Review: The Element by Ken Robinson

The Element is a popular personal development book about finding your element; the intersection of your natural talent and your personal passions.  This book is often included on lists about creativity and while it features the stories of many creative people, it is not actually about creativity.

The element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the element, they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels. The Element draws on the stories of a wide range of people, from ex-Beatle Paul McCartney to Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons; from Meg Ryan to Gillian Lynne, who choreographed the Broadway productions of Cats and The Phantom of the Opera; and from writer Arianna Huffington to renowned physicist Richard Feynman and others, including business leaders and athletes. It explores the components of this new paradigm: The diversity of intelligence, the power of imagination and creativity, and the importance of commitment to our own capabilities.
With a wry sense of humor, Ken Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the element and those that stifle that possibility. He shows that age and occupation are no barrier, and that once we have found our path we can help others to do so as well. The Element shows the vital need to enhance creativity and innovation by thinking differently about human resources and imagination. It is also an essential strategy for transforming education, business, and communities to meet the challenges of living and succeeding in the twenty-first century.
(GoodReads)

The Element is much more about the education system; the shortcomings of a one-size-fits-all system that can’t meet the needs of a varied and diverse society.  Robinson shows us this by collecting the stories of creative and successful people who despite their problems fitting into the education system managed to find success and happiness in finding their element.

The stories are quite interesting.  I especially enjoyed reading the earlier chapters.  The book is very well written and Robinson is an interesting and humorous writer.  Unfortunately, toward the end of the book I began to lose steam because I had different expectations of what this book was about.

It is an interesting and inspiring book, especially so if you’re interested in the education system and changing that system to suit an enlarged definition of intelligence.

lilolia review rating 2 stars ok

Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child, was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Nominee.   This lovely story is set in 1920s Alaska and I was initially drawn to it because it had been categorised as magical realism which is one of my favourite genres.

This is a well written story about life; its obstacles and miracles, and love.

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm, she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.  (GoodReads)

It was an enjoyable read and a lovely little escape.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners

Here is a selection of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Letters category.  For other category winners, like Journalism and Photography, head to the Pulitzers.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Fiction)

“Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.” (GoodReads)

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (General Nonfiction)

“In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.
The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.
Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.
Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.” (GoodReads)

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar (Biography / Autobiography)

“From Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Hisham Matar, a memoir of his journey home to his native Libya in search of answers to his father’s disappearance. In 2012, after the overthrow of Qaddafi, the acclaimed novelist Hisham Matar journeys to his native Libya after an absence of thirty years.
When he was twelve, Matar and his family went into political exile. Eight years later Matar’s father, a former diplomat and military man turned brave political dissident, was kidnapped from the streets of Cairo by the Libyan government and is believed to have been held in the regime’s most notorious prison. Now, the prisons are empty and little hope remains that Jaballa Matar will be found alive. Yet, as the author writes, hope is “persistent and cunning”.
This book is a profoundly moving family memoir, a brilliant and affecting portrait of a country and a people on the cusp of immense change, and a disturbing and timeless depiction of the monstrous nature of absolute power.” (GoodReads)

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson (History)

“The first definitive account of the infamous 1971 Attica prison uprising, the state’s violent response, and the victims’ decades-long quest for justice including information never released to the public published to coincide with the forty-fifth anniversary of this historic event.
On September 9, 1971, nearly 1,300 prisoners took over the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York to protest years of mistreatment. Holding guards and civilian employees hostage, during the four long days and nights that followed, the inmates negotiated with state officials for improved living conditions. On September 13, the state abruptly ended talks and sent hundreds of heavily armed state troopers and corrections officers to retake the prison by force. In the ensuing gunfire, thirty-nine men were killed, hostages as well as prisoners, and close to one hundred were severely injured. After the prison was secured, troopers and officers brutally retaliated against the prisoners during the weeks that followed. For decades afterward, instead of charging any state employee who had committed murder or carried out egregious human rights abuses, New York officials prosecuted only the prisoners and failed to provide necessary support to the hostage survivors or the families of any of the men who’d been killed.
Heather Ann Thompson sheds new light on one of the most important civil rights stories of the last century, exploring every aspect of the uprising and its legacy from the perspectives of all of those involved in this forty-five-year fight for justice: the prisoners, the state officials, the lawyers on both sides, the state troopers and corrections officers, and the families of the slain men.” (GoodReads)

2017 Baileys Women’s Prize Shortlist

Six novels have been shortlisted for this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize.  The 2017 Chair of Judges, Tess Ross commented:

“It has been a great privilege to Chair the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in a year which has proved exceptional for writing of both quality and originality.  It was therefore quite a challenge to whittle this fantastic longlist of 16 books down to only six… These were the six novels that stayed with all of us well beyond the final page.”

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

“‘There are things even love can’t do… If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love…’
Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.
Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.” (GoodReads)

The Power by Naomi Alderman

“In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.
This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.” (GoodReads)

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

“The Second World War is over, a new decade is beginning but for an East End teenage brother and sister living on the edge of the law, life has been suspended. Sent away to a tuberculosis sanatorium in Kent to learn the way of the patient, they find themselves in the company of army and air force officers, a car salesman, a young university graduate, a mysterious German woman, a member of the aristocracy and an American merchant seaman. They discover that a cure is tantalisingly just out of reach and only by inciting wholesale rebellion can freedom be snatched.” (GoodReads)

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

“Hellsmouth, a wilful thoroughbred filly, has the legacy of a family riding on her.  The Forges: one of the oldest and proudest families in Kentucky; descended from the first settlers to brave the Wilderness Road; as mythic as the history of the South itself – and now, first-time horse breeders.
Through an act of naked ambition, Henry Forge is attempting to blaze this new path on the family’s crop farm. His daughter, Henrietta, becomes his partner in the endeavour but has desires of her own. When Allmon Shaughnessy, an African American man fresh from prison, comes to work in the stables, the ugliness of the farm’s history rears its head. Together through sheer will, the three stubbornly try to create a new future – one that isn’t determined by Kentucky’s bloody past – while they mould Hellsmouth into a champion.
The Sport of Kings has the force of an epic. A majestic story of speed and hunger, racism and justice, this novel is an astonishment from start to finish.” (GoodReads)

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

“From “one of Britain’s most original young writers” (The Observer), a blistering account of a marriage in crisis and a portrait of a woman caught between withdrawal and self-assertion, depression and rage.
Neve, the novel’s acutely intelligent narrator, is beset by financial anxiety and isolation, but can’t quite manage to extricate herself from her volatile partner, Edwyn. Told with emotional remove and bracing clarity, First Love is an account of the relationship between two catastrophically ill-suited people walking a precarious line between relative calm and explosive confrontation.” (GoodReads)

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

do-not-say-we-have-nothing-by-madeleine-thien“In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old.”
Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming’s father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China’s political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.
With maturity and sophistication, humor and beauty, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of life inside China yet transcendent in its universality.” (GoodReads)

Reading List: A Journey Through The Portuguese Speaking World

If you’re interested in world literature and Portuguese culture specifically, this reading list is for you.  As every reader knows, reading is to travel far and wide where we cannot physically go.  I hope this list guides you on a wonderful journey into the lusophone world.

