Tag Archives: Travel the World in Books

What I’m Reading in April — #TTWIB, #ReadNobels, and a little mystery

9 Apr

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This month, two long-term reading challenges, Travel the World in Books (which I host along with Tanya of Mom’s Small Victories and Aloi of Guiltless Reading) and Read the Nobels hosted by Aloi, are joining forces again for a fun combined reading event. I am so grateful for the abundant creative energies of these women.

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I will be reading The Axe, an epic tale of passion, faith, and moral struggle, set in medieval Norway. It is the first volume of The Master of Hestviken by Sigrid Undset, who is best known for Kristin Lavransdatter. Undset won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1928; she was only 46 years old. For more about The Axe, visit my Northern Lights Reading Project, where I have begun writing about Sigrid Undset’s Other Masterpiece.

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For TuesBookTalk Read-Alongs and for Spring Into Horror Readathon, both of which thrive due to the dedication of Michelle Miller, I am reading My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier.

If possible during the Readathon, I would also like to start The Sun-King Conspiracy by Yves Jégo and Denis Lépée. I was most intrigued by the review of it by Emma at Words and Peace.

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Please join us for any or all of these occasions for more reading (as if we needed a special occasion!). It is great to read with friends, old and new.

Travel the World in Books in March: North Africa #TTWIB

25 Feb

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This month in Travel the World in Books, along with my co-hosts Tanya of Mom’s Small Victories (who made our lovely banner and hosts the perpetual #TTWIB challenge) and Aloi of Guiltless Reading (who also hosts a Read the Nobels challenge), we are featuring books by North African authors, set in North Africa and elsewhere. This is a free-choice read, so here are some suggestions to help get you started.

I am particularly featuring: Leila Aboulela, a Sudanese writer who sets her books mainly in Sudan and in Scotland, where she lives now; and Naguib Mahfouz, the renowned Egyptian writer and foremost representative of contemporary Arabic fiction, who won his Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988.

319px-leila_aboulela_2010Leila Aboulela (b. 1964) was born in Cairo, Egypt but spent her first 23 years living with her parents in Khartoum, Sudan where she received her education, first at the Khartoum American Academy, then at a private Catholic high school, and at the University of Khartoum, with a degree in economics. She also took an MPhil degree in statistics at the London School of Economics. Notwithstanding these impressive mathematical credentials, her literary gifts are even more impressive. She has won or been short-listed for numerous national and international writing prizes. She won the first Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story, “Museum,” which appears in her collection Coloured Lights (2005). She writes in English. Although she was educated at a Catholic High School, she is a devout Muslim and often writes about the Muslim immigrant experience. In 1990 she moved to Aberdeen, Scotland, and this was the setting for her first novel, The Translator (1999), the story of a Sudanese widow who translates for an Islamic scholar at a Scottish University.

Her novel Lyrics Alley (2010) is a major work of historical fiction set in the Sudan of the 1950s at the watershed time just before independence was achieved in 1956. It has been compared to Chinua Achebe’s modern classic Things Fall Apart, for its attention to the wrenching stresses of modernization on families in a traditional society.  This family saga follows Mahmoud Abuzeid, who is head of a large trading firm, his two wives, and their children, especially his son Nur, who suffers a debilitating accident that changes all their destinies; meanwhile, their country grapples with its place in the modern world. I plan to read this book for my own March TTWIB challenge.

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Her other books are Minaret (2005) and The Kindness of Enemies (2015). You can find out more about all her books at her website.

naguib-mahfouz-1911-2006Naguib Mahfouz is probably the best known North African writer worldwide. This is especially true since 1988 when he was recognized by the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here is how M. A. Orthofer describes him in his wonderful book, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction:

Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) remains the towering figure of Arabic fiction, especially when considered from an outside vantage point. Extensively translated, the breadth of his work is remarkable and ranges from historical fiction of the Pharaonic age to realistic novels of twentieth-century Cairo life such as The Cairo Trilogy (1956-1957, English 1989-1992) to more experimental fiction. His work is truly representative of an astonishing variety of Arabic fiction.” (p. 251)

Mahfouz wrote 34 novels, 350 short stories, and many film scripts and plays. But the best place to start in English is his Cairo Trilogy consisting of Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street. These are definitely on my lifetime TTWIB list, and I plan to begin with Palace Walk if Aloi (Guiltless Reading) does a #ReadNobels challenge for us again this year.

The Cairo Trilogy is also available complete in one volume in an Everyman’s Library edition.  It is a quintessential family saga, covering three generations of the family of Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, during the first half of the twentieth century.  It probes the dynamics of family and city life during the colonial decades from 1917 through Nasser’s Egypt of the 1950s. Readers will enlarge their perspective on such seminal events as the rise of Communism in Russia, two World Wars, and the social and economic changes of modern times.

