The Read The World Project

READ THE WORLD – Japan: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

The edition I listened to was translated by Phillip Gabriel.

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school, they were a solid group of people, three boys and two girls. By chance all their names, bar Tsukuru’s, contained a colour. One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced they didn’t want to see or speak to him ever again – giving Tsukuru no explanation. For years Tsukuru floundered without the support of his friends, unable to make meaningful connections with anyone else. But then he meets Sara, who tells him its time for him to find out what happened sixteen years ago that made his friends shut him out.

This is a book that’s been sitting on my shelves for years but after borrowing the audiobook (narrated by Michael Fenton Stevens) from my library, I’ve finally read it – audiobooks are a gift and I didn’t figure that out till 2018.

I found there to be a distance between Tsukuru and myself as the reader, I couldn’t connect to him and I didn’t really like him much either, and there’s a few possible reasons for this. Firstly, I feel the narrator might have been a factor, I wasn’t too keen on how his narration was quite monotone, so I’d sometimes find myself not really listening to what he was saying. I think the way it’s written as well was very matter-of-fact and there’s little room for emotion. And thirdly, I think maybe you’re supposed to feel that way about Tsukuru. The major point of his story is that he can’t form intimate connections with people and maybe that extends to the reader as well.

I’ve never noticed this in any book previously, so that’s either because I don’t tend to read adult fiction written by a man, or I was just unaware until social media pointed it out, but the way women’s bodies are described is just eyeroll-inducing. The way a woman’s neck, breasts and legs were described was just over the top and almost creepy at times, which was probably another reason I couldn’t take to Tsukuru. He seemed very much like the typical “nice guy” that wasn’t so much a nice guy.

The mystery of why Tsukuru’s friends shut him out and never attempted to reach out to him over the years is a sad one, though while Tsukuru gets an answer, it’s not a fully satisfying one. it is interesting to revisit his old friends, seeing how they and he have changed over the years, and how some friendships can survive the test of time and conflicts while others cannot.

Tsukuru builds railway stations and enjoys learning everything about them. The scenes where he’s sat in a station, people watching, were very enjoyable as not only are you given the facts and figures of Japanese railway stations and the people who pass through them, it feels like a snapshot at every day life for the average Japanese commuter.

This was the first book by Haruki Murakami I’ve read, but if Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage is an indication of Murakami’s writing style and the type of characters his stories are about, I doubt I will be reading any more of his work. 1/5.


READ THE WORLD – The Gambia: Reading the Ceiling by Dayo Forster

On her eighteenth birthday, Ayodele has decided it is time to lose her virginity, but who will be the man she chooses? There’s Reuben, the safe option; Yuan, a schoolfriend with the potential for something more; and Frederick Adams, the father of her best friend. What she doesn’t know is that her choice will have a drastic effect on the rest of her life. Three men, three paths, one to Europe, university and heartache, one that will send her travelling around the globe, and the other will see her remain in Africa as a wife and mother in a polygamous marriage. Each will shape her life, but which will she choose?

Reading the Ceiling is told in three parts, each one starting on the night of Ayodele’s birthday and then spanning the next fifty or so years of her life. You get to see how one choice can shape Ayodele’s life but at the same time there are many things that are outside of her control. For instance, things that happen to characters around Ayodele, like tragic accidents or the choice of a university, generally happen no matter who she chose to sleep with.

The interesting thing was that while her choice set Ayodele on three very different paths, she herself was still the same person deep down, no matter where life took her. She’s headstrong with a good work ethic, she’s smart and capable of being both independent and in a relationship. She’s content being by herself or being with friends and she tends to clash with her mother no matter where life takes her.

Seeing Ayodele’s three different lives play out, I find it difficult to choose which one I feel was best for her, or which one showed her to be the happiest. It’s clever because all three lives had highs and lows, joy and sadness – just like anyone’s life.

Reading the Ceiling was a surprisingly quick read, especially as it spanned a woman’s lifetime three times over. I enjoyed seeing how life in The Gambia may or may not change over fifty years and seeing more of the various countries Ayodele lived in during her three lives. I also enjoyed seeing Ayodele grow as a person, and how her experiences shaped her and may have affected those around her.

READ THE WORLD – New Zealand: All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman

*I received a proof copy of this book from the publisher upon request it, in return for an honest review*

In 1952, war widow Irene Sandle travels to the tobacco fields of New Zealand in the hope of building a new and better life for her daughter Jessie. But this bold act of independence triggers a ripple effect whose repercussions resonate long after her death, forever shaping her children’s lives – for better or worse.

