In a matter of a month, a lot of events happened. One of the things I have feared since hearing about the Wuhan virus finally happened – it spread all over the world, including in the Philippines. This exponential spread has also halted several activities and nearly half of the world’s population is in a virtual lock down. Both local and international travels are restricted. Many countries are mobilizing health professionals, their military and police force, and their scientists to stymie the further spread of an invisible enemy. Indeed, this Covid-19 pandemic is altering the course of 2020.
I guess that is enough life update for now and let’s go back to the real subject of this post. In February, I took a dive into the depths of African Literature. It was my first time doing so and it was a decision I didn’t regret because it gave me some very pleasant literary experiences. To keep my momentum flowing, I decided to pivot towards another regional literary journey, to European Literature. I’ve had one last year and with my burgeoning collection of books written by European writers, I think it is but fitting.
Here’s how my journey went.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
What fine way to commence a European Literature Month than by starting with one of the birthplaces of literature – the United Kingdom. And thus my journey into Rudyard Kipling’s Kim starts. Kipling is more renowned for his Jungle Book children’s story but Kim, according to several literary pundits, is adjudged to be his best work. This prose set in colonial India relates the story of the eponymous Kimball O’Hara as he ventures around the Indian subcontinent. Orphaned at a young age, he was left to fend for his own. His adventure was complimented by an interesting subplot – the journey of the Teshoo Lama who Kim befriends while he was on his own journey. It was a challenging read because of the archaic language but nonetheless an interesting one, especially the Lama’s journey.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
From one Nobel Prize in Literature winner to another. Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk successfully romped to Nobel Prize success in 2019 when she was declared the 2018 winner. I have never heard of her before but her victory in the prestigious award is enough to convince me to immerse in her brand of literature. Drive YourPlow Over the Bones of the Dead is one two Tokarczuks I recently bought. Since I am in the midst of a European Literature Month, I decided to next take on it. The premise is simple enough – men dropping dead in a secluded Polish village. In the midst of the chaos is Janina, a cranky and eccentric woman who hates her name and loves astrology. Astrology and eccentricity was enough to rivet me to the story whilst the tenterhook was an added layer that made it an interesting read.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
My reading journey brought me next to Barcelona in Spain through Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind. I bought the novel about three years ago because the title and the cover piqued my curiosity. However, I was ambivalent for some reason, hence, it was left to gather dust on my bookshelf. After coming across several positive feedback on the book, I knew I just had to read it, as soon as possible. And yes, I admit it, I was wrong before because what unfolded before me is a pulsating tale, highly imaginative and greatly compelling. It is a book about a book that walked me down the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The Shadow of the Wind is a stellar book that offers an outstanding literary experience that is unlike no other. I keep kicking myself for making this treasure of a book wait!
A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman
Just like The Shadow of the Wind, Swedish writer Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove is a title I kept on encountering in book stands but it never generated enough hype or interest in me. Then out of the blue, I saw a KPop idol bring a copy of the book out of his backpack. So there, it is cemented, I am going to take a leap of faith and read this contemporary tale. A Man Called Ove is the story of, well, Ove. He is a cranky old man who is is disliked by his neighbors for his strict principles. Since losing his wife, he lived the life of a recluse whilst, at the same time, looking over his neighborhood. Everything changed when a young couple and their children moved next door. Moving to and fro the past and the present, the readers were given a peek into Ove’s life. This book’s humor and wit reminded me of another Swedish tale about another old man – Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. I loved both books.
Slow Homecoming by Peter Handke
A third Nobel laureate in Literature in a month because why not. Peter Handke’s 2019 victory stirred controversy because of the Austrian writer’s controversial political views. Nonetheless, I was willing to bet on his writing and just forget about his principles; one of his biggest critics is Salman Rushdie, one of my favorite authors. My desire to venture into various worlds of literature made me put aside this prejudice, hence, my purchase of Slow Homecoming, the only available Handke book in the local bookstore. I am still torn on how to judge the book which relates the story of Valentin Sorger. Cut in three parts, the novel echoes phases of Sorger’s life. The story sounds plain enough but what made the novel interesting is Handke’s writing, with each part employing a different writing style and voice. It was interesting. Challenging but interesting.
