordinary in creating a working railway line across jungles, rivers and swamps. The fact that thousands of people – most of them poor and people of colour – died to make it happen and that The Golden Horse doesn’t shy away from that and the terrible conditions these people worked in makes the story better. It gives a voice to those who perished while still allowing you to marvel at a feat in engineering. Black people were shipped in from the Caribbean, the Chinese were lied to and thought they were being sent to work in America, then there was the Irish and the native Panamanians who came to work on the railway too. All these people allowed for the rich white American shipping magnets to finance and construct the railroad.

It’s somewhat unsurprising that not much has changed in 170 years as companies and shareholders would look for the cheapest option rather than the safest or more fruitful one in the long term. It was frustrating at time as more often than not the perspectives were that of those working on the railroads like the engineers who were on the ground and knew of the conditions and what would or wouldn’t work. Then the big bosses would send someone who promised to do part of the job cheaper who thought they knew best and didn’t listen to the wisdom of those who had been in Panama far longer. It’s always satisfying when those kind of people are proved wrong.

The Golden Horse is told in in a mixture of prose and diary entries. The diary entries are from John Llyod Stephens, a travel writer who became one of the representatives of the shipping company in Panama, and Elizabeth Benton Freeman, a woman who is first travelling to San Francisco to meet her military husband there but soon becomes connected to the railroad employees and captains of the ships she travels on. The proses is from a variety of different characters perspectives and you get to see pretty much every possible point of view on a subject or incident. I liked how characters mentioned in the beginning of the story came back throughout the novel. The Golden Horse spans over a decade as while the construction of the railroad is the focus, there’s investigations in the viability of such a venture year’s beforehand and it’s interesting to see how characters who you think were just mentioned in passing, or were just used as an example of some sort of event, ended up playing a bigger role than you could’ve imagined. It really is a cleverly plotted book.

The Golden Horse was another book of a snapshot of history that I knew nothing about. The characters and the various relationships are all compelling and I even liked the inclusion of a romance that I thought was doomed at the beginning but ended up being something quite sweet and lovely. Overall, The Golden Horse was an enjoyable and interesting read and one that I read far quicker than I thought I would. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Madagascar: Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo

Translated by Allison M. Charette.

Fara and her father’s slave, Tsito, have been close since her father bought the boy after his forest village was destroyed. Now in Sahasoa, amongst the cattle and rice fields, everything is new for Tsito, and Fara at last has a companion. But as Tsito looks forward to the bright promise of freedom and Fara, backward to a dark, long-denied family history, a rift opens between them just as British Christian missionaries and French industrialists arrive and violence erupts across the country. Love and innocence fall away, and Tsito and Fara’s world becomes enveloped by tyranny, superstition, and fear.

Beyond the Rice Fields is the first novel published in Madagascar to be translated into English. I’ve had a lot of firsts in my Read the World Project but learning how so few works are translated into English (or any other language than the one it was written in) from various countries never ceases to surprise me.

You know the phrase “Never assume – it makes an ass out of u and me”? I definitely felt like that as I read Beyond the Rice Fields. My assumptions came over the race of Fara and Tsito. As it was a story of a slave owners’ daughter and her relationship with a slave, before reading Beyond the Rice Fields I presumed that Fara was white while Tsito was Black and it’d present a lot of extra problematic elements and power imbalances in a relationship like that. This wasn’t the case though as while naturally there was a power imbalance as Tsito was a slave, Fara and her family were also Black. There’s also the fact that they were both children when Tsito was brought into Fara’s home. Fara was seven and Tsito was nine, meaning that while Tsito certainly had jobs around the home to do they grew up together and he was treated more like family by Fara and her mother and grandmother, than just a slave. It’s a different look at the dynamic between slave and master compared to what I’d seen before, and seeing Tsito’s affection grow not just for Fara but for the other women in the family was sweet.

Beyond the Rice Fields is told from the perspectives of both Fara and Tsito and each perspective has a distinctive voice. It’s interesting how the chapters from Tsito’s point of view feature a lot more discussions on politics than Fara’s early on, though perhaps that’s to be expected as he’s a slave and has to be aware and consider the rules of society a lot of more as he tries to learn different skills in order to earn his freedom. With Fara, her chapters and perspective are a lot more focussed on emotions, she makes mistakes that Tsito never would as he’s had to be a lot more aware of the world than she has.

I think Beyond the Rice Fields spans almost twenty years as Fara and Tsito grow up together, grow a part and start to come back together. Naturally a lot of characters are mentioned throughout this time, some drop in and out of the story and as some have similar sounding names it can be hard to remember who is who especially as the novel doesn’t offer any context clues. It’s also difficult at times to judge how much time has passed and how old the characters are supposed to be. Sometimes a chapter begins with something along the lines of “that continued for ten yeas” which can be jarring as you suddenly need to age up the characters in your mind.

One of the most interesting yet also sometimes frustrating thing in Beyond the Rice Fields was the clash between religion and tradition. Beyond the Rice Fields is set in the 1800’s and as Christian missionaries attempt to convert the people; the backlash is extreme. The rituals that people have to go through to prove their innocence to any sins they’re accused of seem to be in such a way that they are doomed to fail. People are pretty much poisoned and if they can expel the poison that means they’re innocent? Those scenes are graphic and frustrating as it’s pure chance whether someone’s body can withstand the things it’s put through but the results are seen as concrete proof of someone’s innocence or guilt.

Beyond the Rice Fields is an interesting and compelling read. I enjoyed the dual perspectives as they both offered a lot of different ideas and experiences. The ever growing romance between Fara and Tsito was believable too and they were a relationship that I couldn’t help but root for even when a lot of things were working against them.