Children of the Alley and Midaq Alley are also very popular among Mahfouz’s works.  In a different vein, I highly recommend his retelling of some of the Arabian Nights tales in Arabian Nights and Days. Here is my review of it.

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Of course, there are many other books set in North Africa that would be excellent choices to explore this month. Abraham Verghese’s bestseller Cutting for Stone has been recommended to me for its poignant story of conjoined twin brothers, separated at birth and left without parents to raise them. The story shifts between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (where Verghese grew up) and New York.

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If you have other authors or books to suggest, please leave your thoughts in the comments!

I plan the following Twitter chats with hashtag #TTWIB:

  • Thursday, March 30 at 9 pm EST
  • Saturday, April 1 (no fooling!) at 3 pm EST

Find me @Fictional100 on Twitter anytime!

Hope you will join us in reading our way to North Africa, and stop by to Tweet chat or comment at our Goodreads group.  Tell us what you are reading!

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Just a quick reminder that we are soon having Twitter chats for our February themed read of Classics and Historical Fiction:

  • Tuesday, February 28 at 3pm EST
  • Wednesday, March 1 at 9pm EST

Follow @momsvictories and use the #TTWIB hashtag so you don’t miss out on the conversation. 

 

 

Travel the World in Books 2017: My Wintry Read #TTWIB

8 Jan

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We just had our first substantial snowfall of the season, no mere dusting or coating, but one that called for snow plows and shovels, and it was much the same, or more so, for a broad swathe of the US. Therefore, the task of picking a very wintry read from Tanya’s Ultimate Winter Reading List seems appropriate indeed. This is our first event of the year for Travel the World in Books 2017. Tanya of Mom’s Small Victories, Aloi of Guiltless Reading, and I are looking forward to bringing you books on a variety of themes all year that will invite you to visit many places around the world as you read.

For my wintry read, I am choosing Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah, which will take me not only across the globe but back in time to WWII Leningrad, in the memory of Anya, who alluded to her painful past only in the veiled form of a Russian fairy tale told to her daughters when they were little girls. Now, as adult women, the sisters will learn their mother’s full story. I want to know more about this family, and I am bracing for scenes of the cold and desperate hunger suffered by those in besieged Leningrad. This sounds like an important story and it will be the first book by Kristin Hannah I am reading.

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Choose your own wintry read from the Ultimate Winter Reading List, and then join us for a Twitter chat on Thursday, February 2, at 9 pm EST, using the hashtag #TTWIB. Hope to see you then!

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For Love of Lists!–Joining #13WLRP, 13 Ways of Looking at The Lifetime Reading Plan

26 Sep

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I’m happy to share news of 13 Ways of Looking at The Lifetime Reading Plan, an ingenious new perpetual reading challenge combining the fabulous and intriguing lists proposed by Jane Smiley in her book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel (List #1) and Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major in The New Lifetime Reading Plan (List #2).  This is the brainchild of Michelle–a perpetual reader herself–who can be found at her sites, True Book Addict, Castle Macabre, Seasons of Reading, to name a few, and now at Gather Together and Read, which is hosting the 13 Ways challenge along with other challenges and readalongs (be sure to check out all the offerings there and sign up!). Michelle promises to have annual challenges to help us focus on some manageable chunks of juicy lifetime reading. I love this–the opportunity to peruse two outstanding, but rather different book lists, and then make some lists of my own.

This challenge will combine very well with existing perpetual reading challenges such as Travel the World in Books and Read the Nobels (hosted by @guiltlessreader).

For example, I would like to read Egilssaga and The Saga of the People of Laxardal, two Icelandic sagas on Jane Smiley’s list, for my own Travel the World in Books goal of readings Scandinavian literature (see my Northern Lights Reading Project). I would also like to reread Kristin Lavransdatter, which is not only on Smiley’s list, but fulfills both #TTWIB and #ReadNobels because its author, Sigrid Undset, won a Nobel in Literature in 1928. Of course, Smiley’s list isn’t just about Scandinavian lit (that’s just my quirk); she lists diverse books in many literary traditions, older works and some by very recent authors (e.g., Toni Morrison, Ian McEwan, Annie Proulx, Jennifer Egan). Fadiman’s list (List #2) has a diverse selection of classics from around the world, including the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, The Plum in the Golden Vase, The Pillow Book of Sei Shônagon, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and more.

You can see what’s on the lists, sign up for the perpetual challenge, and then watch for the 13 Ways annual reading challenge in January 2017. The best thing is reading along with a community of people who are (not only) in love with book lists, but more important, mad about the books themselves.

