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Around the World in 80 Books > A Very Slow Perambulation of the World (Robyn)

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message 1: by Robyn (last edited Jul 09, 2014 03:14PM) (new)

Robyn Let's begin! The two books I'm currently reading don't exactly exist in this world, so I'll have to truly begin in the near future. I think this'll be a wonderfully fun challenge.

1. New Zealand - The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
2. Zimbabwe - Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
3. Bulgaria - A Coffin For Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
4. Italy - Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant
5. England/United Kingdom - The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
6. Denmark - Music & Silence by Rose Tremain
7. United States - The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
8. Wales/United Kingdom - Among Others by Jo Walton
9. Malaysia - A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder Mystery by Shamini Flint
10. Sri Lanka - Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
11. Iceland - Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
12. Russia - Enchantments by Katharine Harrison
13. Germany - The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch
14. Nigeria - Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
15. Jamaica - Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
16. France - A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantell
17. India - The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri


message 2: by Robert (new)

Robert (bobhe) | 785 comments Robyn welcome to the group Think you will be pulling your hair out by around 45 50
Dont let Ian bully you with his dictorial ways of country classification


message 3: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 1010 comments Enjoy it has definitely expanded my reading horizons this year and is very addictive!


message 4: by Robyn (new)

Robyn Thanks! I just realised that I haven't actually read the rules on what counts as a country, so I might actually require the persnicketiness.

I'm definitely looking forward to broadening my acquaintance with world lit.


message 5: by Robyn (last edited Nov 27, 2013 02:13PM) (new)

Robyn I think a good start for this challenge is Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, for country #1, New Zealand. I read it last week (or so), but hopefully that's within the challenge's parameters!

I purchased it just before it won the Booker - I'm definitely a band-wagon jumper.

Overall, I was highly impressed (so often such books don't quite live up to the hype). Granted, it was right up my alley for two main reasons: 1) I have studied, taught, and lived with* the California Gold Rush for a very long time, and enjoyed seeing all the parallels between it and the New Zealand Gold Rush and 2) my mother is fascinated by astrology and has imparted a great deal of knowledge about it. (I approach it from a skeptical mindset, but I enjoy it as an alternate model of thought/prediction to the one I generally embrace). Oh, and - I rather love New Zealand. That probably helped.

I think her writing evokes the realists of the early 19th century (definitely Flaubert-inspired, with her long descriptions of place and chacter). The plot is intricately knotted together, told forwards, backwards, forwards and backwards again (or is that backwards and then forwards?). Altogether, a fun mash-up of detective story and literary fiction.

*Seriously, my step-father had us panning for gold when I was young, and one of our family summer vacations had us camping in and visiting various famous Gold Rush boom towns, mines, and other such locations.


message 6: by Ian, Moderator (new)

Ian (pepecan) | 5528 comments Mod
Great start Robyn, hope you enjoy your gentle journey - I haven't visited the land of the Kiwis yet so will be investigating your choice, though I've usually got a healthy disregard for the Booker winner. Btw, Bob loves me really. Enjoy your in exile Thanksgiving.......also as an aside, what are you Americans all giving thanks for?


message 7: by Robyn (new)

Robyn I know exactly what you mean re: the Booker winners. In this case, my interest in the subject material overrode the normal instinct to avoid, avoid, avoid.

I'm having my Thanksgiving on Sunday, as I find it difficult to convince you lot to eat a giant meal in the middle of the week. I'm told that Thanksgiving is the time to give thanks for our blessings and family (and that's how it's generally used), but really, I'm pretty sure it was a cynical move by one Abraham Lincoln to distract what was left of the Union away from the War and towards the good things in life. (See his proclamation of 1863: 'Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.') The pilgrims were just a good backstory!


message 8: by Ian, Moderator (new)

Ian (pepecan) | 5528 comments Mod
Political cynicism lol.....plus ca change etc.....enjoy your turkey and sweet potatoes on Sunday.


message 9: by Liz, Moderator (new)

Liz | 3494 comments Mod
Robyn wrote: "I think a good start for this challenge is Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, for country #1, New Zealand. I read it last week (or so), but hopefully that's within the challenge's parameters!..."

