Bangladesh with White Teeth

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“What I have realized, is that generations, they speak to each other, Jones. It’s not a line, life is not a line–this is not palm-reading–it’s a circle, and they speak to us. That is why you cannot read fate; you must experience it.”–Samad Iqbal, White Teeth

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This is the story of two intersecting family trees, and the unique colliding of branches and roots. There are the Bangladeshi immigrants, the Iqbals, descendants of a controversial rebel, and the mixed-race Joneses, half-Jamaican, half English paper-folder, and they are brought together by their patriarchs who served in World War II together. Together, these families brush up against modernism, religion, assimilation, and tradition.
  • It’s good because:
    • I started this book knowing I was going to love it, and I absolutely did. Smith delves into the nuances of several cultures with such delicacy and intimacy, and brings these experiences to life with fresh dialogue.
  • Read if:
    • My goal for this challenge was largely to read more diverse authors. Zadie Smith is an upcoming writer and a fresh voice for women of color, so if this is a goal you also have for yourself, read this book.

Up next: Angola with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible!

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Denmark with This Should be Written in the Present Tense

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“I had a feeling I needed help in other areas as well, but I didn’t know which. When I covered my ears with my hands, there was a rushing noise inside me like a whole shoreline. It wasn’t worrying in itself. But I had this little flutter under my breastbone, it felt like homesickness. Perhaps it was just acid reflux.”–Dorte, This Should be Written in the Present Tense

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This is the quintessential and intimate tale of Dorte, a twenty-something who is lost and floundering in adulthood. This story is not dramatized or trivialized; it’s honest and straightforward and totally relatable. It’s the story of a girl and the meandering path towards becoming a woman.
  • It’s good because:
    • It’s a short book. In fact, most of the sentences are short too, which contributes to the tender candidness of the story. I selected this book around the same time I picked out Wreck and Order, which I unfortunately did not enjoy. While they have similar themes, I think Helle Helle managed to write the tale of confused young-adulthood in a much less grotesque and frustrating way (even though, I’ll admit, sometimes the trials of being in your twenties are grotesque and frustrating).
  • Read if:
    • You, like Dorte, often wonder what it is you should be doing with yourself.

Up next: Bangladesh with Zadie Smith’s White Teeth!

 

Slovenia with Veronika Decides to Die

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“She would consider each day a miracle–which indeed it is, when you consider the number of unexpected things that could happen in each second of our fragile existence.”–Paolo Coelho, Veronika Decides to Die

  • Here’s what happens:
    • Veronika is bored with life and lost, and attempts suicide; while she fails in her initial attempt, she is told she caused irreparable damage to her body. She is then placed in a mental institution to wait out her last days, where she meets a variety of insightful other patients and health professionals who help her understand her life.
  • It’s good because:
    • Paolo Coelho has a magical way of taking a simple tale, and weaving in the truths of the universe. This book is short, but profound.
  • Read if:

Up next: Denmark with Helle Helle’s This Should be Written in the Present Tense!

April + March–Addressing Venezuela, Jamaica & Taiwan

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March and April were spent trying to restore order to my life. The moving and renovation process, though exciting, consumed every bit of spare time throughout January, February and the beginning of March–and honestly left us so tired that I barely felt like a human anymore.

We celebrated this new step into adulthood and marriage by adopting a puppy, Lemon (named after one of our favorite TV characters, Liz Lemon), and though she has introduced new routines into our lives (walks, dog parks, tidying her backyard), she’s been a huge light in my life.IMG_5426

I struggled through The House of the Spirits in March. Spring Break typically means time to sleep in and read by the pool, but this year it was spent painting baseboards and moving while my husband was at work. It was an exhausting and frustrating week, and I think I took out those feelings on this book. It was an intricately detailed work of magical realism that winds its way through a family’s cursed history, and while parts of it were very enchanting, I mostly got bored with the long descriptions. I may revisit this book in another chapter of my life.

With the move complete, April was spent settling into our new home (and also realizing the work is never done when you own the house). I tried to get back on track with reading regularly with A Brief History of Seven Killings, and even toted the heavy book to school on many occasions to read while my students were completing state testing. I enjoyed the premise and the varied perspective to each complex character, but I’ll admit this was also a long one with a lot of characters to keep track of, and a shocking number of graphic sex scenes.