Family Sagas in July: The Makioka Sisters, The Lowland, or My Brilliant Friend #TTWIB

27 Jun

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During the month of July, we invite you to pick one of three family sagas, which will take you to Japan, India, or Italy, for an absorbing, multi-generational story. In our poll taken at the Travel the World in Books Goodreads group, these three novels were about equally popular:

The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (translated by Edward G. Seidensticker) tells the story of four aristocratic sisters in pre-World War II Osaka, Japan. Two are married, one is still single because her family has rejected several proposals, and one is carrying on a relationship in secret. The book has a good key to its characters at the beginning. I am already excited to follow these sisters and their families in this watershed period for Japanese culture; it’s not only a divide between traditional and modern ways of doing things, but also a time on the brink of the devastating Second World War. This book is described as perhaps the greatest Japanese novel of the 20th century, and it’s the masterpiece of one of Japan’s most important modern writers–a literary journey well worth making.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is a story about two brothers who grow up in Calcutta, India. They are very close but differ widely in temperament and goals. Udayan will plunge into a dangerous political movement, while Subhash chooses academia and a life of scientific research in America. But Subhash will return to India when his family is rocked by crisis and a terrible loss. Lahiri can be depended upon to create a moving and psychologically penetrating account of this family, and the larger forces of society (both Indian and American) at work in their lives.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein), and her subsequent ‘Neapolitan novels’ in this series, are already such a sensation that I hardly need describe them. Two girls growing up in Naples in the 1950s and 1960s forge an unforgettable friendship (which will truly suffer some ups and downs as the series develops).  I have read some of Book 2, The Story of a New Name, but I need to go back and see how it all began!

Any of these three novels would be excellent company this summer, and I hope you will join us as we read along and share our impressions of these family sagas set in three different countries. I will have two twitter chats, on Wednesday, July 13, 9:00 pm EDT and on Sunday, July 31, 3:00 pm EDT — both using hashtag #TTWIB. You can tweet about what you are reading any time! I will also post Discussion questions at our Goodreads group.  It should be interesting to talk about some of the characteristics of family sagas in general and compare notes on the particular novels we are reading.

Do you like family sagas (about one family, or two contrasting families) as a genre? If so, what have been some of your favorites? Which of the three books above would you most like to read?

Review: “A Perfumer’s Secret” by Adria J. Cimino

16 May

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I thank Adria J. Cimino and Velvet Morning Press for the opportunity to review this new novel by Adria, who is already familiar to readers as the author of Amazon best-seller  Paris, Rue des Martyrs and Close to Destiny.

My Review

A Perfumer’s Secret is richly evocative of a very special art, the art of composing fragrances, practiced well by only a very few, remarkable people. I’ve never read a story so thoroughly drenched in fragrances–one in which olfactory imagery was not merely added to color and deepen the reality of the fictional world but in which particular scents were themselves central to the plot and keys to character. Scents function as the engine of the plot, and characters are so sensitive to smells of all kinds in their environment that they truly earn the perfumers’ nickname for one of their best: a “nose,” un nez.

Being a nose is a gift, a natural endowment as valuable to their craft as winning the lottery would be to a person deep in debt. And that gift in turn puts them in debt to the world, as they seem to be driven from within to create the most meaningful, memorable scents, which others are then privileged to experience. But to most of us, these nuanced scents and their creators remain a mystery.

The book opens with a haunting prologue:

Zoe Flore’s first creation was the scent of tears. A hot, salty fragrance that she concocted the day her mother died. A perfume built on oak moss, a touch of geranium and the real tears that tumbled into the mix. It was her fifteenth birthday, and from that moment on, she wore the scent as a suit of armor.

Zoe Flore, now 30, is one of these gifted people, a “nose,” who could transform her grief into a living epitaph for her mother, whose memory still infused her consciousness and her creative life. As Zoe works on new fragrance ideas for an important contract, it is her mother’s very particular gift for perfume concoction that occupies her dreams:

she dreamed of her mother composing a fragrance, like the conductor of an orchestra. Barbara Rose sat before the rows of vials, each containing a different basic material. With careful, flowing movements, she went through the routine: selecting vials from the perfume organ, sniffing scent dips that she inserted into one tube and waved delicately over another, then noting each element on a piece of parchment paper. Zoe squinted, but she couldn’t read the words Barbara Rose had printed on the paper.

She awoke in sad frustration.  When Zoe thought of her deepest yearnings, it was not, in fact, romantic love she wanted most but “the thrill, the excitement that came with creating an unusual fragrance of unprecedented complexity.”