While selecting titles for this list, I had the English reader in mind so you’ll only find the English translation titles listed.  The Portuguese speaking world includes countries around the world but I’ve decided to organise them not by country but by publication date.  There are a few works from prior centuries but I’ve tried to focus on 20th century literature.

Luís de Camões > The Lusiads < 1572

“First published in 1572, The Lusiads is one of the greatest epic poems of the Renaissance, immortalizing Portugal’s voyages of discovery with an unrivalled freshness of observation.  At the centre of The Lusiads is Vasco da Gama’s pioneer voyage via southern Africa to India in 1497-98. The first European artist to cross the equator, Camoes’s narrative reflects the novelty and fascination of that original encounter with Africa, India and the Far East. The poem’s twin symbols are the Cross and the Astrolabe, and its celebration of a turning point in mankind’s knowledge of the world unites the old map of the heavens with the newly discovered terrain on earth. Yet it speaks powerfully, too, of the precariousness of power, and of the rise and decline of nationhood, threatened not only from without by enemies, but from within by loss of integrity and vision.”  (GoodReads)

Camilo Castelo Branco > Love of Perdition < 1862

Perhaps the height of Portuguese romanticism, Amor de Perdição (Love of Perdition) is a Portuguese Romeo and Juliet. Simão Botelho and Teresa are hopelessly in love, but their families are rivals in Viseu. When Teresa’s father, Tadeu, discovers their love, he shuts her in a convent. But, while trying to see his beloved, Simão kills Baltasar, and eventually condemned to death. The sentence is commuted to 10 years of service in India, but before the sentence is executed, both Teresa and Simão die of broken hearts.” (GoodReads)

Machado de Assis > The Alienist < 1881

“A classic work of literature by “the greatest author ever produced in Latin America.” (Susan Sontag)
Brilliant physician Simão Bacamarte sacrifices a prestigious career to return home and dedicate himself to the budding field of psychology. Bacamarte opens the first asylum in Brazil hoping to crown himself and his hometown with “imperishable laurels.” But the doctor begins to see signs of insanity in more and more of his neighbors. . . .
With dark humor and sparse prose, The Alienist lets the reader ponder who is really crazy.”  (GoodReads)

Eça de Queirós > The Maias < 1888

“Our hero Carlos Maia, heir to one of the greatest fortunes in Portugal, is rich, handsome, generous and intelligent: he means to do something for his country, something useful, something that will make his beloved grandfather proud. However, Carlos is also a bit of a dilettante. He drifts along, becoming a doctor and pottering about in his laboratory, but spends more and more time riding his splendid horses or visiting the theater, having affairs or reading novels. His best friend and chief partner in crime, Ega, is likewise engaged in a long summertime of witticisms and pleasure. Carlos however is set on a dead reckoning course with fate—with the love of his life and with a terrible, terrible secret…
Newly translated by the acclaimed translator Margaret Jull Costa (translator of José Saramago’s Blindness), New Directions is proud to bring Eça de Queirós’ brilliant prose to life for American readers for the first time.”  (GoodReads)

Lima Barreto > The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma < 1911

“‘The seed of madness exists in all of us and with no warning may attack, overpower, crush and bury us… ‘
Policarpo Quaresma – fastidious civil servant, dedicated patriot, self-styled visionary – is a defender of all things Brazilian, full of schemes to improve his beloved homeland. Yet somehow each of his ventures, whether it is petitioning for Brazil’s national language to be changed, buying a farm to prove the richness and fertility of the land, or offering support to government forces as they suppress a military revolt – results in ridicule and disaster. Quixotic and hapless, Quaresma’s dreams will eventually be his undoing.
Penguin Classics: Funny, despairing, moving and absurd, Lima Barreto’s masterpiece shows a man and a country caught in the violent clash between illusion and reality, hope and decline, sanity and madness.”  (GoodReads)

Mário de Andrade > Macunaíma < 1928

“Announcing a major literary event: here is the first translation into English of a landmark precursor of Latin American magical realism, which has informed the work of contemporary writers from Garcia Marquez to Salman Rushdie. Macunaima, first published in Portuguese in 1928, and one of the masterworks of Brazilian literature, is a comic folkloric rhapsody (call it a novel if you really want) about the adventures of a popular hero whose fate is intended to define the national character of Brazil.  “Inventive, blessedly unsentimental,” as Kirkus Reviews has it, and incorporating and interpreting the rich exotic myths and legends of Brazil, Macunaima traces the hero’s quest for a magic charm, a gift from the gods, that he lost by transgressing the mores of his culture. Born in the heart of the darkness of the jungle, Macunaima is a complex of contradictory traits (he is, of course, “a hero without a character”), and can at will magically change his age, his race, his geographic location, to suit his purposes and overcome obstacles. Dramatizing aspects of Brazil in transition (multiracial, Indian versus European, rural versus urban life), Macunaima undergoes sometimes hilarious, sometimes grotesque transformations until his final annihilation and apotheosis as the Great Bear constellation in the heavens.” (GoodReads)

Graciliano Ramos > Barren Lives < 1938

“A peasant family, driven by the drought, walks to exhaustion through an arid land. As they shelter at a deserted ranch, the drought is broken and they linger, tending cattle for the absentee ranch owner, until the onset of another drought forces them to move on, homeless wanderers again. Yet, like the desert plants that defeat all rigors of wind and weather, the family maintains its will to survive in the harsh and solitary land. Intimately acquainted with the region of which he writes and keenly appreciative of the character of its inhabitants, into whose minds he has penetrated as few before him, Graciliano Ramos depicts them in a style whose austerity well becomes the spareness of the subject, creating a gallery of figures that rank as classic in contemporary Brazilian literature.”  (GoodReads)

Jorge Amado > Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon < 1958

“Ilhéus in 1925 is a booming town with a record cacao crop and aspirations for progress, but the traditional ways prevail. When Colonel Mendonça discovers his wife in bed with a lover, he shoots and kills them both. Political contests, too, can be settled by gunshot… No one imagines that a bedraggled migrant worker who turns up in town–least of all Gabriela herself–will be the agent of change. Nacib Saad has just lost the cook at his popular café and in desperation hires Gabriela. To his surprise she turns out to be a great beauty as well as a wonderful cook and an enchanting boon to his business. But what would people say if Nacib were to marry her?  Lusty, satirical and full of intrigue, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is a vastly entertaining panorama of small town Brazilian life.” (GoodReads)

