I was far too excited by the phenomenal success of the Welsh national football team to post my July snapshot on the first of the month. Against all the odds they soundly beat off the favourites Belgium last night (ranked number two in the world) to get through to the Euro 2016 semi finals, the first time we’ve qualified for a major tournament since 1958.
We’re a nation whose passion is normally devoted to a different shaped ball but last night everyone seemed to be glued to the tv screens. Even me whose knowledge of the finer rules of soccer can be written on the back of a beer mat.
Don’t worry I am not about to abandon Booker Talk’s normal fare of literary postings in favour of sports topics but I hope you’ll allow me a little indulgence on this historic occasion.
So what else was I doing on the first of this month??
After months in which my world literature reading project seemed to have stalled, I added one more country to the list – Belgium. That makes 31 countries completed from a goal of 50 by January 2018. Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb was a delight and thanks to sylvie heroux I have recommendations for three more books by her: The Character of Rain,
Tokyo Fiancee and The Stranger Next Door. My review is posted here.
I have two books on the go at the moment. Having made good progress so far with the 20booksofsummer challenge run by Cathy at 746 books, I’ve taken a pause to dip into my TBR.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is a novel I first heard of in 2013 when I was trying to think of books which had a musical theme (other titles are in this post). It got added to my TBR later that year when I found a bargain copy in a library sale. It’s set in a South American country which is desperate to attract international investment. The president hits on the idea of inviting the head of a powerful electronics corporation in Japan celebrate his birthday in the country with a lavish party at which a world-renowned soprano will perform. The President decides at the last minute he has far more important things to do (namely to watch the latest episode of his favourite tv soap opera). Which proves a problem for the insurgents who surround the birthday venue planning to take the president hostage. There follows a stand off between the terrorists and their hostages. This isn’t an action novel however, but one that looks at the way people react to danger and entrapment and how leaders become impotent while ordinary individuals find new sources of strength. So far it’s wonderful to read.
My other book is also a story of courage in the face of adversity but this is a true story. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused devastation in New Orleans. The Memorial Medical Center – the city’s premier hospital – endured five days trapped by floodwater. Its back-up generators failed, leaving it without lights, air conditioning, sewer systems and essential medical equipment. Medical staff had to prioritise which patients should be evacuated, and – controversially – which patients to euthanise because their conditions were so poor.
Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink originated as an article which appeared in the New York Times Magazine in 2009 and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. Fink details the events of those five days and the investigation that followed into the actions of a few members of the medical team. She then goes on to examine the legal and political consequences of the decision to euthanize patients and the ethical issues surrounding euthanasia and health care in disaster scenarios. I’m only a little way into the book but it’s riveting. There is a chilling prologue which sets the scene. In a reception area, patients lie awaiting rescue amid the miasma of the receding floodwaters. Rescue has started but it is painfully slow. A few members of the medical staff begin to prepare a lethal concoction of drugs for the most critically ill. This is not a book you can read quickly but more one that needs to be read in small chunks to allow for reflection on the key issues.