Unexpectedly, the death of her great aunt Marie-Odile in France broke open the lingering sadness in her life and sent her on a quest to discover her mother’s secrets and her own identity.  For one thing, she never knew that her mother, Barbara Rose Flore, was really Barbara Rose Flore-Fontaine, daughter to one of the great families of French perfume makers in the commune of Grasse. Her mother had fled this family, moved to America, and hidden this connection. Zoe was summoned to the reading of her great-aunt’s will where she would inherit a letter, something of incomparable value to her. The scent of the envelope itself told her its origin: it still carried the elusive, but unmistakable scent of Barbara Rose’s perfume, a fragrance she always wore and which Zoe would never forget. The enclosed letter detailed this perfume’s secret formula.

Such a secret was valuable to a host of people beside Zoe, and it only took a short time before the letter was stolen from Zoe’s belongings. Yet, it was still possible she could reconstruct it from memory with a little trial and error.

She decided to stay in France, despite the deadline pressure from her New York City office; they wanted her to take the first plane home and turn in some sort of perfume proposal right away in hopes of pulling off a miracle and securing the coveted contract. But Zoe knew her best chance of recreating her mother’s perfume was right there in Grasse, near her family’s home. Furthermore, she felt inspired to try creating something entirely new and uniquely her own.  She rented a picturesque cottage called the Rose of May, frequented by visiting perfumers from around the world. This was her first view of it:

Her eyes drank in the hillsides with their emerald-colored foliage and houses like droplets of rose, violet and mustard. She could almost see through this to the vast flower fields whose perfume drifted delicately into town whenever the wind took hold. How many times had her mother looked out a similar window right here in Grasse?

Grasse is situated at the southeast corner of France on the French Riviera.  The painter Fragonard was born here, and Édith Piaf spent her last days here in her villa.  With its warm coastal climate, sheltered from salty sea air, it is the perfect farmland for flowers in the many hundreds of species. The profusion of flowers and other plants fostered in Grasse made it the “perfume capital of the world” by the 18th century, a magnet for those who wish to combine the essences of its unique botanical treasures.

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Photograph of the Fragonard’s Museum building.

This lush scene is outside the Fragonard Musée du Parfum, adjacent to the Fragonard Perfumerie, one of the few perfumeries that gives public tours.  It gives an idea of the beauty of Grasse and why Zoe wanted to stay! The lovely cover of Adria’s book, with its lavender fields stretching toward the horizon, also conjures up the romance of the place, the sheer abundance of it.

Zoe was not working in a vacuum.  The family she suddenly acquired already had a heap of their own issues and complications. Some of them were very unhappy about her arrival on the scene, and others proved to be surprising allies. They were vying for that same perfume contract, and they desperately wanted to learn her mother’s secrets too. One competitor in particular, Philippe Chevrefeuille, was a particular problem for Zoe because he captivated her romantically in a way she thought she was immune to.  Likewise, he was unnerved by her “scent of tears,” and waivered between wanting to market it as his own and wanting simply to drink it in and discover the reasons behind her sadness.

Besides coping with the confusing distraction of Philippe in her life, Zoe had to figure out who took her mother’s formula! Perhaps a greater mystery, what were the circumstances of her creating it in the first place? Why did she leave her family behind so completely when she seemed perfectly suited to the career she was born to?

I won’t hint at the answers to these mysteries, since Adria discloses the truth so deftly as she spins her tale. I will say that I felt I knew Zoe very well as I was reading. I could predict her reactions. Just one example: When she picked up her key for the Rose of May cottage, she declined to have the rental agent show her around. Although the author didn’t say so, I surmised that Zoe didn’t want anyone else’s scents to mingle with her first impressions of the place, the accumulated traces of those perfumers who had lived and worked there. I can only imagine what it must be like to live so deeply immersed in one’s olfactory sense. Or rather, I can imagine it much better now, for having read A Perfumer’s Secret. For me, the title now has a double meaning: the family secret (or secrets) of various characters in this particular story, and the private world of the extraordinary creative people who make original perfumes.

Synopsis

The quest for a stolen perfume formula awakens passion, rivalry and family secrets in the fragrant flower fields of the South of France… 
Perfumer Zoe Flore travels to Grasse, perfume capital of the world, to collect a formula: her inheritance from the family she never knew existed. The scent matches the one worn by her mother, who passed away when Zoe was a teenager. Zoe, competing to create a new fragrance for a prestigious designer, believes this scent could win the contract—and lead her to the reason her mother fled Grasse for New York City.
Before Zoe can discover the truth, the formula is stolen. And she’s not the only one looking for it. So is Loulou, her rebellious teenage cousin; Philippe, her alluring competitor for the fragrance contract; and a third person who never wanted the formula to slip into the public in the first place.
The pursuit transforms into a journey of self-discovery as each struggles to understand the complexities of love, the force of pride, and the meaning of family.
Contemporary/ Literary fiction, Women’s fiction