All Day at the Movies spans over sixty years and three generations, following Irene’s children Jessie, Belinda, Grant and Janice. The story spans their lives, romances, mistakes and their own children’s lives too, and slowly you begin to see the lasting impact of Irene’s choices. Some of the consequences of her actions are horrific but she was just as much a victim of circumstance as her children would be, and there’s no way she could have predicted what would happen to her children. At the time she, was doing what she thought was best for her and her daughter, struggling to survive any way she could.

Each chapter is like a snapshot in time, looking at where a member of the family or people adjacent to them are and how they’re doing. As the years jump forward, anywhere between one to ten years, you see how time has affected this family. These snapshots are an interesting way to tell these characters stories, and it does make All Day at the Movies a quick read, but it does sometimes make it harder to connect to these characters and who they encounter. For example, you might be following Belinda in one chapter and then not be with her till three chapters later and fifteen years have passed, her life may have changed a lot in that time and it’s through memories and conversations that you learn what’s happened in that time you’ve been away from her.

All Day at the Movies is well-written and features a lot of complicated characters. Some are downright unlikable, but many of them feel like real people who make mistakes but still try their best. There’s some characters who seem awful but when you learn more about them, you feel some sympathy for them, but the story never absolves them of their actions. This book allows characters to have layers and flaws without redeeming them, giving you a story about people who occupy shades of grey.

All Day at the Movies is about family, how people can drift a part but also can come back together if they try. It’s about how one act can shape a generation and how they in turn see their loved ones and their own value. It’s a story that can be uncomfortable and harsh, but one that also offers a sense of hope that things can get better. 4/5.

All Day at the Movies is released today, 8th March 2018.

READ THE WORLD – Switzerland: Heidi by Johanna Spyri

The edition of Heidi I read was translated by Elizabeth P. Stork.

The classic children’s story about a young orphan named Heidi who after growing up with her grandfather in the Alps, where she falls in love with the wide-open spaces, is sent to the city to be a friend for a sickly girl named Clara. Soon Heidi becomes homesick and wonders whether she’ll ever see the mountains and her grandfather again.

Heidi is a very bright, adventurous girl. She’s friendly and caring but she’s also determined. She’s an interesting heroine as you see how the people she meets and befriends shape her and her beliefs.

There’s a lot of lovely themes in Heidi of love and friendship. The familial love between Heidi and her grandfather is touching as he’s seen to be a gruff, unfriendly person by the villagers but the two of them understand one another and Heidi brings out his caring side. Her friendship with both Peter, a young goatherder, and Clara, a sickly girl in need of a friend, are heartfelt and believable.

The story is a bit too cutesy and sweet for my tastes and the way the characters talk is definitely a product of its time a it was written in the late 1800’s. Everyone is very enthusiastic about their emotions, especially if they’re positive about something, and it’s a bit much sometimes.

The descriptions of both the mountains which Heidi loves so much and the city she finds so oppressive, are both vivid. You really do feel like your sitting on a mountainside with the way the colours and smells are described.

Heidi is a quick, easy read. It’s nice I’m able to now say I’ve read this classic children’s story, one that I knew next to nothing about as I hadn’t seen any of the various film and TV adaptations there’s been over the years, but it wasn’t a memorable read.

READ THE WORLD – Singapore: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Nicholas Young, she has no idea what she’s going to face. She’s looking forward to spending time with Nick’s family until she’s faced with private jets, expensive cars and luxury mansions. Rachel is thrown into a world of extravagance and dynastic superiority and nothing could prepare her for Eleanor – Nick’s formidable mother with very strong feelings about who’s the right, or wrong, girl for her son.

Crazy Rich Asians is a lot of fun. It’s over the top and ridiculous a lot of the time but the way it’s written pulls you into these characters lives and their antics. While Rachel and Nick and their relationship is at the heart of this story, you meet a lot of other characters and each chapter is from a different character’s perspective. This makes it interesting as you have Rachel, who’s American born Chinese and while she has a good education and career, is not used to the lavish lifestyle and the way all these people who have grown up in and live in Singapore think about money. It gives you both the outsider and the insider perspective.

I really sympathised with Rachel a lot. While Nick is lovely he’s also very naïve about the wealth he comes from and does nothing to forewarn Rachel about what the world he grew up in is like or talk to his parents about how serious he is about her. Rachel’s left floundering for a lot of the story as she must contend with spiteful and jealous people, mostly women, who believe she’s just after Nick’s fortune.

A lot of the other characters, on the other hand, are unlikable. They’re rude, thoughtless and self-serving but that’s what everyone is like in this upper-class society is painted as. It was heard to connect with a lot of them because so many of them were nasty but were apparently being that way for the sake of the family. Eleanor especially was an interesting yet seemingly heartless woman.

