Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Song of a Captive Bird

Finished October 19
Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

This novel is a fictionalized biography of Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad. The author had seen a poetry book of her mother's as a child and later became fascinated by not only the poetry of Forugh, but of the woman herself and her very unconventional life.
Forugh was born in Tehran, the third of seven children, and the daughter of a military officer. She pushed the boundaries on behaviour, trying to engage in the same activities as her brothers. She began writing poetry at a young age, partly to capture the attention and approval of her traditional father, poetry being a revered art in Iran. But as she grew into womanhood and her life became more circumscribed, she found a way out by marrying at the age of 16 to a cousin. But her urge to write continued and it led her to another life. 
Darznik explores this life, both the poet's inner life and drive to write poetry that broke the norms of her era and gender, and the outer life, as a divorcee, a woman who lived independently, and the mistress of a well-known film producer. 
Forugh comes to life here, with her passion and impetuousness, and her daring to follow her dreams. I enjoyed learning more about this poet and her legacy. 

Monday, 18 October 2021

What Strange Paradise

Finished October 18 
What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

This book grabbed me and didn't let go. It's a short novel and a real page-turner. It starts with a scene on a beach on a Greek island, where bodies of refugees have washed ashore. Among them is a young boy, Amir, but he isn't dead, and when he rises, and sees people coming for him, he runs.
Following that scene, the story alternates with what led the boy to this place and what happens after he runs. In the before sequences, we see him and his family fleeing their home country of Syria and coming to Egypt, hoping to be accepted by a western country, and we see how he comes to be on a boat crossing the Mediterranean Sea and what happens on that boat. In the after sequences, we see him being found by a teenaged girl, and assisted. Vänna has a difficult home life and something about the boy and his vulnerability puts her in protective mode. As the two try to elude the soldiers looking for the boy, they make their way across the island, hoping for a way out. 
The characters of Amir and Vänna are well drawn, and you see their thoughts and their struggles, from Amir's uncertainty about his family's future and his confusion on the ship to Vänna's dissatisfaction with her life and her worry about Amir. The book is fast-moving and intense with some twists and surprises along the way. Highly recommended.

The Book Collectors

Finished October 16
The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Vergnaud

The author, Delphine Minoui, is a journalist who has covered the Middle East, and lives in Istanbul. She also directed a documentary on the same subject as this book. During her work, she heard about a group who had created a library from books they found in the rubble of their town, Daraya. Daraya is a town outside of Damascus which fell under a siege in 2012 and became cut off from the outside world for four years. 
The young men who found the first batch of books and began actively collecting them in one place, where they built shelving and provided studying, reading, and meeting space, had a collection of fifteen thousand books within a month of their start. The collection had range, from poetry to plays, history to science. 
First Minoui tracked down one of the library's founders, Ahmad Muaddamani, twenty-three, who was studying civil engineering before the war. He told her the story of the library, but also the story of this small community, its history of discourse and democracy, the effects of the siege, and the others who supported and used the library. Residents from children through seniors visited and borrowed material, and they even arranged Skype lectures from a variety of speakers. Other men that she spoke to were Omar Abu Anas, a soldier in the Free Syrian Army, who kept a small collection of books protected by sandbags at the front lines; Shadi Matar, who joined the media center of the town and documented the war through photographs; Hussam Ayash, who launched a small local magazine during the siege; Abu Malek Al-Shami, who painted graffiti and murals on the ruins to keep spirits up; Abu el-Ezz, another co-founder of the library; and Ustez, a slightly older man who served as a mentor for the others.
As Monoui tracks the ongoing siege, she also documents the types of attacks they endured, including barrel bombs, sarin gas, and napalm. 
With limited access to internet, most of the communication was through media such as Whats App, with reliance on short messages, and video. 
A book that brings this group of men to life and highlights the situation that they lived in during this difficult time. She also includes a list of the most popular books in the collection and ones mentioned in her conversations with the men. 