Pages: 258 print length

Release date: May 16, 2016

Publisher: Velvet Morning Press

Buy the book: Amazon

 

About the Author

7751480Adria J. Cimino is the author of Amazon Best-Selling novel Paris, Rue des Martyrs and Close to Destiny, as well as The Creepshow (release April 2016) and A Perfumer’s Secret (release May 2016).
She also co-founded boutique publishing house Velvet Morning Press. Prior to jumping into the publishing world full time, she spent more than a decade as a journalist at news organizations including The AP and Bloomberg News. Adria is a member of Tall Poppy Writers, which unites bright authors with smart readers. Adria writes about her real-life adventures at AdriaJCimino.com and on Twitter @Adria_in_Paris.

Twitter | Facebook | Website | Blog

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*Note*: I received an advance electronic copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.  I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

#TTWIB Travels in May: Reading Russia

15 May

Reading Russia

This month Becca of I’m Lost in Books is hosting a free-choice reading event of books set in Russia. I have a couple of books in mind for this:

Everyday Saints cover (Russia)

Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov is rather like a “Chicken Soup for the Russian Orthodox Soul,” to make a homely comparison. The author describes his awakening of faith and entry into the Pskov Caves Monastery in Pechory, near the Estonian border.

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I learned of this book from a review by Emma of Words and Peace.  It was reportedly a bestseller in Russia, with over a million copies sold worldwide.  The personal warmth and frankness of its author have surely been a big part of its success. He tells us that, although he and his friends were reasonably happy young men with promising careers, something strange and wonderful drew them to monastic life: “for each of us, a new world had suddenly opened up, incomparable in its beauty.” He attempts to share this beauty as it manifests in daily life, through his gift for storytelling. Understanding the beauty of this Orthodox way of life is one essential to understanding the foundations of Russian culture, especially relevant since the fall of the Soviet system.

I hope to read Everyday Saints during the remainder of May, but I wanted to mention another Russian book, Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate.

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In scope and importance, this World War II novel has been compared to War and Peace. At nearly 900 pages, this will take me a while, but I’d like to make a start on it in May during our Read Russia event.

In a much lighter vein, I’d like to recommend Rosalind Laker’s charming historical novel, To Dream of Snow, in which a Parisian seamstress travels to the court of the Empress Elisabeth to embroider the elaborate gowns of the monarch and her daughter-in-law Catherine–the future Catherine the Great (for more details, see my review).

To Dream of Snow

Finally, if you haven’t read Anna Karenina yet, there are so many good translations available now. I first read the older one by Constance Garnett; it has its critics these days, but it certainly won me over (and it is free on Kindle). I like the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation in the Dover Thrift Edition, and their version was used for the movie tie-in edition to Joe Wright’s brilliant (but underrated) film.

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Another Russian classic is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhensitsyn (trans. H. T. Willetts). Here’s a recent paperback edition.

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I hope some of these ideas are helpful; likewise, I hope to get some new ideas of mysteries, historicals, and contemporary fiction set in Russia, from other readers!

#ReadNobels Meets #TTWIB: Week 3

25 Apr

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For our April challenge, combining #ReadNobels  with Travel the World in Books (#TTWIB), Aloi of Guiltless Reading has posed the following questions for Week 3.

Week 3: What other Nobel Prize-winning authors/books have you discovered? And which would you like to read? Any surprises?

Some of the books I hope to read are by authors new to me (Selma Lagerlöf, Wisława Szymborska), whereas the rest are by authors I know, but wish to read more of.

Sigrid Undset (1928):

Kristin Lavransdatter (I plan to reread this one in the new Penguin Classic edition.)

The Master of Hestviken (another medieval novel)

Ida Elizabeth (a modern-day story of a marriage)

Biography of St. Catherine of Siena (I need to finish this one)

Jenny (story of a painter’s pilgrimage to Rome)

Selma Lagerlöf (1909):

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

The Story of Gösta Berling (made into a 1924 silent film starring Greta Garbo)

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Thomas Mann (1929):

The Magic Mountain

Sir Winston Churchill (1953):

The Second World War

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples

Halldór Laxness (1955):

Independent People (currently reading)

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn (1970):

The First Circle

The Cancer Ward

Although he has probably become most famous for his nonfiction account of The Gulag Archipelago, his novels allow his complete artistry to unfold in the subtle characterization of people under daily life-and-death pressures.

Wisława Szymborska (1996):

Five of her poems can be found at Nobel Prize site.

When asked why she had published less than 350 poems, she answered, “I have a trash can in my home.” (source: Wikipedia)  I just have to read something by a woman who would answer like that!