Crazy Rich Asians does have a lot to say on class, immigrants, different types of Asians – those who are from mainland China, those who were educated in England or Australia, and those who have stayed in Singapore for most of their lives. Characters all have different relationships with money and many of them are so far removed from the “real world” that their outbursts over having the right designers or private jet is often unbelievable.

The ending of Crazy Rich Asians does seem a bit rushed, especially after a good portion of the book was building up to one moment. However, it is the first book in a trilogy so perhaps the messy ending is made a bit neater in the sequel. A sequel I’m not sure if I’m desperate to read, as a lot of these characters were just not relatable or even nice people – I don’t think I can survive in their world for long periods of time. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Afghanistan: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Ten-year-old Abdullah and his little sister Pari live with their family in the small village of Shadbagh in Afghanistan. They are as close as two people can be but when circumstances outside of their control separates them they both go different life-long journeys, where they struggle to keep their connection alive.

I’ve had And the Mountains Echoed sitting unread on my shelves for a couple of years now, but it was only when I got the audiobook (narrated by Khaled Hosseini, Navid Negahban and Shohreh Aghdashloo) from my library, that I finally got around to reading it and I’m so glad I did.

Khaled Hosseini is probably most famous for writing The Kite Runner, but this is the first book I’ve read by him. It was a very enjoyable book that’s often devastating but does offer a sense of hope. The writing is really good, there are so many touching and thought-provoking quotes, and the way Hosseini gets you connected to these characters is to be admired as there’s a lot of them.

And the Mountains Echoed not only follows Abdullah and Pari, but characters related to them or characters they’ve met briefly at one point or another. It’s sometimes a little disorientating as each chapter is from a different character’s point of view and at the beginning of each chapter its not made clear, whose perspective we’re now in. In a way, this makes And the Mountains Echoed a bit like a mystery. You are given different perspectives of different events, that all somehow relate to the main plot-thread but it’s up to you as the reader to figure out how these characters and events are all connected.

You don’t just get to see how characters change over time in And the Mountains Echoed, but countries and their people too. The book spans almost 60 years, starting in 1952 and the last chapter taking place in 2010. Through this time, you get to see Afghanistan as a country evolve. Characters live through prosperous times and times of conflict, it is often everyday life for them as it’s their home. While for other characters who have emigrated and then returned, they don’t always feel at home there anymore.

And the Mountains Echoed is about family, heritage, culture, and the connections people make with others and places. It’s finding about finding loved ones and a place to call home. It’s a touching story that while is often sad, as it follows the all to real traumas of everyday life – sudden death of a loved one, old age, and disagreements with family – it also has moments of light-heartedness and optimism about life. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Australia: Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish by Richard Flanagan

When a young Australian con artist discovers a book titled Gould’s Book of Fish, a book with paintings of fish as well as a man’s story as a convict on Van Diemen’s Land in the 1830’s, he becomes obsessed with it. And so, begins the story of William Buelow Gould, his adventures before and after his incarceration on Van Diemen’s Land, the people he meets and how he becomes a reluctant painter of fish.

Gould’s Book of Fish is a weird one. It’s funny and gruesome and fantastical and sometimes makes very little sense at all. William Buelow Gould is a witty narrator as he recounts his life and his exploits, the way he notes his limitations and then straightaway goes against any common-sense is often farcical and hilarious. The situations he gets himself in are almost like watching a car-crash in slow-motion, you cant look away and instead are captivated and horrified.

The historical setting is an interesting yet brutal one. The descriptions throughout the novel are incredibly vivid, for instance, the way the prisoners are punished is cruel and disgusting and it doesn’t shy away from the brutalities that the prisoners experienced. Also, the way the landscape of Van Diemen’s Land (what we now call Tanzania) is described makes the location seem just as harsh and unforgiving as the people who are living there.

A lot happens in Gould’s Book of Fish and it doesn’t always seem believable. In fact, the way the story ends leaves you wondering what’s real and what’s not and even if the character of William Buelow Gould was actually a real character in the story or was he a stand in for someone else. It’s a fantastical story, especially with the prominence of the fish, each of them being related to either a significant character or event in Gould’s life. The fish are a part of him and his connection to them ends up being an almost magical thing. Though, a magical thing that’s not always logical.

I listened to Gould’s Book of Fish on audiobook, which I think certainly helped me follow the story thanks to the brilliant narrator Humphrey Bower. I don’t think I would have got on with the book if I was reading a physical copy. So much happens, and not always in a linear order, that it would perhaps be a bit of a dense book to get through. The audiobook had a great narrator though and made the nonsense story just a bit more understandable.

Gould’s Book of Fish is a weird but enjoyable read. It’s got some bizarre characters and the situations Gould ends up a part of are often bonkers and farfetched, but they’re certainly not forgettable. 4/5.