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What I’m Reading : Episode 40, November 2021: From Korea to Angola

November is going to be all about novellas but before I get stuck into that, let’s take a look at what I’ve been reading lately and what might be next in line.


What I just finished reading

A River In Darkness by Masaji Ishigawa: I read this memoir to mark Novellas in November. It’s a terrifying account of how an ordinary man became an unwitting victim of a con trick. And then attempted an extraordinary journey to escape the brutal dictatorship of North Korea. It’s fluently written (a testament to the two volunteer translators Risa Kobayashi and Martin Brown) but that doesn’t make it an easy read because the situation he portrays of hardship and hunger is unbelievably bleak. For more details check out my review.

The China Room by Sunjeev Sahota was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2021. It’s a dual time frame narrative set at a rural farm in the Punjab region . One narrative focuses on Mehar, a new bride in 1929 whose desire to know which of three brothers is her husband, puts her future at risk. In the second narrative, her grandson travels to the now deserted farm in 1999 to spend a summer recovering from heroin addiction and to contemplate his future. The historical thread worked far better I thought than the modern day narrative.

What I’m reading now

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller: I’m a latecomer to Claire Fuller’s work but on the basis of what I’ve read so far of her second novel, I have some treats in store. Her latest novel, Unsettled Ground, was selected just this week for the shortlist of the Costa Book Awards while her debut work Our Endless Numbered Days, won the 2015 Desmond Elliott prize.

Swimming Lessons is the story of a marriage, between Gil, a professor in creative writing and one of of his students, Ingrid. She writes letters to him about their relationship, hiding them in his vast collection of books. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach. Twelve years later, when their daughter returns home to care for her father, she discovers the letters, and the truth about her parent’s marriage.

News and How to Use It by Alan Rusbridger: Alan Rusbridger was until four years ago, editor of The Guardian newspaper and one of the most respected incumbents of an editor’s chair. Concerned about the decline in trust in news organisations during the pandemic, he decided to write an insider’s account of the business of journalism. The resulting book isn’t a guide to journalism or an investigation into the way it operates. It’s really a series of essays and jottings on topics ranging from “fake news” , fact-checking and attribution to the over-reliance on metrics and the pressure in an online media world, to get the story out fast and correct mistakes (or not) later.

I never know with any certainty what I’m going to read next until the last moment.

I’m tempted by one of my recent purchases: A General Theory of Oblivion by the Angolan author Jose Eduardo Agualusa which is a strange story of a woman who, on the eve of Angolan independence, bricks herself into her apartment, where she will remain for the next thirty years. 

There are also some NetGalley proofs I should get to soon including A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe which is set in a Welsh community not far from where I was born. You may have heard the name of Aberfan from a tragic event 50 years ago when the waste from a coal mine slid down the mountain and buried children in the local school. Wroe’s novel features a pathologist who volunteers to help the community by identifying the children who died.

A friend recently gave me her copy of The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton, an Australian author I’ve yet to read and I also took delivery of The Well by Elizabeth Jolley, a novel recommended by Kim at Reading Matters who’d heard how much I’d enjoyed two of Jolley’s other novels.

And of course there are the hundreds of books that I bought years ago and have yet to open. Maybe their time has come?

What are your reading plans for the next few weeks? If you’ve read any of the books on my “reading next” list you can help me make a decision.


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