I've just finished up another month of the Around the World in 80 Books challenge. 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 – Finland, the Republic of Kiribati, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vanuatu.
That makes a total of 45 books since I started the challenge - only 35 more to go!
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 and Update #8.
ALMOST NEARLY PERFECT PEOPLE: THE TRUTH ABOUT THE NORDIC MIRACLE by Michael Booth | Finland
Scott is Norwegian-American from North Dakota, so I have an interest in understanding the Nordic psyche. To date, pretty much all I knew about Norwegians came from the movie Fargo and time spent with Scott's family. So, I decided to read up and find out more about these "nearly perfect people."
Booth focuses on the five Nordic counties in his book - Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland - which are often depicted quite positively as European success stories, and presents his views on their imperfections, such as the Icelandic financial crisis, the rise of neo-Nazis in Norway and Swedish conformity. I'm not usually a big reader of non-fiction, but I liked the way Booth interspersed humorous anecdotes in the midst of all of the facts and figures.
Since I had already crossed Noway, Sweden and Iceland off of the "Around the World in 80 Books" list, I decided to use Booth's book to tick off Finland. My sister spent a year living in Finland, so I was curious to see how Booth presented this country which lies between Russia and the rest of Scandinavia. One of the things I found fascinating was his description of the Finnish language, particularly all of the cases, which I remember my sister telling me about.
Finnish nouns have no gender, and, in fact, people have no gender – the word for “he” and “she” is the same, the masculine hän. A Finnish friend tells me that, increasingly, the Finns are just using “it” to refer to everything: “It is getting married in the morning,” “It has been drinking since breakfast,” and so on. There are no prepositions in Finnish and neither are their definite or indefinite articles, “a book,” “the book,” and “book” are all just “book” or kirja. (That said, Finnish does apparently have fourteen case-endings, so perhaps it is not all that straightforward.)
You can find out more about Almost Nearly Perfect People on Goodreads and get a copy on Amazon.
THE SEX LIVES OF CANNIBALS: ADRIFT IN THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC by J. Maarten Troost | Republic of Kiribati (2004)
This book was a perfect choice for this challenge - not only did it have me laughing out loud, but I also learned a thing or two about the Republic of Kiribati, an equatorial Pacific island nation, a place I knew nothing about before this challenge. Troost lived on the island of Tarawa in Kiribati for two years with his partner who was working for an aid organization. He's written a hysterical travel memoir about what it's like to live on an island in the middle of nowhere which is as far from a tropical paradise as you can get. Between dealing with toxic fish, stifling heat, beer shortages and the relentless playing of the song La Macarena by his neighbors, Troost keeps his sense of humor and almost makes you want to visit Tarawa for yourself to see if it could all possibly be true.
I'm a bit of a Crazy Cat Lady, so here's a quote about a Kiribatian cat. Cats are all the same, no matter where you go.
Sam the cat also wandered out to the reef at low tide. He liked to go fishing. Hovering over a tidal pool, he deftly scooped out a fish, which he could bring back to the house and play with until it died, and then he would find an ingenious hiding place for it. It was the same with geckos. Whenever he heard the soft plop of a gecko losing its grip, Sam darted with astonishing speed, clasped the gecko firmly in its mouth, no longer fooled by that devious lose-the-tail trick, and brought it back inside the house, where he mercilessly taunted it until it also died. Then he would find an obscure nook somewhere and hide the gecko. Decomposition occurs swiftly on the equator. Hours later, we would follow our noses in an exciting game of Where's the Dead Animal? Sam enjoyed this immensely.
You can find out more about The Sex Lives of Cannibals on Goodreads and get a copy on Amazon.
THE CITY OF VEILS by Zoe Ferraris | Saudi Arabia (2010)
I do like my murder mysteries and I thoroughly enjoyed The City of Veils, not only because it was well written, but also because it was set in Saudi Arabia, a country I don't really know much about. The author is married to a Saudi and spent time living there, so she has an interesting perspective on the country. One of the characters is an American ex-pat, whose husband is working in Saudi in a security job. It was fascinating to get a feel for what life in Saudi is like from the eyes of an ex-pat:
On the street, she felt safe and terrified by turns. Some days she could wander freely, going where she liked as long as she wore her cloak and headscarf, and kept her burqa at the ready in case she started to feel too exposed. Sometimes people stared blatantly, even occasionally stopping to gawk at her. Sometimes women would greet her politely. But on other days she would encounter resistance. Men would notice that she was out alone, and they would stop her by whistling and even standing in front of her, blocking her passage. They would tell her to go home. They warned her that it wasn't safe to be out. She believed them. Even though she was never arrested as her neighbors had promised, she felt more and more unsafe as the weeks went by. She began to think it was only a matter of time before something horrible happened.
You can find out more about The City of Veils on Goodreads and get a copy on Amazon.
GRANDAD, THERE'S A HEAD ON THE BEACH by Colin Cotterill | Thailand
I was really into reading murder mysteries last month, including Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach, which is set in Thailand. And, yes, there was a head on the beach. Every good murder mystery needs a body, or, in this case, a head, to set the stage. This was a fun and easy read, which I probably found more interesting as Scott and I have traveled in Thailand. It's full of some very quirky characters and funny scenarios, but it also provides some insights into real issues the country faces, like the status of illegal immigrants from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). I could see some parallels with the issue of illegal immigration in the States.
One of the things I found interesting was the description of the Thai language. It's tonal, which means that the same word (to us at least) has different meanings depending upon whether you use a high or low pitch. Say something in the wrong pitch and you could have a very embarrassing situation on your hands.
We doubted their names were real. They certainly lacked imagination. They insisted that we call them Noy, the mother, high-tone, and Noy, the daughter, low tone. Thai is a wonderful language that leaves many a foreigner ripping out chunks of hair. It has the ability to change a dog into a horse, a skein of silk into a bush fire, an entire town into an irrigation ditch. And all at the mere drop of a tone. For a Thai, when speaking, Noy and Noy were two completely different words.
You can find out more about Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach on Goodreads and get a copy on Amazon.
GETTING STONED WITH THE SAVAGES: A TRIP THROUGH THE ISLANDS OF FIJI AND VANUATU by J. Maarten Troost | Vanuatu
I enjoyed The Sex Lives of Cannibals so much that I read another one of Troost's memoirs. Getting Stoned with the Savages picks up where the last book left off. After living and working in Washington DC for a while, Troost and his now wife decided to escape city living and return to the islands. They first found themselves in Vanuatu (which is what country I'm using this book to tick off), before ending up in Fiji. "Getting stoned" refers to Troost's fondness for drinking kava, which makes one very relaxed, and he relates several hysterical stories about his kava fueled episodes in his memoir. I also enjoyed his descriptions of the challenges around daily life in Vanuatau, such as dealing with the heat. I can relate to the following quote as we've also had small creatures find their way into our air conditioner, die and create a horrible stench.
Over the next few days, the weather had become unbearably sticky and humid, a sure precursor to a storm. There wasn't a cloud anywhere, and yet everything was damp and soppy. The heat and humidity were such that we even considered turning on the window unit air conditioner in our bedroom. This required considerable fortitude on our part. Since our arrival, three geckoes had somehow managed to dive deep within its bowels. I had disassembled as much of the unit as I dared and scraped out what I could of the lizards' carcasses. But much remained, slowly, ever so slowly, decomposing beside our bed.
You can find out more about Getting Stoned with the Savages on Goodreads and get a copy on Amazon.
If you're participating in the challenge too, 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 TO DATE: Algeria, Australia, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Djibouti, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Republic of Kiribati, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Slovenia, Sweden, Thailand, United States, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
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