“Possibilities” reads like the set of answers to a very sophisticated online quiz that gets shared among friends. Her tone is witty, at times abrupt, but sagacious in a deadpan way. I’d like to read more of her poems.

José Saramago (1998):

A History of the Siege of Lisbon

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As a former copyeditor, I find the premise of this book fascinating: a proofreading error is deliberately slipped into a work of history, with big consequences.

Doris Lessing (2007):

The Grass is Singing

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The most surprising thing, for me, about the Nobel Prize winners in literature is the list of notable absences:  Leo Tolstoy (d. 1910), Mark Twain (d. 1910), Marcel Proust (d. 1922), James Joyce (d. 1941), Richard Wright (d. 1960), Jorge Luis Borges (1986) are some names that come to mind. Of these, Tolstoy and Twain died within a decade of the first literature Nobel Prize being awarded, and the others lived well into the Nobel Prize era. An award is only as good as its list of past recipients; the Nobel Prize in Literature is undoubtedly a gathering of excellence, and it has become increasingly diverse in its selections over time. Awarding of prizes are subject to many factors, not least of which are politics and the ebb and flow of taste and literary controversies.  The omissions merely emphasize that art itself will likely surpass, and confound, any attempts to define, once and for all, its pinnacles.

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#ReadNobels and #TTWIB join forces in April!: Week 2

17 Apr

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Under the spirited #ReadNobels leadership of Aloi of Guiltless Reading, and in conjunction with Travel the World in Books (#TTWIB;  co-hosted by Aloi, Tanya of Mom’s Small Victories, Becca of I’m Lost in Books, Savvy Working Gal, and me), the April combined challenge is rolling along–it’s the end of Week 2! Guiltless Reader has provided us with questions each week to get the discussion going and prompt our own thinking about the great wealth of Nobel-recognized literature, which is out there, just waiting to be sampled.

This week the focus is on making a list of authors and their works we have read, from among those on the list of Nobel prizes awarded in Literature. This was an illuminating exercise, because it became apparent which authors had become dear favorites and which were merely respected acquaintances. When I was doing research (over quite a few years) for my book The Fictional 100, I tried to read a wide range of notable authors around the world, so I encountered many of these distinguished authors (though surely not everyone I might have read!). In Week 3, I will offer a list, as Guiltless Reader suggests, of Nobel-prize-winning authors and books on my wish list for future reading!

Week 2 question: Which Literature Nobelists have you read (at least something of theirs)?

Rudyard Kipling (1907)

Just So Stories

Rabindranath Tagore (1913):

Gitanjali (poetry)

William Butler Yeats (1923):

“The Wild Swans of Coole,” other poems

Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish

George Bernard Shaw (1925):

Man and Superman

Sigrid Undset (1928):

Kristin Lavransdatter

Gunnar’s Daughter

Thomas Mann (1929):

Buddenbrooks

Death in Venice

Joseph and His Brothers (Parts I and II)

Sinclair Lewis (1930):

Main Street

Babbitt

Dodsworth

John Galsworthy (1932):

The Forsyte Saga

Luigi Pirandello (1934):

“Six  Characters in Search of an Author”

Eugene O’Neill (1936):

Mourning Becomes Electra

Hermann Hesse (1946):

Siddhartha

The Glass Bead Game

T. S. Eliot (1948):

The Waste Land

“Four Quartets”

William Faulkner (1949):

The Sound and the Fury

Absalom, Absalom!

Ernest Hemingway (1954):

The Old Man and the Sea

Halldór Laxness (1955):

The Great Weaver from Kashmir (excellent, his first important novel)

Albert Camus (1957):

The Stranger

Boris Pasternak (1958):

Doctor Zhivago

John Steinbeck (1962):

Of Mice and Men

The Grapes of Wrath

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn (1970):

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Eugenio Montale (1975)

Selected Poems (still working on these!)

Gabriel García Márquez (1982):

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Love in the Time of Cholera

Wole Soyinka (1986):

“Madmen and Specialists”

“The Trials of Brother Jero”

“A Dance of the Forests”

Nadine Gordimer (1991)

Burger’s Daughter

Derek Walcott (1992):

Omeros

Toni Morrison (1993):

Beloved

Song of Solomon

Jazz

The Bluest Eye

José Saramago (1998):

Journey Through Portugal

V. S. Naipaul (2001):

A Bend in the River

A House for Mr. Biswas

India: A Million Mutinies Now

Orhan Pamuk (2006):

The Museum of Innocence

Other Colours (Essays)

Istanbul

Doris Lessing (2007):

The Golden Notebook

Canopus in Argos: Archives (sci-fi!)

