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Sample Saturday: Around The World

When I embarked on my World of Literature project back in 2013, I began to seek out books by authors from countries I had never experienced previously.

Some were recommended by work colleagues. Luckily I worked for a multinational company so every time we had a face-to-face meeting or I had to visit one of our overseas offices, I would ask for recommendations. It was a great ice-breaker and my colleagues were delighted that someone was taking an interest in their culture. Some of the books I read that came from those recommendations were superb – without my colleagues’ help I wouldn’t have enjoyed Amelie Nothomb (Belgium) or the magnificently named Joachim Maria Machado de Assis (Brazil).

I had more moderate success with books I bought as a result of internet searches – they often turned out to be real duds (like Full Circle by the Congolese author Frederick Yamusangie).

I’m hoping none of the three books featured in today’s Sample Saturday are duds but maybe they are not worth keeping on my shelves. Let’s see if you agree with my thoughts on which to keep and witch to ditch.

The Blood Of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

This is the first of two books by Iran-born Anita Amirrezvani. She left the country to settle in the USA when her parents separated. She returned to Iran during her gap year, her visit coinciding with the 1978 Islamic Revolution. She is now back in USA where she teaches writing and literature to college and master’s degree students.

The Blood Of Flowers follows a young village girl who is cast on the mercy of relatives when her father dies and her hopes of marriage dwindle. Her future improves when she reveals a talent for designing carpets, an invaluable skill in seventeenth century Iran. But a disastrous act causes her downfall.

The setting and cultural context are drawing me towards this book.

The Verdict: Keep

The Hour Of The Star by Clarice Lispector

I opened this slim book to discover a receipt which shows I bought it in the Oxfam shop in Oxford in November 2013. It was one of two purchases in the store that day – now I’m puzzling what the other book could be…

Clarice Lispector is described in this Open University edition as “one of the half-dozen irreplaceable Portuguese-language writers of this century.” She has an interesting multicultural background – born of Jewish descent in the Ukraine, she was raised in Brazil and then travelled extensively with her diplomat husband.

The Hour Of The Star was published in 1977, shortly before the author’s death from cancer. It focuses on a young woman who lives in the slums of Rio de Janeiro where she ekes out a living as a typist. But, according to what I’ve read about this book, the narrative is a lot more complex than that summary indicates.

Just to give you an example, this is how the book begins:

Everything in the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born. But before prehistory there was the prehistory of prehistory and there was the never and there was the yes. It was ever so, I do not know why, but I do know that the universe never began.

Clearly this is not a book to read when I’m feeling sleepy. It needs full attention. It’s a mere 75 pages long so I might give it a whirl

The Verdict: Keep

Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed

Of the three books I’m featuring this week, this is the one that appeals most.

Nadifa Mohamed left her home in Somalia for what was meant to be a temporary stay in the UK. But war broke out in Somalia so they remained in the UK and never returned.

Black Mamba Boy is Mohamed’s debut novel, a semi-autobiographical account of her father’s life in Yemen and his trek through Sudan, Egypt, Palestine and the Mediterranean. In the novel, a ten year old boy who has grown up in the slums of Aden, decides his only chance of survival is to find his father who disappeared years earlier. And so begins his epic journey by foot, camel, lorry and train.

Though it’s a story of one individual, the theme of exile and survival gives it far greater significance at a time when we continue to see images of refugees risking their lives to find a new home.

The book won the 2010 Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the 2010 Guardian First Book Award and long-listed for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction. Mohamed was chosen as one of Granta magazine’s “Best of Young British Novelists” in 2013.

No doubt about my decision on this one.

The Verdict: Keep!

For the first time since I started the Sample Saturday series, I’m keeping all three featured books. The TBR is thus staying at its current level but that’s ok – the objective of Sample Saturday isn’t to get rid of books, but to make sure my shelves are full only with 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.

Sunday Salon: Replenishing the book stock

PurchasesWhen you have some time to spare and it’s a cold, dark November afternoon, then the warm interior of a really good book shop is the ideal place for any avid reader. Which was my excuse for popping into Blackwell’s in Oxford while on a visit to the city this week.

I have no excuse for the fact I emerged with three new books to add to the two I’d already picked up in the Oxfam shop (thanks to Ali and Liz for directing me there). It wasn’t as if I was running short of books to read. But it is hard to resist when you’re in the flagship store of a book seller in the heart of academia and faced with an extensive array  of authors and titles.  So of course I succumbed. But I did something I have not done for a very long time – I didn’t take out my wish list and head straight for those authors. I just browsed. My only ‘rule’ was to find authors I had never read before and, ideally, from countries whose literature I know little about.

I could have come away with a suitcase full but since I didn’t happen to have one with me at the time I had to curtail my enthusiasm.

Four of the new acquisitions will go a long way to helping me venture into more world literature but the fifth is very firmly rooted in England.

Diego Marani: New Finnish Grammar

The title was what caught my eye initially but the synopsis also appealed.

“A wounded sailor is found on a Triest quay. Amesiac, unable to speak and with nothing to identify him except a name tag pointing to Finnish origins. A passing doctor resolves to teach him Finnish to restore his memory.” Apparently this was shortlisted for the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

Yukio Mishima: After the Banquet

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by an author from Japan. I picked this one up without knowing that Mishima is considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century and was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. After the Banquet is about  a middle-age proprietress of a fashionable restaurant that caters to politicians. She falls in love with one of her clients – a retired ambassador – but conflicts arise between them and she is forced to choose between marriage and her independence. The New Yorker called it “the biggest and most profound thing Mishima has done so far.” 

Nadeem Aslam: Maps for Lost Lovers 

This is set in an unnamed town in England where a close-knit Pakistani community is disturbed by the murder of two lovers and then the arrest of a brother of one of the victims. It’s a portrait of an immigrant family over the course of 12 months during which their culture, nationality and religious beliefs are tested.

And from the Oxfam shop I picked up the first of Angela Thirkell’s novels High Rising. I’ve never read any of her work but there seems to be such a buzz about her on various blog sites that I  thought I’d give her a go. I also found The Hour of the Star, a novella by Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian author whose name I came across while researching authors for my Reading the Equator challenge.

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