The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller

The second book I finished for Read the World Project this week was one for Romania; The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller. Herta Müller writes a lot about the German minority in Romania and the corruption of the Communist Romanian government so she seemed like a good choice!

The Hunger Angel revolves around Leo, a seventeen year old German boy in Romania who is found having sex with married men in his local park. His family seem to make no objection to his consequent deportation to a Russian forced labour camp- under the guise of ‘reparations’ to Russia for the war. Over the next four or five years he faces starvation alongside other workers, as well the cruelty of the Russian guards.

I’ve seen The Hunger Angel called a prose poem and I would agree; it’s beautifully lyrical and really focuses on snippets of emotions, feelings and moments of humanity over a prolonged plot. It makes sense, seeing as Herta Müller sought inspiration from her mother’s experiences, as well as those of the late poet Oskar Pastior, with whom she originally planned to write the novel. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, poetic; think a lyrical One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

I have another of Müller’s books to read soon, a dystopian critique of Ceaușescu’s Romania. She’s become an automatic favourite of mine!

The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila

It’s been a while since I talked on here about my Read the World Project but I have been making some progress. I finished two books this week (and have another two, I believe, I’ve yet to review) and have another two on the go for this week. I turn 26 in five days, which means I’ll have four years left to finish (if I’m going by my arbitrary 30 deadline.)

I was really chuffed to find The Ultimate Tragedy. Someone I follow on twitter mentioned it and I immediately pre-ordered it with the knowledge that, as it stands, it is the only book to have ever been translated in to English from Guinea-Bissau. When I looked in to it further I found out that Abdulai Sila actually published the first novel in Guinea-Bissau (not this one, his first novel- Eterna Paixão.) So I was excited to start! I was also really drawn to the starkness of the cover; I love the artwork Dedalus Africa chose for it.

The Ultimate Tragedy revolves around Ndani- a poor, young black girl coming to Bissau in the hopes of finding employment in a white household at the suggestion of her closest friend, her stepmother. Her home village rumours her to be cursed and the white family who employ her treat her cruelly. As the story progresses Ndani is cast out and then taken as the wife of a local leader in her home village, who hopes to humiliate the Portuguese administrator with a show of his wealth. Over time she falls for an educated teacher at the local school but the Portuguese colonisers seek to quash any hope in the black locals.

It’s a surprisingly short book for one that takes place over such a long period of time, it’s only 187 pages in total, but Abdulai Sila fits in a lot of plot. His first novel, I believe, criticised the government of the newly formed Guinea-Bissau, whereas The Ultimate Tragedy shows the growing challenge towards Portuguese colonial rule as well as the corruption and racism inherent in the political system. 

I absolutely loved this book. I’m so glad that it was translated (recently- my paperback edition was published in early April of this year) because it gave me a great- but brief- insight in to a country that I know very little about. It also didn’t hold back- this isn’t a book written with a European or US publisher in mind- it’s rightly harshly critical of European colonial rule and the hypocrisy of white colonisers treating native black African people like the ignorant. There’s love here, but also political commentary and, surprisingly, humour. Less humourous, and I will provide a TW here, is the inclusion of a rape scene that takes place- literally- behind closed doors, so please be aware of that.

So, yes, go read this powerful insight in to Guinea-Bissau!

(I also found my book for Equatorial Guinea thanks to the translator of this one! It’s on its way!)

Human Acts by Han Kang 

I read Han Kang’s debut The Vegetarian last year and one of the things I loved about it was the feel that it was actually a series of novellas stitched together to create a greater whole. In Human Acts she achieves that to even greater effect; the story combines different narratives, points of view and perspectives on the 1980 Gwanju uprising.

One of the things I found most striking about Human Acts is the voice Han Kang gives to the dead; either through narration or giving even the most fleeting character- shot down in the uprising- a backstory. The other; the fact that she doesn’t shy away from the gruesome details of what goes on behind the scenes of a popular uprising. There’s no romanticisation (a warning for graphic descriptions of torture) and it feels like an important story to tell and an important voice to give. 

Again I liked the feel that the story was actually a collection of interlocking vignettes. It wasn’t a group of short stories as such, but an overlapping and interwoven peaks in to the lives of a group affected by political turmoil. It’s beautifully written and translated (again, Han Kang and Deborah Smith work fantastically together) and it reads like being immersed in the fear, pain and uncertainty of political oppression.