Briefing for a Descent into Hell

Memoirs of a Survivor

Mario Vargas Llosa (2010):

The Perpetual Orgy (literary criticism, Madame Bovary)

The Temptation of the Impossible (literary criticism, Les Misérables)

*****

Looking over these works, they were all distinctly memorable reading experiences, and associated with obsessive bursts of enthusiasm. I remember when I was reading Doris Lessing with a passion, then I moved on to other authors. I would like to revisit her (Week 3!)  I love Mario Vargas Llosa’s literary criticism and found it influential in my own thinking. I used a quote from The Perpetual Orgy to open the Introduction to my own book. But his fiction has not grabbed me so far. Beloved still stands out to me, as unique and beautiful and heart-wrenching. I recalled being so thrilled when Toni Morrison won the prize! Sigrid Undset’s writing has long been deeply meaningful to me, and I still wonder why I didn’t include Kristin Lavransdatter in my top 100 characters. I want to recommend this book, a medieval saga written by a modern author, one which reads like a glorious triple-decker novel of family, love, loss, and redemption, a masterpiece in the greatest traditions of storytelling.

*****

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Review: “The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction” by M. A. Orthofer

9 Apr

The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction

My Review

For those of us attempting to cast a wider net in contemporary world fiction, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is no less than a godsend. I could not imagine designing a more useful reference tool for readers, bloggers, and reviewers wishing to discover authors of distinction from around the world. This book grew out of the Complete Review website, founded by M. A. Orthofer in 1999 to provide timely information on book reviews of international fiction, along with publishing and translation information for readers.  This website is phenomenal, but I am delighted to have a guide in book form that digs deep into the literary scene for nearly all the countries of the world and offers a rich treasure trove of contemporary fiction to consider.

What is considered contemporary? The Guide focuses on fiction after 1945, but rest assurred, earlier fiction is discussed to provide context for the relevant country or national literature.  A fascinating Introduction describes the selection process and some of the issues involved in classifying the works.  The author has done internet detective work ever since founding the Complete Review website, trawling newspapers worldwide, online reviews and forums, and a host of professional websites, including publishers’ foreign rights pages, international literary agencies, and national organizations that promote the exchange of book information and news about contemporary fiction. An extensive appendix of Supplemental Resources shares many of the available sources with the reader.  The very scope of information available online, as the author notes, creates the need for an overview, country by country, as a helpful “entry point” for readers seeking to delve into a nation’s literature.

Here are some of the considerations that went into making the Guide:

  • How to classify an author who has written in more than one language? Nabokov, for one, wrote in Russian and then in English, and this is not an uncommon situation because authors tend to move around both geographically and linguistically. Today, for example, Indian-American novelist Jhumpa Lahiri,  has just relocated to Rome and made the transition from writing in English to writing exclusively in Italian, and one can anticipate future works of fiction in her new chosen language.
  • How to classify authors geographically when their country itself has undergone transitions? This comes into play in Europe in the comparatively recent reunification of Germany, and in the breakup of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. The Guide gives separate consideration to contemporary fiction originating in the Federal Republic of Germany (West), the German Democratic Republic (East), and then a reunified Germany. In Central Africa, fiction produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (known formerly as Belgian Congo and then Zaïre), in which the difficult political situation has largely inhibited any flourishing of book culture (with exceptions that are noted), is contrasted with that from Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo), which has produced several well-known writers. Although the guide is organized by continent and then by region, you will find detailed treatment down to individual countries, as they are currently constituted.
  • How to classify writers who have relocated in adulthood?  This issue overlaps to some extent with the issue of language but also depends on the writer’s predominant subject matter. Chinua Achebe moved between Nigeria and the United States, finally settling in the U.S. after 1990 to teach at Bard College. His novels are revelatory of Nigerian traditional life under the twin impacts of colonial rule and modernity, so they are classified in his native country.

Orthofer summarizes the guiding criteria for classification:

“In The Complete Review Guide,  authors are assigned to specific locales according to–in order of significance–the language in which they write, their domicile (previous or original as well as current), the subject matter of their fiction, and their reputation.” (p. 4)

Regardless of classification decisions, cross-cultural connections are carefully treated wherever an author and that author’s works are discussed.

The problem for those of us who want to read international fiction (as Ann Morgan will attest from her year of reading the world) is finding good translations into the language one reads (English, in this case).  Realistically, this is the only way most of us have access to some level of appreciation of an author’s achievement and fictional worldview.  This guide is “emphatically a reader’s guide for an English-speaking audience.” American publishers have been slower to introduce translated works, and the translation market has been dominated by fiction translated from French or Spanish, enjoying sustained interest in America, and a selection of Nobel laureates. This is changing gradually. The translation boom in European crime fiction, especially from Scandinavia, has meant that crime fiction has gotten special attention from translators across many languages, and this is reflected in the Guide, which often devotes a special section to crime fiction in a given country. Orthofer traces the recent history of globalization in literature and how it is affecting the translation and dissemination of fiction.

