Saturday, 28 July 2012

Cutting for Stone - #13

I love Ethiopian food. One of our favourite restaurants is Ethiopian, and I could happily eat a large Doro Wat (a wat is an Ethiopian curry, and Doro Wat is a thick paprika based curry with chicken) and piles of injara bread (a cold flat bread, full of bubbles with the consistency of a pancake and the taste of sourdough) more than once a week. It is one of the few "eat out" meals I have learnt to cook at home. It appeals to me that when I am asked what am I eating for lunch I can reply with "Wat", thus causing mass confusion. So reading a book that mentions the wats and injara at every meal had me salivating at every page.

But it was more than this that kept me reading. This book is large but incredibly readable. It fills you with history of a region that I would have at a guess that most of us know little about. It deals with the issues of colonialism, of occupation, of liberation, of dictatorship and of guerrilla and military coups but in an incredibly accessible way. And without preaching. That I feel is a real talent.

The story is told based for most of the book in a missionary hospital in Addis Ababa, staffed by English and Indian nuns and Indian doctors and follows the story of two twin boys born in the hospital. The characters are all well developed, understandable, essentially likeable. The setting is strangely familiar with the images of eucalypts and acadias. The story telling is fantastic as well, as you never feel like you are bogged down, which again is an art with the length of the book.

The issues of being in a missionary hospital in the Ethiopian capital from the 1950s-1980s is that there is a lot of horrible illnesses and surgeries described. If you have a weak stomach, then this may not be the book for you. But it was appreciated that the author didn't shy away from these issues. Of course in a country that experiences coups, nasty gunshot and fighting wounds would appear. In a country where it is common for female circumcision or more realistically, female genital mutilation, that is dealt with along with the horrors.

When I was about 18 years old, my mother got involved with a hospital in Ethiopia set up by Australians that specialised in helping women with fistulas. So I had heard terrible stories of girls who had developed this horrific condition in Ethiopia and surrounding areas and how people were working so hard to fix this problem that no one wanted to even discuss, let alone have these women near them. When the first fistula patient appeared in the book, I knew exactly what was going on and hoped that this was explored more, for at least people who had never heard of the condition before. I was very glad that the author did not dumb down the issue. I was also glad to see in the acknowledgement at the end of the book (which I skimmed through, and this is big for me) that he lists the Hamlins as inspiration.

This all being said, the climax of the book was a bit of a let down for me. I couldn't feel sympathy for the situation that set it into motion. All I wanted to do was slap Marion. It made the rest of the book frustrating. I would love to engage in a longer rant about this but I am incredibly mindful of spoilers. I wonder if it is just me. Also, the man needs to work on his sex scenes. They just felt a little rapey. I felt slightly off reading them.  But I acknowledge that they are apparently ridiculously hard to write well or make them sound believable. Hence the need for the Bad Sex Award.

So with the not so good sex, and the unsympathic climax catalyst, this took me down to 4 stars.

Next: I am conflicted. I didn't have this on my list but I am thinking Anna Karenina as a classics Goodreads group I just joined is reading this as well. And if I am going to read this monolith (and I do want to) I might as well do it with company. I think it is time for a classic.... Then maybe a Diana Wynne-Jones... But it means I have to shuffle my list again.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Appointment - #12

I'm sick and should be in bed. But I wanted to post quickly about this book. This book was small (only 200pp) but dense. I picked it up as I thought I could knock it over quickly in a few days before we went on holidays in Cairns and I could relax on the beach with a big, thick book. Oh how I was wrong.

Instead, it was like walking through treacle. But surprisingly, not in a bad way. Just sticky. Like walking through mangrove mud, which I fell into the other day and then the pressure of pulling my foot out of the mud   pulled my thongs apart (poor thongs, they had served me well). It was almost poetry. It was lyrical and thought out and considered. It was also like a stream of consciousness, but I wish I thought as clearly and musically as Herta Müller.

Once again, the European style of writing surprised me. We Anglo-Saxons/Celtics seem to love tied up endings. But these "continentals" (oh I would have a mouthful from so many different people if I said that at work lol). They hate tied up endings. Or endings at all. They just cease.

Maybe I should take a page out of their book with my waffling blog posts. I am also wondering if I am feverish. However, I really recommend this book for you all. Just don't get surprised by the stickiness.

Next: Ethiopia with Cutting for Stone

Monday, 9 July 2012

Saving Fish from Drowning - #11

I wish this novel lived up to it's name. Instead of Saving Fish from Drowning as it claimed, this story slowly suffocated. Amy Tan let it flip flop all over the place in front of you, and then, when you thought it couldn't possibly still be alive, it would spring up and kinda flop over again.

