The Read The World Project

Around the World Readathon Announcement

I’m very excited to share with you all a readathon I am co-hosting next month. As some of you may be aware, I’m attempting to read a book from every country in the world by the time I’m 30 and I’m not doing too badly. At 4 months shy of my 27th birthday I have read books from 48 different countries and have about 150 to go (the exact number of countries in the world can be debated) but to give me an extra push this summer there is the Around the World Readathon which is taking place for the whole of July.

This readathon was the brainchild of A Novel Haul and I’m very happy to be co-hosting with her and NinjaBookBox. Make sure you check out their blogs and follow them on Twitter (@anovelhaul and @ninjabookbox) and Instagram (@anovelhaulreads and @ninjabookbox).

To make this readathon interesting we have a bingo card. The basic idea is to get a bingo by reading a book per square that fits each theme. As this readathon is all about travelling, once you pick a starting square, you can “travel” in which ever direction you like across the board – you can move horizontal, vertical, diagonal and a mixture of all three. As long as you start on a square on one side on the board and finish on the other side, it doesn’t matter how you get there.

Rules

  • Books you read for this readathon should be by people from a different country to your own, not just set in a different country to your own
  • Exceptions apply to the Staycation square (see below) and also to the Diaspora, Celebrate WOC and Indigenous squares. Feel free to read a book by someone in the same country as you for those if they otherwise fit the theme of those squares.
  • Most importantly: be courteous when discussing books from other countries. Remember that writers of colour do not exist to educate and the phrase ‘this book didn’t teach me enough about the culture’ is often used to invalidate their work. Think about the story rather than just using the book as a learning experience.

What the Squares Mean

Geographical squares: (Asia, Polynesia, Europe, Australasia, Caribbean, Middle East, Americas, Africa) Read a book by someone from a country in that area.

Staycation: Read a book by someone from your own country, whether that’s the country you’re living in or if the author has the same nationality as you.

Short Stories: Read a short story collection from another country. They don’t all have to be from the same country or same author in the collection.

Globetrotter: Read a book that was written/is set the furthest away from where you are now.

Historical: This could be non-fiction or the historical fiction genre, you choose!

Genre: Pick up some genre fiction! Fancy some Scandinavian crime? Nigerian sci-fi? Indian romance?

Non-fic: Find out something new about a country! Memoirs, travel diary, biography – anything you like!

Firsts: This is one you can interpret however you like. The authors first novel published? Their first translated novel? A book from the first country you visited? First time you’ve heard of an author?

Childhood Vacation: A book from a country you visited, or learnt about, as a child.

Political Controversy: A book by an author that has been controversial in their country. The Hamid Ismailov’s and Aung San Suu Kyi’s of the book world.

Small Population: A square for those smaller countries that might be overlooked. You define what ‘small’ is, but think Malta, Montenegro, Monaco. Here’s a list of the 25 least populated countries in the world if you need a little help.

Dream Visit: A book from a country you’d love to visit.

Short Hop: A book from a next door country, one that’s not far away from your own.

Traditional Style: Magical realism, spoken word, haikus… anything traditional!

In Translation: I think this one is self-explanatory.

Indigenous, Celebrate WOC and Diaspora: These squares were added because indigenous writers and WOC are grossly undervalued in publishing and diaspora perspectives are also often ignored. There is nothing to stop you choosing writers of colour, indigenous writers or diaspora writers for every square, A Novel Haul just felt they needed proper representation on the board!

I will be sharing some recommendations for the various categories soon, as will my fellow co-hosts, and I’m putting together my TBR at the minute once that’s finalised I’ll be sharing that too. Do let us know if you’re thinking about joining in the Around the World readathon by either commenting below or using the hashtag #readtheworldathon on social media. Would be great to have as many people as possible reading internationally in July!

