Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

I was recommended Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair for my Chile book by a friend on Facebook and read it in one sitting (it’s a fairly short book). This is the fourth book I’ve reviewed for Read the World project and probably, so far, the one I’ve enjoyed the least. Not because I’m sure Pablo Neruda isn’t a genius, but because it turns out I don’t enjoy translated poetry (poetry in general I’m slightly iffy with). Which is my failing really. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it at all, just that it took a few reads for me to get my head around the poems.

I picked this one because I wanted to branch out from novels and short stories and poetry seemed like another layer (I also have some memoirs on my list). Pablo Neruda’s background fascinated me too, the idea of a politician who is also a poet is fairly outside my realm of understanding.

Objectively, the poems are beautiful representations of love and desire and I loved it the fact that my edition of the book included the original poems as well as the translation. My Spanish is awful, but I enjoyed trying to understand them before reading the translation.

Letters from Diaspora by Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura

Book number three for my Read the World project and I chose another collection of short stories for Bosnia Herzegovina, in part because I was really excited to read this book when I found it available for preorder. When I was at university part of the politics section of my degree focused on state rebuilding after war and the Bosnian war was one of my focuses. But I feel like it’s not enough to learn cold facts about a place, stories help us to understand a history far better than a textbook could.

So going in to this book I knew it wouldn’t be a happy one. Obviously, stories of displaced survivors of genocide, masquerading as civil war, are never going to be happy. But when you also take in to consideration the failure of the Bosnian government to address the massive inequalities between Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks afterwards, as well as the fact that the Bosnian war resulted in rape being categorised as a war crime for the first time, it was obviously going to be hard-hitting.

Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura writes beautifully and her stories cover an entire spectrum of experiences within the war; survivors, both Muslim and Christian, thinking back on those they lost and the country they’ve had to leave behind. There’s nothing romantic about their stories, as there’s nothing romantic about war itself.

My only minor criticism is a few typos throughout, which us perhaps a danger of self-publishing (but not the end of the world!) Letters from Diaspora is a short but powerful collection of stories.

Diversity December Bingo TBR List!

There’s a great event going on, mainly on Twitter, at the moment called the Diversity December Bingo. One of the organisers is a mutual of mine from Twitter so I’ve seen a lot of posts about floating around the past few weeks.

The idea is to pick a line in the grid and read a book that fits each square. I’ve picked the first horizontal line for my TBR list (although I’m looking at other squares to see if I’ll have time to read more this month!)

Non-Western Cultural FantasyWho Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.

Demisexual Main CharacterRadio Silence by Alice Oseman

Mental Health AwarenessUnder Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

POC On Book CoversWitness the Night by Kishwar Desai

Indigenous Main CharacterReservation Blues by Sherman Alexie.

A couple of these are on my list for my Read the World project too, so I’ll tick those off of the list. If anyone else fancies joining in then check out the #DiversityDecBingo hashtag on Twitter and Instagram!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is my second book of my Read the World project and actually the book that sparked my interest in reading broadly across the world. I read Purple Hibiscus about ten years ago (a lot of it went over my head, I imagine) but that made me realise that as an adult I’m not reading as broadly as I did when I was a young teen. Which is probably the opposite of what it should be.

In any case, Americanah came highly recommended and I absolutely loved it. It spans several years, three countries and two main characters; Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love in Nigeria as teenagers, but events take Ifemelu to American academia and Obinze to undocumented life in Britain. 

Race plays a central part in the book as a whole. Ifemelu ‘discovers’ race in America (it not being a major concern of her life in Nigeria) and writes a successful blog from the perspective of a non-American black woman. Both her and Obinze deal with racism on both their paths; the micro-aggressions of well-meaning white people; distrust of immigrants; fetishising; shock that a black person in America might be successful; assumptions that all people of colour are a monolith. The list goes beyond that, but to note every single issue of racism or prejudice I saw brought up within the story would be likely be horribly inaccurate because they’re not my experiences. I can only get a brief glimpse in to what life must be like got these characters, and the real life stories that they reflect. I’d say it’s an uncomfortable read, but that doesn’t mean it’s not incredible, but that it showed me a lot of the internalised, institutionalised prejudices in the society I live in reflected back at me from someone else’s point of view.

It’s been a while since I read something with this level of scope; that sort of epic plot that takes place over years rather than a few months. I definitely have a newfound taste for them though!