In recent weeks I’ve been making some small inroads into my world literature project with A Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo, a writer from the small land-locked African state of Burkina Faso; The Spinning Heart by the Irish author Donal Ryan and The Book of Gaza, a collection of short stories by ten writers from the Gaza strip.
What I’m reading now is a wonderful novel from 2013 by the Irish writer Maggie O’Farrell, Instructions for a Heatwave. Set against a background of a summer of unusuallly high temperatures for the UK, it shows how a family is thrown into crisis by the sudden disappearance of its patriarchal figure. His three children are summoned to support his wife as efforts are made to find him. It soon becomes clear however that they are also lost, floundering amid problems of disintegrating marriages and sibling relationships. All of them are harbouring secrets. I’ve loved every other book I’ve read by O’Farrell. This one is one of her best.
I’m also reading a curious book by Qaisra Shahraz, an author born in Pakistan though raised in England. The Holy Woman, which is her debut novel, examines the tension between the desire for freedom and the pressure to conform felt by women in Pakistan. It features a woman renowned for her beauty who dons a Burqa and immerses herself in a life of celibacy in obedience to the will of her father. The writing style is rather lacking in finesse but the concept of the Holy Woman is interesting enough to keep me reading.
As for reading horizons, I have a few of the Booker longlisted novels waiting my return to the UK. A colleague from Korea has also given me a book which apparently was a huge best seller in South Korea and then wowed readers in North America – it’s called Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin. It’s about a devoted mother who becomes separated from her husband when they are travelling from their rural home to visit their grown up children in Seoul. I’d never heard of this author or the book but it seemed that it garnered a lot of praise when it was published in 2011 – the Times Literary Supplement called it “captivating… nostalgic but unsentimental, brutally well observed.. a sobering account of a vanished past.” Sounds just the thing for my return flight home…..