Saturday, 16 October 2021

A Mapmaker's Dream

Finished October 15
A Mapmaker's Dream: The Meditations of Fra Mauro, Cartographer to the Court of Venice: a novel by James Cowan

This book is a fictionalized tale of a real man. Fra Mauro was a monk at San Michele di Murano who lived in the first half of the 15th century and created the most detailed and accurate map of the world for his time. 
The Fra Mauro of this book lives in the sixteenth century and so is familiar with some of the men who sailed widely and discovered new lands and routes of the time. This book is written as a collection of meditations of that man, talking about the men who've visited him and the types of information that they've shared. Some of them have shared geographic information, but others share philosophical and spiritual experiences, causing him to also have deeper thoughts on these subjects. So this is also a novel of self-reflection. The introduction says that the author came across these writings when doing research on someone else, and was first distracted and then enraptured by these and translated them into English. But as you may note from the cover this is a novel, so there is uncertainty about what is real and what isn't, besides the change of when the narrator lived. 

Classic Spin #28: My Books

I'm participating in the Classic Spin again. 

It's site is here

I have to choose 20 classic books that I want to read and on October 17th, a number between 1 and 20 will be picked and that is the book that I will have to read by December 12th of this year.
Edited on October 18th to say that the spin was for #12, so I will be reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

Here are my books:

1. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Wolff
2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
3. Dracula by Bram Stoker
4. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
5. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
6. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
7. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
9. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
10. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
11. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
12. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
13. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
14. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
15. Persuasion by Jane Austen
16. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang van Goethe
17. Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner
18. Roxana by Daniel Defoe
19. Howards End by E.M Forster
20. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

Paris Echo

Finished October 14
Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

This novel is haunted by the past but set in present-day Paris. Hannah is an American graduate student, in Paris to do research on women living in occupied Paris for a paper she is writing. She is haunted by the memories of her earlier time in Paris when she fell in love and then had the relationship end. She is also haunted by the stories of the women whose stories she finds. Listening to the recorded voices of the women, collected by a small archive in the city, she finds some hopeful, some sad, and some full of anger. Early in her stay, she finds a young woman on the street, cold and tired. She takes her in, letting her stay in the small second bedroom in her rented apartment. The next day, she finds a young man Tariq has also arrived in her flat, a friend of the woman, and she soon agrees to let him stay there.
Tariq is nineteen and from Morocco. He has come to Paris partly to escape his life there, and partly to see the city that his mother, long dead, was from, and maybe learn about her. Tariq is an open young man, who quickly finds a job, and begins exploring the city. He takes on some of the stories that Hannah is researching and connects them to people he sees in the streets. He also learns more about French history and the people of this country, from many angles. 
Hannah has also reconnected with a professor from her earlier time, an Englishman named Julian and finds herself confiding in him and bouncing ideas off of him. He too finds himself drawn into her research, looking up information on that time in history, and making connections for her. 
As the characters grow closer to each other and learn more about the city, its past, and themselves, they also find new paths forward for themselves.
I really enjoy Faulks writing and this book is one I highly recommend.

The View from Penthouse B

Finished October 12
The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman

This is an author I always enjoy reading. Here we have two sisters, Margot and Gwen-Laura, who have agreed to live together in the penthouse apartment that Margot owns. Margot, the oldest sister, is recovering from a very public end to her marriage, with her husband, a fertility doctor in jail for fraud after inseminating some of his clients with his own sperm, in some cases directly. She bought the apartment with some of the money from her divorce and invested the rest. Unfortunately, she invested it with Bernie Madoff, and now has little funds to get by on. Gwen-Laura, the middle sister, is still grieving the sudden loss of her husband, a public school music teacher. It's been almost two years, but she can't seem to move on. Their younger sister, Betsy, has suggested they join forces by living together. So far it is going well. 
When Margot encounters a younger man, also affected by the collapse of the market and invites him to move in, things get interesting. Anthony is handsome, interesting, and a baker of cupcakes and begins encouraging the two sisters in different ways. When Margot's paroled ex-husband moves into a smaller apartment in the same building, the situation grows more complex. 
The story is mostly told by Gwen-Laura, and the reader can see her beginning to take small steps forward as she reengages with life. From dating apps to new work ventures, the sisters and Anthony give each other encouragement and support. 
Lighthearted with touches of humour, this is a feel-good read.