The Read The World Project

READ THE WORLD – Germany: Sirius by Jonathan Crown

In Berlin, he was named Levi – a good Jewish name for a good Jewish dog. When he fled with his owners to America he became Hercules, Hollywood’s famous acting dog. Then he caught the eye of Hitler he was renamed Hansi. But to the Resistance he was known as Sirius, the dog on the inside who could bring peace to a world at war. No matter the name, he’s a little dog who almost changed history.

Sirius is a historical novel that’s mostly told from the point of view of the titular dog. He is the focal point of much of the action, it’s through his eyes the reader see’s major events like Kristallnacht, so there’s often this distance between the action and what it really means as while Sirius is smart, he’s still just a dog who doesn’t understand what’s happening. The story also follows Sirius’s human family, the Liliencron’s, so the more emotive stuff comes from them as they flee Germany and make new lives from themselves amongst famous face of Hollywood’s golden age.

Sirius is written in a simple language style and is a very quick and easy book to read that’s got some humour in it. Having a dog being the main character makes this book have an unusual take on historical events. It’s one of those stories where you wonder where the fiction ends and the fact begins due to Sirius meeting so many real people from Hollywood executive Jack L. Warner to Adolf Hitler. There’s some things I know cannot be true and Sirius and his human family have been dropped into a real moment in time, where there’s other parts that seem almost plausible.

The main problem I had with Sirius is that I didn’t really connect with characters. Maybe it was because of the writing style but there was this distance between the characters and myself as the reader. I was interested in Sirius’s adventures to an extent but it wasn’t really a book I felt compelled to keep reading.

If you’re a dog lover (I am and that’s the main reason I picked up this book in the first place) and someone interested in a different kind of story set during World War Two then give Sirius a go.

READ THE WORLD – China: The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung

Old Chen lives in Beijing, where a whole month has gone missing from official records, no one has any memory of it and no one cares about it either. Except for Old Chen and his friends – they realise something’s wrong with the Chinese people’s cheerfulness and amnesia. When they kidnap a high-ranking official and force him to reveal all, what they discover could shake them to the core.

The Fat Years is set in the near future so while things are different, for instance there was not just the financial crisis of 2008 a second one in 2011, a lot of Chinese history is mentioned. This is interesting and on the most part the social and political history is well-explained and is a great insight into what life is like in (almost) contemporary China. However, as the book progresses it becomes more dense and I struggled to get through the 100 page epilogue. There was a lot of talk about world economics and politics and while most of the book had been relatively quick to read, that epilogue was a slog.

The Fat Years is an interesting take on a near-future dystopia as so much of it appears to be heavily influenced by what we know of China today. There’s the heavy control of the media and the internet, and if someone disagrees with the government there’s strict punishments. It’s the sort of situation that’s scary and unsettling because it’s so realistic. I did like how The Fat Years talks about controlling governments and how the people tend to just accept what is happening, the sociological angle of how a month could go missing from people’s memories was very interesting.

I enjoyed the concept and it was well thought out and interesting however the characters were a bit of a mixed bad. I didn’t find the main protagonist Old Chen particularly compelling but I did like Little Xi, an internet political activist, and the mentions of her relationship with her son who is an ambitious party member.

If you have an interest in or a good understanding of Chinese political and social history then The Fat Years might be for you. Unfortunately, it became a bit too dense and complicated for me towards the end. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Nepal: Gurkha: Better to Die than Live a Coward by Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu

A memoir from Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu on his time in the army, the tough training he went through to become a Gurkha, and what it was like during the thirty one day siege in the town of Now Zad in Helmand, Afghanistan during the summer of 2008.

I hadn’t really heard of the Gurkha’s much, not until when actress and comedian Joanna Lumley became the public face of the campaign to provide all Gurkha veterans who served in the British Army before 1997 the right to settle in Britain, in 2008. This led me to learning more about the Gurkha’s and I was fascinated by how determined and fearless they were.

Colour Sergeant Kailash Limbu’s story definitely puts across what the mentality of the Nepalese soldiers who become Gurkha’s is like. Only a handful who apply each year actually make it through the three stages of the tough selection process to become Gurkha’s and join the British Army. He recounts the things he went through in training and how being a Gurkha, like his grandfather and uncle, was all he ever wanted to be.

The book almost seamlessly goes between Kailash Limbu’s childhood and training to what was happening during the siege in Now Zad at regular intervals. This means that while the parts on the Gurkha selection are no less interesting, they are slower paced compared to the action in Afghanistan. I thought it explained military terminology very well, along with things like Nepal’s caste system. There’s a lot of information to take in really but it’s all pretty easy to understand.

The sections on the siege are tense and compelling. It does a great job of putting you right into the action and how relentless the attacks on the small compound the Gurkha’s were based in. You get to know the men Kailash Limbu fought with and how they do all get scared sometimes but they fight through it and do the job that needs doing.

Gurkha: Better to Die than Live a Coward is a great memoir. It is interesting and exciting and is a great insight into what it means to someone to be a Gurkha and why they are so revered in the military. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Canada: Even this Page is White by Vivek Shraya

A collection of poetry about race, politics, gender, sex and the crossover between all these things and more.

