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 reminded me about it. 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 – Cambodia, Hungary, Italy, Singapore, and South Africa.
That makes a total of 75 books since I started the challenge - only 5 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, Update #8, Update #9, Update #10, Update #11, Update #12, Update #13, and Update #14.
GRAVE SECRETS by Kathy Reichs | Guatemala
Grave Secrets is part of the Dr. Temperance Brennan series, which you may know better as the inspiration for the TV show, Bones. In this book, Dr. Brennan is working in Guatemala as part of a team of forensic anthropologists investigating the "disappearance" of villagers (women and children) in the 1970s who were brutally raped and murdered by members of the army. While in Guatemala, she is asked to assist in the investigation of the disappearance of four young women in recent months and see if the remains found in a septic tank are related.
I enjoyed Grave Secrets because of its focus on forensic anthropology (I studied cultural and linguistic anthropology), as well as its focus on contemporary Guatemalan culture and the dark period in Guatemalan history when countless Mayans were slaughtered.
"People filled the lobby, wandering, praying, drinking soda, slumping or fidgeting on wooden benches. Some wore housedresses, others suits or jeans. Most were dressed in Solola Mayan. Women swathed in striped red cloth, with burrito-wrapped babies on their bellies or backs. Men in woolen aprons, gaucho hats, and wildly embroidered trousers and shirts. Now and then a hospital worker in crisp white cut through the kaleidoscope assemblage."
You can find out more about Grave Secrets on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.
THE LAST FRIEND by Tahar ben Jelloun | Morocco
As I got down to the final ten books for this challenge, I was struggling to find books to tick off the remaining countries on my list, so I was delighted when I discovered the English translation of The Last Friend. The author is a well-known Moroccan writer who has been short-listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Last Friend is about the changing nature of friendship between Ali and Mamet over the course of thirty years, which ultimately leads to betrayal. The story is told from the perspective of both Ali and Mamet, as well as from that of one of their friends. The plot twists and turns had me engrossed right to the end.
"A city of seduction, Tangier lashes you to its eucalyptus trees with the old ropes left by sailors at the port; it pursues you as if to persecute you; it obsesses you like an unrequited love. We talked and talked about Tangier. We knew that without our city, our lives would be meaningless."
You can find out more about The Last Friend on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.
THE WARSAW DOCUMENT by Adam Hall | Poland
The Warsaw Document is a spy thriller set during the Cold War. Quiller, a British Intelligence operative, is sent to Warsaw to "save detente" while anti-Soviet sentiments are smoldering. Although, I'm not a huge fan of this genre, The Warsaw Document was a good read which held my attention. I particularly liked how the author captured what the feel and mood of Warsaw might have been like at the time, and the impact that the Soviet presence had on the Polish people.
"I'd already learned how difficult it was to judge people from their behavior or even their expression: in this city the winter was not only in the streets and they were living on their nerves, the fierce vitality they'd put into their music and their wars now thrust inwards on themselves; and it was worse because the surface of their daily lives seemed still intact: they could sit here and order coffee and complain if it didn't come, and dance at the Cristal-Budapest and walk with their children in the park on Sundays. All they couldn't do was call their country their own and for these people their country was their soul."
You can find out more about The Warsaw Document on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.
AN ORDINARY MAN: THE TRUE STORY BEHIND HOTEL RWANDA by Paul Rusesabagina | Rwanda
I used to work with a woman who was in Rwanda during the time of the 1994 Rwandan genocide when 800,000 people (mostly Tutsi) were killed in the space of 100 days by the Hutus. I had seen the news coverage at the time of the Tutsi-Hutu conflict, but listening to her stories was horrifying and made everything seem so much more real. I hesitated about whether or not I wanted to read more about the atrocities that were committed, but in the end decided to go ahead and read An Ordinary Man as part of this challenge.
This is an autobiographical account by Paul Ruseabagina, the general manager of the Hotel Milles Collines, who sheltered 1,268 people on site. This book was the basis for the film, Hotel Rwanda. Ruseabagina describes how he fostered relationships with Hutu leaders in order to protect the people in his care. It was an eye-opening account and interesting insight into how such a thing could happen in Rwanda. In this passage, he tries to explain how the Tutsi came to be characterized as the enemy over time:
"The other thing you have to understand was that the message crept into our national consciousness very slowly. It did not happen all at once. We did not wake up one morning to hear it pouring out of the radio at full strength. It started with a sneering comment, the casual use of the term 'cockroach,' the almost humorous suggestion that Tutsis should be airmailed back to Ethiopia. Stripping the humanity from an entire group takes time."
You can find out more about An Ordinary Man on Goodreads and get your own copy on Amazon.
I AM NUJOOD, AGE TEN AND DIVORCED by Nujood Ali | Yemen
Many of you may remember Nujood Ali's role in highlighting the practice of forced marriage of underage girls in Yemen. When she was nine years old, Nujood's parents arranged for her to marry a man in his thirties. She was regularly raped and beaten by her husband, but somehow found the courage to go to the court and ask for a divorce. In this memoir, Nujood shares details of her childhood before she was married off, what she endured while married, and the process of obtaining a divorce at ten years of age.
She was fortunate to have come to the attention of judges who advocated for her, and in being represented by Shada Nasser, a female lawyer. Nujood describes meeting the judges in this passage and how extraordinary her actions were:
"They both explain to me that in Yemen girls are frequently married off quite young, before the legal age of fifteen. An ancient tradition, adds Judge Abdo. But to his knowledge, none of these precocious marriages has ever ended in divorce - because no little girl has, until now, showed up at a courthouse. A question of family honor, it seems. My situation is most exceptional, and complicated."
You can find out more about I am Nujood 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 TO DATE: Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, China, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Djibouti, England, Estonia, Ethiopia, Egypt, 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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