Clarice Lispector > The Hour of the Star < 1977

“The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector’s consummate final novel, may well be her masterpiece. Narrated by the cosmopolitan Rodrigo S.M., this brief, strange, and haunting tale is the story of Macabéa, one of life’s unfortunates. Living in the slums of Rio and eking out a poor living as a typist, Macabéa loves movies, Coca-Cola, and her rat of a boyfriend; she would like to be like Marilyn Monroe, but she is ugly, underfed, sickly, and unloved. Rodrigo recoils from her wretchedness, and yet he cannot avoid the realization that for all her outward misery, Macabéa is inwardly free. She doesn’t seem to know how unhappy she should be. As Macabéa heads toward her absurd death, Lispector employs her pathetic heroine against her urbane, empty narrator—edge of despair to edge of despair—and, working them like a pair of scissors, she cuts away the reader’s preconceived notions about poverty, identity, love, and the art of fiction. In her last book she takes readers close to the true mystery of life and leaves us deep in Lispector territory indeed.”  (GoodReads)

António Lobo Antunes > The Land at the End of the World < 1979

Considered to be António Lobo Antunes’s masterpiece, The Land at the End of the World–now in a new and fully restored translation by acclaimed translator Margaret Jull Costa–recounts the anguished tale of a Portuguese medic haunted by memories of war, who, like the Ancient Mariner, will tell his tale to anyone who listens. In the tradition of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, Lobo Antunes weaves words into an exhilarating tapestry, imbuing his prose with the grace and resonance of poetry. The narrator, freshly returned to Lisbon after his hellish tour of duty in Angola, confesses the traumas of his memory to a nameless lover. Their evening unfolds like a fever dream, as Lobo Antunes leaps deftly back and forth from descriptions of postdictatorship Portugal to the bizarre and brutal world of life on the front line. The result is both tragic and absurd, and belongs among the great war novels of the modern age.  (GoodReads)

Moacyr Scliar > Max and the Cats < 1981

“Max Schmidt grew up in the stockroom of his father’s fur store, cloaked among the foxes, minks, and leopards, hiding from the glaring eyes of a stuffed tiger atop the wardrobe. It is here he dreams of travelling to distant lands; and here, as a young man, he begins an affair with the store’s married clerk.  Forced to flee when his lover’s husband discovers the affair and denounces Max to the Nazi secret police, Max steals away to Hamburg, where he takes passage on a freighter destined for disaster. When the ship founders somewhere off the coast of South America, Max is trapped in a dinghy with a hungry jaguar. Max believes his days are numbered-until he washes ashore on the coast of tiny Porto Alegre, Brazil, prepared to begin anew in the tropical clime.  But when Max discovers his next-door neighbor is a Nazi hiding from persecution, he finds that for the first time in his life, he is the master of his own destiny, ready to take matters into his own hands…”  (GoodReads)

Fernando Pessoa > The Book of Disquiet < 1982

Fernando Pessoa was many writers in one. He attributed his prolific writings to a wide range of alternate selves, each of which had a distinct biography, ideology. and horoscope. When he died in 1935, Pessoa left behind a trunk filled with unfinished and unpublished writings, among which were the remarkable pages that make up his posthumous masterpiece, The Book of Disquiet, an astonishing work that, in George Steiner’s words, “gives to Lisbon the haunting spell of Joyce’s Dublin or Kafka’s Prague.”Published for the first time some fifty years after his death, this unique collection of short, aphoristic paragraphs comprises the “autobiography” of Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa’s alternate selves. Part intimate diary, part prose poetry, part descriptive narrative, The Book of Disquiet is one of the greatest works of the twentieth century.
Fernando Pessoa, one of the founders of modernism, was born in Lisbon in 1888. Most of Pessoa’s writing was not published during his lifetime: The Book of Disquiet was first published in Portugal in 1982.
  (GoodReads)

João Ubaldo Ribeiro > An Invincible Memory < 1984

“A family saga spanning nearly 400 years, this absorbing epic novel lays bare the soul of the Brazilian nation. Whaling, war, macumba, slavery, murder, cannibalism and Brazil’s struggle for independence add momentum to Ribeiro’s lyrical, effusive, sonorous, serpentine prose laced with a touch of magic realism something of a cross between Melville and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (The author himself has rendered the fluent translation.) At the center is Amleto Ferreira, a 19th century paterfamilias and conniving bookkeeper who defrauds a baron of his wealth; Amleto’s ladylike, long-suffering wife Teolina; and their children, among them a priest, a romantic poet and a soldier. A bestseller in Brazil, the novel graphically portrays the terrible cruelty inflicted by whites on blacks, mulattos and Indians; the lives of these native peoples unfold in dozens of intertwined stories. The relationship between Merinha, patient, Penelope-like servant girl, and runaway slave Budiao is moving. Also memorable are 100-year-old Great Mother Dadinha and Maria da Fe, a bandit warrior who converses with birds and seeks special power from a sorcerer’s charms. Catapulting his tale into the 1970s, journalist Ribeiro ( Sergeant Getulio ) creates a stunning portrait of a people who, though outwardly mirthful, are still not free.”  (GoodReads)

Mia Couto > Sleepwalking Land < 1992

““On almost every page of this witty magical realist whodunit, we sense Couto’s delight on those places where language slips officialdom’s asphyxiating grasp.”—The New York Times Book Review on The Last Flight of the Flamingo
“The most prominent of the younger generation of writers in Portuguese-speaking Africa, Couto passionately and sensitively describes everyday life in poverty-stricken Mozambique.”—Guardian (London)
“Quite unlike anything else I have read from Africa.”—Doris Lessing
As the civil war rages in 1980s Mozambique, an old man and a young boy, refugees from the war, seek shelter in a burnt-out bus. Among the effects of a dead passenger, they come across a set of notebooks that tell of his life. As the boy reads the story to his elderly companion, this story and their own develop in tandem. Written in 1992, Mia Couto’s first novel is a powerful indictment of the suffering war brings.”  (GoodReads)

José Saramago > Blindness < 1995

From Nobel Prize–winning author José Saramago, a magnificent, mesmerizing parable of loss.
A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” that spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides her charges—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and their procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. As Blindness reclaims the age-old story of a plague, it evokes the vivid and trembling horrors of the twentieth century, leaving readers with a powerful vision of the human spirit that’s bound both by weakness and exhilarating strength.
  (GoodReads)

Lídia Jorge > The Painter of Birds < 1998

The story of a daughter’s longing for her absent father and her determination to piece together the past and the future.  The setting of this extraordinary novel is an old farmhouse in Portugal-a house far enough from the Atlantic not to hear the breaking waves during a storm but near enough for the walls to be corroded by the salt in the air.  With most members of her large family having left the hardship of life in this landscape of sand and stone for jobs in faraway places, a young woman struggles to piece together her past from the widely varying stories she’s been told. Left behind by a free-spirited, feckless father, a seducer with a rare gift for drawing, she is raised by her uncle who has married her mother. The only memories of her father’s two brief visits are the echoes of his footsteps on the stairs leading to her room. The only signs of him are letters from the widest reaches of the world-letters accompanied by brilliantly colored drawings of exotic birds. The daughter longs for her father and, as she grows up, she is determined to find him and uncover the truth.
Brimming with astute and exquisite characterizations, this strikingly lyrical novel evokes the atmosphere of rural Portugal in a changing world and explores the timeless themes of family, independence, and the often painful experience of emigration.”  (GoodReads)