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
From an Austrian writer to a French writer. Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days is one of the most popular titles because of its several film adaptations. Its popularity made me choose it as one of my purchases in the first edition of the Big Bad Wolf Manila in 2018. The story started with a wager – navigating the world in eighty days. Out to accomplish this herculean task are Phileas Fogg and his newly-hired French valet Passepartout. It was a simple story filled with numerous vivid and richly detailed scenes. If there was a thing that I lament about the book is that it was too short. I wish it was longer.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
What is a European Literature Month without one Russian work. Last year, I had Ivan Turgenev’s Father and Sons and this year, I had Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. It is one of the most popular Russian works but is also one of the most controversial printed text because of its sensitive subject. Lolita is my first dive into the works of Vladimir Nabokov. Set in the USA, Lolita is the story of Humbert Humbert and his unusual obsession with a “nymphet” named Dolores Haze, or Lolita, or Lo, or Dolly; this different references made the story confusing at times. The context was unique, memorable, and well, controversial. The innuendos and the eroticism can be hard to swallow at times but the take on the complexities of human behavior was on point.
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
In what has been a rarity nowadays, I’ve complete Italian writer Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio in a day. Sounds familiar right? To Disney fans (and even non-Disney fans), the book’s title ring a bell because it inspired one of the classics of children’s movies, Pinocchio. This one was a quick read because the story was straightforward. It flowed seamlessly despite the many scenes that Collodi tried to capture. Yes, it wasn’t perfect as there were some critical plot holes but in less than 200 pages, Collodi managed to deliver his message. Just like Around the World in Eighty Days, I wished Pinocchio was longer. But I guess it would defeat the purpose since it is a children’s story after all.
Saturday by Ian McEwan
I started the month with an English author so I am closing it out with another English author – Ian McEwan. McEwan’s Saturday has been sitting idly on my bookshelf for years prompting me to include it in my 2020 Beat the Backlist Reading Challenge. This was my third plunge into McEwan’s works, after Atonement and On Chesil Beach. In Saturday, the Man Booker Prize winning author relates the events of one Saturday in the life of neurosurgeon Henry Perowne. The story sounds simple but it was McEwan’s ability to capture the seemingly mundane and transform it into rich text that made the novel stand out for me. He has such understated writing style and it worked. The conclusion was, as expected, explosive.
Reading-wise, March has been my busiest month this year as I managed to complete a whopping nine books. To be fair, I just finished Saturday last Friday. But still, it was a productive month that gave me amazing reads. Unlike the African Literature Month which dealt mostly with history and culture, these European literary works were about styles. I am not complaining though because these authors, nonetheless, captured my imagination and interest.
Current Read: Human Acts by Han Kang
So, after dedicating a month to African literature, then to European literature, I felt it appropriate to fellow it up with a plunge into my comfort zone, Asian literature. To commence with my new adventure, I am travelling to 1980s South Korea with this narrative written by Man Booker International Prize winning author, Han Kang. This is my second Han Kang novel, after The Vegetarian. To be honest, I found The Vegetarian a little underwhelming – the start was great but midway to the story, I got lost. It wasn’t entirely bad but it was enough to turn me away from her other works. But after a fellow reader whose taste I trust recommended Human Acts to me, I decided to give Kang another chance. I hope she proves me wrong this time around.
Reading Challenge Recaps:
- My 2019 Top 20 Reading List: 8/20
- Beat The Backlist: 3/12
- My 2019 10 Books I Look Forward To List: 0/10
- Gooodreads 2019 Reading Challenge: 21/60
- Year of the Asian Reading Challenge: 2/15
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 4/20
Book Reviews Published in March:
- Book Review # 160: Ducks, Newburyport
- Book Review # 161: My Sister, the Serial Killer
- Book Review # 162: The Poisonwood Bible
- Book Review # 163: Behold the Dreamers
- Book Review # 164: Moby Dick
- Book Review # 165: Rebecca
- Book Review # 166: A Man Called Ove
How about you readers? How was your March reading journey? I hope you had a great journey. You can also share your experiences in the comment box.
Happy reading everyone!