Lastly, I finished the month with Green Island, a book I devoured while participating in the teacher’s strike. I greatly enjoyed delving into this revolutionary family’s tale after mornings spent at the capitol, protesting for better school funding. The stress of these past few months have taken a toll on me, but having a few days with my husband, spending time together and talking about a cause I care about, helped me feel myself again. And of course, reading the first book I’ve loved in a long time certainly helped.

It’s hard to believe I’m finally in the last month of school. I’ve had a great group of kids this year, but it has also been an emotionally challenging one with admin and the political climate. Adding in our renovation and move, our first year of marriage (which has been blissful, but also a big change) , and the everyday ups and downs of life, this school year has left a big change on who I am as a person–and I’m not sure I have the perspective quite yet to fully understand what that change means.

Here’s to turning 27, wrapping up my fourth year, and spending a summer reading and reflecting with my little family!

Taiwan with Green Island

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“Some argue that 1968–the year of the student protests in France and the United States, Poland and Yugoslavia; the year Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were shot–was the moment that the dictionaries were burned and rewritten, but this claim disregards the change that happens day by day, so incremental that it is invisible to us, like a snail sliming its way across a road.”–Shawn Yang Ryan, Green Island

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This is the struggle of Taiwan–against colonialism, against dictatorship, against Westernization, war, and disease. Green Island captures how a nation’s attempt to find and assert its identity affects an individual family. This story starts with the birth of our narrator on the night of the March Massacre, and follows her family, and their relationship with their tumultuous island nation.
  • It’s good because:
    • I loved this book; it is the epitome of why I’m doing this reading challenge. I knew next to nothing about Taiwan prior to cracking its cover, and now I have this beautifully written glimpse into its 20th century history and a story I never knew I was dying to read. Green Island was so unexpectedly heart-wrenching and perfect.
  • Read if:
    • Just go grab your copy now. I picked it out without knowing anything about it other than it covered a country I had not yet visited for this challenge, and my heart is so happy I did.

Next up: Slovenia with Paolo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die!

Jamaica with A Brief History of Seven Killing

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“The problem with a book is that you never know what it is planning to do to you until you’re too far into it.” –Nina Burgess, A Brief History of Seven Killings

  • Here’s what happens:
    • This is a reimagining of the 1976 attack on Bob Marley, told over several years through the perspectives of a variety of figures including gang members, CIA agents, reporters, and politicians. It’s a story of violence, of political unrest, of poverty and racism, of enemies and allies. The break-in into the home of the Singer (as he is referred to throughout the book) is the event that sets many things into motion, but it is but one piece of this 500-page puzzle on the political and social history of this island nation.
  • It’s good because:
    • Each perspective has a distinct voice and a fresh new take on the circumstances. The book is largely written in Jamaican Patois, and I had to consult Google on more than one occasion to look up slang terms.
  • Read if:
    • This book reminded me of a cross between The Incarnations, with its sweeping views of multiple lives, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, with its slang-riddled, gritty look at Caribbean life. If you enjoyed either of those books, I suggest checking out this one too!

Up next: Taiwan with Shawna Yang Ryan’s Green Island!

Venezuela with The House of the Spirits

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“I write, she wrote, that memory is fragile and the space of a single life is brief, passing so quickly that we never get a chance to see the relationship between events; we cannot gauge the consequences of our acts, and we believe in the fiction of past, present, and future, but it may also be true that everything happens simultaneously.”–Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits

  • Here’s what happens:
    • The story follows the weaving branches of the Trueba family tree as they fall in love, die, and fulfill prophecies.
  • It’s good because:
    • Allende is a gifted and colorful story-teller who writes magical realism with the best of them. She is able to follow generations of family in a way that is organic and extraordinary.
  • Read if:
    • I’ll be totally honest–I struggled through this book. I loved the premise of a cursed family and its path towards love, but it was a task for me to read this book. I hope to give it another chance when life is less crazy so I will enjoy it more, but anyone who is a fan of Isabel Allende should give this a shot; it’s her debut novel and it is very special.

Up next: Jamaica with Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings!