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Sample Saturday: Words From The East

My Sample Saturday spotlight this week is turned on three books on my TBR shelves that are set in the East.

As a reminder, Sample Saturday is where I look at all the books I own but have yet to read, and decide which I should part company with and which I should keep.

The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad

Of these three books, this is the one that has been on the shelves the longest.

I bought The Bookseller of Kabul in a charity shop thinking it was a true life account of a bookseller’s battle with political and religious opposition to books. My interest in the book waned when I discovered it is a fictionalised portrait. So I put it aside.

But looking at it again, and with the benefit of a little web research, I see that it’s written by a Norwegian journalist who stayed with an Afghan family in Kabul for several months after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Seierstad changed the family’s name to protect them from reprisals but otherwise made no attempt to paint the bookseller in a positive light.

According to The Guardian reviewer, Seierstad’s decision to tell it like it was, makes the book fascinating. Her portrayal of the way women are treated and the tyrannical manner in which the bookseller rules his family is “compulsive, repulsive and frightening.”

I’m thinking it could be worth reading but much will depend on the writing style.

The Verdict: Reprieve

The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri

I love novels set in India but haven’t read much beyond the big names like Anita Desai , Arundhati Roy and Rohinton Mistry. The Age of Shiva, the second novel by the mathematics professor Manil Suri, offered an opportunity to redress that situation.

The synopsis seemed promising. It’s set in India in 1955 when the country is five years into its status as an independent nation free from British rule. The central character is a 17 year old girl who falls in love, gets married and moves to Bombay. But it’s not the fairy-tale or passionate life she had imagined.

The novel imagines her life over the course of 25 years, flashing back to her childhood in what became Pakistan, and reflecting tumultuous events in the history of the new state of India.

I’ve read a few reviews which indicate the historical context is treated with a heavy hand – somewhat of an info dump. I’ve also dipped into a few pages and decided this isn’t one that will light my fire.

The Verdict: Set Free

Red Sorghum by Mo Yan, translated by Howard Goldblatt

According to the publisher’s blurb, Red Sorghum is “a legend in China … a book in which fable and history collide to produce fiction that is entirely new and unforgettable.”

There’s always a degree of hyperbole in those back cover blurbs. I’ll have to ask my former colleagues in China whether this book really is legendary. Maybe it is purely because the author is first ever Chinese winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Chinese government were quick to congratulate him though fellow authors have criticised him for failing to support writers who have been punished but the government.

As for fiction with new and unforgettable, the Swedish Academy (who manage the Nobel Prizes) head Peter Englund did say of his work: “He has such a damn unique way of writing. If you read half a page of Mo Yan you immediately recognize it as him”.

Red Sorghum is Mo Yan’s first novel. It spans three generations, telling a story of a family through a series of flashbacks as the Chinese battle both Japanese invaders and each other in the turbulent 1930s.

That historical period is what’s drawing me to this book. But I’m also conscious that the style will be challenging. One reviewer called it “exquisite and irritating”. because it’s very fragmented “close-packed with chronological displacements and curtailed actions. Rather like Salman Rusdie’s Midnight’s Children I suspect; a book I admired but found hard to enjoy.

The Verdict: Reprieve

So that’s one fewer book on the TBR shelves. It’s not going to make any dent in the overall tally however because I’ve been on a buying spree in recent weeks. Did I make the right choices?? What would you save from these three??

Books On My Autumn TBR List

toptentuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday looks to that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and asks what we’ll be reading this Autumn from our TBR. Making a list of what I’m going to read is always tricky for me since I don’t like planning too far ahead knowing that I am highly unlikely to stick to the list. I prefer the serendipitous approach where I can. Plus  I have (foolishly??) embarked on a university module about children’s literature so will need to devote some reading time to those texts. But in the interests of playing along with the game here’s a list of books that might have a chance of being read in the next few months. I’ve gone for a mixture of Booker prize winners, crime, books in translation and classics.

  1. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey. I’ll be reading this as part of my Booker prize project. It won in 1988 (he went on to win the Booker again in 200finklerquestion1 with True History of the Kelly Gang. This will be my first experience of reading Carey’s work but so many people have said this is a great book that I will begin with high
  2. Another from my Booker list is The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson which won in 2001. I know from various comments on this blog that it’s not to everyone’s taste but I dipped into it a few weeks ago just to get a feel for the style and didnt have an issue with what is generically labelled ‘Jewish humour’.
  3. An Elergy For Easterly by Patina Gappah: This is a collection of short stories that was on my #20booksofsummer list but I never got to finish
  4. Frog by Mo Yan. My knowledge of authors from China is pitiful so this is an attempt to remedy the situation,spurred on by the deeply moving experience of reading about the Cultural Revolution last week via Madeleine Thien’s knock out Man Booker 2016 shortlisted title Do Not Say We Have Nothing.  Mo Yan won the Nobel literature prize in 2012. Frog,  first published in Chinese in 2009 is ostensibly the life story of the author’s aunt, a midwife, told through a series of letters to a celebrated but unidentified Japanese writer. It covers a broader period than Thien’s novel because it goes back to the Japanese occupation of China, then moves ahead to the victory of the Communist party in 1949, the hunger and violent political upheavals of the first 30 years of communist rule and, finally, the lurch to a peculiarly rampant form of state-directed capitalism. It’s going to be powerful I suspect.
  5. good-womenContinuing on the theme of China, this seems like a good time to finally get around to reading The Good Women of China  by Xue Xinran. She is a British-Chinese journalist currently living London and writing for The GuardianThe Good Women of China is primarily composed of interviews Xinran conducted during her time as a radio broadcaster in China in the 1980s. However, she also details some of her own experiences as a woman in China.
  6. English Music by Peter Ackroyd. This has been on my shelf since 2011.It was recommended when I asked for suggestions of books that would typify England. I ended up reading a different recommendation – Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea   but now think it could be time to revisit Mr Ackroyd.
  7. Candide by Voltaire. This is book number 4 on my woefully neglected list of books for the Classics Club challenge. With less than a year to go I find I’ve read 28 out of the targeted 50 so time to put a spurt on.
  8. Ditto for the Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith which is on the list at number 5 and I did actually start reading it about a year ago but other things intervened. I don’t normally go for overt humour in novels but this sounded wry rather than laugh out loud.
  9. And now it’s time for some crime. Those misty/rainy days are perfect excuses for insulting in something a little dark but not too bloodthirsty. The British Crime Classics imprint sounds the perfect solution to me and thanks to the generosity of Ali at I am the possessor of The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts which is set deep in the English countryside. You can see Ali’s review here and why I’m keen to read this.
  10. 1947 club: This is an initiative by Karen at Kaggsy’s Ramblings and Simon of Stuck in a Book which will run October 10-15. It’s only a few weeks ahead but I still don’t know what I am going to read. Maybe Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin which is based on the true story of a working class husband and wife who, acting alone, became part of the German Resistance. .More on the 1947 club is here


The order in which these books appear in my list has no significance at all. I reserve the right to read in whatever sequence I want ….

I equally reserve the right to read only some of them or indeed none of them if something else comes along that exerts a greater pull. 🙂

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