Remember when I started that "Around the World in 80 Books" challenge? The one I was so gung-ho about, but then never finished. Yeah, I had completely forgotten about it too until my mother gave me a reminder. So, while we're land-locked and working on boat projects, I thought this would be a good time to start ticking more countries off of the list.
The idea of the challenge is to read books set in 80 different countries, effectively exploring the world from the comfort of your armchair. Since my last update, I've read books set in five more countries – Burma (Myanmar), Colombia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, and El Salvador.
And guess what - that means I've now completed the challenge! It was a long one, but well worth it. I've read so many books that I normally would have never picked up, and learned something about different countries in the process.
You can read more about the challenge here, as well as check out Update #1, Update #2, Update #3, Update #4, Update #5, Update #6, Update #7, Update #8, Update #9, Update #10, Update #11, Update #12, Update #13, and Update #14.
THE PIANO TUNER by Daniel Mason | Burma (Myanmar)
Imagine being an English piano tuner in the late 1800s and told that you have to travel to the remote jungles of Burma (Myanmar) to tune the piano of an eccentric army doctor and officer. I thought this was a fascinating premise - learning about the history of the area under British colonial rule as well as how to tune a piano that's been affected by the humid climate. I read some reviews that compare The Piano Tuner to Conrad's Heart of Darkness and I can see the similarities.
I now know a little bit more about pianos and the history of this area, including the fact that being a piano tuner sounds painful.
"Now, eighteen years later, she knew where the calluses on his hands lay and what they were from. Once he had explained them to her, like a tattooed man explaining the stories of his illustrations. This one that runs along the inside of my thumb is from a screwdriver. The scratches on my wrist are from the body itself, I often rest arm like this when I am sounding. The calluses on the inside of my first and third fingers on the right are from tightening pins before using regulating pliers, I spare my second finger, I don't know why, a habit from youth. Broken nails are from strings, it is a sign of impatience."
You can find out more about The Piano Tuner on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.
MEMORIES OF MY MELANCHOLY WHORES by Gabriel Garcia Marquez | Colombia
I was trying to remember whether I had ever read anything by Marquez before. He's a famous dude (Nobel Prize in Literature and all) and I've heard of his books and I felt like I should have read something by him by now. Turns out Memories of my Melancholy Whores was the first one for me. It tells the story of a bachelor on his 90th birthday who decides he wants to sleep with a virgin and the relationship he develops with her.
It was an interesting read. I liked part of it, other parts not so much, and many parts just creeped me out. But I did enjoy his way with words and his style of writing. There were passages that made me laugh, like his reaction when presented with the gift of a cat by his co-workers.
"I have very bad chemistry with animals, just as I do with children before they begin to speak. They seem mute in their souls. I don't hate them, but I can't tolerate them, because I have never learned to deal with them. I think it is against nature for man to get along better with his dog than he does with his wife, to teach it to eat and defecate on schedule, to answer his questions and share his sorrows. But not picking up the typographer's cat would have been an insult."
You can find out more about Memories of my Melancholy Whores on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.
THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE by Lenne Kaaberbol | Denmark
The Boy in the Suitcase drew me in right away with the title alone. What does a "boy in a suitcase" conjure up to you? Nothing good, I'd imagine. The book starts off quickly with, no surprise, a boy in a suitcase in a train station in Copenhagen. It follows Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse, as she tries to uncover the mystery behind the boy while trying to avoid the people who are hunting them down. There were some interesting twists and turns in this fast-paced thriller. While I didn't learn as much about Denmark as I would have liked in this book, I did learn about child trafficking in Europe.
It was hard to pick out a quote from The Boy in the Suitcase without having a spoiler. I ended up choosing this one, because who can't relate to being frantic over being stuck on an airplane, although hopefully not for the same reasons as this chap.
"He should have been back home in Denmark more than an hour ago. Instead he sat on what should have been the 7:45 to Copenhagen Airport, frying inside an overheated aluminum tube along with 122 other unfortunates. No matter how many cooling drinks he was offered by the flight attendants, nothing could ease his desperation."
You can find out more about The Boy in the Suitcase on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.
IN THE TIME OF BUTTERFLIES by Julia Alvarez | Dominican Republic
One of the things I've enjoyed about this challenge is learning more about other countries. Like the fact that the States has occupied the Dominican Republic twice - first in the early 20th century (the Dominican's gained independence in 1924) and again in the 1960s when the Americans were fearful of a Communist revolt and the establishment of a "second Cuba." Not only did I learn about that, but I also learned about the oppressive rule of Rafael Trujillo from 1930-1961.
In the Time of Butterflies is set prior to the second American occupation, during the time of the Trujillo's dictatorship. It's inspired by the true story of three sisters who were murdered for their part in an attempt to overthrow Trujillo. The book alternates between the perspective of four fictional sisters - three who were murdered and one who survives and recollects the family's involvement in revolutionary activity. I liked the youngest sister's account the best, presented in the form of diary entries, like this one about the Feast of Santa Lucia.
"Tonight, we will have the candle lighting and all of our eyes will be blessed on account of Santa Lucia. And guess what? I have been chosen to be Santa Lucia by all the sisters! I'll get to wear my First Communion dress and shoes all over again and lead the whole school from the dark courtyard into the lit-up chapel. I have been practicing, walking up and down the Stations of the Cross with a blessed look on my face, not an easy thing when you are trying to keep your balance. I think saints all lived before high heels were invented."
You can find out more about In the Time of Butterflies on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.
THE HEIRESS OF WATER by Sandra Rodriguez Barron | El Salvador
The Heiress of Water takes place in New England, where the protagonist, Monica, lives and El Salvador, her birthplace and home until the death of her mother when she was a child. The book follows Monica as she travels back to El Salvador and tries to piece together her family history, while at the same time investigating the medical applications of a venomous cone shell. It's part thriller, part mystery, and part self-discovery. It didn't end the way I expected to and left me wanting more, which can be a good thin in a book.
While there were lots of interesting quotes about El Salvador I could have shared, I chose this one because the sailboat vs. powerboat comparison made me laugh. So true.
"But Will didn't share Eddie's distrust of non-Hispanic New Englanders. Will proudly flew the American and Puerto Rican flags on his boat alongside the nautical ensign. Besides, in his experience, boaters were part of a subculture that transcends ethnic divisions. Many of them saw landlubbers as alien creatures. Beyond that was the separation between the 'purists' - the sailboaters - and the 'vulgar' powerboaters, whose mega-engines' consumption of gas was rivaled only by their owners' consumption of beer. All 'real' sea folk were members of a sacred tribe, and sailors were special to one another. Might as well be related by spit and blood."
You can find out more about The Heiress of Water on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.
If you're participating in the challenge too (or any other reading challenge), I'd love to hear what you've been reading. Even if you're not doing the challenge, let us know what books you've been enjoying lately.
COUNTRIES READ DURING THE CHALLENGE: Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, England, Estonia, Ethiopia, Egypt, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, New Zealand, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Kiribati, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Slovenia, Spain, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United States, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Wales, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.
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