José Luís Peixoto > The Implacable Order Of Things < 2000

“Winner of the José Saramago Literary Award.  In an unnamed Portuguese village, against a backdrop of severe rural poverty, two generations of men and women struggle with love, violence, death, and—perhaps worst of all—the inescapability of fate.  A pair of twins conjoined at the pinky, a 120-year-old wise man, a shepherd turned cuckold by a giant, and even the Devil himself make up the unforgettably oddball cast of The Implacable Order of Things. As these lost souls come together and drift apart, José Luís Peixoto masterfully reveals the absurd, heartbreaking, and ultimately bewitching aspects of human nature in a literary performance that heralds the arrival of an astoundingly gifted and poetic writer.”  (GoodReads)

Luis Fernando Verissimo > Borges and the Eternal Orangutans < 2000

“Jorge Luis Borges is the hero of this literary whodunit by one of Brazil’s most celebrated writers.Vogelstein is a loner who has always lived among books. Suddenly, fate grabs hold of his insignificant life and carries him off to Buenos Aires, to a conference on Edgar Allan Poe, the inventor of the modern detective story. There Vogelstein meets his idol, Jorge Luis Borges, and for reasons that a mere passion for literature cannot explain, he finds himself at the center of a murder investigation that involves arcane demons, the mysteries of the Kaballah, the possible destruction of the world, and the Elizabethan magus John Dee’s theory of the “Eternal Orangutan,” which, given all the time in the world, would end up writing all the known books in the cosmos. Verissimo’s small masterpiece is at once a literary tour de force and a brilliant mystery novel.”  (GoodReads)

Miguel Sousa Tavares > Equator < 2003

“It is 1905 and Luis Bernardo Valenca, a thirty-seven-year-old bachelor and owner of a small shipping company, is revelling in Lisbon’s luxurious high society. But his life is turned upside down when King Dom Carlos invites him to become governor of Portugal’s smallest colony, the island of São Tomé e Principe. Luis Bernardo is ill-prepared for the challenges of plantation life – used to a softer urban existence, he is shocked by the conditions under which the workers labour.  But with the English closing in on São Tomé’s cocoa plantations, the island’s main means of survival, Luis Bernardo must endeavour to protect the island and its community.”  (Goodreads)

Paulo Coelho > Eleven Minutes < 2003

“Eleven Minutes is the story of Maria, a young girl from a Brazilian village, whose first innocent brushes with love leave her heartbroken. At a tender age, she becomes convinced that she will never find true love, instead believing that “love is a terrible thing that will make you suffer. . . .” A chance meeting in Rio takes her to Geneva, where she dreams of finding fame and fortune.  Maria’s despairing view of love is put to the test when she meets a handsome young painter. In this odyssey of self-discovery, Maria has to choose between pursuing a path of darkness—sexual pleasure for its own sake—or risking everything to find her own “inner light” and the possibility of sacred sex, sex in the context of love.”  (GoodReads)

Gonçalo M. Tavares > Jerusalem < 2005

“One morning late in May, between three and six A.M., a group of lonely men and women wait to be brought together, like the elements in an equation. Ernst Spengler is about to throw himself out his window. Mylia, terminally ill and in enormous pain, goes out to visit a church. Hinnerk Obst, who’s always been told by the neighborhood children that he looks like a murderer, walks the streets with a loaded gun. As these characters are manipulated and brought together, a world of violence, fear, pain, and uncertainty is portrayed, where human nature itself, and the mechanisms determining our actions, our fictions, and the elements of our imagination, are laid bare.  Jerusalem is a terrifying and grimly humorous summation of the possibilities and limits of the human condition at the beginning of the 21st century.
Hailed by José Saramago as the best writer of his generation and a likely future winner of the Nobel Prize, Dalkey Archive is proud to introduce Gonçalo M. Tavares and his breakthrough novel.”  (GoodReads)

José Eduardo Agualusa > A General Theory of Oblivion < 2012

“The brilliant new novel from the winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
On the eve of Angolan independence an agoraphobic woman named Ludo bricks herself into her apartment for 30 years, living off vegetables and the pigeons she lures in with diamonds, burning her furniture and books to stay alive and writing her story on the apartment’s walls.  Almost as if we’re eavesdropping, the history of Angola unfolds through the stories of those she sees from her window. As the country goes through various political upheavals from colony to socialist republic to civil war to peace and capitalism, the world outside seeps into Ludo’s life through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of someone peeing on a balcony, or a man fleeing his pursuers.  A General Theory of Oblivion is a perfectly crafted, wild patchwork of a novel, playing on a love of storytelling and fable.”  (GoodReads)

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

2016 NBCC Award Winner

Louise Erdrich has won the 2016 NBCC award for her novel La Rose.  Erdrich has won the award once before in 1984 for her highly acclaimed novel Love Medicine.

La Rose by Louise Erdrich

“Louise Erdrich starts her latest novel LaRose with an incident larose-by-louise-erdrichother, less assured novelists might work up to with some throat clearing. On the second page, Landreaux Iron, a father of five, “all of whom he tried to feed and keep decent,” accidentally shoots his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty, on the Native American reservation in rural North Dakota where they live. According to Native American custom as Landreaux sees it, he must give his own young son, LaRose, to the family whose son he has killed, “an old form of justice,” as Erdrich calls it. 

Erdrich has said in an interview that she doesn’t remember exactly when she heard about the actual event that inspired LaRose. “And of course the story was only two lines long: ‘A man killed a boy. The man gave up his son to be raised by the other family,’ ” Erdrich told Kirkus Reviews. “I never thought I’d write about it, but the story stayed with me, and when I did begin to write about it I knew exactly what was going to happen—for the first 20 pages, anyway. After that, I had quite a time figuring out what to do next.”

The novel is so sure-footed and preternaturally confident; Erdrich definitely figured it out along the way. Both families must shuffle through the emotional morass produced by the act of child-sharing (LaRose shuttles between the two homes and the wives of the two families are also half-sisters). Shy, inquisitive LaRose is “a little healer.” He is the fifth generation of LaRoses, who consults his ancestors and marshals profound bravery to right an injustice done to one of his new siblings. Erdrich chooses a few characters to focus on in addition to the members of the two families: drug-dependent Romeo who was abandoned by Landreaux years ago and a war vet named Father Travis, devout but also in love with someone he shouldn’t be in love with.”  (NBCC)

You can take a look at the 2016 NBCC Finalists for more reading inspiration.

Review: Writing Well by Mark Tredinnick

I first read Writing Well by Mark Tredinnick a few years back.  It has held pride of place on my writing book shelf because it is one of the most helpful and beautifully written books on writing I’ve read so far.