The story is apparently about a woman called Bibi (which is a ridiculous name... no offence to any one reading called Bibi, you can't help your parents). She's dead. That's not a spoiler, it happens on page one. She's self obsessed, incredibly learned and cultured. And she's haunting her friends who are going on a holiday she organised. She sucks at haunting though as she just kinda follows them around like annoying small animal. But one you don't notice.

So you follow her friends around, after you get through 50 pages about her funeral. Which you don't care about as you don't like her. And her friends are awful, stereotypical travelling Americans. They are the people that walk into your hotel breakfast and you shudder with embarrassment as you feel terrible for being white as people may think you're from the same country, or worse, family.

I'm sorry. It's true. American's have the stereotype of being obnoxious, loud and ignorant while travelling. With the Brit's, they look down their nose at *everything*. Australians have the stereotype of being constantly drunk and obnoxious. You learn to work with it, and prove you are the exception.

Anyways. These are people you do not want to be around. All of them. Dead fish people or alive people. So after 100 pages, they got abandoned. And I hate myself a little for it. But after 100 pages, you had a good shot, and I couldn't see it getting better.

Also, I should have been warned when I found out that Amy Tan made up some stupid story about the book coming out of automatic writings she stumbled across in some Psychic Museum. So this was a "real story" told to a "real psychic". While my personal bullshit meter was going into overdrive, I then learnt that she made up this story to get more interest in the book. If you have to make up some story about automatic writings and psychics to sell your book, that should scream that it's not worth reading. Next time, I listen to that meter.

The problem is now, I don't know what to do with my journey. I think I have to find another South East Asian story, as I already felt my SE Asian pickings were rather slim. And for that, I am, just frankly, annoyed. Ruining my list *mumble mumble mumble*.

Next: To Romania, and let's hope it does better with The Appointment

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Zorro - #10

I did not have high hopes for this book. For some reason, some where I had read that it was terrible. I personally think that review was unfounded and untrue. Was it Dickens? No. Does everyone now have a picture of Charles Dickens dressed as Zorro in their mind? Yes. I am happy to have helped. Let me help you more.

Right. I, however, had Antonio Banderas in my head for this whole book, which is wonderful. Slightly strange while Diego was a boy, and he was just a mini version, but it worked. The story is a wonderful swashbuckling adventure throughout California (which was then a part of Mexico and a Spanish colony), mainly around LA and Spain, mainly in Barcelona. It follows Diego up until the point he is established as the Zorro we all know. There are sword fights, duels, love, Gypsies, horse riding, pirates, Native Americans, gambling, whoring. It’s fun.

Am I therefore cheating having it as my Chilean read as it is not set in Chile? Very probably. It was on my bookshelf though and that was one of my rules; that I read what was on my shelf first. I broke it once and I can’t do it again. We have run out of room for more books. My partner is trying to put up shelves in the house for more books, but it is just resulting in the house smelling like wood stain (as we can’t open it up as it has been -6 all week), lots of holes in walls, and one exploded drill. He’ll get there and he’ll do it better than me. But in the meantime, I must read my already acquired books.

Also, who else do you think of as a Chilean writer than Isabel Allende? The House of Spirits was amazing! It probably helped that I had just done a Sociology unit (my god the website is still active 8 years on) on South America and it’s dictators, their overthrowing by socialists and then overthrowing of the socialists by military junta backed by the US. Chile was one of these countries (I say one, as it happened in most of them. Astounding). So reading that story that talked about these happenings from the family involved’s perspective was wonderful. That and I think she is a brilliant storyteller.

That storytelling brilliance was evident again in this book. You were easily whisked away on the journey and adventure. You were pulled into the Californian desert or the streets of Barcelona. What was jarring however was that while the book was told in the majority in third person (and worked wonderfully), every now and then there would be a narrator that jarringly popped their head in. The first time I was shocked. It was like someone had burst in on my dream and started telling me what’s what, while I was trying desperately to work out who the hell this person was and how the hell they got into my head. Then they popped in and out every 50 pages or so, talking in first person, telling you little snippets about Diego’s character (kinda worked it out already little dream invader, but cheers for that) or how they know Diego *sooo* well, or guess what happens later!

This dream invading narrator needed a good slap. But when they disappeared and left you to the story it was enjoyable and fun. I want to go swashbuckling. 3.5 sabre wielding stars.

Next: Burma with Saving Fish from Drowning