205 Books: The Sandcastle Girls

sandcastle girls So, I think I missed the post where I told you what book I was going to read. Anyway, I read The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

Now, Bohjalian isn’t actually Armenian, he’s American, but his grandparents (I think) were. And the story isn’t actually set in Armenia, it’s (mainly) set in Syria, but it is about the Armenian genocide during WWI.

Look, shut up.

Anyway, as seems to be the case with most of the books I’m finding, it’s a romance set against the backdrop of war. It’s well written– though the bit set in the past is in present tense and I generally don’t like present tense, if for no other reason than it always seems pretty pointless. Then there are parts of the story written in first person from the point of view of a woman writing a book about the main events of the book, is written in the past tense. The modern day bits don’t add a lot to the story for me and overall and the main story didn’t do a lot for me either.

I knew of the Armenian genocide previously so I suppose this added a bit to my knowledge…

Look, overall it was okay– certainly better than that last piece of crap– but not brilliant. Given that, plus the not-set-in-Armenian and the not-actually-an-Armenian-author thing I might put an asterisk beside Armenia and think about coming back to it at the end of the list.

And next is Aruba, which isn’t looking prominent either.

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205 Books: A Beautiful Young Woman

Another Literary book, another piece of crap. I just finished A Beautiful Young Woman, by Argentinian Julian Lopez. And I’m glad I’m done with it. Here’s the blurb from the publisher’s website…

As political violence escalates around them, a young boy and his single mother live together in an apartment in Buenos Aires — which has recently been taken over by Argentina’s military dictatorship. When the boy returns home one day to find his mother missing (or “disappeared”), the story fractures, and the reader encounters him fully grown, consumed by the burden of his loss, attempting to reconstruct the memory of his mother.

By leaping forward in time, the boy—now a man—subtly gives shape to his mother’s activism, and in the process recasts the memories from his childhood. The result is a stylistically masterful and deeply moving novel marking the English-language debut of one of Argentina’s most promising writers.

But the political violence isn’t even hinted at in the book, really. The mother takes some phone calls that she is increasingly unhappy with but that could be for totally personal reasons. And sometimes she disappears for a couple of hours without explanation, but that could be because she is a single mother who needs some adult company. Then the mother is killed but we are never told why. Political violence is never actually mentioned, as far as I know, even in passing. The father wasn’t in the story, but I took that as he had simply left for the usuals reason that men (and women) sometimes leave.

I started doing 205 Books so I could read some writers I wouldn’t normally read and hopefully find out some stuff about other countries and cultures in the process. And here’s a story set at a time when “political violence escalates around” there is remarkably little politics or violence mentioned.

And as for when the story “fractures”… There’s about 2 chapters after that which don’t really illuminate the past all that much. They just use an annoying repetition of an image to show us that the mother was the type of mother we already knew her to be– there was still no mention of politics. There was no activism subtly shaped. Like someone said in another review I read after I finished, there is more plot in the blurb than there is in the actual novel.

If I could throw my ebook back at the publisher I would.

So, I have decided I might try to look for some more genre fiction, though I’m not sure if Armenian sci-fi will be all that popular. I’ll let you know what I come up with.

205 Books: Annie John

Oh FFS. Really? What is it with literary books? I think I’m going to have to find me some foreign genre stories.

Anyway, I found Annie John by Jamacia Kincaid to be well written on a sentence level but the story itself was really just a series of relatively long, linked vignettes. But they were really annoying. For instance, in one of the earlier chapters we are introduced to a girl in a passing— literally, she walks past on the street— and then she isn’t mentioned again for a long time. Years pass. Yada yada. Until we have a whole chapter devoted to that girl’s relationship with the main character. That was totally not mentioned earlier, even though the relationship ran concurrently with other parts of the story. It was like one entire, important aspect of Annie’s life was taken from her like Joel’s memories in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so he couldn’t remember the song Oh My Darlin’ anniejohnClementine which would have been completely ridiculous. But then, all of a sudden she gets the memories back when it is convenient to the story.

And on top of all that, Annie is not a very nice person.

So, I wasn’t a huge fan of Annie John though lots of critics apparently are. I just want a plot, really. I want a story that has a recognisable beginning, middle, and end, though they don’t necessarily need to come along in that order.