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READ THE WORLD – Kenya: One Day I Will Write about this Place by Binyavanga Wainaina

Kenyan Caine Prize winner Binyavanga Wainaina’s memoir about growing up in Kenya, his failed attempt at learning computer programming at university in South Africa, and the moving family reunion in Uganda years later.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Ivanno Jeremiah, and I found it to be very easy to listen to as Jeremiah was an engaging narrator. While it generally has a linear narrative, every now and then a word or event will take the story back to Wainaina’s childhood or to something that happened that was related to the current anecdote but was either years in the past or the future. This hoping through time did get a bit of getting used to.

This memoir spans decades, from Wainaina’s childhood in the 1970’s to him living and working in New York in the 2010. Through all that time you see through his eyes how Kenya, and the whole African continent itself, changes. The always shifting politics, the cultural changes, the various conflicts and how pop culture, both American and African, seep through into it all.

I learnt a lot from listening to One Day I Will Write about this Place, as many of the cultural and political events that Wainaina lived through in East Africa, were either events that happened before I was born, or before I begun paying just that bit of attention to the world news. It amused me how Wainaina and his friends would joke about Bob Geldof and Live Aid, and event I’d only ever heard about through a Western perspective.

While Wainaina lived through a lot of big historical moments, One Day I Will Write about this Place is at its heart about Wainaina’s family, his love of books and him learning to fins his place with ever changing Africa. Through a lot of his childhood and adolescence it seems like he doesn’t like his home and all the complications that come from being a part of various tribes. However, when he’s an adult and spent time away from his family, having his extended family reunite in Uganda is a big moment for him.

One Day I Will Write about this Place is a fascinating insight into one man’s experiences growing up in East Africa, and who struggles to find his own identity. It’s an insightful and thought-provoking memoir that has a lot of heart.

READ THE WORLD – Wales: Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

The story of Roald Dahl’s childhood in his own words. Each of the things he writes about are not earth-shattering, but they did make a great impression on him, so much so that he could remember them sixty years later.

I read quite a few of Roald Dahl’s books when I was a child (my favourite was The Twits) so when I heard about this semi-autobiographical book about his childhood I thought it would be an interesting read. And that it was! Born in Cardiff in 1916 to Norwegian parents, Dahl was a part of a large family and it was fun to see what kind of scrapes he got into with his siblings and at school. It wasn’t just interesting to see what Dahl’s life was like but realising that his childhood was probably very similar to my grandparent’s childhood.

One thing about Boy that stood out was how it really highlighted how the past is indeed a foreign country. Kids tonsils were removed without any form of anaesthetic, headteacher’s beat children with a cane and when motor vehicles came to be more common place, it was perfectly natural to start driving after a thirty-minute lesson. The way Dahl talks about these events is almost blasé, though he does state how times were different then, in the early 1900’s, and how these things wouldn’t be accepted today.

Boy: Tales of Childhood is a quick read and I think it’s a great book as it’s a little snapshot into the past as you follow Dahl’s school life until he’s 20, spanning the years 1922 – 1936. The writing isn’t fancy, but these little incidents in Dahl’s are told in such a way that they are charming and a great way to introduce non-fiction to children. The pages are sprinkled with photographs of Dahl’s family and illustrations from Dahl’s long-time collaborator Quentin Blake which is fun, and you get a little insight into how Dahl got the inspiration for probably his most well-known book – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

READ THE WORLD – Uzbekistan: The Devils’ Dance by Hamid Ismailov

The edition I read was translated by Donald Rayfield and John Farndon.

On New Years Eve 1938, the writer Abdulla Qodiriy is taken from his home by Soviet soldiers and thrown into prison. To distract himself from the physical and mental torture he experiences, he attempts to mentally reconstruct the novel he was working on. A novel about Oxyon, a Uzbek poet and queen who was married to three khans in succession, and lived how Abdulla now does, in constant fear of execution. As Abdulla gets to know his cellmates, he discovers more about the political intrigue that happened during Oxyon’s time, about the English and Russian spies, and how it has similarities with his own experiences. As Adulla identifies with Oxyon more and more, the line between fiction and reality, the past and present blurs, and his inability to trust his own mind could be his downfall.