I will warn, again, that are some very painful sequences in the book; if you don’t feel comfortable reading about torture and death then I would steer clear. However, for me, this is flawless storytelling. 

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

The Bone Sparrow was one of the first books I read in 2017 and I’m ashamed to admit that I was shamefully ignorant of the refugee crisis in Australia beforehand. My knowledge is very Euro-centric and it’s something I need to work on. This book highlighted the human rights abuses towards Rohingya refugees from Mayanmar in Australia detention camps.

The narrator, a boy born in such a camp,  navigates the cruelty of the camp guards, the quiet depression of his mother, the fleeting safety of his best friend and the cynicism of his sister in a lyrical, child-like way. He reads to a local girl who sneaks in at night and watches as tensions rise within the camp with devastating consequences.

It’s a tragic story because it’s grounded in such a horrific reality. Endorsed by Amnesty International, Subhi’s story is one of millions of Muslim refugees around the world who are treated with cruelty and suspicion and are vilified by mainstream medias.

Of course, it’s also a story that needs to be told by refugees in their own words, and I’m seeking more and more diaspora stories written by people with that experience (if anyone has any recommendations then please let me know!) because it’s important that they tell their own stories.

Nina Is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi

I was given this book on the London Bookshop Crawl by my friend Bex with very little idea of what to expect. I love Shappi Khorsandi’s comedy so the fact that she’d written it was a big selling point for me. Despite me having no idea of expectations this book still managed to surpass them.

Nina Is Not OK is about seventeen year old Nina, whose dad drinks himself to death when she’s nine, shortly after her boyfriend moves to Hong Kong. Her drunken exploits are notorious at college, she’s drinking more and more and insists she doesn’t have a problem. But she can’t remember one night in particular and the situations she’s getting herself in to are becoming far more dangerous.

I cried a lot reading this book. Personally, Nina’s path is one I narrowly escaped; my dad didn’t die of alcoholism until I was twenty, so I grew up very aware of the dangers of alcohol and skipped that whole teenage-rebellion-drinking-until-you-puke stage until I was a lot older than Nina and was angry enough to lash out at everything and everyone. I could have very easily been her.

The bits that got me in the story, though, were Nina’s thoughts on what might have happened if her dad had lived long enough to get help. It’s something that occurs to you daily when you lose someone to addiction and Shappi Khorsandi writes it very very well, as well as that weird juxtaposition between life then and now, and how hard it is to feel like you fit in to a life without that chaos and worry daily.

It was a much harder read than I was expecting, and is warn heavily for sexual assault, rape and talk of addiction and death from it. But it’s also very hopeful. Nina is not OK, but you feel like she will be.

It’s been a while!

Hello everyone! I’ve fallen off the face of WordPress for a while now; things got so drab and dreary over winter that I had zero motivation to take book review photos and now I’m about 40 books behind in reviewing! I’m hoping to get back in to the swing of things this week so I can share all of the wonderful books I’ve read since… November? I’ve also had the London Bookshop Crawl (haul above) to talk about which I really need to do because it was such a good day.

Bye for now, but hopefully I’ll see you soon!

Discworldathon: Colour of Magic read-a-long!

Hello! I’m hosting this month’s theme for Discworldathon: Wizards! A quick poll chose The Colour of Magic as our book for the month and it makes sense to start with the very beginning!

Fortunately The Colour of Magic is, against all tradition with Discworld novels, split in to four handy parts… one for every week in February! I know we’re two days in already but if we fal a few pages behind it’s no big deal. 

So, the month is going to be set up like this, with discussions going on on Twitter/Instagram under the hashtag #discworldathon, the readalong goodreads thread and/or here if people fancy it (wherever you like really!):

Week 1: The Colour of Magic

Week 2: The Sending of Eight

Week 3: The Lure of the Wyrm 

Week 4: Close to the Edge

The last weekend (25/26th) I’ll also be hosting a mini readalong of The Last Hero- the graphic short story about wizards trying to stop an old man from killing the gods.

I’ll mainly be posting on Goodreads and Twitter to save people’s timelines on here!

Finally, I’m also hosting a giveaway on twitter if you would like the chance to win a Discworld novel of your choice!