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 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.

205 Books: Albania

stonecitycoverIt is time for book number two and after about five minutes of research (which is a lot for me), I came to the conclusion that if I was going to read an Albanian book it should probably be something by Ismail Kadare. It seems to be universally considered that Kadare is the best of the best when it comes to writers from that neck of the woods.

So, that part of the problem out of the way, I signed up to get ebooks from my local library and looked for Kadare. At first, nothing at all came up, but I think I was doing something wrong. I continued to do the same wrong thing for a few more minutes and eventually…

Four choices. Two of them… Not so much. Of the two that remained, one was something like 2500kB and the other was about 500kB. Huh! A winner.

I am pleased to announce that, a couple of nights ago, I started reading The Fall of the Stone City, though I admit, the cover put me off a bit– it looks like someone let my mother loose with photoshop. (Sorry Mum). And without knowing anything about Albanian or its history or politics, I’m not sure how much the story will mean to me, but I guess I will find out. Wish me luck.

And from there, it will be on to Algeria (which, I must say, does seem to be a more interesting list than Albania offered).

205 Books: A Thousand Splendid Suns

9780747582977 Yesterday, I finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. The first of my 205 books is out of the way. And I have to say, after all the hype received by this book and The Kite Runner I was a bit disappointed. (Spoilers will follow.)

For me, a large part of the story seemed like backstory. And the part that felt like it should have been the real story, after Laila moves in with Mariam and Rasheed, is very episodic. The story skips years at a time, then we have one short chapter which seems more about a quick history lesson than the story itself. And even with that, Mariam’s father turns up at one point, but we don’t find out about that important event until ten or more years later through a flashback when something else happens.

To make things worse, I was about to see just about everything coming from a long way off.

Look, I suppose A Thousand Splendid Suns was easy enough to read but it really didn’t draw me in as much as I felt it should, given the book’s reputation and the subject matter.

So, there it is, the first review. If you’ve read the book, let me know what you thought because apparently a lot of people did like it.

Next country in line is Albania and, at this stage, it will probably be something from Ismail Kadare. That may depend, again, on what I can get from my local library. Again, comments and suggestions are more than welcome…

205 Books: Afghanistan

So, you may have noticed my review of The Scar. Which means I am officially starting my Around the World in 205 Books challenge (henceforth shortened to 205 Books for reason of I don’t want to keep typing all that). In case you have forgotten, that is where I start at the start of the alphabet and work through every country in the world (205 of them according to the list I found on the net), picking books by authors from that country or about that country or, preferably, both. This is obviously to try to get out of my reading comfort zone.

I went to the library yesterday so borrow a copy of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini which, yes, is a fairly mild choice for Afghanistan (seeing Hosseini is American) but I couldn’t find a lot of options. But then, I was told that my local library is the only library in the entire Moreton Bay Shire Council area that doesn’t have a copy in stock. They did have A Thousand Splendid Suns, however. So, one book in and the plan already changed. Sorry to those of you who decided to get ahead with your homework. You will just have to start again.

After rigorous research, I discovered that exactly 51% of the internet thinks that A Thousand Splendid Suns is the better book anyway so it all worked out nicely…

I have already started reading and so far so good… I will post my thoughts in a new blog post when I finish but if anyone wants to discuss the book in the comments (avoiding spoilers would be good) then that’s ok. The next country is Albania, so I will also be taking suggestions for the next book in line. Surely someone in Albania must have written a book…