The Read The World Project

READ THE WORLD – Russia: Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

It’s 2033, the world is ruined and humanity is almost extinct. Possibly the last of the worlds survivors live in Moscow’s Metro system. There they’re safe from radiation in the city above and societies have formed across the metro system and its many stations. Artyom lives in VDNKh, the north most inhabited station on its line, life there is good, until the station becomes endangered by outside forces. Artyom is given the task to traverse the complex metro system to search for help and to warn every one of the new threat bearing down on his native station, and the whole Metro.

Metro 2033 is an interesting story. It’s quite slow to start with as there is a lot of world-building to do. Each of the different train stations in the Metro have become their own mini society, some have become Communist, some are Fascist while many others have their own capitalist democracy. It’s interesting to see what life’s like underground and how it differs from station to station. It wasn’t till I was about halfway through the book and I felt that I had a fairly good understanding that the story picked up speed.

The whole book is quite exposition heavy really and in some ways, it reminded me of American Gods by Neil Gaiman – both are quite slow reads, with a lot of world-building and main characters who seem to go from A to B without being an active participant in the situations they’re in. That being said, I felt Artyom was a character who actually reacted to the mad and dangerous situations he found himself in and, as the story progressed, he became more proactive and confident in his decision making and abilities.

The people Artyom meets on his journey are all very different. My favourites were those who are old enough to remember life outside the Metro, and everyday normal life in the cities. There memories were often rose-tinted but it was good to see Artyom compare it to what he knows as he was only a toddler when everyone had to hide out in the tunnels. It was those moments where you really got the dystopian aspect of the novel.

Metro 2033 also has horror and sci-fi elements as there’s rumours of creatures who have been mutated by the radiation, lurking on the surface and readying themselves to enter the tunnels. There are some passages on Metro 2033 that are generally creepy and unsettling as Artyom traverses the dark tunnel between stations. There’s some eerie stuff in Metro 2033 but it doesn’t always pay off which is regrettable.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it does leave things on a cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, there was no real build up to the “big reveal” so instead of a plot twist you could’ve figured out yourself, it’s more of a huge surprise. I think I will pick up the rest of the series at some point as I’m intrigued to see what happens next but Metro 2033 didn’t pull me in enough from the start to make me super eager to continue. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – El Salvador: Looking for Trouble by Roque Dalton

A collection of poems from Roque Dalton, a Salvadoran poet and revolutionary.

The thing I really liked about this collection of poetry was it had Dalton’s original work in Spanish side by side the English translation. It’s a great way to see the words that would’ve rhymed in Spanish and it’s nice that the original text isn’t forgotten. Also at the start of the collection there was a short biography of Dalton which was interesting and helped me understand where his poetry was coming from.

Each poem was very short, often no more than a page and many were only ten lines or so. This made them punchy, getting across the ideas and emotions in a concise way. His poems were often sarcastic which was an interesting yet strangely fun way for poems about love, death, revolution and politics to be. His sarcasm definitely shone through in his more political poems and I love sarcasm in writing.

My favourite poems in the collection were the political ones like “Poem XVI” and “My Military III the P.S. (Prodigal Sons)” Thanks to the biography at the start of the book you have a rough idea of the political turmoil going on in El Salvador at the time of his writings, with the ideas of a revolution being rife in the country after the Cuban Revolution in the 1950’s. One of the poems I liked a lot because it made me think and put a wry smile on my face was “Miscellaneous” – this one is about socialism and imperialism and how the two could attempt to shape El Salvador. My other favourite was “On Headaches” which is about the pain different movements cause while Communism is like “an aspirin the size of the sun.” It was an amusing look at different political ideologies and a great insight into the mind of a revolutionary.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read poetry for fun – I think having to learn everything about Seamus Heaney and Caroline Duffy’s work for my GCSE’s kind of put me off poetry as a whole genre for a while – but I found Dalton’s work really accessible. It’s a quick read and reading his poetry was an interesting snapshot into a country’s history. I think I might look for more poetry collections as I continue to attempt to read the world!

READ THE WORLD – North Korea: The Accusation: Forbidden Stories From Inside North Korea by Bandi

A collection of short stories showing life under Kim Il-sung’s and Kim Jong-il’s totalitarian regimes. All the stories are written and set in the early 1990’s and had to be smuggled out of North Korea.

The Accusation is a truly remarkable book. While there has been novels, fiction and non-fiction, from North Korean writers, they’ve been written outside of the country once the author has defected, there’s never been work criticising the regime from inside the country. The story of how the manuscript of this book was smuggled out of the country is as fascinating as the stories themselves.

These short stories were truly eye-opening. They’re about ordinary workers, families, and officials and everything they have to do to stay in line – both the unconscious acts and the conscious ones. The stories show the difficulties of harsh food rations, no fuel to keep homes and workplaces warm and how you must never speak your mind or show you are unsatisfied.

The stories are all well-written in a simple style making them accessible but it’s really the content of the stories that is the most important thing. They each criticise the regime in North Korea in some way, shining a light on peoples suffering and how they either attempt to fight against it or become sadly accustomed to it.

Naturally, there were some stories I preferred to others. One of my favourites was “On Stage” about a Party official’s son who shows him how life in the country is a constant performance, and how you must never show anyone how you feel. If the occasion calls for you to be sad, you must cry. If it is a joyous occasion, you must laugh and smile even if your heart is breaking. I felt this story (along with my other favourite “City of Spectres”) really showed how no one is safe, and how fear of death and banishment keeps people in line.

The Accusation is a great and important insight into life in North Korea. It’s a quick read, each story is around 30-40 pages, and a captivating one. 4/5.

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.