Reading plans

Sample Sunday: Decision Time On Tales From Somalia, China and Scotland

Digging through the shelves of my unread books, I’ve reached authors whose surnames all start with the letter M.

Let’s see whether these are books I want to keep or move along to a more receptive home.

As The Women Lay Dreaming by Donald Murray

Murray’s novel is based on a tragic accident in 1919 when a ship carrying servicemen back from active service in WW1 sank just yards from the edge of Stornaway harbour with the loss of 200 lives. The novel considers the effects of this calamity on a small community in the Outer Hebrides, relating the story through the eyes and diaries of one man.

The Verdict: Definitely keeping this one having seen it described as a sensitive and compassionate narrative about scars that never heal

Red Azalea by Anchee Min

Anchee Min’s memoir traces her life from a child born into a devoutly Maoist family in 1950s Shanghai. As a teenager she was forced to work on a communal farm and was then recruited into Madame Mao’s industry of propaganda movies.

The Verdict: Keep. I’ve enjoyed three other memoirs of individuals who lived through this period in China’s past, the most notable being Wild Swans by Jung Chang. Though they tread similar ground each person’s lives are varied enough to give me fresh insight into their experiences.

Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed

Nadifa Mohamed’s debut novel spanning a decade of war and upheaval in Somalia, all seen through the eyes of a ten year old boy. When Jama’s mother dies he sets out to find the father who has been absent from his life since he was a baby. His journey takes on epic proportions as he travels through Djibouti, Eritrea and Sudan, to Egypt. And from there, aboard a ship transporting Jewish refugees just released from German concentration camps, across the seas to Britain and freedom.

The Verdict: . Narratives written by adults but in the voice of a child don’t always work well but I’m tempted to give this the benefit of the doubt.

Sample Sunday is when I take a look at all the unread books on my shelves and decide which to keep and which to let free. The goal isn’t to shrink the TBR as such, but rather it’s about making sure my shelves have only books I do want to read.What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached? If you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

9 thoughts on “Sample Sunday: Decision Time On Tales From Somalia, China and Scotland

  • I think I would be keeping all three of these – particularly Red Azalea, which I would enjoy reading as a comparison to Wild Swans (something I read many years ago so could do with a refresher on). Mind you, I’m terrible at letting go of books I haven’t got round to yet!

  • These sound like three books I’d definitely keep but then would wonder if I’d ever get to them to actually read them. Figure that one out!! haha. I have several books on my shelf that sound wonderful but I know will take energy to actually read them, yet I hang on. Who knows!😁😁😁

    • I’m in the same boat as you. I have some books that have been around for ages, I never seem to be in the mood to read them but can’t quite bring myself to let go. I think I need to be more ruthless

  • I’m not sure if Nadifa Mohamed’s storytelling shapes would be a great match for your reading taste. Here are my thoughts (from 2010!) on that debut. Not sure if Victoria is still around in U.K. “blogging circles” but our exchange about style and voice might help you decide whether you want to hang onto this one or let it travel onwards to another eager reader instead.

    • Just read your thoughts on this book and also the very interesting thread in the comments. I’m not a huge fan of long, multi-clausal sentences; I have to be in the right mood for them. You pose a question in your response to Victoria about whether the narrative style is a reflection of an African story-telling tradition. I wish I had enough knowledge to answer that; all I can say is that many of the novels I’ve read by African authors do tend to be discontinuous, almost fragmetary

  • The only one of these I’ve read was Red Azalea and that was donkey’s years ago when I’d read Wild Swans. I seem to recall thinking RA wasn’t so good, but who knows…

    • Part of the problem I think is that Wild Swans was the first of its kind and set the standard. So now everything is compared to it

      • Plus, I think Anchee Min has a very different voice. There’s more emotional heft in Jung Chang, I think? But what an interesting story. I think she has a stage career which is fascinating (but maybe that is in the sequel?).

        • As far as I can tell Red Azalea doesn’t explain how she gets to America or starts a stage career, it focuses entirely on her China experience

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