Sample Sunday: Decision Time On Books From Uganda, Korea and Turkey

Covers of books from Uganda, North Korea and Turkey

Moving along the shelves of my unread books, I’ve arrived at the letter I. The three books I’m featuring this week are actually the only three I own where the author’s name begins with that letter. By coincidence they all seem to be set in countries with troubled histories.

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

Abyssinian Moses Isegawa

This was one of the first books I bought when I embarked on my project to read more broadly around the world. It was described as the “Great Ugandan Novel”, a an epic blending the history of a nation with that of an individual. Parallels were made between Isegawa and Rushdie and Marquez  as the voice of a nation.

The narrative relates the experience of a young man who moves from rural Uganda to the capital city of Kampala. He survives the atrocities of the Amin era, lives through the Aids crisis and guerilla wars and survives poverty. So there’s a lot going on in this book.

But I’ve just read the first 50 pages and the style is off putting. It’s lively but seems over-written. Some reviewers on Goodreads commented that they found it heavy going, overwritten and relying too much on similies. I don’t think I can cope with 500 or so pages of that.

The Verdict: Abandon. I shall find a different Ugandan author.

A River In Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa

Ishikawa was born in Japan but when he was 13 years old, his family moved to North Korea. His father, a Korean national, was lured by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. The reality was very different. As Japanese nationals, they were labelled as “hostiles”, which meant they were considered at the bottom of the social order. Their home was a shack without electricity or running water. Ishikawa was eventually repatriated but only after enduring 36 years in one of most brutal and secretive of totalitarian regimes.

The Verdict: Keep. It will be interesting to compare this with the memoir In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park which relates her experiences before she escaped from North Korea

The Girl in the Tree by Şebnem İşigüzel

This is a coming of age tale set against violent unrest in Turkey between 2013/14. A17-year old girl is so disillusioned with her life that she decides to seek refuge in the tallest tree in Istanbul’s central park. She plans to live out the rest of her days perched in an abandoned stork’s nest. Into her sanctuary comes a worker from a nearby hotel. The pair connect amid feelings of loss and anxiety about the future of their country.

The Verdict: Keep. It’s an odd idea. Whether it works is going to come down to the quality of the writing. I just hope its not too sentimental,

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

10 thoughts on “Sample Sunday: Decision Time On Books From Uganda, Korea and Turkey

  • I’ve got the Turkish one on the shelf too. Maybe WIT Month is the time to read it?

    • Maybe though I already have a list of books to read for 20books of summer. When I put that list together I forgot that august is WIT month but luckily I do have two on my list that would meet the need

  • Very easy to see why you initially chose all three, but my preference would be to get glimpses of a country around interesting characters/situations as you do with the Girl in the Tree. I hope you find it well-written, it’s a promising premise.

    • I do enjoy novels that tell me something about a country – hence why these were on the shelves but some are obviously more successful than others

  • I’d probably only keep the Ishikawa, which sounds pretty interesting if you’re in the mood for a personal history. For Girl in the Tree, I’d do a quick twenty minute sample read and let my opinion about the style determine its fate!

    • The “sample read” is a good plan. When you do that, do you begin at the beginning or dip somewhere into the middle. I used to just read the opening pages but I’m now thinking that’s always going to be their most polished section so if I sample from the middle, I’ll get a clearer idea of what the writing is really like

      • I usually just read the first few pages although you make a good point about reading from the middle! For dull books to which I’ve made a committment (i.e., I’m a quarter/third through) I sometimes just read the end and skip the middle! (a different situation from your current dilemna, I know).

        • I’d never have thought of skipping to the end – what a smart move when you really don’t care much about the book.

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