Women’s History Month

READ THE WORLD – Estonia: Burning Cities by Kai Aareleid

Translated by Adam Cullen.

Destroyed by German and Soviet armies in the war, Tiiana’s home city of Tartu in Estonia has a lot of secrets and she’s slowly unravelling them. The adult world is of cryptic and hushed conversations and Tiiana experience both great events like Stalin’s death, and personal events like the disintegration of her parent’s marriage from the periphery. Ultimately, she is powerless to prevent the great and defining tragedy of her life – the suicide of a loved one.

I liked the way the story was told. Chapters (if they could really be called that) were often only a few pages long. They each began with a year and they’re like a little snapshot into that period of the characters’ lives, especially at the beginning when there weren’t many chapters set in the same year. As the story progressed and Tiiana got older, you spend more time with her in each year, seeing how her life changes in small and big ways.

Burning Cities begins in 1941 when Tiiana’s parents Liisi and Peeter meet, after a few short chapters Tiiana is born in 1946 and then you follow her as she grows up to the year 1962. There are a few chapters set in the 1990s and 2010s throughout the book and as you’re never properly introduced to the narrator in those chapters, it takes a while to make the connections between them and Tiiana as a child.

A lot of things to do with the Second World War or how it was in Estonia before the war doesn’t really register in Tiiana’s every day life, especially when she’s a child. She knows that other children and adults don’t like the Russians but she’s not sure why and when she becomes friends with a Russian boy from the school next door to hers, she questions whether her father’s uncertainties about the friendship is because he’s a boy or because he’s Russian.

Tiiana is a well-written and believable child. She learns to observe people from a young age and is fascinated by books and how there’s apparently different eras that the adults talk about. She’s smart but also sheltered, because of her father’s job she never wants for anything unlike some of her fellow classmates. It’s the little things that make the city of Tartu a strong presence in the novel. It’s a place that’s being rebuilt but there’s so many parts of it that aren’t whole or are broken. This mirrors Tiiana’s parent’s relationship as they drift apart and attempt to hide things from Tiiana to no avail. As Tiiana gets older she becomes more outspoken but she’s still quiet young and naïve and, much like her parents, doesn’t talk about how she feels.

Burning Cities is a story of family secrets and tragedy told, through the most part, through the eyes of a child. It’s a well-written story that often paints a vivid picture, but it still has a hazy quality to it as much of it feels like a memory with some events or people more solid than others. It’s a book that pulls you in from the very beginning, with interesting characters and a haunting writing style. 4/5.

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Women’s History Month TBR and the Indieathon TBR

This TBR post is basically going to be one big month-long TBR but a subset of these books will be relevant to my Indieathon TBR. March is Women’s History Month and because I became aware of this sooner rather than later, I plan to focus on reading books by women this month. Each year I read a pretty equal split between male and female authors, but I always find it interesting to take a proper look as to what’s on my shelves.

Also in March is the Indieathon, which is a week-long readathon where the aim is to read books from independent publishers. This readathon is hosted by Ninja Book Box and it runs from Friday 8th to Friday 15th March.

In this big TBR post there will be far more books than I could possibly read during a month (though saying that I am going to making some long train journeys for work this month so that’ll give me more reading time than normal) and I’ll note which books are from independent publishers so those are the ones I might read during the Indieathon.

I have many unread books that are written by women but not so many unread books that are from independent publishers but, surprisingly to me, most of the books on this TBR are indie books.

Burning Cities by Kai Aareleid (translated by Adam Cullen), published by Peter Owen Publishers.
Mere Chances by Veronika Simoniti (translated by Nada Grošelj), published by Dalkey Archive Press.
A Fortune Foretold by Agneta Pleijel (translated by Marlaine Delargy), published by Other Press.
Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (translated by Margita Gailitis), published by Peirene Press.
The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell, published by Linen Press
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies curated by Scarlett Curtis, published by Penguin
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney, published by Titan Books

The first four indie books on my TBR this month are all for my Read the World Project. I have, at my last count, 149 countries left to read so it’d be nice if this month could give me a push with my international reading.

Set in the Estonian city of Tartu, Burning Cities follows two generations of the Unger family from the Second World War to the twenty-first century. Mere Chances is a collection of short stories that are said to be strange and about characters who are struggling to maintain their identities. Soviet Milk is about the affects of Soviet rule on one person, how a woman strives to become a doctor but outside forces stop her and even deprive her of her relationship with her daughter. A Fortune Foretold is a coming of age story about a young girl in 1950s Sweden who uses fortune-telling and prophesies to make sense of the world around her. The last indie book on my TBR is one I received from Ninja Book Box’s Summer Reading box last year; The Red Beach Hut is about the friendship between an eight-year-old boy and a man who takes refuge in a red beach hut.

I’m not sure which indie books are the ones I’ll read during the Indieathon specifically, as I’ve said before I’m very much a mood reader, but these books are both from independent publishers and by women, so I hope to read them this month.

All the books mentioned so far feel like they are serious reads so I’ve also picked up Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies it’s a collection of essays and writings from lots of different women from different walks of life, so it’s something I can deep in and out of easily. The last book on my ridiculously ambitious TBR is A Blade So Black. I thought it’d be a good idea to throw some YA in here and this is an urban fantasy story inspired by Alice in Wonderland and with a black protagonist.

These are all the books I’d like to read this month. Are you focussing on reading books by female authors this month? Or are you taking part in the Indieathon? There’s going to be Twitter chats and Instagram challenges so I hope they help me to keep on track. Whish me luck! If I read five of these books that’ll be good for me.