The Read The World Project

READ THE WORLD – Denmark: The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Copenhagen Detective Inspector Carl Mørck has been taken off Homicide to run a new department for unsolved crimes and he’s not happy about it. Soon things get busy when his first case concerns Merete Lynggaard, a politician who vanished five years ago. Everyone says she’s dead, he thinks they’re right. But that might not be the case, and Merete’s time is running out.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a detective thriller and The Keeper of Lost Causes did not disappoint. Carl is one of those typical cranky detectives who doesn’t work well with others, his colleagues don’t really like him but they still ask his advice on difficult cases, but he’s still a decent person who’s good at his job. It’s great to see bits of the case come together because as the reader you sometimes know more than Carl but you never get the whole story till the final chapters.

Carl Mørck’s department is in the basement of police headquarters and it’s just him and his assistant Hafez el-Assad. They’re an odd combination and provide some moments of humour. Assad is Syrian so he doesn’t always get how things work in Denmark but he’s never portrayed as stupid, in fact he’s a great help to the case, seeing things others don’t. It was really nice to see how Carl respected Assad’s religion, getting a floorplan of the station so Assad knew which direction to pray – the religious aspect of Assad’s life was so natural and just a part of him and no one made a big deal of it.

Assad is a very likeable character with some hidden talents, I enjoyed seeing him and Carl slowly start getting to know each other, each dealing with each other’s unusual habits and personal traits. Carl is definitely a character I didn’t like to start with but he grew on me, especially because he has a very dry sense of humour and is often brutally honest.

The Keeper of Lost Causes is a proper-page turner, there were revelations at the end of most chapters and a sense of desperation as the novel progressed as you learnt more about Merete and the horrible situation she’s in. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – SOUTH AFRICA: Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Katya Grubbs, like her father, deals with the unwanted and unappreciated. In contrast to her father’s methods, she is in the business of pest relocation, not pest extermination. Katya’s business comes to the attention of a property developer whose luxury estate on the edge of Cape Town has been standing empty due to an infestation of mysterious insects. As Katya investigates the chaotic urban wilderness of Nineveh she must confront some unwelcome intrusions from her own past.

I found Nineveh pretty hard to get into and at times quite a slow read. It was a very put-downable book, once I was reading I could get through 40 or 50 pages easily but I never felt like I just had to get back to it after I put it down for whatever reason. I think that was maybe down to the writing style, it was quite floaty and dreamlike in some places – especially when something would remind Katya of something from her past.

Katya’s relationship with her father is interesting yet unsettling as he is almost unintentionally abusive towards her and her sister. What happened to them when they were young is abuse but Katya is so blasé about it that it’s very uncomfortable to read sometimes. When you start seeing the similarities between Katya and her father you start to think she will never be happy or “normal” because of such an unusual childhood. They are interesting characters to see bounce off one another but I didn’t like either of them.

That’s the thing with Nineveh, I didn’t like any of the characters. That might be in part due to the fact the book is from Katya’s point of view and she naturally keeps people at arm’s length, even her family, but I didn’t really like Katya much either.

When Katya is in the Nineveh complex, it is an eerie and unsettling place. That came across really well as you were just waiting to discover what sort of infestation the place had and how would Katya deal with it. The problem was there never felt like there was any payoff to what was happening and Katya was just a spectator in her own narrative.

Nineveh just wasn’t for me. Not a lot really happened and I just didn’t like the characters or the writing style. Nineveh as a place was interesting and when the book was set there I enjoyed it more but otherwise it was a pretty dull read for me. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – United Arab Emirates: Dubai Tales by Mohammad al Murr

A collection of short stories about family, love and relationships all set in and around Dubai.

I can’t remember the last time I read a short stories collection, it’s generally not my thing but I did enjoy Dubai Tales. They were often about five or six pages long with only a couple being closer to ten pages. Such short stories allow the author to build up your expectations in a story and then completely turn them around. These abrupt endings are often funny but some of them left me wanting more – though I feel that could be said for most short stories.

The stories in Dubai Tales are often quite mundane, about people’s everyday lives and their relationships until the last few lines and the whole story turns on its head. The stories are quite clever and funny, there’s humour in the ridiculous of the situations some of these characters get themselves into. The stories often subvert what you think traditional marriages or relationships are like in Dubai which is quite nice. There’s loving relationships, those which have their secrets and those you think are marriages but aren’t.

If you’re interested into snapshots of life in Dubai and the people who live there then Dubai Tales is a great read. It has information on the geographical location of Dubai such as where it is in relation to the capital of the UAE Abu Dhabi as well as the different suburbs of Dubai and it has a glossary which is a nice touch. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Czech Republic: How I Came to Know Fish by Ota Pavel

How I Came to Know Fish is Ota Pavel’s memoir of his childhood in Czexhoslovakia, fishing with his father and his Uncle Prosek on the peaceful rivers and ponds of his country. But everything changes when the Nazis invade – Pavel learns to steal their confiscated fish back from the SS while his family still tries to provide for him and his brothers.

How I Came to Know Fish is a very short book, just over 130 pages long it’s a simple story about an innocent childhood and how that changes during war. It’s kind of a love story about fishing and will strike a chord more with those who love to fish and know the ins and outs of the best way to catch different fish.

While I was not particularly interested in the fishing part of the book (mainly as I have no real knowledge or interest in fishing myself) it was still well-written and accessible for fishing novices like me. It was when the memoir was more about how life was like in Czechoslovakia when the Nazi’s invaded that the story picked up for me. Patel recounts events quite bluntly, things like the fact his father and brothers were ordered to go to work camps is almost a passing footnote. As a Brit when we learn about World War II in school we largely learn about Britain’s part in the war, Nazi Germany itself but very rarely learn about the countries the Nazis invaded and how they controlled the people there.