The collection is split into five parts titled “white dreams”, “whitespeak”, “how to talk to a white person”, “the origins of skin” and “brown dreams” and seeing the headings they definitely caught my attention.

These poems are brutally honest and I think it’s something white people should read. Even from the above section titles you start to get an idea of what to expect and as a white person you learn to listen and take it in. The poetry made me think and while I’ve personally be aware of my privilege, they made me want to be more active in trying to use that privilege “for good”.

Shraya’s poems talk about white privilege, anti-blackness and the different ways racism presents itself towards people of different races. I liked how there was a section that was a conversation between Shraya and her white friends Sara Quin, Amber Dawn, Rae Spoon and Danielle Owens-Reid, though I did second guess myself because as Shraya writes, “white people listen to white people.” It’s is a great couple of pages of dialogue.

Flicking through the book, finding my favourite poems I realised that my favourites generally came from the “how to talk to a white person” section. I think that was because in a way they were targeting me. A lot of them are about how people of colour may change how they act or what they say or how they say it in front of a white person.

I really enjoyed this poetry collection. It was a very quick read as the poems are all short and concise and they were all written in interesting ways – interesting to me anyway, as I don’t read a lot of poetry. The poems are hard-hitting and don’t shy away from potentially controversial topics and opinions. I can imagine seeing Vivek Shraya perform her poetry would be an amazing experience as often the poems feel like they should be spoken aloud by someone. Still, it is a thought-provoking and lyrical collection of poems. Definitely recommend Even this Page is White. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Zimbabwe: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

Memory is an albino woman, serving time in prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. When she was nine she was adopted by Lloyd Hendricks, a wealthy white man. It is his murder she is now convicted of and is facing the death penalty. As she waits for her death she tells the story of the events that brought her here – but is everything as she remembers it?

The Book of Memory is an interesting story but one that I sometimes found hard to get through. It wasn’t till I got to the half way point that I began to like the book more and start reading it more quickly. I think that’s because The Book of Memory is split into three parts, Memory’s childhood with her family, her growing up with Lloyd and her time in prison. Though while the book is labelled like that, she does meander with her storytelling meaning it jumps from the present to various points in the past. I personally found the parts more focussed on her adolescence with Lloyd more compelling than her childhood – though I did like how the story brings those two halves of her together.

Memory’s name is apt as so much of her story is recounted from her memory and she doesn’t have anyone to collaborate what she remembers. It’s an interesting to see how something you see and remember when you were a child changes dramatically when you get more information.

Memory is a likeable character, as are many of her fellow inmates, though naturally the prison guards are the main antagonists Memory’s present situation. That being said, there is one guard whose behaviour towards Memory is so nice and almost kind that it makes both the reader and Memory uncomfortable.

I did like the smattering of Shona language used in the book, as well as how it didn’t give you a crash course in Zimbabwean history. Memory often would go between calling her home country Zimbabwe and Rhodesia, and talk about warring political parties and how white people were seen.

For me, there’s not much memorable about The Book of Memory. While I liked Memory well enough, the other characters weren’t particularly notable and there wasn’t many stand out moments in the story. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – India: The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

Ria Parkar is Bollywood’s favourite Ice Princess until one impulsive act threatens to ruin everything she’s built. Her cousin Nikhil’s wedding in Chicago, with the family, food and extravagant celebrations, is the perfect escape from the impending media storm. But being back in Chicago means facing Vikram Jathar. Ria and Vikram spend their childhood summers together, growing up their friendship turned into love until Ria made an earthshattering decision. Vikram believes she sold her soul for stardom but when they meet again, the passion is still there, no matter what Ria does to evade it.

Ria is an interesting character as while the book is from her point of view so you can see her inner-turmoil, she still often projects this poised and impenetrable persona. She’s not always a likable character but I found myself sympathising with her and understanding why she kept so many secrets and tried to keep people at a distance, even those who cared about her.

With Vikram, on the other hand, it took me a lot longer to warm to him. He’s justifiably angry but he’s also very stubborn and believes he knows everything when he often doesn’t. How he reacts to Ria coming back into his life is hurtful and frustrating for both Ria, and myself as the reader. Eventually you see a softer side to him but he’s a character that takes some time to like.

It was the family aspect of The Bollywood Bride that I really liked. I enjoyed the descriptions of all the things that go into a big, stereotypical Indian wedding and what being a part of such a huge extended is like. I loved all of Ria’s family and how they all come together to look out for each other and know each other so well.

In the last third of The Bollywood Bride there are some short but edging on explicit sex scenes. I don’t have a problem with that in a book but I was caught a bit off-guard by it – I think it’s because when I do read a romance novel it tends to be the more rom-com-esque type of book and if there are any heated moments, they tend to fade to black. Still the sex and romance in The Bollywood Bride was sensual and heated and you definitely could feel the connection between the characters.

The Bollywood Bride is quite a quick read – Ria is a volatile character so I always wanted to see what her reactions would be next. The Bollywood Bride is a romantic story full of love of all kinds and also has a few surprises too.

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.