It's on my 'to read' list, but it may be a while before I feel strong enough to pick up another doorstop!


message 10: by Robyn (new)

Robyn Yes, I was rather silly and picked this and The Goldfinch up at the same time ..... We'll see when I pull it together and start that!


message 11: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 1010 comments I am really intrigued about the luminaries and heard mixed reviews but having read yours i think it will be definite in 2014 even at 800 plus pages. Happy thanksgiving!


message 12: by Robyn (last edited Nov 30, 2013 01:48PM) (new)

Robyn Uh oh, I hope it doesn't disappoint. To be honest, when I was reading it, I could see why people wouldn't like it. If one was a very plot-driven person, I could imagine one throwing the book across the room many times over. I do think the plot rewards, but you have to be patient - and, I think, have to like description. (At the same time, weirdly, I felt like it was a page-turner, once it hooked me.)

I enjoyed the historical detail, and felt she was quite good at writing about characters of different backgrounds, nationalities, and gender. I do hope you enjoy it when you get there!

Thanks for the well wishes - enjoy your Sunday!


message 13: by Sue (new)

Sue | 1340 comments Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your trip. Will be interested to see what else you find.


message 14: by Robyn (new)

Robyn Thanks, Sue! I have been going through books I have earmarked to read and discovering that a surprising number are set around the world, so I'm quite looking forward to the next one.


message 15: by Robyn (new)

Robyn Book 2! Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller.

A short, sweet, sad, funny, inspiring memoir/biography of Alexandra Fuller's mother, Nicola Fuller of Central Africa. I really enjoyed this one. Fuller has written about growing up with her mother before, but this book is centred on her mother's life, and it's a grand one. Set in Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (well, Rhodesia - a good part of the book is set in the midst of the Rhodesian war), the book desperately made me want to go to Africa to experience the constantly mentioned special equatorial light. I loved her mother, in her madness, her alcoholism, her unrepentant love of a land that she felt she had blood rights to.

Anyway, well recommended especially if you need a book for Zimbabwe!


message 16: by Robyn (last edited Dec 19, 2013 12:03PM) (new)

Robyn Book 3! A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler.

I read this for the espionage genre challenge, and am having a bit of a problem deciding which country to place it in, as the action takes place in half of Eastern Europe ... and France. I think I'll pick Bulgaria, somewhat arbitrarily, but also because it's a country where the plot suddenly takes a twist.


message 17: by Robyn (new)

Robyn Book 4! Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant.

All you could ever want to know about Renaissance Rome and the Papal states, almost. A great primer on the power balance of early modern Italy and all the statecraft/intrigue that goes on. And, so much of it captures an 'only in Rome' set of events.


message 18: by Robyn (new)

Robyn Book 5! The Ocean At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman for the United Kingdom. (I don't suppose we can break the component countries down, can we? Would it be cheating?)

Short, enchanting tale about a seven-year-old's battle against a supernatural interloper ... or perhaps against adult realities intruding into his childhood. Enjoyable!


message 19: by Robert (new)

Robert (bobhe) | 785 comments Robyn wrote: "Book 5! The Ocean At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman for the United Kingdom. (I don't suppose we can break the component countries down, can we? Would it be cheating?)

Short, enchanting tale ab..."

ROBYN please don't start the Welsh members up again!!! Yes can split up even odd Channel island Ian is Allowing


message 20: by Robyn (new)

Robyn I did wonder if that would stir the pot! ;) I'm glad though, to hear that I can, as I've got a Welsh book to read!


message 21: by Ian, Moderator (new)

Ian (pepecan) | 5528 comments Mod
You can do 6 books for the UK Robyn - England, N.Ireland, Scotland, Wales, one of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.


message 22: by Liz, Moderator (new)

Liz | 3494 comments Mod
Excellent, I'll be able to get my numbers up too (well, slightly!)


message 23: by Robyn (new)

Robyn 6 books is very good news indeed..... I just need to get cracking on my reading, I've gotten distracted.


message 24: by Robyn (new)

Robyn #6! Music & Silence by Rose Tremain. A haunting book. The shifts between narrating characters made it feel like many books in one. Kiersten, the King's Consort, struck me as an early modern Madame Bovary. The lutenist Peter Claire and King Christian's relationship (the angel and his king) kept me engaged; as did the intricate descriptions of 17th century Denmark.