So that is Antigua and Barbuda done and dusted. Next is Argentina. And once again, I’m having trouble finding a book. There are plenty I’d be willing to read, but not a lot where I want to spend $10 or more for the ebook. And my library apparently doesn’t have them. So I will look, and I will let you know.

205 Book: Antigua and Barbuda

anniejohnSo, I have chosen Annie John as my next 205 Books book. And it had better be good, because I paid more for it than I have ever paid for an ebook. But at least I found one and it fits nicely in with what I was trying to do with the whole challenge.

Annie John was Kincaid’s first novel and like a lot of her work (apparently) draws heavily from her life, though she says it is not autobiographical. When she was about 17 years old, her mother sent her away from St Johns to work as a nanny in New York because her stepfather was sick and couldn’t provide for the family. When she got to her new job, however, Kincaid refused to send any of the money home. She enrolled in courses and was a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine by the time she was in her mid-20s.

So, anyway. I’m reading Annie John. And the next country, which I will start investigating immediately, will be Argentina which will surely be easier to organise.

205 Books: The Book of Chameleons

chameleon coverAnother book down. Only about 200 to go. Damn.

Anyway, the Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agualusa, (translated by Daniel  Hahn) wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t anything amazing either. The entire thing pretty much takes place in one room with a couple of dream sequences and an excursion or two into a courtyard.

Some reviews of the book complained about the title of the translation seeing the narrator is actually a gecko, not a chameleon, but it is pretty obvious that the characters are the chameleons, not the lizard. The main character sells pasts, bodgying up documents and stories so they can become different people in the present.

Considering it’s a translation, the writing is pretty good. The characters are interesting enough as well, which is lucky seeing it is them that carries what little there is of actual plot.

I’d probably recommend it, seeing it is so short. If it was any longer it would be stretching the friendship.

And there goes Angola. (I didn’t really learn anything at all about the country. There are mentions of colonialism and stuff like that, but it is all pretty generic. Though I do get the feeling that the country was supposed to be another of the chameleons.) Next on the list is Antigua and Barbuda which is looking just as difficult as Angola was.

205 Books: Angola

chameleon coverSo, it’s been a while. My excuse is doing layout for POD books and also having trouble finding a book from Angola that sounded interesting and that I was willing to pay for. Apparently lots of books from Angola are no longer available. Why the hell is that? There were a couple of books that had great reviews but are unavailable in ebook! The publishers just have to do a couple of hours work and then it’s free money. Oh well, their loss.

In the end, I paid over $6 for the ebook of The Book of Chameleons. It sounds like one of those ones that could be interesting or a complete piece of crap (For eg, the narrator of the book is a gecko and there is apparently no chameleon at all.) So, wish me luck.

And, in the future, I intend to start looking for books a bit sooner so, hopefully, the long delays don’t happen as often. (And I did read another book in the middle, by the way.

205 Books: The Teacher of Cheops

cheopsMy Andorran book, The Teacher of Cheops, was written by Albert Salvado, an Andorran, but obviously had nothing to do with the place. That isn’t the type of book I would prefer, but there weren’t a lot of choices available. And I have to say, I wish I’d found something else.

The story itself is about a slave who gains his freedom and ends up in Cairo (under a different name) as an accountant. It wasn’t terrible (though not great either) but it needed a serious edit. There were some instances where incorrect names were used. There were lots of punctuation errors and typos. And I’m pretty sure there were times where I’m sure the meaning was the opposite to what it was supposed to be, though I may be wrong because sometimes it was just difficult to work out what I was actually reading.

So, my first rule for people getting a translation done… Get a native speaker of the language you are translating into, not the language you are translating from. If that isn’t possible, after the translator is done, send it to an editor in the new language. Seriously, any half decent English speaking writer or editor could improve the book heaps with one read through. (So, Mr Salvado, if you are reading this, I can do it for you for a price.)

The main character taught Cheops, but it was such a minor part of the story. If you put together all the bits that mention this teaching it wouldn’t even take up a chapter. As stated above, a lot of the language is awkward. There’s head hopping. The characters aren’t particularly deep, especially the minor ones. It takes a long time to get to the meat of the story. I could go on…

I think the translation can be blamed for a lot of the problems, but not all of them. Now I am moving on to Angola and hopefully I can find something written in English.