Writing Well is a guide to expressive creative writing and effective professional prose. The author, a poet, writer, editor and teacher, explains the techniques required for stylish and readable writing. Everyone who wants to improve their writing can benefit from this book, which describes how to: identify topics that inspire you to write, get into the habit of writing regularly, develop ideas, construct effective arguments, choose words for maximum effect, use grammar correctly, structure sentences and paragraphs appropriately, write with integrity. The book is enriched by examples from great modern writers, and includes a variety of exercises and suggestions for writing activities. Mark Tredinnick practises what he preaches, making his book highly enjoyable as well as technically instructive.”  (GoodReads)

In the prologue of The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker writes:

“It’s not just that I welcome advice on the lifelong challenge of perfecting the craft of writing. It’s also that credible guidance on writing must itself be well written, and the best of the manuals are paragons of their own advice.”

Writing Well fits this description and is, indeed, a paragon of its own advice.  I really enjoyed reading it.  Tredinnick provides useful advice and fantastic exercises to get you flexing your writing muscles.  He includes example passages from well known works to illustrate his points and this, too, was wonderful to read in addition to being illustrative.

My favourite chapters were Sentencing, which gave an in depth look at the structure of different types of sentences and when to make use of them; and Poetics, which was about the art of creative writing.

It was a useful and inspiring read.  This book isn’t just for fiction writers, but anyone looking to improve their writing whether you’re focusing on fiction, poetry, or report writing for work.  It’s a book you may well read more than once – I’ve just finished it for a second time.  If, like me, you enjoy reading books about writing improvement this one has got to be on your list.

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent

Reading List: A Journey Through World Literature

Have you ever contemplated embarking on a reading journey through literature’s most celebrated novels?  If you’re interested in getting lost in some of the greatest books of all time, then this reading list is for you.

The first half of this list comes from the undergrad Lit Department of the San Jose State University and offers you one noteworthy fiction novel per author.  The second half of the list comes from the Princeton undergrad Lit Department and offers a few novels per author. Take your pick.  The Princeton list does have some books in common with the San Jose list but also offers a lot more novels from notable authors from around the world as opposed to mainly from the US and UK.  Included in this list are just the novels but for more genres; Epics, Dramas, Non Fiction, please follow the links at the end of each list for further reading.

John Barth > Lost in the Funhouse < 1979

Charlotte Bronte > Jane Eyre < 1847

Raymond Carver > What We Talk About When We Talk About Love < 1981

Anton Chekov > Anton Chekov’s Short Stories < 1979

Don DeLillo > White Noise < 1985

Junot Diaz > Drown < 1996

William Faulkner > Go Down, Moses < 1942

Gustave Flaubert > Madame Bovary < 1857

Gabriel Garcia Marquez > One Hundred Years of Solitude < 1967      [my review]

Ernest Hemingway > In Our Time < 1925

Zora Neale Hurston > Their Eyes Were Watching God < 1937

Henry James > Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man < 1917

Franz Kafka > In the Penal Colony < 1914

Jhumpa Lahiri > Interpreter of Maladies < 1999

Cormac McCarthy > Blood Meridian < 1985

Toni Morrison > Beloved < 1987

Lorrie Moore > Birds of America < 1998

Alice Munro > Selected Stories < 1997

Vladimir Nabokov > Lolita < 1955

Flannery O’Connor > Complete Stories < 1996

Virginia Woolf > Mrs Dalloway < 1925

Sherwood Anderson > Winesburg < 1919

Margaret Atwood > Cat’s Eye < 1988

Donald Barthelme > Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts < 1968

Jorge Luis Borges > Labyrinths < 1964

Italo Calvino > Cosmicomics < 1968

Miguel Cervantes > Don Quixote < 1605-1615

John Cheever > Stories of John Cheever < 1978

J M Coetzee > Waiting for the Barbarians < 1980

Robert Coover > Pricksongs and Descants < 1969

E L Doctorow > Ragtime < 1975

Louise Erdrich > Love Medicine < 1984     [my review]

William Faulkner > Absalom, Absalom < 1936

Nadine Gordimer > July’s People < 1982    [my review]

Edward P Jones > Lost in the City < 1992

James Joyce > Ulysses < 1922

Tim O’Brien > The Things They Carried < 1990

Grace Paley > Collected Stories < 1994

Jayne Anne Phillips > Black Tickets < 1979

Edgar Allan Poe > Selected Short Stories < 1966

Salman Rushdie > Midnight’s Children < 1981

Leslie Marmon Silko > Ceremony < 1977

Laurence Sterne > Tristram Shandy < 1759-1767

Bram Stoker > Dracula < 1897

Eudora Welty > Collected Stories < 1982

Edith Wharton > Age of Innocence < 1920

 

For more books of from other genres on the San Jose State University Lit Reading List

 

Abdulrazak Gurnah > Paradise. Desertion. By the Sea.

Alex La Guma > In the Fog of the Season’s End.

Ama Ata Aidoo > Our Sister Killjoy. The Rape of Shavi.

Amitav Ghosh > Shadow Lines.

Amos Tutuola > The Palm Wine Drinkard.

Anita Desai > Baumgartner’s Bombay.

Aphra Behn > Oroonoko.

Bem Okri > The Famished Road.

Bessie Head > A Question of Power.

Bram Stoker > Dracula.

Buchi Emecheta > The Joys of Motherhood.

Charles Dickens > Great Expectations.

Charlotte Lennox > The Female Quixote.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie > Half of a Yellow Sun.

Chinua Achebe > Arrow of God. Things Fall Apart.

Daniel Defoe > Robinson Crusoe. Roxana. Moll Flanders.

Doris Lessing > The Golden Notebook.

Djuna Barnes > Nightwood.

E M Forster > A Passage to India.

Edwidge Danticat > Breath. Eyes. Memory.

Eliza Haywood > Love in Excess. Fantomina.

Emily Bronte > Wuthering Heights.

Ernest Hemingway > The Old Man and the Sea.

F Scott Fitzgerald > The Great Gatsby.

Frances Burney > Evelina.

G V Desani > All about H Hatterr.

George Eliot > Middlemarch.

George Lamming > The Emigrants.

Henry Fielding > Tom Jones.

Henry James > Portrait of a Lady.

Herman Melville > Moby Dick.

J M Coetzee > Waiting for the Barbarians.

James Baldwin > Go Tell It on the Mountain.

James Fenimore Cooper > The Last of the Mohicans. The Deersayer. The Pathfinder.

James Joyce > Ulysses.

Jean Rhys > Wide Sargasso Sea.

Jean Toomer > Cane.

John Bunyan > Pilgrim’s Progress.

John Steinbeck > Grapes of Wrath.

Jonathan Swift > Gulliver’s Travels.

Joseph Conrad > Heart of Darkness.

Kazuo Ishiguro > Remains of the Day.    [my review]

Leo Tolstoy > Anna Karenina. War and Peace.

Margaret Atwood > The Handmaid’s Tale.    [my review]

Mary Shelley > Frankenstein.

Maxine Hong Kingston > The Woman Warrior.

Michael Odaantje > Coming through Slaughter.

Miles Franklin > My Brilliant Career.