(I have more thoughts, but I think they'll be over in the historical challenge!)


message 25: by Robyn (new)

Robyn #7! The Golem and Jinni by Helene Wecker for the United States. I have read other books set in the US, but rather forgot that it counted as a country. (Americans, we just assume we've been counted first!)

I'm pleased to have this one on the list, though, because I loved how the book evoked turn of the century NYC and its immigrants. The various communities are drawn carefully, and even though it's a book with a hint of magic, the setting is very much real.


message 26: by Robyn (new)

Robyn And #8! Does that mean I'm 10% done with the challenge? (Forgive me, maths is not a speciality.) Anyway, I'm glad I get to count Wales for this, with Jo Walton's Among Others as my book.

To be fair, the book is set equally in Shropshire and southern Wales, but it's really a story about being Welsh in England, so I think it counts. Plus, she spends a great deal of time discussing the Welsh valleys. A great book for sci-fi lovers, as the heroine is an obsessive reader.


message 27: by Robyn (new)

Robyn #9! Malaysia. I really enjoyed the details of Kuala Lumpur in A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder Mystery, and especially the rivalry between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The overall murder mystery is entertaining and Flint does a fabulous job describing the many different peoples of the region.


message 28: by Ian, Moderator (new)

Ian (pepecan) | 5528 comments Mod
Robyn wrote: "And #8! Does that mean I'm 10% done with the challenge? (Forgive me, maths is not a speciality.) Anyway, I'm glad I get to count Wales for this, with Jo Walton's Among Others as my book.

To be fai..."


Sounds like 10% to me.


message 29: by Robyn (new)

Robyn Hurray! This is progressing quickly ........ though I suspect that the last half is much harder than the first half!


message 30: by Robert (new)

Robert (bobhe) | 785 comments Robyn wrote: "Hurray! This is progressing quickly ........ though I suspect that the last half is much harder than the first half!"

IT SURE SURE IS!!!


message 31: by Robyn (new)

Robyn #10 - Visiting Sri Lanka with Deraniyagala's brutal memoir of the 2004 tsunami, Wave.

While reading about her loss at first felt like the worst sort of voyeurism (even after reading, I still can't fathom how you keep going after losing your entire family, even as I know you just do), what I loved the most about the book were her memories of the happy family pre-disaster. To see the workings of a modern family laid so bare is actually quite rare, and she describes her family with such love and joy that you can't help but love them too. I couldn't put it down, and I would have kept reading her tender portraits of her husband, children and parents for as long as she could write. Her memories clearly sustain her, and so must have sharing them.

On the Sri Lankan front, she described the country so vividly, especially the wildlife and the food. I received a Sri Lankan cookbook for Christmas -- I definitely feel the urge to crack it open and make a dish! And now I want to encounter elephants deep in the jungle in a rickety little van....


message 32: by Robert (new)

Robert (bobhe) | 785 comments Robyn wrote: "#10 - Visiting Sri Lanka with Deraniyagala's brutal memoir of the 2004 tsunami, Wave.

While reading about her loss at first felt like the worst sort of voyeurism (even after reading, I still can't..."


Realised Sri Lanka not visited yet. This book straight on list thanks for recommendation


message 33: by Robyn (last edited Feb 04, 2014 10:32AM) (new)

Robyn No problem! I read some of the reviews and realised lots of people didn't like it, I think partially because they were expecting more information on the tsunami or a larger look at the devastation and how it impacted others. Instead, it's devastatingly personal -- but I enjoyed that, as you can tell!


message 34: by Robyn (last edited Feb 22, 2014 11:51AM) (new)

Robyn #11 is Iceland, with Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Lots of reasons for me to read this book, one of them being a strong recommendation by Andrew (if I remember correctly!). My husband lived in Iceland for years before I met him, so I always feel overly attached to the country despite never having set foot in it. And, of course, I love historical novels.