This was a very interesting book. It’s a difficult book to describe as it’s a story within a story. There’s Abdulla’s life in jail, the fellow prisoners he meets, some of which he knew from life outside prison, and others he had just met. There’s the soldiers and interrogators that make his life hell, and he’s on a constant knife-edge, not knowing who he can trust or why he’s been imprisoned. Then there’s the historical story of Oxyon, her different husbands, her time as a part of a harem and her poetry. This story takes place in the 1800’s and as it progresses you can see how events then can be compared to life in 1930s Uzbekistan.

As I read The Devils’ Dance I figured out that Oxyon’s story and the different characters mentioned in that part, were real historical figures, though some of what was written may have been fictionalised. However, I didn’t realise until to the Translators Afterword, that Abdulla Qodiriy was a real person too. It’s documentary fiction, imagining what his experience in jail was like and how he coped. Learning this gave The Devils’ Dance a new meaning in my mind. It made it more sad and made me understand Abdulla and his actions more.

The Devils’ Dance was a bit hard to comprehend at times. As the story progresses, the jumps between the present (Abdulla in jail) and the past (spies, khans and poet Queens) became less clear. To begin with, the shifts between time and story were obvious due to the formatting of the book, but as Abdulla gets more and more lost inside his own head, these stories start to overlap. Also, as I have no knowledge of the khans, queens and political turmoil historically present in Uzbekistan and the surrounding area, it was new to me and it was sometimes hard to follow these historical figures and their actions.

That being said, I enjoyed how The Devils’ Dance showed me a part of the worlds history that I knew nothing about. The different people and how they interact was fascinating. Clearly a lot of thought and research had gone into this book as you follow Oxyon’s life and the traumas she faces.

The Devils’ Dance is well written. Not only is there the text but there’s a lot of poetry in it too. This poetry is from historical poets like Cho’lpon and queens like Oxyon and Nodira. The poetry adds another level of meaning to the book as characters, both with Abdulla in jail and with Oxyon in a palace, express themselves through poetry.

The Devils’ Dance is an interesting read. It’s tough to get through sometimes, because of the brutality Abdulla faces and how it merges two stories separated by 100 years together, but the language used in it is often beautiful. It’s a fictional take on real historical events, but with a basis in research as so many historians and writers are mentioned by Abdulla and others, each looking at evidence and having a different idea as to what truly happened. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Croatia: The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić

The edition I read was translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać.

She is nine years old when the Croatian War of Independence breaks out in the summer of 1991. She is sent to a seaside town to be aware from the danger. Meanwhile, her father has disappeared fighting with the Croatian forces. By the time she returns, everything has changed – her father is missing and she, her mother, ad her brother are displaced persons, fleeing the violence with nothing to call their own.

The Hotel Tito is written in first person and all the way through the story you never learn the young girls name. It wasn’t till towards the end of the novel that I realised it was based on author Ivana Bodrožić’s experience, that she was the young girl we were following for five years.

It’s interesting to see the fallout of war from a nine-year-old’s point of view. She doesn’t always understand what different politicians stand for, the political jokes adults around her say, and what could’ve possibly happened to her father. Even as she gets older, and being a displaced person is a part of who she is, she doesn’t always understand people’s resentment towards her and she takes on the attitude of us vs them in regard to her classmates.

The girl, her mother and brother have to live together in one room of a hotel for years. The hotel is for displaced people, with whole families to a single room. As she becomes a teenager it’s harder for her because both she and her older brother don’t have any personal space, they are stuck in one room that isn’t a home for years.

I knew nothing about the Croatian War of Independence before reading The Hotel Tito. I really mean nothing as it was a conflict that I had never even heard of. The fact that people had to move from one part of the country to another for their own safety, leaving their homes and belongings, and were often met with hostility from their own countrymen is hard to wrap my head around. These people were refugees in their own country, and their own politicians near enough abandoned them, with no home and little to no financial support.

The Hotel Tito is the story of a family who are stuck in limbo, and a young girl who not only has the usual struggles that comes with becoming a teenager, arguing with siblings, fancying boys and going to parties, but also having a sense of no real security. The Hotel Tito is easily accessible thanks to seeing such harsh realities of war through the eyes of a young person, but that makes this true story even sadder.

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.