As a reader, I am most excited to ask, what’s out there?  And, how will I know where to begin? Fortunately, each country’s entry includes a mini-overview of its most prominent authors, summary and evaluation of major works, and boxes of other notable writers to “keep in mind.” Every title mentioned (always in English) has an original publication date and the translation date (if different). I will share a few random discoveries that caught my eye:

  • The greatest modern writer in Catalan is considered to be Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983); her most important works are The Pigeon Girl (1962, English 1967) and A Broken Mirror (1974, English 2006).  This is very typical of this guide–“Spanish” writers in Basque, Catalan, and Galician receive separate notice, in addition to Castilian writers.
  • Manuel Rivas (b. 1957) is the leading Galician writer (The Carpenter’s Pencil, 1999; English 2001).
23089

Jonathan Dunne, trans.

 

  • Heðin Brú (1901-1987) published an important novel in Faroese, the language of the Faroë Islands, in 1940. The English translation, The Old Man and His Sons, was published in 1970 and is readily available. Although most of the authors discussed in the chapter on Scandinavia were familiar to me, Heðin Brú was new; I already have my copy, ready to read on Kindle and include on my Northern Lights Reading Project.

 

7456138

John F. West, trans.

 

  • Aleksis Kivi (1834-1872) wrote a Finnish classic, still important today, called Seven Brothers (1870, English 1929, 1991). This is a good example of the way the Guide anchors the overview for each country with key works that pre-date the main corpus of post-war fiction being catalogued.
  • Nervous Conditions (1988) by Tsitsi Dangarembga (b. 1959) is an autobiographical novel, and the first novel by a Zimbabwean woman.

828469

  • The first novel from Malawi is No Easy Task (1966) by Aubrey Kachingwe (b. 1926).
  • Wizard of the Crow (2004-2006, English 2006) by Kenyan Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (b. 1938; also known as James Ngugi) is a satire set in a fictional African republic. This epic work has won numerous literary prizes.
57485

Trans. by author

  • Evening Is the Whole Day (2008) by Preeta Samarasan (b. 1976) is a popular family saga about Indians living in Malaysia.

2154433

  • Goh Poh Seng (1936-2010) wrote If We Dream Too Long (1972), deemed the first true Singaporean novel.

11199208

I invite you to explore The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction for yourself. It manages to include just the right amount of information about authors and their works to engage one’s interest and lead to further exploration. One can only be grateful to the translators who undertook to share these works of international fiction with English-speaking readers, and I am surely grateful to M. A. Orthofer, for the dedication that it took to offer this comprehensive guide. Be sure to visit the Complete Review website as well to find links to full-length reviews of many titles. You are sure to find something amazing.

 

*******

The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction

The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary

World Fiction

(Literary Criticism/ Reference/ World Literature/ Literary Studies)

Columbia University Press

Released April 5, 2016

496 pages

Available in Paperback, Hardcover, and e-book (from the publisher)

AmazonComplete Review Website | Publisher’s page | Goodreads

Description

For more than a decade, the Complete Review has been an essential site for readers interested in learning about new books in translation and developments in global literature. Expanding upon the site’s content, this wide-ranging yet user-friendly resource is the perfect guide for English-language readers eager to explore fiction from around the world. Profiling hundreds of titles and authors from 1945 to today, with an emphasis on fiction published in the past two decades, this reference provides a fascinating portal into the styles, trends, and genres of the world’s literatures, from Scandinavian crime thrillers and cutting-edge works in China to Latin American narco-fiction and award-winning French novels.

What sets this guide apart is its critical selection of titles that define the arc of a nation’s literary development, paired with lively summaries that convey both the enjoyment and significance of each work. Arranged by region, country, and language, entries illuminate the fiction of individual nations, cultures, and peoples, while concise biographies sketch the careers of noteworthy authors. Compiled by M. A. Orthofer, an avid book reviewer and founder of the Complete Review, this reference will benefit from an actively maintained companion site featuring additional links and resources and new reviews as contemporary works are published. The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is perfect for readers who wish to expand their reading choices and knowledge of contemporary world fiction.

About the Author

M. A. Orthofer is the founder, managing editor, and lead contributor to the Complete Review and its blog The Literary Saloon. Launched in 1999, the Complete Review has been praised by the Times Literary Supplement, Wired, and the New York Times Book Review, which called the site “one of the best literary destinations on the Web.” Orthofer has also served as judge for the Best Translated Book Award and the Austrian Cultural Forum’s ACF Translation Prize, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

*******

*Note*: I thank Columbia University Press and NetGalley for providing an advance electronic copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.  I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

*******

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