Seeing how things changed for the Pavel’s, a Jewish family, even in subtle ways like the fact they were no longer allowed to keep pets was truly eye-opening. And also, atrocities like the massacre of the village of Lidice, an event I’d never heard of but Ota Patel could see the smoke from the ruins of the village from his hometown affected whole generations.

If you like a simply written story about a family, their love of fishing and how life can change during war then maybe pick up How I Came to Know Fish, it won’t take a lot of time to read at all.

READ THE WORLD – Somalia: Hiding In Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah

hiding-in-plain-sightWhen Bella’s beloved half-brother Aar dies in a terrorist attack in Somalia she’s in Rome, living her life as an aloof fashion photographer with no ties and responsibilities. But now her teenage nephew and niece are effectively orphaned (their mother Valerie walked out on them years ago) she must decide whether she can come to their rescue and be their guardian. She travels to Nairobi where the two are in school but confusion and tension lies ahead when Valerie resurfaces bringing her own baggage and claiming she wants full custody of her children.

Hiding in Plain Sight is a story about a family’s grief and different and sometimes strained familial relationships. Salif and Dahaba feel like realistic teenage siblings, they argue and Salif often finds his younger sister annoying. While they both love and like their Aunt Bella they’re unused to her being their main authority figure and all three of them have to figure out where they stand with each other. Then there’s Valerie, an absent mother who’s often needy, selfish and quick to anger. She’s an unlikeable character for the most part but slowly you get to learn about her past and why she acts the way she does – though the story never really condones her actions. (more…)

READ THE WORLD – Cuba: Old Rosa by Reinaldo Arenas

old-rosa-cubaOld Rosa is one novel told in two short stories. The first is about Rosa, her life as a farmer, her marriage, and her children including her eldest son who runs of to join Castro’s rebels and her youngest son who she catches in bed with another boy. The second story finds her youngest son Arturo in one of Castro’s camps for homosexuals where he’s forced to do mind-numbing manual labour and his only escape is his imagination.

Rosa is a strong, proud and shrewd woman who works hard and expects everyone around her to do the same. She is very set in her ways and as her life goes on you see how that can be detrimental to her well-being. She doesn’t believe in what her eldest son Armando is doing by joining the rebels, she thinks it all nonsense and just focusses on her farm. She’s an interesting character as she’s not always likable but she is sympathetic as she’s often a victim of her own pride and prejudice.

Arturo writes and dreams to survive the labour camp. His mind is all over the place as he cuts down sugar cane and learns to live with the other prisoners. They all make a life for themselves, often being over the top and embracing the insults the guards throw at them. Arturo doesn’t want to be like the “queens” who wear short skirts made from palm fronds but he finds he’s a target if he tries to keep himself separate. His writing and imagination is what he clings to in the camp.

Old Rosa has a very different writing style to anything I’ve read before. Both stories have long, run on sentences with lots of commas and there’s no paragraph breaks or anything like that as well. It is the second story that really sticks out in the way it’s written, it’s 60 pages long and it’s one complete sentence. That might sound crazy but it’s true. The whole story is like Arturo’s chaotic train of thought, bouncing from one idea to another with no rest at all. This writing style made Old Rosa simultaneously quick to read as you get pulled along with the character’s thoughts, but if you needed to put the book down for whatever reason, it made it difficult to find an acceptable place to stop.

Old Rosa is a unique yet often unsettling story. Both Rosa and Arturo go through such pain and hardships and both of their imaginations are so vivid that as the reader you’re not always sure what’s real. The dreamlike state both characters find themselves in gives an unusual perspective on the Cuban Revolution and how things changed after Castro came into power.

READ THE WORLD – USA: March Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

march-trilogy-john-lewisMarch is a graphic novel memoir trilogy about the American Civil Rights Movement told from the perspective of John Lewis, a civil rights leader then and now a US Congressman. It charters his early life, the Nashville sit-in movement, the fight for desegregation and actual voting rights and the Selma to Montgomery marches. It follows the successes and the failures and shows the behind the scenes moments of many big events you might have only seen photos of or read about in school.

March is an incredible graphic novel series. It’s bookended by President Obama’s inauguration on 20th January 2009 and has flashbacks to that day throughout the trilogy – it truly highlights how far the Civil Rights Movement has come, but also how much there’s left to improve. It’s something I wasn’t expecting but it was a really lovely touch.

John Lewis tells his story and his experiences in the Civil Rights movement with a lot of honesty. He says what he thinks about people like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, JFK, Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson as well as many other people that may not be as well-known names. He says the good and the bad and doesn’t lie if he had opposing views to someone else, even if it was another of the “Big Six” Civil Rights Leaders. The thing that got me about Lewis was, he never seems to give up hope in people and that they have the capacity to change their views. He sees it happen and is nearly always positive that the protests he, and so many other people, are a part of will bring a better future. It’s truly admirable.

I found March tough to read some times. The first two books I read in the same day but the third one took me longer. I’d often get frustrated with how people were so blind and ignorant and what black people in America had to go through in the sixties so I’d have to put it down for a while before carrying on reading. Also, each book was longer than the one before it which probably contributed to how long it took me to read them. That being said, the series benefits when you read each book one after the other as they are all a part of a bigger and wider story.

The art in March is great because it’s all black and white which really helps add to the emotion of some of the situations, especially when there’s a single page or a double page of artwork. I think this memoir of the Civil Rights Movement works so well in graphic novel form because you can see people’s reactions to things or you can see someone get hit by the police and it makes it more real and tangible.

March is an important and brilliant read. The art works so well with the story and it’s the kind of story that everyone one can read, no matter their age. If you have an interest in African-American history, or just American history in general, then I highly recommend March5/5.