Mulk Raj Anand > Untouchable. 1937

Nadine Gordimer > July’s People.

Nathaniel Hawthorne > The Scarlet Letter. House of Seven Gables.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o > Petals of Blood.

Nurridin Farah > Gifts. Maps.

Ralph Ellison > Invisible Man.

Salman Rushdie > Midnight’s Children. The Satanic Verses. Shame.

Samuel Richardson > Pamela. Clarissa.

Thomas Pynchon > Mason and Dixon. Gravity’s Rainbow.

Tsitsi Dangarembga > Nervous Conditions.

V S Naipaul > House for Mr Biswas. A Bend in the River. Mimic Men.

 

For more literature of other genres and also in other languages see the Princeton Lit Department List

 

Save

Review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer by William Gibson is a 1984 cyberpunk novel.  It was the first winner of the science fiction ‘triple crown’ when it was awarded the Nebula Award, Philip K. Dick Award, and Hugo Award in the same year.  I came to know about this novel through the All TIME 100 Novels list.neuromancer-by-william-gibson

“There is no way to overstate how radical Gibson’s first and best novel was when it first appeared. He combined a shattered, neon-chased, postmodern cityscape — its inhabitants rendered demi-human by designer drugs, tattoos and rampant surgical body modifications — with his vision of a three-dimensional virtual landscape created by networked computers, through which bad-ass bandit hackers roam like high plains drifters. When one such hacker, Case, gets banned from this “cyberspace” — Gibson was among the first to use the word — he’ll do anything to get back in, including embarking on a near-suicidal cyber-assault on an all but unhackable artificial intelligence. Violent, visceral and visionary (there’s no other word for it), Neuromancer proved, not for the first or last time, that science fiction is more than a mass-market paperback genre, it’s a crucial tool by which an age shaped by and obsessed with technology can understand itself.” (by Lev Grossman)

Neuromancer was Gibson’s debut novel and is the first book in the Sprawl Trilogy.  Reading this novel I was tossed into a whole new world of vocabulary and it comes as no surprise to me that at the time of publication this novel had what Wikipedia describes as “significant linguistic influence”.  The term ‘cyberspace’ first appeared on the pages of Neuromancer and quickly entered popular culture.  Gibson is also credited with the popularisation of the term ‘ICE’ which Wikipedia defines as “a term used in cyberpunk literature to refer to security programs which protect computerized data from being accessed by hackers”.  While I can say that I knew what ‘cyberspace’ meant I had no clue what ‘ICE’ was, along with many other terms Gibson uses throughout this story.

The world of Neuromancer is as strange and new as the words and Gibson does not stop and fill up the narrative with explanations of either.  You get on, hold tight, and enjoy the ride.  I have to say that I felt throughout that the popular writing advice ‘show, don’t tell’ was perfectly employed here.  You eventually figure it all out as more and more is revealed to you.

This is the first novel of this type that I’ve read before and I really enjoyed it.  It was different, wild, and cool.  It never occurred to me at any point that it was published in 1984 because the story itself is set in some other time where humans and tech are physically and culturally intertwined.  You imagine it to be the future, how far into the future I don’t know.  Gibson doesn’t specify and I liked that he left it to me to imagine for myself.

This novel is still as relevant today as it was to readers in the 80s.  It gives us a glimpse into a possible future that is not only still a viable option but probably a much more easily imagined option to us now.  This is a dark and gritty adventure into AI, cyberspace, and the tech culture of the future.  I really enjoyed it so I recommend it to readers who are into a bit of sci-fi and adventure.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

How To Read More Books Every Year Easily

If, like me, you use GoodReads’ annual Reading Challenge feature to track and record your reading goals, you may have noticed that many people are reading over 100 books a year.

That is very impressive and I’m more than a little envious of those numbers.  The reason is that I have a substantial number of books, fiction and non fiction, that I’m hoping to get through in my lifetime.

I say lifetime because at my current rate of 25 books a year there’s no way I could get through my entire TBR list.  I mentioned in a previous post – The Health Benefits of Reading – that I read every night before I go to bed.  The thing is, while I read every day, it’s not long enough to achieve the kind of volume of books I’d like.

Then I found Charles Chu’s article about how to read 200 books a year.  He describes how we can all read 200 books a year if we reallocated the time we spend on social media and watching TV to reading.  He bases his calculations on a reading rate of 400 words per minute and the average non fiction book word count of 50 000 words.

I decided I would look into this calculation for myself to determine the veracity of his claim and get some numbers that are also relevant to fiction readers.

First, I took an online speed reading test.  Chu’s article says the average American reads between 200-400 words per minute.  On ReadingSoft, they describe the average reader as reading 200 wpm on screen and 240 wpm on paper with a 60% comprehension rate.  They describe a good reader as reading 300 wpm on screen and 400 wpm on paper with 80% comprehension.

My result was 209 wpm on screen (25o wpm on paper) with 91% comprehension.  I realised that everybody’s result will be determined by their personal reading style and the type of book they’re reading.  My reading style may not be very fast compared to some but I read for full comprehension and I enjoy taking my time.  Don’t worry about what the average reader is doing.  This is personal so do an online test to get an idea of your own speed for your calculations.

Then I set out to find out about the word count of the average fiction and non fiction book.  Chu’s article talks about 50 000 words for a non fiction book.  A large number of us, though, are reading novels with around 100 000 words or more (depending on the format of the book, this would translate into a 300 page paperback book with 300 words per page).

So, what number of books is it possible to read per year?  I recalculated using an average reading rate of 250 words per minute and an average book of 100 000 words.

If you dedicate a minimum of 60 minutes a day to reading for 365 days you’ll be able to read 55 books in a year.

If that doesn’t sound like much to you remember that you probably read books you’re enjoying faster than 250 wpm and there are going to be books that are both shorter and longer than 100 000 words.  You might also be able to allocate more than one hour to reading per day, which means your books-per-year number could be 100 books or more.

What are your thoughts on this?  With this in mind I’ve decided to allocate a time for reading in the morning in addition to before bed so that I guarantee I get at least 60 minutes of reading in a day whether I fall asleep with my book on my face or not.

At the very least, I hope this inspires you to be conscious of the amount of time you spend reading so you, too, can get to many more books than normal like all those GoodReads super heroes.

Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was published in 2005 and was a Man Booker, Arthur C. Clarke, and James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee.  Though the novel didn’t win any of those awards it is one of Ishiguro’s most popular novels.

Last year I read Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day which I really enjoyed.  I ‘discovered’ Ishiguro’s writing in that book and I liked it so much that I feel I would follow him into any story he wrote.  This is why I decided to read Never Let Me Go.  It felt a natural progression into the works of an author I intend to continue reading.  The thing is, I wasn’t sure what to expect because the blurb, which you can read below, and its mention of boarding school ongoings didn’t really strike me as my cup of tea.never-let-me-go-by-kazuo-ishiguro

“From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.  Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.” (GoodReads)

However, and this is a big however, I had no idea what I was in for.  That blurb gives you absolutely no clue as to the world you are about to step into.  And thank goodness for that.  Not knowing beforehand is key to the surprise, especially together with the way Ishiguro tells this story.