I found this one a haunting meditation on living a life condemned; how do you keep going when you've been sentenced to death? The tale of Agnes is harrowing, as Kent takes archival records and tries to uncover what life must have been like for her after being found guilty of murdering two men in the north of Iceland. Kent carefully reconstructs the community that raised Agnes after her mother abandoned her, the same one that is forced to take her back in chains for a season to live until her execution. She deftly shows the rhythms of daily life in a harsh landscape while exploring what I'd call 'the big questions' on life and death. Overall, I enjoyed it!


message 35: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 1010 comments Glad you enjoyed Robyn its a fascinating story and really well written, great choice for Iceland.


message 36: by Robyn (new)

Robyn I was helped along by receiving a gorgeous hardback copy from a friend!

#12 is for Russia with Enchantments by Katharine Harrison. Loosely based on history (loooooosely!), this is a novel about Rasputin's daughter, Masha, and her relationship with the Romanovs and her father. Much of it takes the form of fantastical tales of the life of her father and the older Romanovs, told by Masha to the young Tsarvich. The novel reads as purposefully fanciful, lurid, and full of word play; for those looking for a straight-forward tale of the Romanovs' last years and the life of Rasputin, this is not that. Nonetheless, I thought Harrison did a wonderful job of evoking the mood of revolutionary Russia and the place Rasputin takes in our collective imagination.


message 37: by Robyn (new)

Robyn Oh, it's been a month since I last updated. Terrible!

#13 is for Germany, with The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch. I quite enjoyed this murder mystery with a twist. It's set in 17th century southern Germany, in the aftermath of The Thirty Years War. (Or perhaps in a lull; I've never been too great with the chronology of that particular war.) It focuses on the hangman's family, the Kuisl's (the author is a descendant), and does a really lovely job with 17th century German town life. Kuisl is the hero of the story, along with his young physician sidekick, saving the town from a witch hunt and uncovering a conspiracy that keeps ending up with dead orphans. I know a little about the period and to my eye Pötzsch does a brilliant job with it, though I suspect some of his characters are perhaps a little too 'modern' in their thinking. Nonetheless, a lot of of fun.


message 38: by Robyn (new)

Robyn Oh, a two in one post.

#14 is for Nigeria, with Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This takes place in Nigeria (primarily Lagos, but also including a few other cities), London, and the US (NYC/NJ, Philadelphia, Baltimore) - but at it's heart it is a story of being Nigerian, at home and abroad. It's also a love story between he main character, Ifemelu, and Obinze. Ifemelu is sharp and witty, a character you enjoy spending time with, who is not perfect but feels perfectly real. Her wry observations on race illuminate the experience of being a Non-American Black in America, and of being an immigrant and a returner to her home country. Adichie writes with love about Nigeria, showing the country's flaws and beauties. I loved the book, but I had a few criticisms - the book feels, at times, as though it's a series of sketches tied together by a loose plot, which I think feeds into my other complaint, regarding the ending. All of a sudden, all is resolved and it's just over. I wanted more! (Funny to say about a rather long book.)

#15 is for Jamaica, with Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. I felt that this book evoked the vicissitudes of slavery and it's legacy very well, as well as describing the beauty of the Caribbean in haunting detail.


message 39: by Ian, Moderator (new)

Ian (pepecan) | 5528 comments Mod
Have you read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie also by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? About the Nigeria/Biafra war and one of most favourite reads of the last few years.


message 40: by Robyn (last edited May 17, 2014 06:18AM) (new)

Robyn I haven't, but I want to! It would probably be a better fit for Nigeria than Americanah - I'll have to make it #14.5! It sounds good, if potentially heartbreaking.

(Also, I hadn't looked at her author page before. I am amused to see that Americanah is at least semi-autobiographical, as Ifemelu's and her own geographic trajectories are very much the same. That must account for how 'real' it feels - she knows the places she's writing about.)


message 41: by Robyn (new)

Robyn #16 is France, with A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. That place of safety refers to the grave, and I do believe it was the only refuge during the French Revolution. Mantel's novel is a fine character sketch & historical detailing of the first five or so years of the Revolution, and was truly engaging. (As it should be, given the nature of the material!)

#17 is India with The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. A novel split between Rhode Island and Kolkata, it is a novel of Indian politics and American families, of memory and forgetting, and the strains of loss. Enjoyable, though I definitely realised during the reading that multi-generational family sagas are not really my favourite.


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