As always, his writing is lovely and his characterisation is spot on.  The pace and the sprinkling of breadcrumbs is well planned.  I can not tell you what this is actually about, of course, because I won’t take the shock of the discovery away from you.  It’s what makes this book.  It’s what contrasts the normalcy of the rest of the story which is an important detail.

Never Let Me Go was a good book.  My advice is read it, without reading any blurbs, articles, or conversations about it.  Don’t let anyone spoil it for you.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

2016 Etisalat Prize Shortlist

The 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature Shortlist is out and brings us 3 novels from the African continent.  This year two Nigerians and one South African are vying for the prize.

The Seed Thief by Jacqui L’Ange

the-seed-thief-by-jacqui-lange“Sometimes the thing you find is not the one you were looking for. When botanist Maddy Bellani is asked to travel to Brazil to collect rare seeds from a plant that could cure cancer, she reluctantly agrees. Securing the seeds would be a coup for the seed bank in Cape Town where she works, but Brazil is the country of her birth and home to her estranged father.  Her mission is challenging, despite the help of alluring local plantexpert Zé. The plant specimen is elusive, its seeds guarded by a sect wary of outsiders. Maddy must also find her way in a world influenced by unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies and the selfish motives of others.  Entrancing and richly imagined, The Seed Thief is a modern love story with an ancient history, a tale that moves from flora of Table Mountain to the heart of Afro-Brazilian spiritualism.” (GoodReads)

And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

and-after-many-days-by-jowhor-ile“During the rainy season of 1995, in the bustling town of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family’s life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of seventeen-year-old Paul Utu, beloved brother and son. As they grapple with the sudden loss of their darling boy, they embark on a painful and moving journey of immense power which changes their lives forever and shatters the fragile ecosystem of their once ordered family. Ajie, the youngest sibling, is burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But his search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens old, long forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and frenzied student protests serve as a backdrop to his pursuit.  In a tale that moves seamlessly back and forth through time, Ajie relives a trip to the family’s ancestral village where, together, he and his family listen to the myths of how their people settled there, while the villagers argue over the mysterious Company, who found oil on their land and will do anything to guarantee support. As the story builds towards its stunning conclusion, it becomes clear that only once past and present come to a crossroads will Ajie and his family finally find the answers they have been searching for.  And After Many Days introduces Ile’s spellbinding ability to tightly weave together personal and political loss until, inevitably, the two threads become nearly indistinguishable. It is a masterful story of childhood, of the delicate, complex balance between the powerful and the powerless, and a searing portrait of a community as the old order gives way to the new.”  (GoodReads)

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya

Mr and Mrs Doctor by Julie Iromuanya“Ifi and Job, a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage, begin their lives together in Nebraska with a single, outrageous lie: that Job is a doctor, not a college dropout. Unwittingly, Ifi becomes his co-conspirator—that is until his first wife, Cheryl, whom he married for a green card years ago, reenters the picture and upsets Job’s tenuous balancing act.” (GoodReads)

2016 NBCC Award Finalists

The National Book Critics Circle has announced the finalists for the 2016 awards.  They have awarded the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award to Margaret Atwood.  The NBCC awards will be presented on the 16th March in New York.  I’m going to share the finalists for the Fiction category here but follow the above link to see the finalists in the other categories.

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

moonglow-by-michael-chabon

“In 1989, fresh from the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon travelled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon’s grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis for the novel Moonglow, the latest feat of legerdemain in the ongoing magic act that is the art of Michael Chabon.  Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession, made to his grandson, of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and desire and ordinary love, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at mid-century and, above all, of the destructive impact—and the creative power—of the keeping of secrets and the telling of lies. A gripping, poignant, tragicomic, scrupulously researched and wholly imaginary transcript of a life that spanned the dark heart of the twentieth century, Moonglow is also a tour de force of speculative history in which Chabon attempts to reconstruct the mysterious origins and fate of Chabon Scientific, Co., an authentic mail-order novelty company whose ads for scale models of human skeletons, combustion engines and space rockets were once a fixture in the back pages of Esquire, Popular Mechanics, and Boy’s Life. Along the way Chabon devises and reveals, in bits and pieces whose hallucinatory intensity is matched only by their comic vigour and the radiant moonglow of his prose, a secret history of his own imagination.  From the Jewish slums of pre-war South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York’s Wallkill Prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of “the American Century,” Moonglow collapses an era into a single life and a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional non-fiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most daring, his most moving, his most Chabonesque.” (GoodReads)

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

larose-by-louise-erdrich

“North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbour’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich.  The youngest child of his friend and neighbour, Peter Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have always been close, sharing food, clothing, and rides into town; their children played together despite going to different schools; and Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, is half sister to Dusty’s mother, Nola. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to an Ojibwe tribe tradition—the sweat lodge—for guidance, and finds a way forward. Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them.  LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Plagued by thoughts of suicide, Nola dotes on him, keeping her darkness at bay. His fierce, rebellious new “sister,” Maggie, welcomes him as a co conspirator who can ease her volatile mother’s terrifying moods. Gradually he’s allowed shared visits with his birth family, whose sorrow mirrors the Raviches’ own. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal.  But when a vengeful man with a long-standing grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole.”  (GoodReads)

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

imagine-me-gone-by-adam-haslett

“When Margaret’s fiancé, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone is the unforgettable story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic who makes sense of the world through parody. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings–the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec–struggle along with their mother to care for Michael’s increasingly troubled and precarious existence.” (GoodReads)

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

commonwealth-by-ann-patchett

“One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.  Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.  When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.” (GoodReads)

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

swing-time-by-zadie-smith

“Two brown girls dream of being dancers–but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.  Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from northwest London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.” (GoodReads)

 

Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a dystopia novel published in 2012.  It was a 2013 nominee for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Novel.  This is another novel that has been on my TBR list since it came out.  dog-stars-peter-heller

Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.  But when a random transmission beams through the radio of his 1956 Cessna, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists outside their tightly controlled perimeter. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return and follows its static-broken trail, only to find something that is both better and worse than anything he could ever hope for.  (GoodReads)

Without intending to I’ve read a few dystopia novels from my TBR list fairly close together.  They all offer something different.  Some offer a view into an alternate world resulting from an idea or technology taken too far.  Others, like this one, aren’t really about an alternate world but instead about the people left behind.

In The Dog Stars the world is still the world we know just without all the people.  There are only tiny pockets of people left alive trying to survive a world without a modern economy.  They’re trying to live in the face of the loss of their loved ones and the comforts of their prior lives.

It’s a lovely book that mostly takes the form of Hig’s internal dialogue or thoughts.  Some people didn’t enjoy the way it was written because of the punctuation and sentence structure.  Honestly, I barely noticed it.  Reading it was like following Hig in his mind and everything made sense.  I enjoyed reading it and it was a different take on the dystopia story.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

 

Review: The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger is a short novel published in 1942 by famous French author Albert Camus.  Camus was born in Algeria in 1913 and became a philosopher, author, and journalist.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

The Stranger was Camus’ first novel and Claire the-stranger-by-albert-camusMessud writes in A New ‘L’Étranger’ that it is “one of the most widely read French novels of the twentieth century…”

This is my first Camus novel which I chose because many speak so highly of it.  I enjoyed the story and I found the character Meursault to be interestingly different.

This book was originally written in French and I happened to read Stuart Gilbert’s translation.  There were parts of the story where the English didn’t feel right to me and I became conscious that it was a translation which I don’t think should happen.  This version left me feeling that I might have been better off reading Matthew Ward or Sandra Smith’s translation.  It doesn’t always happen this way but with this particular novel the translation version you read will definitely affect how you perceive this story and ultimately that is the key to The Stranger.

When you read what others have written about this book you will undoubtedly come across descriptions like wikipedia’s: “Its theme and outlook are often cited as examples of Camus’s philosophy of the absurd and existentialism, though Camus personally rejected the latter label”.  I am not going to pretend to know anything about any of that.

What I can tell you is that the main character, Meursault, comes across as a bit strange.  Throughout the story you get the distinct impression that he does not conform.  He does not follow the norms set out by society about how we should be.  He didn’t seem to me as a bad guy but he didn’t seem to have a moral compass and passed absolutely no judgement on what the rest of society might well deem worthy of judgement.  What I found incredibly interesting about this is the way Camus wrote him.  While he does not subscribe to society’s moral code he did not come across as a bad person but rather a different person.  How society, and you the reader, would deal with a person like this seems to me to be the crux of this story.  And indeed, according to David Carroll in his book Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice, Camus himself wrote in January 1955:

“I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

The title of the book points to this also.  Unfortunately, in English the title doesn’t carry across all the meanings as it does in the French L’Étranger.  I don’t speak French but as a foreigner in a Portuguese speaking country I learned early on that ‘estrangeiro’ (and the French ‘Étranger’) means a foreigner, a stranger, and an outsider.  The context determines which meaning is implied.  The story reminded me of this throughout because Meursault is all three; a foreigner in Algeria, an outsider to society, and a bit of a stranger to those around him.

My sentiments are echoed in Sandra Smith’s introduction to her new translation of The Stranger the title of which she has altered to The Outsider:

“In French, étranger can be translated as “outsider,” “stranger” or “foreigner.” Our protagonist, Meursault, is all three, and the concept of an outsider encapsulates all these possible meanings: Meursault is a stranger to himself, an outsider to society and a foreigner because he is a Frenchman in Algeria.”

This quote was taken from Claire Messud’s article A New ‘L’Étranger’ which is well worth reading after you read the book.  Another article that I enjoyed is Lost in Translation by Ryan Bloom which shows how important a good translation is to fully appreciating these seemingly ‘simple’ novels of the past.

I enjoyed reading this short book but choose your translation wisely.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

Save

Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Eggers’ The Circle was published in 2013 and there was a lot of talk about the book that year.  This story about a young woman who goes to work at a powerful tech company is still pertinent this year, if not more so, given the evolution we’ve seen recently of major tech companies.the-circle-by-dave-eggers

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America–even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge. (GoodReads)

Eggers gives us a look at the extremes of living in the digital age.  It asks us to think about how our behaviour and relationships change as we increasingly intertwine our lives with digital tech.

Right now we all know people who are avid users of Facebook, for example, who share most of their lives on their timeline as well as people who either choose not to use Facebook as often or at all.  It’s a personal preference and we respect that.  But what if it was mandatory to share your life on the internet for all to see?  What if your right to digital privacy and anonymity was no longer seen as a right and you could no longer opt out of the online sharing frenzy?

This may or may not terrify you depending on your personal preferences.  As The Circle unfolded and I followed Mae’s journey within the company and their requirements, values, and ideas were slowly revealed I felt a strong sense of foreboding.  I felt an overwhelming sense of how it could all go horribly wrong.  I had a feeling, too, that if the circle were to be completed in the real world, as they seek to do in the book, then a great deal of us would feel very violated.

That was just my response though.  From the way the story is written Eggers passes no judgement one way or the other.  I think when you read this book how you feel as it develops will show if, at the end, you are a Mae or a Kalden.  You are either comfortable with The Circle world or not.

I enjoyed reading The Circle and recommend it.  It doesn’t have the ending that you might be expecting as you read it but I thought the actual ending was pretty terrifying, honestly.  A major film adaptation of this book is set to be released in 2017 starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

Save

2016 Man Booker Prize Winner

This year’s Man Booker prize went to The Sellout by Paul Beatty.  Beatty’s novel also won the NBCC fiction prize earlier this year and he is the first American author to win the Man Booker prize since US authors became eligible in 2014.the sellout by paul beatty

The 2016 Chair of judges, Amanda Foreman, commented that: ‘The Sellout is a novel for our times. A tirelessly inventive modern satire, its humour disguises a radical seriousness. Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.’  You can read more about the author, novel, and prize here.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, it challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.  Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.” Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes, but when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.  Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court. (GoodReads)

If you missed it you can have a look at the 2016 Man Booker shortlist for further reading inspiration.

Review: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

I’ve read a few different books about creativity within the last 2 years written by different types of creatives.  I’ve read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert who is a writer, the artist Austin Kleon’s two books Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work, and most recently The Crossroads of Should and Must by artist Elle Luna.

I’ve enjoyed all of these books and while you might be wondering how many books about creativity you can read before it gets monotonous I’ve noted that every creative has their own way of conjuring creativity and has had different experiences within their various creative fields.the-creative-habit-by-twyla-tharp

“Creativity is not a gift from the gods, says Twyla Tharp, bestowed by some divine and mystical spark. It is the product of preparation and effort, and it’s within reach of everyone who wants to achieve it. All it takes is the willingness to make creativity a habit, an integral part of your life: In order to be creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative. In The Creative Habit, Tharp takes the lessons she has learned in her remarkable thirty-five-year career and shares them with you, whatever creative impulses you follow — whether you are a painter, composer, writer, director, choreographer, or, for that matter, a businessperson working on a deal, a chef developing a new dish, a mother wanting her child to see the world anew. When Tharp is at a creative dead end, she relies on a lifetime of exercises to help her get out of the rut, and The Creative Habit contains more than thirty of them to ease the fears of anyone facing a blank beginning and to open the mind to new possibilities.” (GoodReads)

Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit is about her approach to creativity as a choreographer.  You don’t have to be interested in dance to enjoy this book because it is firmly centred on her creativity method.  I enjoyed reading the book.  She is smart and interesting and naturally this makes for good reading.  Her approach is completely different from what I’ve previously read.

Her advice is very practical and comes with exercises.  While I didn’t feel the exercise sections were really necessary after reading her chapters, she goes into detail and some of you may well find these sections helpful.  If you’re interested in creativity you will probably enjoy this.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good